Friday, October 27, 2006

Some Books To Read & One Not To Bother With

Nick Cohen, Independent columnist (UK) and one of my favourite journalists, reviews Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists and Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam here. He prefers Berman:

Along with Bernard Kouchner, the inspirational founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, and Sergio Vieira de Mello, the great United Nations servant whom Islamists murdered in Baghdad, he had concluded that the liberal left had a duty to protect the victims of oppression. Iraq blew that apart, of course. Berman knows all the good reasons for opposing the war, but when he dutifully criticises the Bush administration I sense that his heart isn’t in it. The failure of Fischer and so many other 1968 radicals to challenge the neo-conservatives with a left-wing argument that included solidarity with the victims of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda astonishes him, and rightly so: it was astonishing.

I should say so.

Nick's got a new book coming out soon, What's Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way, and it asks certain necessary and impertinent questions: Why is it that apologies for a militant Islam that stands for everything the liberal-Left is against come from a section of the Left? After the American and British wars in Bosnia and Kosovo against Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansers, why were men and women of the Left denying the existence of Serb concentration camps? Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal-Left, but not, for instance, China, the Sudan, Zimbabwe or North Korea? Why can't those who say they support the Palestinian cause tell you what type of Palestine they would like to see? After the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington why were you as likely to read that a sinister conspiracy of Jews controlled American or British foreign policy in a liberal literary journal as in a neo-Nazi rag?

My new book (Waiting for the Macaws) is out in the UK now, under the title Stories from the Age of Extinctions, published by Saqi Books. And I see that a rambling and thoroughly enjoyable conversation I had with Robert Gougeon of the Writers Cafe in Toronto is now on-line. You can listen to the whole dang thing here. Just click on "play" under the book cover.

Meanwhile, my Tyee colleague Crawford Killian puts the boots to Paul Chiasson's The Island of the Seven Cities.

I admit I'm disappointed that Menzies and Chiasson are wrong. But I'm more angered than disappointed, because their pseudoscience has cast a pall over the subject.

The Chinese certainly did reach East Africa, and perhaps they reached Australia and North America as well. Maybe their shipwrecks lie in San Francisco Bay and off Australia, as Menzies claims.

But what serious archaeologist would risk his reputation now to search for real evidence? Menzies and Chiasson have effectively closed off research into China's maritime history. The scraps of fact in their books are buried in a jumble of errors. And we are all the poorer for it.

Good for you, Crawford.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

How Our Media Can Do Penance For Maher Arar

. . It involves doing something useful for the Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Chaudhury.

Last month, the commission of inquiry into the Arar affair—the analysis and recommendations section alone is 376 pages long—found that there never was a shred of evidence against him after all. No secret al-Qaeda code name, no time spent in Afghan desert training camps, no facilitation of terrorism- logistics work in and around Ottawa, nothing. None of those things you read about Arar in the newspapers was true.

But Justice Dennis O’Connor didn’t just lay the blame for Arar’s destroyed reputation at the feet of rogue Mounties. O’Connor’s report is just as scathing about those same Canadian journalists who now crow about their valiant defiance of the “brute force” of the Canadian state in the Arar case. Their court challenge was all about defending their right to continue hiding the identities of the cops who told all those lies and caused Arar such suffering to begin with.

We all make mistakes. I don’t claim to be braver than Juliet O’Neill, and I make no charge of bad faith against her. The Georgia Straight is no braver than the Ottawa Citizen, either. We don’t need to be. Life is easy here. This is Canada. It’s not, say, Bangladesh, where 12 journalists have been murdered during the past four years, and where the dark shadow of Islamist extremism grows longer by the hour.

There is one small thing we might all do, though, to redeem the tawdriness of our vocation in this country, as an act of contrition for Maher Arar. Given its reach, CanWest Global could be particularly helpful in that one small thing. . . .

That's from my Chronicles column today.

As far as I know, not one of CanWest's newspapers has even mentioned Chaudhury's case. Some close media attention to his circumstances could save his life.

Also, as far as I know, not one CanWest newspaper has explained to its readers the Canadian news' media's foul complicity in Maher Arar's agony. The Toronto Star had Allan Thompson take a shot at it, and so did Tom Walkom.

Otherwise you'd have to go to another country altogether, all the way to the New York Times to get an accounting of what really happened.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Death Mounts in Darfur; We Stand By And Watch

Last month I took quite a drubbing for writing a column (and a post on this weblog) that noticed the strange silence of the left in regards to the ongoing, slow-motion genocide in Darfur. Actually it was Clement Apaak of the Canadian Students for Darfur who did most of the noticing, but we weren't the first to notice, and we weren't the last, as I see from Brian Brivati and Philip Spencer in their assessment of the disgraceful passivity of the "international community" in regards to Darfur, in today's Guardian:

What is more shocking is the indifference of the left. Instead of demanding our governments act now, we are told that what is going on in Darfur is none of our business. Or that this is civil war, not genocide. Or that it is far too complicated for us to intervene. Or that any intervention on our part would only make matters worse. Or that we shouldn't call for intervention because no one has the slightest intention of doing anything, so we are raising expectations that cannot be met. Or that the real plan is to invade Sudan and create a new colony.

These are shameful evasions that run counter to all the left is supposed to stand for.

In today's editions of This Day, out of Lagos, Nigeria, there is also an account of some more noticing, this time of the degree to which the "international community" stood by and watched as Darfur was turned into a kind of Auschwitz:

Despite the extensive coverage of the humanitarian tragedies in the Darfur region of Sudan and efforts to end the calamities, the place has remained a big sore on the planet. Now, a Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) report has indicted the international community and the United Nations (UN) for not responding to early warnings before the raging catastophe unfolded there in 2003. What else does the world need to prick its conscience and halt the drama of anguish and death ?

The report is here. And keep watch on Eric.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Canada in Afghanistan: Some Clear Thinking

. . .And it comes From Rudyard Griffiths of the Dominion Institute:

Afghanistan isn't Iraq and we draw this parallel at our peril. Most of Afghanistan is prospering and at peace. The south, where the fighting is taking place, is made up of a single ethnic and religious group, Sunni Pashtuns. There is simply no structural reason for Afghanistan to spiral into the kind of intractable sectarian violence that is fast derailing the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

What is dangerous to Canada and our interests is the "bring home the troops" movement's casual disregard for the terms on which we are in Afghanistan.

Every Canadian soldier serving in Afghanistan is part of a larger, multinational NATO force that has the full sanction of the United Nations. To withdraw our troops before February 2009 — the date Parliament committed to the UN mission — would be an unparalleled and unprincipled act of unilateralism. In one fell stroke, we would be renouncing the very multilateral institutions we've championed on the world stage for the last half century.

That's from today's Toronto Star. Griffiths is with the Dominion Institute, which is a pretty interesting outfit. Anything that can bring together Charlotte Gray, John Raulston Saul, Jack Granatstein, and Anne Medina, in a common cause, can't be bad. Their books are serious too, bringing in the likes of Naomi Klein, Michael Ignatieff, Ken Wiwa, Nino Ricci and Margaret Atwood.

I have what may or may not be a minor quibble with what Griffiths writes about why Canada is in Afghanistan, and it's about the "terms" upon which we're there. Let's not forget that the Canadians who are actually there on the ground, doing the hard work, have their many reasons. The most compelling are the reasons that motivated Trevor Greene, the brave Vancouver writer who is still slowly recovering from having been attacked by an axe-weilding nutjob in an Afghan village last spring:

"I really think it's important to convey the fact that he's always been a protector of people. I always used to tease him about his white horse he comes charging in on. But he's always looked out for people that are being bullied or harmed. I remember in university he would go across the campus to ensure that a girl got across safely, even if he didn't know her. He wouldn't let someone leave an event and walk alone. I always thought that was remarkable for a young man to be so protective of people. I think that really testifies as to why he went to Afghanistan, to ensure that the people there are heard and that they feel protected. I think that connects and loops back to everything else that he is."

And that's what gets lost in all the highfalutin debates. It's why we should be there, which is to ensure that "that the people there are heard and that they feel protected." So yes, let's hear what Canadians say. But let's not forget what the ordinary people of Afghanistan say, and the last time anyone took the time to listen carefully - which was some months ago - this is what we heard:

Eight in 10 Afghans say that their country is headed in the right direction, the overthrow of the Taliban was a good thing, and so is even the most bloody aspects of the counter-insurgency effort to keep the Taliban at bay.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"To Defeat Evil, We May Have To Traffic In Evil..."

. . . Like coercive interrogations, Ignatieff once wrote.

Or having some guy named Bob who used to be your roomie back in college follow you everywhere on the campaign trail, goading you about it. Or having Stephane Dion pile on, bringing up something you once said about calling in the U.S. Marines to impose a two-state solution on Palestine and Israel.

Hey. Wait a minute. That sounds like a pretty good idea.

But it's all such old news. Here's what he told me, weeks ago:

". . . I’ve been accused of a lot of things that simply aren’t true. I have a really deep and abiding horror of torture. The idea that I advocate for torture is anathema to me. The idea that I would be an apologist for brutality and violence. . . I don’t know why the hatred is there. There is some. But I take full responsibility for that as well. I’m an adult. I’m a responsible human being, I m responsible for everything I’ve said and for everything I’ve done, and for the emotions that I arouse. All I can do is patiently work away, interview by interview and encounter by encounter, with people’s hostility and misapprehensions, and try to correct them. But I’m entirely reconciled to the fact that there will always be people who find me a controversial character.”

Besides, everyone will forget about it once it gets around that Gerard Kennedy used to go by the name Doctor Crank:

Friday, October 20, 2006

Today: Sun Shines On Brute Force Of The State...

. . .but the clouds are still covering the more important story behind the Ontario Superior Court's scuppering of the law the Mounties used to rifle through the notes of Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill two years ago. And that story is the news media's complicity in the smear campaign against the innocent Maher Arar, who ended up being tortured in Syria because of it.

Allan Thompson gets it right:

My purpose is not to criticize the journalists who, I'm sure, acted in good faith when they relayed the information leaked to them. But if they are ashamed now of the stories they produced, based on information provided by highly placed sources, they should talk about this publicly.

Now that we know these allegations were false, journalists have an obligation to examine how they handled this information and indeed, to probe how they were handled by sources who may well have been malicious.

You want a brave Canadian journalist? Here's Kim.

And on another free-speech front, I see my friend Nav Purewal is up for an award. Good work Nav.

Still nothing out of Ottawa about Salah Chaudhury. But I see his case is getting some attention in Washington, at least. And Jeff Weintraub has his shoulder to the wheel.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My First Dissent: It's About The Road Not Taken.

You'd think there'd be a robust liberal-left agenda to harness globalized trade, to redistribute wealth to workers, alleviate poverty, stabilize the overharvesting of scarce local resources, and open new markets for products from poor countries. Trade agreements could force the spread of revolutionary change and democratization, and the entrenchment of human rights, everywhere.

Instead, we have the spectacle of the celebrity American peace mum Cindy Sheehan hugging Hugo Chavez at a World Social Forum photo opportunity in Venezuela, at precisely the moment Chavez was concluding a deal with the Russians for 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, 24 fighter jets, and an arms-manufacturing plant in Caracas. . .
This is the kind of thing that makes it impossible to ignore what is perhaps the greatest betrayal of the historic mission of the left. It's what the great British writer George Orwell observed among certain leftists of his generation, "whose real though unacknowledged motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration for totalitarianism."

When the going got tough back in Orwell's day, that faction was in a minority. It's not so clear that it is the minority now.

My new column has been up since only this morning and already I’m a CIA agent, I see. Is that a demotion or a promotion from the Mossad?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Chaudhury: "My fate is in extreme dark now. . ."

Greetings from Dhaka !
There is a saying, "Before the dawn there is extreme dark". My fate is in extreme dark now. The court presided by Mohammed Momin Ullah, Metropolitan Session Judge, has framed the charge on 12th of October. November 13th is the date for hearing the witnesses. The judge is over enthusiastic in awarding me with capital punishment.

That's the word today from Salahuddin Chaudhury, whose case I outlined here.

My deepest thanks to the Israeli peace advocate Ami Isseroff for passing along Salah's message, and for all Ami's tireless efforts to focus attention on this outrageous situation. Ami's with Mideast Web, which has compiled the most complete dossier on the Chaudhury's case. See also the IFEX background.

This afternoon I also heard from Chaudhury's dear friend Richard Benkin of Interfaith, who reports that Chaudhury emerged from hiding Wednesday and appeared in court for what might be called a preliminary hearing. Bail was granted, and the judge - a notorious Islamist - was displeased to see a Bangladeshi lawyer attending as an observer for the US Embassy.

There should have been a lawyer observing for Canada's High Commission, too. But there wasn't. One could email Canada's High Commissioner in Bangladesh, Barbara Richardson, and ask her why:

Here's what Chronicles' Canadian readers can do. Write letters of protest, to:

Mr. Md. Lutfozzaman Babar, State Minister for Home Affairs, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh Fax: 880-2-7171611

Or at least to:

Rafiq Ahmed Khan, High Commissioner for Bangladesh to Canada, 275 Bank Street, Suite 302, Ottawa, Ontario K2P 2L6 (

And also write to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, urging him see that Canada takes every possible measure on Salah's behalf: Peter MacKay, 125 Sussex Drive Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2, ( .

Then there's Liberal Opposition Leader Bill Graham (, the NDP's Jack Layton ( & the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe ( Michael Ignatieff ( ) was also very helpful in the case of Ramin Jahanbagloo when Ramin was in prison in Iran. Who knows. Maybe he might try to do something for Salah.

I've done all of the above. I'm at a loss about what more to do.

But there must be at least one MP in Ottawa who's capable of taking a few minutes to beome familiar with this case, and raising a question in the House of Commons.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Over The Hills, Far Away; Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Last month, in Ecuador’s Imbabura province, “ecoterrorists” kidnapped seven technical staff associated with the Vancouver-based mining company Ascendant Copper. Two of the workers escaped almost immediately; three were released the following day, and the last two hostages were freed after a four-day standoff, but only after 60 police officers moved in. The result was the arrest and conviction of two radicals from an extremist organization operating in the mountains.

That’s what Ascendant Copper says, anyway.

Increasingly, disturbing allegations are arising regarding the conduct of Canadian mining companies in the Congo, Romania, El Salvador, India, the Philippines, Peru, Mexico, and on and on. Sorting through all the claims and counterclaims shouldn’t be left to voluntary or nongovernmental organizations. And the companies shouldn’t be expected to regulate their own behaviour. But that’s pretty well the way it works.

The House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade says it shouldn’t work that way. Last year the committee released a damning report, which attracted little attention, calling for a strict monitoring regime to ensure that Canada’s mining firms working abroad comply with clear environmental and social-responsibility standards, as well as rules governing workers’ rights and indigenous land rights.

All Ottawa decided to do was to proceed with a series of “roundtable” discussions. . .

That's from my Chronicles column this week. Mining Watch Canada is the best place to keep an eye on these things.

Still no word on Salah Chaudhury.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bangladeshi Brother Needs Our Help: Here's How

Bangladeshi journalist Salahuddin Shoaib Chaudhury is to go on trial tomorrow in Dakha on charges of blasphemy, and also on what are obviously false charges of sedition and espionage. This is only the latest event in a harrowing ordeal Brother Chaudhury has had to suffer over the past three years. He may be on the run at the moment. He has every reason to fear a fraudulent conviction and a sentence of up to 30 years’ imprisonment, or execution.

We might be able to do something to intervene on Brother Chaudhury's behalf. Just by writing letters. But first, a bit of background.

Mr. Chaudhury’s troubles began in 2003 after he decided to use the pages of his newspaper, the weekly Blitz (its web page seems to have disappeared), to argue for greater friendship and cooperation among and between Muslims, Christians and Jews. His newspaper routinely editorialized against the extremism that was growing in Bangladeshi madrassahs. He personally argued that the People’s Republic of Bangladesh should open diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.

Mr. Chaudhury has suffered torture and 16 months in solitary confinement where he was refused medical treatment for his glaucoma. Last week, the Blitz offices, which had been previously firebombed, were attacked and looted, and Mr. Chaudhury, who has been refused police protection, was beaten and robbed.

One of the charges against Mr. Chaudhury is a minor passport offence, which usually carries a fine in the equivalent of about CAN $10. It arises from his attempt to accept an invitation to speak to a convention of the Hebrew Writers’ Association on the topic "the role of media in establishing peace." The case against him also arises from his alleged communications with the Israel-based International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace.

The reports and archives of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange document his case. The International Federation of Journalists has been watching. To get a sense of the kind of honest journalism that got Mr. Chaudhury into trouble, read this essay. The Asian Tribune has a report here.

Here's how you can help.

Bangladesh has a reputation for press freedom that couldn't be worse (well, not until you get down there with Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Libya and places like that) and its government knows the world has started watching, so it might be responsive to a campaign on Mr. Chaudhury's behalf.

Canadian readers of the Chronicles web log could write letters to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, 125 Sussex Drive Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0G2, ( and also to Rafiq Ahmed Khan, High Commissioner for Bangladesh to Canada, 275 Bank Street, Suite 302, Ottawa, Ontario K2P 2L6 ( All correspondence should be cc'd to Liberal Opposition Leader Bill Graham (, the NDP's Jack Layton ( and the Bloc Quebecois' Gilles Duceppe (

I've written mine already. Doesn't need to take much time. Pass the word around as well.

MacKay should be asked to intervene on humanitarian grounds and also on the grounds that Mr. Chaudhury's treatment is in clear violation of Section 19 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And when you write to the Bangladeshi High Commissioner, be sure to keep a civil tongue in your head.

So come on, you slackers. Remember Manik, and start writing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

You just gotta laugh. I mean, really. You just gotta.

Mort Saul, Johnny Wayne, Frank Schuster, Mike Myers, John Candy, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, David Foley, Dan Ackroyd, Scott Thompson, Leslie Neilsen, Mary Walsh, Phil Hartman, Rich Little, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Martin Short, Steve Smith, David Steinberg . . . Rick Mercer.

I see he's gone fishing with Bob Rae, the # 2 placeholder in the Liberal leadership race. And skinnydipping, as it turns out.

And this made me laugh too:

OTTAWA (CBP): Federal NDP leader Jack Layton repeated his demand that Canada withdraw for the United Nations during Question Period in the House of Commons today.

Mr Layton, after expressing his outrage at reports the U.N. Security Council plans a mission to Afghanistan to express its continuing commitment
to the country, said "Canadians want out of this Bush-controlled organ and they want out now."

So did this:

Republicans Want to Turn Over a New Page.

And this:

Two Irish policemen face being kicked off the force after a damning internal inquiry found they got drunk on duty and fought while on armed protection at the United States Embassy in Dublin.

Noreen's always a riot:

International affairs bore me fucking rigid. Isn't it tedious, all this talk about North Korea and their bomb? God, I'm sick to the back teeth of it, those fucking dreadful, attention seeking, totalitarian cunts. They're so behind the times with it all as well, the morons!

And here's Rick putting a question to a certain American presidential candidate about the endorsement he'd won from a certain non-existent Canadian prime minister by the name of Poutine:

Monday, October 09, 2006

S.I. Condemns North Korea's A-Bomb Antics

The announcement by North Korea that it has detonated an atomic weapon in an underground test is vigorously condemned by the Socialist International.

Such a dangerous and totally irresponsible act threatens stability and peace in Asia and the Pacific, seriously undermining global anti-proliferation and disarmament efforts and the prospects for reconciliation between North Korea and South Korea.

Meawnwhile, over at DSTPfW, Spirit of 76 has a bit of fun at the expense of the North Korea Friendship Assocation, where among other things there's a Don MacLeod of Canada whose reaction to the news is:

Congratulations DPRK, This is truly a history changing event and one that will not soon be forgotten, let the imperialist's tremble at the sight of a Socialist Technical Revolution!!!

Who IS this wanker?

For Abundant Harvest, and Continuation of Peace

That would be my favourite reason for Thanksgiving Day, the bit about abundance and peace. It's the thing I would wish for these people, and there's hope yet, but here in Canada the official Thanskgiving proclamations have cited many reasons: End of War with the United States of America. End of Quarantine of Ships at Grosse Isle. For Restoration of Peace with Russia. Cessation of Cholera. You name it.

So many things to be thankful for, but far as I can tell today is still officially "For general thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings with which the people of Canada have been favoured."

We don't have enough statutory holidays in this country. There are only ten, although the provinces and territories have their own, which usually means just one extra holiday. But then there's Newfoundland, which is especially cultured and sensible, allowing six: St. Patrick's Day, St. George's Day, Discovery Day, Memorial Day (same as Canada Day), Orangemen's Day and Regatta Day.

Here's Keefer's latest wanderings, if you need to be reminded why a person should be thankful to live in, say, Vancouver. And not in, say, Dubai, where no Jews or unions are allowed:

On the one hand, it's more cosmopolitan than eastern Germany and southern Italy, more tolerant than Poland or Louisiana, and consumers spend more here than in Munich or Madrid. But on the other hand it's a dictatorship, almost a rogue state, a desert regime without a parliament or a political opposition, without trade unions, political parties or associations. All books and newspapers are subject to censorship. Sharia law is observed, including corporal punishment, and all Jews are strictly banned from entering the country.

I'm thankful I don't live in China. I'm thinking about Yang Maodang:

“Yang’s arrest brings the number of cyber-dissidents detained in China to 50,” [Reporters Without Borders] said. “We are dismayed by the attempts of the Chinese police to break the will of government opponents by all means possible. This inhumane treatment carried out in a completely illegal manner is a disgrace of the Chinese judicial system.”

(Jonathan Zittrain has some ideas about how to fight back.)

In Russia, they'll shoot you if you're not careful. In Canada, they let you get away with printing outrageous lies about Mahar Arrar, which land him in a Syrian torture cell and allow you to act all superior around Americans. Which I will now do, but only because our Thanksgiving Day was the first. It was in Newfoundland (wouldn't you know it) and it was Martin Frobisher, the guy on the stamp up above, 42 years before the Pilgrims.

Mind you, the Yanks have way more freedom than we do. They're allowed to put pistols in their underpants.

The Mahigan describes the holiday from his end. I saw the same moon. Thought I heard the same geese today, at dawn, too.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hello? Is This England? Everybody Alright There?

The Race Relations minister Phil Woolas claimed Mr Straw's comments had provoked a backlash. The Oldham MP said that Muslims in his constituency had received phone calls from relatives asking if they were safe in Britain, following the extensive news coverage of the issue.

What I can't help finding hilarious about the whole thing is that it's not like Jack Straw's been telling people to disrobe or anything. He's simply been asking the fully-veiled Muslim women among his constituents to show their faces during "face to face" meetings in his constituency office.

And here's the really funny bit: He's been making these respectful requests for a year. And not one woman has complained.

I can't recall a single occasion when the lady concerned refused to lift her veil; and most I ask seem relieved I have done so.

That's from what Straw wrote, which is the very thing that's got everyone's niqabs in a twist. It was in the Blackburn Telegraph, and the Guardian reprinted it here.

But since the newspapers are so untrustworthy I decided to consult the official sources about whether it's safe to travel to England, and here's what they say:

Violent crime occurs. Petty crime such as pickpocketing and mugging occur in urban centres, tourist sites, restaurants, buses, trains, and the London Underground. Vehicle theft also occurs. Remain vigilant, ensure personal belongings, passports, and all other travel documents are secure, and do not show signs of affluence.

See? It doesn't say "don't wear veils." It says "don't wear things that make you look rich."

Meanwhile, Nav has discovered Bobloblozloblog actually does exist.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Counterculture's Saint Chomsky Goes Mainstream

“You know, we’re not living in a fascist state,” he says. “We don’t have to face torture chambers and secret police and so on. Consumerism is a much easier threat to face than torture chambers."

I should say so. But is there anything here that "vindicates" Chomsky?

All we've got to go on is that nobody bothers trying to bust up Chomsky's lecture events anymore and most Americans are now as despairing, cynical, alienated and overcome by hopelessness as Chomsky was when he started writing counterculture critiques almost 40 years ago.

This is progress?

Chomsky looks on the bright side: "I mean, we have every possible opportunity, and an incomparable legacy of freedom, of privilege, of opportunity, and there’s numbers that I’ve never seen involved, engaged, and concerned."

America the Beautiful, then.

But still, the hopelessness, which Chomsky attributes to the erosion of unions, the general atomizing trend of America's consumer society, increasing debt loads borne by ordinary people, a growing materialism, and the stagnation of real wages: "I mean, if you’re working 50 hours a week to try to maintain family income, and your children have the kinds of aspirations that come from being flooded with television from age one, and associations have declined, people end up hopeless, even though they have every option.”

Nervermind that last contradiction. In his conversation with Brian Lynch, Chomsky succinctly and accurately describes certain objective conditions, as we used to say, that prevail among most Americans. But it's his analysis I don't quite buy: The 1960s was a golden age, and we're all still suffering from the establishment's backlash against all the great things that were accomplished in that decade - in fact "we're in the middle of that period now."

I know it's apostasy for hippie geezers and other 60s' enthusiasts to contemplate this question, so I'll ask it for them: Isn't it just remotely possible that the rise of the counterculture left - with its flakiness, its frivolous politics, its narcissism and its bourgeois, self-congratulatory arrogance - is just maybe at least part of the reason for the alienation and the cynicism of the masses of ordinary American people?

Chomsky is a brilliant American linguist who has contributed much to analyses and critiques of American power. You have to give him that. But there's another brilliant linguist, this one a Canadian, teaching in the UK, that you should also know a little about.

Shalom Lappin is concerned with the same objective conditions that Chomsky finds in the lives of ordinary people, but what distinguishes Shalom's analysis is its refusal to engage in the weirdly ritualistic litany-recitals that have come to define Chomsky's polemics, and which are also a defining and crippling characteristic of the Chomskyite left. As an intellectual firmly and unambiguously situated on the left, Shalom is not afraid to suggest that we might benefit from a bit of self-criticism. Yes, Lappin argues, a juncture was reached in the 1960s and the "left" took a particular path. Where has this got us?

First, much of what remains of the radical left has aligned itself with extreme Islamic political movements that promote the establishment of religious regimes in Asia and Africa, with the ultimate objective of a global caliphate. In Europe a not insignificant part of what currently passes for the liberal left also expresses sympathy for these movements. Second, in the United States, working-class voters consistently and consciously vote against their class interests by supporting conservative Republican politicians whose plutocratic economic policies they reject. Although these phenomena seem to be unrelated, it is possible to discern a connection between them when one looks at the more general historical context within which they have emerged.

So by all means, read, learn and recite your Chomsky. While I don't much go for the for-or-against approach, it's true he has legions of detractors, and I mean legions, and much as it might discomfit the more ardent among Chomsky's personality cult, the fact is The Great One has quite a few intellectual detractors on the left. Some of them are positively bonkers, of course. But I warn you: If you approach these controversies with an open mind and a legitimate curiosity, you just may find yourself experiencing the very thing Hamish Hamilton describes:

Reading Failed States, I had an epiphany: that by applying a Chomskian analysis to his own writing, you discover exactly the same subtle textual biases, evasions and elisions of meaning as used by those he calls 'the doctrinal managers' of the 'powerful elites'. The mighty Chomsky, the world's greatest public intellectual, is prone to playing fast and loose.
It is important to recognise this fact because the Chomskian analysis has become the defining dissident voice of the blogosphere and a certain kind of far-left academia. So a sense of its integrity is crucial. It is obsessively well-read, but rather famished in original research, except when it is counting how often the liberal media say this or that in their search for hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden, bias. Crucially, it is not interested in debate, because balance is a ruse of the liberal media elites used to con the dumb masses.

Oliver Kamm, though a bit of a miseryguts, has noticed the same kind of thing, and is similarly disinclined to Chomsky hagiography.

Rebel Sell is also a valuable companion to any Chomsky text.

Keep an eye on Andy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Mark Weintraub on Darfur And Fake Progressives

I hope at least some of the readers of Chronicles and its weblog will have taken the advice of StandNow about what we might do today in aid of the people of Darfur (explained here). If you prefer stylish indifference, this guy will make you feel better about yourself.

But following upon what I wrote here, Mark Weintraub of the Canadian Jewish Congress writes something in today's Georgia Straight that I think warrants some close attention. So I'm reprinting the letter here, with links:

Last week’s article by Terry Glavin “Left is strangely silent on tragedy in Darfur” [Sept. 28–Oct. 5] reveals the hypocrisy and moral corruption of a group of extremists who call themselves progressive. It is disheartening that individuals or groups have decided to ignore a three-year genocide in Darfur simply because the Jewish community is a strong advocate, among many others, for innocent Darfurian victims of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

It should be noted that many organizations and individuals within the left and progressive communities have been partners with the Canadian Jewish Congress on Darfur-related advocacy, including many NDP MPs and MLAs and B.C. labour unions who have worked to convince our government to take a leadership role in ending the suffering in Darfur.

Tragically, these groups of extremists are using the genocide in Darfur as part of their political efforts to advance an anti-Israel agenda. Clearly, the two issues have no relationship whatsoever.

Canadian Students for Darfur—a group that works in coalition with the CJC to raise public awareness about the genocide—has been named a “sellout” by these extremists for its work with the Jewish community on this issue. Such name-calling and intimidation against groups working together with the Jewish community to end the crisis expose these extremists for who they really are. We have to look long and hard at any group that would stand in the way of this effective and collaborative work.

That the groups refer to themselves as “antiwar” and peace-building organizations makes a mockery of anything with which they are associated. Over the past three years, more than 300,000 people have died, hundreds of thousands more have been injured, untold numbers have been raped, and entire villages have been destroyed in Darfur, creating millions of refugees. Yet these so-called antiwar groups would rather ignore this genocide than work with Canadian Jews.

Sadly, in their attempt to avoid working with Jewish advocacy organizations, these groups not only expose their disdain toward the Jewish community but they add to the needless suffering of innocent civilians in Darfur who desperately need all the help they can get from progressive and fair-minded people everywhere, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, or politics.

Until our government hears from all of us with one loud and clear voice, we will have failed in our responsibilities as both Canadians and world citizens. Canada must continue to advocate powerfully for what could be a resolution to monumental crisis in Darfur.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Great my glory, I that bore Cuchullain the Valiant

It's all over but the politics, says Blair.

The Report confirms that the IRA is not engaged in paramilitary activity – no terrorism, training, recruiting, targeting, procurement, intelligence gathering, engineering – and that it is not involved, and continues to direct its members not to engage, in criminal activity, says the Taoiseach.

Here are a few good reasons (between Bloody Sunday, 1972, and the Good Friday Agreement, 1998) to do our part, to murmur name upon name, and to ask: What is it but nightfall? No, no, not night but death; Was it needless death after all?



Vol Tony Henderson Vol Terence McDermott Vol Martin Forsythe Vol Tony Jordan Vol John Finucane Vol Francis Hall Vol Daniel Burke Vol Gerard Fennell Vol John Rooney Vol Sean McDermott Vol Thomas Kane Vol Danny Lennon Vol Brendan O'Callaghan Vol Dan Turley Vol Jim McKernan Vol Margaret McArdle Vol Kevin McCrackenVol Caoimhin Mac Bradaigh Vol Patricia Black Vol Frankie Ryan Vol Pearse Jordan Vol John O'Rawe Vol Jimmy Roe

2nd Battalion

Vol Liam McParland Vol Jimmy Steele Vol Peter Blake Vol Tom McGoldrick Vol Charles Hughes Vol Seamus Simpson Vol Danny O'Neill Vol Albert Kavanagh Vol Gerard Crossan Vol Tony Lewis Vol Sean Johnston Vol Tom McCann Vol Patrick Campbell Vol Robert McCrudden Vol Michael Clarke Vol Jimmy Quigley Vol Daniel McAreavey Vol Patrick Maguire Vol John Donaghy Vol Joseph McKinney Vol Stan Carberry Vol Francis Liggett Vol Edward O'Rawe Vol Patrick Mulvenna Vol James Bryson Vol Martin Skillen Vol John Kelly Vol John Stone Vol Paul Fox Vol Sean Bailey Vol James McGrillen Vol Paul Marlowe Vol Tommy Tolan Vol Billy Carson Vol Kevin Delaney Vol Terence O'Neill Vol Liam Hannaway Vol James Burns Vol Tony Campbell Vol Brian Dempsey Vol Finbarr McKenna Vol Proinsias Mac Airt

3rd Battalion

Vol Henry McIlhone Vol Michael Kane Vol James Saunders Vol Billy Reid Vol Patrick McAdorey Vol Tony Nolan Vol Gerald McDade Vol Joseph Cunningham Vol Gerard Bell Vol Gerard Steele Vol Robert Dorrian Vol Joseph Magee Vol Samuel Hughes Vol Charles McCrystal Vol John McErlean Vol Edward McDonnell Vol Jackie McIlhone Vol Joseph Fitzsimmons Vol Martin Engelen Vol Louis Scullion Vol James Reid Vol Joseph Downey Vol Seamus Cassidy Vol James Sloan Vol Tony Campbell Vol James McCann Vol Patrick McCabe Vol Brian Smyth Vol Sean McKee Vol Frederick Leonard Vol Seamus McCusker Vol Martin McDonagh Vol Frank Fitzsimmons Vol Joseph Surgenor Vol Trevor McKibbin Vol Jackie McMahon Vol Jackie Mailey Vol Denis Brown Vol Jim Mulvenna Vol Laurence Montgomery Vol Frankie Donnelly Vol Martin McKenna Vol Laurence Marley Vol Brendan Davison Vol Thomas Begley

CLARE Vol Hugh Hehir

CORK Vol Tony Ahern Vol Dermot Crowley

DERRY BRIGADE Vol Thomas McCool Vol Thomas Carlin Vol Joseph Coyle Vol Eamonn Lafferty Vol James O'Hagan Vol Colm Keenan Vol Eugene McGillan Vol John Starrs Vol Seamus Bradley Vol Michael Quigley Vol John Brady Vol James Carr Vol James McDaid Vol Joe Walker Vol Gerard Craig Vol David Russell Vol Michael Meenan Vol John McDaid Vol Ethel Lynch Vol Jim Gallagher Vol Brian Coyle Vol Denis Heaney Vol Patrick Duffy Vol George McBrearty Vol Charles Maguire Vol Eamonn Bradley Vol Phil O'Donnell Vol Richard Quigley Vol Ciaran Fleming Vol Danny Doherty Vol Willie Fleming Vol Charles English Vol Tony Gough Vol Philip McFadden Vol Patrick O'Hagan Vol Gerard Logue Vol Paddy Deery Vol Eddie McSheffrey

DERRY Vol Martin Lee Vol John Bateson Vol James Sheridan Vol Danny McMullan Vol Antoine Mac Giolla Bhrighde Vol James Kelly

DONEGAL Vol Peter McElcar Vol Raymond McLaughlin

DUBLIN Vol Patrick Cannon Vol Colm Daltun Vol Mick Timothy Vol Christy Harford Vol Martin Doherty

ENGLAND Vol Michael GaughanParkhurst Prison: Vol James McDade Vol Brian Fox

Wakefield Prison: Vol Francis Stagg Vol Edward O'Brien Vol Diarmuid O'Neill

LAOIS Vol Michael Motley Vol Patrick Kelly

LIMERICK Vol Patrick Sheehy

LONG KESH Vol Francis Dodds Vol Teddy Campbell Vol Patrick Teer Vol Hugh Coney Vol James Moyne Vol Henry Heaney Vol Sean Bateson Vol Pol Kinsella

MONAGHAN Vol Sean McKenna Vol Peadar Mohan

NEWRY Vol Colm Murtagh Vol Patrick Hughes Vol Oliver Rowntree Vol Noel Madden Vol Brendan Quinn Vol Edward Grant Vol Patrick McKeown Vol Michael HughesVol Robert Carr Vol Brendan Watters

NORTH ANTRIM Vol Phelim Grant Vol Charles McCann Vol Henry Hogan Vol Declan Martin Vol Peter Rodden Vol Gerard Casey

NORTH ARMAGH Vol Michael Crossey Vol Charles Agnew Vol John Francis Green Vol Terry Brady Vol David Kennedy Vol Sean Burns Vol Gervase McKerr Vol Eugene Toman Vol Eddie Dynes Vol Sean McIlvenna

PORTLAOISE Vol Tom Smith Vol Brendan SeerySLIGO Vol Kevin Coen Vol Joseph MacManus

SOUTH ARMAGH Vol Michael McVerry Vol Sean Boyle Vol Francis Jordan Vol Sean Campbell Vol James Lochrie Vol Peter Cleary Vol Seamus Harvey Vol Peadar McElvanna Vol Brendan Burns Vol Brendan Moley Vol Eugene Martin Vol Malachy Watters

SOUTH FERMANAGH Vol Louis Leonard Vol Seamus McElwain

SOUTH DOWN Vol Peter McNulty Vol James Carlin Vol Martin Curran Vol Leo O'Hanlon Vol Francis Rice Vol Alphonsus Cunningham Vol Paul Magorrian Vol Colum Marks

TYRONE Vol Denis Quinn Vol Hugh Heron Vol John Patrick Mullan Vol Eugene Devlin Vol Kevin Kilpatrick Vol Sean Loughran Vol Patrick Carty Vol Gerard McGlynn Vol Seamus Harvey Vol Daniel McAnallen Vol Patrick Quinn Vol Desmond Morgan Vol Jim McGinn Vol Patrick McDonald Vol Kevin Murray Vol Eugene Martin Vol Sean McKearney Vol Neil Lafferty Vol Paul Duffy Vol Brian Campbell Vol Colm McGirr Vol William Price Vol Charlie Breslin Vol David Devine Vol Michael Devine Vol Declan Arthurs Vol Seamus Donnelly Vol Tony Gormley Vol Eugene Kelly Vol Paddy Kelly Vol Jim Lynagh Vol Padraig McKearney Vol Gerard O'Callaghan Vol Seamus Woods Vol Brian Mullin Vol Gerard Harte Vol Martin Harte Vol James Joseph Connolly Vol Liam Ryan Vol Dessie Grew Vol Martin McCaughey Vol Noel Wilkinson Vol John Quinn Vol Malcolm Nugent Vol Dwayne O'Donnell Vol Tony Doris Vol Lawrence McNally Vol Pete Ryan Vol Danny McCauley Vol Sean O'Farrell Vol Kevin Barry O'Donnell Vol Patrick Vincent Vol Peter Clancy


*Vol Bobby Sands Died on Hunger Strike May 5 1981* *Vol Francis Hughes Died on Hunger Strike May 12 1981* *Vol Raymond McCreesh Died on Hunger Strike May 21 1981* *Vol Joe McDonnell Died on Hunger Strike July 8 1981* *Vol Martin Hurson Died on Hunger Strike July 13 1981* *Vol Kieran Doherty Died on Hunger Strike Aug. 2 1981* *Vol Thomas McElwee Died on Hunger Strike Aug. 8 1981* *Vol Patsy O'Hara Died on Hunger Strike May 21 1981* *Vol Kevin Lynch Died on Hunger Strike Aug. 1 1981* *Vol Michael Devine Died on Hunger Strike Aug. 20 1981*


BELFAST Vol Dorothy Maguire Vol Maura Meehan Vol Anne Parker Vol Anne Marie Petticrew Vol Bridie Dolan Vol Laura Crawford Vol Rosemary Bleakley

DOWNPATRICK Vol Vivien Fitzsimmons

NEWCASTLE Vol Pauline Kane

PORTADOWN Vol Julie Dougan

FIANNA EIREANN: Fian Gerald McAuley Fian Michael Sloan Fian Eamon McCormick Fian Gerry Donaghy Fian David McAuley Fian Sean O'Riordan Fian Michael Magee Fian Joseph Campbell Fian John Dougal Fian Tobias Molloy Fian Joseph McComiskey Fian Bernard Fox Fian Sean Hughes Fian Michael Marley Fian Robert Allsopp Fian Kevin McAuley Fian James O'Neill Fian Paul McWilliams Fian John Dempsey

GHQ STAFF: Vol Jack McCabe Vol Thomas O'Donnell Vol Mairead Farrell Vol Dan McCann Vol Sean Savage Vol Seamus Twomey

SINN FÉIN: Jim Murphy Paul Best Colm Mulgrew Noel Jenkinson

Leicester Prison: Maire Drumm Sean O Conaill

Parkhurst Prison: Peter Corrigan Jeff McKenna Paddy Brady John Davey Tommy Casey Sam Marshall Fergal Caraher Eddie Fullerton Padraig O Seanachain Tommy Donaghy Bernard O'Hagan Pat McBride Paddy Loughran Sheena Campbell Malachy Carey Peter Gallagher Alan Lundy Pat McGeown


Vol Hugh Ferguson Vol Danny Loughran Vol Brendan McNammee Vol Ronnie Trainor Vol Seamus Costello Vol Colm McNutt Vol Tommy Trainor Vol Tony McClelland Vol Miriam Daly Vol Ronnie Bunting Vol Noel Little Vol Jim Power Vol Matt McLarnon Vol Roddy Carroll Vol Seamus Grew Vol Neil McMonagle Vol Brendan Convery Vol Gerard Mallon Vol Joe Craven Vol Paul "Bonanza" McCann Vol John O'Reilly Vol Thomas "Ta" Power Vol Mickey Kearney Vol Kevin Barry Duffy Vol Emmanuel Gargan Vol James McPhilemy Vol Alex Patterson Vol Gino Gallagher Vol John Morris Vol Patrick Campbell

England: Colm Maguire

Scottish Command: Vol Charles Carrigan General James Connolly Vol Iain McKenzie-Kennedy

COMRADES: Rose Campbell Hugh O'Neill Michael Montgomery Pearse Moore Mary McGlinchey Dominic McGlinchey Hessy Phelan Dermot "Tonto" McShane.

Cable Street & Other Things To Remember Today

So we must fly a rebel flag
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.

We’ll make the tyrants feel the sting
O’ those that they would throttle;
They needn’t say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle.

- Henry Lawson, Oz Nationalist, Rebel.

The photograph depicts the American sprinters Tommie Smith and Jon Carlos, famously speaking a thousand words without uttering a sound at the Mexico City Olympics, in 1968. The sprinter standing with his hands at his sides was the Australian, Peter Norman, whose role in the protest is not so well known.

Norman died a couple of days ago, as Hak Mao has observed. Hak and Will - he of little patience for rubbish - also remember another brave day, in another place and another age, when solidarity was the thing: Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, when London's eastenders stood their ground and prevented a march of Mosleyite fascists from defiling their turf.

We were all side by side. I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley. I shall never forget that as long as I live, how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of racism.

Francis Sedgemore notices the irony that Cable Street falls within the constituency boundaries of Bethnall Green and Bow, where certain Mosleyites hold the upper hand at the moment.

And it was not just a question of Jews being there on 4th October, the most amazing thing was to see a silk-coated Orthodox Jew standing next to an Irish docker with a grappling iron. This was absolutely unbelievable. Because it is not a question of... a punch-up between the Jews and fascists, it was a question of the people who understood what fascism was. And in my case it meant the continuation of the struggle in Spain.

It is sad, to learn today that the Tree of Knowledge has been killed. But buck up. The tree is dead but the values live on.

Besides, today is also Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine's birthday.

Lafontaine was the first Prime Minister of Canada - the old pre-Confederation formulation of Canada, anyway. He not only managed to push through the Rebellion Losses Bill but also the Amnesty Act, which absolved the rebels of 1837-38. He was invited to Toronto to run for office by his dear comrade Robert Baldwin, and it was the solidarity they showed one another that gave rise to the Anglo-French reconciliation that ultimately allowed Canada to win its sovereignty out of the Empire without shooting its way out.

Solidarity's the thing.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On Thursday, Do Something Useful For Darfur

When a deviant branch of that family of nations flouts, indeed revels in the abandonment of, the most basic norms of human decency, is there really justification in evoking the excuse that protocol requires the permission of that same arrogant and defiant entity?

That's the question the Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka recently asked at the First Congress of Black Writers and Artists, about the United Nations' indifference to the ongoing genocide of the Darfuri people of Sudan.

Canadian senator Romeo Dallaire, the former peacekeeper-commander whose hands were tied by the UN during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which left almost a million people dead, says the world should not wait for Khartoum's permission to bring peace to Darfur. Dallaire says the African Union's ill-equipped, hobbled and outgunned forces there should be augmented by a multinational force with a mandate to protect Darfuri civilians, even if it means fighting not only Sudanese rebels, but Khartoum's butchers as well.

Dallaire also says Canada has a special duty (having pioneered the UN's "responsibility to protect" doctrine) and a unique opportunity (as an influential middle power with experience in Sudan) to bring peace and justice to the people of Darfur. He's not alone:

This is the moment for Canada to prove itself and its ideals to the people of Darfur, to the international community and, most importantly, to us -- Canadians at home who know our country can and should be doing more.

What needs to be done is pretty straightforward: The immediate deployment of the peacekeeping force that has already been authorized by the UN; Financial and logistical aid to the African Union force already in Darfur; A peace agreement binding the combatants; A lot more humanitarian aid for Darfur's refugees.

The obligation the world owes the people of Darfur is not a cover for American imperialism, and it's not a conspiracy engineered by Zionists. Jeff Weintraub is someone who has taken pains to tackle all that, head on, and he makes it crystal clear that we can no longer afford to let fashionable pseudo-left bullshit stand in the way of getting serious about the duty of solidarity we all owe the people of Darfur.

If Canadians can't make multilateralism work in this crisis, then we can't bitch if all that's left is Yankee unilateralism. You can read a sound argument for leaving the UN in the dust, if it comes to that, here: Some 450,000 innocent human beings are already dead, and more than 2.5 million have fled their homes. Now Sudan is launching a major offensive in Darfur. After three years of fruitless negotiation and feckless rhetoric, it's time to go beyond unenforced U.N. resolutions to a new kind of resolution: the firm resolve to act.

If you're a Canadian student, sign up with the Canadian Students for Darfur, or at least support their work. Their cross-country contacts are here.

It's time to protect the people of Darfur. You can start on Thursday, October 5.

It works like this:

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Loud Explosion In Vancouver, And It's Gone

There aren’t many of those places. They unite us, they sometimes divide us. They’re our comforting past, our pondering present and can represent our fettering, occasionally fearsome future.

Ask any mature person in this small corner of the world we call the Lower Mainland, and they will have a recollection, an anecdote or a fading picture of what they regard as the heyday of the place.

For me it was a big place to a little boy. It was a place where family worked, where Christmas trees talked to you, where you could buy anything you wanted. But foremost it was toyland for me. It was where I could get all those action figures I could only find while visiting Dad in Vancouver. Victoria’s stores just didn’t size up. We’d do the whole strip back then. I might go with him to the Carnegie where he’d play guitar on occasion, and we’d walk into Chinatown and have a coconut bun.

That's from Keefer's account of what happened in Vancouver this weekend. It's at the top of his Vantopia series, all of which is well worth reading.

Me, I spent the weekend doing fundraiser-readings on Saltspring and Galiano, for these people, and these people, so I was too far away to hear the big bang. But I felt it, somehow.