Friday, November 26, 2010

Popular Front: Bob Rae Is A Canadian Patriot And A Friend Of The Afghan People.

Petty partisanship is an amusing peacetime activity. But in times like these, you close ranks. In the House of Commons: We do not start talking about Afghanistan by saying that we want to do a tranche count of the electorate, that we want to see how we can cut up the electorate so we can appeal to this portion over that portion.That is not how I saw World War II. That is not how I have seen Korea. That is not how I have seen any conflict in which we were engaged as a country. . . This mission goes beyond partisanship.

John Ivison observes: We in the Press Gallery rarely report on parliamentary debates – usually for the very good reason they are so dull that if you don’t knit, you’d be advised to bring a book. But there are exceptions and Bob Rae’s speech in the House Thursday must rank as one of those. There are no Churchills in the current Canadian parliament — a politician who, according to his friend F.E. Smith “devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches” — but Mr. Rae has no peers when it comes to eloquence on the floor of the House.

All well and good, and still it is necessary to point out that Ottawa has nonetheless taken its eye off the only thing that will really matter in the end, which also happens to be the most important contribution that Canada is uniquely situated to make in Afghanistan - ensuring and enforcing the democratic legitimacy of the Afghan government: Afghan authorities arrested nine private citizens and are seeking the arrest of four election officials on allegations of fraud in September's parliamentary vote, a top prosecutor said, deepening Afghanistan's political uncertainty at a crucial juncture in the fight against the Taliban. This is not a good sign.

Where is Grant Kippen when we need him? As Ottawa retools its non-military Afghan engagement, Grant's prophetic words should be front and centre. The former head of Afghanistan's Elections Complaints Commission and a fellow member of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, Grant noted: "It is vital that all parts of the country are given the opportunity to participate equally in the elections process; that candidates are provided with an equal opportunity to campaign for office; and that no stakeholder group can claim that they were not provided with the opportunity to participate. Only if these standards are met will the 2009 and 2010 elections mark a credible milestone in Afghanistan’s democratic transition."

Like most other countries, in the Afghan struggle for democracy, Canada has been letting down the side quite badly lately. Will we pay attention now?

Odds and sods: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, hurt feelings in the Ottawa press corps. . .

Conservative MP Jim Abbott, November 25: "Canadian media coverage of Afghanistan for 10 years has been the equivalent of covering news in Canada and Canadian events by having three reporters driving around in a Vancouver police cruiser on Vancouver's east side. What would that coverage tell Canadians about Canadians' aspiration or the beauty of our land or our potential?"

Myself, April 15: "The way Canadians see Afghanistan is the way Afghans would see Canada if they had three or four reporters here who spent pretty well all their time in the back of a police wagon cruising Vancouver's downtown east side. That's not what Canada is about."

Welcome to the Popular Front, Comrade Abbott.

As for you Don Martin, stop being such a whiner. "The trouble with his view is that MPs, ministers and Governor Generals rarely experience the true grit of this mission. . ." The trouble with Martin's view is that he is getting pissy and deliberately missing Abbott's point, which is that any given time there are rarely more than three or four Canadian reporters in Afghanistan and as likely as not they'll all be embedded with the Canadian Forces in Kandahar, and not embedded with the Afghan people.

Martin doesn't help his case by bringing the memory of the Calgary Herald's Michelle Lang into it, either. Michelle had enormous respect for Canadian soldiers but she wanted to write stories about the Afghan people, outside the wire. It was in her memory that the Calgary Herald ran a baker's dozen of my essays from "outside the wire" (here's just one), which is a news media euphemism for the entire, heartbreaking, splendid and terrific country we call "Afghanistan." Some more stories about that country and its people would be a good place for Canada's journalists to begin to make amends for the distorted picture they've given Canadians about that country.

To be comfortably embedded in the Ottawa press gallery and to bitch about politicians who can dish it out as well as take it is churlishness, not journalism. More journalism about Afghanistan, please. That's the point Abbott was making.

It can be done. It's not that hard. It's not even all that dangerous. A young comrade from the Ubyssey, the student newspaper at the University of British Columbia, committed several acts of useful journalism from Afghanistan, "outside the wire," all by himself, here. Updated: A Walk to the Flower Street Cafe.


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