Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend Readings: The errors of history & the urgency of their contemporary relevance.

This is a photograph of Master Warrant Officer Charlotte Hawes of Dundurn, Saskatchewan, a reservist with the the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, talking to her Afghan sisters in Kandahar last Thursday. The photograph was taken by Kirsty Wigglesworth of the Associated Press, and it is among a variety of photographs to be found at the Boston Globe, in The Big Picture.

Weekend readings:

Peter Tatchell presents an insightful analysis of the Baloch freedom struggle underway, not far from Kandahar, on the Pakistani side of the border. If you think along the lines that our purposes in Afghanistan should be driven by a concern for "stability" in Pakistan, Tatchell's essay should rid you of the habit, right quick. Long live Balochistan.

Our Chum in the Six Counties, a socialist, blows a gasket over about the eejits who cavil on about Britain's purity being diluted by the scary monster of American transnational corporations: "I can't be the only one sick to the back teeth of the national whinge-fest that has greeted the news that the American food firm Kraft are to take over Cadbury's, can I? It's not that I've got anything against people getting all slushy and sentimental, but at least save it for something worthwhile - for instance, the welfare of the poor sods who actually work there. That though hasn't been the reason for a lot of people getting themselves worked up over this issue."

This brings to mind one of the best essays to appear in New Left Review in years, which is not saying much, I realize, and this essay appeared almost two years ago, but it remains directly relevant. Walter Benn Michaels, in Against Diversity, explains: "After half a century of anti-racism and feminism, the US today is a less equal society than was the racist, sexist society of Jim Crow. Furthermore, virtually all the growth in inequality has taken place since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965—which means not only that the successes of the struggle against discrimination have failed to alleviate inequality, but that they have been compatible with a radical expansion of it. Indeed, they have helped to enable the increasing gulf between rich and poor.

"Why? Because it is exploitation, not discrimination, that is the primary producer of inequality today. It is neoliberalism, not racism or sexism (or homophobia or ageism) that creates the inequalities that matter most in American society; racism and sexism are just sorting devices. In fact, one of the great discoveries of neoliberalism is that they are not very efficient sorting devices, economically speaking. If, for example, you are looking to promote someone as Head of Sales in your company and you are choosing between a straight white male and a black lesbian, and the latter is in fact a better salesperson than the former, racism, sexism and homophobia may tell you to choose the straight white male but capitalism tells you to go with the black lesbian. Which is to say that, even though some capitalists may be racist, sexist and homophobic, capitalism itself is not."

My good friend Peter Ryley has composed an important protest against that similarly popular abuse of history which sets out to simplistically conflate socialism with fascism and thus elide crucial distinctions between authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Equally detestable though these tyrannies may be, there's no excuse for falling for propaganda so silly that it will have you playing games of connect-a-dot between Naziism and liberalism.

To properly interrogate this contemporary fad, you will unavoidably encounter its evil twin, which is to say you will find yourself staring at the ugliest face of European pro-Islamofascist leftism, as noted a while back by the always interesting Anti-German Translation. Their headline sums it up well enough: The Racism of Radical Islam's Useful Idiots.

For further and necessary proofs of Peter's case, historical evidence is in abundance in Enzo Traverso's The Aporias of Marxism. He notes that too many German Jews kept faith for too long in the resilience of the identity they had incorporated within German society, and they were not alone in their mistake: "The workers' movement was no more ready to deal with the catastrophe." There were warnings, of course, most presciently from Leon Trotsky. But they want largely unheeded, owing to eejits making a similar kind of silly "liberalism equals fascism" mistake that's popular today. "However, in 1933, Nazism unleashed its attack on the workers' organizations, not on the Jews. Nazi anti‑Semitism developed gradually and inexorably, passing through several stages: first discrimination and the questioning of emancipation again (1933-35); then economic depredations and the adoption of a policy of persecution (1938-41); finally extermination (1941-45). The destruction of the workers' movement was not a gradual process: it was, in fact, one of the conditions for the consolidation of the Nazi regime." And some people obstinately refuse to learn from the great errors of history: "Marxist literature of the interwar period tended to explain Nazi anti-Semitism as a 'tool' of the ruling classes, without seeing in it a new phenomenon."

That "new phenomenon" is not so new to us anymore, and persists in contemporary iterations, but inexcusably, so does the error-addled Marxist literature of the interwar years continue to produce the most embarrassing mistakes across the liberal-left, most dangerously in the way the nature of the nature of the Khomeinist regime in Iran is misunderstood.

Mathias Küntzel makes no such mistake in his just=published essay, Iranian Antisemitism: Stepchild of German National Socialism. And I'm not saying this just because the title has the same ring to it as The Organ-Harvesting Scare: A Mutant Offspring Of Anti-Zionism & Classic Antisemitism, either: It is true that Ahmadinejad does not attack “the Jews”, but instead claims that “two thousand Zionists want to rule the world.” He says, “For sixty sears now, the Zionists” have blackmailed all western governments.” “The Zionists have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors.” “The Zionists” are responsible for the Danish Muhammad cartoons. “The Zionists” are responsible for the destruction of the dome of the Golden Mosque in Iraq. Of course, he invests the word “Zionist” with exactly the same sense with which Hitler once invested the word “Jew”: namely, that of being the incarnation of all evil. Whoever makes Jews responsible for all the ills of the world – whether as “Judas” or “Zionists” – is clearly driven by antisemitism. . .

Küntzel sets out a clearly-argued and evidence-rich case that the lineage of Khomeinist Israelophobia descends inexorably from Iranian Germanophilia and the lingering impacts of persistent Nazi propaganda. And as I say, he makes no mistakes.

When mistakes prevail and abuses of history are permissible, we won't recognize the greater evil of totalitarian tyranny so long as it says mean things about the Yanks and the Zionists: This is a regime that hangs dissidents who protest rigged elections for the crime of being enemies of God. And we won't recognize authoritarian tyranny when we see it, so long as it comes shouting Viva Che! slogans: “In the system as it is today, there is no way to protect yourself from attacks from the State.”

And when you look at that photograph at the top of this post, you will see an imperialist from an occupying power, oppressing the people, instead of a woman from Saskatchewan, sharing in a moment of quiet happiness with her Afghan sisters.

Friday, January 29, 2010

How It's Done, Journalism 101: It's Just The News, It's Just The News. . .

If Jack Layton Wants Credit For This, By All Means, Let Him Have It.

Of course it would be both a farce and an irony of the most absurd kind, but what the hell. Now that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is pouring his old appeasement wine into a new bottle he calls "peace at any cost" and Afghanistan's feminists, secularists, human rights activists and democrats are once again overcome by that sickly sensation of having knives thrust into their backs, some people have become absolutely giddy with the idea that we should all thank Jack Layton for what has happened.

Over at Macleans, under the headline Ahead Of His Time, Paul Wells writes: "Kudos to the NDP leader." Wells recommends his readers to his colleague Aaron Wherry, who has strung together a bunch of quotations from people in such a way as to imply that everyone had been far too beastly when they mocked 'Taliban Jack' in response to Layton's September, 2006 remark: “A comprehensive peace process has to bring all the combatants to the table.” The headline on Wherry's quote collection: And You All Laughed.

Well, some people certainly did laugh, but can you blame them? Only days before, Layton's NDP had broken with every serious political party in the western hemisphere by adopting as its core Afghanistan policy: Support Our Troops, Bring 'em home. No one would stop laughing, so Layton tried to salvage things by doubling down with the notion that after an NDP government had spit in the face of the United Nations, Canada's envoys would be welcomed back to Afghanistan with their diplomatic pouches stuffed with patchouli oil, flipcharts, old Joan Baez records and instructions to subvert the authority of the embryonic Afghan republic by setting off into the hills in search of Taliban mullahs with whom to begin negotiations.

Not everyone laughed, though. Personally, I saw the grisly spectacle of a party that claimed to be all splendidly leftish and woman-friendly and progressive taking as its cue the most outrageously lame, reactionary and cynical version of exactly what the most lurid, extreme-right parties in Afghanistan were demanding of us. It was an even more sinister version of the very approach that Hamid Karzai himself had long publicly counseled, and had indeed already implemented, by bringing to his bosom all the ghastly and gynophobic warlords who still lurk at the edges of his regime.

Much to his dismay, Karzai failed in his entreaties to even tempt the Taliban to tea, and the NDP's weird formula was disastrous for the party. But paradoxically, there was a perfectly sensible iteration of it in place long before Layton first claimed the idea as his own. It was a plan that the Liberals had already helped bankroll, and it had allowed Karzai to talk down from the hills about 50,000 mercenaries (the "moderate Taliban" of silly contemporary euphemism). It had run its course long before Layton purported to discover it as a bold new idea. That's the faint-hope aspect of the approach that the pathetically "war weary" west is getting all excited about again, and there may well be some profit in it yet, now that the Taliban leadership can feel the noose closing around its neck, owing only to precisely the same nasty "war-fighting" that Layton has wanted to stop since 2006.

And indeed, in spite of the excitements in London this week, all along, Afghan-led "reconciliation" has persisted as one of Canada's six priorities for its engagement in Afghanistan. I
f some wag wants to give Jack credit for that, too, then fine by me. Jack may well take it. It wouldn't be the first time. Two years ago, on the campaign trail, Layton was offered the opportunity to claim title to the patent on a Taliban-peace-talks notion that was inaccurately reported to have bubbled up inside the brains of Britain's senior military commander in Afghanistan. Layton happily obliged: “The New Democrats came out very early with this view," he said.

Last March, Layton set out the case that pretty well all the good things that have happened in Afghanistan were all his idea, or at least a consequence of everyone having at last come around to his way of thinking. But more than just another I-told-you-so, Layton presented even more elaborate formulae for peace negotiations in Afghanistan than the first time round. He made a convincing case that everyone would think it was so cool that Canada could even get itself "a seat on the Security Council in 2010, by demonstrating our maturity and skill in resolving conflicts."

And you know what? It is not a stretch to say that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with his vision for a Canadian military role in Afghanistan reduced to maybe just an odd guard guarding an embassy, has kind of come around to Layton's way of thinking. But what is the result? How was Canada doing this week at the London conference, where the world got its first glimpses of Karzai's latest plan for "peace at any cost"? Anybody offer us a seat on the Security Council?

"Canada's role in Afghanistan, it seemed, was too minor to be mocked," the Globe and Mail's indispensable Doug Saunders reports. "In short, Canada is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the Afghanistan debate."

I am not going to be so beastly as to blame Jack Layton for this. But if there are some people at Macleans who will want to, that's okay too. I promise I will try not to laugh.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In HRS Internasjonal: Peace At Any Cost

"Peace at any cost." Those were the exact words Afghan President Hamid Karzai used last week to describe the intent of a Taliban peace-talks plan that the UK, the US and Japan are pegged to bankroll as a new exit strategy from Afghanistan. British foreign secretary David Miliband must have winced.

Miliband prefers to describe the plan as kind of international trust fund. The idea is that Karzai might draw from it to bribe jihadist commanders out of the Taliban chain of command. It’s an attempt to find what Miliband calls the “the right balance of military muscle and political outreach,” but for Afghan feminists, secularists and democrats, the long, lingering dread of a squalid sell-out, all dressed up in the guise of peacemaking, is fast giving way to a gnawing, horrible fear.

"You cannot buy off your enemies,” Ahmad Zia Kechkenni, a senior adviser to Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s main challenger in last year’s fraud-riddled elections, told me the other day. “When your money is gone, they will go back to fighting.”

In Paris, London, Washington and Ottawa, in all the places where young Afghan progressives would expect to find their closest friends and allies, “peace” is the conceit that animates every conversation about Afghanistan. The words on all the protest placards are “troops out.” If Europe and the United States cook up a sordid sell-out, there will be no one to stand in its way.

“Troops out” is not what Afghans say, least of all those Afghans who you would think European liberals would be proud to call their friends. . . But these are not the Afghan voices we hear, and there are reasons why.

I enumerate those reasons in the essay. If we must blame it on the "fog of war," then the least we should do is have a look at who's running the fog machine that most effectively obscures the Euro-American view of the Afghan people and of their brave women's rights leaders, who they really are what they actually say.

Code Pink has been especially busy at the machine's nobs and levers lately. The recent scam operation they ran in Afghanistan has been child-safety-certified by no less than Jane Fonda, queen mother of the decadent liberal American bourgeoisie, who pronounces on the testimony so grossly misrepresented by Code Pink millionaire matron Jodie Evans this way: "Bottom line: everyone she met with wants the U.S. Military out of their country." A lie, hovering in a cloud of lies that gets a look-through thanks to a whistle-blower in Code Pink's ranks, Sara Davidson. Sara thought she was being a good and loyal hippie dove when she traveled to Afghanistan with Code Pink, but discovered too late that the only role Code Pink wanted her to play was that of a useless, idiotic dupe.

Lauryn Oates, meanwhile, is an actually-existing feminist who is returning to Afghanistan in a few days (we'll be meeting up in Kabul) to complete only the latest of more than dozen field assignments she's undertaken among the women of that country. Lauryn is no dupe.

Elsewhere, Code Pink has been busy performing fabulous and elaborate public-relations stunts for that peace-loving, Protocols-of-Zion-believing death cult known as Hamas. This comes as no surprise to Omri Ceren, "but there's something particularly unseemly about ostensible feminists shamelessly marching in a gender-apartheid protest."

Ah, but Omri, don't you see? It's all for peace. Peace at any cost, peace at any price, peace in our time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To close our eyes and imagine the bustling marketplace in Tiktin. . .

Monday, January 25, 2010

Actually-Existing Amnesia.

Good old Akaash Maharaj. Nice to hear from him again, and this time with a very well written essay, nicely argued, refreshingly mindful of the consensus about Afghanistan that once actually existed in Canada's political class, and sensibly acute to the need to forge a new national consensus based in the cold, real world. Hard knocks and all that. Top hole.

The only problem with the course Maharaj counsels is that in his attempt to affect a hard-headedness that he would claim eludes everyone else, he exhibits the same amnesia that he sees afflicting everyone else.

It is simply not true that "the popular narrative" in Canada holds that "we went to Afghanistan as peacekeepers, to foster liberal-democratic political development, advance the status of women and provide humanitarian assistance." This may well be a "reassuring storyline" in the company you would expect a bright young Liberal like Maharaj to keep, but there has not been anything close to a national consensus about Afghanistan in this country since perhaps 2003. That project has been dry-docked by revenge-fantasy blustering about Al Qaida, blubbering about the unseemliness of our necessary alliance with American interests, and blundering about in the barnacle growth of backpack maple leaves and what have you. To borrow the same phrasing Maharaj employs, it is, if anything, these competing and conflicting narratives that have rendered Canadian debates about Afghanistan into "complete and utter nonsense."

Neither is it true that Afghans have an expression, "You have the watches, but we have the time," the error that Maharaj makes as his beginning sentence. This is actually an expression peculiar to certain pundits whose analyses are to be found in Canada's daily newspapers. Its only relevance or accuracy is in the way it is derivative of a Taliban platitude. Afghans despise the Taliban, and if they have any expression that even remotely resembles the one Maharaj so blithely attributes to them, it is the one that goes, "Ever since the Cold War, you have had all the half-baked analyses, and we have all the graves to prove it."

Ending his essay with another cliche, the one about truth being war's first casualty, doesn't exactly clinch the truth Maharaj is claiming for his case, either, but Maharaj is quite right in his general claim about the reasons why Canada went along with the United Nations and NATO and resorted to the means of warfare to uproot the Taliban in the first place. He casts a helpfully cold eye on the straightforward calculus that prevailed in the autumn of 2001. There is certainly nothing cynical in acknowledging the narrow self-interest that finally turned the civilized world's attentions back to Afghanistan and to the horrors it played such a pivotal role in visiting upon the masses of Afghan innocents in the first place. The world's rich countries provided all the guns. The Afghan people provided all the deaths, more than a million of them, long before the morning of September 11, 2001.

What seems to escape his notice entirely, however, is that there is in fact a "storyline" that is based in reality, as well as idealism and self-interest, but this one demands a rather more nuanced view than you'll get from an argument to the effect that "we" went to Afghanistan to drop bombs on our enemies and not to build daycare centres. On that matter, Maharaj claims far too much credit for NATO by wholly ignoring the fact that the Taliban's rout was accomplished almost solely by Afghans themselves, weeks before any NATO soldiers were tramping through the ruins of Afghanistan's ancient cities. Worse, Maharaj claims next to nothing for the accomplishments and utterly transformed purposes that have bound the UN, NATO, the US and Canada and the Afghan people, since those early days.

It took the Americans far too long to change their own storyline from "We don't do nation-building" to "We were wrong, we better bloody well help build a nation here." Hope and change and all that. But no matter how much snark or platitude we might like to heap on Canada's contributions since 2001, Canadians have the least excuse to suffer any amnesia about our actually-existing reasons for being in Afghanistan, now.

It is not a "comforting political myth" that Canada and 42 other UN member states are engaged in some bloody rough slogging in Afghanistan in order to carry out the ambitious purposes of the 2006 Afghanistan Compact, which is all about nation-building and only secondarily about "war fighting." It is not a myth at all, comforting or otherwise, that nation-building, for the sake of Afghan progress as well as our own national security, has been the main reason why we have been in Afghanistan since the December, 2001 Bonn Agreement.

Maharaj seems to have completely forgotten about all of this, as though nothing has happened since his glory days as the Liberal Party's national policy chairman, when the first Canadian soldiers headed off to Afghanistan to kill and to be killed. And that is the kind of amnesia that has so crippled Canadian debates. That is the reason why the foreign ministers and senior civilian and military officials of more than 60 countries are meeting in London on Thursday to chart a way forward in Afghanistan, while in Canada - where it has even become fashionable to assert that our soldiers have been dying in that country to protect oil pipelines or gas pipelines or something - nobody seems to know that this is even happening. This is less a symptom of amnesia than of senility.

There has been absolutely no debate about what Canada might propose in London, even though Canada, perhaps more than any other country in the 43-member International Security Assistance Force, can claim that despite itself it has not shirked its solemn obligations as a member of the UN, or as a member in good standing of the civilized and democratic countries of the world, or as a friend of the Afghan people. Indeed, there has been barely a back-pages notice in any of our daily newspapers that anything of consequence will be happening this week in London at all.

But welcome back, Maharaj. My best wishes to you. Let me take this opportunity to encourage you to re-dedicate yourself to Liberal thinking, especially as regards the party's Afghanistan policy. After all, I am sure you would not want your party's policy to become nothing better than a cowardly exercise in excuse-making for the knives in the backs of the legions of brave young Afghan democrats, secularists and feminists who have believed our promises and taken risks rather more fraught with black consequence than the backchat that might be provoked by penning the occasional op-ed while living a comfortable life in Canada.

On the very subject of cures for Afghan amnesia, you might want to avail Michael Ignatieff of your counseling services. He seems to have lately forgotten that he is in possession of a spine. He should not be a reluctant therapy patient, given the obvious liberal spinelessness that his adversaries have chosen to adopt as a political virtue on the subject of Afghanistan. A bit of memory-jogging, and Ignatieff would profit enormously.

At any rate, best of luck, and warmest regards.

UPDATE: Here, here. "It is time partisanship be suspended so the decisions can be made to give Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan the best chance of enduring success beyond the troops’ return."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Is Obama The Most Reactionary President Since Nixon?

Nick Cohen argues that he might well be.

"From Eleanor Roosevelt onwards, the Democrats were meant to believe in universal human rights. Even Jimmy Carter, mocked for his weakness in handling tyrants, tried to make them a part of his foreign policy. The flattering label "realist" – which, like the equally gratifying "sceptic", is not a badge of honour you can award to yourself – was claimed by Republicans, most notably Nixon, Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger. They maintained they were hard-headed men who could see the world as it is, unlike soppy liberal idealists. They would deal with any regime, however repulsive, that could help advance US interests, and ignore what their allies did to their captive populations.

". . .[Obama] comes from an ideological culture which calls itself progressive, but is often reactionary. Many from his political generation use the superficially leftish language of multiculturalism and post-colonialism to imply that human rights are a modern version of imperialism which westerners impose on societies that do not need them. Scratch a relativist and you find a racist and although they do not put it as bluntly as this, their thinking boils down to the truly imperialist belief that universal suffrage or a woman's right to choose are all very well for white-skinned people in rich countries but not brown-skinned people in poor ones."

Poor countries like Afghanistan, for instance.

In tangentially related news, I, too, am Seismic Shock.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hundreds of Hamiltonians and Other Huzzahs.

I mean, really, how difficult can it be? Crowd estimation is a fairly simple art. You'd think it was necromancy or something.

After Canada's newsrooms were for some reason singled out by some occult force to have their office brainiacs seized of the same premonition that big proroguery rallies our way must surely come, you'd think they'd have paid slightly closer attention when the day of reckoning finally arrived.

I realize it's not quite as funny as the Great Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, or as sinister as Pat Robertson's account of a 19th century pact with the devil to explain the horrific sufferings underway in Haiti, or as absurd as the claim by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez that the Haitian earthquake was the result of electromagnetic shockwaves emitted by a secret American tectonic bomb attack. But I still expect something a little more in the way of precision from this country's news media, in this day and age. Are there no reporters? Are the newsdesks not equipped with the device known as the electric telephone? After all, we've been kept in thrall of the idea that Canada has been thrown into a constitutional crisis. And it must be really serious and historic, otherwise NDP leader Jack Layton wouldn't be invoking the beheading of King Charles I, right?

“I cannot advocate, nor will I advocate the decapitating of anyone,” Mr. Layton clarified. “We have elections to prosecute these things.”

Glad to have that cleared up. But at least with public decapitations it's easier to get a proper head count. The Hundreds of Hamiltonians turned out to be only 350, and even then, the venerable old Spectator expects you to take the rally organizers' word for it. Turning to Canada's great newspaper of record, we find the Globe and Mail has retained the skills of a charming young space-age New Democrat and social media maven of some kind who has tallied the nation-wide turnout at some 25,000 rally-goers, which he based on the methodical and time-tested exercise known as "what I heard from the protesters, reporters and bloggers on Twitter."

The Vancouver turnout was in the hundreds, reports the CBC, while the Vancouver Province newspaper reports the presence of "several thousand protesters" in Vancouver and the Vancouver Sun says the turnout was "just over 1,000." The Sun adds that the event was one of 50 such anti-proroguery protests across the country, while the Montreal Gazette, which counted a mere 300 protesters in Montreal, reported that there were 60 rallies nationwide.

I haven't got a clue what happened in Toronto, the city with the most newspapers. Thousands turned up, The Star reports. The Globe puts the police estimate at 7,000, while the organizers claim 15,000, but the social-media expert goes with "near 10,000" as if to split the difference. The National Post just goes with "thousands," but then the Post also puts thousands in the streets of Calgary, even though the Calgary Herald managed to locate only "around 200 Calgarians" protesting anything on Saturday.

Everyone seems to agree that somewhere between 3,000 and 3,500 protesters showed up at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, but that's easy, owing to decades of experience in reckoning the capacity of the Parliament lawn to accommodate demonstrators of one kind or another. But nothing's happening in Ottawa anyway, so it doesn't matter. Which is the point of the protests, if I'm not mistaken.

Makes you wonder.

UPDATE: Well, more fool me. Just because Russia Today reports it doesn't make it true. If Iran's Press TV reports it, you can pretty well count on it being false. This place reports that Hugo wasn't involved at all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

'The question will be, for how long do you want to be paying the Taliban with your money?'

UPDATE: The Taliban have responded to the folly of the "reconciliation" plan that is the subject of this post with suicide bombings and a wave of coordinated attacks in the heart of Kabul this morning. A Taliban spokesman explains: “The world community and the international forces are trying to buy the Taliban, and that is why we are showing that we are not for sale.”

UPDATE II: Ahmed Rashid, for whom I have enormous respect, is edging close to resigning himself to the inevitable.

An "odd guard guarding an embassy" is all that will be left of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan next year. Thus Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared, unchallenged, and as though it were only up to him to decide in the first place. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff pledges to support only a "different role focusing on a humanitarian commitment," indicating such open-mindedness as to risk having his brains fall out, and the New Democrats haven't made a contribution to the discussion since their 2006 edict declaring that Canada should simply refuse the United Nations' entreaties altogether because Afghanistan is just "not the right mission for Canada."

But somehow, it is the right mission for Mongolia, Estonia, Macedonia, Singapore, and even little Belgium, and while all 43 nations of the International Security Assistance Force have been embroiled in difficult discussions about what ISAF should be doing in Afghanistan after 2011, when the Afghanistan Compact expires, Canada has been paralyzed by the frenzies and taboos that have come to afflict its entire political class. The most recent spasm combines elements of both.

The frenzy: The only thing the House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan has been allowed to talk about is whether or not someone in cabinet might have done something that might be cynically construed as an act or an omission that might be spun in such a way as to suggest something less than assiduousness in the care and feeding of captured Taliban brigands, three years ago. The taboo: It's only a war crime if the Conservatives did it. You know paralysis has set in when that all that's left to us is to answer harangues to light our torches and march on our summarily-prorogued Parliament, while the rest of the world goes about its business.

In little more than a week from now, in London, foreign ministers and other senior representatives from the entire ISAF alliance will gather with the UN's Ban Ki-Moon, Afghan president Hamid Karzai and top NATO officials. They will be making an historic decision about the way forward in the most ambitious undertaking in the UN's history, a project in which Canada, in spite of itself, has until now played an extraordinarily important role. As things stand at the moment, all Canadians can say with any certainty about what Ottawa's contribution will be in London is that it should be expected to include an announcement along the lines of, The Boss says that if there is even one Canadian soldier reporting for duty in Afghanistan after 2011, he must be assigned to guard an embassy, and he must be odd.

With nearly $18 billion of Canada's money spent and the lives of 139 Canadian soldiers lost to the unfinished and necessary work of rebuilding and defending a sovereign Afghan republic, is that all we can say for ourselves? By way of charitable understatement: "There is no record of an analysis by any party of the consequences of leaving," Douglas Bland, head of the defence studies program at Queen's University, recently observed.

Among brave young Afghans, however, there is. There is in particular a great deal of analysis and fear and dismay about the implications of a backroom "exit strategy" being considered by some of richest ISAF countries in league with some of the most anti-democratic and far-right forces that have managed to burrow into the body of the Karzai regime in Kabul. The plan has been percolating for some long while. Lately, the Karzai clan has been courting the English-language media with its proposals for a ramped-up Taliban compensation deal, and now the British are floating trial balloons about a formal Taliban "trust fund" to be put to delegates at the upcoming London conference. The idea is that the civilized world can somehow buy a commitment to peace and security from counter-revolutionary bandits who lynch schoolteachers, burn girls' schools and send retarded 11-year-old boys on "suicide bomber" errands into crowded marketplaces.

Just one worried young democrat is the courageous Afghan-Canadian Ahmad Zia Kechkenni, who fled the Taliban for Canada as a refugee in the months before September 11, 2001. He has since spent much of his time
back in Afghanistan, away from his wife and children in Toronto, shoulder to the wheel of Afghan democracy. Most recently, Kechkenni served as a senior adviser to Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main challenger in the recent, fraud-plagued presidential elections.

"They are going to try and pay off the Taliban to stop fighting. But if ISAF leaves, the Taliban will come back," Kechkenni told me in a recent conversation. It's fine to try and hive off roving bands of unemployable Kandahari illiterates who have found themselves for one reason or another in the hire of the Taliban, Kechkenni told me. In fact, it would be a good idea. But the Taliban leadership is not exactly short of cash, and there are lots of Saudi billionaires and other well-heeled Islamist religious fanatics only too willing to be parted with their oil money, and the Taliban also has the opium trade and sundry other strong-arm rackets at hand. "You cannot buy off your enemies. When your money is gone, they will go back to fighting. The question will be, for how long do you want to be paying the Taliban with your money?"

Long before Canada's New Democrats hit upon the idea that the right mission for Canada would be to break with the UN, pull out its troops entirely and then return to Afghanistan with an offer to serve as some sort of wine steward at the hot-tub party to which Mullah Omar might one day invite Hamid Karzai, or whatever that was, Canada had already helped bankroll demobilization efforts that had talked about 50,000 footsoldiers down from the hills, out of the clutches of a variety of jihadi outfits.

By 2005, the project had pretty well run its course. But even now, Afghan-led "reconciliation" remains one of Canada's six priorities for its engagement in Afghanistan: "By 2011, we expect that national and provincial Afghan government initiatives will encourage political reconciliation, and receive timely support from Canada." And fair enough, but this is the "priority" that will guide the Canadian delegation when it shows up in London later this month.

At this rate, available for purchase in London will be an exit strategy that consists of a glorified schedule of post-dated bribes to the Taliban. The deal need only run a term sufficient to allow NATO to slink away, abandoning the Afghan people to a nation-wide score-settling bloodbath that will surely unfold, as night follows day, when there are no international soldiers left to stop it - or certainly no Canadian soldier anyway, except maybe that lone, odd embassy guard.

Presented with a cheap exit strategy like this, should Stephen Harper really be expected to keep faith with the millions of Afghans who have been inspired and emboldened by our promises all these years? Which cabinet minister would be assigned the job of meeting with the families of dead Canadian soldiers to explain the contents of the peace-and-security deal that
had just secured "timely support from Canada"? Would it be Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, or Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney? Which government bureaucrats would be assigned the grim duty of helping military families comprehend the provisions of the agreement that subsidize the extended-holiday budgets, axe-sharpening expenses and dancing-boy fees of the same Taliban thugs who had slaughtered their husbands, daughters and sons? Which "troops out now" MP would get up in the House of Commons to denounce the government for cutting and running from Afghanistan in such a craven fashion? Libby Davies?

If you think such a monstrous betrayal is beyond the pale of possibility, then you haven't noticed the depths to which Ottawa politics have lately sunk, or Hamid Karzai's repeated pleadings and cabinet-post offers to the "sons of the soil" who like wearing black turbans, or the tendency to debasement abroad in what passes for international statesmanship these days. You might not have noticed, but it is now actually within the bounds of Parliamentary language in Canada for portly and delicate gentlemen in the House of Commons to refer to one another, dead seriously, as "war criminals."

Last year, at another international Afghanistan conference, at the Hague, the smell of a betrayal was in the air then too. Afghanistan's women's rights leaders, democrats and secularists issued this warning: "Democratic principles, which Afghans have sacrificed their lives for and championed for the last century, cannot be negotiated away by the Afghan Government and the International Community under the guise of peace and security."

Who among the 43 ISAF delegations will speak for these Afghans in London? The French? The Turks? Maybe the Americans, maybe not. Maybe the Jordanians, or little Bosnia-Herzegovina, but Canadians have no idea what Ottawa intends to do in London and we can't cite Harper's recent proroguery as an excuse. Before they were sent packing, Opposition MPs hadn't even thought to ask, and I am not aware of anyone in the Ottawa press gallery who has been impudent enough to even wonder out loud about the question.

What we do know is that no matter whether the Canadian Forces battle group should come home or not, we cannot buy off our enemies, we can't break the solemn promises we have made to our brave Afghan friends, and an odd guard outside our embassy simply won't do.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Today's Reading Assignments From The Underground.


FROM: Field Commander Seamus O' Houligan, Robert Briscoe Memorial battalion, False-Flag Ziocon Hegemony Gatekeeper Brigade, Learned Elders of Kilkenny, Mossad Auxiliary Division. TO: All agents, collaborators, hard boys, wide boys and spivs. RE: Assigned Readings.

1. Ziocon Executive Order 426. Abort Operation Glowing Hearts: "My Zionist brothers and sisters, this is your Mossad station chief in Vancouver. I ask for your forgiveness for breaching our security protocols through this public broadcast. It was necessary to reach you all before the operation came into full effect. Operation Glowing Hearts is aborted. Our plot has been found out."

2. It's all this guy's fault.

3. Comrade Hero of The People Stan Persky makes a delightful discovery while serving as a judge for the Quebec Writers Federation's McAulsen First Prize and sitting only a stone's throw from St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, assessing entries which ranged from "shaky collections of often puzzling poems to a truly bizarre self-published Gothic Space Romance. Most of the books, for some odd reason, seemed to be booze-sodden collections of vignettes written by guys in their 30s about how they partied, lost their girlfriends, got shitfaced all over again, and pondered angst-ridden early-mid-life existence. I guess it must have something to do with writing in English in Quebec. But the first book accidentally to hand was The Cello Suites, so I innocently began reading it. If I wanted to hear the suites, Yo-Yo Ma’s recording of same was nearby. It took Siblin less than 10 pages to persuade me that he was onto something interesting . . ."

4. In Platypus 1917 Review, Max Katz contemplates David Renton's Dissident Marxism: Past Voices for Present Times and finds that it gives him a bit of a headache: "Marx did not intend to provide ideology for an activist minority. Communism, he argued, would be the first political movement of, by, and for the whole of humanity. It would be an anti-identity politics. The workers of the world come to recognize their own “class identity” as a kind of bondage. Being a “worker” means living in subjection. And so they organize, seize political power, overcome capitalism, abolish wage labor, and emancipate themselves and the rest of humanity. This, at least, was Marxism, or a highly abbreviated version of it. It has, to the date, failed. If they study Marxism’s history, young activists will find defeat, confusion, diminution, betrayal, and regression. This past will not 'empower' any young activist. But perhaps this is the reason to study it. . ."

5. There's Just No Escaping The Great Gaping Bolivarian Windbag: "Reporters Without Borders today reacted with dismay as compulsory airing of President Hugo Chávez’s extremely lengthy speeches (cadenas) was extended for the first time to cable channels, meaning no Venezuelan TV viewer will be able to escape them in future. The presidential programmes allowing the head of state to requisition unlimited airtime from all media for his live speeches, under Article 10 of the Law of Social Responsiblilty in Radio and Television (Resorte law adopted in 2004), was previously limited to terrestrial frequencies. But under a little-noticed public decree published in the official journal on 22 December 2009, cable channels will also be subjected to the same rule."

6. “I do not believe in religion, but if I had to choose one it would be Buddhism. It seems more livable, closer to men. . . I’ve been reading about reincarnation, and the Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say fuck the Buddhists.” - Bjork, cited among 25 blasphemous statements compiled and published by Comrade Hero of The People Michael Nugent in defiance of Ireland's new Blasphemy law, which imposes fines for blaspheming of up to 25,000 Euros, if you don't bloody mind.

7. David Aaronovitch Discovers He Shares Exclusive Club Membership with Dead People: "On the Monday morning, I found out I’d been libelled by the Independent on Sunday. It was in one of those media gossip columns that proliferate these days because you can get cheap, young journalists to write pages of stuff without the expense of leaving the office. The column followed an article I’d written about Iran’s bomb, and the Sindy made a facile (and erroneous) connection between that and my views on Iraq, adding one twist: the information that I was 'a member of the Israel Hasbara Committee,' an organisation set up to propagandise for Israel in the public sphere. . .

8. Here is a real list of real names of real enemies of the people, scumbags every one. Study the list thoughtfully and carefully, my dear and loyal agents. Operation Glowing Hearts is aborted. Operation Night Of The One Hundred Blunt Instruments is in the planning stages already.

Plus we may need to extricate Comrade Aaronovitch if his ruse fails.

As you were.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Whose Courage Is Once Again Being So Harshly Tested.

"Now more than ever, it is time for us to show our solidarity with the most vulnerable people
in the Americas, our brothers and sisters in Haiti."

Women Of Steel

Proper advocacy journalism: Congratulations to the women, and congratulations to The Star of South Yorkshire.

SHEFFIELD'S Women Of Steel headed for Downing Street today to get official recognition for their war effort of more than 60-years ago - thanks to The Star.

Six decades after they were unceremoniously dumped from their vital wartime roles, The Star has been campaigning on their behalf. And four determined widows today carried the hopes of all women who worked in steel factories.

Kathleen Roberts, aged 88, Kit Sollitt, 90, Ruby Gascoigne, 87, and 88 year-old Dorothy Slingsby were this afternoon ready to walk through the most famous front door in the land knowing they had massive support on their side.

They were among thousands of young women who worked 12-hour shifts in the steelmills as well as looking after young children, homes and injured relatives, only to be fired when the men returned from war.
Their previously untold stories instantly touched a nerve right across the world, with women in Australia, Canada and other countries contacting us to join the campaign which we launched less than two months ago.

More than 120 women now have their names on our roll of honour - all are between 83 and 101 - and are thrilled that action is finally being taken to recognise their efforts. . .

"They travelled from Sheffield on a train named the Women of Steel Express. The engine was specially renamed in honour of the occasion and was unveiled by the four steel mill veterans before their journey on Wednesday."
What follows is a preview of my essay in the current issue of Vancouver Review, so fresh off the press that its cover and its contents page don't even appear on VR's website yet. You will want to get yourself a copy from the newsstands if only to read Trevor Boddy's Olympic-themed critique of Vancouver's hideous new architecture, Lalo Espejo 's excellent commentary on weird Bible-reference justifications for cuts to arts funding, poetry from my old neighbourhood's Renee Sarojini Saklakar, and a grand wee work of short fiction from Oliver Kelhammer, a former UBC Creative Student of mine, no less. And that's just a sampling. Better for you to take the plunge and subscribe.

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD –It might help to imagine this place as something out of a science-fiction movie, set in the distant future, on a desolate, searing-hot and faraway planet. More than 30,000 earthlings from 42 different countries are hunkered down in a vast and heavily-guarded mining colony in the middle of a windswept plain. Groaning, lumbering vehicles rumble around dusty streets. Strange pilotless aircraft circle overhead.

Every once in a while a siren wails and a robot voice announces: Rocket, attack. Rocket, attack. It’s the hostile aliens again, firing explosive missiles into the middle of the place. You throw yourself on the ground. You stay there for two minutes, then you hurry to the nearest bomb shelter. You wait for the all-clear siren.

You rejoin the streams of determined and ragged-looking machinists, engineers and technicians constantly shambling to and fro, their trades, nationalities and ranks indistinguishable except for the most subtle peculiarities in the patterns on their overalls, or in the weapons they’re carrying, or in the barely-discernable insignia on their epaulettes. They file in and out of warehouses, two-storey, double-wide ATCO-type trailers, supply depots, cafeterias, and command-and-control centres of one sort or another.

You can’t walk very far without getting dehydrated, so there are huge stacks of boxes on every corner, and the boxes are filled with plastic water bottles. You grab one and keep walking. Sometimes you hear a siren that sounds like an air horn. That’s the enemy-infiltration alarm. When it blasts, you stay off the streets and wait for the all-clear signal.

That’s what it’s like here.

Kandahar Airfield nearly tripled in size in 2009. By this coming summer, close to 45,000 people are expected to be here. That’s like West Vancouver, except it’s in the desert, and the streets are seething with Rumanian infantrymen, shadowy, bearded special-ops characters, Tajik restaurant workers, bubbly Australian travel agents, and even the occasional Mongolian army officer. Every so often you will see men driving around in beat-up little white Toyota pickup trucks with Omani licence plates, but no one seems to know who they are or what they do.

There are also mysterious and dangerous little arachnids, the nastiest kind of scorpions, ferocious porcupines, and rabid dogs. There are also tick-riddled, feral cats. There are notices pinned on cork boards warning you not to go near the cats.

There are lots of rules.

No wearing headphones while running. At all times, avoid loose talk, especially about outgoing flights and cargo manifests. Military personnel must be armed at all times. Civilians must not wear open-toed footwear or sleeveless t-shirts in dining areas. Soldiers should not salute their senior officers (something to do with a field order to protect the brass from being inadvertently pointed out to snipers). Nobody should toss stray ammo into the garbage (all the trash here gets burned; somebody could get killed). Try not to get caught downwind of Crystal Lake, the deep and vile lagoon where all the sewage goes. If the breeze happens to turn to your disadvantage, there is nothing anyone can do for you. You have no idea.

The main thoroughfares have names like Bronco Road, Chinook Road and Screaming Eagle Boulevard, but traffic moves mostly on foot, and mostly through the warren of gravel alleys and dirt backstreets, roughly conforming to a grid, all lined with high blast walls and concertina wire. If you are out walking somewhere at night, you wear a reflective yellow belt so nobody runs you over by mistake (this has happened). A 24-hour shuttle bus will get you around the place. The sprawling American district is known as South Park, and there is also The Ghetto, so called because it’s always so dimly lit and scary. In the Canadian neighbourhood, there’s an ice-less hockey rink, tax-free cigarettes, Labatt’s Blue with the alcohol somehow drained out of it, and the gym offers beginner’s Hatha yoga. Description: Gentle stretching. Instructor: Li. Pizza Hut delivers, open 24/7, call DSN 841-1235.

At night, a lonely moon hangs above it all in a black and cloudless sky, and that is what tells you that this is not a mining colony on a distant planet. This is not some strange science-fiction movie set. This is a very real place in the real world. Kandahar Airfield is now the busiest single-runway airstrip on earth, a constant roar of Blackhawk helicopters, pilotless aerial reconnaissance vehicles, pilotless armed drones, and Harrier fighter jets. There are C-130 Hercules transports, Phantoms, F-16s, and huge, flying warehouses called Globemasters.

A year ago, I arrived at Kandahar’s civilian airport on an Ariana Airways flight from Kabul and roared off towards the city in a fixer’s beat-up early ‘90s Toyota Corolla. If we hadn’t immediately got stuck behind an International Security Assistance Force convoy that was backed up behind a jackknifed oil truck, I might not have noticed that the regular airport was immediately adjacent to the busy post-911 airstrip that had become Kandahar Airfield. I never even visited the place. This time, I wanted to get a glimpse of the Afghanistan that soldiers see, so I hitched a ride in on a Polaris airbus out of the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ontario. A couple of days later I found myself looping out of the sky above Kandahar in a Hercules, strapped in a sideways row facing another sideways row full of soldiers, all of us wearing the regulation helmet and body armour you have to put on as the plane makes its whirlygig missile-avoidance-manoeuvre descent.

. . . It’s much harder work to find excuses for otherwise intelligent Canadians who know nothing about Afghanistan but who will still earnestly proclaim with a straight face that what’s going on here is really all about oil, and that Canadian soldiers are here only to advance the sinister aims of American imperialism, and the plucky Taliban resistance may be animated by a sense of decency we might not share, but none of it is any of our business anyway, and we should just leave.

It’s like the script from some other science-fiction movie. What gives this one away is a constellation of distinctly non-American (and indeed non-western) soldiers in Afghanistan from countries like Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, and Singapore, plus there isn’t any oil. Go up the chain of command to the Afghanistan Compact, which set the terms for the whole NATO-led project here back in 2006, and you’ll find that among the 66 co-authors and sponsors are Brazil, Finland, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan. There is also a galaxy of readily-available public opinion polls undertaken across Afghanistan over the past six years that have consistently shown that Afghans are savvy enough to appreciate the necessary work the NATO-led forces are attempting to do here, no matter how half-heartedly or incompetently the work sometimes get done. The most recent polls show Afghan approval ratings of the UN-mandated NATO efforts at between 60 and 70 per cent. Support for the Taliban hovers, as usual, around four per cent.

The Taliban’s ingenious “improvised explosive devices” kill ten times more Afghan civilians than soldiers, and that’s just another little story that never seems to get told about the war in Afghanistan. Still less gets told about the peace in Afghanistan, and what that’s like. This is a country teeming with bright and hopeful young men and women, hilarious Dari-language sitcoms and political satires broadcast daily from Kabul, crazy call-in radio shows, lively universities, and promenades in the cool evenings along the ancient boulevards of Herat. What we get is mostly just the news from Kandahar. And sometimes, we don’t even get that. . .

It should go without saying that all honour goes to such journalists as Michelle Lang, who was unsatisfied to simply report from "inside the wire," where there is nonetheless a lot of important reporting to be done. It should also go without saying that the "embedded" journalists at KAF, not least the CBC's James Murray, with whom I was pleased to stay up late one night under the stars to talk about these things, routinely and bravely venture out with our soldiers into the teeth of death and mayhem. It should go without saying, but because it is so fashionable to sneer at "embedded" journalists, I'll bloody well say it anyway. So there. Said it.

I'm headed back to Afghanistan within the month. I won't be inside KAF, but instead, like the time before, I'll be embedded with the people, as I like to say (I was on CBC Radio this morning here in Victoria giving out of myself about these things).

Meanwhile, in related writing-trade news I see the railway worker John Howarth, an important elder and collaborator in the strange train journey from Jasper to Prince Rupert that won me a National Magazine Award and also ended up a centrepiece in This Ragged Place (thanks again, John) is the latest partisan to appear in Bill Horne's brilliant Solidarity Series, linking wage workers and cultural workers.

Good to see you again, John, if only in a photograph:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Afghan Detainee Abuse: On Their Watch, The Liberals Knew.

Just saying is all. This should not be taken as a disinclination to Iggy's Liberals or a political preference for any of the Liberals' adversaries or their recent antics about this "scandal." Just saying, is all. The Liberals knew.

The link to the article in La Presse, which was accessible on the website of the Centre d'études des politiques étrangères a only a few hours ago, is now redirecting to a "403 Forbidden" page. But it's still obtainable in Google's cache. One can only wonder whether Canada's English language newspapers have this article in their morgues. Did no Anglo journalist even bother trying to match this scoop? With due acknowledgment to the diligent work undertaken by the Torchists, who first noticed something amiss a month ago, here's the English translation:

April 28, 2007:

"Canadian diplomats stationed in Kabul warned the former Liberal government in 2003, 2004 and 2005 that torture was commonplace in Afghan prisons. In spite of these warnings, the Martin government signed an agreement with the Karzai government in December 2005 to hand over all Canadian-captured prisoners to Afghan authorities, Foreign Affairs documents obtained by La Presse reveal.

"From 2002 to 2005, the Canadian practice regarding Afghan detainees suspected of Taliban ties was to hand them over to US military authorities. Ottawa decided to shift its transfers to Afghan authorities, however, in response to abuse allegations at the Guantánamo Bay internment center and the controversy that erupted over revelations of torture and degradation at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"The December 2005 agreement to transfer detainees to Afghan authorities was concluded despite the content of annual reports from Canadian diplomats covering broad assessments of Afghanistan’s progress in human rights protection and the development of democratic institutions. According to a 2004 report: 'The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission concludes from its monitors’ assessments that torture remains a current practice, particularly during the early stages of police investigations, in order to extract confessions from prisoners.'

"While the Afghan government was not accused of condoning physical violence in the treatment of prisoners, a 2005 report filed by Canadian diplomats noted that the Afghan military, police and intelligence services were implicated in arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, extortion, torture, and the murder of criminal suspects. Police commanders and officers were also implicated in many allegations of rape. The alleged victims included women, girls and boys.

"While Liberal deputy leader John McCallum was defence minister in 2003, his colleague Bill Graham was foreign affairs minister. In an interview, Mr McCallum told La Presse had never seen the Foreign Affairs’ documents. Mr Graham took over as defence minister in June 2004 and still held the post when Canada signed the agreement in December 2005.

"An anonymous Liberal source, well acquainted with the situation, said the Martin government believed that the situation had improved in Afghan prisons when the agreement was concluded: 'From 2002 to 2005, we transferred our prisoners to the Americans. But that became politically untenable because of the stories about Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. These events, and our certainty that things had improved in the Afghan prison system, convinced us to sign the detainee transfer agreement with the Afghans,' the source explained.

"However, the Martin government had received annual reports that ill-treatment in Afghan prisoners was commonplace, and the reports closely compare with the report disclosed in a Toronto daily newspaper Wednesday that has caused such a stir in the House of Commons. That document shows that going back to 2006, torture has been a routine practice in Afghan prisons. Opposition parties cited these reports to accuse the Harper government of closing its eyes on violations of Afghan prisoners’ rights. The Globe and Mail also reported this week that about 30 Taliban prisoners say they were abused by local Afghan police after they were transferred by Canadian soldiers.

"The Harper government didn’t help its cause this week, making several contradictory statements about Afghan prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers and delivered to local authorities in the Kandahar area. Defence minister Gordon O'Connor was the source of the confusion and plunged the Conservatives into embarrassment. The minister initially said that the Independent Human Rights Commission monitors the condition of prisoners to ensure they are well treated, but the commission does not have the financial means nor the staff to undertake the task.

"Then, on Wednesday, Mr O'Connor said that Canada had concluded an agreement with authorities in Kandahar allowing Canadian soldiers a right of access to Afghan detainees to ensure they’re not being ill-treated. This was contradicted 24 hours later by prime minister Stephen Harper, who confirmed in the House of Commons on Thursday that no formal agreement exists to allow this access, but that the Canadian authorities hoped to conclude one soon.

"Then public safety minister Stockwell Day added to confusion when he said that for several weeks Corrections Canada staff had been afforded access to the Afghan prisons in the Kandahar area. Then Mr Day moderated his remarks by affirming that two Corrections Canada staff members had been sent to Afghanistan to advise local prison authorities, and then he he explained that their mandate had been broadened so that they could look into the the practice of torture in Afghan prisons."

There you have it.

No matter how laggardly and inattentive the Conservatives may have been in fixing up the whole mess, let it no longer be said that the Conservatives made it, at least not by themselves. The Conservatives inherited a slapdash and jerryrigged process from the Liberals, and if it was a mess it was because the Liberals made it, first. And they knew they were making a mess. And they did it anyway.

Just how it has come to pass that the Liberals have been able to make so much hay out of the "detainee abuse scandal" at the expense of their successors in the Conservative Party may prove to be one of those enduring mysteries of Ottawa politics. Or, in the alternative, some plucky reporter will strike out from the herd and resolve the mystery, at the expense of his colleagues' reputations.

Or not.

UPDATE: The audacity of Liberal finance critic John McCallum is a thing to behold. Note that the article in La Presse points out that Canadian diplomats in Kabul warned McCallum's former Liberal government in 2003, 2004 and 2005 that torture was commonplace in Afghan prisons, and in spite of these warnings the Liberals decided to start handing over all Canadian-captured prisoners to Afghan authorities anyway, in December, 2005. Note also: John McCallum was defence minister in 2003, and stayed on in cabinet, and in the 2007 La Presse interview he said he never saw the diplomats' warnings. And in spite of all that, this is what McCallum just finished telling the CBC: "I think proroguing adds to the total character picture of Mr. Harper, and the fact that they may have been committing war crimes, handing over detainees knowing that they were very likely to be tortured, that is a war crime. And the fact that they're covering it up. . ."

Hilarious update 2: "The real question is: Why didn't the Prime Minister bat this one out of the park? Why did he allow the prisoners controversy to simmer, until it inevitably boiled over? Was he playing for time? Did he think we could take prisoners without anyone finding out? Or did he hope, the state of the military being what it is, that our boys just wouldn't capture anybody? Such timidity is peculiar, not only coming from this Prime Minister, but over such a transparently phony issue." The particular transparently phony issue in question is from almost eight years ago. The writer was Andrew Coyne, the Prime Minister was Paul Martin. In other words, we'll get to the bottom of this yet, and when we do, don't be surprised if there is nothing there.

Thanks to The Torch for the tip.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Afghanistan: A Quagmire Of Confidence, Progress And Optimism.

This latest poll is the now the 14th survey of which I am aware that wholly defies the received wisdom (which is to say the fashionable delusions and popular frenzies) abroad in the rich countries of the world about Afghanistan, and about "what Afghans think." I am aware of no poll - not one - that supports the self-obsessed and fraudulent "anti-war" opinion in Canada on these subjects, or that does not expose bourgeois "left-wing" opinion to be objectively far-right, reactionary, and in opposition to the hopes and aspirations of the Afghan people.

'Troops Out Now!'

Sixty-one per cent of the Afghan respondents support the U.S./NATO "surge" of 37,000 troops. Only 25 per cent agree with the American (and Canadian) plan to start withdrawing troops in 18 months, and while 22 per cent say foreign troops should start to pull out sooner, 21 per cent say foreign troops should in fact stay longer, and 29 per cent (the most sensible cohort, in my view) say troop withdrawals should depend on the security situation at the time. More than 70 per cent of Afghans rate the performance of American and other NATO/ISAF troops as excellent, good or fair.

'Why Do They Hate Us?'

They don't, so all those drippy Californian society ladies who hold such sway over "progressive opinion" in Canada should avail themselves of their hankies and smelling salts and shut their gobs. Afghans rate the role the United States is playing in Afghanistan much higher (45%) than the approval they give anyone else the pollsters asked about: UK (28%), Germany (32%), Russia (22%), India (36%), Iran (27%), and Pakistan (9%). As a country, however, Afghans are some crazy about India - 71 per cent favourable! - so the Yanks need to work much harder. A friendly suggestion: The only time Michael Moore gets to appear on television is if he's playing the role of the fat auntie in a Bollywood-type musical.

Only four per cent of Afghans see the United States as the greatest threat facing their country and a mere five per cent blame the U.S. for the violence that wracks Afghanistan, while 73 per cent blame the Taliban, Al Qaida, foreign jihadis and warlords. A whopping, utterly staggering two per cent of the Afghan people say "foreign influence" is the biggest problem facing their country.

'Negotiate With The Taliban!'

Seventy-six per cent of Afghans say their government should negotiate with the Taliban only if the Taliban first stops fighting (good luck with that, Jack).

'Hamid Karzai is a U.S. Puppet!'

Funny, but 90 per cent of Afghans rate Karzai's performance as excellent, good or fair - approval ratings any "western" politician would die for - and only six per cent would prefer the Taliban.

'The Afghan National Police are corrupt and feared by the people!'

Some 88 per cent of Afghans rate their police as excellent, good or fair.

NYT, January 9: "Afghans Losing Hope After 8 Years Of War."

In the real world, Afghans haven't been feeling this plucky in five years:

Friday, January 08, 2010

A Vindication, But No, Al-Ameen's Formal Apology Is Not Good Enough.

". . .Therefore, in the spirit of honouring our most cherished Canadian Values, and to demonstrate our commitment to upholding and defending such values, the Editorial Board of alAmeen Post, without prejudice, extends its honest and sincere apology to our fellow Jewish Canadians for any hurt which may have caused by us publishing or communicating such a news article."

No apology to Canada's Muslims, whose values Al-Ameen purports to defend and promote among non-Muslim Canadians who have "dared to compare whatever the western media may be spinning against Islam and Muslims." No apology to the members of the British Columbia Muslim Association for its claims that the BCMA executive board members are Al-Ameen's bosses - a claim the BCMA's Hesham Nabih calls "a lie."

It all started with this. The National Post picked it up, B'Nai Brith issued a press release demanding an apology, the National Post pulled my essay after the B.C Muslim Association started shouting (but to its credit, the Post followed up with this article in the news section of today's editions), and Al-Ameen then removed the racist and incendiary incitement from its online edition "due to lack of supporting facts." Then, Al-Ameen quietly deleted the claim on its 'About Us' page that its editorial board members "are also the members of the BCMA Executive Board," about which, even now, Al-Ameen is still equivocating.

Al-Ameen editor Mohammed Bhamji says its own claim about who its real bosses are was not intended to mean the newspaper is "literally connected" to the BCMA, but that rather it is "connected to the entire community." All of this would have been a mere distraction, but Al-Ameen has now actually compounded its offence by attempting to spread the blame for its behaviour among as many Muslims as it can. And even now, in its apology, Al-Ameen claims its editorial board members "may also be members of the BCMA, and from time to time elected to serve on different boards or branches."

Bhamji excuses himself for running the preposterous Organ-Plundering Zionists Snatch Thousands of Ukrainian Tots Shock story in the first place on the grounds that he didn't think there was anything wrong with it, "it was reported in the media. . . we are not professional journalists." In his newspaper's apology, there is the further excuse that while Al-Ameen has neither "the resources nor the means to have field reporters or [an] investigative journalist working in the field," it nonetheless tries its best to ensure the news it publishes is "credible."

Not good enough. One doesn't have to be a resource-rich news organization with investigative journalists in the field to know that there would be something rather less than "credible" about the claims of a bunch of Nazis gathering at a conference in the Ukraine to count the many ways they hate the Jews (or Zionists, if you prefer) for being behind all of the Ukraine's current troubles, and for also having been behind the Stalinist-engineered famine of the 1930s. You don't have to be a "professional journalist" to notice that there might be something just a bit dodgy in the report about the gathering published by the holocaust-denying foreign-propaganda arm of the Iranian mullahocracy, Press TV, which highlights the "fact" that Jewish doctors are busy vivisecting some 25,000 kidnapped Ukrainian babies.

"We assumed it was true," says Bhamji, and Al-Ameen now expects everyone else to merely assume that it is truly sorry for what it has done, even though its professed contrition is fatally undermined by this admission: "Defending our news article at this juncture would mean causing further divide in our harmonious multicultural fabric."

Well, how delightfully sensitive of them, but I'm afraid the inference one must draw from this is that Al-Ameen might be happy to defend its "news article" at some later juncture, perhaps when regurgitating an ancient blood-libel incitement against the Jews would not cause any unpleasant divisions within Canada's harmonious multicultural fabric. And one is left to shudder at the thought of what sort of horrible "juncture" that would be.

Of course we're all obliged to stand with the Jews as they face this particularly virulent strain of antisemitism, and fair play to B'Nai Brith for securing this apology, such as it is. But Canada's Muslims are still stuck without one, and so are the rest of us. Maybe we have all become so inured to lurid and racist incitements of this sort that we just go along with the fashion of assigning such outrages to the category of inscrutable contests and quarrels among and between various components of Canada's "multicultural fabric," to be arbirtated by the official representatives of Canadian ethnic and religious groups. Maybe I missed the meeting when we all decided that the work of patrolling fascist incitement should be assigned solely to this country's various Jewish community groups. But I'm not going along with any of it.

This isn't just about the Jews, and it's not just about whatever offence Al-Ameen may have caused them. What has happened here is a grievous offence to the memory of the 44,198 Canadians who died fighting the Nazis in the Second World War. It's an offence to my parents, who put on British uniforms to join that struggle, and an offence to the memory of my Uncle Patrick, who died fighting the Nazis in Europe. It's an offence to the memory of at least 1,700 Canadian volunteers who sailed away to Spain before them, who fought barefoot and ate grass.

What was published in the pages of Al-Ameen is an offence to the tens of thousands of Iranians who were slaughtered by the same Khomeinists whose vile propaganda Al-Ameen is so eager to publish, verbatim. It is an offence to the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of young Iranians engaged in their gallant struggle against that fascist regime, even as I write this.

It is an offence to the memory of the more than 140 Canadian soldiers and civilians who have given their lives in the struggle against Islamist fascism in Afghanistan, too.

So, no. I still want my scalps.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

That's It. I Want My Scalps.

The MP George Galloway has compared Israel to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele who experimented on prisoners and with body parts of concentration camp victims.

In an article in the Scottish Daily Record entitled “Dark Echoes of the Holocaust”, the outspoken Respect MP criticised the lack of press attention given to Israel’s admission of taking unauthorised organs from both Israelis and Palestinians.

He said Israel was “playing mini-Mengele on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.”

Mengele was the so-called ‘Angel of Death’ at Auschwitz, who conducted gruesome experiments on inmates, particularly on twins, and ordered the deaths of prisoners with medical problems.

Mr Galloway also boosted the claims of Swedish journalist Daniel Bostrom, who wrote in the newspaper Aftonbladet that Israelis were kidnapping and murdering Palestinian children for their organs.

Mr Galloway said he owed Mr Bostrom an apology for not believing the report.

He said: “When the story first broke, on Swedish TV, I frankly did not believe it. Implacable critic of Israel as I am, it was beyond belief that a country calling itself the ‘Jewish State’ could ever do such a thing.

“I met the correspondent responsible for the story months ago and rigorously questioned him about it. I was not satisfied, and didn't use the information. The man was offended and I owe him an apology.

"I am now at a loss for words, and sick at heart."

Wait. . . my mistake. That last sentence comes from somewhere else.

Anyway. The truth, if anyone cares about that sort of thing anymore, is here, and there's a bit more of it (comes with a bonus warning about what happens when people become morally incapable of discerning the difference between the truth and lies) here, and the ongoing, dirty consequences, leavened with various amusing eruptions, here.

If you get that far and you're still interested in reading the great Organ-Plundering Zionists Snatch Thousands of Ukrainian Tots Shock article that Al Ameen has now determined to be a wee bit too light on facts to be kept up at their newspaper's website, don't worry. You can still read it all, word for word, courtesy Press TV, the Iranian mullahocracy's propaganda arm. The Moseleyite gangster George Galloway works there, I am sure it will not surprise you to learn, as a celebrity presenter.

And he does cut such a dashing figure in his uniform, don't you think? Such nice boots!

Elsewhere, my comrade Eamonn McDonagh reports: Israeli Embassy Controls Buenos Aires City Hall, and a walk down memory lane: Attack Of The Giant Zionist Bus Drivers From Mars.

Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost our insistence upon freedom. . .

Our own Lauryn Oates, in The Mark:

In the vast emptiness of the Kyzyl Kum desert that covers western Uzbekistan, there is a dark prison called Jaslyk. The very name causes local people to shudder. There, inmates are jammed into cells, 16 in each, sometimes forced to stand for days on end, forbidden to speak out loud.

One day in 2002, two men were being tortured in Jaslyk. Their names were Muzafar Avazov and Khusnuddin Olimov. Submerged in boiling water, they were literally boiled alive, a form of torture otherwise unknown since the likes of 14th-century Scotland or the Roman Inquisition.

No tabloids seized upon the gruesome photos of the bodies. There were no angry demonstrations in the streets of western cities. Unlike H1N1 or the 2010 Olympic Games, the story failed to make its way into water cooler conversations. It was almost like it had never happened at all. . .

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Organ-Harvesting Scare: A Mutant Offspring Of Anti-Zionism & Classic Antisemitism.

Update: I'm told that the BCMA is trying to disassociate itself from Al-Ameen, which is perfectly understandable, and that the BCMA also asserts it has nothing to do with Al-Ameen, which is nonetheless a bit disingenuous, implausible-deniability-wise. Here's what Al-Ameen says about itself: "The editorial board members are also the members of the BCMA Executive Board." And that's what I reported. Should the BCMA executives wish to put their Al-Ameen hats back on and confirm their displeasure with the newspaper's contents by defenestrating an editor or two, then fair play to them, all round. Should Al-Ameen prove to have lied about its function as a sort of house organ of the BCMA, then sterner measures will be expected (and a certain BCMA vice-president is perfectly capable of taking such measures). The BCMA can then reconcile itself to B'nai Brith, which is right full-throated about it all at the moment, and everybody wins.

Update 2: Al-Ameen has just removed the sentence "The editorial board members are also the members of the BCMA Executive Board" from its website's 'About Us' page. But it's still there in Google cache.

Update 3: The great Organ-Plundering Zionists Snatch Thousands of Ukrainian Tots Shock article has now vanished from Al-Ameen's website, to be replaced with a page with these words: "This article has been removed due to lack of supporting facts. we appologize for any inconvinience." And good for them. See? The world gets better every day, the truth will out, my dilemma is resolved, everybody wins. Of course you can still read the article in all the usual places - Indymedia, Islamist and Nazi websites, places like that. But still.

It's at times like these that I find myself tempted to slink away from the emerging Canadian consensus that Human Rights Commissions should at all times be prevented from trespassing upon "freedom of speech." The reason is I just can't imagine any fitting substitute for lawful recourse in addressing this kind of thing. Actually, I can imagine a fitting substitute. The problem is it would probably end up playing out like that scene from the movie Inglorious Basterds, after Aldo Raine tells Donny 'the Bear Jew' Donowitz: Gots a German here, says he wants to die for his country. Oblige him.

The thing is, I just can't seem to put my finger on a proper remedy between the extremes of having the state administer sanctions for what Canada has devolved into treating as the mere misdemeanour of propogating unreconstructed, drooling antisemitism, and the swift retributive justice of a baseball bat to the side of the head. Where does one start? Where would it end? Should we just laugh out loud at it? I don't know. This is my problem. But I mean, really:

An international Israeli conspiracy to kidnap children and harvest their organs is gathering momentum as another shocking story divulges Tel Aviv's plot to import Ukrainian children and harvest their organs.

Yes, I get it. It's all the rage these days. It's just some unpacking of the discourse in a site of competing post-colonial narratives and yada yada bla bla bla. But two things about this particular eruption of an ancient incitement caught my eye. The first is that the story appeared not two weeks ago in Al-Ameen, the house journal of the British Columbia Muslim Association (the periodical's editorial board is in fact the executive committee of the BCMA, which also runs the Surrey Muslim School). The second thing is that the story itself is reprinted faithfully and accurately from that holocaust-denying international scab operation known as Press TV, which is the house journal of the Khomeinist tyranny in Iran.

I notice this because the 'Ukrainian Kids New Victims Of Israeli Organ Theft' story is not merely the dribblings of some pimply and deluded heavy-metal freak bashing away on his mummy's old computer in a basement somewhere, trying to out-drool some other freak in some hillbilly internet message-board debate. It is vile antisemitic gibberish presented as a serious news story in what presents itself as a serious newspaper, run by a major, wealthy cultural organization in Canada, and the report comes straight from the propaganda arm of an extremely dangerous, unstable and violently anti-democratic regime that enjoys full status at the United Nations. This is reported, as fact: Israel has brought some 25,000 Ukrainian children into the occupied entity over the past two years in order to harvest their organs.

The thing is, I just don't know what's worse: the chance of Canada slipping a few notches on the global Index on Censorship rankings, or just sitting back and allowing the Canadian state to facilitate and support the circulation and dissemination of such filthy, toxic and dangerous libels. Honestly. I don't know what's worse, the fascist Jew-hater who would happily disseminate such a lie, or the moral illiterate who would claim in his defence that he is only the lie's manservant, he's just the lie's masseur.

The Ukrainian hysteria arises directly from the recent recrudescence of the classic blood libel that appeared last summer in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. At the time, Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress warned that the concocted story of Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians to harvest their organs was only "the latest shameful addition to an infamous trail of lies, innuendo and fabrications that have historically set the stage for the violent and deadly persecution of the Jewish people." In the wake of the Aftonbladet's fabrications, the presidential campaign in the Ukraine has gone rather nasty, with the spectre of murdering, blood-stealing Jews becoming a frightening and incendiary election issue. It is now unremarkable to come upon candidates for political office in the Ukraine who will blame the "Zionists" for Stalin's crime of starving hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to death in the 1930s.

Oh, but that's altogether different, one now hears. You can't equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. That would deliberately stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.

It's all quite funny, but the thing about racist canards is that they don't die unless you kill them and keep on killing them. There's always a cunning misreading of the facts that will allow a just-so newspaper headline to present any old thug or his manicurist with the opportunity to say 'I told you so, it's those blood-sucking Jews.' It doesn't matter that the old opportunity arises in the form of a new Israeli documentary reporting a low-grade scandal involving the unauthorized removal of organs from dead Israelis, Palestinians and foreign workers in a kind of sophomoric malpractice that Israel shut down more than a decade ago. It doesn't matter that the malpractice persists still, all over the world, perhaps especially in China, or that only a few weeks ago, 11 Jordanians were extradited from Egypt to face trial in Amman on charges of trafficking in kidneys and selling them for up to $30,000 each, or that there is a global demand-supply gap in human organs that health authorities are struggling with everywhere, or that even in Canada, patients are dying while they wait for transplants.

None of this matters. They will say Israelis kill Palestinians to harvest their organs. They will say Menahem Mendel Beilis murdered little Andrei Yuschinsky and drained the blood out of the boy so he could make his dirty matzohs, and that Menahem Mendel Beilis must die.

So, who knows what's best. Just laugh, maybe. Construct a proper canard of our own, along the lines of, you see, the truth about all this matzoh carry-on is it's really just a feint so that us Irish will have everyone yapping about the Jews as Saint Patrick's Day approaches. The Jews have been in on it with us from the beginning. We pay them with whiskey, and they rig it so that no one notices that the traditional recipe for the soda bread we'll all be eating calls for great heaping dollops of the blood of a Protestant. Everybody wins.

Oh, look, here comes that Anglican fella. Says he's upset about what's in the bread and he wants to complain to the Human Rights Commission.

Oblige him.

Then again, I don't know if I'd be laughing about this stuff right now if I were a Ukrainian Jew. Come to think of it, I don't think I'd be laughing about this right now if I were a Canadian Jew living in the vicinity of the Surrey Muslim School, either.

No to racism. Zero tolerance. No excuses. No exceptions.

And I want my scalps.