Thursday, March 30, 2006

Michael Ignatieff: Someone To Take Seriously

During World War II, my mother worked in London with the French Resistance. One of her closest friends was a young Canadian who parachuted into France in 1943 to fight fascism. His name was Frank Pickersgill. He was captured by the Nazis and died under torture in Buchenwald. He died so that other men and women could live in freedom.

At our best, we are that kind of people.

. . .Today, we are concerned about our soldiers in Afghanistan. So we should be. But service in Afghanistan is in the best traditions of our people. From Vimy Ridge to Juneau Beach, from Rwanda to Bosnia, we have earned our place in the world of nations by service and sacrifice.

I've been to Afghanistan, once when the Taliban were in power and once since then. I've got faith in the Afghans who are pushing their country out of the ditch. It's good that Canadians are putting their shoulders to the wheel to help them. . .

I saw it clearly in eastern Croatia in 1992. I had just crossed a UN check point and had been taken prisoner by a half a dozen armed men high on alcohol and ethnic nationalism. A young UN peacekeeper arrived, as I was being bundled away. He cocked his M 16 and said, 'We'll do this my way.'

And they did.

That young soldier was from Moncton, New Brunswick.

I saw my country clearly watching a policewoman escort frightened families to and fro across a mined no-man's land in another part of Yugoslavia. When I asked her why she was doing dangerous work in a foreign country she said, with a smile, 'It beats writing traffic tickets in Saskatoon.'

. . .So this is my Canada and these are my Canadians. We are serious people. I've tried to be a serious person. Being serious means sticking to your convictions. I went to Iraq in 1992 and saw what Saddam Hussein had done to the Kurds and the Shia. I decided then and there that I'd stand with them whatever happened. I've stuck with them ever since. Whatever mistakes the Americans have made, one day Iraqis will create a decent society. When that day comes, Canadians should be there to help because their struggle is ours, too.

. . . In understanding Canada's place in the world, we need to think of ourselves not just as defenders of our own sovereignty, but as stewards of the global commons.

From 'the responsibility to protect' to 'human security', Canada has been a leader in putting good ideas into circulation and then getting them accepted into practice. Without us, there wouldn't be an International Criminal Court, and without us, no Land Mines Ban. . .

And that's just Iggy the Internationalist. You should read the nationalist bits, and the federalist bits, and the serious environmentalist bits. Say whatever you like, but there are three things no one can deny from reading the text of Ignatieff's speech in Ottawa last night.

First, the Liberal Party has had no one of this calibre in a generation.

Second, in any debate, anytime, anyplace, Ignatieff would eat Stephen Harper alive.

Third, against any claim Jack Layton's New Democrats might make upon a bold and progressive vision for Canada, what Ignatieff has just said is this:

I see you. And I raise you.

“Canada is my country, too”

Abdul Rahim Parwani, 42, lives in Vancouver with his wife Sami, and daughters Soraya, Maryam, and Asma. He’s the director of the weekly Ariana television program on Vancouver’s M Channel. He was the editor of the Kabul literary journal Tarjuma, which published its last issue just as the theocratic fascists known as the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 1996.

Parwani fled to India, and except for a short stint working back in New Delhi for the Afghan embassy there he has lived in Canada for six years. He loves this country, but he is worried. He’s worried about the incoherence of the public debate in Canada about our role in Afghanistan – an incoherence I attribute as much to certain sections of the so-called “anti-war” left as to the American spin our new Conservative government is putting on everything.

“I’m very afraid that we are going to make the same mistake again,” Parwani says, “like when everyone forgot about Afghanistan until 9/11. Now, in some areas, the security situation is already worsening, and the Taliban is reorganizing.”

Canada has a greater contribution to make to Afghanistan than just killing fascists, no matter how necessary that work may be. In my Chronicles column today, I try to make the case that a robust, internationalist, progressive and humanitarian perspective on Afghanistan may yet emerge from Canada’s “left.” I’m optimistic because of people like her, and people like him, but mainly because of people like the guy in the photograph above.

Pte. Robert Costall was “a gentle kid” from a place just across the water from the island where I live. He graduated from the Sunshine Coast Alternative School. Robert was a guy who wanted to “make a difference” for the people of Afghanistan. He was a kid who “cared about what was right and wrong.”

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Double Standards, Triple Standards, Quadruple Standards

The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries.

That’s from George Orwell’s "Notes on Nationalism," first published in Polemic, in 1945.

Notes on Nationalism is a good place to start if you want to make sense of events in Afghanistan these days, perhaps especially this part: “Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. . . One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources.”

Keep that in mind when considering the case of Abdul Rahman. Afghanistan’s judiciary is notoriously corrupt, and the difficult work of clearing out the dreary old obscurantists who still infest that poor country’s court system is going to be a hard slog. In all likelihood, Rahman will be convicted in the first round, but there is an appeal process available to him, and Afghanistan’s constitution has at least vague religious-freedom guarantees.

So there’s time yet, and the last thing we should do is to play into the hands of the religious fanatics clinging to power in Afghanistan’s judiciary, who clearly want to use this case to incite Afghan nationalist sentiment against the progressive and democratic forces in that country that so desperately need our help. Right-wing Christians who have been jumping up and down about this case should be careful that they don’t get what they wish for. Before casting motes out of other people’s eyes, they should pay closer attention to what Islam actually says about these things, and they should remember their own rotten interpretations of Leviticus 18:22.

This brings us to other people in Afghanistan that Canadians should be particularly concerned about, people whose plight Montreal Simon eloquently describes.

It also reminds me that my links are short on Yanks, and I should have had this guy up ages ago. He is now.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Canada’s Pseuds Are “Clueless” - Afghan Envoy

This post will be longer than usual because today I had the honour of a conversation with His Excellency Omar Samad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada. Ambassador Samad was in Vancouver for a lunchtime address to a small gathering where, as luck would have it, I also got picked to ask the first question. I wanted to know what Ambassador Samad might like to say to all those protestors who were shouting “Troops Out of Afghanistan” during last weekend’s rallies commemorating the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Samad answered fully, thoroughly and passionately.

The Toronto Star and the Canadian Press reported the ambassador’s answers accurately and well (the photograph above was taken by Gary Fiegehen, an old colleague of mine who joined me for lunch).

Samad began with some questions that he would like to have put to those protesters:

"Where were you when the women of Afghanistan were imprisoned?" he asked. "Where were you when the children of Afghanistan were denied schooling? Where were these demonstrations for human rights and dignity and honour?" As for those pseudo-leftish flights of rhetoric about conditions for Afghan women being worse now than they were under the Taliban, Samad said: “For God's sake, these people have no clue whatsoever about what they are talking about.”

Samad then disclosed something rather disturbing. The Afghanistan Embassy in Ottawa has invited several “anti-war” groups in Canada to come to the embassy to sit down and discuss their concerns, and none has taken up the offer. “They're sort of reluctant to discuss the issues," Samad said. This was a charitable way of putting it, I thought.

Samad was joined at the event (sponsored by Fraser Institute, of all people; it should have been sponsored by the B.C. Federation of Labour), by Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, David Sproule. Sproule gave a thorough account of the work Canada is doing in Afghanistan, most of which doesn’t involve shooting guns or patrolling mountains or the other glamorous things that the television news networks like. The work involves mainly things like clearing landmines, guarding girls’ schools, setting up “micro-banks” to help women with small business loans, demobilizing militias, finding jobs for former combatants, training police officers, looking for fruit-tree substitutes for opium plantations, and so on. None of this would be possible, we should remember, if Canada called its troops out of the country.

Samad’s thoughtful account of Afghan history was a refreshing antidote to a convenient bigotry, now sadly commonplace in the “anti-war” left, which derives from the notion that Afghanistan is an inherently lawless and irredeemably medieval backwater, infested with wild men, and possessed of an irrational hatred of all outsiders. The consequence, the argument goes, is that progressive and humanitarian intervention in the country is folly (for Canada’s progressives who have not succumbed to this cynicism, see some outstanding examples under “Canuckistan Popular Front” in the Chronicles links, as well as this lad).

For much of the 20th century, Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful and hopeful country, Samad pointed out. From 1919 onward, Afghanistan was steadily and inexorably evolving as a constitutional democracy. Things started to go wrong in the 1970s, when the Soviet shadow began to fall on the country. Then there was a Soviet-backed coup, and fierce resistance erupted. The United States, China, Saudi Arabia and other countries backed various competing militias, effectively destroying any hope of unity. The result was 20 years of warfare. After the Soviets withdrew, the “West” abandoned the Afghans to their fate. The mujahadeen, many of whom were foreigners, seized Kabul. Then the Taliban emerged, and restored order by turning the country into a concentration camp.

Here's just one lesson Samad says we might draw from this terrible story: "Don't allow a country to fail. And if you do, try to do something to help it get back, to help it recover." Which is more or less the point I was trying to make here.

After his talk, I spoke with Ambassador Samad for some time, and he offered, in the most diplomatic language possible, what would be good advice for those who can be said, in less diplomatic language, to have succumbed to the moral failure of Canada’s “anti-war” left.

“The first thing they should do is be prepared to have an educated and informed opinion,” Samad said. “Before resorting to rhetoric, or confusing Afghanistan with Iraq and other issues, they should look at what is really happening, now, and they should look at the recent history of Afghanistan. Anyone who claims to understand the situation, who would claim that Afghanistan was better off under the Taliban, should go and read some books. They should educate themselves. There are some groups that have misunderstood the case. But maybe it’s political. Or ideological. I can’t explain it. But to look at Afghanistan only through the prism of the United States is wrong.”

I also spoke with Ambassador Sproule for a while, and he went some distance to allay fears that Canada’s new Conservative government might abandon the hard work involved in helping Afghans rebuild their country for the more easier option of just following along behind the fatigued and badly-led U.S. military command. Sproule said that so far, he has no reason to doubt that the new regime in Ottawa will substantially change the course adopted by the previous Liberal government and tentatively supported by the New Democratic Party.

We live in hope.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

. . . .All Creatures Great And Gone. . . .

From today's Globe and Mail:

. . . Glavin's storytelling traverses the globe, from his home on Mayne Island in British Columbia to places as diverse as the Lofoten archipelago off the coast of Norway, the Amur River in Russia's Far East and the Patkai Range of the eastern Himalayas. Deceptively simple chapter subtitles — "A tiger," "A bird," "A flower" — serve as springboards for his roaming narrative.

Deceptively simple, too, is Glavin's description of his quest: "At a time when the world is filled with dread and foreboding, and when the great master narratives we've relied on to understand things are collapsing all around us, there should be some virtue in going for a walk through the hills and coming back at the end of the day with an account — a story — of what's out there."

One of the master narratives Glavin rejects is the one you'd expect to find in a book about extinctions: the language of environmentalism, which he characterizes as "wholly inadequate to the task" of describing the world's withering diversity. The key here, central to the book and the source of its exhilarating expansiveness, is that Glavin is talking not only of diversity lost at the level of wild plants and animals, but also at the cultural level of domesticated species, languages, traditions, human societies and local knowledge — in short, all the ways of seeing, knowing and being in the world.

That’s an excerpt from a review of Waiting for the Macaws, which appears in today’s Globe and Mail as the cover feature of the book section. I’d heard a big review was coming, so I was a bit nervous. Turned out just fine.

The reviewer is Lorraine Johnson, whose collection of essays about the Carolinian region of Ontario is due out this fall. Lorraine took the trouble to read my book and to think about it carefully, which writers of book reviews are not always so assiduous about doing. So thanks, Lorraine.

Also, the Globe and Mail online version today contains the book’s entire first chapter, Night of the Living Dead. Here’s an excerpt:

From Kublai Khan to the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, and from the thirteenth-century Holy Roman emperor Frederick II to American press baron William Randolph Hearst, bigshots of one stripe or another have always employed vast animal collections in dispensing and procuring loyalties and allegiances, favours, and alliances. Among the bears, monkeys, and other animals Charlemagne kept at his various residences was an elephant given to him by the Caliph of Baghdad. Phillip VI of France, Louis IX, and England's Henry II all kept extensive animal collections, trading specimens as tokens of esteem and fealty.

In the ostentatious display of animals what's often at work is something deeply rooted in power, conquest, prestige, and domination. It can be as benign as the corporate sponsorship by Chemical Industries (Far East Ltd.) of the Malayan tiger viewing shelter at the Singapore Zoo (which sells such corporate sponsorships for 4000 Singapore dollars a year) or as savage as the excesses of the Roman emperors, who never flinched from the vices of debauchery. The Romans took the fetish to its most barbaric extremes. A single festival could involve the torture, maiming, and massacre of thousands of animals—bears, lions, giraffes, crocodiles, elephants, and bulls. If a few human beings were thrown into the bloodbath, all the more grisly and better the spectacle.

But captive humans would also sometimes suffice. In the sixteenth century, to impress the menagerie-fancier Pope Leo X, a Catholic cardinal kept a collection of humans. Among them were Tartars, Africans, Indians, and Moors. The bestiary of Aztec emperor Montezuma, not long before, had included an array of dwarfs and "human monsters" among his animals at Tenochtitlán. Europe's medieval travelling menageries were often complemented by displays of humans, and as recently as the nineteenth century, English people were regularly coaxed out of a few pence to see collections of Laplanders, African bushmen, Ojibways, and Inuit. Such travelling shows routinely included even more exotic human specimens: bearded women, "boneless" children, giants, and even less fortunate people billed merely as "humanoids." The carnival, the freak show, the zoo . . .

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Feast of Naomh Pádraig in Canada

First off, I’m with Thomas D’Arcy McGee. A “Father of Confederation,” a poet, and a Young Irelander, assassinated after declaring that his first loyalty would be to his fellow Canadians. Second, Saint Patrick’s Day as it’s currently “celebrated” is largely an American invention. Not that there’s anything wrong with American inventions (jazz, baseball, the blues, etc.), but still. Paddy’s Day evolved as part of the not-always-honourable struggle among Irish emigrants in America to be accepted as white people in that country.

In Canada, we’ve always done things differently. The Irish Benevolent Society, established 129 years ago in London, Ontario, was way ahead of its time. It embraced Irish nationalists and loyalists, conformists and dissenters, and one of its first rules was that its presidents “shall be alternately Protestant and Catholic.” And it’s still around.

So’s the Irish Canadian Rugby Club. So's the Good Friday Accord. Since April 10, 1998, there has been no war in the auld place.

So, today, if you insist on the glawsheening and shamroguery and paddywhackery and the uttering of oaths that this day has come to be about, at least take one moment to remember that hard-won peace. Death to tyrants the world ’round and all that, but when you’re leaving the pub all knackered, for Chrissakes at least don’t drive home.

In the meantime, here are the best Irish weblogs:

Jimy Porter. Slugger O'Toole. The Blanket. Sinéad Gleeson. Kevin Breathnach. Conn Ó Muíneacháin. And of course Twenty Major. He's liveblogging from a pub in Dublin as I write this.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Festival of Norouz, St. Patrick’s Day, & Free Speech

The left used to think it would be a truly historic moral gain when crimes against humanity trumped the claims of 'national sovereignty' and placed a genuine responsibility to protect, a solemn duty to rescue, upon an 'international community'. . . Our agenda should be global democracy-promotion, free trade unions, human rights, women's rights, economic development and social justice, making tyranny history, making poverty history. In short, a new global social-democracy.

However, faced with the puzzling contradictions of the new political landscape parts of the left are sullen and negativist - anti-this, anti-that, always anti-American, but deeply unsure what they are for. Faced with the colour-coded democratic revolutions in the ex-Stalinist states (and their US-funded NGOs), or the first signs of an Arab Spring (being cheered on by 'that cowboy Bush'), or the purple fingers of an Iraqi voter (walking out of a polling station guarded by coalition troops), or the smiles of women – women! - cabinet members in Afghanistan's newly elected government (the result of a war fought by the 'Great Satan'), too many on the liberal-left are sitting on their hands.

The above is taken from a speech the British writer Alan Johnson gave recently in Paris, at conference titled Camus: Moral Clarity on an Age of Terror. Alan is the editor of Democratiya, which today publishes its fourth issue. Progressive Canadians who support the international struggle to help the people of Afghanistan in the work of ridding their country of fascism will find much of interest in the pages of Democratiya, especially in Alan’s speech, an expanded version of which appears there.

Alan finds deep reactionary currents among those who claim to be of the left, but have made a “Faustian pact” between reactionary anti-imperialism and theocratic fascism. My Chronicles column this week arises from a conversation with Taj Hashmi, a history professor at Simon Fraser University, who has observed precisely the same tendency in Canada that Alan describes. It’s that disgraceful inability to recognize fascism when it comes in an “ethnic” or “religious” guise.

Hashmi is a signatory to an important manifesto on free speech, signed by 11 Canadian Muslim intellectuals, which hasn’t got half the attention it deserves. Among its coauthors are such prominent Canadians as Jehad Aliweiwi, former executive director of the Canadian Arab Federation, Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Chronicle, and Munir Pervaiz of the Pakistan-Canadian Writers Forum. It begins this way: “A curtain of fear has descended on the intelligentsia of the West, including Canada. The fear of being misunderstood as Islamophobic has sealed their lips, dried their pens and locked their keyboards.”

In Britain, meanwhile the Alliance for Workers Liberty has noticed the same thing, which it attributes to "the shame of invertebrate liberals" in not confronting Islamist bigotry: “But what stinks most of all is the fact that what the bigots now try to do internationally is what they have done, and do, and intend to continue doing, to secularists, dissenters, heretics, non-compliers, liberals, and socialists in the countries where they are strong or dominant.”

Meanwhile, a dozen more intellectuals and journalists from around the world—including British novelist Salman Rushdie, Canada’s Irshad Manji, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali of the Netherlands—have just published another manifesto, similar to the one Hashmi signed. It puts the point this way: “After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat—Islamism.”

That is precisely the totalitarian threat that Afghans, Canadians, Spaniards, Americans, and the soldiers of two dozen other countries are busy rooting out in Afghanistan. Supporting that fight is the only responsible and honourable option for Canadian progressives.

Under “Canuckistan Popular Front,”on the side of this page, you'll find links to Canadians who understand this clearly. But with the High Holy Day of St. Patrick’s Feast now upon us, you should have a look as well at the brilliant critique of these same subjects by an Irish comrade, Anthony McIntyre. Anthony, a former Irish Republican Army soldier, spent half his life in prison in the struggle against British imperialism. McIntyre exhorts us to take the Rushdie/Manji/Ali manifesto very seriously.

Want to know how to say “Saint Patrick’s Day” in Persian? It’s “Festival of Norouz.”

Well, not really. But a fine way to spend the Sunday of the Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, if you live anywhere near Vancouver, anyway, would be to pop by the Mickey McDougall gymnasium at East 23rd and St. Andrew’s in North Vancouver. Among the "new Canadians" there will be Iranian Muslims, Bahais, and Christians, and people of no particular religion; Iranian Kurds, Baluchis, Afghans and others. The opening homily will be given by a Zoroastrian. The general public is warmly welcomed.

The festival is more than just a tremendous testament to Greater Vancouver’s cultural diversity. It’s also a testament to freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly, and solidarity among and between all of us.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The New World Disorder: What Kills You Is Peace

In the dying light of a cool afternoon, at a shallow bend of the broad and sweeping Amur River, in the Russian Far East, a man pulled at the oars of a fishing boat and hauled up at a sandy beach just below Sikachi Alyan, an old village of the Nanai tribe. On this day, 53-year-old Misha came back empty-handed. But when he was a boy, the 4,400-kilometre Amur was teeming with fish. There were giant taimen and kaluga sturgeon – the largest freshwater fish in the world. There were salmon and skygazers, pikes and grass carps, river-horses, ciscos, and catfish.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia was plundered. Salmon bound for Russia’s Pacific rivers were scooped up by Japanese and Korean fishing boats. Poaching became a multi-million-dollar criminal business. By the late 1990s, almost half of Russia’s economy was controlled by gangsters. Life expectancy among Russian males fell by seven years, to 57, roughly the same as Sudan. The Amur was looted of its fish.

It was anarchy, and it was how Misha found his life entwined with two billion other people around the world – the third of humanity now living in the new world disorder that the Washington, D.C.-based Fund For Peace describes in its “Failed State Index.”

At the dawn of the 21st century, by conventional measurements, peace was breaking out all over. Iraq and Afghanistan are anomalies. Since the end of the Cold War, wars have declined by 40 per cent. They have become far fewer in number, and less deadly. War isn’t the problem. It’s the peace that will kill you: nine out of ten armed conflicts underway around the world are not between nation states. They are battles within states over food, water, arable land, and mineral wealth, especially oil.

By the fall of 2005, the Institute for Environment and Human Security reckoned that there were already 20 million “environmental refugees” in the world – far more than war refugees or people fleeing state repression. Today’s refugees are fleeing ecological collapse, desertification, deforestation, drought, and crop failure. They’re running from lawlessness, warlordism, and organized crime. Within five years, the Institute predicts, there will be 50 million such refugees.

The above is from an essay of mine that appears in the March/April issue of Adbusters
, now on the shelves. The essay sets out just some of the reasons why I believe much of the contemporary “anti-war” movement is fighting yesterday’s battles.

Countries like Canada – we’re the ninth largest economy in the world – have a duty to intervene on behalf of civilians in failed states. We’re going to have to learn a lot, very soon, about how to do that sort of thing effectively. And more importantly, we should be doing all we can to ensure that nation states don’t collapse in the first place.

To the “anti-state” left, this is apostasy.

Oh well.

The Fund for Peace is
here. The Institute for Environment and Human Security findings are here.

UPDATE: The Adbusters essay is online now, here. My mugshot there is scary. I look positively scrofulous.

What Grows Up Out of the Grave

Biddy Early was the last woman in Ireland to be tried for witchcraft. She was famous for her long red hair and her beauty, and for her eyes, which were said to be green, and sometimes red, with elliptical pupils like a cat's. She was born in County Clare, in Lower Faha, between Feakle and Gort, in 1798.
That was the year of the Croppies. Seamus Heaney wrote a great poem about it. The peasants filled the pockets of their greatcoats with barley, to feed themselves on the run, and they made their final stand at Vinegar Hill, shaking scythes at cannon. They fell in the thousands, and they buried us without shroud or coffin, and in August the barley grew up out of the grave.
That’s from an essay of mine in this month’s Lost magazine, just out today. There's an excerpt from Mark Abley’s book Spoken Here, fiction from J.D. Jahangir, an essay by Sandy Balfour, author of the book Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose, and more.

Speaking of the lonely life of writing, I see the National Post has just reviewed my new book, Waiting for the Macaws. I don’t have a link to the review so I’ll just say that the reviewer, journalist/novelist John Worsley Simpson, rather likes the book, and finds it “exciting, informative and entertaining.” He’s a bit dismayed with my enthusiastic support for small-scale sustainable whaling, and points out that I attribute much of the blame for the current global extinction spasm to “imperial capitalism, deforestation, rapid human population growth, the rise of crop monoculture, enormous disparities in the distribution of wealth, a blind faith in free trade, and the obliteration of localized culture.” John got it right.

Elsewhere, my old friend Mark Hume also gets it right in an excellent article in today’s Globe and Mail about fellow Vancouver author, journalist and soldier Trevor Greene, who was seriously injured during an ambush in Afghanistan two days ago. The Toronto Star today reports the incident as the first confirmed encounter between Canadian soldiers and the Taliban (you remember them; they’re the kind of fascists that throw acid in the faces of unveiled women). Meanwhile, Master Corporal Timothy Wilson, of Grande Prairie, Alta, has died from injuries he suffered last week in an incident that also claimed the life of Corporal Paul Davis. Our thoughts are with these fine comrades, and their brothers and sisters in arms, and their families.

The British writer and academic Norm Geras, whose web log was voted Britain’s best in 2005, is paying attention. And Novaserve, a friend of Trevor’s, has an affectionate little story about him, in comments, that begins, When Trev was getting set to deploy in August of 2005, we had a chance to spend a few hours together in the company of good friends. Trevor's obvious bravery and fear were apparent to all who encountered him that night. His gusto for the ladies, his comradary, his unwavering determination was a marked event.

Speaking of bloggers I see Eugene Plawiuk is upset with me for having “lost it,” which is to say I've had the impertinence to point out that the people of Afghanistan overwhelmingly and unequivocally support the brave and honourable work Canada’s soldiers are trying to do in Afghanistan. Eugene’s theories are very interesting. He has a fascinating point of view on the subject. For me, though, it’s really not all that complicated.

While Eugene has been busy with the interesting work involved in being a “heresiologist, labour / social / masonic historian, activist, unabashed left-winger” and “libertarian communist” (his words), Canadians like Trevor Greene have been busy in Afghanistan doing what I consider the rather more important and progressive work of refitting hospitals, clearing landmines, helping local journalists set up radio stations, providing armed guards for girls’ schools, building roads and bridges, and, of course, tallying votes and occasionally killing fascists.

For me, it’s simple. I’m not on Eugene’s side, and with respect, this doesn't mean I've “lost it.” It means I found my bearings on this question long ago. There are thousands of brave Canadians putting their lives on the line, discharging the duty of solidarity we all owe to the people of Afghanistan. I’m on their side.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

More Embarassing News for Canada's Pseuds

My previous post linked to a public opinion poll conducted in Afghanistan last fall that shows that while Canada’s “anti-war” left says it knows what’s best for the people there, the vast majority of ordinary Afghans have completely different ideas about what should happen in their country. Here’s a more recent poll, with twice the sample size, that demonstrates conclusively that it’s Canada’s Armed Forces that are on the side of the Afghan people, and Canada’s pseudo-left is not.

Poor Eugene. He’s still trying to convince himself that Canada’s involvement with the NATO/ISAF mission in Afghanistan is merely about “stepping into a civil war to act as surrogates for the U.S.” Some civil war: On one side, an alliance of vicious brigands, gangsters, and theocratic fascists who command the dedicated support of only two per cent of the Afghan population, and on the other side, 93 per cent of the Afghan people who support the country’s newly constituted, democratically-elected government.

The trouble with the pseuds is that even with those odds, they don’t have the guts to back the winning side, the people’s side, which also happens to be the side Canada’s soldiers are on. The Afghans support Canada’s troops. The poll found overwhelming support for Canada’s reconstruction efforts: Eighty-two per cent of the Afghan people say the NATO/ISAF force is working effectively at reconstruction and peacekeeping. And they worry about our soldiers. Only 66 per cent of Afghans are happy that the ISAF/NATO soldiers have had to move beyond the Kabul area. Seventy-nine per cent of Afghans favour U.S. military operations aimed at capturing or killing the al Qaeda remnants in the countryside.


Trevor Greene (pictured above) has been flown to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, wher he is reported in serious but stable condition. Just before he was put on the plane, he was promoted from lieutenant to captain.

Trevor Greene and the Cowardice of Canada’s Pseudo-Left

Trevor Greene is a brave and progressive Vancouver writer who has dedicated much of his working life to writing about the downtrodden and the marginalized. Trevor is in critical condition today. The Canadian Forces' Civil-Military Co-operation unit he’d volunteered to work with in Afghanistan was ambushed in a remote village. Trevor was sitting with a group of village elders, taking extensive notes on the villagers’ needs. He’d removed his helmet and set aside his weapon. The ambush began when a jihadist crept up behind Trevor and brought an axe down upon his head.

The Toronto Star has a full account of the incident here.

Trevor was perhaps best known in Vancouver for the tireless work he undertook in the seamy underworld of the city’s downtown eastside neighbourhood, documenting the murders of Vancouver’s prostitutes for his book Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver’s Low Track. In 1993, Trevor wrote a popular book of investigative journalism in Japan, Bridge of Tears, which documents the plight of that country’s homeless people. Born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Greene settled in Vancouver, lived on a boat in False Creek, and volunteered for duty in Afghanistan to begin what he hoped would be new vocation, convincing Canadian philanthropists to invest in aid projects in Afghanistan.

While Trevor was fighting for his life in the hours after the ambush, Vancouver’s “anti-war” crowd was already parading its troops-out banners in front of Vancouver city hall, and Canada’s Globe and Mail was offering its readers a disgraceful exercise in the most bleak sort of cynicism, all tarted up in the language of anti-imperialism, authored by York University's James Laxer. Canada and its NATO allies should pull out of Afghanistan even though the consequence would be a government that did not respect human rights and “could even be a fascistic theocracy,” Laxer proposes. In the next breath, Laxer says that this doomsday scenario is actually preferable, because if Canada stays the course, the “ornery” Afghans will likely end up resorting to a form of government “even more tyrannical.”

To believe such rubbish, you’d have to harbour the ugliest prejudices about Afghans, and you would also have to completely ignore what the Afghan people themselves say, and what the Afghan people themselves want. An extensive poll of public opinion in Afghanistan last fall shows that ninety-one percent of Afghans prefer the current regime to the deposed Taliban dictatorship, 87 percent say the overthrow of the Taliban was good for the country, and 77 percent say their country is headed in the right direction. Ninety per cent of Afghans believe women should be educated, 90 per cent believe women should have the right to vote, and 75 per cent of Afghans believe women should be free to work outside of their homes and hold office in the government. The people of Afghanistan will not achieve this noble vision if Canada’s so-called “anti-war” lobby has its way and NATO troops are withdrawn.

The emerging democracy in Afghanistan is under constant threat from anti-democratic forces whose immediate objectives are notably similar to those of Canada’s pseudo-left, succinctly described by Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad: “Their goal is to use time and a battle of nerves to tire us, to intimidate us, to make us doubt our objectives, to sow dissension and to turn it into a contentious political debate. In Afghanistan, this debate does not exist.”

Friday, March 03, 2006

. . . . . Has Robert Fisk Finally Lost It?. . . . .

“I'm tired of hearing about `global warming’ - it's become such a cliché that it's a turn-off, a no-read, a yawn-cliché. As perhaps our governments wish it to be. Melting ice caps and disappearing icebergs have become de rigueur for all reporting. After UNESCO put the Ilulissat ice fjord on the World Heritage List, it was discovered to have receded three miles. And there's a lovely irony in the fact that the Canadians are now having a row with the United States about shipping lanes in the far north - because the Americans would like to use a melted North West Passage which comes partly under Canadian sovereignty. But I have a hunch that something more serious is happening to our planet which we are not being told about. . ."

So what's The Fisker’s hunch?

Read it for yourself in his recent essay, Is The Problem Weather Or Is It War? As far as I can make out, Fisk is suggesting that the root cause of global warming is really the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and it involves depleted uranium shells and some data being kept secret by the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment in the United Kingdom. Or something like that.

Anyway, Fisk reports that his suspicions were aroused recently after having visited Canada, “a country whose tundra wastes are known for their frozen desolation,” and found himself obliged to remove his pullover whilst wandering the streets of Toronto. It was just so strangely warm. And so clearly the fault of the Anglo-American adventure in Iraq.

It all put Fisk in mind of the international coverup at the heart of the 1961 apocalypse flick The Day The Earth Caught Fire.

Makes sense to me.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lost, Found: A Haunted Island in the River

In 1979, the Chinese Old Man's Home was a frail and lonely sky-blue building in the classic Chinese frontier architectural style, in a grove of wild bamboo, at 825 Agnes Street, New Westminster. It was built a century earlier as a smallpox hospital; Chinese people at the time were not allowed into the city's "white" hospitals. Over the years, the Chinese Old Man's Home served as a school for Chinese immigrant kids, a social centre, then an old folks' home, and in 1979 the surviving members of the Royal City's Chinese Benevolent Association offered the keys and the title to the building to the city. Sort of a gesture of goodwill, or forgiveness. Within two months, New Westminster' engineering department declared the building a firetrap, and city council had it bulldozed to smithereens.

I was reminded of the Chinese Old Man's home, and the grotesque contempt for the history of ordinary people that has so marked urban "planning" in Greater Vancouver, when I was writing my Chronicles column this week. The column is about Poplar Island, a lush island of cottonwoods and wild cherry in the Fraser River between Mainland New Wesminster and Queensborough, my old neighbourhood, on Lulu Island. Poplar Island was turned into a smallpox quarantine for the aboriginal people along the river, around the same time the Chinese Old Man's Home was built. Aboriginal people weren't allowed in white people's hospitals, either.

In cheerier news, two of our comrades have come into some deserved fortune this week.

John Vaillant, author of the Governor-General's award-winning The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed, won the Pearson Writers Trust prize for non-fiction at an awards ceremony last night in Toronto. Here's a review I wrote of his book.

Also short-listed for the Pearson prize was J.B. MacKinnon, for Dead Man In Paradise. Only two days earlier, at another Toronto awards banquet, J.B. won this year's Charles Taylor prize for literary non-fiction. Chronicles readers were introduced to J.B. here.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Long Day, A Proud Day. Tomorrow The Struggle Resumes.

Yesterday was the 122nd anniversary of the murder of a 15-year-old Canadian Sto:lo boy, Louie Sam, by an American lynch mob. Today, the Washington State legislature acknowledged that horrible injustice. Sto:lo Grand Chief Doug Kelly and I had almost a half hour all to ourselves on CBC’s The Current this morning to try and make sense of it, with brief interludes from Washington State Lt.Gov. Brad Owen and British Columbia’s Intergovernmental Relations Minister John van Dongen, between 9:30 and 10. You can listen to us here.

First things first. Thanks are due to Washington’s Lieutenant-Governor Brad Owen for seeing to it that this resolution was put to the Washington State legislature. The legislature should be congratulated for adopting it. Thanks are also due to B.C. Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo for having brought the matter to Owen’s attention and pressing the case to begin with. University of Saskatchewan historian Keith Carlson did a tremendous job of bringing all the facts to light. The makers of the wonderful short film The Lynching of Louie Sam played a key part in reviving the memory of the incident. And the Sto:lo leadership, perhaps especially my friend Chief Kelly, and my friend Chief Clarence Pennier, deserve our gratitude for their generosity and civility throughout the whole thing.

Now, to be clear: The Washington state resolution apologizes for nothing. I raise no complaint about that. Apologies come easy these days, but the injustice being acknowledged in today’s legislative resolution was most certainly not the lynching of Louie Sam. A lynching is not something you can apologize for.

What Washington State was morally obliged to address was the complicity of American officials in the crime, both in the first instance (an American sheriff directed the lynchers to Louie’s whereabouts in Canada) and after the fact (by failing to bring the lynchers to justice, or to even try). In today’s resolution, the Washington state legislature has discharged its obligations handsomely.

I have only one minor objection to the wording of the resolution: “That the Senate of the State of Washington recognize that the territorial government of Washington and the Government of British Columbia both failed to take adequate action to identify the true culprit of the murder and bring the organizers and members of the lynch mob to justice.”

That has rather too much the smell of moral equivalence about it.

The American authorities at the time were obscenely complicity in the crime. There was the American sheriff’s conduct, to begin with, but more importantly, after the fact, Washington prosecuting attorney C.M. Bradshaw, despite explicit instructions, took absolutely no action to apprehend the lynchers.

Washington authorities refused to act, even after two very brave B.C. Provincial Police officers, William Russell and Charles Clark, at great risk to their own lives, crossed the border, and posing as itinerant labourers, they carried out a thorough investigation, returning not only with a long list of the lynchers’ names, but also a preponderance of evidence implicating one of the lynch-mob leaders in the very crime - the murder of an American shopkeeper – that Louie Sam was ostensibly punished for committing. On that ground, at least, it can be said that B.C. went over and above the call of duty.

It remains my hope that this file will remain open until Clark and Russell are awarded a posthumous commendation for bravery.

The other important thing to remember about all this is the broader political and cultural context. Here, too, for all Canada’s horrible policy towards aboriginal peoples, absolutely no moral equivalence should be drawn between Canada and the United States in these matters:

1. The ancient tribal peoples of the old Columbia territory tended to be openly and unapologetically “King George Indians,” and were given to warm relations with their loyalist allies in the territory – several hundred Hawaiians, Orkney Islanders, Lowland Scots, Iroquois, and Métis. After the Crown relinquished sovereignty in the southern portion of the old Columbia territory when the border was drawn at the 49th parallel in 1848, the loyalist settlers fled north, and an American bloodbath ensued. There was the Cayuse War of 1848, the Klamath and Salmon River Indian Wars of 1855, the Yakima War of 1855, the Nisqually massacres of 1856, and so on.

2. When thousands of American gold miners poured north across the 49th parallel in the 1850s, they immediately began killing aboriginal people. The “King George Indians” fought back, and over the space of a few days during the summer of 1858, roughly 60 headless American corpses were floated down the Fraser River. James Douglas, the governor of the colony of Vancouver Island and the highest-ranking British official anywhere near the conflict, refused to intervene on behalf of the Americans (Douglas, by the way, was an “octoroon” creole; his wife, Amelia, the first lady, was Irish Cree). Instead, Douglas unilaterally established the Colony of British Columbia, to maintain order and to protect what he considered to be the English common-law rights of the mainland’s aboriginal peoples. In 1871, British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation.

3. While American soldiers were busy slaughtering tens of thousands of aboriginal people across the Great Plains, just a few short years after having slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their own countrymen in the U.S. Civil War, Canadians of aboriginal and European and other ancestries were living mainly in peace - even though the 1880s was the most violent decade in Western Canadian history. Total number of Canadians killed by Canadian soldiers between 1867 and today: about 70.

4. Americans lynched 4,743 of their countrymen between the 1880s and the 1960s. Louie Sam is the only documented case of lynching in Canadian history, and he was lynched by a mob of Americans.

Americans eventually acquitted themselves with much honour in their relations with aboriginal peoples, and Canada remains disgracefully laggardly, by some comparisons, in reconciling Crown interests with aboriginal interests. But still. . . .

For an excellent summation of the background to the resolution adopted by the Washington state legislature today, see Miro Cernetig's piece in the Vancouver Sun yesterday.

For an Associated Press account of today’s events at the state legislature in Olympia, see here.

The resolution adopted today by the Washington State legislature can be found here.