Friday, January 30, 2009

What Species of Creatures: Animal Relations From The New World (Sharon Kirsch)

Can't say enough about it. I'm not even half way through, but couldn't wait to recommend it. More here. Get it via Amazon, or order directly. And yes, New Star Books is also home to my own imprint ( series, more precisely), known as Transmontanus.

About What Species of Creatures:

"The Europeans who colonized North America more than three centuries ago encountered fantastical creatures: flying squirrels, ruby–throated hummingbirds, the easily tamed beaver. Their literature of discovery – by turns comic, cruel, and adulatory – provides a revealing glimpse of the taxonomies they carried with them into their so–called New World. Sharon Kirsch weaves early settler accounts, fables, children's stories, natural histories and 21st century science in a quirky narrative that probes our complicated relationship with the other creatures that share the planet."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fire In The Belly

Once you strip away the misleading “explanations” offered up by the cultural relativists, all that remains is disgraceful excuse-making for an ideology that requires its adherents to pull women’s fingernails out for the crime of wearing nail polish. It is an ideology engaged in an open revolt against humanity, against the values shared by Afghans and Canadians alike, and against an entire international order founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

That's from an essay by my comrade Lauryn Oates, co-founder of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, in today's Ottawa Citizen. Read it and spread the word.

Here's a "why we fight" photograph I took of Lauryn and some of her sisters in Afghanistan a couple of months ago:

The Preacher And The Slave: 21st Century Edition

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that 'a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people'. It was a Magna Carta for mankind – and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth. Today, the Chinese dictatorship calls it 'Western', Robert Mugabe calls it 'colonialist', and Dick Cheney calls it 'outdated'. The countries of the world have chronically failed to meet it – but the document has been held up by the United Nations as the ultimate standard against which to check ourselves. Until now."

I should hope that these developments are at last getting some attention. Ten months ago, the International Humanist and Ethical Union pointed out: "For the past eleven years the organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) representing the 57 Islamic States, has been tightening its grip on the throat of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yesterday, 28 March 2008, they finally killed it. With the support of their allies including China, Russia and Cuba (none well-known for their defence of human rights) the Islamic States succeeded in forcing through an amendment to a resolution on Freedom of Expression that has turned the entire concept on its head. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression will now be required to report on the 'abuse' of this most cherished freedom by anyone who, for example, dares speak out against Sharia laws that require women to be stoned to death for adultery or young men to be hanged for being gay, or against the marriage of girls as young as nine, as in Iran."

Meanwhile, I see Michail Ryklin's essay "In The Burning House," which appeared last summer in Lettre International (my essay Der Andere Fluss appeared in the same edition) has been translated from the German into English. It's about the tribulations and eventual suicide of his late wife, the artist Anna Alchuck, following her involvement in the 2005 Caution: Religion! exhibition in Moscow. Ryklin takes note of what can happen when a person is "charged as guilty by an authority which speaks in the name of everyone." Here's what can happen: "The chosen scapegoat begins, with time, to inscribe the guilt on to their own body. At some point the desire emerges to peel off this body, to break out into a space beyond this perverted society which condemned them."

All of this has deepened my conviction that the implications of these hullaballoos are far broader, and far more dire, than we generally realize. Not that long ago, our rallying cry was 'What we want for ourselves, we demand for all.' This principle was once central to the historic mission of the left. It's long past time to revive that spirit, and rejoin that epic struggle for the right to free speech, at home, and over the hills and far away:

UPDATE: The linked article that the first paragraph of this post cites, which first appeared in the Independent (UK), is Johann Hari's "Why should I respect these religions?" After Hari's essay was reprinted in India's venerable liberal-left daily, The Statesman, mobs of protesters besieged the newspaper's offices for several days, then took to blocking roads, attacking police, and then forcing the Statesman's staff to barricade the front entrance to the building to protect themselves. Yesterday, Statesman editor Ravindra Kumar and publisher Anand Sinha were arrested on charges of malicious intent to upset the religious feelings of Muslims.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I Am Being Silenced By Zionists Because I Dare To Speak Out! Where's The Outrage?

Not really. Just thought I'd generate some traffic for some lovely music from the Holy Land. It's a song called The White Hills, sung by Dáithí Sproule, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill. Otherwise known as Skara Brae, reunited for this performance in 2004. Sung beautifully in Gaeilge, otherwise known as Irish, otherwise known as Bogman's Backchat, otherwise known as the Language of Heaven:

All drones, trolls and other tedious auld slags can post their comments here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gung Hay Fat Choy


This New Year is different. The flood back to the countryside began early, in December, and many millions in the army of migrant workers will not be returning when the holiday ends later this week because their jobs have disappeared.

"How could the workers not fight back? What else could they do to defend themselves?"

On Jan. 6, the Guangdong provincial prosecutor's office issued a statement urging prosecutors not to arrest or detain technical and management staff or legal representatives of firms suspected of involvement in "general" crimes. The Guangdong authorities justified the measure in the name of "protecting normal business operations."

In 2008, 670,000 small and medium-size businesses closed, laying off an estimated 10 million people, mostly migrant workers. The government of agricultural Henan province announced that 3.7 million jobless migrants recently returned. In industrial Guangdong province, more than 600,000 migrants have left for home, and the provincial governor says another 1 million could leave in coming months as more businesses close or lay off employees.

"These are people who feel they have nothing to lose, because there's nothing for them."

Not forgetting that today is also. . .

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"On The Boardwalk"

Something about this report from Damian Brooks, in Kandahar, caught my eye. An Inukshuk, apparently. But not quite. More accurately an Inunguaq, "imitation of a person," it seems to me. Peter Irniq explains:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Slim Evans Has Been Hit By A Car

On this day, January 23, in 1944, Arthur 'Slim' Evans, a shop steward with the Amalgamated Shipwrights' Union, stepped off a streetcar at Joyce and Kingsway in Vancouver and got hit by a car. It could have been because he wasn't very steady on his legs. Slim walked with a limp because of an old bullet wound from the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, one of the bloodiest encounters of the 14-month Colorado Coal Strike.

He died three weeks later. He was 54.

Slim was born in Toronto, left school at 13, sold newspapers, drove horse teams, worked as a carpenter, and headed west to seek his fortune. He did odd jobs across the prairies, went south to America for work, gravitated towards the Industrial Workers of the World and got sentenced to three years in prison for reading the American Declaration of Independence out loud at an IWW free speech rally in Kansas City in 1911. He got released the following year after leading a prisoners' strike.

After the Colorado Coal Fields War, Slim came back to Canada where he worked in the mines in the Rocky Mountains. He was an organizer for the One Big Union and led an OBU strike at Drumheller, Alberta, where he got chucked in jail again, then got expelled from the American miners union that had gotten the certifications with the mining companies. In Vancouver, he got expelled from the American-run carpenters union because he'd joined the Communist Party.

He was chucked in jail again a few years later for leading a coal miners' strike in the Monashee Mountains, but he was out in time to play a key leadership role in the insurrectionary On-To-Ottawa Trek of 1935, when thousands of unemployed workers commandeered freight trains and headed east, towards the national capital. It was Slim that was assigned to negotiate with Prime Minister R.B. Bennett. The workers got as far as Regina, where they were attacked by riot police, and were bludgeoned and shot at. The Trek was over.

Two years later, Slim was organizing a medical fund for the 1,700 Canadian volunteers who'd joined the International Brigades in Spain. It was because Slim wasn't very steady on his legs that he worked the home front. After organizing Local 480 of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers in the East Kootenay mountains, it was back to Vancouver, where he got a job at Vancouver Shipyards. That was his job the day he stepped off that streetcar.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yes Indeed, You're Going To Have To Serve Somebody

Already 30 years gone, and though you may be an atheist, or even an antitheist, you're also going to have to concede that this was a work of beautiful crazy genius. Numinous. Transcendent. Fair play to all here:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sid Ryan: Parody of Antisemitism or Mossad Sleeper Agent?

Andrew Potter asks that question, tongue-in-cheek on a serious subject, but also a more serious question: "CUPE has never seen fit to demand that American academics denounce George W. Bush, or insist that Russian professors criticize Vladimir Putin, before they should be allowed to set foot on an Ontario campus. Could there be something more sinister at work than mere concern for the immediate plight of the Gazans?"

Yes, I reckon so. In any case, something sinister is going on, and Sid Ryan is an embarrassment to CUPE and to trade unionism, and Ryan's fans are quite right about one thing: a seriously-overcaffeinated anti-Zionism has indeed become "a central part of the left's political culture." I also agree that it is wholly foreign to the central traditions of the Canadian Left and its institutions.

Whatever name you want to give it, the conditions that anticipated this were quite clearly outlined by - guess who? - Andrew Potter, who co-authored an important little book with Joseph Heath a few years ago called The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed. Here's an important observation Potter and Heath made back then: "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.”

It's not that hippie pieties, lurid Grateful Dead lyrics and a vast selection of Che t-shirts in your closet will necessarily land you in the muck that August Bebel called "the socialism of fools." But if that's what passes for your politics, chances are you won't even notice it when it happens.

Potter blogs here.

Meanwhile, since we're on the subject of the elevation of avante-garde solipsism to the place where serious political analysis used to be, why not Be Your Own Obama! It would have been so inauthentic of me to try and resist the temptation. And so I did not:

“Liberal Muslims’ Double Jeopardy - Militant Mullahs and the Angry West”

This is a guest post by Taj Hashmi, whose recent move to the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies was Canada's loss. Hashmi was among the 11 prominent Canadian Muslim intellectuals who signed this declaration [pdf] against Islamist despotism and for free speech a couple of years ago. His perspective, especially on the degenerate-left postures counseled by the counterculture icon Tariq Ali, provides a useful buttress to this analysis, by Toronto's Imtiaz Baloch. In considering the recent work of Canada's Tarek Fatah, Hashmi points to a phenomenon that is rarely acknowledged in the "west," and in Canada, almost never. That's why it's here.

Despite the prevalent Western misgivings about the bona fides of the Muslims as peace-loving, normal human beings, the impassive facts remain unaltered: the Muslim community is neither an amorphous monolith nor are the overwhelming majority of Muslims supportive of terror and violence in the name of their religion.

Again, what often goes unnoticed is the rising voice of the liberal Muslim throughout the world. Liberal Muslims – irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds, differences in their political ideologies, levels of education and devotion to their faith – across the board, especially since Nine-Eleven, have been registering their contempt for the so-called ideology of jihad which promotes murder and terror, including suicide attacks on Muslim or non-Muslim non-combatants and innocent people anywhere in the world. Not only modern-educated, well-to-do and middle class Muslims represent the liberal stream, but the bulk of the orthodox and conservative clerics, sufis, shopkeepers, peasants and artisans who adhere to Islam may also be categorized as liberal and peaceful.

Nevertheless, liberal Muslims do not always reap the right harvest. While militant mullahs and terrorists despise and often attack them physically for opposing Islamism and terror, Western media, intellectuals and policymakers in general either ignore them as irrelevant, and even worse, portray them as silent or potential supporters of Islamist terror. Of late, a few leftist Muslim intellectuals (often agnostic and atheistic) have been romanticizing and glorifying Islamists, including the Taliban, as the last bastions of anti-imperialist freedom fighters. Then again, sticking to their guns, the more numerous and influential liberal Muslims have been denigrating both the Islamists – including the ultra-orthodox Saudi and Iranian regimes, al Qaeda and Taliban – and Western highhandedness and even cynical promotion of Islamism and autocracy in the Muslim World.

In view of the above, Canadian Muslim author and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, Tarek Fatah has raised his voice both against Islamism and imperialism posing the question of whether liberal and secular Muslims can work together to neutralize the militant mullah and his angry and uninformed counterpart in the West. His recent lecture at the Family of Hearts convention in Toronto on January 11, 2009, “The Challenge of Fundamentalism and Imperialism: Can Secular and Liberal Muslims Work Together?” was simply inspiring and dazzling; worth wide circulation among liberal Muslims and non-Muslims for the sake of peace and order in our life time. As renowned Muslim and non-Muslim scholars have endorsed Fatah’s moderate and conciliatory views as expressed in his book on the mythical “Islamic State”, so are they full of praise for this lecture.

As Fatah has stipulated in the lecture, it is time Muslims across the board realize that as Western imperialism is baneful to human progress and global peace so is the dogma of hate and intolerance that invokes Muslims to hate everything the West represents through democratic and secular values. Most importantly, Tarek’s razor-sharp critique of some leftist intellectuals condoning Taliban atrocities and portraying them as merely “Pushtoon nationalists” is very timely and insightful. He has aptly cited the yawning gap between the “indigenous” and “foreign” secular/liberal/leftist Muslim perceptions of the so-called Global Jihad.

While the former group of Muslim intellectuals, due to their first-hand experience of Islamist terror and intolerance in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries consider the Islamists as backward-looking monsters, their secular/liberal counterparts mostly living in the West, romanticize the Islamists simply as “friends” out of sheer lopsided logic and understanding. He has rightly singled out Pervez Hoodbhoy and Tariq Ali as representatives of the “indigenous” and “foreign” Muslim secular/liberal intellectuals, respectively.

Considering all enemies of your enemy as friends could at most be cynical, at worst counterproductive and dangerous, so goes the main thrust of Fatah’s argument. As innocent victims of Western imperialism in Iran and Afghanistan have been suffering today for preferring Islamists as lesser evils to the pro-Western Shah and pro-Soviet communists respectively, Tarek’s warning is very pertinent and timely, especially for the secular/liberal Muslims in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. He has appropriately congratulated Pakistani and Bangladeshi (Muslim) voters for their en masse rejection of mullahs as their representatives. What he wants to see in the Muslim secular/liberal camps is solidarity against all forms of imperialism, intolerance and terror, Western and Islamist.

Registering his contempt for many Westernized bourgeoisie in Pakistan, who in his inimitable style, are “infatuated by the Islamists, romanticizing them in the same way a yuppie drives a BMW while wearing a Che T-shirt”, Fatah has provided an eye-opener for us all. His citing Hoodbhoy to warn the unaware is incisive: “A Taliban victory would transport us into the darkest of dark ages. These fanatics dream of transforming the country [Pakistan] into a religious state where they will be the law. They stone women to death, cut off limbs, kill doctors for administering polio shots, force girl-children into burqa, threaten beard-shaving barbers with death…. Even flying kites is a life-threatening sin.”

One could not agree more with his insightful syllogism drawn from the lessons of history:

Thus when Japan attacked the US, its anti-American stance could not be and was never understood to driven by an anti-imperialist doctrine. Similarly, when Hitler’s Panzer divisions fought advancing American and British troops in Western Europe, only a fool would have placed Nazi Germany into the camp of anti-imperialism.

Today, just because the Taliban or Hezbollah or Iran attack Americans or blow up their embassies and fly planes into the New York Towers, does not mean their anti-Americanism translates into anti-imperialism [italics mine].

Tarek Fatah has demolished the Trotskyist Tariq Ali’s position that Islamist Iran could be considered as “anti-imperialist” while the country practices “unbridled capitalism”, where even the sea ports are privatized and trade unions banned. He has appropriately cited Mark Twain as an example of anti-imperialist intellectual in 19th century America, lamenting the fact that there are not that many Mark Twains [let alone a Bertrand Russell or a Noam Chomsky] in the Muslim World; and hardly any voice among Arab Muslims to speak out against “the occupation by Arab countries of Kurdistan, Western Sahara and dare I say, Darfur.” He is also critical of Pakistan’s sixty-year old military operations in Baluchistan.

His “maverick” (from the conservative Muslim view point) albeit constructive ideas for a rapprochement between the Western and Muslim worlds are timely and commendable. His bridge-building ideas are noteworthy: “The Western tradition is not Western in any essential sense, but only through an accident of geography and history. Indeed, Islamic learning provided an important resource for both the Renaissance and the development of science [in the West]. The ideas we call ‘Western’ are in fact universal, laying the basis for greater human flourishing.”

The inherent optimism in Fatah’s writings about secular/liberal Muslims uniting to fight Western hegemony without compromising with the Islamists in the long run is noteworthy. One may cite his path breaking book, Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State (Wiley, Toronto 2008), in this regard. His stern warning against supporting the Islamists who in the name of fighting the West (which has been both hypocritical and opportunistic) want to establish fascism in the name of religion is very well-timed and laudable. Most definitely, Tarek Fatah is the voice of “liberal Islam” – for Muslim regeneration, enlightenment, progress and above all, “peace within and peace without”, the cardinal principle of Islam.

- Taj Hashmi.

I'd quibble with Hashmi's characterization of Tariq Ali as a Trotskyist, as I'm sure Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers Liberty would as well, judging by Matgamna's bracing critique here: The Reactionary, Right-Wing Politics of the Gaza Demonstrations. See also Tahir Aslam Gora's Of Muslim Leftists and Liberalism and Naeem Khan Wardag's Tariq Ali, Pashtun Nationalism and Taliban.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Favour

VANCOUVER, B.C. — An ancient hollow tree in Stanley Park has been spared from the chainsaw. Newly-elected members of the Vancouver Park Board have approved a plan to realign and straighten the tree after it was damaged by wind storms in 2006.

Previous park board members had voted to fell what remained of the massive hollow stump, but the current board has accepted a plan to jack the red cedar back to its original vertical position and stabilize it with internal steel braces.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Reading Gaza"

You will not read anything on the subject better than this, anywhere.

It's by Peter Ryley. This guy:

UPDATE: More clear thinking, with references to Orwell's Politics and the English Language, and some interesting antecedents which I did not know about.

The Diary of Gul Makai

"On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone." The diary entry begins with Gul's recollection of "a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban."

From the Diary of Anne Frank, January 19, 1944: "I (there I go again) don’t know what’s happened, but since the dream I keep noticing how I’ve changed."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The pornography of anti-imperialism"

Shiraz Socialist provides a round-up and a commentary on the sort of of eruption encountered by well-meaning rookie NDP MP Don Davies in Vancouver, where "it blew up in his face":

After condemning the escalating violence in Gaza and calling for an Israeli ceasefire, he said "and Palestinians must also stop violence against Israel." A brief silence was followed by a smattering of boos. A bearded man, with an umbrella in one hand and a Palestinian flag in the other, shouted "Shame on you! Shame, shame!"

Davies abruptly surrendered the microphone and a female voice thundered from the loudspeaker. "Israel is waging war on the Palestinians! Our resistance will not be criminalized!"

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Lullaby

. . . Witchdoctors praying for a mighty showdown; no way our holy flag is going to fall. Up here we sacrifice our children to feed them worn out-dreams of yesterday, and teach them that dying will lead us into glory. . .

A few days ago, I wondered aloud about how things might have turned out for the Palestinians these past few years had there been a real "anti-war" movement abroad in the rich countries of the west, rather than what that movement has become.

Jimmy Bradshaw, wondering the same, explores the question in some depth.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I think this is what is meant by the term "own goal."

In an essay praising the Canadian Left for having lately achieved "a major step forward in opposition to Zionism," Yves Engler can barely contain his glee. There have been several anti-Israel demonstrations staged across the country, then there's Sid Ryan's histrionics, Naomi Klein's various complaints, CUPW's threats to refuse delivery of incoming Israeli mail or whatever that was, a rising chorus for anti-Israel boycotts, and so on.

"Palestinian activists, alongside non-Arab activists, have worked tirelessly to make opposition to Zionism a central part of the left's political culture," he writes.

A central part of the left's political culture.

I've noticed that, too, although I wouldn't be quite as quick to blame (or praise) Palestinian activists for this state of affairs. Nevertheless, it makes Engler happy. But: "Unfortunately this has not been the case." And this is the important part.

Engler provides several useful examples of just how "unfortunately" the Canadian labour movement and the main institutions of the Canadian Left have behaved with respect to Israel down through history. What his evidence clearly demonstrates is the breadth of the Canadian Left's historic commitment to Israel, and its fervent commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, from the very beginning.

In Engler's view, the NDP doesn't quite deserve full marks yet, owing to NDP MPs who occasionally visit Israel and the party's "distasteful" failure to emphatically and unambiguously collude with the antisemitic agenda underway in the "Durban" process. But what the hell. You can't get all you want, all at once.

And such progress! Nowadays, Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti can be counted on to scoff when the Taliban are called "brutal insurgents," preferring the ennobling term "Afghan resistance movement" instead. And only a few years ago, the CLC president was Dennis McDermott, who was unafraid to say this sort of thing:

I love the labour movement with a deep and abiding passion, so what I am about to say does not come easy. Anti-Semitism is a very latent disease. It can lie dormant and well concealed for long periods of time. Given a convenient pretext it can suddenly erupt, spewing its malicious pent-up venom in all directions.

The pretext now is the notion that Israel is the aggressor. So out come the poison pens of the resolution writers. Come down on Israel like a ton of bricks and, by association, Jewish people everywhere. Make ridiculous accusations and parallels, describe Israeli policies as being everything from genocide to apartheid. Then on the last line of the resolution, to justify your neutrality and lack of bias, put in a whimper like, 'please stop the suicide bombings.'

So yes, I agree with Engler. Something very important has happened.

Something has changed, and to further make his case Engler might have noted that even the Communist Party of Canada once regarded Israel with affection. Engler could have similarly rejoiced in the ubiquitous evidences that history's dustbin is also shaping up to be the destiny for the Left's historic demand for a just peace between the Jews and the Palestinians, in two states - the old dream of the Socialist League of Palestine for a classless society and a bi-national state for Jews and Arabs in a single federation.

If my meaning isn't obvious by now, let me be clear: What Engler's essay amply demonstrates with conclusive evidence is that this thing that has become a central part of the left's political culture in Canada is wholly antithetical to and outside the central traditions of the Canadian Left and its institutions.

Like I said: Nice boots.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nothing extraordinary going on here, folks, just some wholly unrelated events. . .

Sheffield, England - The Alliance for Workers Liberty, which has consistently offered a full-throated Marxist critique of Israeli policy, has to fight for permission to stay at a British demonstration because its habit of saying sensible things (Israel is not a fascist state, nor an apartheid state, and it isn't carrying out a "holocaust" in Gaza, either) might upset Hamas sympathizers.

Calgary, Alberta - The neo-Nazi Aryan Guard participates in an anti-Israel demonstration. Rally organizer Shadi Abuid said the fascists were not welcome, but "you can't deny people's right to walk," while the Aryan Guard reports (no linking to fascist sites here): “When we first arrived we were approached by the organizer of the protest who welcomed us and asked for our cooperation in the planned activities. We agreed and refrained from 'acting out'. "

Montreal, Quebec - The slogans that rang out among thousands of anti-Israel protesters - among them trade unionists, Quebec politicians, activists with the Roman Catholic church - included "The Jews Are Our Dogs." Hezbollah and Hamas supporters are also reported to have uttered calls for a genocide against the Jews of Israel.

Paris - At least 55 anti-Semitic acts have occurred across France in recent days, reports the French Jewish Students Union. A letter delivered to a rabbi in Vincennes warns: "You will live in fear, the death of all Jews is to come." In Saint-Denis, nine Molotov cocktails were launched at a Lubavitch synagogue and a Jewish community center.

London - "Kill Jews" was painted on the wall of a children's playground in Whitechapel, and the same words appeared in grafitti painted on a supermarket in Stepney where several windows were also smashed and a Starbucks Coffee shop was firebombed. Elsewhere, rioters from a "Stop The War" demonstration smashed windows, ransacked and looted shops in Kensington, singling out a Starbucks outlet. Starbucks has been the subject of several such attacks, owing to the widespread belief (originating with an anti-war "satire") that Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz, a Jew, donates money to the Israeli military.

Melbourne - Temple Beth Israel has been plastered with antisemitic posters, and a group of Jewish women at a St. Kilda beach were encircled by youths who taunted them and threw coins at them.

Duisburg, Germany - Police admit that they broke down the door of the apartment of a Jewish student and ripped an Israeli flag from his window while anti-Israel protesters threw objects at the window from the street below.

Copenhagen - Several school administrators say they are actively dissuading Jews from enrolling their children in schools out of fear for the children's safety.

Belfast - For recent events there, better to just read Johnny Guitar's report, How many fascists does it take to burn a flag? and his excellent analysis, Left-Wing Fascism: An Infantile Disorder.

Courage In The Line Of Fire

Monday, January 12, 2009

And we scarce gave them time for to draw their own blades. . .

. . .when a trusty shillelagh came over their heads, and bade them take that as fair warning:

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Long live Palestine. Long live Israel. Long live New York:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"A durable solution for ordinary people"

"Relying on overwhelming military force to respond to terrorist provocations invariably imposes horrendous suffering on innocent Palestinian civilians while entrenching the agents of terror in their midst. We have no alternative but to pursue rational, long term political options that promote moderation and marginalise extremists."
So says Shalom Lappin on behalf of "a group of Britain's most prominent Jews." Shalom is actually "a Toronto boy, born and raised," and significantly, a leading co-author of the Euston Manifesto. In other words, around these parts, Shalom is a highly-respected comrade. He's also something of a scourge of what he calls the "anti-imperialism of dimwits" that has come to serve as a substitute for a proper left-wing internationalism, as well as the closely related "socialism of fools" that is situated where a real anti-war movement should be. "We see ourselves in the tradition of Orwell," Lappin tells Steven Paiken in this interview.

His essay How Class Disappeared From Western Politics is central to understanding Lappin's politics. From today's statement: "It is our desire to see a durable solution for ordinary people and our view that an immediate ceasefire is not only a humanitarian necessity but also a strategic priority for the future security of Israelis, Palestinians and people of the region."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Pashtun Peace Forum: Indispensable To Understanding The Afghan Struggle

A couple of days ago I found myself wondering what life for the Palestinians would be like right now if they had been able to count on a proper anti-war movement these past few years instead of the pseudo-left dog's breakfast we're stuck with. It's a thought that usually occurs to me in the context of Afghanistan, where the contrast between what Afghan progressives say and what the so-called anti-war movement demands is so stark as to defy easy description.

A common troops-out line, if I can paraphrase, goes something like this: The Afghans are not like us, they are irredeemably backward, hopelessly tribal and warlike, we shouldn't be trying to impose our values on them, you can't bring democracy to people at the barrel of a gun, they hate foreigners, the mission is doomed, just look at what happened to the Russians.

It's like a counterculture version of some really bad Rudyard Kipling poem. The bigotry embedded in it derives from a perverse characterization of all Afghans as Pashtuns, and a caricature of all Pashtuns as incorrigibly chauvinist religious fanatics.

Here's the latest edition of the bimonthly journal of the Pashtun Peace Forum, Ideas.

Some of my favourite bits. . .

From the editorial, Stand Up And Be Counted: "A militant approach to resolving issues was never part of the Pashtun culture. Many argue that this was because of the Pashtun traditions of egalitarianism, respect, dignity, and fear of triggering an escalating cycle of generational feuds. However, the media seems to have developed and perpetuated the myth of the violent Pashtun, which is a misperceived stereotyping probably based on the widespread possession of firearms. Militancy, along with the Jihadi and Taliban methodologies, emerged amongst the Pashtuns during the Afghan War, fuelled and facilitated by the military under Gen. Zia-Ul-Haq and continued by successive Pakistani governments with the active collusion and patronage of United States, Saudi Arabia, and other Western countries. . ."

From Naeem Khan Wardag's essay, Tariq Ali, Pashtun Nationalism and Taliban: "Alas, when Mr. Tariq Ali writes, he writes only about US imperialism and the status of President Karzai government in Kabul despite the fact that presence of US, Canadian, and NATO troops has been mandated by UN and Karzai has been elected by Afghan people through a democratic process and his govt is internationally recognized, contrary to Taliban who had been imposed on Afghans and were recognized only by their three ideological and political mentors. Mr. Tariq Ali never mentions imperialism in the regional setting and its adverse impacts on the people and communities there. That is why his recipe for the problem is the same as popular with religious and strategic hardliners in Islamabad-Rawalpindi, which implies virtual reversal to pre-2001 like situation. The purpose is the re-instatement of the local/regional imperialism of the dominant nationality and its control over Afghan/Pashtun population through religious fanatics and their medieval ways. If such dreams materialized, it will set the whole of South Asia, Central Asia, and Middle East on fire."

Naeem makes the same point that the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee has been making. And I don't think much of Tariq Ali, either.

See also Farhat Taj, Compatibility - The Pakhtun Culture, Talibanization and Obscenity: "Most Pakhtun [alternative spelling] communities stand for girls’ education: this is precisely the reason why the Taliban, whose worldview has no room for girls’ education, are destroying girls schools and colleges. One can name tens of girls’ schools and colleges in the Pakhtun area that government of Pakistan would have simply ignored to build, but thanks to the Pakhtun elders of the areas, mostly fathers and grandfathers, who pleaded with the government to build those girls educational institutions in their area and their requests finally moved the government in building those institutions.

"The Taliban have now destroyed or are destroying those institutions. In almost very city and town of the Pakhtuns there have been growing number of communities and individual families, who have had exposure to education and modernity. Women in such communities and families have taken up non-traditional roles in the public sphere. Before the rise of the Taliban no one had ever heard of any Pakhtun community or individuals violently reacting to women who broke the confinements of the traditional gender roles.

"The Taliban prohibit music, which is an integral part of the Pakhtun traditions. Before the rise of the Taliban no one ever heard of attacks on musicians and music shops. There have always been men with and without beard among the Pakhtuns. Those with beard never forced the others to grow beard. There have always been Pakhtun who were regular in saying daily prayers and those were not so regular and even those who hardly say any prayers for years and years. . ."

UPDATE: Good news.

"Stop the violence"? Simply Not Credible

Well, good for them, I guess, but it strains credulity to the breaking point when we see the hand of the Toronto Stop The War Coalition at work in these things, and it gets busted altogether when the Coalition and the Canadian Peace Alliance summon us to "anti-war" rallies by openly siding with Hamas and accusing Israel of engaging in the "unilateral massacre of innocent people" (repeated word for word here).

By these appeals, one is forced to choose sides, and please spare me the lie that the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Toronto Stop The War Coalition are merely on the side of "peace." They're not.

Both the Alliance and the Coalition meet annually in Cairo to swap notes and talk strategy with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and not two years ago, these Canadian "peace" activists were celebrating the anniversary of the Khomeinist tyranny in Iran at a party sponsored by the Iranian embassy.

A "leading member" of the Coalition (that's not my description; that's how they describe him) is Zafar Bangash of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought. ICIT calls itself "an intellectual centre of the global Islamic movement," and describes its mandate as developing, defining, articulating and promoting the intellectual basis of the global Islamic movement [and] struggling for Islamic revolutions and establishment of Islamic states all over the world.

The leadership of both the Alliance and the Coalition come from the same sect as the British Socialist Workers Party, most famous for having combined with Britain's far-right Islamist leadership to provide the parliamentary base for the British Mosleyite George Galloway, who visited Ottawa a couple of years ago to attend the celebrations of a Syrian fascist party that sports its own stylized swastika and sings an anthem sung to the tune of Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles.

Nice boots, comrades.

UPDATE: Michael Ignatieff - a name coming soon to an "anti-war" placard near you.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Slavoj Žižek, "The Magician of Ljubljana," Responds To His Critics

Here. I canvassed the criticisms here, and the uproar is especially relevant to the intellectual squalor abroad in Canada these days, which the "true left," as Žižek calls it, should not fail to notice. Context:

". . .I claim that jihadis are really motivated neither by religion nor by a Leftist sense of justice, but by resentment, which in no way puts them on the Left, neither "objectively" nor "subjectively." I simply never wrote that Islamic fundamentalists are in any sense on the Left--the whole point of my writing on this topic is that the "antagonism" between liberal tolerance and ethnic or religious fundamentalism is inherent to the universe of global capitalism: in their very opposition, they are the two faces of the same system. The true Left starts with the insight into this complicity. A good example of how religious fundamentalism is to be located "in the context of the antagonisms of global capitalism" is Afghanistan. Today, when Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 30 years ago, it was a country with strong secular tradition, up to a strong Communist party which first took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Afghanistan became fundamentalist when it was drawn into global politics (first through the Soviet intervention)."

Of immediate relevance:

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sid Ryan Is An Embarrassment To CUPE And To Trade Unionism

CUPE Ontario's Sid Ryan is at it again. This time, the pretext is Israel's December 28 shelling of a campus of the Islamic University of Gaza, an iconic Hamas institution established by the founder of Hamas, Ahmed Yassin; only last year, the Palestinian Authority stormed the campus and found dozens of rockets, grenade launchers, assault rifles, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Ryan professed outrage: "They deliberately targeted an institution of learning. That's what the Nazis did."

Only a few days ago, Ryan was calling Israel's military operations against Hamas "acts of genocide," so now we've got both 'Nazis' and 'genocide' to help round things out with 'mass extermination,' 'ovens,' 'atrocity,' 'blitzkreig,' 'holocaust' and 'prison camp'.

Ryan says he wants Israeli professors barred from Ontario universities. He wants Israeli academics prevented from working, teaching, or even speaking at Ontario campuses, a demand that Avi Benlolo of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center calls "an affront to civil liberty and academic freedom." Benlolo is wrong, however, when he says Ryan's proposed boycott is "based solely on Israeli citizenship." It's actually worse than that.

The CUPE Ontario plan would not only single out Israeli academics, but would then discriminate among them against those who refuse to swear what Ben Cohen calls a disloyalty oath. Ryan's version borrows from the recently-aborted British UCU academic boycott attempt, which failed after warnings that it would violate British anti-discrimination laws and the UCU's own rules on academic freedom.

Can we at least dispense with the fiction that Ryan's boycott plans have anything to do with the recent bombing of a campus in Gaza? A boycott is what he's wanted for quite some while. The last time Ryan embarrassed his union like this was in 2006, when he championed a resolution calling on CUPE members to boycott Israeli products. Back then, Ryan's mischief caused no end of headaches for CUPE districts and locals across Canada, put several Ontario CUPE locals up in arms, and forced CUPE's national office to declare, unambiguously: “We will not be issuing a call to our local unions across Canada to boycott Israel.”

Back then, Buzz Hargrove, then head of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, was compelled to deliver Ryan a not-so-subtle thrashing, which still stands up quite well: "We must all condemn Hamas for its support for terrorism and its refusal to recognize the right of Israelis to exist within secure borders, free of the threat of terrorism. . . if a boycott is warranted, why not direct it at the extremist government in Iran for its continuing push to develop nuclear weapons and its official policy to annihilate the Israelis? Indeed, workers are regularly jailed for any effort to form unions in Iran."

Paradoxically, while Ryan was giving out of himself at that Toronto demonstration last week about Israel's "genocide" in Gaza, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad - whose regime is the key international sponsor of Hamas - was saying exactly the same thing as Ryan, while simultaneously, his secret police were quietly busy with the work of arresting more trade unionists.

Two years ago, Ryan's cudgel was Resolution 50, which came from York University's Local 3903, where Rafeef Ziadah made it quite clear that the boycott was intended to eliminate Israel entirely. All gussied up in the noble language of 1980s'-era "anti-apartheid" campaigns, the current anti-Israel boycott effort is best understood as an attempted revival of the failed 1951 Arab League boycott of Israel. Old reactionary wine in new and progressive-looking bottles will still tend to have a very short shelf-life, as Brian Henry explains.

Last year, at least 22 Canadian universities considered and resoundingly rejected the academic boycott Ryan is now attempting to revive. Our own Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, was one of the first to give the proposed boycott its proper name, "a dangerous and unsupportable attack on the core values of academic life. . . an affront to modern society [that] must be condemned wherever it arises."

And I see that when Jonathan Kay looks at Sid Ryan, he is compelled to ask: "There's a name for that kind of bigotry, isn't there?" Before anybody goes off half-cocked at Kay for making an impudent insinuation, the European Union has asked the same question, and answers it by defining antisemitism [.pdf] in a handy document. It cites such contemporary examples as the denial of the Jewish people their right to self­-determination (i.e. by claiming that the State of Israel is a racist endeavor), the application of double standards that require of Israel what would not be expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, and comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

I'll leave it to these two wiseguys to consider the question of whether boycotting and barring and discriminating against and among Israeli academics is simply and plainly antisemitic. But it seems self-evident that at the very least, calling for such measures is not helping matters at all. As I've said, if it's real solidarity work that progressives might attend to in order to intervene in some way with the ongoing agonies in Palestine and Israel, these people could use a hand, and these people are an inspiration, and a friend has brought to my attention another initiative, called Just Vision. Here's a wee film about them:

UPDATE: Sid's lame apology.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

For Want Of An Actually Existing Anti-War Movement, Palestine’s Agony Deepens

One cannot help but wonder how things might have turned out for the Palestinians these past few years had there been a real "anti-war" movement abroad in the rich countries of the west, rather than what that movement has become: the primary developed-world vehicle for activism, apologetics and propaganda on behalf of Hezbollah and Hamas.

It's not as though there aren't any real anti-war activists in Palestine and Israel at whose side we might stand and to whose cause we might dedicate ourselves. There's Combatants for Peace, for instance, which consists of former combatants from "both sides" of the Palestine-Israeli tragedy. There's also the One Voice Movement, endorsed by 331,727 Israelis and 295,720 Palestinians so far. One Voice aims for "a two-state solution guaranteeing an end to occupation and violence, and a viable, independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel."

They could use our help. Instead, we've been giving them this kind of thing.

In Canada, long before Israel's recent barrage upon Hamas, the anti-war movement had degenerated to the point that it was absolutely incapable of making any credible contribution to the conversation. Now, the polemical justifications on hand, such as they are, come from such deranged sources as James Petras, a senior member of the editorial collective of the venerable Canadian Dimension magazine, which was once this country's preeminent socialist journal. If you can bear it, Petras explains that Israel is a totalitarian state that is now engaged in the "mass extermination of the population of Gaza. . . in the open ovens of missile fire." (There it is again, by the way: 'Mass extermination' and 'ovens' add themselves to the rhetorical lexicon that in just the past few days has included 'atrocity,' 'genocide,' 'blitzkreig,' 'holocaust' and 'prison camp' in the most commonplace "left-wing" critiques of Israel's military operations. Makes you wonder.) Petras goes on to tell us that Israel's targets actually include "the entire population of 1.5 million semi-starved prisoners" in Gaza, and the whole thing is being orchestrated by "Jewish-Zionist"Americans of dual loyalty who control the government, the newspapers, the broadcast media, Hollywood - the whole schmeer.

Actually, do read it. It's like an updated version of The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem, out of the pages of the Dearborn Independent, circa 1921.

As for just how it came to pass that the "left" now so routinely takes up space formerly occupied by the drooling, antisemitic far-right, Fred Halliday's account is as good as any. Or Paul Berman, via an essay by Nick Cohen.

It is not as though the western "left" - even the much-maligned Marxist left - is utterly devoid of principled analysis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here, the Internationalist Workers Tendency weighs in: "The violence in Gaza suits the agendas of both the eliminationist, antisemitic, Hamas and the Israeli rejectionist, racist right. On the Hamas side, Jews are behind the French and the Communist Revolutions and there is no war that broke out anywhere without [Jews'] fingerprints on it, and on the other, Hamas’ response to Israeli bombardment is ‘proof’ that Palestians are ‘terrorists’ and ‘justifies’ the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land and denial of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination."

You don't need to agree with the IWT line in order to recognize that it is, at the very least, a coherent, intelligent and perfectly legitimate point of view, and not at all like the mere masquerades we're used to getting from self-styled "Marxists" when they address the Israeli-Palestine issue. Personally, I can't find anything in it worth working up the energy to raise an objection.

Still, I do regret to having concluded that another good left-wing analysis raises serious questions about whether simply stopping the attacks Israel is currently carrying out in Gaza will do much good in the long run. That analysis comes from the trade unionist Eric Lee, and his argument is convincing: "Israel is today being accused of over-reacting, of applying disproportionate force to what is essentially a defeated and weak enemy. Actually, Israel is doing what is necessary to bring the long war to an end."

I mean it when I say I regret it, because I do tend to place my hopes in the capacity of Palestinians of good will to "resist" the Hamas tyranny (and elected or not, it is a tyranny) even in the absence of effective solidarity and support from a global anti-war movement, and despite that same movement's tendency to make excuses for the worst Islamist enemies of the Palestinian people.

As it happens, Eric has just sent around an email reminder that today marks the fourth anniversary of the murder of Hadi Saleh, the international officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. We might well recall that Saleh and his comrades could not count on the support of the British Stop The War Coalition, but worse, the Stop The War Coalition was cheering on Saleh's murderers at the time on the pretext that the Iraqi "resistance" had the right to pursue its aims "by any means necessary." Which makes such necessary means as binding a brave socialist's hands and feet, blindfolding him, torturing him, strangling him with an electrical cord and then finishing him off with bullets perfectly justifiable, I guess.

In Gaza, Khaled Abu Toameh's sources are reporting that in recent days, Hamas has executed more than 35 Palestinians "suspected of collaborating" with Israel, and Fatah reports that at least 75 of its activists have been shot in the legs and others have had their hands broken by Hamas thugs. Hamas has also placed dozens of Fatah members under house arrest. Meanwhile, Hamas confirms that it is engaged in the pursuit of a "very dangerous collaborators' network."

So why does any of this matter, all this horror in such a tiny, faraway place? Because the sundering of the "left" unto barbarism and senility matters. Because Palestinians matter. Because Israelis matter. Because this little "war" is a much greater struggle than it appears.

"This is a war for the future of Islam," writes Bradley Burston. "Specifically, it is a war over the future of radical Islam, which for the past decade, has vigorously and skillfully labored to surpass settlements, Palestinian misrule, and a host of other factors to become the pre-eminent obstruction to peace in the Holy Land. "

It is also the pre-eminent obstruction to peace in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, and quite a few other places I could name.

Too bad the "anti-war" movement hasn't noticed.