Another Take On The Alibi Room Af'stan Debate
Here’s what the forum was not: poisonously adversarial like the TV shoutfests, a refuge for tinfoil-hatted ideologues absorbed in their alternate reality like the Tyee’s own comments section, or a room divided between the dictator-worshipping toadies of the antiwar movement and those of us who won’t sell out democracy or human rights in the name of ideology.
That's from an analysis Ian King has written about the Tyee panel debate on Afghanistan last Thursday. It's a fine account. There's also this:
". . .The most intense moment of the night was a standoff between Glavin and [Michael] Byers, ending with Byers telling Glavin that he’s no longer a socialist and that he’s left the left. 'You used to be cool' was the message from Byers to Glavin."
That's certainly what it must have sounded like, but what Ian didn't hear is that Byers wasn't telling me I was no longer a socialist. He was telling me I had gone "over to the dark side" because I have written critically about the New Democratic Party's incoherence on the question of Afghanistan.
That's what set me off, anyway. For two main reasons.
The first reason is I've tried to be generous to the NDP about this from the beginning, as in this column fom last March:
The good news in all of this is that the job of NDP defence critic has fallen to Dawn Black, the eminently capable and progressive New Westminster MP who regained the riding in the January 23 election. In an interview, Black, who has worked in democracy-training efforts in Bosnia and Cambodia, agreed that the NDP's position on Afghanistan is still evolving. But she was clear on this much: "I think there is a real role for Canada to play and that Canada is playing."
And this column, about a particularly brave NDP candidate, Randall Garrison, who agrees with me that the NDP has been rather less than coherent in its Afghanistan policy:
Garrison believes in things that any self-respecting social democrat would be proud to believe in. And he's not afraid to do the heavy lifting that comes with those beliefs. . . Garrison is a new and different sort of New Democrat. He isn't afraid to say this: 'An independent foreign policy requires a strong military.' He isn't afraid to say this: 'People who serve in the Canadian Forces are ordinary people, and the left has distanced itself from people who do that service. We disdain that service, and we should not' And he's also unafraid to say this: 'You know, if you were a woman or a gay person, what happened in Afghanistan wasn't a war of occupation. It was a liberation.'
So there's all that, but the second big reason for the standoff was that Byers chose to assume an insulting and dangerously naive position, which is that it's traitorous to be concerned enough about the NDP's drift from its core anti-fascist and socialist roots to write about it - but more importantly, because it betrays a crippling incapacity on the part of Canada's self-proclaimed left to even recognize the really dark side on these questions.
Byers' testiness with me had begun only a few minutes earlier when he took as an insult what I had intended as a compliment. I told the audience that I was optimistic about the NDP because it was fortunate enough to have acquired Byers as a senior adviser. He snapped back at me, and said I was bringing "partisan politics" into the debate. And on that point, it may be that I was being the tiniest bit naive.
I had no idea that around the same time as the Afghanistan panel, Byers' association with the NDP was becoming a topic of public debate and scrutiny. And it's not letting up.
As for me, I've said my piece. For a synopsis of what I had to say at the Alibi Room debates, read this. And then start paying attention to Lauryn Oates and Jared Ferrie.
AND FOR ANOTHER THING: Read this essay from last summer by my fellow Eustonard Morton Weinfeld, in the Ottawa Citizen (Will The Real Left Please Stand Up?) It captures the dilemma precisely.