Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Let My People Go.

There are more slaves today than ever. Roughly 27 million people, twice the number of people who were taken from Africa during the entire history of the trans-Atlantic trade.

Deliver us from Egypt: Jonathan Zasloff observes that 600,000 Israelites were freed during the exodus. That pales in comparison to the number of slaves in the world today.

Free the slaves: Kevin Bales explains here how modern slavery works. It's a multibillion-dollar economy that underpins some of the worst industries on earth. He calculates the price of freeing every slave on earth, now.

Let my people go.

Thanks, Jeff Weintraub, for paying attention to these things.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Orientalist" Schoolgirl Effortlessly Crushes Gruesome Bloated Zombie Witch Creature.

Alaina Podmorow is 13 years old. She wrote this article in response to a masters' thesis by the University of British Columbia's Melanie Butler, Canadian women and the (re)production of women in Afghanistan, an eruption of "post-colonial feminist theory" that sets out to attack actually-existing feminists who do real work for their real, living sisters in Afghanistan.

A snippet of Podmorow: No one will ever tell me that Muslim or any women think it’s ok to not be allowed to get educated or to have their daughters sold off at 8 years old or traded off at 4 years old because of cultural beliefs. No one will tell me that women in Afghanistan think it is ok for their daughters to have acid thrown in their faces. It makes me ill to think a 4 year old girl must sleep in a barn and get raped daily by old men. It’s sick and wrong and I don’t care who calls me an Orientalist or whatever I will keep raising money to educate girls and women in Afghanistan and I will keep writing letters and sending them in the back pack of my friend Lauryn Oates as she works so bravely on the ground helping women and girls learn what it is to exercise their rights. I believe in human rights so I believe everyone has the right their own opinion, I just wish that the energy that was used to write that story, that is just not true, could have been used to educate a girl in Afghanistan. That’s what the girls truly want. That’s what the Women in Afghanistan truly want. I have a drawer full of letters from them that says just that.

Butler's thesis, which is sadly typical, could well have been produced by the software program Postmodernism Generator, which spews out random text from recursive grammars. Here's a snippet of Butler: In their bid to help Afghan women. . . some feminist groups have failed to distance themselves from the discursive mechanisms that manufacture consent for women’s oppression in the name of Empire. Building on Krista Hunt’s analysis of feminist complicity in the War on Terror (Hunt 2006), this essay draws attention to Canadian feminists’ role in (re)producing neo-imperialist narratives of Afghan women. Focusing specifically on the NGO Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan), it shows how their use of feminist rhetoric and personal first-hand narratives, together with national narratives of Canada as a custodian of human rights, add to the productive power of the Orientalist tropes they invoke."

More on Alaina and her comrades here. How to support their work here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Liberals: Stand for Something or You'll Fall for Anything.

MONTREAL — The Liberal party is sacrificing its principles and maybe even its soul in an empty quest to return to power, says Robert Fowler, a career Canadian diplomat and veteran public servant.

Aye and aye. I've never been much impressed with Mr. Fowler's "ideas," but he's gone straight to the sordid heart of the Liberal Party's problems. Good for him. Stand for something or get the hell out of the way.

UPDATE: I regret to say Robert Fowler is a bigger goofball than I thought. By an order of magnitude.

Canadian foreign policy should not be the exclusive purview of diplomats and policy wonks, Mr. Fowler. It should reflect precisely the interests and activism of Canadians. There's nothing "parochial" about that, and there is no virtue in peacekeeping just because it's something the autocrats in Beijing and Moscow and Tehran would prefer Canadian soldiers do.

Fowler appears to lament that Canadians are not prepared to invest the blood and treasure (TM) required to "effectively colonize Afghanistan. . .and replace their culture with ours, for that seems to be what we seek, and the Taliban seems to share that view." What the hell is he saying, exactly? The right to know how to read is something peculiar to "our" culture? If we help Afghan teachers with their work, we're replacing Afghan culture with "our" culture? Or does he want us to "colonize" Afghanistan? If that's what he wants, then he's quite right, we'd be doomed. But colonization "seems to be" what we're doing because that's what the Taliban claims? We let the Taliban do our thinking for us? What about the vast majority of Afghans who want nothing to do with the Taliban? They don't see Canada as some kind of colonizer. Don't their views count?

An especially ugly bit is his assertion that bang for buck we'd be able to teach more girls in Africa than in Afghanistan, and without having to kill anyone. If Fowler wants Canada to invest more in education in Africa, fine, he should say so. But why should Afghan kids have to compete with African kids for Canada's attention to their right to an education? Why should we allow Islamist crackpots to decide which kids are allowed to go to school, and which ones are not?

"Non-peace" in the Middle East causes global terrorism, which then inflames fundamentalist Islamic diasporas throughout the world, and this threatens Canada directly, Fowler claims. This appears to betray a fairly dim view of the intelligence of Canada's Muslims, but wait for it. . . anybody who acknowledges this "blindingly obvious linkage is immediately labeled antisemitic." What?

Say what you like about the Taliban, but I can't recall "non-peace" in the Middle East being cited by any of their school-burning nutcases as the motive behind their madness. Come to think of it, what if they did make these kinds of claims? We should just scurry off and subsidize Robert Mugabe's education ministry instead? Shut up and do what we're told?

The incubation of fourth-generation Palestinians in squalid refugee camps is indeed a prime cause of what Fowler calls "non-peace" in the Middle East, but I'm afraid you can't simply blame Israel for that. In Israel, the Palestinian community is vested with greater rights and liberties than any Arab country allows its citizens. The bloated and byzantine UN Relief and Works Agency, now 60 years old, runs camps to keep Palestinians confined from the Arab mainstream and festering in their resentments. UNRAWA's Palestinian wards are six times as numerous as the original Palestinian refugee population, now to the fourth generation, and they're fenced off in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza.

Thousands of UN bureaucrats oversee this obscenity. One doesn't have to be quaking in one's pampooties for fear of being labeled antisemitic to merely point these things out.

Fair play to him for noticing that the Israeli government is making matters worse for the cause of a Palestinian state by allowing continued development in its West Bank settlements and in East Jerusalem. But are we really expected to believe that if the Israelis withdrew all their settlers from the West Bank as they did in Gaza, Afghans would not be living in fear of their president selling them out to the Quetta Shura and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezbe-e Islami? Things would be better in Somalia, Waziristan, Nigeria, Sudan?

It's not that Fowler had no useful or saucy observations to make, not least his reference to the way politicians routinely pander to the Khalistani chauvinism, which has become a regular feature of official Sikh events in Canada. But that's hardly a new thing - politicians of every stripe get called out for that pretty well every Vaisakhi Day.

The rest is what you might expect from an old Africa hand. I learned nothing new. Africa is a bloody mess. Thank you Mr. Fowler for pointing that out, but no, an argument that Canada has "interests worth defending" in Africa at the expense of our Afghan friends is not an appeal to the big-heartedness of Canadians. It's a cynicism every bit as grisly as the politics you claim to assail.

In the end, Fowler's speech was in the line of lame performance art, a deliberate attempt to be controversial - 'hey, this will really get people thinking.' Next time, he should maybe try wearing black leotards and expressing himself through interpretive dance.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

On Paul Berman's 'The Flight of the Intellectuals.'

To be acquired at the first opportunity.

Ron Rosenbaum: It was not healthy for Theo van Gogh to get too close to Hirsi Ali. The Danish cartoonists are still under constant death threats, Berman reports. And Ibn Warraq, the pseudonym of another apostate, reads death threats against himself online*, while Bassam Tibi, who, Berman tells us, "pioneered the concept of Islamism as a modern totalitarianism and pioneered the concept of a liberal 'Euro-Islam' [as well] ... spent two years under twenty four hour police protection in Germany. ... [T]he Egyptian and Italian journalist Magdi Allam ...was travelling with a full complement of five bodyguards. ... The Italian journalist Fiamma Nienstein … was accompanied by her own bodyguard. … Caroline Fourest in France, the author of the first and most important extended criticism of Ramadan, had to go under police protection. ... [T]he French history professor Robert Redkeker had to go into hiding. In 2008 the police in Belgium broke up a terrorist group that had planned on assassinating, among other people Bernard Henri Levy."

He spends an evening in New York "... with Flemming Rose the culture editor of the Danish newspaper who was visiting New York only because at that particular moment it was too dangerous for him to remain in Denmark."

The list continues. Kurt Westergaard, Boulem Sansal. This is cumulatively (and individually) scandalous. The fact that we so rarely hear a peep about the cumulative terror experienced by these writers and artists from the likes of these intellectuals while they find time to sneer at Hirsi Ali is the real scandal to me. The fact that theological censorship backed by death threats has been installed on the continent of Europe with just about everyone deciding it would be wiser to keep silent about it is once again burying the lede. But to my mind, printing it at all is a service. . .

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Will someone in the government tell us what in heaven's name is going on?"

Yes, please, tell us. And that goes for you, too, Mr. Ignatieff.

Yesterday in the House of Commons, the question of Canada's commitments to Afghanistan after 2011 came up once again, and once again, Canadians were left knowing less about the answer than they did before the question was raised. At this rate, it would be better to prorogue Parliament permanently so that we might be able to say with absolute certainty exactly what is happening in the House of Commons. We could say 'nothing,' and we would be right. This would be an improvement over the current state of affairs.

Relying on the press won't help you: Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday no Canadian soldiers will be in Afghanistan after 2011, even if the United States and NATO ask for a continued Canadian presence. "In 2011, we're out," Cannon told the House of Commons.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had asked Cannon about a report that the Americans would like Canada to maintain a force of about 600 soldiers in Afghanistan - a "trial balloon," Ignatieff called it. "This is no way to conduct foreign policy. Will the government commit to putting any deployment in Afghanistan past 2011 to a vote in Parliament?"

Cannon didn't bother answering the question. The government side has consistently maintained that it will be up to Parliament to decide what Canada should be doing in Afghanistan after 2011, but all Parliament has done in response is demand to know what Canada should be doing in Afghanistan after 2011. Round and round it goes.

Yesterday, Ignatieff's version of the question 'What am I thinking?' elicited this weird response from Cannon: "Canada will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and monitor development through its embassy in Kabul, as we do in other countries."

This isn't a decision, you should realize. It's the consequence of the absence of a decision. It's the direct result of the absence of any Parliamentary debate, the non-existence of any consideration or resolution or motion about what Canada should be doing in Afghanistan after 2011 - which is next year, remember.

Canada's engagement in Afghanistan is governed by six priorities: Security, border protection, national reconciliation, building national institutions, humanitarian aid and basic services. We have been in the top five of UN member states in Afghanistan, in the most ambitious project in the history of the UN, and this is what it has come to. It is how Canada has become the laughing stock of the entire world, the idiot boy of NATO, the brain-damaged auntie of the 50-plus-nation Afghanistan Compact. And the vast majority of Canadians have absolutely no idea what has happened, or what is happening, or how it has happened.

The Canadian people never decided this. We were never asked, never consulted. We are simply instructed that Canada's role in Afghanistan will be reduced by accident of Parliamentary paralysis to "diplomatic relations," and our embassy will "monitor development." We will have someone sitting in a wheelchair, perhaps wearing a toque, looking out an embassy window, while soldiers and specialists from the great powers of the 43-nation ISAF alliance - Montenegro, Latvia, Jordan, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Macedonia - do all the work.

But hey, we had the Olympics, right?

Canadians did not decide this, remember. But it is what will happen if there is no decision, no debate. It is what is already happening, before our very eyes, right now. Unless someone in Ottawa - for mercy's sake, please, anyone - grows a spine and shows some leadership, then this will be our legacy. This is how we will dishonour the sacrifice of 141 dead Canadian soldiers. This will be our tribute to their families. This is how we will squander the $18 billion we've invested in the gallant cause of a sovereign Afghan democracy.

If this is what Parliament wants, then this is what Parliament will get. if this is what our political leaders want, then they should bloody well come right out and say so. If it isn't, then they might show us the courtesy of telling us what they propose. Is this what you want, Mr. Ignatieff? Mr. Harper? Mr. Duceppe? Mr. Layton?

Hello? Is anyone there?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And What Fresh Hell Is This?

Visitors to this place will be pleased to know that the writer Shannon Rupp, my friend and colleague, has a blog: Fresh Hell. Some recent entries:

Cat Peddling for Fun and Profit: There’s no day so bad it can’t be improved by the hilarious, barely concealed rage of Australian satirist David Thorne. Over at his blog 27b/6 he recounts the tales of his encounters with petty authority figures, dimwitted neighbours, and general fuckwits. He’s an inveterate letter writer with a mad passion for torturing the irony-impaired. . .

Progressive Puritans: I just had the odd experience of reading an Alternet piece supporting views I agree with – that children should be rescued from the clutches of McDonalds and other junk food suppliers -- that left me cheering for the other side. It was so Puritanical and full of misinformation and zealotry that suddenly I saw the good in the faux burger supplier. . .

Pomo Editor Strikes: Facebook is “threatening to sue” London’s Daily Mail due to a copy editor who decided to spice up a story about how social networking is a hotbed of pedophiles. According to The Guardian, the Mail ran a story on how 14-year-old girls who post their profiles would be approached “within seconds” by dirty old men. Alas, this is not true. Jazzy, but not true. Even the writer says so. . .

And that's just a sampling from the last few days.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Olivia Chow's Cheap Stunt: 'My Favorite Fascist Was Barred; How Come Coulter Gets In?'

As followers of these creepy circus-midway acts will know by now, the University of Ottawa has canceled [or not] a performance by the freakish Yankee harridan Ann Coulter on the dubious ground that some sort of security threat [or not] had arisen from the presence of a herd of people who clearly spend too much time watching Fox News without their smelling salts close at hand.

Insufficiently noticed in the ruckus was the grandstanding opportunity to which Olivia Chow (NDP Toronto-Spadina) rushed in the House of Commons, only to make a bigger fool of herself for free and by accident than Coulter likes to make of herself on purpose and for money.

Mr. Speaker, once again the government is showing its hypocrisy. A year after banning anti-war MP George Galloway from entering Canada, the minister of censorship has no problem with letting a pro-war Conservative come and preach hate.

George Galloway is not an "anti-war" MP, and he was not banned from entering Canada. Back in the days before such terms became too indelicate and blush-making for the sort of people who constitute Olivia Chow's activist base, we would have called Galloway a fascist thug, or perhaps a Mosleyite demagogue. "Anti-war" is not the compound adjective that would have come immediately to mind, at any rate.

And Galloway was not banned from Canada. He dodged a speaking engagement in Canada last year knowing full well that if he attempted to enter Canada he might have found himself detained for being on the wrong side of Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act. That's because Galloway had just come from Gaza, where he'd made a great public show of delivering bags of loot to Hamas boss Ismael Haniya, whose gangsters murdered their way into power in Gaza and have since busied themselves with "arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, maimings by shooting, and extrajudicial executions" of suspected anti-Hamas Palestinians.

And Galloway was not in Gaza to donate his cash to some charitable purpose, either. That's another lie. In Galloway's own words: "Many of my friends have to give their cash to charities. But I, now, here, on behalf of myself, my sister Yvonne Ridley, and the two Respect councillors – Muhammad Ishtiaq and Naim Khan – are giving three cars and 25,000 pounds in cash to Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics."

In the House, Chow disgracefully parroted Galloway's conspiracy propaganda - "CBSA was told that Galloway could not be admitted under any circumstances" - and referred to Galloway as a "pro-peace MP," if you don't mind. (A digression: It would appear that the dirty little blackshirts who form Galloway's Canadian entourage have managed to raise less than $7,000 of the $20,000 they had planned to bilk from gullible hippies to pay off Galloway's crack legal team.)

Here's Chow's "pro-peace" British MP for you: "I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and I glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah."

Well of course he would. After all, it seems like just yesterday that Galloway was in Ottawa to celebrate the 74th birthday party for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party - an unambiguously fascist movement with shiny boots and uniforms, its own distinctive swastika, and an anthem sung to the tune of Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles.

Infamous for traveling to Baghdad to slobber on the slippers of the "indefatigable" Saddam Hussein, Olivia Chow's favorite fascist is nothing if not promiscuous in his affections for authoritarian police states. Galloway is a celebrity presenter for Press TV, the scab-run, holocaust-denying propaganda arm of the Tehran regime, which routinely jails and murders trade unionists, Bahais, journalists and dissenters. On the collapse of the decrepit Soviet regime: "The worst day of my life.”

Well, to be fair, there are some things about the old Soviet Union that are to be missed, I suppose. The soaring brilliance of their pop-music idols, for instance. Even more engrossing than an Ann Coulter performance:

Monday, March 22, 2010


Here's what I can't stand: I'm on the road, I resign myself to some pretentious restaurant with overpriced food, and a stuffy waiter brings me my order and puts it on the table in front of me and says, 'Enjoy.' It's even worse when the waiter returns with a gigantic peppermill, as big as a baseball bat: Pepper? There is a perfectly nice little peppershaker on the table. The snootier the joint, the bigger the peppermill the waiter brings. Why is that? But mainly, why must I be instructed to enjoy my meal? The problem is: How to get rid of this injunction to enjoy?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nowruz Means 'New Day'.

No, I do not have a hangover. After much time on the road this past month, I spent a perfectly lovely and quiet evening with old friends up in the Highlands. No, not those Highlands. These. And now, our Afghan friends are preparing to celebrate Nowruz, the beginning of the New Year, and I am happy. I expect to be gathering with a few of them in Vancouver this weekend.

Following upon this, two places to go to reflect on meanings of these things today:

"Conflict between British Protestants and Irish Catholics in Canada is now historic memory. The Toronto Maple Leafs, who played in the National Hockey League until 1927 as the Toronto St. Patricks, wore their retro green jerseys for a March 17 game a few years ago to postsectarian joy. Simultaneously, the rifts Canada faces today – between non-Muslim and Muslim, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to name but two – make McGee and his objection to identity politics a modern song.

"Those who complain that Canadian multiculturalism has reduced ethnicity to folk dances and food tastings are rebutted by McGee's conception of St. Patrick's Day. Enjoy your traditional language and art, he posited, and (to be true to his own liver) an amount of traditional drink. Ethnicity is for history, for remembering the past and so reaching to better serve justice. If celebrating identity leads to disorder, we forget what the party is for."

That's from Aidan Johnson, whose essay in the Globe I was pleased to read on the flight home yesterday.

And just back from the Holy Land (not Ireland, the other one) is my dear friend Jonathon Narvey, a colleague at the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, whose dispatches from away can be read here. He can be found regularly here. I particularly recommend this assessment of the Palestinian freedom struggle.

Also highly recommended: This. Marg Bar Diktator.

Post script: You're welcome.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Tyee: If It's An Afghanistan Scandal You Want. . .

As you might imagine by its name, the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan is supposed to provide advice to the House of Commons on Canada's role in Afghanistan. But there is a problem. The MPs who dominate the committee say the committee's job is actually not to provide advice to the House of Commons on the pressing matter of Canada's role in Afghanistan.

I am not trying to be funny.

The committee has 12 members drawn equally from government and opposition benches, which is one reason why it's gotten nowhere since it was established in March 2008. The committee was handed a specific mandate to travel to Afghanistan and to neighbouring countries and to issue frequent recommendations on how Canada is doing and what Canada could do better.

The committee has done none of these things.

Think about that for a moment. Canada has been a leader among the 43 countries with soldiers in Afghanistan under the NATO-led, UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force. Among more than 50 donor countries, Canada has been a leading contributor to Afghanistan's reconstruction. Canada has a "special" parliamentary committee on Afghanistan, and it has never even been to Afghanistan.

It hasn't done a thing Parliament has told it to do, and yet the loudest howls you hear from the committee are about the government's contempt for Parliament. You could say it's been utterly useless, but that wouldn't be quite fair. The committee has served a purpose. It has kept the more slovenly members of the Ottawa press corps titillated by the fantasy that if they just sit there like stenographers long enough, eventually they'll get to type the name of a Conservative cabinet minister into the same sentence with the words "war criminal."

This is what you get when the sinister manoeuvres of petty partisanship array against statesmanship and the public good. That's what this story is about. It's a story that not a few Ottawa politicians are banking on you being too stupid to notice. . .

The rest here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On The Eve Of The Feast Of The Patron.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who Wants To Negotiate With This?

The toll in the twin suicide attacks in Lahore on Friday has risen to 57, even as seven low-intensity blasts late at night kept police on their toes for over eight hours.

A suicide bomber with explosive wrapped around his body detonated himself killing about 14 persons mostly security personnel and injuring 54 when he was stopped for body search at a joint security check post at Mingora in Swat on Saturday.

Four suicide bombers struck the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Saturday evening, knocking over houses and shops and killing at least 31 people, according to government and news reports.

"We have around 3,000 more suicide bombers. We'll target all government places, buildings and offices."

"It's time for a Prime Minister who will end Canada's failing combat mission. A Prime Minister committed to negotiated progress and stronger development efforts led by the United Nations. Jack Layton will be that Prime Minister. Don't let them tell you it can't be done!"

KABUL — Senior United Nations officials in Afghanistan on Wednesday criticized NATO forces for what one referred to as “the militarization of humanitarian aid,” and said United Nations agencies would not participate in the military’s reconstruction strategy in Marja as part of its current offensive there.

OTTAWA - The Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee on the CBC's 'The House' program, about half-way through, here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Bet You Thought It's Just The Combat Mission That's Coming To End Next Year, Right?

As a a direct consequence of the political paralysis that has seized Ottawa in recent months, almost all activity undertaken by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in Afghanistan has been stymied by a built-in 2011 sunset clause that Canadians have never been told about. Pretty well all non-military reconstruction and development work is to end in 2011. The Ottawa press gallery hasn't noticed it. Parliament never debated it. It has just happened, partly by accident, partly by design and partly by incompetence, but mostly because of political cowardice.

This is one of the key findings in the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee report, Keeping Our Promises: Canada in Afghanistan Post-2011 - The Way Forward, which I took the lead in writing. While the tabloid "Afghan abuse" rumpus has been keeping us all entertained, everything our soldiers have been fighting and dying for has been quietly tossed under the bus. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has mentioned that some sort of aid assistance will be available after 2011, but nobody knows what that means, Parliament isn't talking about it, and almost everything Canada is doing in Afghanistan - dozens of small-scale and large-scale projects and initiatives, all over Afghanistan - comes to a screeching halt in 2011.

The paralysis has meant that all forward planning is practically impossible. The most senior CIDA officials have been left with no direction about commitments beyond the current fiscal year. The Solidarity Committee has been advised by CIDA officials that they are not even at liberty to discuss this issue with us. Canada’s partners in the Afghan finance ministry are mystified about what, if anything, Canada will continue to contribute to the Afghan government’s basic payroll and recurrent costs. The Canadian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar has been led to believe it will continue its work beyond 2011, but it is not certain whether any Canadian soldiers will be involved in providing security for any PRT-initiated aid and development projects.

How has this happened?

The March 2008 House of Commons resolution that extended Canada's "combat mission" in Kandahar to 2011 also delegated the work of addressing Canada’s engagements in Afghanistan to a new House of Commons committee. The Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan was established to make “frequent recommendations on the conduct and progress of our efforts in Afghanistan.” The Committee was supposed to travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding region, meet regularly with Canada’s ministers of foreign affairs, international cooperation and defence, and other senior officials. The Committee was also tasked with reviewing laws and procedures related to the thorny matter of Afghanistan-related operational and national security exceptions to the disclosure of information to Parliament, the Courts and the public.

Here's the real scandal: The Committee has done none of these things.

Instead, it has rendered itself irrelevant to the central question of Canada’s current and future engagements in Afghanistan. It has become paralyzed by the very operational and national security exceptions it was originally intended to review. Opposition members’ say this is because the government has flouted laws and procedures requiring the disclosure of information by unjustifiable and arbitrary resort to national and operational security exceptions. Specifically, the Committee has become deadlocked over disclosure of memoranda related to the Canadian Forces’ handling of Afghan detainee issues going back to a time well before the Committee was established. Government members say this has occurred because of the Committee’s own overweening focus on the matter of Afghan detainees and an unreasonable demand for release of information that properly falls within national and operational security exceptions.

All very fascinating, right?

The “detainee file,” curiously, is the one Afghanistan-related policy conundrum that was already resolved by the time the Committee was established. The detainee-abuse questions the Committee persists in raising, whatever their merit, have no relevance to existing operating protocols governing the detention and transfer of Afghan detainees from Canadian Forces custody to Afghan authorities. New detainee protocols, developed in collaboration with NATO, were put in place in response to the recommendations of the same March 2008 House of Commons resolution that created the Committee in the first place. Nevertheless, it has gotten so that last month, in an unintentional parody, a headline in a Toronto daily newspaper referred to the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan as the “Afghan abuse committee.”

The Committee has failed to discharge its mandate to review the law and procedures governing operational and national security exceptions to the ordinary disclosure of information. Further, the Committee has compounded and exacerbated the problem it was tasked to address, to the point of forcing what some observers have described as a constitutional crisis.

At the very moment when the taxpayers' investment of more than $18 billion is about to pay real dividends in Afghanistan, Canada's entire engagement there - a critical component of the most ambitious project in the history of the United Nations - has been hijacked. If this Committee were a parliamentary committee of the Wolesi Jirga in Kabul, we would all be citing it as an illustration of Afghan institutional dysfunction, an unfamiliarity with the basic rules of parliamentary procedure, and a consequence of more than 30 years of war.

Forget the "combat mission" business for a moment - nobody is arguing for a continuation of the Canadian battle group in Kandahar after 2011. What about our contributions to the entrenchment of democratic Afghan institutions? What about our promises of free and fair elections? What about helping Afghans build up a society free from misogyny, illiteracy and disease?

Where are all the troops-out bleaters who had all those big ideas about what Canada could contribute to Afghanistan's peace and security if it weren't for the exorbitant expense of the combat mission? Their day has arrived. Where are all their big ideas now? Where are the Conservatives who vowed never to "cut and run"? Where are all the Liberals who've been carrying on and on about "Canada's international reputation"? Nobody in Ottawa has any idea what non-military responsibilities Canada will be assuming after 2011. This is next year we're talking about, remember.

We're one of the world's richest countries, and a leading member of the 43-nation International Security Assistance Force, and we're leaving Afghans with the demoralizing impression that we have just given up, that our withdrawal is the harbinger of their coming abandonment by the international community. Because of the complete abdication of the political class in Ottawa, Canada is stumbling blindly towards the 2011 expiry of the multi-national Afghanistan Compact, leaving unaddressed the most fundamental questions related to Canada’s continuing engagements in Afghanistan. Canadians deserve honest and detailed answers to all these questions, and all we're getting is the same old partisan mumbo-jumbo.

Our government has made solemn promises to Canadians, to our Afghan friends and allies, and especially to the families of our soldiers, 140 of whom have given their lives to this cause. We weren't going to just run away. We were in Afghanistan to help the people build a democracy that they'd be capable of defending by themselves. We'd stand with them until they could stand on their own. Remember that?

Are we going to let our government get away with breaking those promises? If you were Haitian, would you believe our prime minister when he says to you that Canada is going to stick by you "until the job is done"?

Canada's debates about Afghanistan have become fatally polarized. This is getting us absolutely nowhere. The gridlock has got to be broken. We have to stop thinking about 2011 as the end of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan and start thinking about the chance we’ve finally got for a new beginning.

What the Solidarity Committee has found is a surprising consensus for a new and radically reshaped Canadian engagement. The consensus emerges from intensive consultations among more than 100 key opinion makers and organizations in Canada and Afghanistan. It's the broad outline of a way forward that unites the Afghan-Canadian community, CASC members from all political parties, and leading Canadian military, aid and academic experts. It also reflects an emerging consensus among Afghan government officials, prominent political leaders, and pro-democracy groups from across Afghanistan’s social spectrum.

Read the whole report. Write your MP.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Come All Ye Partisans.

The Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee (CASC) will unveil its Vision for Canada’s Role in Afghanistan Post-2011 on March 9 at the National Archives Hall in Ottawa. The event, called “Canada and Afghanistan: Keeping Our Promises”, is hosted by the Free Thinking Film Society and is also a fundraiser for the Afghan School Project.

This Vision document will outline recommendations for how Canadians can best remain involved in Afghanistan, in terms of both civilian aid and the security that is essential for providing that aid.

Speakers at this event include:

• Major-General (Ret’d) Lewis Mackenzie. Served in the Canadian Forces for 35 years, including a UN peacekeeping command in Yugoslavia in 1992. Awarded the Order of Canada in 2006 • Ehsanullah Ehsan, Director of the Afghan-Canadian Community Centre in Kandahar City (Ehasunullah will join us via a pre-recorded broadcast) • Nasrine Gross, Afghan-American writer and human rights activist • Dr. Nipa Banerjee, currently a professor of international development at the University of Ottawa, served as Canada's head of aid in Kabul for three years.• Dr. Douglas Bland, Chair of the Defence Management Studies Program at the School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University • Lauryn Oates, Human rights and gender equity activist; CASC senior advisor • Terry Glavin, CASC co-founder, author and journalist.


The Canadian chairman of the Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission who blocked the fraud-plagued first round in last year's Afghan presidential elections will join the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee on a growing panel of hard-hitting speakers in Ottawa on March 9. Grant Kippen was a UN appointee to the ECC when it forced a second round in last year's elections, heading off a possibly fatal political crisis in the country. Now, Afghan president Hamid Karzai has decreed that all ECC appointees will be made by the presidential palace.

His Excellency Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada, also agreed to join the panel earlier this week. Ludin has outlined the systemic challenges facing the Karzai government in tackling corruption, the security challenge and economic obstacles, noting the solutions will come in partnership with the international community.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Know Thine Enemy.

I've known the Taliban since before I was born. My mother knew them, and my grandmother knew them. I've had Taliban encounters in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Canada, as well as other countries. I have known the Taliban a long time. Only now they have a name. And only now, the rest of the world also knows their name. The Taliban are a state of mind.

- A friend of ours, writing under the name Fereshta, in today's Globe and Mail.

The antidote to backwardness and ignorance is education. But first Canadians will need to educate themselves, to truly learn about the enemy that Afghans, and now Canadians, face, and to recognize it as the danger that it really is. Ask an Afghan woman, she can tell you.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports, "the notion of reintegration and reconciliation is on the table in a big way."

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"We pray to God that they don't come back."

Shamsia Sharifi runs a formerly clandestine operation now called the Hope for Poor Women Organization (HPWO), known as Negeen, for short, from a ramshackle house with a half-collapsed roof down a dusty side street in the Khair Khana district of Kabul.

A woman of broad smiles and bright, grey eyes, Sharifi brims with energy. She’s quick to laugh, and is at once at ease and all business in a smart blue-grey suit and black silk shawl. You’d never know what she’s been through.

Sharifi was taken out of school when she was 12. She’d had all the education a woman should need, her parents reckoned. But Sharifi demanded more, and against her parents’ wishes, she enrolled at the Sayed Jamaluddin Afghani School in Kabul.

During the Taliban years, with no husband or children, Sharifi worked as a home-school kindergarten teacher, supporting herself partly by selling eggs from her small flock of chickens. But on the quiet, she was involved with a group of educated women, teaching poor women how to read. They relied mainly on the Koran, one of the only books one could own that did not invite Taliban inquiries and persecution.

Two of the teachers Sharifi worked with were caught. They were arrested and imprisoned, and their small, secret school in Khair Khana was abandoned.

“I saw the deaths. I saw the cruelties,” she told me, in a matter-of-fact way. “For my own pain, for my heart, I wanted to help women to be educated, and to earn some money for herself. I opposed those difficulties from the Taliban. I wanted to decrease the cruelties suffered by Afghan women. And so now, I am happy I can provide them with some help, some salaries for their work.”

HPWO started small – a garbage-collection collective, a few literacy classes – but slowly, Sharifi built an important oasis for Kabuli women. Sharifi can now count 4,000 women among HPWO's graduates since the Taliban's 2001 rout. . .

This is to introduce the Unsung Heroes of Afghanistan Project, 19 essay-portraits I wrote in a collaborative undertaking between the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee and the Funders Network for Afghan Women. There's Shamsia, Afza, Baktash, Ehsan, Mahboob, Majabeen, Makay, Shuja, Yousef, Sohaila, Yasameen, Raziea, Ishaq, Mah Jan, Sharifa, Mahbooba, Marzia and Zabi.

These few are among countless Afghans, largely unknown to the Western world. Away from the limelight, they work day-in and day-out for a better future for Afghanistan. . . for human rights, for gender equity, for poverty relief, for cultural revitalization, for healing and health, for the right to education, for a free media, and for a vibrant, independent civil society.