Saturday, July 30, 2005

RCMP racism?

Of all the feeble excuses for refusing to respond to a 911 call, none could be flabbier than the one offered recently by the RCMP, whose inaction likely sealed the fate of an Aboriginal woman, Brenda Moreside, in High Prairie, Alberta last February: We can’t arrest a man for trying to break into his own house. Moreside was subsequently stabbed to death, and her body wasn't discovered for nearly two weeks.

Good God.

It was well-known in the community that Moreside was involved in an abusive relationship with one Stanley Willier, who had a lengthy and violent criminal history: dozens of convictions for everything from assault with a weapon to death threats to second-degree murder. The RCMP detachment in High Prairie would have been fully aware of this. But, not once but twice, they brushed off Moreside's desperate pleas for help as he was breaking in. No one ever turned up. And she was murdered.

Nice to know the Mounties are doing an internal investigation. (The family just found out, months after the event, when a TV reporter called them.) But we know what usually happens when cops police themselves. Add to that the whole sorry history of RCMP treatment of Native people, and you can just bet how the story will end.

One more dead Aboriginal woman. And justice is blind.

Hans Island solution

Partition it north-south. That way, no one loses twelve miles of water and shelf, assuming the island could be made habitable. (Under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, "Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.")

Sint Maarten/St. Martin was divided between the Netherlands and France by the Treaty of Concordia in 1648. Story has it that a Dutchman and a Frenchman, starting at Oyster Pond, stood back-to-back and then walked around the coast to decide the location of the boundary. The Frenchman went north, armed with a bottle of wine; the Dutchman went south with a flask of Dutch gin. Result: 21 square miles for France, 16 for the Netherlands.

Peace-loving readers are invited to come up with inventive ways of establishing a Hans Island boundary line.

CORRECTION: While partition may yet be the only way to avoid war, my research was signally lacking on this matter. Whatever the Law of the Sea Convention says, Canada and Denmark signed a shelf delimitation treaty in 1973, ratified by the UN, that would preclude 12-mile claims based upon ownership of Hans Island. The boundary, developed with a computer program, was left incomplete for an 875-metre stretch, in the centre of which Hans Island lies.

Readers are invited to imagine bloodless ways in which a war might be fought, should the partition proposal fail.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Hypocritical wind breaks

from the South

Another playful American heard from, this time an entity calling itself "Conservative UAW Guy." I suspect it's a committee. No one person could demonstrate the astounding intelligence to be found at his site. Check out the "dirty-hippie" jokes and shake your heads in wonder. (When the hell was the last time anybody saw a hippie?) Anyhow, he wants to know why it is that the Left is "silent" when Iran is hanging kids for being gay, after torturing them for a year or so. After all, don't we care about gay people? Hey, he's a right-winger, and he cares. Sure he does.

Readers of ProgBlog will know that comments about this outrage have already been posted. Our so-concerned American, however, apparently wants us all to post something, to prove that we're not closet homophobes, or hypocrites, as though we're accountable to him. Meanwhile, his folks get off scot-free, because right-wingers don’t claim to be anything but homophobes. Except for him, again. He's too busy eating his cake to notice that he no longer has it, but that won't stop him from trying.

I raise this here because this is such a classic example of right-wing strategy that it needs to be enshrined. Called on their racism, all these conservatives have to say is, "I know you are, but what am I?" Ditto for all the other forms of bigotry that they wear like brands on their foreheads, which no doubt explains their cheesy baseball caps and their refusal to look you in the eye.

To hear these knuckle-draggers tell it, the Left is anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, homophobic, you name it. We're probably going to burn crosses on people’s lawns this long weekend, instead of going on Gay Pride marches like "Conservative UAW Guy." What's behind this looking-glass world these Flintstone characters live in?

Well, see, it's plain unfashionable to be a bigot these days, thanks to the lib'ral media/the UN/the Trilateral Commission/ the Illuminati. But bigots need to get face-time, anywhere, it doesn't matter. "Hey," says Billy Joe Bob, "let's do the 'wuzn't me' thang. It was them leftists did all that stuff. The people the media hate are them guys. We're into freedom, academic freedom, Iraqi freedom, the whole nine yards. Bigots? Wrong house, Bubba."

And you know what? This white-lightning-induced ploy actually had some mileage, turns out. It confused the issues so much that cub reporters and conservatives began to claim that affirmative action was "racist," that sympathy for dispossessed Palestinians was "anti-semitic," that supporting women in custody battles was "sexist." But they had one problem that wouldn’t go away. Homophobia.

See, on that one leftists have been so obviously on the side of the angels, at least when the Pope wasn't looking upward, that you couldn't make it look otherwise by playing with word and facts. Same-sex marriage? Sure. Sexual orientation in the hate speech law (this is Canada)? Of course. The Right just sat there, the sound of gnashing teeth heard for miles around. What could they say, without looking like the stupid bigots so many of them are? Not that that stopped them, but seriously, people, who could defend gay-bashing? Who could seriously oppose people getting married who, a few seconds earlier, were being roundly cussed out for being promiscuous? By the same folks?

Enter Billy Joe Bob again. "Easy," he says. "Let's find some gay-bashing somewhere else. Hey, Iran's good. Let's call 'em on it." So he tracks a story down, and then brings out his wet noodle to whip the "left" for being "silent" about it. Meanwhile, his own wretched fellow-citizens are beating people nearly to death, or all the way, for being gay, and then celebrating it. Lots of protests, but not a word out of Billy Joe Bob about that.

Sorry, Hoss, but it's going to take more than a semi-literate post on your site to make this thing work. What happened to those children in Iran is unspeakable. I have a kid about their age in our house. That's the country that just let themselves off the hook for murdering a Canadian journalist, Zahra Kazemi. I'd love to invade Iran all by myself to put a stop to this crap, but I seem to be lacking a military. In fact, my whole country is lacking a military. Denmark’s annexing our territory. Denmark, ferchrissakes.

So I'll tell you what. Round up your good buddy George Bush and get him to go in there. Just one thing: he has to tell the world he's doing it to stop homophobia, same way he became a feminist at the last minute when he decided to topple the Taliban. And none of that collateral damage crap. Surgical strikes. Really smart bombs. I won't be satisfied till I see that ol' rainbow flag flying above the Majlis.

Post your letter to Bush right here. Then we'll have something to talk about, Billy Joe, and I'll even have a snort of that moonshine you're drinking. But I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

NZ stands up

From time to time I'll be bringing up New Zealand affairs here to celebrate my personal New Zealand connection (she'd prefer to be called a partner, though). Much of interest is happening there these days, particularly with respect to the indigenous Māori, who have only just been deprived of their treaty rights to the foreshore and seabed of Aotearoa (their name for NZ), and many of whom have, in consequence, formed a political party liable to pick up some seats in the looming national elections and possibly even hold the balance of power.

Indeed, the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision on aboriginal logging rights, effectively confiscating First Nations land by setting an impossibly high bar for title, has similar resonances, although I hasten to add that the histories and circumstances differ considerably. What remains the same, of course, is the deadweight legacy of colonialism still carried on the backs of Māori there and First Nations here.

But today, something completely different: the NZ parliament has just upheld a 20-year ban on nuclear-powered vessels docking in NZ ports, effectively continuing to shut out US nuclear submarines. The country may be polarized on the Māori issue, with the opposition National Party shamelessly playing the race card (blathering on about "special privileges," allegedly outmoded treaty rights, etc.--sound familiar?). But on the nuclear question, they closed ranks so tightly you couldn’t get a sheet of paper between them: the vote was a crushing 109-9.

When the legislation first passed in 1985, after years of street protests, Washington suspended military ties with Wellington, and no US navy vessel, nuclear or otherwise, has ventured there since. It remains a popular measure, and indeed the beleaguered Prime Minister Helen Clark, of the ruling Labour Party, may well see it as an issue in the upcoming campaign, hinting darkly that National leader Don Brash will abolish the measure if he wins office. Indeed, in an unguarded moment, he once said that if he were elected, the ban would be "gone by lunchtime." For his part, he has said he will do nothing without a national referendum on the matter. The two parties, in fact, are neck-and-neck in the polls.

Here's another similarity between our two countries: the US taking a dim view of their military capability:

While the Clark government argues its 10-year military procurement plan will modernise the Defence Force after years of neglect, the nature of those equipment purchases and whether they allow New Zealand to play any meaningful role in the region beyond "soft" peace-keeping duties worries both Washington and Canberra.

And the similarities don't end there:

In a reversal of Theodore Roosevelt's famous dictum of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, [out-going US Ambassador] Charles Swindells talked surprisingly tough in warning the relationship was "starved of trust" and drifting backwards.

Finally, anyone here remember the flag debates with fondness?

Maybe there's a basis here for a resuscitated federation of nonaligned nations.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Shoot first

"In Britain, police now shoot suspects. Good." So says veteran columnist Peter Worthington, clearly in his dotage.

But he's got company. Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has said bluntly that his forces would shoot to kill again. Meanwhile, Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian Catholic with no links whatsoever to the London bombings, was shot, as it now turns out, eight times, seven bullets in the head and another in the shoulder. One is tempted to add: summary-execution style.

Perhaps predictably, the usual anonymous sources leaked "information" to the BBC that de Menezes was an illegal immigrant, a charge that is news to Foreign Minister Jack Straw, and one that the family hotly denies. The "illegal" slur is clearly intended to be mitigating in some way. Not only would it conceivably explain why he ran when approached by police, and excuse their conduct; but the simmering right-wing undercurrent in blogland is that, as such, he probably deserved what he got.

The truth is, of course, quite different. De Menezes spoke fluent English within four months of entering the country. He had young ambitions: to become educated, to be a rancher in Brazil some day. He loved Britain.

He had been possibly already been mugged in the vicinity of the tube station where he met his end. He had been stopped by the police three times on his moped for speeding violations--no trouble, no attempt to escape, none of that.

So why cut and run as he did? A number of eyewitnesses reported, contrary to the claims of the police repeated uncritically in the media, that no warnings were shouted, and the plainclothes officers chasing him did not pull out and don their police caps until de Menezes had started to run, his back to them.

Said his cousin afterwards, "Jean had lived in Sao Paulo. It is a dangerous city and he knew the rules there ­ if you run away when the police tell you to stop, then you are dead. He knows you don't run away and his English was perfect. There is no explanation for him ignoring a warning because there was no warning."

What goes through the mind of a young, dark-skinned immigrant who sees a few tough-looking people pick him out and start chasing him? This is the land, after all, of runaway football hooliganism and rampant racism. In his place, I would probably have run like hell to get away, jumping onto a subway train as in the movies. And been blown away by my pursuers.

This was racial profiling at its best--urged on by at least one senior Canadian columnist. Who's winning the war on terror?

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Events without causes

I woke up this morning to an excellent letter in the Ottawa Citizen, from one Abubakar N. Kasim, whom I shall freely quote:

As a Muslim, I am ashamed of Canadian Muslim leaders for surrendering to the pressure from the media and apologizing for what has taken place again in London as if they were complicit in the crime.

The media has been putting tremendous pressure on the Muslim community to apologize for something we did not know about or help plan. Why do we have to apologize for a crime that we have nothing to do with?

Did we ask the Irish community to apologize when some of its members were alleged to have terrorized London a few years ago? Why did not we ask the Christian community to condemn and apologize for the atrocities committed by Christian extremists within the Serbian community against Bosnian Muslims?

What happened in London is a crime that everyone should condemn, not only the Muslim community.

My joy was short-lived. Rex Murphy was going at it again:

We temporize with terrorism when we look for root causes. The attacks will continue until they are stopped. Terrorists will inflict misery with exponential fury when they can. On the one question that counts, the sentence so many are appalled to hear applies: George Bush was right. It is a war.

And Murphy quoted the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard:

I think we lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder.

Now, let’s try to pull all this together. The events in London and elsewhere simply have no causes, and it’s a mistake, indeed, to even look at them in a context of “particular circumstances.” At the same time, and correspondent Kasim is entirely correct in his observation and in his reaction, Muslims everywhere are expected, if not to apologize, at least to hold themselves accountable for these causeless events.

We aren’t looking at the news, here. We’re watching something quite different, which explains the impatience, in fact antagonism, when commentators dare to look for root causes. People want their enemies demonized, not analyzed. Caught up in high drama, as they are, they want a morality play, not the news. Historical events do have causes that can be discerned with much toil and trouble, but the struggle of good against evil needs no such analysis. Evil is just evil, and good is good, and next scene, please, where the devil's wily plans are thwarted once again by the forces of truth and light.

It’s so much easier to substitute this kind of thing for the hard work and soul-searching required to deal with the obvious global problem of which the London bombings are a symptom. It reminds me of the religiosity surrounding the Holocaust, a dreadful historical instance of mass-murder on an unspeakable scale, now elevated to the realm of pure metaphysics: it was a "singular event," somehow distinct from other genocides and other mass murders.

As Heather Mallick points out today, does anyone seriously suggest that, had Britain stayed out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and just minded its own bloody business, bombs would be set off in London anyway by resentful young Muslims?

What is this "war" that Murphy goes on about? Who are "the terrorists," and how do we stop terrorist attacks? Can we get to the root of this, if I may put it that way, or are we going to go on looking at endless re-reruns of Everyman? How does Murphy propose to fight and win this war? What strategy does he have in mind? Who is the enemy?

We won’t, of course, get any answers. That's the problem with causeless events. "To beat terrorism," the Globe and Mail averred in an editorial yesterday, "Western countries have to overcome the notion that they are somehow to blame for it. Instead, they must see it for what it is: the product of a deadly idea run amok." Last word to a correspondent today: "That’s just an excuse to stop thinking."

Friday, July 22, 2005

Cops Ops Chop Flops

The Ottawa cops want an 8% increase in their budget this year. They got a big one last year, too, after an initially-recalcitrant city council found some extra money for them--parking ticket revenues. They're going to get this one as well.

Under Ontario law, city council can only accept or reject a police services budget in its entirety. In March of last year, city councillors voted to reject the budget as presented, and told the Police Services Board to cut it by $2.1 million. After not a little movement in the backrooms, it emerged that city bureaucrats has underestimated the revenue from parking tickets by a whopping $1.5 million. A relieved council, not really looking for a head-to-head with the likes of Police Chief Vincent Bevan, agreed to transfer this amount to the police budget. Voila! Problem solved.

Unfortunately, things were not looking so rosy by last Fall. In his operating status report submitted September 30, City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick reported that "By-law Enforcement is forecasting a $744,000 shortfall in revenues primarily from a decrease in the number of parking tickets being issued. It is possible that this situation may continue into the next year [2005] and it is being closely monitored."

The results of that "monitoring" seem to be everywhere evident, judging at least from anecdotal evidence in outraged letters to the editor. Parking control officers seem to be unduly attentive: most recently, they were seen handing out a huge wad of tickets to attendees of a regular neighbourhood event here, the Great Glebe Garage Sale.

In their recent presentation to a city council committee, the Police Services Board admitted that the chief concern of the public with respect to policing in Ottawa was--traffic safety. Detroit we’re not. Crime is actually decreasing. But policing in Ottawa, it seems, is to remain a growth industry nevertheless. City council initially told them to scale back their requested budget increase to 3%, the guideline for every other city department. Nuts to that, said OPS, and demanded 8%--down, admittedly, from the double-digit increase they had been initially mooting. City council, caving in at this point, just finished giving provisional approval for the hike.

Today’s Ottawa Citizen contains a little item of perhaps relevant interest: a man was cleared of break-in charges--52 of them, all relating to the same alleged offence--by a judge who slammed the police for "over-charging" the defendant. He insinuated in his judgement that some statistical inflation was going on, the sort of thing that leads to larger annual budgets.

Things are getting curiouser and curiouser. The city auditor has sided with the police and defended their budget, while a former Chief of Police wants to run for City Council to tighten it--and re-vamp the discredited public complaints process, too.

Meanwhile, pressure on municipal social services continues to rise. The homeless are everywhere, and the missions are bulging. Vacant-eyed kids stumble out of counselling centres, some of which have been closed because of budget cuts. User fees for a range of services are likely to be raised. But the public can rest assured that their concerns about traffic safety will be addressed--to the tune of $11.2 million more this coming year alone.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Our Native land

The Supreme Court of Canada, at one fell swoop, has come down on the side of history, written by the victors as always. Mi'kmaq, Malisett and Passamaquoddy First Nations, and in effect all First Nations, have been told that treaty rights to their own land are restricted only to those uses in place at the time of treaty signing. More ominously, the Court has set a high bar to establish title. To do so, Aboriginal nations must prove that:

· they physically occupied the land in question before European colonial governments were established;

· they had exclusive occupation of the land; and

· they did not simply use the land on a seasonal basis for hunting or fishing, allowing other peoples to traverse it or use it at other times of the year.

Some Native leaders, such as Phil Fontaine in today's
Globe and Mail, are trying to downplay the crushing significance of this ruling, but crushing it is. It is a ruling founded upon a set of Eurocentric assumptions about land possession and use, and it imposes these assumptions upon Aboriginal people across the country for all time. It is de facto confiscation, and the effect of this ruling on future or on-going land claims will be dire indeed.

What has been re-introduced subversively into the judgement is nothing less than the pernicious concept of terra nullius, by which colonists have rationalized massive land theft around the world. If land is not owned and occupied by a sole owner, it's up for grabs as "uninhabited." The notion that land does not have to be "owned" in this way at all, but might be regarded as a collectively-enjoyed home and life-support for entire peoples, is shrugged aside. If the First Nations want to establish title to their own land, they'll just have to play the white man's legal game, rule changes and all.

Just consider the conditions set by the Court. Native people must prove that they indeed physically occupied the land in question. Why should there not be a reverse onus on the Europeans to show that the land in question was not physically occupied by Aboriginal peoples?

What does "physically occupied" mean, anyway--individual ownership and occupation all year round, or groups of people surviving by following the seasonal rhythms of their environment, occupying territory as their livelihood demands, and sharing that use with other peoples?

What is this "exclusive use?" "Exclusive use" is a white concept, not an Aboriginal one, but even here there are exceptions; they apparently apply, though, only to whites, not to Native people. White people get to time-share, but Native people do not. White people can set up cooperatives, but Native peoples, in effect, cannot. Two or more peoples sharing the same land at the same or at different times will extinguish title. The concept, in its narrowest sense, has been imposed on the original inhabitants of Canada, and is enshrined now in a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision, to rationalize a vast land-and-resources grab.


Separated at birth?

The Shroud of Turin is putting in an appearance at St. Patrick's Basilica right here in Ottawa in a few days. I thought I'd seen that face before!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


Anyone would think that crosses are being erected all over Canada, or that the lions are being fed live prophets. I've been investigating some of the conservative blogs, and the "what next" refrain is growing steadily more deafening, like the screams of victims in the Coliseum. Aughhh! They're going to force the clergy to marry gays! Aieee! Legalized pedophilia's next on the gay agenda! Arghhh! No, polygamy!

Actually, the pumped-up rhetoric delights me: "The homosexual agenda is rolling through town like a German panzer!" writes one overwrought commentator. And my favourite, from the irrepressible Kathy Shaidle, "More K-Y for that slippery slope!"

So loving couples now have access to marriage, whether they're gay or straight. Remember when you people went around attacking gays for promiscuity and assorted other licentiousness? Now they want to get married, having obviously taken your advice to heart, and you're still not satisfied?

There’s no end, it seems, to the heterosexual agenda.

But fear not, timorous believers. Marriage Commissioners are not priests; they're public officials who aren't supposed to let their private beliefs overcome their public duties. Your children are safe, and in fact the Liberals have just made them safer, with a law that will likely target artists, not Christians. And if they ever get around to legalizing polygamy (which of course has absolutely zip-gulch, nothing, nada, bupkes to do with same-sex marriage), gays and straights will merely get an equal crack at it. Fair's fair, and that's all the Charter says. You know--live and let live. Love thy neighbour, without fear of discrimination. Heck, marry him, no matter what gender you are.

So settle down, now, and take a valium. In fact, take two. The sky isn't falling, that's just glitter-dust from the Pride Parade. And the new Romans aren’t coming to get you. The lions are safe in their cages, and the carpentry you're hearing is--renovation.

Communitized minorities

"The gay community." "The Black community." "The Muslim community."

What on earth are people talking about? A community, by any standard definition, is a group of individuals living in the same area who interact and share a sense of collectivity. A community association, in my neighbourhood, is elected at an open meeting, speaks to some extent for the community and is accountable to the community. The group, again to some extent, is an organic whole. We unite over such things as putting an expressway through our park. There is a keen sense of common purpose on such matters.

But the use of the term for minorities, as above, carries with it significant dangers. As a more-than-analogy, consider the term "racial minorities." Now, we know that the concept of race is a shady one, based on little or no evidence but a lot of prejudicial assumptions. It's by and large a social construct, and never mind that new pharmaceutical that's been tailored especially for African-Americans. The latter is a matter of averages: but "African-American" carries with it a huge amount of social meaning, much of it in the minds of whites.

It is for this reason that people today are starting to talk about "racialized minorities," referring to a social process in which people are actively put in a box, classified, and their properties catalogued. The implications are important, because it confronts the assumption that a "racial minority" is something objective. It's not. It's a definition, imposed by others. But a vicious spiral develops, as members of that defined minority internalize that definition--a colonization of the mind that further perpetuates their racializing.

We build "community" boxes too. Gays are communitized these days, for example, and so are Muslims. The underlying assumptions here give rise to unreal and unfair expectations which, when left unfulfilled, unleash torrents of negative criticism that lead to even more communitizing.

So we hear about the "gay community" taking a stand on this or that issue, and we don't pause for a moment to think that gay people have their own active debates about the issues, that no process exists for building a consensus, that no leadership is directly accountable to gay people as a whole, and that the latter, like straight people, have a wide variety of differing opinions on every subject under the sun. There is no "gay community." There is, however, a common oppression, most recently manifested under the cloak of religion during the same-sex marriage brouhaha and, less noticed for some reason, in the debates over inclusion of sexual orientation in hate crime legislation. And that helps to build, at least, a sense of camaraderie under fire, which is what Gay Pride is all about. But it's not what a community is all about.

With Muslims, the consequences of communitizing are perilous indeed these days. Some people who happen to profess Muslim beliefs set off bombs: the "Muslim community" is called upon to apologize, to speak out, to do something about these terrorists, as though your average workaday Muslim has either the responsibility or even just the ability to make every other member of the "community" accountable. But the use of the word "community" confers upon each of its "members" precisely that. It conjures up a false image of a cohesive whole, complete with internal regulatory dynamics, where no such whole exists.

I am not here issuing a sentimental call for a "human community," although there are good arguments to do so, not the least of which is that it might explode the notion of community as it is presently used. Perhaps it would be enough at this point simply to stop using the word to define, in effect, our own prejudices and mistaken ideas. Otherwise, we"ll continue to build and reinforce these mental ghettoes, with the historically inevitable consequences.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


You have to go back to Claude Levi-Strauss to understand the current cultural fascination with wild animals. They pervade popular culture: in advertising, in newspaper headlines, in still-current metaphors. So-and-so is a "weasel," or a "snake." Communications and insurance companies use bright-coloured jungle frogs, geckoes and chameleons as props.

Recently, part of southwestern Ontario was terrorized by a giant flesh-eating lizard. Today we learn, with some sadness, that a female peregrine falcon that nested on the top of a downtown Ottawa hotel has had to be put down because of serious injuries, probably due to flying into a building. Meanwhile, two old hunters in South Carolina are in trouble for trapping a rare white, blue-eyed alligator.

Levi-Strauss described an underlying tension between Nature and Culture that defines who we are and how we behave. The two need to be connected, he argues, and their contradictions mediated by myth. But he was (and likely still is--he’ll be 97 this November) deeply pessimistic about our current cultural state of affairs. He felt that the vital connection had been broken, and that humanity is consequently in an entropic state. (In fact he referred to contemporary anthropology as "entropologie:" the two words are pronounced the same in French.) We are uprooted from Nature, we no longer have living universal myths that bring us into relation with the natural world.

If anything indicates the trouble we are in, it has to be the dessicated, ossified, meaningless mumbo-jumbo of church ritual today. And it starts right here: "Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." [Genesis 1:26]

This approach has meant nothing but trouble ever since. The notion of "ruling over" Nature rather than seeing ourselves as an integral part of it leads to the short-sighted "development," pollution, global warming and resource depletion with which we are all too familiar.

But the problem lies deeper than that. The living, breathing experience of myth has been replaced by empty, mumbling rituals and a complicated system of rules and commands. Recently, for example, a bishop refused Catholic communion to a little girl who was unable to eat wheat wafers because she had a rare disease. "Nope, can’t be rice, has to be wheat," said the Church, thereby showing its blithering ignorance of the mythic depth of its own Eucharist ceremony. And of course we have the current posturing and ululating about same-sex marriage, and the continuing emphasis on authority (the current Pope decried Buddhism because it offered "transcendence without imposing concrete religious obligations"). "The letter killeth," said Paul in one of his saner moments, but he went on to send a few letters of his own, stern injunctions that set a terrible trend reverberating to this day.

Parallel to this is a series of superstitions: crossing fingers, blessing people when they sneeze, that kind of thing. No altered consciousness there, I'm afraid.

But I'm not just picking on Christianity, I hasten to add. With Islam, and Judaism, and most other world religions (Buddhism excepted--it’s the only religion without terrorists) it's just more commands, more rules, more authority, more deaths, more destruction, more aridity and emptiness.

Why, then, our increasing fascination with wild animals? Is it because we see in them something that we are lacking? Is Nature poised to be rejoined to Culture by a new myth springing from our collective unconscious? Is this a hopeful sign, or just a passing fad?

I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Tories and the polls

While the Liberal lead over the Tories appears to be stable, 35% to 26%, an article in the Globe and Mail caught my eye yesterday. A poll apparently shows that 59% of Canadians want Stephen Harper replaced. 37% of those calling themselves Conservatives want Harper out. The same poll indicates that 52% want Paul Martin replaced too. But what does any of this mean?

I'm OK with the part that suggests that a little over a third of Conservative sympathizers want Harper to go. That tells a story, although I'm not sure what the moral is. About two-thirds of the Conservative constituency still want to keep him, even after he fared worse than expected in the last election and spent all of his time fussing about same-sex marriage since. That’s actually pretty impressive, from one perspective. Even his Village People outfit didn’t seem to faze his base.

But I get distracted easily, and my attention soon ceased to be held by the cold, fish-eyed leader of the Conservative Party of Canada trying to make nice at barbecues and looking like a deer in the headlights. Instead, I began to wonder about polls.

59% of Canadians want him replaced. But if the 26% figure is right, then most of those who want him pitched aren’t supporters of his party anyway. So how does one interpret the answer to a question like that?

The mind races.

"As a life-long NDPer. I want Harper replaced. Definitely. Bring on Jim Pankiw. We need to pick up some seats in Ontario. Hell, we need to pick up some seats everywhere."

"I’m a Green, and I want Harper replaced. With Jim Harris. We need to broaden our base."

"As a Western Liberal, I'd favour replacing Harper with a Quebecker."

"J'suis bloquiste. Remplacez M. Harper par M. Martin--tous les anglais se ressemblent, câlisse."

I'm looking forward to the next such poll. Perhaps it can open with "Do you think the Liberal Party should be replaced?" I bet I know how the Harper folks would answer that one. In fact, I know how I'd answer it, too.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Frosty Friday

It's so damned hot in Ottawa these days that I cool off by reading right-wing blogs.

The following is a small sampling, for those who like to bite down on a sore tooth. Warning: not for the progressive faint of heart, this is hard-core conservatism at its finest. Rating: R.

Wintry blast: Angry in the Great White North. A couple of cool ones here: Harry Potter's "subtle seductions" and depravity at The ideologues, urged on, it seems, by the current Pope (the quote was his), have indulged themselves in a little Soviet-style literary criticism, finding the Harry Potter books doubleplusungood because, inter alia, the magic wielded by the kids "seems to come from no particular source." A good introduction to the psychopathology of the extreme right.

Meanwhile, a couple of Babblers over at Rabble were incautious enough to refer to possible incidents that might befall a Conservative party cruise. Not in the best of taste, but political jokes seldom are, and you can find plenty of off-colour stuff on the right-wing blogs. It was a great excuse, however, for Angry to climb laboriously onto his high horse. "Depravity," he shrieked. And the dittoheads piled on.

February heat: RelapsedCatholic. A soothing blizzard of dry ice from the indefatigable Kathy Shaidle. I slam, you slam, we all slam Islam. Too many examples to choose from--you do it. There's stuff here on Islamofascism, Irshad Manji's shortcomings (lesbianism), "Islam: the West's Unmanageable Liability," "Putting the 'I' In Islam" (an apologia for the Muslim stomped to death in Birmingham a few days ago) and my personal fave (quite a while back, but it's memorable): "Newsflash: Arabs are Violent Retards."

Glacial warmth: The Cannuckistan Chronicles. Dick Evans revealed more than he knew when he voted to delete an entry for Progressive Bloggers from Wikipedia. While it is obvious that a strategic alliance between Blogging Tories and Progressive Bloggers would make some sense here, and to their credit some of the Tories recognized that, Evans' knee-jerk reaction--to shut down opinions he doesn't like--is all-too-typical of the book-banning, teacher-firing, Disneyworld-boycotting, pulpit-bullying of the ideological Right. Don't take my word for it--cruise the blogs yourselves.

Absolute Zero: Small Dead Animals. Blogger Kate McMillan, of "Canada needs institutions to lock up the Indian Activists and Apologists" fame, continues her racist campaign against Canada's First Nations. An excerpt from a news story about a recent judgement from the BC Human Rights Tribunal against a mall security firm for discrimination against Aboriginals amuses her:

It was mall policy to deny access to people who had dirty clothing, open sores and wounds, red eyes, and who were acting intoxicated. Lyster ruled that the policy created practices that had an unfair and discriminatory effect on aboriginal people.

"Some stories just tell themselves," she snickers.

In fact, Gladys Radek, who filed the complaint, did not meet any of these criteria. She was a disabled Aboriginal person, on her way to have a coffee at Starbucks with a friend. The two of them were accosted and verbally harassed by a mall cop, and chucked off the premises. After reviewing the sorry history of the mall in question, the numerous instances of racist behaviour against Aboriginals there, the Tribunal found in her favour. The Tribunal spokesperson did not mince words:

I have found the complaint to be justified. I found that Henderson and Securiguard discriminated against Ms. Radek, both on May 10, 2001 and on a number of earlier occasions. I also found that both respondents engaged in systemic discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ancestry and disability, throughout the period of this complaint.

Apparently, comparing national daycare to re-education camps and demanding the return of residential schools for Native kids, and now sneering about "stories that write themselves," aren't sufficient to ruin McMillan's reputation on the Right. She's vigorously defended by Angry today: "Kate's rhetoric can be harsh, but it is a tool for promoting discussion." Wow.

Time to go outside for a breath of fresh air. It's chilly in here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Eddies in the Zeitgeist

As we are swept along by the swift current of the times, I find myself on occasion able to catalogue merely some of the minor turbulences. Before getting to one or two of the more fascinating ones, though, one last word on recent events. The redoubtable Globe and Mail wags its editorial finger once again at Muslims, and rebukes spokespeople who worry publicly about retribution, suggesting, hell, no, stating up front, that such leaders are being equivocal in their condemnation of the London attacks. "Muslims everywhere," says the Globe, "must confront the threat within."

Perhaps we're just lucky so far in Canada: no Muslims beaten to death (as has just happened in Nottingham, England), and no reported fire-bombings or assaults, as occurred after 9/11. But are the responsible leaders of any community out of line for being concerned for their community? Yet, once again, "Muslims" as a constructed whole are told what to do, and their leaders what to say.

But I'll make a deal with the Globe editorialist. I'll be happy to make these demands of "Muslims everywhere," and denounce Mohamed Elmasry and Sheema Khan for good measure, just as soon as the Globe demands that "Christians everywhere confront the threat within" the next time an abortion clinic is bombed or white racists acting in God's name blow up a government building or burn a cross on somebody's lawn. I'll be right out there insisting that Muslims bring their terrorists to account if the Globe calls for "Catholics everywhere" to apologize and "look within" if the IRA ever starts up again, or if yet another priest is exposed as a pedophile after being bicycled around various parishes by a complicit bishop.

Are we on?

Now, to other topics. Nothing captures what is in the wind so much as advertising. That's the place to map the currents of the Zeitgeist. Profound cultural and social questions are addressed every day in the banal lingo of the billboard.

A few years ago, for example, the slogan for a popular lottery was "Imagine the freedom." This was a perfect mini-lesson in the propagandistic use of language. "Freedom" is exercised through purchasing. It is equated to the power to buy a commodity or an accumulation of commodities. The more spending power you have, the more freedom. "Imagine": in other words, transcend your current existence by dreaming of a better world. But this world is personal, private, and consists of the ability to buy.

Hence both freedom and imagination are turned into hegemonic values. More and more people are noticing that they are not, indeed, free at all, that democracy is an increasingly empty concept with no immediate meaning in their lives. Their ability to imagine a better existence needs, therefore, to be channelled so that it doesn't stray into forbidden areas like social change, collective action, a society based on beauty instead of profit, and so on. Imagination should be limited to the individual, and the individual's capacity to accumulate. Such imagination is to be encouraged.

If we are not free, the message goes, it is only because we don't have enough money, not because the capitalist system itself is unfreedom. If freedom is to be realized, the system is to be embraced even more fully. There is no alternative.

The lottery slogan is not deliberate propaganda, of course. But it serves a propagandistic function, and does so brilliantly. And, more recently, there are fresh new examples:

Get spotted. The current advertising campaign of PepsiCo invites people to be spotted drinking a Pepsi and win big prizes. Now, think about this one for a moment. Precisely how do you get spotted? What skills do you need? What capacities, other than an enormous thirst and the ability to find a loo? Where should one station oneself? Or should we actually search for the spotters, Pepsi in hand?

The ad, of course, speaks to our current Angst. Everyone in this age of communication, including us hapless bloggers, wants to be spotted. It's the old "fifteen minutes of fame" bit, but with an odd twist: we can achieve that fleeting fame through PepsiCo, each lucky winner a mouse carried into the skies by a corporate eagle. We're not consuming Pepsi so much as Pepsi is consuming us.

We see here the suggestion that, without Pepsi, each of us is condemned to continue being part of an amorphous mass of the never-noticed, the insignificant protagonist of a real-life Antz. But if we slam the stuff back, there is a possibility, at least, of transformation, of achieving a state of corporate grace. Communion with the multinational gods. Imagine the freedom.

Just don't get spotted in the parallel Coke universe, though. There are likely to be consequences.

Are you a MAC man? Leafing through Sports Illustrated the other day, I came across a full page ad from the golden arches folks. A picture of a Big Mac saying something like "I'm not just a piece of meat." Then some nonsense about "can you handle my two juicy beef patties," or some such. All this followed by the current advertising hook, "Are you MAC enough?"

Now, while admittedly a hamburger is also its relish, bun, lettuce and tomato, it most certainly is, fundamentally, a piece of meat. The layered irony here penetrates to the heart of the queasy gender relations that persist long after the second wave of feminism crashed on the shingle. What is being sent up? Why, the old battle-cry of women confronting sexist men (just possibly a significant demographic in the Sports Illustrated crowd). But this hamburger is a tease, urging men on--are you MAC enough? There's a double message here, one that certain men of the "MAC" persuasion believe they are hearing all the time.

Finally, though, irony or no, the burger gets eaten: that's its fate, it's what we pay for, after all. What lesson do we draw here, not far away from the surface in this case, about the social consumption of women?

Readers are encouraged to collect further samples for testing and analysis.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Backlash and frontlash

The fallout (and I use the word advisedly) from the London bombings is everywhere at the moment. The global village is shrinking: from England to the US to New Zealand, Muslims have been targeted in apparent retaliation for the attacks.

Western Muslims have been the targets of hate crime for some time, as numerous incidents before the bombings bear out. But these incidents peak, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the wake of large-scale events such a 9/11 and now the London outrages.

Scanning the papers today, I was struck by the tenor of reports and opinions regarding not the bombers but the Muslim community as a whole. It would appear, to many, that it has something collectively to answer for. Muslim leaders must bend over backwards, said the Chairman of the UK Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Philips, to reassure the public there is no place in their community for terrorists. In the US, Thomas Friedman
thunders in the New York Times that "either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists - if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings - or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way - by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent."

Closer to home, a letter-writer to the Ottawa Citizen says he's lost respect for the Ottawa Imam for saying, after condemning the attackers in no uncertain terms with the Qur'an as his reference, that "we must find out the underlying reasons" for their actions. In a stunning leap, the writer finds that this amounts to a "justification" of the bombings.

At first blush, one might ask, So what? What's wrong with demanding accountability and action from the Muslim community? Why don't they do something, instead of making excuses? So we effectively slam the lid of a box shut, the box in which we construct a notion of "our" minorities, and in which we confine them.

Just as, once upon a time, an accomplished Black youth was called "a credit to his race," one of the "boy bombers" in today's news is described as "highly educated." How to decode that? Are the commentators surprised? Are they resentful that he took full advantage of English educational opportunities, even though he was British-born, as it turns out? Do they imagine that extremists are all ill-educated, brutish louts? Perhaps all of the above: but what I see above all is the indissoluble linking of individuals and their communities into one thing, as it were, in which everyone bears the shame and the accomplishments of everyone else therein.

This is a racist paradigm, and we need to recognize it as such. Have we asked women's groups to apologize for Karla Homolka? White, Christian groups to reassure the world that Timothy McVeigh didn't act on their values? Men to speak out against Clifford Olsen? Sounds absurd, no? Then why do we place such demands upon minority communities? Why do we, in this bizarre way, regard murderers and extremists as somehow accountable to their ethnic group, and insist that the latter make them so?

Of course the debates are waxing loud and furious within those communities. Sheema Khan expresses the matter well in today's Globe: her community is beleaguered, waiting for the inevitable reaction, in a country where the Public Safety Minister, Anne McLellan, is getting us to look under our beds at night, while dismissing racial profiling as a non-issue, and where wacky columnists like Margaret Wente do their best to stir the pot until it overflows. Under such circumstances any group of people in a minority situation will become defensive and try to do what the establishment wants, to avoid more assaults, more arson, more security certificates, more racial profiling, more unwanted attention from CSIS and the RCMP.

The fact that all this is grossly unfair means little. The fact that it's ultimately self-defeating, breeding more hatred and cynicism and desperation, doesn't seem to register. Leaders who do speak out, trying to reassure the larger community, are excoriated by the Robert Fulfords of this world for not expressing themselves in the blunt and savage terms used by tabloid journalists. When their comments go unreported, they are accused of silence and, by association, complicity.

Even asking the question "Why" is seen by some hysterics as somehow justifying murderous acts. We saw quite a bit of that dangerous nonsense after 9/11, and we're seeing more of it now. We shouldn't look for root causes, we are told. We need, in effect, to wrench these incidents out of time and location and categorize them as pure metaphysical evil. It's them vs. us, it's black versus white, it's a clash of civilizations. Pay no attention to history, geopolitics, oppression, alienation, poverty and despair. The attempt to understand is only an attempt to make excuses, to avoid the moral dimension. We don't need no education.

The police in England have, by all accounts, done fine work and cracked the case with near-lightning speed. The culprits, it seems, were British-born young men. But the matter will obviously not end there, nor should it. If we can stop making demands and ask a lot more questions, if we can bring ourselves openly to discuss uncomfortable issues of power and powerlessness, racism and oppression, war and terrorism, rather than merely denouncing, condemning and threatening, then maybe someday--just maybe--a lasting solution might occur to us.
And by that I mean all of us.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The L-Word

OK, I'll admit it. I'm confused.

In 2002 David Ahenakew uttered some hateful words about Jews, Hitler and the Holocaust. He was charged and convicted of hate speech, and now he's been stripped of his Order of Canada membership. In 2002, then-MP Jim Pankiw sent out to his constituents a vicious, racist pamphlet called "Stop Indian Crime" and the RCMP declined to prosecute. (Imagine the furor if an MP had put out a pamphlet called, "Stop Jewish Crime.")

What forces determine the fate of racist loud-mouths in Canada?

As soon as Ahenakew's words reached the public ear, the Canadian Jewish Congress was on the job. The CJC called for an RCMP hate-crimes investigation, and asked Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson for a review of his Order of Canada membership.

Who is the CJC? The organization describes itself as "The Jewish community's official voice on public affairs." Here is the beginning of its Mission Statement:

Canadian Jewish Congress is the democratically elected, national organizational voice of the Jewish community of Canada. It serves as the community's vehicle for defence and representation. Committed to preserving and strengthening Jewish life, CJC acts on matters affecting the status, rights and welfare of the Canadian Jewish community, other Diaspora communities and the Jewish people in Israel.

In today's Globe and Mail, we learn that Peter C. Newman went the extra mile in the Ahenakew case, lobbying fellow-members of the Order of Canada and expressing considerable displeasure that the committee that decides such things was willing to wait until the completion of Ahenakew's trial. As we know, that decision was reversed, and the process began, as Newman so charmingly puts it, to have Ahenakew "drummed" out of the Order.

Whoops. Did I say "lobbying?"

Yesterday Lloyd Barber, a former president of the University of Regina, companion of the Order of Canada and the man who originally proposed Ahenakew for membership in the Order, used the l-word himself:

"Don't forget that the Jewish lobby is a very powerful lobby," he said. "It's not the only powerful lobby, but it's a very powerful lobby."

That was asking for trouble, and he got it. According to the Globe, Bernie Farber, executive director of the CJC, went ballistic.

"I find it sad and obscene that anybody in a position of influence or respect in this country would be provoking comment about Jewish conspiracy theories," he said. "It's sick, obscene and anti-Semitic."

Now, hold on a minute. This is where I'm getting bewildered. We know that the CJC advocates publicly for the Jewish community. We know that Peter Newman used his considerable power and prestige to organize support for stripping Ahenakew of his honour; moreover, Newman is not just incidentally Jewish in this matter, although he is quite correct in pointing out that non-Jews were on side as well.

No one should be surprised by this, or even particularly offended. When people feel themselves under attack, they will fight back; and if they happen to be reasonably well-organized and well-placed (in comparison, say, with the Metis activist, John Melenchuk, who went after Jim Pankiw), then they will enjoy substantial success in their efforts.

That's just common sense. The NAACP in the US is an example of an organization that advocated effectively for decades, although it was an uphill battle a good deal of the way. I can't see them being the least bit offended by having their efforts described, in part, as "lobbying." Nor, closer to home, can I imagine outrage at the Assembly of First Nations were it to be described as an Aboriginal lobby group. But somehow the CJC is different. Someone has to explain this to me.

In the meantime, is Lloyd Barber next in line to lose his Order of Canada membership? If so, it will no doubt take organized efforts: advocacy, public statements, letter-writing campaigns. But you mustn't call it lobbying.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The suffering rich

From Australia we learn that rich Aussies are having rather a thin time of it. According to The Australia Institute, dubbed a "left-wing think tank" by the media, only one in five millionaires consider themselves "prosperous." Seven per cent describe themselves as "poor" or "just getting along."

For once, I'm speechless.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The mind of David Ahenakew

What possessed David Ahenakew, decorated war veteran, respected First Nations elder, member of the Order of Canada, to say what he said back in 2002? Has anyone bothered to enquire? Amid the chorus of condemnation, from First Nations leaders, politicians, the Canadian Jewish Congress and B'nai Brith, not a solitary attempt at an explanation appears to have been made.

I'm not referring to wine and anti-diabetic meds, Ahenakew's own excuse. All these did was release something already present. The form it took on release was classic anti-Semitic discourse, a blather of deeply wounding remarks. Once it was all caught on tape, of course, it was game over: an entire lifetime of achievement was wiped out in one day, as though it had never existed.

On the day in question, Ahenakew was addressing a group of members of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, and somehow the subject of Israel came up. He opined that the US and Israel were likely to cause the next world war, a view that, in far more nuanced terms, is a commonplace among critics of American foreign policy in the Middle East and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. We talk of "destabilizing," but Ahenakew was never one to mince words.

Confronted by a reporter afterwards, Ahenakew threw all caution to the winds, as we know, and consequently he attracted an avalanche of opprobrium that has finally buried him. And no one seems to care why he did it.

A little background, courtesy of This Magazine's Alex Roslin. Ahenakew's Cree forebears signed Treaty 6 back in 1877, giving up their vast hunting territory for a small reserve and $5 per person. Farming didn’t work out for them, and starvation and TB soon made their appearance. Indian agents physically abused those who asked for food. In other words, this was just another drearily familiar instance of the slow genocide that Indians, in South and in North America, have suffered for centuries.

Ahenakew was born in the midst of the Great Depression, one of fourteen children. Like many young men without tremendous prospects in a predominantly white society, he joined the military and fought in Korea. He stayed on in the forces, leaving as a sergeant in 1967.

That was a turning-point for him: "I could see that what was happening to our people was the same kind of exploitation and degradation I had seen in Korea and Egypt," he said in 1974. A career in First Nations politics began. Within a year of getting a job at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, he became its youngest chief ever, and was re-elected four times. Along the way he picked up an honorary doctorate from a college he helped to found, and an Order of Canada membership, and he became the founding leader of the Assembly of First Nations in 1982.

But Ahenakew, as a former military man of long standing, held the blunt and reactionary views of so many of the brush-cut set. "He was a bigot in his thinking," a friend said. John Lagimodiere, a First Nations newspaper editor and publisher in Saskatchewan, referred to his "us-and-them kind of talk." The Saskatchewan Star Phoenix’s native affairs columnist, Doug Cuthand, said that Ahenakew's "attitudes towards not just the Jews, but other races and women were fairly backward." Indeed, he had angered First Nations women’s groups in the past by supporting discriminatory Indian Act provisions that stripped women of their status for marrying whites, while native men who married white women kept their status.

Like a Greek tragedy, events seemed to move inexorably to their climax. Ahenakew's view of the world was shaped by both his heritage and his extensive time in the military, neither of which were likely to teach subtlety or agreeable opinions. His life was fuelled by a passionate commitment to the cause of First Nations people, and an unquenchable anger that is entirely understandable. Put a microphone in front of such a person, and you might not like what you hear. In fact, you almost certainly won’t.

For some reason we expect minority leaders to be saintly, with broad, inclusive views--Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings, Cesar Chavezes, Chico Gomezes. We see them as representing their people, which they do, but exemplifying all that we hold true and dear, which they very often don't. We like to identify with charismatic leaders struggling against injustice, but we insist on conflating their lives with our own traditions of saints and martyrs, and we expect them to act accordingly.

We feel betrayed when such public figures are revealed to be merely human. We are angered by any trace of vulgarity, of close-minded thinking and speaking, of bad behaviour, of violent confrontation. We will have our saints, damn it, and heaven help any of their spokespeople who fail to conform. Martin Luther King was our kind of leader; but, folks, Malcolm X was their kind of leader.

We don't get to choose here. We have to take Ahenakew warts and all. Of course First Nations leaders were appalled by his remarks. So was I. Of course there would be consequences. And so there were. But are we not seeing just a hint of a double standard in all this?

John Lagomodiere put the case clearly to Roslin: "If we went wild like that every time someone said something derogatory about aboriginal people, we’d never stop. I think it was overblown." Media coverage was an "outrage," said the vice-chair of the FSIN, Lawrence Joseph. "All of that was said in private to a reporter who pursued it. It should not have even been pursued. We were there to talk about the criminal activities of the government in making Indians sign consent forms for [health] care, a very serious issue, but instead, it’s garbage that hits the news and the front pages." "I feel bad that it was brought out the way it was because it gives people another excuse to lower our category," said Sam Sinclair, a former president of the Metis Association of Canada.

What coverage do First Nations receive in Canada? Perhaps we need to take a lingering look at that question. This is a country where the Lubicon have been battling for a land settlement for decades, betrayed by successive Liberal governments, while their ancestral lands have been ravaged and polluted by multinationals, and tuberculosis has infected one-third--yes, you read that right--of the community.

This is a country where the rights of the Nisg'aa in BC were put to a vote. This is a country where Dudley George was slaughtered by a police officer during a non-violent occupation by native people of their own lands in Ipperwash, and where it took years even to get a public inquiry. This is the country where "starlight tours" took place in Ahenakew's home province. This is the country that deported Leonard Peltier to the USA, where he remains America's perhaps best-known political prisoner.

But what grabs the headlines? Compare the coverage of these and countless other outrages against First Nations peoples to the attention paid to stupid, anti-Semitic remarks by one First Nations leader. Could this simply be a way of collectively excusing ourselves for our centuries of neglect and ill-treatment? Putting a sharp focus on one bigot, instead of writing the eminently newsworthy stories that need to be written about the daily lives of native people in Canada today?

And could it be--could it just be--that the mind of David Ahenakew has been warped, twisted and bent out of shape over the years by the very forces that now triumphantly announce his downfall?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Yellow Peril Redux

Predictably, Margaret Wente is at it again, fussing out loud about Muslim immigration. She's in good company: the present Pope wants to keep the infidels out of Europe too. As the sickening drama of tit-for-tat unfolds around the globe, racist undercurrents are bubbling to the surface.

More than a century ago, the target of this benighted fear-mongering was known as the "yellow peril." Unrestricted Japanese and Chinese immigration was the nightmare then. The Hearst chain ranted against this alleged threat to civilization. Sometimes the phrase "yellow terror" was substituted. Labour leader Samuel Gompers put it in blunt terms by today’s standards: "The superior whites had to exclude the inferior Asiatics, by law, or, if necessary, by force of arms."

Er…sound familiar? Here is Wente: "The bitter truth is that it’s not Tony Blair's support for the war [in Iraq] that’s come back to haunt him, so much as Britain's lenient asylum laws…It's not for nothing that London's nickname is Londonistan.” Across Europe, she continues, "unassimilated Muslims are a growing problem."

Following every incident like the London bombings, Muslim communities in Europe and North America wait for the other shoe to drop, and it doesn't take long--the death threats, the vandalism, the assaults, the smears. These communities are composed of decent folk, who have not been slow to speak out against the attacks. Thank goodness the media is beginning to report this, giving the lie to claims that moderate Muslims have been "silent."

But there is always a handful of columnists, provided with a privileged soapbox by the press, who positively enjoy whipping up intolerance. Bob Fulford over at the National Post has been pounding away on the anti-Muslim drum for some time now: his latest contribution to outreach and understanding was a vitriolic attack on Canadian Muslim leader Mohamed Elmasry, not for failure to denounce the London bombings (he did), but for worrying out loud about the inevitable backlash against ordinary, decent Muslims.

And today we have Margaret Wente, a right-wing American import who had openly derided what she calls Canada's "flourishing racism industry," referring, of course, to our institutional efforts to counter racism. Clearly unsatisfied with merely defaming whole communities this time, she also takes a nutty and libellous swipe at fellow-columnist Rick Salutin, calling him an "apologist for terror."

Good copy, maybe. But lousy, mean-spirited, inflammatory contributions to public debate.