Friday, October 07, 2011

There there, dear. Go and have yourself a good lie-down.

Well, it seems the book I've just written is doing at least part of the job I'd hoped it would do. Reading Come From the Shadows so upset the delicate sensibilities of the Toronto Star's Jennifer Hunter - long-time journalist, member of the Star's editorial board and wife of Star publisher John Cruikshank - that she told me she wanted to throw the book at the wall.

She says she felt I was being condescending to her, the delicate thing: Do you really mean to say these Afghans are not all bloodthirsty and grubby opium-growing fanatics who hate us for our precious western values ? Whatever can you mean, dear boy?

And she says I'm the one who's condescending. Too bad she didn't include the part of the interview that unfolded when I asked her what she meant by "western" values.

But good for Jennifer, fair's fair, and I should thank her not just for the attention but also for giving me the perfect dust-jacket blurb for when the softcover edition comes out, in 18-point type and boldface, taken from her first sentence: ". . readers might be tempted to throw the book against the wall."

And what sort of readers, exactly, will want to have their smelling salts close to hand when they read the book? The headline on the excerpt that appears in today's Ottawa Citizen should give you a hint: 'Getting Lost in Absurdistan: After 9/11 the North American left lost its mind, at great cost to the people of Afghanistan.' And what is this phenomenon to which the headline refers, exactly?

In Canada, it was playing out on the same tectonic scale as the emergence of a distinct democratic socialism in the 1930s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s and the rise of libertarian Prairie populism in the 1990s. As is fairly common at the advent of such upheavals, journalists can be among the last to notice. Nonetheless, something new was emerging in the New Democratic Party, the trade unions, the university faculties, the student movement and the national activist organizations of “the Left.” In all these places, the response to the events of September 11 involved the deliberate construction of an imaginary “war” in Afghanistan that required the most progressive and intelligent Afghan voices to be ignored. You could pick up the liberal-establishment Globe and Mail and read prominent “anti-war” and purportedly left-wing academic James Laxer arguing that NATO countries should pull their troops from Afghanistan, even though the likely result would be a civil war that ended with a “fascistic theocracy.”

This would indeed be preferable, Laxer argued, owing to the Afghans’ “ornery tendency to throw out invaders.” The Canadian journalist that “anti-war” polemicists cited perhaps most frequently as an authority on Afghanistan was Eric Margolis. It didn’t seem to matter that Margolis was a millionaire “alternative medicine” magnate with a regular column in Canada’s conservative-populist Sun Media newspaper chain. A co-founder of Pat Buchanan’s far-right American Conservative magazine, Margolis consistently cast the opposing forces in Afghanistan as Hamid Karzai’s communist-dominated government and secret police on one side, with the Taliban, “a religious anti-communist movement drawn from the Pashtun tribe” on the other. But Margolis was, of course, “anti-war,” and was therefore regarded as being on the side of “progressive” clarity and virtue.

I do very much hope that among the legions of good and decent progressives who have been taken in by the pseuo-left swindle there will be many who will find their way to actually read the book. But I should warn them beforehand: it's probably going to sting.


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