Saturday, February 25, 2006

Transgressions: Drawing the Line at Lynching

It’s taken a great deal of effort by a great many people, but we’re finally closing in on a long-overdue acknowledgement of an unutterably shameful moment in Canadian history. This coming Tuesday, February 28, marks the 122nd anniversary of the day that an American lynch mob rode north across the border at Sumas, about 80 kilometres east of Vancouver, and hanged a 14-year-old Canadian boy, whose name was Louie Sam. On Wednesday, March 1, the Washington state legislature will adopt a resolution to “acknowledge the injustice” surrounding the event. A companion resolution of some sort is expected to be put to the British Columbia legislature.

I’ve written about the incident and the subsequent efforts to convince United States authorities to acknowledge official American complicity in the crime, most recently here.

Louie Sam was a member of the Sto:lo Nation, and he lived in a small village associated with the Sto:lo community of Sumas. The lynchers ostensibly hanged him for the murder of a shopkeeper in the American town of Nooksack, just south of the Canada-U.S. border. A subsequent undercover investigation by two very brave B.C. Provincial Police officers, however, revealed that lynch-mob leader William Osterman was the most likely culprit in the shopkeeper’s murder.

Interest in the case was revived last June when the United States adopted a resolution confessing to its shame in having failed, when it mattered most, to enact anti-lynching laws. The Senate resolution apologized to the descendants of the 4,743 people lynched in the U.S. between the 1880s and the 1960s. The one lynching for which the Senate resolution did not atone was the lynching of Louie Sam – believed to be the only documented case of lynching in Canadian history.

Also last summer, a fine little documentary-drama, The Lynching of Louie Sam, was making the rounds, but official American attention was not paid to the case until last September. That’s when British Columbia’s beloved Lieutenant-Governor, Iona Campagnolo, raised the matter at an official reception for senior Washington state legislators, led by Washington State Lt.-Gov. Brad Owen, at Government House, in Victoria. University of Saskatchewan history professor Keith Carlson also deserves top marks for his persistence in keeping the memory of Louie Sam alive.

There are two other names that must not be forgotten in all this: British Columbia Provincial Police detectives William Russell and Charles Clark. In the weeks following Louie Sam’s lynching, Russell and Clark, at great risk to their own lives, traveled undercover to the Washington community of Nooksack, posing as itinerant laborers. They returned with precisely the evidence that the Washington state authorities had claimed would have been impossible to gather, on account of Louie Sam's lynchers having “gone to ground.” Not only did Clark and Russell return with evidence clearly implicating the lyncher Osterman in the crime Louie Sam was accused of committing, they also came back with a long list of the lynchers' names.

Canadian authorities passed on these findings to U.S. authorities. The Americans ignored it all. That’s the injustice Washington State legislators are morally bound to acknowledge next week. We’ll see if they do.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Paradoxical Phenomenon of the Radical Elite

“The university no longer adheres to the central defining purpose of its liberal humanist phase – the disinterested pursuit and preservation of knowledge. Instead, it caters to, and tries to reconcile, a plurality of interests. . . Despite, and perhaps because of, its sweeping condemnation of capitalism, Theory fosters little practical opposition to the corporate takeover of the university.”

That's a quote from the book Humanism Betrayed – Theory, Ideology, and Culture in the Contemporary University, by Graham Good.

The term “Theory” in the book's title refers to that mélange of deconstruction, post-structuralism, feminism, race theory, postcolonial theory, and queer theory that has animated the conversation about literature for the past 35 years or so. Theory has been disintegrating lately, and its demise, or at least its ossification, is widely speculated upon (see “The Fragmentation of Literary Theory” and “Theory’s Empire”).

Professor Good teaches English literature at the University of British Columbia. Of his assertion that university life has been corroded by group-identity politics, postmodern sectarianism, and a pseudoradicalism that gives rise to the “paradoxical phenomenon of the radical elite,” I detected more than a faint echo in the thoughts of a smart young guy from UBC’s student union that I spent some time talking with last week.

Matt Hayles, the elections outreach officer with UBC’s Alma Mater Society, had this to say about the student union: “The people who are involved in politics are completely into a counterculture way of thinking,” Hayles said. “There’s kind of a political class of people that gets involved in the AMS. It’s like there’s this idea that ‘You are your social group,’ and the AMS has become like a specialized subgroup of campus life. They don’t really interact with anyone but themselves.”

And just as “Theory” has been fragmenting, so has the student body:

There are now more than 300 clubs at UBC. It’s a rise of 50 percent over the past decade or so. There’s the Moustache Club, the Coin and Stamp Collectors, and the Hip-Hop Club. There’s the Cannabis Club, the Croquet Society, and the Ambassadors for Jesus. There is the Israel Advocacy Committee, and the Marxist-Leninist Study Group, and there are Walking Robots, Young Conservatives, Ismailis, and Italians. There are several clubs for dancers, and there are clubs for chess players, science-fiction fans, and Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiasts. Some clubs are brand-new this year. Others, like the Chinese Varsity Club, go back to the 1930s.

There is absolutely no harm in clubs, Hayles is quick to say. Clubs are great. Hayles proudly declared himself a member of the Asian Studies Club, as well as the only club on campus with its own armourer (the Fencing Club). The trouble, though, is that the political life of the student community is being segregated into its own special hive. It is as though the Alma Mater Society is becoming a little club of its own. Hayles said: “It’s becoming its own little student bubble.”

The AMS is supposed to be about all the students at UBC. It’s supposed to be the collective voice of students as individuals. Instead, the AMS is becoming just another club made up of political subgroups that are marked by their preoccupation with an ironic “revolutionary” pose.

And in that, I also heard an echo of what Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter have to say for themselves in Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can’t Be Jammed:

“The overwhelming majority of what gets called radical, revolutionary, subversive or transgressive is nothing of the sort. Moreover, cultural theorists have perfected the art of redescribing any element of mainstream culture in subversive terms. It only take ten minutes of watching MTV to see the absurdity of this entire analysis.”

My conversation with Matt Hayles forms the basis of my Chronicles column this week.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ezra has a point. But only to a point.

“. . .These riots are scary. They're scarier than any letter-writing campaign or boycott or protest rally that has occurred in recent memory,” says Ezra Levant, the publisher of Calgary’s far-right Western Standard. Indeed yes. But in the next breath, Ezra proves himself guilty of the same transgression he accuses the "liberal" media of committing: “The media doesn't care about religious sensibilities -- it is militantly secular. But it has made an exception for the sensibilities of one religion that is quick to riot and behead its critics.”

Ezra resorted to similar stereotyping during his shouting match with Tarek Fateh of the Muslim Canadian Congress yesterday, and in so doing, he engaged in the same intellectual slovenliness that he properly assails in that quarter of the liberal and “left-wing” punditocracy when it insists that a foremost consideration in all this is that “we” should take care not to offend “them.”

There is a big difference between unnecessarily hurting the feelings of the harmlessly devout and taking a brave stand against the jihadists who prey upon them. The breadth and range of opinion among Muslims in Canada and around the world is as vast as it is among among gentiles, nonbelievers and infidels of all shapes and sizes. Let’s please not forget that.

Let's not forget, either, that there are progressive Muslim journalists fighting this fight all over the world from rather less secure redoubts than Cowtown. And there are also Canadians of all religious inclinations on the front lines against fascism. We should keep them in mind, particularly, because what they’re up against is indeed much “scarier than any letter-writing campaign or boycott or protest rally” you could imagine.

In happier news, the unimpeachably sensible Norm Geras (voted Britain's best blogger for 2005) has seen fit to include on his Writers Choice page an essay of mine on the reasons I write. It would be happy-making enough to be in Norm’s company. It’s especially an honour to be in the company of those other writers who have contributed to Norm's Writer’s Choice, such as Frances Wheen, Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen, Linda Grant, David Aaronovitch, Jonathan Freedland, Pamela Bone, George Szirtes.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Most Important Mohammed Image Yet. . .

The Mohammed in the grainy photograph to the right is a different prophet than the one everyone's been scribbling about lately. This one is Mohammed al-Asadi. He is the editor of the Yemen Observer. The photograph shows him behind bars in a prison in Sana'a, where he was taken on Sunday for having printed materials deemed offensive to the Prophet.

The brave Yemeni journalist, who had editorialized for calm and reasoned dialogue about religious sensibilities and freedom of the press, decided to reprint a "veiled" version of one of the controversial Danish caricatures to accompany an article about the Yemeni protests over the cartoon row.

The Yemen Observer website is still on line, and pledges to provide updates about Mohammed (the journalist), who joined three other Yemeni journalists in refusing to be bullied about what a newspaper should or should not print. Abdulkarim Sabra and Yehiya al-Abed of the Yemeni newspaper Al-Hurriya were jailed for printing Prophet-offending material on the weekend, and an arrest warrant was also issued for Kamal al-Aalafi, editor of Al-Rai Al-Aam.

All three newspapers have had their publishing licences revoked.

So the next time someone tells you "this is not about about free speech," remember the face of Mohammed al-Asadi. And remember, too, those Yemeni journalists who are being persecuted not for blaspheming the prophet, but for blaspheming the rich and the powerful:

Only yesterday, Khalid Salman, editor-in-Chief of the socialist newspaper Al-Thori, and journalists Nabil Sobaie and Fikri Qasim, were handed suspended prison sentences on threat of arrest and imprisonment for writing any articles, in any newspaper, about anything, for six months. The three were convicted for offending the Yemeni president by writing about corruption and the deteriorating health and living conditions of Yemen's poor.

Here's some wise counsel from the Kurdish Muslim writer Khasraw Saleh Koyi: If it takes pen and paper, fingers and keyboard strokes, computers and internet, let everyone exercise their freedom to express their thoughts about any religion. For the truth to prevail, freedom of expression is the way. Either that or let historic lies and deceit linger around to feed backwardness and violent temptations indefinitely.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Some Solidarity From This Week’s Conversations

. . . he was brought up always to help the weak; because he knew what it felt like to be the underdog; because his faith taught him to open his door to the homeless, the refugee - and, more simply, because a voice inside him said he had to do it, otherwise he would no longer be himself.

That’s is how the Dutch farmer Bill Bouwma answered questions about why he and his family chose to risk their lives by sheltering Jews from the Nazis during the 1940s. The quotation is from the book Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind, by the British writer and thinker Norm Geras.

This past week, Norm started posting excerpts from that most timely book’s first chapter on his web log, and they’ll continue in the coming days there.

Yet when the vanguard of those chosen by history, blood or God look around them, they find that the blessed are not marching towards Utopia. How can this be? The only acceptable answer is: “them”. The people who work in the dark. The conspirators who corrupt the blessed, spread disorder in society, who turn women against men and children against their parents. No violence is too great to free the blessed from those who pervert them, for when they are freed an earthly paradise awaits them.

It’s an insane story, and one that has produced tens of millions of corpses. To think it died with the 20th century is pure folly.

Those last two paragraphs are from an essay by Nick Cohen, one the bravest public voices on the English-speaking Left, anywhere in the world. It appeared in the New Statesman this week and you can read it on Nick’s web log.

Speaking of Brits, here’s the thoughts of a proud Londoner:

This city is scattered with Radio SW Africas. The main Saudi Arabian opposition station broadcasts from a semi in Fulham. The Falun Gong dissidents broadcast to China from Packham. The Statue of Liberty describes New York City as a haven for the “huddled masses yearning to breath free,” but London goes one better: it is where the world’s huddled masses try to make the world free, one radio station at a time. Yes still the British right savages asylum seekers, claiming people like Gerry and Lance come here for the lavish £40-a-week given to asylum seekers. Do the refugee-bashers of the right really want to pack these freedom fighters on the first boat back to their tyrants?

That’s from one of my favorite writers, Johann Hari, from his column in Wednesday’s Evening Standard. Johann’s blog is here.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

We Interrupt This Broadcast: Mars Is Invading Earth

When we look back on the “Danish cartoon” hysteria a few months from now, who do you think will end up looking more disgracefully ridiculous? Will it be those who said it was all the fault of the Muslims and their stupid religion? Will it be those who said the Death-to-Denmark brigades were legitimately incited by the “west” because “we” are all so racist, and it’s all “our” fault? It will as hard to decide then, I bet, as it is now.

When Canadians look back, we will likely find that our punditti, in the main, kept their heads (no pun meant). Here at Chronicles, we'll will fondly recall the leadership shown by Tarek Fatah of the Canadian Muslim Congress, who bravely and publicly denounced those who insulted the dignity of Islam by “burning newspapers, threatening journalists, issuing bomb threats, yet claiming they are standing up for the Prophet himself.”

I'm already looking back and thinking about it this way:

A wave of mass hysteria seized thousands of radio listeners between 8:15 and 9:30 o'clock last night when a broadcast of a dramatization of H. G. Wells's fantasy, "The War of the Worlds," led thousands to believe that an interplanetary conflict had started with invading Martians spreading wide death and destruction in New Jersey and New York.

By that, I mean that the hysteria has been manufactured, fabricated, and deliberately incited by certain hideously malicious imams, in collusion with such corrupt regimes as Syria, Egypt and Iran. Among the villains of the story, none is more pathetic than the attention-seeking Danish “scholar” Ahmed Akkari.

Akkari’s the guy who toured a cartoon-dossier around the Middle East last fall, deliberately riling up as many nutcases as would entertain his company. Among Akkari’s Blasphemy-Against-The-Prophet cartoon samples was a photocopy of what was in fact just a picture of a French guy dressed up to look like a pig. It was a photograph of Jacques Barrot, a contestant in France’s too-weird Pig-Squealing Championships, held last August in Trie-sur-Baise.

I’d be happy to wager this: On Planet Islam, most ordinary Muslim blokes, left to their own devices and to their own common sense, would never have responded stupidly or violently to the merely vulgar cartoons that really did appear in the Jyllands-Posten. I’m confident of that only partly because of the fact that before Akkari and his gang left on their mischief-making rounds, all of the Danish cartoons had already appeared in a mass-circulation Egyptian newspaper, in Cairo.

Back then, did Egyptian Muslims rush out with torches, intent upon burning the embassies of the infidel? No. What did they do? They looked at the cartoons, snorted, turned the page, and went about their business like the sensible people they are, that’s what.

In Canada, we used to be protected by a simple legal principle, enshrined in Section 181 of the Criminal Code: Everyone who willfully publishes a statement, tale or news that he knows is false and that causes or is likely to cause injury or mischief to a public interest is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

We used to consider Section 181 a reasonable limit on free speech. For good or ill, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the “false news” prohibition in 1992. The chilling irony is that the decision was a victory for a guy who was the spitting image of the theocratic fascists who have lately been bullying and inciting ordinary Muslims all over the world: Ernst Zundel, a jackbooted holocaust denier.

We now interrupt the regular Chronicles broadcast. This just in:

This is Captain Lansing of the signal corps, attached to the state militia, now engaged in military operations in the vicinity of Grovers Mill. . . The things, whatever they are, do not even venture to poke their heads above the pit. I can see their hiding place plainly in the glare of the searchlights here. With all their reported resources, these creatures can scarcely stand up against heavy machine-gun fire. Anyway, it's an interesting outing for the troops. I can make out their khaki uniforms, crossing back and forth in front of the lights. It looks almost like a real war. . .

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

..............Journalists and Murderers..............

It was a beautiful spring morning in Victoria today. At the swank Laurel Point Inn down in the harbour, hundreds of beautiful new books were decked out on crisp white tables throughout the airy convention floor. The place was teeming with book reps and booksellers and publicists and writers.

I was there to read from my new book. It was a breakfast reading, with the novelists Eden Robinson and Billie Livingstone. Frances Backhouse was there to talk about her beautiful book about woodpeckers, and the photographer J.A. Kraulis came with his new book, and he had some very interesting observations about the things that make the Canadian landscape so distinct.

While we were all enjoying ourselves, another group of writers was experiencing a decidedly different kind of reception in Istanbul. Murat Belge, Ismet Berkan, Erol Katırcioglu and Haluk Sahin, all journalists with Turkey’s Daily Radikal, were appearing in court on charges related to newspaper articles they’d written about the slaughter of Armenians in Turkey during the early years of the 20th century. They face up to ten years in prison.

And on another side of the world, Chinese poet and journalist Shi Tao was just beginning another day in a slave labour camp in Hunan Province, where he is serving a ten-year sentence for sending an email out of the country. Shi Tao was ratted out by Yahoo!

It’s fairly easy to look up these things on Google. But not if you live in China. Two weeks ago, Google agreed to censorship rules that will prevent one-sixth of humanity from using the Google search engine to find out anything about Tibet, say, or human rights, or multiparty democracy.

Elsewhere, Prahlad Goala, a writer with the Assamese-language daily Asomiya Khabar, in India, was murdered near his home on January 6 after writing a series of articles linking corrupt forestry officials with a timber-smuggling operation. Goala, 32, riding his motorcycle, was rammed by a truck and then stabbed several times. A local forestry official has been arrested in the case.In the Phillippines, Central Luzon Forum columnist Graciano Aquino was shot and killed January 21 in the town of Morung, and freelance broadcaster Rolly Cañete, was gunned down the day before in the southern city of Pagadian. In Sri Lanka, Subramaniyam Sugitharajah, a reporter with the Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, was gunned down January 24 on his way to work. He’d just finished a series on the deaths of five Tamil students that pointed to a military coverup. Last year, the Sudar Oli office was bombed, and a security guard was killed.

Their stories are here.

After a delightful morning at Laurel Point Hotel, I spent a breezy and animated lunch with my dear old friend, the writer Ben Parfitt. We discussed the affairs of the world over a wonderful meal of butter chicken. Ben had brought me a present - Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and The Murderer.

In Iran, meanwhile, Elham Afrotan and six other journalists working for the weekly Tamadone Hormozgan, in the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, were still in prison after being arrested on January 29 for accidentally printing a lampoon of a long-dead ayatollah. They face the death penalty.

The day they were arrested, in Tehran’s Evin prison, journalist and author Akbar Ganji celebrated his birthday, alone, on the 148th day of his solitary confinement, in the sixth year of his imprisonment, for the crime of attending an April, 2000 conference in Berlin, at which social reform in Iran was discussed.

I could go on and on and on like this. I don’t mean to be dreary.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly today. I was in the company of friends and colleagues. The rewards of being a writer in a constitutional democracy were everywhere in evidence.

But my thoughts did turn to those others.

And to her.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Today's Globe and Mail excerpts my new book!

It took four years, on and off, so I was happy when it arrived, let me tell you. All nice and new and shiny, with that new-book smell and everything. It’s called Waiting For The Macaws. Viking/Penguin is publishing it in Canada (you can even read the prologue here) and St. Martin’s Press is publishing it next year in the U.S.
Started out on an Irish backroad, went to Russia, Costa Rica, Singapore, Vancouver Island, the Lofoten Islands off the Norwegian coast, the vaults underneath Kew Gardens in London, wandered out of the Eastern Himalayas into Burma (by mistake) and ended up in Calcutta.
The story is that the world is unraveling. We’re losing a language every two weeks, a venerable old food crop variety every six hours, a distinct species every ten minutes. Songs, stories, ideas – all vanishing. The odd thing about all the effort I put into the book is that I ended up admiring humanity far more than when I started.
We’re facing really hard choices now. There’s much more at stake than there was in any of the terrible choices our parents and grandparents faced. But there is absolutely no evidence that the direction the world is heading in is the direction any of us wants it to go. And the thing is, we still have the capacity to choose, to make decisions. So it’s about deciding.
Anyway, it’s mainly a book of stories: A village, a tiger, a bird, a fish, a lion, a whale, a flower, a world, a god.The fish story is The Last Giants in the River of the Black Dragon, and today's Globe excerpt is a kind of journalese version of a passage from that chapter. Here’s a snippet:
The day I arrived in Khabarovsk for a symposium on fisheries conservation, there was an article on the front page of the Pacific Ocean Star, the city's daily newspaper, about a police investigation into the assassination of the state governor. The investigators were saying that he had been killed by organized-crime bosses who had gained control of whole sections of the coastal fishing industry. But no one was certain, and nor could anyone say with any certainty who had murdered the senior fisheries-enforcement officer on Sakhalin Island. The year before, he had begun a crackdown on high-seas poaching. Some said his assassins were from a Japanese organized-crime syndicate. Others pointed to the Japanese gangs' Russian-mafia clients.
It was a mystery -- as is the extent of the "shock therapy" that the transition from communism has brought to Russia's eastern rivers and Pacific waters. Outside the country, the magnitude of what has been happening is largely unknown. . .
Private businesses ended up with almost all the forest licences and most of the region's vast mineral deposits. The forests that remained in public hands were being clear-cut by criminal outfits. Journalists who tried to report on the situation did so at the risk of their lives. Russia's Pacific fish stocks were plundered. Fishing quotas were assigned to new quasi-legal corporations that sublet their shares to foreign fleets, mainly shady Japanese enterprises that counted, as a simple cost of doing business, the lease fees they deposited into gangsters' foreign accounts.
Russian naval and coast guard forces were powerless to stop what had degenerated into a massive poaching free-for-all. The naval base at Russky Island, which lies almost within sight of Vladivostok Harbour, was cut off from its basic food supplies; more than 1,000 officers and crew had to be evacuated to the mainland to be treated for severe malnutrition. Four sailors starved to death.
It’s in the Globe’s Focus section, here.

Friday, February 03, 2006


That was the question posed by Jihad al-Momani, the editor in chief of the Jordanian weekly newspaper Arabic Shihan, in an editorial on the subject of the allegedly blasphemous cartoons we've all been hearing about. Today, Jihad al-Momani was fired, not just for posing his brave question, but for also having had the courage to print the Danish cartoons that have allegedly enraged the mythical planet known as the Muslim World.

Under the headline, "Muslims of the world, be reasonable," al-Momani wrote that the cartoons, or at least some of them, were offensive, but he also pointed out that the Danish newspaper at the centre of the storm, Jyllands-Posten, had apologised for upsetting people, "but for some reason, nobody in the Muslim world wants to hear the apology."

This is the question al-Momani posed: "Who offends Islam more? A foreigner who endeavours to draw the prophet as described by his followers in the world, or a Muslim armed with an explosive belt who commits suicide in a wedding party in Amman or anywhere else?"

If any good comes from the sacking of a brave Arab journalist, let's hope it will be an end to the nonsense about whether "we" have offended "them," a premise around which we should not be choosing sides at all, because it is ridiculous and false.

Muslims are not all humourless totalitarians. For hilarious and irreverent verdicts on this entire, unseemly spectacle, no one has been so withering and insightful as the Saudi humourist who goes by the name The Religious Policeman.

"We" in the "West," especially those of us who are writers and journalists, do no favours at all to our comrades in the "Muslim world" by trying to figure out how far we're willing to go to accommodate the authoritarian windbags that they labour under.

There's all kinds of room for civil debate about the responsibility that comes with free speech, and it may well be that the traditions of liberal democracy would not be offended by certain legal limits, even, to the degree that speech deliberately incites and provokes enmity and rage among Muslims, by vulgar caricature of the prophet, for instance. At least that's conceivable.

But what is inconceivable is the way it has become accepted that any depiction or representation of the Prophet is iredeemably offensive to Muslims, and that secular media should consider such depictions if not beyond the bounds of law, then at least beyond the bounds of decorum and civility.

The truth of it is that Mohammed has been showing up in paintings, sculptures, advertisements and posters, in "Muslim" countries and in "Christian" countries, for a thousand years. In Europe, for the past quarter of a century, he's been on the cover of several books, to no public outrage. In Iran, he shows up in paintings you can buy in the street. There's a veritable on-line museum of those representations here.

So where is the line? Should there even be one?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Soaked In the Blood of Jerry Garcia

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, in Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed (Harper Perennial, 2000) have some interesting things to say about the “counterculture” and its parastic relationship with capitalism. Their ideas recall Kurt Cobain's famously rebellious declaration: The only way I would wear a tye-died T-shirt would be if it were soaked in the blood of Jerry Garcia.

Heath and Potter: “This wouldn’t be so important if it were confined to the world of music. Unfortunately, the idea of counterculture has become so deeply embedded in our understanding of society that it influences every aspect of social and political life. Most importantly, it has become the conceptual template for all contemporary leftist politics. Counterculture has almost completely replaced socialism as the basis of radical political thought. So if counterculture is a myth, then it is one that has misled an enormous number of people, with untold political consequences.”

Canada's "Peoples' Poet," Milton Acorn, was of a similar view, almost 40 years ago. Milton was what is known as a Red Tory.

Ron Dart is a Red Tory philosopher, a devout Anglican, an NDP supporter (at least for now), an authority on the beat poets and the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, and the author more than a dozen books, including The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes. In conversation with Ron the other day, I heard more than just a faint echo of the Heath/Potter thesis.

Beware the “antistate” left, Ron warns. The “antistate” left in Canada speaks the same American language as Stephen Harper’s neoconservatives. It cleaves to “liberal” ideas, but in the American meaning of the word. It is a “subtler imperialism” that threatens to render Canada incapable of articulating its own effective, homegrown progressive politics.

I think this is a very important and interesting idea. And it comes with a warning Canadians should heed: Beware, else we end up with our own versions of Fox News shouting matches, and our own Al Frankens pitted against their Bill O’Reillys in the same degenerate American arguments, carried on in the same American language, and the same hoarse and hate-filled stalemate that has so horribly paralyzed and disfigured American politics.

Canada's dilemma arises from precisely the condition George Orwell understood so competely, which Ron puts this way: “When they control your language, they control your memory.”

I write about all this in my column today, here.