Friday, April 04, 2008

Give peace a chance

Over at Daimnation a reasonably good discussion is taking place about Terry Glavin's latest philippic against the Canadian peace movement. I'll link the latter here, because people need to see for themselves just how one-sided and dishonest Glavin really is. It's not my intention, however, to respond directly to his pages of smears, distortions, Islamist-baiting and tendentious commentary. Instead, I'll confine myself to some of the points made by his supporters at Damian's place, which amount to a handy compendium of prevalent misunderstandings and myths about those of us who want peace--in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

Let me begin by describing my own standpoint, because I reject the notion of objectivity in these matters. I don't think one can simply be "for" peace. We have to take a fairly hard-headed view of current geopolitics and history and choose our positions, tactics and strategy based upon our own values and commitments. So, briefly, I think that the influence of the US imperial power around the world has not been historically benign, and is not so today. I believe that corporate globalism has not proven to be a boon, but generally a curse, to what is still called the "Third World." It is my view, although I am far from alone in this, that our First World overdevelopment is a direct cause of their underdevelopment. I also think that wars have material causes, and terrorism (I shall get back to that misleading term in a moment) has roots that go well beyond personal psychopathology or religious metaphysics.

I must also claim ignorance of the inner workings of the Canadian peace movement. In this matter I am a rank-and-filer, and can speak only from that vantage-point. I've been on peace marches since Canada decided to install Bomarc missiles in 1963, though, so I have been around the block a few times, literally and metaphorically.

Finally, I cannot separate my support of peace initiatives from my progressive social and political agenda. No such separation is possible or desirable. So in that sense the dark imaginings of some critics are probably spot on: the search for peace is not simply a moral, ahistorical one, and the peace movement--actually several movements--have politics.

For the most part, despite Glavin's own bizarre claim that the anti-war movement in Canada lacks a progressive core, the politics is standard progressive fare: anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-sexist and, well, anti-war. The peace movement itself is highly decentralized, unstructured, informal and ad hoc. It's also compulsively inclusive and pragmatic, and insists on the importance of dialogue. (Remember how "Taliban Jack" got his offensive moniker from the screechy Right? He proposed talking to the Taliban. Now, of course, everybody's doing it.)

Now, Glavin can never quite make up his mind whether it's the leadership of the peace movement that he doesn't like, or the rank and file. Maybe it's both. In any case, he never tires of telling untruths about actual demonstrations, although he's far from alone in that. For example, it's almost a meme now that demonstrators march "under" Hezbollah (or Hamas) flags. I've never quite grasped what marching "under" a flag means. One might just as well accuse Hezbollah supporters of marching "under" a United Church banner or a union one. All kinds of people and tendencies assemble as such marches, and when a country is being bombed to smithereens (I'm thinking Lebanon here), it's not surprising that opposition will come together from all quarters. So what?

As noted, I've been around for a while, and I can well remember the red-baiting of anti-war marches in the 'sixties. All that's changed is the Great Satan, so now it's Islamist-baiting instead. The most sinister constructions are placed upon every move the peace movement makes, or is alleged to have made. It's all being run out of Cairo--or Uzbekistan. Moscow gold has no doubt been replaced by petrodollars. I've seen this dreary movie before, and frankly it was better in black and white.

Well, enough introduction: let's deal with the specific criticisms that have surfaced over at Damian's. I quote to avoid charges of misrepresentation.

Organized feminism has clearly decided the plight of Muslim women is secondary to the glorious struggle against the neo-cons and murderous North American patriarchy.

One of the key strategies of the Right in debate is to accuse us of being soft on our own principles. If we aren't out there marching 24/7 and addressing every current cause, we're inconsistent, even hypocritical.

I addressed a classic case of that here--some conservative suddenly acquires a lively interest in gay rights, but only in Iran. Now, that's inconsistent.

I have asked the commenter here to provide evidence of the claim that "organized feminism" (a bit of an oxymoron, I think, like "organized labour," but I digress) is dismissive of Muslim women. I have a raft of evidence to the contrary, but I think I'll wait for his. No reverse onus here, thanks.

You said "but the peace movement is the usual diverse bunch, most of whom want, well, peace." I'll believe it when I see them protesting Iran, China, or any number of other regimes and wars around the world on a consistent basis rather than mostly showing up at the nearest US embassy or consulate. I'll believe it when I see self-described peace activists actually nod their heads in agreement with right-wingers when the right-wingers are describing terrible regimes like China, Iran, N. Korea instead of saying "yeah but the US..."

The pro-Tibet folks include a lot of faces I recognize. But I don't want to skirt the general issue raised.

Let's set the rhetoric aside for a moment. Protesters tend to resist their own governments and government policies. It's not as though Stephen Harper (and the US, in whose policies we are enmeshed) are supporting the Chinese, Iranian and North Korean regimes. They're opposed. So is almost everyone else around, in one way or another. What appears to be expected here, and somewhat disingenuously, is that when we protest a US-led war in Iraq that has claimed thousands of civilian lives (and which has tacit government support), or an ill-thought-out adventure in Afghanistan that has claimed several thousand more civilian lives in a never-ending war that cannot be "won," we must also pass out or otherwise display hundreds of pages of apologetics to explain that we aren't keen on the Chinese colonization of Tibet either, or the juchi idea, or Holocaust-denial, or hanging gays, or beheading journalists, or stoning women.

I thinks it's fair to say that when we march in Canada, it is generally to influence public opinion about official policies right here at home. So, no, you won't find us mobilizing against Kim Jong-il. Why should we? Everybody's already against him. Ditto with the excesses of fundamentalist Islam. Why waste our energy stating the obvious?

3) "The majority of the people at Montreal's protest were condemning Israeli attacks and defending Hezbollah rocket attacks, an attitude common to many of the anti-war protests in Montreal since the beginning of the conflict."

This is a quote from a media source that offers no evidence. But without sidetracking this discussion into a reprise of the Lebanon-Israel war, let me note that the destruction and casualties involved were grossly asymmetrical. Israel was not having its infrastructure flattened, and civilian deaths were a tiny fraction of those in Lebanon. I, for one, am a little tired of the bizarre argument that Israel was the injured party in that war.

Conservatives are always railing against us for alleged feeble "moral equivalence" arguments. Let's end this bit on a note of agreement, then: there was no "moral equivalence" here.

4) If these peace demonstrations are comprised of diverse groups with differing agendas, how do you know that they (as a whole) are a peace movement? As I pointed out earlier, if it was peace they had in common, we'd see a more diverse representation of the TARGETS for protest given world events. Instead, they seem to have a common agenda with a limited choice of targets.

I think this one has been asked and answered. The point about the peace "movement" is well-taken--it's not a cohesive whole. As for targets, while the reference is to geopolitical events, the real "targets" are government action/inaction/policies, and public opinion. As noted already, why protest against Kim Jong-il, for example? There's surely no one around who needs convincing, and no government policy that needs changing.

5) Dawg, you don't consider Galloway left of center because you can't wish away his blatantly pro-Islamist ideology, so the only option available to you is to change his team sweater. I recall you pulling the same stunt in a comment relating to ArtDecco, the flaming anti-Semite commenter at McClelland's blog.

As I grow a little older, I'm persuaded that, while our respective political positions do come in what Glavin calls "ideational packages," these are somewhat less bounded than we on all sides are often prepared to admit. One looks in vain for coherence, sometimes. I don't find George Galloway coherent or consistent. He's a one-man show, sometimes thundering against racism and homophobia, other times doing the same thing against choice on abortion, or rationalizing the deadly homophobia of the Iranian regime. Like Greg Palast, I'll choose my own comrades, Mike, and George isn't one of them.

Same goes for "ArtDecco." He's a mouldy, whiny anti-Semite who bids us read Kevin McDonald to get the "truth" about Jews. No comrade of mine.

6) " '....but the peace movement is the usual diverse bunch, most of whom want, well, peace.'

No they don't. They want the west's militaries confined to barracks. What happens as a consequence of that, they don't much care. How many "peace" rallies during the Rwanda butchery can you come up with for me, Dawg? Where were the "peace" activists who marched by the hundreds of thousands against the UN sanctioned 1991 Gulf War to toss Saddam out of Kuwait? Where were those who took to the streets to protest the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban? Why didn't these so-called peaceniks feel compelled to march in protest and demand western military intervention in Rwanda? I'll tell you why. They already had what they wanted. Western armies weren't in there fighting. Why would they ask for something that is so abhorrent to them?

The US didn't lift a finger to assist in Rwanda, and Bill Clinton in this respect was under no pressure from Mike's camp to intervene--indeed, Bob Dole was adamant at the time that the US should steer clear. So this is pretty rich. Here's a Left take on the matter. Where was Mike back then? And where is he now, as the Left calls for intervention and assistance in Darfur, where another genocide has been going on for quite a while? Have you joined in, Mike? Speak up, please, in the interests of consistency.

7) One doesn't have to believe that the "peace" movement's leadership is populated with closet Islamists, in order to see that the two have made common cause. As I've said many times before, radical Leftist ideologues and Islamist fundamentalists share common enemies. Both groups hate the United States, Israel, and aspects of western society, especially organized Christian religion and market Capitalism.

It's natural, then, for the "peace movement," populated as it is by hard Leftists, to not only refrain from criticizing the murderous, autocratic, misogynist, medieval Islamists, but to join with them in confronting their shared enemies. This is classic " The enemy of enemy is my friend," stuff.

The Left is here being criticized for allegedly having strange bedfellows, just as Glavin and others once denounced Maude Barlow by claiming that some ultra-Right wingnuts agreed with some of her anti-NAFTA stuff. Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the Right is snuggling up with neo-Nazis in its campaign against human rights commissions. And my, aren't they sensitive when you point that out!

There is no Left "alliance" with "
murderous, autocratic, misogynist, medieval Islamists." There is, and I'm quite prepared to concede this, a naive view on the fringe of the Left that any enemy of US imperial power is worthy of support--Mike's "enemy's enemy" and all that. But that's far from universally held. Check out the letter on p.4 here for a vigorous denunciation of that nonsense.

By the way, Mike, we don't "hate" the US or Israel, although we're strongly critical of the way both states behave. I personally don't like organized religion period. Nor capitalism. I plead guilty on that last charge.

8) In geopolitical matters, for us conservatives, radical Islam is the enemy, and the most dangerous threat to the well being of a large percentage of the world's population. For you and your comrades on the far Left, Dawg, you are provoked and angered in the extreme by the foreign policies of the United States and Israel. There simply isn't any rage left over for the monsters of al Qaeda.

Ah, that's better. "Provoked and angered" works better than "hate" for me. As for the monsters of al Qaeda, they wouldn't have arisen, and they wouldn't have anything to feed on, if not for millions of the wretched of the earth whose plight can be laid directly and indirectly at the door of the US and its Middle East beachhead, Israel. These terrorists didn't arise ex nihilo from some metaphysical rupture in history.

An aside: I don't shy away from using the word "terrorist/ism." "But the terms, of course, are always selectively applied. They don't get used when we refer to Iraq sanctions that killed more than a hundred thousand children ("It was worth it," chirped the then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright), or the invasions that have killed thousands upon thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilians, or the millions of deaths in the Iraq-Iran conflict back when the US was backing Saddam Hussein, or the proto-Taliban mujahadin supported by the West against the Soviets.... If I were a brown person in any of those venues, I'd be plenty terrorized, if I were still alive.

The constant knee-jerk Israel-bashing is evident throughout the "peace" movement; same with the tolerance of and occasional bridge-building with those with very regressive social views, so is the transformation of third world reactionaries into heroes of national liberation.

This is a variant of the "anti-Semitic" card played by defenders of the state of Israel when we bring up such troubling events as the shooting of unarmed olive-harvesters in Nablus, the shelling of a kids' zoo in Ramallah, the collective punishments being visited upon Gaza, the wholesale destruction of Lebanese infrastructure, and the continued colonization of the West Bank by government-sanctioned settlers, who now guzzle 80% of the available water, while Palestinian farmers suffer a killing drought.

"Knee-jerk Israel-bashing?" What a pathetic rationalization of brutality!

But as for "bridge-building," I'm all for it. I'd rather jaw-jaw than waw-waw, as some undoubtedly leftist politician once said. Not that this isn't a perilous job--friends of mine went to Libya for a peace conference many moons ago, and discovered they were sharing their plane with, well, a gang of neo-Nazis. Whoops! (It would have been OK, I guess, if they'd been heading off to a free speech rally, but that's a debate for another day.) For now, I can only say that, if Karzai wants to sit down with the Taliban, that's fine with me. Dialogue is better than bombs, even if a lot of the former is of the ineffective, wishful thinking variety.

So, fellow peaceniks, let's plough on in our hopelessly muddled way and ignore the slanders of invaders, crusaders, keyboard warriors and fundamentalists of all stripes. Let's be wary and critical, and avoid weird, cultish excesses. By and large we're on the side of the angels. We want a better world. Don't you wish everybody did?

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