The Vancouver Sun, one of Canada’s major daily newspapers, angered many Canadians when it published a blatantly xenophobic column over the weekend.
The piece, titled “Ethnic diversity harms a country's social trust, economic well-being, argues professor” was written by Mark Hecht, a human geography instructor (not a professor) at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. It was pulled offline following the backlash, but it still made the print edition.
Hecht argues that diversity, tolerance, and inclusion are failed policies in Canada which have led to higher levels of distrust within society. He quotes the anti-Muslim think tank Gatestone Institute to make a point about how many Muslim immigrants “have no intention of assimilating into any western society.”
Instead of being a blessing, Hecht argues diversity has led to “a lot of arrogant people living in their countries with no intention of letting go of their previous cultures, animosities, preferences, and pretensions.” He claims when there are too many immigrants in a neighbourhood, “those overwhelmed by newcomers that are not like themselves, lose trust and soon move out.” He also seems to advocate for segregation and disingenuously suggests that the most economically successful countries are homogenous.
“Is excluding certain people from one’s society a requirement? The short answer is absolutely,” Hecht continues. You get the idea.
The piece has been rightfully criticized, with some comparing it to Nazi-style propaganda.
“That at its heart is the most troubling this about the op-ed to me,” tweeted journalist Shane Woodford, in a thread debunking many of Hecht’s claims. “That only if we look the same, speak the same language, have the same beliefs, and culture can we ever trust each other. That idea at its most extreme is what we essentially fought against in WWII.”
Maclean’s contributing editor Andray Domise described the op-ed as a “Blut und Boden thinkpiece”—a nod to the “blood and soil” Nazi ideal of a pure Aryan race.
I wanted to know just how much the piece echoed actual Nazi propaganda, so I reached out to a couple of experts.
Nicholas O'Shaughnessy, communications professor at Queen Mary University of London and author of Selling Hitler: Propaganda and the Nazi Brand, said the Nazis created a massive, state-sanctioned propaganda machine that was both subtle and crude, crossing the film and entertainment industry, newspapers, even sporting events.
He said a key part of that propaganda was constructing the notion of an existential threat e.g. “you’re going to be wiped out, you’re going to be replaced,” which is a tool used by the far-right today and a concept that is present in Hecht’s column.
“The modern form of that is really the notion of the great replacement, that is to say caucasians are going to be replaced by other people,” he said.
O'Shaughnessy said stoking fears about an existential threat can be very dangerous, as evidenced by many genocides in history, including the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.
“It’s only by creating an existential threat that you can actually persuade otherwise civilized people to kill each other,” he said.
He noted that Hecht “is certainly someone who feels threatened,” based on his column. He also critiqued the piece for being flawed in its logic and oversimplified. However, he said he would classify Hecht's column as falling more into the dog whistle category than Nazi per se.
O’Shaughnessy said that these days dog whistles are more common than outright racist screeds and that those dog whistles can influence individuals to act violently.
Hilary Earl, a history professor at Nipissing University who specializes in modern German history and the Holocaust, told VICE Hecht’s piece is “definitely racist and xenophobic.” As to whether or not it echoes Nazi propaganda, she said the answer is yes and no.
Earl noted that while the contexts are very different—Canada being a democratic country that welcomes (and relies on) immigration—there are similarities in the content.
Earl explained that Nazi idealogues used the press to convince society that Jewish people were enemies of Germany and Germans.
“To ensure that Germans fell into line with these views, newspapers across Germany published articles, that became increasingly more radical, like Hecht's,” she said. “Germany for Germans they argued. Canada for Canadians is at the heart of Hecht's piece.”
But she noted that the way this situation played out is very different to how it would have in Nazi Germany. Currently, brass at the Sun appear to be scrambling to ensure a piece like this doesn’t get published again.
In 1930s Germany, Earl said the equivalent of Hecht’s piece would probably have been published in every paper across the country, and he would be invited to give guest lectures.
“Hecht might have even been promoted to the Ministry of Propaganda to hone his skills.”
Vancouver Sun editor Harold Munro has issued an apology about Hecht’s column and has sent out a staff memo indicating that the process for screening and commissioning opinion pieces will change.
Hecht told Canadaland that he was inspired to pitch the Sun based on other immigration columns published by the paper.