Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Kaveh Shahrooz on Massacre88 - Canada Can Hold Khomeinist Murderers To Account

From my spot at the Ottawa Citizen.
During the Khomeinist counter-revolutionary terror of the 1980s in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini's increasingly deranged regime rounded up and murdered at least 20,000 Iranians - mostly leftists, liberals, the secularist vanguard of the 1979 revolution, Kurds, Baha'i leaders and Ahwazi Arabs. During a specific three-month period in the summer of 1988, roughly 5,000 of Iran's political prisoners were systematically exterminated, 4,000 of them by hanging.
Kaveh Shahrooz is a Toronto lawyer who served in the role of prosecutor to the Iran Tribunal, an initiative I wrote about here and here. When we last spoke, Kaveh was urging a greater Canadian role in marshaling the Iran Tribunal's evidence against regime's officials. At the time, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney - a good friend of Iranian refugees and a champion of Iran's minority groups, democrats and imprisoned journalists - held out some hope. "We support the effort at The Hague to bring Iranian officials complicit in serious crimes to account," he told me.
What follows is a guest post by Kaveh, on how to turn "support" into something with traction.
This summer, while most Iran watchers will be following that country’s undemocratic presidential election, my family will be busy marking the 25th anniversary of the execution of my uncle and thousands of former Iranian political prisoners like him.  Ever since 1988 when the execution occurred, my family has marked these grim anniversaries with growing despair.  But this year we are cautiously optimistic that Canada’s parliamentarians will seize a unique opportunity and give us hope for justice.
Members of Parliament can demonstrate their firm commitment to accountability in Iran by adopting a soon-to-be-introduced parliamentary motion officially recognizing the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran as constituting crimes against humanity.
In the summer of 1988, Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a secret fatwa ordering the execution of any political prisoner who remained steadfast in his or her opposition to the Iranian theocracy.  “The gentlemen who are responsible for making the decisions [to execute prisoners] must not hesitate,” Khomeini wrote in his edict.  The regime’s top brass was ordered to eliminate opponents with “revolutionary rage and rancour,” a command they took to heart.
As a result, thousands of political prisoners, most of whom had already been imprisoned for years and subjected to unimaginable torture, were brought before tribunals (known among prisoners as “death commissions”) and were hanged after hearings which often lasted no more than one minute.
The killings were widespread, systematic, and pursuant to official government policy.  The massacre therefore meets every definition of “crimes against humanity” under international law.
By the conservative estimate of Khomeini’s then-heir apparent (who became a whistleblower on this issue, lost his position, and spent the remainder of his life under house arrest), nearly 4,000 political prisoners were hanged that summer.  
My uncle Mehrdad was among those prisoners.  In 1980, when he was just twenty years old, he was arrested despite having never participated in any violent act against the government.  Long after his arrest, when family members had a chance to see him again, he informed us that he had been sentenced to ten years in prison after a five-minute hearing.  As a child, I’d sometimes visit him in prison and recall the signs of gruesome torture on his body.
The authorities stopped our prison visits in the summer of 1988.  After two months without news of him, my grandmother was called to the prison to collect Mehrdad’s few belongings.  We still don’t know exactly when he was executed or where his body is buried.  We suspect that he may be in Khavaran, a large mass grave near Tehran that among Iranians has come to symbolize the savagery of Iran’s theocracy.
My family has never truly recovered from that loss.  My grandmother and mother have both passed away since then, both with the unfulfilled wish of seeing justice in Mehrdad’s case.
Iranian leaders have gone to great lengths to deny the massacre and to keep it a secret from the international community.  Even after a quarter of a century, the Iranian government refuses to allow families of the victims to erect memorials to their loved ones or to properly commemorate the killings.
This massacre has direct implications for Iran’s current abysmal human rights situation.  Those responsible for the 1988 killings continue to hold positions of great power in Iran and continue to be complicit in ongoing repression.  They have served as Cabinet Ministers and Supreme Court judges.  One of them, Ismail Shooshtari, ironically served as Justice Minister for a long time.  To date, absolutely no one has been held to account for these senseless killings. The culture of impunity symbolized by the 1988 massacre prevails.    
This is why Iranian-Canadians like me came together earlier this year to form the Massacre88 Campaign, a grassroots initiative comprised of lawyers, academics, journalists, and human rights activists.  Though we have different political leanings, we all believe that there can be no democratic future for Iran unless there has been justice and accountability for the crimes of the past.  And we are all of the view that the first step to obtaining justice in the 1988 case is to move past the Iranian government’s conspiracy of silence and to make the world aware of this major crime.
Canada is uniquely situated to take the bold step of becoming the first country in the world to recognize the 1988 crimes against humanity.  Not only is Canada home to one of the world’s largest Iranian Diasporas, but it leads an annual UN resolution condemning Iran’s human rights abuses.  Furthermore, the Harper government consistently makes reference to human rights in Iran and it recently ended diplomatic relations between Tehran and Ottawa, in part, due to Iran’s deplorable human rights situation.
What better way, then, to show the world that Canada’s commitment to human rights in Iran goes beyond rhetoric than to cast a light on one of the worst crimes committed by the Iranian regime?
We hope that Canada’s lawmakers will display true leadership when this motion comes to the floor of the House.  
For thousands of families like mine who have mourned for 25 years, the adoption of the motion is the difference between hope and continued despair.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

On Fibbing About Terrorism And Badgering "The Muslims."

From my Ottawa Citizen page.

Alan Johnson is quite right, of course. It shouldn't take a couple of deranged yobs howling Allahu Akbar and hacking to death the 25-year-old Royal Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight on Wednesday in the South London borough of Woolwich to make it obvious. "We need to discuss the elephant in the room – the radical and sectarian, often violent, and sometimes fascistic political ideology and global movement of Islamism. Why? Because we are fighting against a religiously inspired ideology, jihadism, but we don't want to talk about religion."
This reluctance to get serious about that conversation is the source of so much fuzziness and reticence and timidity about the intimately related matter of "terrorism." I've been banging on about this dangerous incoherence for quite some time and I touched on the subject again only a couple of weeks ago in the Ottawa Citizen. Just for starters, in Canada's case, Section 83.01(1)(b) of the Criminal Code fails to distinguish between acts of violence that are unambiguously intended for terrorist mayhem and legitimate acts of revolutionary violence necessary to the purpose of regime change in state-terrorist tyrannies like that of Syria's Bashar al-Assad. There is a difference.
Ever since September 11 there has been a legitimate argument about which is more destructive to open societies: the menace of Johnson's "often violent and sometimes fascistic political ideology" that usually goes by the name terrorism, or the craven and supine apologetics for Islamist crackpotism that form such central motifs of liberal establishment opinion about it. 
In my Ottawa Citizen column today I notice how moral illiteracy defines the way such reliably creepy arbiters of hip opinion as the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald and the American celebrity bullshit artist Michael Moore are responding to the Woolwich atrocity. Michael Moore tries to get a laugh out of his Twitter followers about it, in his usual cheap and vulgar way, but it is only the fuzzy timidities around the definition and the common use of the term “terrorism” that allow Greenwald to so easily and completely normalize what he presents as perfectly understandable Muslim revenge violence.
The "causation" that Greenwald slips in without having the courage to make the case for it, the root cause, indeed the proximate cause of Wednesday's atrocity, is “western violence against Muslims.” There it is. Wednesday's outage was retaliation. It's "our" fault, because "we" have been so mean to "them." Can you imagine some Etobicoke imam getting away with saying something like that? Of course you can’t. He'd be run out of town on a bus by the good Muslims of Etobicoke. 
I'm not so certain that occasional security lapses with tragic consequences are really the greater threat to our civil liberties and our sovereignty than demands for our outright capitulation all trussed up to look cool and sophisticated, as in this 2010 Haroon Siddiqui homily under the helpfully brazen headline To tackle domestic terrorism, end foreign wars. I've always thought it strange that the Toronto Star will shout and yell about the privatization of government services, but subcontracting Canada's foreign policy to the Toronto 18? Hey, we're cool with that.
My case is that it's not "the Muslims" who have any explaining to do about the commonplace trope that the so-called West is at war with the so-called Muslim World, and that anytime some depraved and bloodthirsty lunatic who fancies himself as an aggrieved Muslim goes on a rampage in any one of the NATO countries we should take it as understandable, which is to say rational, behaviour. It is mainly that caste of moral illiterates among the celebrity opinion-arbiters of popular culture that has established this imbecility as, like, central to the discourse, man. It's that lot that has some explaining to do. We might badger them for a change and give our innocently devout Muslim neighbours a rest for once, is my point.
Alan Johnson is quite right. It's just that the question isn't about Islam so much as it is about Islamism, which almost always takes on some form of terrorism. It's not about "us" versus some Muslim "them."
Johnson: "One of the fruits of globalisation is that the walls separating what concerns "us" from what concerns "them" have tumbled down. We are all "us", now. The global is local. Woolwich made plain that the fear and the violence and the grieving that has spilled over from what the Muslim political scientist Bassam Tibi calls "Islam's predicament with modernity" are now also ours to bear, and they will borne also by our children and our grandchildren. No more changing the subject."
And no more excuse-making for wanton barbarism, either. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Syria: Paint it Black.

From my cubbyhole at the Ottawa Citizen:

As Syria descends ever deeper into an abyss of barbarism and savagery, just what is it that distinguishes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from, say, Jabhat al-Nusra or the Omar al-Farouq brigades or any of the faith-based desperadoes rampaging around the Syrian nightmarelands at the moment? By what moral right can Canada or any other NATO country make a claim upon the allegiances of anyone engaged in the Syrian struggle, after what the NATO capitals have done to allow this gory bedlam to emerge in the first place?
I've taken a crack at some answers in my Ottawa Citizen column today, but the question I pay closest attention to is the one a conveniently unnamed senior White House official asked last month for the rhetorical purpose of extricating President Obama from having had his bluff called on Syrian madman Bashar al-Assad's deployment of poison gas as an instrument of state repression. 
“If he (Assad) drops sarin on his own people, what’s that got to do with us?”
I try to give that question a fair hearing, but I can't help but notice the Kissingerian depravity that underpins it. In Syria, the cool and swaggering Obama doctrine has made an apocalyptic horror show out of what began as the most non-violent, pluralistic, democratic and paradoxically pro-American of the all the Arab Spring uprisings. That Syria is now so rotten with the gangrene of jihadism, proxy murder-gangs and revenge killings is a testament to the catastrophic imbecility of Obama's abstentionism, and everybody in NATO has had to go along with it.
Jihadist whackjobbery is exactly what should have been expected to happen, because it is what always happens. Leave the wounds to fester and the jihadist gangrene sets in. It is what happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Libya. "The longer these things tend to go on," as the author and analyst Michael Totten puts it, "these crazy people from all over the region just descend on the place and they tear it to pieces."
Meanwhile, Canada distinguishes itself among the NATO countries by abstaining even from a recognition of the Syrian National Coalition as Syria's government in waiting (the SNC now holds Syria's seat at the Arab League). Foreign Minister John Baird insists the SNC is insufficiently representative of minorities and women. Curiously, this puts Canada with the Saudis in the same small faction, but even Riyadh is willing to fund the SNC. The Saudis don't even mind that the SNC’s second vice-president is the secular feminist and human rights activist Suheir Atassi.
“There is this talk of minorities, but we do not see this problem. We are Syrians," Faisal Alazem of the Syrian Canadian Council told me. "We are students and women, we are left and right, we are Sunni and Shia and Alawites and Kurds and Druze and Christian. Human rights, democracy, these are the things we have been demanding from the beginning.”
Of course there are sinister jihadist in the fray now. What do you expect? "When you leave things like that, it is bound to happen,” says Alazem. "The Assad regime knows exactly what it’s doing. It is making Syria a magnet for jihadists and Salafists."
Perhaps one third of the the maniacal Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah's Lebanese Hezbollah are now fighting alongside pro-government militias. The Kremlin is arming Assad with everything from handguns to advanced Yakhont cruise missiles. Iran's interventions on Assad's behalf are just as scary as the Kremlin's. And then there's Qatar and freelance oil billionaires from the United Arab Emirates, arming a variety of anti-Assad militias.
“And now the Americans want us to negotiate," Alazem said. "How do you negotiate with a Scud missile? War crimes are being committed every day. How do you negotiate when there are MiG jet fighters bombing our neighbourhoods? It would be like asking the Jews to negotiate with Hitler during the Second World War."
If Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenny comes off looking a little out of sorts in my column I will be fairer here and point out that it's not like he doesn't try. He was the only Canadian minister to have visited Syria in a decade, before the whole place went up, and Kenny has never gotten proper credit for the underground railroad of refugees he's been running out of the region.
But Canada's place in all this has been a bit awkward from the beginning. Initially, Foreign Minister John Baird was one of the Syrian revolution's most fervent friends, but his department got off to a fumbling start, the thing went sideways and it's never been properly sorted out. It isn't as though Baird hasn't tried to figure things out, however.
"The Minister has always welcomed meeting with the Syrian community here in Canada and abroad," Rick Roth, Baird's press secretary, told me last week. And indeed Baird has attended dozens of meetings with Syrian-Canadians in Ottawa and Toronto, and with Syrian opposition leaders in Paris, Doha, Istanbul, Marrakech and Tunis.
"Although there may be some difference of opinion as to how Canada can help the Syrian people, we all remain of the mind that President Assad has lost all credibility. Canada has been a leading contributor to help those Syrians most in need, fleeing Assad's violence," Roth said. "We will continue to listen to Syrians and Syrian-Canadians to determine how Canada can assist in the future."
One can only hope so.
How lucky Bashar al-Assad is with his friends," Alazem said. "How unluckly we are with our friends.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Told You So.

Contrary to the self-serving opinion coming out of absolutely all of the main news organizations on the subject, I will meekly allow that I don't actually know that the pollsters whose "narrative" formed the big story about the British Columbia election just now come and gone were indeed wrong at all. The pollsters may have badly misinterpreted their own findings, one can suppose. But were they really all wrong from the beginning, as we've been repeatedly bludgeoned into believing? 
In my Ottawa Citizen column today I venture a greater likelihood: For one thing, voter turnout was only 52 per cent, only a percentage point higher than the 2009 election. For another thing, all it would take to produce the kind of discrepancy that shocked everybody Tuesday night is a scenario with poll respondents who claimed an intention to vote NDP not actually voting, for whatever reason, in higher proportions than poll respondents who said they intended to vote Liberal.  
And what do you know, along comes pollster Ipsos with some illuminating election-day poll revelations, the point being: "The long and the short of it was that NDP voters did not get out and fulfill their promise to vote for the party of their choice – they stayed home while Liberal voters showed up. As such, a small number of voters were able to influence the greater outcome."  
It would appear, then, that the key to this entire representative-democracy business, by which I mean to say the trick to winning the game, is to get it into one's silly head that the main thing you have to do is show up. In this particular case, the big lesson for all those NDP enthusiasts who are being so pouty and boring at the moment is this: If you want the NDP to win elections you actually have to vote for the NDP at election time. 
What we're hearing loudest from the NDP camp right now is not self-criticism, although there is some of that, thankfully. There is little sign that the leadership is suitably chastened. It's instead all the rage to blame "vote splitting," which is the passive-aggressive way to spit on the ground and use foul language about the Greens (splittists and wreckers!). I half expect them to bring Opus Dei into it, or Haliburton. 
I am so bored with that particular line of pseudo-argument that I could do some spitting myself, because playing counter-factual with parameters of one's own choosing will always produce the conclusion one prefers. Here's the way that time-killing distraction occurs in the pages of the Vancouver Sun: "Adrian Dix would be premier if Green supporters had voted NDP (with graphics!)" Well, two can play that game:  "Christy Clark would still be premier if Green supporters had voted Liberal." Even three can play that game: "Adrian Dix would be premier if Liberal supporters voted NDP." 
Oh look, the footnote inside the Vancouver Sun story that gives the game way: "Such an analysis assumes, of course, that Green party supporters would all have the NDP as their second choice. That’s almost certainly not the case." 
Thanks for letting us in on that. To kick around the true story about why the B.C. NDP brains trust has never given any indication that it is prepared to contemplate collaborative-voting strategies would be the only way to make these "vote-splitting" preoccupations relevant or interesting. The thing is, they just can't suck it up and get over themselves. Hell, in the last election in the UK even Billy Bragg voted LibDem. On Canada's wild west coast, if it is true that Green voters are in fact not merely the disenchanted but hopelessly naive would-be NDPers we keep hearing about, then maybe the NDP brains trust should admit as much and stop whimpering.
Again: the NDP lost because the NDP didn't get enough votes. Why did the NDP fail to get enough votes? To answer that question with the feint that it was because too many people voted Green is to employ a dodge transparently crafted to avoid addressing the serious questions New Democrats need to be asking themselves, if they actually want to be taken seriously.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Suicide Letter of Samuel Zygelbojm

[A "guest post," of a kind, from my spot at the Ottawa Citizen op-ed page].

May 11, 1943 
To His Excellency The President of the Republic of Poland Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz
To Prime Minister General Wladyslaw Sikorski.
Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister,
I am taking the liberty of addressing to you, Sirs, these my last words, and through you to the Polish Government and the people of Poland, and to the governments and people of the Allies, and to the conscience of the whole world: 
The latest news that has reached us from Poland makes it clear beyond any doubt that the Germans are now murdering the last remnants of the Jews in Poland with unbridled cruelty. Behind the walls of the ghetto the last act of this tragedy is now being played out.
The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out, but indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime. By looking on passively upon this murder of defenseless millions – tortured children, women and men – they have become partners to the responsibility.
I am obliged to state that although the Polish Government contributed largely to the arousing of public opinion in the world, it still did not do enough. It did not do anything that was not routine, that might have been appropriate to the dimensions of the tragedy taking place in Poland.
Of close to 3.5 million Polish Jews and about 700,000 Jews who have been deported to Poland from other countries, there were, according to the official figures of the Bund transmitted by the Representative of the Government, only 300,000 still alive in April of this year. And the murder continues without end. 
I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave. 
By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people.
I know that there is no great value to the life of a man, especially today. But since I did not succeed in achieving it in my lifetime, perhaps I shall be able by my death to contribute to the arousing from lethargy of those who could and must act in order that even now, perhaps at the last moment, the handful of Polish Jews who are still alive can be saved from certain destruction.
My life belongs to the Jewish people of Poland, and therefore I hand it over to them now. I yearn that the remnant that has remained of the millions of Polish Jews may live to see liberation together with the Polish masses, and that it shall be permitted to breathe freely in Poland and in a world of freedom and socialistic justice, in compensation for the inhuman suffering and torture inflicted on them. And I believe that such a Poland will arise and such a world will come about.
I am certain that the President and the Prime Minister will send out these words of mine to all those to whom they are addressed, and that the Polish Government will embark immediately on diplomatic action and explanation of the situation, in order to save the living remnant of the Polish Jews from destruction. 
I take leave of you with greetings, from everybody, and from everything that was dear to me and that I loved. 
Signed on this day, May 11, 70 years ago. The following day Zygelbojm's body was found in his flat near Paddington Station in London. There is a plaque to his memory at the corner of Porchester Road and Porchester Square. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Well, we wouldn’t want another Iraq, would we?

That's the cliche that started it. It proceeded to allowing that Syria's Baathist regime might be onto something with its talk about Salafi terrorists in the rebel leadership. Where that led was to a beggaring of the broadly popular and mostly secularist civilian militias that emerged at the outset of Assad’s hyperviolent reaction to the pro-democracy mass uprising in late 2011. 
It meant no NATO-patrolled humanitarian corridor inside Syria. It meant pleas for a “no-fly zone” went unheeded. By last December it had meant that the clever “non-interventionists” of the NATO capitals had effectively invited the suicide-bomb artists of Jabhat al-Nusra out of the Iraqi deserts to insinuate themselves at the forefront of the Syrian insurgency. 
Prophecy fulfilled, round and round it goes, and a deeper understanding is emerging, now that Obama’s “red lines” on such weapons of mass destruction as sarin gas are proving not so red after all, and U.S Secretary of State John Kerry is reduced to grovelling at the Kremlin for a commitment to some sort of “peace conference” on Syria down the road. 
It’s an understanding that unites even Syria’s Baathists with the rebels they are slaughtering by the hundreds on an almost daily basis now. It unites Syrian tyrant Bashar Assad with his allies among the Khomeinists in Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and with his equally charming enemies in the Sunni ranks of al-Qaida in Iraq, now converging around Aleppo. 
Everybody agrees. Everybody knows. Obama is not a man of his word. The Americans cannot be trusted. The NATO countries are not to be taken seriously. Canada? Are you kidding? Isn’t that a country somewhere near Greenland? 
Here is the Hansard record of last night's debates in the House of Commons.
As for where this is all heading I'd say it may be heading for something like Iraq before the surge, only with no hope of a surge, or it's going to be just like Afghanistan, circa 1994: war to the knife and the knife to the hilt. That's what "non-intervention" gets you. Everybody else intervenes, everybody else picks a proxy, but the secularists and the democrats, the women and the liberals - none of these constituents end up with any militias of their own, and they're the first to get the garrotte.
Everybody in the NATO capitals just sat back and watched.  Here is where the revolution got hijacked. This was the point of no return. Here's Michael Weiss, from back when so much was still possible. Here's Michael from just a couple days ago: surprise!
Weiss has followed the Syrian revolution more closely than anyone I know. That he still thinks much is possible should count for something: "The point is not that they aren't hardcore ideologues fighting in Syria but that not everyone who professes himself to be one is necessarily that. Many so-called 'Salafis,' for instance, could not tell you the first thing about the Salafi doctrine – they just joined Suqoor al-Sham because they wanted comrades with the highest level of discipline and battlefield experience."
La lutte continue.

UPDATE. . . 
The maestro, Leon Wieseltier: "Is the death of scores and even hundreds of thousands, and the displacement of millions, less significant for American policy, and less quickening? The moral dimension must be restored to our deliberations, the moral sting, or else Obama, for all his talk about conscience, will have presided over a terrible mutilation of American discourse: the severance of conscience from action." And comrade Michael Petrou, Homage to Latakia: "Canada is footing the bill for some refugees’ tents. Maybe we’ll speed up the refugee process for Syrians fleeing Assad. It’s not exactly a stirring expression of solidarity: 'Your struggle is our struggle, and after you lose it, we’ll help you find an apartment in Mississauga.' John Baird should print that on a banner and march under it next time he visits the Middle East. . . ."

Meantime, my brief diversion this week into parochial (I mean, provincial) politics, here in British Columbia: What would be so bad about waking up May 15 to find that we’ve elected a few high-calibre MLAs not beholden to either Dix or Clark? We’re not electing an emir or a khan here. We’re electing a legislature.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Memo To Europe: No Seals, No Deals.

It was three years ago this very week that the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to ban the sale of seal products in the European Union. The move had nothing to do with wildlife conservation, marine ecological sustainability, or the prevention of cruelty to animals. The measure was explicitly intended to destroy a centuries-old sustainable industry, central to the economies of dozens of Atlantic and Arctic communities in Canada, all to protect "public morality" in Europe. Yes, you read that correctly.
A few days after the 2009 EU vote, in a touching gesture of solidarity with Canada's Inuit people, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean arrived in the Nunavut town of Rankin Inlet and proceeded immediately to an Inuit community festival where she gutted a freshly-slaughtered seal, pulled out its raw heart, and ate it. It was a graceful and splendid act of righteous defiance against what my friend Madeleine Redfern, an Inuk lawyer, a food-security activist and the former mayor of Iqaluit, properly calls a campaign animated by racism, a twisted form of cultural imperialism, and emotional blackmail.
Last month in Luxembourg the General Court of the European Union rejected a legal challenge against the ban led by the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. In this past weekend's Citizen I disclose the EU's pleadings from another, strangely-overlooked set of hearings that unfolded a few days ago before an adjudication panel of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. In that forum, Canada and Norway (probably in vain) are challenging the 2009 seal ban as a violation of international trade law, and what the EU's pleadings in that case show is that if anything, Redfern and other Inuit leaders have been rather understating the role that European ethnocentric weirdness and bigotry have played in the dispute. 
Specifically, Europe's legal case rests on a pseudo-religious conception of "public morality" articulated by a Church of England theology-of-vegetarianism eccentric by the name of "Professor Andrew Linzey" who holds an honorary divinity degree. Not to be harsh on other people's religions or anything, but the man is a witchdoctor. It is primarily from arguments arising out of Linzey's neo-Christianist mumbo-jumbo that the EU seeks to have the WTO allow its seal ban under the GATT Article XX (a) “public morals” exception. And fair enough. Europe's MEPs should be permitted to frolic in circles around whichever jack-druid they like. But can we at least please be honest with one another about what's really going on here?

Madeline Redfern counts 27 clauses of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that are violated by the coarse and vulgar subsistence-hunt “exception” the EU ban extends to Inuit and other aboriginal peoples. She counts a further 13 clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offended by the spirit and in the letter of the EU seal regime. Redfern's case is convincing. 
So, what to do about such savage and backward European practices?
Karliin Aariak of Iqaluit, daughter of Nunavut Premier Eva Qamaniq Aariak, has a very good idea, which she sets out in detail here. For starters, Aariak drew up an old-fashioned paper petition that quickly garnered several hundred signatures, mostly from Inuit communities, calling upon Ottawa to oppose any European Union application for observer status in the circumpolar Arctic Council
Now, Aariak is circulating an online petition to be presented to the Arctic Council itself, requesting that the Arctic Council refuse all applications for observer status from the European Union and any of its member states, institutions, and organizations, "until such time as the European Union completely terminates and lifts the seal ban it imposed in 2009."
These are reasonable measures, and a good start. There are also draft provisions of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe that might warrant a look-see. The treaty is expected to be ready for ratification as early as this summer and there are already reasons why the whole thing might be a bad idea anyway.
You're welcome. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Long Time Coming: Making Another World Possible.

Peter Ryley, Associate Lecturer in History at Manchester Metropolitan University, diarist at Fat Man on a Keyboard, mensch-in-residence as much of the time as he can manage in Greece, at Milina, a village in the green and bucholic Pelion Peninsula, has at long last put the writing of this book behind him: Making Another World Possible: Anarchism, Anti-capitalism and Ecology in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Britain.
I highly recommend it, and by no means because Peter is an old chum. If you want to understand why Idle No More burned up so quickly, morphing from a self-proclaimed revolutionary movement into a tarnished brand, within a few weeks, read this book. If you want to understand the kind of necessary utopianism that Occupy Wall Street asserted, absorbed and eventually smothered to death, this book's for you. There's a lot more to recommend it than this, even, and when the good people at Bloomsbury Publishing asked me whether I'd want to write a pre-publication review and endorsement, I was pleased to do so. I explained my endorsement this way. . . 
Quite apart from the durable purpose this book will surely serve for its long-overdue reconnaissance of some of the most neglected terrain in Victorian-era British radical thought, Peter Ryley’s Making Another World Possible arrives as a work of immediately urgent relevance in the current moment of tear gas, financial implosion, austerity shock, and the preeminent ecological challenge of global climate change. In his resolve to “reassert the importance of history against the arrogance of the present,” Ryley succeeds splendidly in showing that we have been here before, not least in the work of imagining human progress against the contradictions of economic growth and the limits necessarily imposed by environmental sustainability. 
No mere polemic, Making Another World Possible is history of the most serious kind, but it’s told in the most lively and refreshing sort of way. Ryley situates the young hipsters of the Occupy Movement, the direct-action cadres of the Zapatistas and the Indignados and the anti-globalization protesters of the 1990s within the same conversation as the sophisticated politicians of the Green Party and even free-market utopians. This is a conversation with perhaps its deepest roots in the raucous and cosmopolitan radical milieu of 19th century Britain, perhaps most noticeably in the early ecological anarchism of Patrick Geddes and Elisée Reclus. 
To that milieu, Ryley helpfully reclaims the overlooked Victorian individualists Herbert Spencer, Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Joseph Hiam Levy and others as upstanding contributors to schools of thought most closely associated with the likes of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. In the contemporary rediscovery of a broadly-defined anarchism as a “doctrine of hope,” with all its idiosyncrasy and utopianism and its individualist, communist, pragmatic, libertarian, and even Christian variants and foundations, Making Another World Possible serves as both an indispensable resource and a generous and engaging companion.