Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Crimes of Silence"

Silently, an image flows into our minds: the guards taking a group of our comrades from the male solitary section for execution, blind-folded, each one’s hand on the shoulder of the one ahead of him, chanting and singing the International, walking to their deaths. Slowly we retrace our steps, resume our sleeping places on the spread blankets on the floor. It is quiet now.
That's from Shokoufeh Sakhi's recollection of her time in Tehran's Evin Prison in 1988, during the days of the Death Commissions. Roughly 5,000 Iranian political prisoners were systematically exterminated over a three-month period in the summer of that year.
The Death Commissions' overseers now occupy many of the senior positions in the upper echelons of the Khomeinist regime. The Iran Tribunal would like justice to come to them. That's the subject of my Ottawa Citizen column today. I'd only glanced at the Iran Tribunal in last week's column, here, and reckoned a closer look-in was warranted.  
That Canada has taken such a leading role in calling Tehran to account - as in this week, for the tenth year running, Canada led the charge in the annual UN resolution condemning the Khomeinist regime for its human rights record - is a thing Canadians can be proud of. The Iran Tribunal's Kaveh Shahrooz is right to observe that Canada could do more, but the thing is, there's little percentage in it for the governing Conservatives.
Any time Ottawa says anything about Tehran, Canada's punditti pile on with how Stephen Harper is only being mean to Iran to make Bibi Netanyahu happy, and it's not like there's a clamouring, broad-based activist constituency in the country insisting that Ottawa do more. Why is that? Shahrooz touched on the answer, as I reported in my column, and his 2006 research, incidentally, produced this illuminating result (pdf). But Shahrooz also said:
"The labour movement doesn’t even speak out forcefully when their own brothers and sisters in Iran are attacked." One of the exceptions Sharooz mentioned, a great guy long known to me, is Mehdi Kouhestaninejad at the Canadian Labour Congress, who first put me on to Sharooz, incidentally.
But here's the broader context, as Sharooz describes it: “At some point, the Left lost its bearings. The Left used to be about fighting fascists, but somewhere along the way, the only lens to see the world through was anti-imperialist, and the only thing you need to do is speak out about the United States and Israel."
Well, bingo. I was on about this very thing quite some while ago. It's an especially dirty little secret of contemporary leftishness.
Jason Kenney was also a lot more forthcoming, too, than the space of the column allowed me to show. So here's the whole of what Kenney said:
"Canada has led the world in condemning Iran's atrocious human rights record. Amongst other measures, we have been the lead sponsor of the annual UN General Assembly resolution detailing Iran's widespread violations of basic human and civil rights.
"We did the same during our tenure on the UN Human Rights Council. We sought an indictment against Sayed Mortazevi for his role in the murder of Canadian journalist Zara Kazemi. And we have prioritized the resettlement of Iranian refugees who have fled persecution, including Baha'is, gays, dissidents, journalists, and Christians.
"We support the effort at the Hague to bring Iranian officials complicit in serious crimes to account. Indeed, one of the reasons for the recent closure of Canada's Embassy in Tehran was our decision to designate Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism under the newly adopted Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, which will allow victims of Iranian sponsored terrorist acts to seek civil remedies against the Iranian regime.
"We do everything possible to prohibit Iranian officials from entering Canada if they are complicit in terrorism, war crime, crimes against humanity, or espionage. For example, we are vigilant about denying entry to Iranians tied to the IRGC and the Basij. Amendments to the Immigration Refugee Protection Act included in Bill C-43 would broaden our ability to exclude certain members of the regime by allowing us to bar entry to members of governments against which we have economic sanctions, the close family members of senior regime members, or those with a track record of promoting violent hatred or terrorism."
All this, it seems to me, is worth knowing, because it's little known, and thus poorly appreciated.
Fun fact, in a sick way:
The Iranian ambassador to the UN responded to Tuesday's Canada-sponsored resolution at the UN in the customary fashion. The resolution was all about “the urgencies and exigencies of Canadian internal politics,” not least Ottawa’s support for Israel’s recent operations against Hamas in Gaza. Those are exactly the words Iran’s UN ambassador used in response to Canada’s UN resolution in 2004, too, only back then the "urgencies and exigencies of Canadian internal politics" involved the “political outcry in Canada over the unfortunate death of Iranian journalist Zagra Kazemi.” This was Tehran’s diplomatic circumlocution for the July 11, 2003 murder, by rape and torture, of Montreal-based Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi, in Evin Prison.
Another sad little milestone this week:
In Tehran on Monday, the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, entered the seventh week of her hunger strike in Evin Prison. Sotoudeh has been in jail for more than two years now, for the crime of “spreading propaganda” against the Khomeinist regime. Not satiated by the agonies of the thousands of dissidents it has imprisoned and tortured since the 2009 democracy uprising, Tehran has been jailing their relatives and defence lawyers too.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"A hundred years and more will pass before we're walking side by side"

November 22, 2012. Police found the children, some as young as 6, working deep in gold mines and cotton fields around Burkina Faso. They were unpaid and unschooled. Some were being sexually abused. An international police operation has freed nearly 400 children in the West African country and arrested 73 people suspected of child trafficking or forced labour, Interpol announced Thursday.
November 13, 2012. Juliane Kippenberg reports: In Tanzania, I met "Julius", a boy of about 13, who works in an artisanal gold mine. He told me he digs ore in pits more than 15 metres deep and mixes toxic mercury with ground ore to retrieve the gold. Once a pit collapsed and almost killed another boy, his friend. The work had made him feel "pain in the whole body".
November 5, 2012: A boy who appeared no older than 8 was found panning for gold in a mining camp in Guyana, a sign that greater efforts are needed to stop child labour in the South American country, the president of a non-government organization said Monday.
October 29, 2012: The UN says there will still be about 190 million child labourers in eight years' time – a drop of just 25 million on today's figures. Even worse is that in the poorest parts of the world, the UN says, the numbers will rise: child labourers in sub-Saharan Africa will jump by around 15 million over the next decade, reaching 65 million by 2020.
Lord Ashley's Mines Commission of 1842, British Parliamentary Papers 1842, vols. XV-XVII, Appendix I, pp. 252, 258, 439, 461; Appendix II, pp. 107, 122, 205, Testimony of Patience Kershaw, aged 17, "an ignorant, filthy, ragged, and deplorable-looking object, and such an one as the uncivilized natives of the prairies would be shocked t o look upon":
I hurry in the clothes I have now got on, trousers and ragged jacket; the bald place upon my head is made by thrusting the corves; my legs have never swelled, but sisters' did when they went to mill; I hurry the corves a mile and more under ground and back; they weigh 300 cwt.; I hurry 11 a-day; I wear a belt and chain at the workings, to get the corves out; the getters that I work for are naked except their caps; they pull off all their clothes; I see them at work when I go up; sometimes they beat me, if I am not quick enough. . .

Rachel and Becky Unthank of Tyne and Wear are from a coal-mining family. The mines are all shut down now, of course. But the Tynesiders remember. Here is the Unthank sisters' "The Testimony of Patience Kershaw":

Afghanistan, White Poppies, And That Dashing Mr. Hitler.

Starting with the latter in my Ottawa Citizen column.
"I think Hitler will be regarded as one of the great men of our time.”
That was the verdict of career pacifist George Lansbury, president of the British Peace Pledge Union, president of War Resisters’ International and chairman of the No More War Movement. It appears in his 1938 manifesto, “My Quest for Peace.” No fringe character, Lansbury was the leader of Britain’s Labour Party until his ouster in a 1935 uprising led by the party’s stoutly anti-fascist trade unionists.
. . .Lansbury’s Peace Pledge Union, which got the whole white poppy fad off the ground in 1934 by marketing the thing as the must-have Armistice Day fashion accessory, was also as fervent an apologist for Nazi terror as any organization at large in the English-speaking world during those grim days.
I regret that I didn't have more time in conversation with the brave Afghan patriot Amrullah Saleh. More on Saleh here, more here.
Further to the point about the enduring "anti-war" styles and circumlocutions pioneered by Lansbury’s white-poppy PPU, just change a couple of words around and this could be one of those "troops out" ladies we so often hear from, going on about Afghanistan and Canada, or Libya and Canada, and so on : "If Germans don't like Hitler they can get rid of him themselves. We do not need to send our sons to fight them. If ever a country wants a revolution now it's Britain."
Which progressive anti-imperialist and anti-war lady uttered that pacifist sentiment? Anne Brock Griggs, British Union of Fascists, October 23, 1939, that's who. And while George Orwell observed that the white-poppy Peace Pledge Union engaged in apologetics that were "indistinguishable" from Nazi propaganda, the Hands Off Iran crowd is compromised today by the same kind of disease that inhabited the PPU, into which the membership of the pro-Nazi Nordic League folded itself happily after 1939. 
And I mean indistinguishable: The darlings from the preposterously-named Toronto Coalition to Stop the War as special guests for a celebration of the ongoing savagery of the Khomeinist tyranny in Tehran along with all the usual Jew-haters and conspiracy theorists that can be counted on to join "pacifists" at such soirees.
Still, Orwell's legacy persists: Bravo,Yang Jisheng
In light of the pathetic "anti-war" rituals that erupted in the usual exhibitionist "demonstrations" across Canada during the recent tragedy in the Israel-Palestine imbroglio, bravo especially to those brave Arab comrades among whom Orwell's dim candle still casts its light:
"What we need now is a new resistance movement – to resist being co-opted by Islamists and nationalists whose price for belonging requires betraying core human values. Our resistance movement struggles to secure liberty of thought and to reject the false choice of barbarism or guilt. We need to set ourselves free. We have a third way: Be ourselves without fear."
More and more here.
Getting back to the opening point, highly recommended: Mark Gilbert's "Pacifist Attitudes to Nazi Germany," 1936-45 in the July, 1992 Journal of Contemporary History, and Julie V. Gottlieb, "Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain's Fascist Movement, 1923-45," I.B. Tauris, 2003.
The echoes of today's "anti-war" polemics are deafening.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Forgotten Heroism.

In 1969, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was voted “student of the year” at the now-shuttered Notre Dame University in Nelson, British Columbia, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree. After a long sojourn in Europe, Ghotbzadeh returned to Iran to take a leading role in the revolution that toppled the regime of the hated Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.

For his persistent and still-unheralded bravery in attempting to secure a speedy back-channel resolution to the hostage crisis, Ghotbzadeh ended up on a hit list drawn up by the Khomeinist fanatics who had wholly hijacked the Iranian revolution. After a forced confession and a show trial, Ghotbzadeh was executed by a firing squad in April, 1982. He was 46 years old.

Here’s the truly heroic and tragic story behind the insolent Hollywood story behind the top-drawer Canadian story about those days. Ghotbzadeh was one of at least 20,000 Iranian socialists, liberals, Kurds, trade unionists, feminists, secularists, reformists and uppity teenagers that the Khomeinist regime is known to have disappeared, tortured to death or summarily executed during the counterrevolutionary terror of the 1980s. . .

That's from my Ottawa Citizen column today.
To be clear, I liked Argo probably because I simply don't have high-brow expectations of Hollywood movies. I go to the movies to be entertained, not to get in touch with my feelings or for intellectual edification. Never mind that a case could be made that there is probably just as much fiction in Jian Gomeshi's complaint about Argo as there is in those white-knuckle parts of Argo. The thing I find so annoying about Canadian Establishement Cool is that the idea of a raucous discussion about Argo will begin this way: Shall we look down our noses at Argo or shall we turn up our noses at Argo?
Never mind Argo. And please can we for once never mind about that Disco Generation icon Ken Taylor? I was barely into my twenties by the time I was bored with that guy. The guy I mention in my column today is who we might want to know about here. And not just him, but the 20,000 like him who were slaughtered by the Khomeinst regime during the 1980s, and which continues its slaughtering, and Inshallah, justice will one day come to them.
To be more clear, I have no opinion on whether Ghotbzadegh died a hero.I wouldn't say he always lived heroically, that's for certain. For more on Ghotbzadeh, read this book.   

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Age Shall Not Weary Them, Nor The Years Condemn."

Corporal Karine Blaise of Les Méchins, Québec, 12e Régiment Blindé du Canada, 2nd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group, was 21 years old when she was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb at Shah Wali Kot, Afghanistan, at approximately 5 p.m. on April 13, 2009. Back in Les Méchins, a seaside village on the Gaspe peninsula, she had worked as a checkout clerk at the the Depanneur Centrale.

Here are the others.  

Friday, November 09, 2012

Sinophobia, The Old Regime, And The Revolution.

As the larva inside the gut of the Chinese Communist Party is putating again and Canada's business elite scutters onward in its enthusiasm to play concubine in the Politburo's billionaire clubhouse, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley is hurriedly papering over a scandal. It involves a consortium of hastily-arranged Chinese joint ventures that somehow got permission from Ottawa to re-introduce coolie labour to the coalmines of British Columbia after an interregnum of a century and a half. 
Watch your step, mind, or you'll be accused of committing an act of Sinophobia for merely mentioning these things out loud. Why do Canadians find it so difficult to have a grown-up conversation about what's actually happening here?
. . . The emergence of Chinese state-owned enterprises as the critical source of capital in Alberta’s oilsands has induced a vomiting up of hysterical slogans from the days of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement debates, but that’s not the half of it. 
The Conservative party’s dwindling pro-Beijing fringe still speaks the language of neo-liberalism in the excuses it concocts for our prime minister’s obsequies in courting Beijing’s dirty-money capitalists. Elsewhere, the fashionably neo-Marxist counterculture conflation of race with class had rendered pretty well everyone on “the left” incapable of even noticing the necessary distinctions at hand. 

 The main thing is that Canada’s cultural establishment has largely succumbed to the irrational fear of Sinophobia, which is itself an irrational fear of all things Chinese, and if you think that’s ironic, that’s just where it begins. 
That's from my extended-play Ottawa Citizen column today. For more on the Phobia of Sinophobia my old friend and colleague Stephen Hume has offered a useful primer in The Vancouver Sun. Long story short: it's the means by which we are made to hold our tongues. 

You will want to mind what you say if you are a citizen of China, certainly.
Only two days ago, the women's rights activist Mao Hengfeng was sentenced in Shanghai to 18 months in a re-education camp (formally called a "re-education through labour" detainment facility) for “disturbing social order,” by which China's state security apparatus means she was just a bit too sharp-tongued in her opposition to forced evictions.
Meanwhile, the heroic 65-year-old microblogger Liu Futang is still under arrest. He was hauled out of his hospital bed in August, reappearing only in a Haikou courtroom on October 11, frail and limping, on charges of “illegal expression.” Liu’s crime was to self-publish a small book he’d written about the efforts of Hainan Islanders to protect their remnant forests against Beijing-backed developers. Liu was denied bail. He remains in custody, in hospital.
Present a timid petition to the Communist Party and the police will come to your house and take you away on charges of "disrupting public order". Circumstances for the Tibetans have become so savagely oppressive and hopeless that 69 of them have set themselves on fire in protests over the past three years. Five more self-immolations were reported just this week. On Wednesday, a 23-year-old woman set herself on fire and died in the village of Drorong Po. Her name was Tamdrin Tso.
What's Canada's excuse? 
Prime Minster Harper will go all John A. Macdonald on us when he talks about his intentions to turn Canada into an “energy superpower” and the comparison is both valid and unflattering. Just as Prime Minister Harper didn't tell us where he was going to find the money to do this, Sir John similarly failed to mention that the railroad with which he lured British Columbia into Confederation was to be built by Chinese slaves. Macdonald famously excused himself this way: “Either you must have this labour or you can’t have the railway.” What Prime Minister Harper is saying is much the same: Either you must have Beijing’s dirty capital or you can’t triple oil sands production over the next ten years.
In his essay "China's Troubled Bourbons" Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, astutely notices the sudden ubiquity of Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution on the bedside tables of China's Communist Party bosses. He concludes: "As the country’s silent political revolution continues to unfold, the question is whether they will heed its signs, or attempt to maintain an order that — like the French monarchy — cannot be saved."
Prime Minister Harper himself has been wondering what China's Bourbons will do and all he can say is: "The honest truth is, we don't know." Good to have that on record. We don't know, and that's just one thing not to like about the proceeds-of-crime arrangement to which Ottawa is applying lipstick and eye shadow by means of a tawdry Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with Beijing.
When the day comes that Canadian citizens and Chinese citizens are finally able to speak freely and openly with one another, heaven help the mandarins in Ottawa and Beijing. What the risen masses in China will do, "the honest truth is, we don't know."

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Sopranos, With "Chinese Characteristics."

[The following also appears in the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen].

. . . The final thing you need to know about the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement is its specific function. It’s to elevate Canada’s China-trade business executives from their hitherto mostly supine position as accomplices of Beijing’s gangland regime to a more formalized and official status as willing accessories to the beggaring of the Chinese people and the plundering of their wealth.
Protection is precisely what FIPPA’s Canadian beneficiaries will be very much wanting one day when all their trade agreements, their exquisitely-phrased contracts and their joint-venture undertakings are ablaze in bonfires from Guangdong to Xinjiang. Protection is what they will want, and they will deserve no such thing.

That's from my column in today's Ottawa Citizen.

I see Thomas Mulcair has suggested that he may (or may not) repeal the thing when (or if) he gets to be prime minister. Please try to stay awake as you read his statement: "The same way the Conservatives were able to withdraw Canada from the Kyoto accord, we will keep that option open if on close analysis on what will then be three years’ experience, it confirms our feeling that there are lots of things in there that will be problematic, not just for Canada as a nation-state, but indeed for our system of government because there’s a lot in there that interferes with the provinces and the provinces have never been consulted on this either."

This is milquetoast equivocation smothered by spin, suffocated with caveats about whether events may "confirm" the NDP's "feelings," then drowned in ambiguities about what the NDP may or may not decide to find "problematic" about a document that is what anyone with a lick of sense can see is a cheap sweetheart deal trussed up as a treaty.

But at least Mulcair has said something that approaches what almost resembles a "position" on the subject. Just as a reminder, here's what the subject is: It's the sudden emergence of the most powerful criminal enterprise in world history suddenly establishing itself as the most powerful capitalist entity in Canada by securing its place as the critical and irreplaceable component of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's sole economic strategy, which is to transform Canada into an "energy superpower."
I would have wanted a rather more robust response, but the NDP doesn't yet have an opinion on the subject. None of their MPs can even muster the gumption to offer the opinion that the Beijing regime is "authoritarian," so Mulcair's whingeing is all we've got. As for the Liberals, they can only blush whenever the subject comes up because of their own deep complicity in pioneering the Canadian preoccupation with securing heaps of Beijing money to grease various political wheels.
To be clear about what we're up against here, it's worth remembering some things about CNOOC, Petro-China and Sinopec. These are the three primary deployments Beijing has initiated on the Canadian energy-sector front (recall too that their presence here arises from the "zouchuqu" strategy of overseas acquisitions that the Chinese Communist Party's central committee adopted back in 2000). CNOOC's $15.1 billion pending bid for Calgary's Nexen Inc. is the largest-ever overseas acquisition move by a Chinese state-owned enterprise. Petro-China now pumps more oil than Exxon-Mobil. And Sinopec's annual revenues exceed the entire sum of the annual federal tax revenues of the Government of Canada.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May has been pretty well alone in making any useful noise about this squalid state of affairs, so fair play to her. She deserves every vote she will bleed from the NDP as a consequence, and it will serve the New Democrats right for being such cowards. But May's statement today about the looming ratification of the Canada-China investment arrangement, that if ratified "there will be no turning back for Canada – for decades," strikes me as ill considered, if not just plain wrong. 
It's not the treaty's provisions that will encumber Parliament in the years ahead. It is the money power involved, which Beijing will wield in its customary, thuggish and corrupting fashion, and Beijing will behave this way as regards Parliament and everything else, FIPPA or no FIPPA. May's assertion also makes it impossible for her to point out the only thing worth noticing about Mulcair's position, which is that it is a wholly meaningless equivocation.
It's not that I propose to know better, and on the intimately related subject of how the hell Canada is going to extricate itself from this catastrophe, in truth I am not at all certain that I can even imagine what it will take, in the political class embedded in Ottawa on both sides of the House of Commons and in the media and in the state bureaucracy, for the penny to drop. But what gives me cause to be my usual cheery self is that regardless of the idiocies that infest the Canadian political class on this subject, a clear majority of Canadians get it, across the political spectrum, and are not stupid about any of it.