Saturday, February 26, 2011

Out Of The Night, The Arab Revolt: America Disgraces Itself, But Canada Is No Better.

"If President Obama wanted to bury Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s dream of being the hero of the Arab world, he’d immediately order U.S. fighter aircraft into the skies of Libya to destroy all airplanes, helicopters, and armored columns attacking the citizenry." But America dithered and pipsqueaked. This will be remembered for generations.

Canada has nothing like the guns-and-money heft of the United States (and it's not much heft of that sort that is required at the moment anyway). Canada is nonetheless uniquely situated to play a robust, constructive and supportive role in the democratic uprising sweeping so much of the world at the moment. We have not been useful, and we are being too little, too late, even now. Despite all the fashionable tropes that would have you believe the contrary, Canada is uniquely advantaged as a rich, trusted democracy with no "imperialist" blood on its hands and no history of propping up despotisms in far-away places (although lately in Libya, Canada has been coming damn close to doing just that). But Canadians have been enfeebled by those same tropes, and we remain perhaps uniquely burdened by the fashionable vanities that caused the "west" to be blind to the vitality of a pro-democratic Arab mobilization that had been underway for years.

An unseemly and hysterical preoccupation with the transgressions of Israel, a democratic island in a sea of Arab police states, has been necessary to sustain that blind vanity. The same pathological ideational package that required you to be deaf to the raised voices that foreshadowed the anti-totalitarian mobilization shaking the world at the moment has also condemned the indigenous, anti-Taliban, pro-democracy struggle in Afghanistan to wage its struggle in the dark, for years on end (see A Choice of Comrades .pdf, Democratiya/Dissent).

Last year, the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee concluded an exhausting series of inquiries and consultations in Afghanistan. A key recommendation of our Keeping Our Promises report calls for action on the 2007 Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development proposal titled “Advancing Canada’s Role in International Support for Democratic Development.” In November, 2009, a Committee advisory panel co-authored by Thomas Axworthy, Senator Pamela Wallin, Leslie Campbell and Éric Duhaime called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to hurry up, go global and get on with it (and establish a field office in Kabul right lively now).

What happened? It was only after the Egyptian uprising was well underway that Canadians noticed: Dream of Canadian Democracy Centre Melts as Arab World Boils. "Despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper's oft-repeated support for freedom, human rights and the rule of law abroad, his Conservative cabinet rejected a proposal in the fall to create a Canadian centre for promoting democracy." Further, and again from the fine reporter Jennifer Ditchburn: "The Canadian government might be wringing its hands from the sidelines of the roiling Arab world, but individual Canadians are playing a central role in promoting democracy in the region."

Notice the Canadian names? Leslie Campbell, co-author the 2009 advisory panel report, had to shuffle off to America's USAID-constrained National Democratic Institute. Peter Van Praagh, who was working for Canada's pro-democracy defence minister, Peter MacKay, settled in with the U.S. German Marshall Fund. Former Canadian Conservative staffer Jamie Tronnes is now deputy director of the Africa division for the U.S. International Republican Institute. On and on it goes.

And so, Canada's broken and dysfunctional Rights and Democracy agency trundles along, on life support, usefully serving as a punching bag for reactionary and decrepit Canadian pundits who persist in the same discredited, antiquated and sollopsistic obsessions with Israel. Despite the paridgm-smashing upheavals underway all around the world, the comfortable punditti have the temerity to posit that it is Harper's preoccupation with Israel - another convenient fiction - that justifies their own sordid delusions, if you don't mind.

A new world is being born. As it was in 1848, 1917, 1956, 1968 and 1989, so it is now. No one can claim clairvoyance, but one thing is certain: Freedom will find a way. It always has. Democracy and liberty will advance, three steps forward, two steps back, if needs be. The only question that matters now, from a narrow "national security" analysis to an internationalist, progressive-interventionist standpoint, is which side we are on. That is the only question that will matter in the years to come, too. In struggles as epochal as these, history does not allow the disgraceful, isolationist narcissism of conscientious objection. There is no place for that but history's dustbin.

We are living in moments that will be remembered through the generations. Allons-y. Allons-y.

UPDATE 1: Hats off to Hugh Segal and Romeo Dallaire for taking the time and effort to articulate a robust, real-world strategy that Canada could lead to defend and support the Libyan people, right now and well after the Gaddafis are gone. Excellent work, lads.

UPDATE 2: In an completely bizarre twist, the NDP's Paul Dewar (and you thought the NDP was Canada's smart "left-wing" party?) shoved his own foot straight down his own throat in front of a rally of 250 people on Parliament Hill: “We call on the Harper government to immediately refer Gadhafi and his cronies to the International Criminal Court to be held accountable for crimes against humanity.” If Dewar had read his own home-town newspaper he would have known that the day before, Prime Minister Harper had already called on the Security Council to refer the Gaddafis to the Hague. If Dewar knew the first thing about what he was talking about, he would also have known that Canada cannot simply "refer Gadhafi and his cronies" to the ICC, because Libya never signed the Rome treaty.

UPDATE 3: It gets even crazier. Haroon Siddiqui, one of the most decrepit, far-right (but so fashionable!) pundits inflicted on Canadians in these matters (to see what progressive Canadian Muslims think of Siddiqui you must watch this clip), bends himself into pretzels on his comfy chair at the Toronto Star slagging off his adversaries to the purpose of presenting a plan to leave the Gaddafis happy in Tripoli. "When I was in Libya two years ago. . . (I wonder what that was about?) I didn’t see the current rebellion coming," he writes. I bet he didn't.


Blogger Skookum1 said...

Crossed my mind last night that, though there's no direct connection with Egypt and Tunisia and what is now unfolding, last year's demonstrations and their repression in Thailand seem to be part of the same phenomenon, doncha think? And with what we're seeing spreading into Africa, how much longer before maybe Indonesia and Malaysia and Brunei (all Moslem countries) follow suit?

11:13 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I do think, yes. Thailand, Burma, Zimbabwe, and even some life percolating in Venezuela, under the ever heavier weight of Hugo's jackboot.

Plus my own crowd I'd like to think is playing its tiny little part. Fianna Fáil, the auld páirtí poblachtánach, has gone down to an ignominuous defeat, shaping up to be the most crushing rebuke in decades. I know it's ony a wee thing, but being the muck-savage pikey I am, a small boast seems in order. Am just now sipping a Jamesons in celebration.

1:14 PM  
Blogger dmurrell said...

Your blog crackles in anguish, in describing th mass murder going on in Libya, and describing the stark hypocritical commentary coming from our media. I am extremely upset, watching the stagnant inertia in the UN and amongst Western nations. Keep up the good work.

One gentle quibble: Ia there a way you might want to reconsider your adjectives conccerning the Islamist-apologist Haroon Siddiqui? I aagree that he is a moral and intellectual embarrassment. But calling him "reactionaty"? And "far-right"? I think "left-fascist" or "Islamo-fascist" are better terms.

2:23 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Any compound adjective with the word "fascist" in it is probably too harsh. A handy term of abuse, and he's certainly sympathetic to Red fascism (left fascism) and probably to Islamist fascism, but I don't use the word as a term of abuse.

I am interested in precision, however imprecise I may sometimes be, and I think it's really important to expose and challenge conventional thinking on these subjects, which is largely unexamined owing to the language we use. As many people who call themselves and are called "progressive" are in fact grossly reactionary; people who call themselves "anti-war" are in fact almost always objectively pro-war, if not subjectively pro-war (except supporting the other side. I don't think we should allow people (esp. the media) to get away with this. Just because, say, Linda McQuaig calls herself (and the fascist George Galloway) "left-wing" or "progressive" doesn't make it so.

Ojectively pro-fascist" might work for much of Siddqui's opinion, but that addresses the function of ideas rather than their content. "Christian pacifists" such as JS Woodsworth and the Methodist leadership of the CCF who actively opposed recruitment to the international brigades and the war against Hitler, for instance - they were "objectively" pro-fascist.

In every conventional or classic meaning of the term, Siddiqui is a "conservative" on issues related to Islam, democracy in Afghanistan, the emancipation of Libya, etc. He is a Westphalian status quo guy, but a defender of the religious far right (i.e. Hamas, Hezbollah) when it challenges the Westphalian status quo. In other words, he's "right-wing," in the classic sense. Notice that in his apologetics he comes to the cause of the religious right in Canada (not the Christian religious right directly, but the Muslim religious right). To the extent that he argues for extraordinary measures to defend the status quo, that makes him reactionary. Taking pains to leave Gaddafi in Tripoli is to argue for extraordinary measures to protect the status quo. He's a reactionary.

10:21 AM  

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