Friday, July 31, 2009
She's been venturing out of her hotel room. People come up to her on the streets and commiserate.
Countdown to the DNA match. And when it checks out, I bet the Canadian consular officials over there won't even break a sweat. Friends in high places.
Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinistas who took power in 1979, made a deal with the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.
Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo had helped to arrange his removal the first time around, in 1990. Ortega won the election in 2006, with Obando's support.
All he had to do was promise to injure and kill girls and women.
He's kept up his end of the bargain.
In a twist on the concept of “projecting” that might make Carl Jung’s head spin, it was in fact (Irish-American) Chris Matthews who was desperately “projecting” in this particular instance. For contrary to his and Robinson’s stubborn assertions, Professor Gates is not above using the “jive talk” expression “your momma.”
In fact, Gates can be heard using the phrase here, in a video NewsRealBlog commented on earlier this week.
Here it is, in context:
At one point Gates tells his audience:
What we’re trying to do is end ‘your mamma’ and ‘your daddy criticism,’ which is what African-Americans quite frankly have mastered in for 250 years.
While his precise meaning isn’t entirely clear, the comment faintly echoes Gates’ sarcastic reply to his arresting officer last week, when he was asked to step outside: “Ya, I’ll speak to your momma outside.” [emphasis added]
I rest my case.
The first was moulded by class, "race," hierarchy, and an intersection of the powers that all of those things generate. A relatively privileged Black man, a white police officer, state force, cultural and social capital clashed. In the clamour humanity was lost: discourses of the day took over, as though words spoke the people involved.
The second bracketed all of those things. When the President of the United States shoos away the media, rolls up his shirtsleeves and knocks back a cold one with you, something different becomes possible. Sgt. James Crowley left his lawyer and his union rep outside. He and Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. left their families somewhere in the White House. The President brought along his Vice-President, perhaps (since this on-going narrative is shot through with racial themes) to make Crowley feel more comfortable, although I speculate.
And they talked. And, more importantly, perhaps, they may have listened.
A reader accused me of pining for the Kumbaya moment, but nothing could be further from the truth. We are what we are, shaped by the same forces that led to that first conversation. The President is still the President, the Professor still the Professor, the Sergeant still the Sergeant: these titles are more than empty abstractions, they are place-markers. Once again different worlds converged, but those worlds were not transformed. Scales do not fall from eyes and angel choirs sing when four men sit down for a beer or two.
But the extraordinary circumstances of the meeting, even its artifice, offer up possibilities. "Race" is one of the most salient characteristics of American culture, and its most intractable problem. And Obama, whose presidential performance has quickly and inevitably been shaped by the machine, and has therefore disappointed, showed nothing less than brilliant leadership on this occasion.
The substance of the conversation remains private, and the media have wondered aloud in bewildered fashion where the "teachable moment" might be. It was right in front of them, of course. The very fact that a conversation of this kind took place, uncomfortable as it might have been in some respects, teaches much. And from it much can be learned.
The complex structures of society, permeated as they are with power relationships and inequalities, institutional and individual, cannot be wished away. But neither are they static. Up to now, Americans have taken two general approaches to the "race" question: they have either pretended it isn't there--as in the cant phrase "post-racial"--or they have retreated into the polarizing discourses of "race," well-worn rhetorical moves that define the problem but have not begun to resolve it.
Now, placed before everyone, is another approach, modeled at the very highest level of American society: slowing down, catching one's breath, and talking from the heart. One iconic conversation may well lead to others. Talking, of course, has little effect by itself on the vast structures of unequal relations that characterize the post-industrial global matrix. But talking inevitably gives rise to projected possibilities, and those, ultimately, to action.
Of course the conversations about this conversation will also have their place, although so many of them are off the mark. But I liked what Sgt. Crowley had to say at his press conference after the meet, amid a flurry of platitudes about agreeing to disagree and not dwelling in the past and looking forward to the future, and so on. He said he would like to take "a few days off to reflect on the events of the past couple of weeks."
That's where it begins.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
B'nai Brith's energetic Frank Dimant strikes back in today's National Post, defending the notion that tearing up Carleton University's teaching contract with Hassan Diab was right and proper.
[T]he Canadian Association of University Teachers is decrying Carleton for caving in to "external pressure." Which leads me to ask: Are the general public, parents and students themselves, who are most directly affected, to be dismissed as merely "external" players and denied a voice?
Dimant's self-imposed mandate, it seems, goes well beyond that of his own organization. Now he presumes to speak for "the general public, parents and students," who have inconveniently remained silent on the subject thus far.
He suggests that Diab's bail conditions are sufficiently onerous to raise a red flag about his "potential danger to Canadians," but somehow misses the fact that those self-same bail conditions permitted Diab to teach at Carleton in the first place. But what is this "potential danger?"
We get a flurry of apples-and-oranges comparisons. All of them refer to people charged with committing various harms who are prudently denied the means and opportunity to do the same kind of harm, pending a trial. There are accused hit-and-run drivers on his list, and police officers and teachers, not to mention wife-beaters and pedophiles. But to make these comparisons work, Dimant would have to show that Diab posed a danger to the students he was teaching.
He is not suggesting--at least I don't think he is--that Diab was about to wear a suicide belt to class. Here, instead, is the nub of his concern:
Were he permitted to teach, he would be in regular, ongoing, daily contact with students, some of whom are Jewish and already feel the stigma of being marginalized on campus.
Somehow, his theory seems to run, an introductory course in sociology might be transformed into a mental weapon of some kind. Worse, Diab, who has never been cited by anyone as having uttered a single anti-Semitic remark, would be teaching Jewish students.
Common sense...would seem to dictate a cautionary route that does not expose the public, especially vulnerable and impressionable young persons, to individuals facing possible conviction unless and until they are exonerated. The student population at Carleton certainly falls under this category. [Emphasis added]
And there you have it. The threat that Diab allegedly posed was not physical, but intellectual. How reassuring to have nice folks like Frank Dimant around to protect us just in case we might be exposed to troubling thoughts and ideas. Not that Diab showed signs of proffering anything more destabilizing than a sociology course--but best take no chances. Those things can go off.
[H/t reader Marky Mark]
UPDATE: (July 30) The Ottawa Citizen suggests that Diab is a physical danger to his students, and that hiring him in the first place was an anti-Semitic act. I believe this is what psychiatrists call "communicated insanity."
Meanwhile, my department is up in arms.
A few items of note:
- Eric Posner, at The Volokh Conspiracy, eviscerates Sgt. James Crowley's arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates.
- As noted yesterday, the Canadian Association of University Teachers has issued a harshly-worded denunciation of Carleton University's decision to breach its contract with Hassan Diab. This is all over the media this morning, and I'm glad to learn that my department Chair, Peter Gose, has been equally blunt: he called Diab's abrupt dismissal "appalling, a terrible injustice and fundamental breach of natural justice to terminate a contract without notice or consultation."
CAUT is actively considering placing my school under censure. I hope that Carleton is able to recover from President Roseann Runte's disastrous leadership. Why not send her a polite note of protest?
- Suaad Hagi Mohamud's ex-husband and son have now provided DNA samples to match against her own. Results are expected in ten working days. Remember, you read it here first: when the samples match, DFAIT will demand to know how the "impostor" has managed to switch places with the "real" Mohamud--for the second time!
- The Security Intelligence Review Committee, which oversees CSIS, will conduct a full probe into CSIS' involvement in the Abousfian Abdelrazik affair. This follows its recent criticism of the agency for its interrogation of Omar Khadr, and stinging rebukes of CSIS by two federal justices for concealing exculpatory evidence in the cases of Mohamed Harkat and Hassan Almrei.
High time: the agency is clearly out of control. But will SIRC follow up, or let CSIS lie--as it were? Have things changed that much from twelve years ago, when the following was written?
[T]he current system of oversight does not work well. SIRC cannot and does not speak directly to Parliament regarding either CSIS or on intelligence matters more broadly. It simply does not have the mandate. As a result, a lack of trust has developed in the institution's ability to review and monitor the agency in its charge. Clearly this view is now shared widely among MP's of all parties, many in the media, and among the public at large. Trust is the crucial issue on which the success of institutions like SIRC rests. That SIRC is now demonstrating that it is a competent researcher should be a sine qua non, not a rationalization for its future existence. Without a broad level of trust, there will be calls for its abolition, which in the end may prove insurmountable.
At present, one must observe that the relationship between SIRC and CSIS has, at least until the Khadr report, been rather...collegial.
- André Picard dismantles the brazen performance of anti-medicare shill Shona Holmes, and reminds us--as if we needed reminding--that Canada has a health care system, while the US has health care for those who can afford to pay for it.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Crowley has decided to bring along Dennis O’Connor, president of the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, and Alan McDonald, lawyer for the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Police Coalition.
This could have been a civil conversation among three human beings, and everyone present might have learned something and shared much. But the unofficial nature of the meet was key. With Sgt. Crowley bringing backup, the occasion now takes on a stiff and formal air.
As a union representative myself back in the day, there could be no such thing as a completely unofficial meeting when I accompanied a member. Calling for my presence automatically meant a guards-up approach, even if some meetings were more relaxed than others. The presence of these two officials ensures that the event will be far less than what could have been. There will be no unburdening of the soul here, no serious self-reflection; little nuance or depth or wrestling with ambiguities.
Why would the White House even agree to this? Was it a condition of Sgt. Crowley's presence? Did he feel outnumbered by sitting at a table with two Black men?
We would likely never have been privy to all that transpired among these three individuals of vastly different backgrounds wrestling with a profound common problem over a beer or two, and letting their hair down to do it. Nevertheless I feel deeply disappointed. An opportunity for authentic dialogue has been missed. And those opportunities are rare and precious and pregnant with possibility.
Weighing in on the mini-controversy over Carleton University and its hiring/firing of Hassan Diab, David B. Harris pens an op-ed in today's Ottawa Citizen slamming Carleton for its initial hiring decision.
Who is David B. Harris?
He was once the chief of strategic planning at CSIS. Reading him gives us, I think, some insight into the way CSIS sees the world, and why Canadian citizens like Abousfian Abdelrazik have been hounded and mistreated by this agency.
Harris is the president of something called Democracy House, and a counsel to the infamous Canadian Coalition for Democracies. He is also currently the president of INSIGNIS Strategic Research, where he appears to work as a full-time conspiracy theorist. To get the flavour, as it were, here is a reprint of an article he wrote last year. Here's another, including a claim from his CCD buddy Salim Mansur that the NDP has "gone to bed with Islamists," lengthier blathering of a similar kind from Tarek Fatah, and, for good measure, a swipe at the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
In yet another piece, posted at the CCD website (now taken down), he claimed that terrorists had infiltrated the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the U.S. Muslim military chaplain corps, the White House, Homeland Security, the U.S. Air Force, Guantanamo, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons--and in Canada, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Quebec NDP.
Harris' article today is equally full of sound and fury. Carleton wasn't obliged to offer Diab a contract, he says. The fact that the Department of Sociology and Anthropology did so indicates that Something Is Going On. (Disclosure: I'm a grad student in that department at the moment.)
He raises a couple of hypotheticals: should a professor who is facing charges of having harassed a student be permitted to teach? What about an alleged war criminal? Yet in neither case can the unproven nature of the assertions merely be wished away as Harris would evidently like to do. The overriding question here is, should a mere accusation be sufficient to deny someone the right to a livelihood?
But breezing right by that, he continues on: "Other considerations make this matter curious." [Cue ominous music.] Carleton is inclusive, he says, "to a near-fault." He sneers at the university's website home page for showing six flags, "none of them Canadian, of course." And he introduces us to the loony David Horowitz, who believes that networks of left-wing professors are effectively banning conservatives from teaching, while affecting a mild skepticism: "True or not, it would not seem unheard-of to find personal factors figuring in hiring decisions."
So, the question: why did elite sociologists exert themselves to employ someone in Diab's position? Was this one of those brave, cost-free acts of bourgeois "resistance" and bravura -- a cheap political, moral or other self-regarding statement made on the public tab? Or simply an extraordinary failure of due diligence?
Or was it some of this, and something else?
[More ominous music.]
The "something else," however, quickly proves to be not a terrorist conspiracy, but a suggestion of unfair hiring practices by the department, because Diab's common-law spouse teaches there. And so the article ends, not with a bang but with the flabbiest of conclusions:
[T]his is about issues of administrative and academic ethics, principles, standards and -- especially -- consistency involved in a hiring at a public institution, not about the guilt or otherwise of an individual.
Taken together, these issues have raised questions about the credibility and integrity of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and of Carleton University itself. Taxpayers, alumni and parents are owed an explanation.What was the Ottawa Citizen thinking? It's a topsy-turvy world these days when I have to wander over to the National Post for a breath of sanity.
UPDATE: The Canadian Association of University Teachers weighs in, with a bitter condemnation of Carleton's "blatant disregard of the principles of natural justice and due process, the legal right of an accused to the presumption of innocence, and the responsibility of a university to protect its autonomy from inappropriate outside pressure."
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
B'nai Brith Canada had issued a statement of its own Tuesday, saying it was “deeply disturbed” that Mr. [Hassan] Diab was teaching “impressionable students” at Carleton.
"Canadians should be extremely concerned that an alleged terrorist, accused of committing ... heinous acts, will be teaching our youth at a leading Canadian university," said Frank Dimant, B'nai Brith Canada's executive vice-president.
"This man, who is wanted in France and currently out on bail while the investigation continues, is accused of murdering four people in cold blood just because they were Jewish and decided to worship in a synagogue.
"We find it deplorable that university officials believe that there is nothing wrong with employing Diab. The safety and security of the community as a whole, and of the Carleton University campus in particular, are of great concern to us".
Diab's teaching duties became public yesterday. By today, he had been given the heave:
The school had confirmed to CBC earlier on Tuesday through email that Diab would be teaching an introductory course in sociology but sent out another release later in the day saying Diab had been replaced.
The school's statement said the decision had been made "in the interest of providing its students with a stable, productive academic environment that is conducive to learning."Obviously if Diab committed the acts of which he is accused, he should suffer the maximum punishment that French law allows. But there's this vexing little matter of...a trial.
"Innocent until proven guilty?" Not these days. At least, not at Carleton University. That's so last century--like freedom of expression.
UPDATE: (July 29) Hell has once again frozen over. The National Post agrees.
The government's case, thin to begin with, is crumbling by the minute. Apparently the theory floating around Justice Department circles is that she lent her passport to a lookalike, maybe a sister (although all of her sisters live in Europe). The lookalike, whoever she is, was taken into custody and charged.
The real Suaad Hagi Mohamud is supposedly nowhere to be found, even though she apparently talks regularly with her 12-year-old son. But maybe he's part of the conspiracy to exchange Mohamuds.
Hence all this anthropometry. And when the DNA matches, what's the next excuse--that the son and ex-husband are impostors, too?
It appears--brace yourself--that the police officer who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, lied in his police report. (He also gave quite a bit away in that report about his actions on the scene.)
It seems that the woman who made the 911 call that started the whole chain of events has had quite enough of being called a racist by bloggers and columnists. In fact she made no reference at all to the race of the two gentlemen trying to get into Dr. Gates' residence until pressed by the 911 operator, and then said only that one of the men looked "kind of Hispanic." She stated that she wasn't quite sure what was happening, and also that there were two suitcases on the porch.
Sgt. Crowley, on the other hand, stated in his police report that, in conversation with him, she had identified "two Black men with backpacks." She denies this categorically.
Then there's the matter of Gates' alleged yelling at the officer. Tapes of Crowley's radio transmissions released by the Cambridge police department indicate no such thing. Yet, in his report, Crowley claims that "[m]y reason for wanting to leave the residence was that Gates was yelling very loud and the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer were making it difficult for me to transmit pertinent information to ECC or other responding units." The acoustics were not, however, sufficient to allow this alleged "yelling" to be picked up on tape.
Gates himself claims that he had a bronchial infection that made yelling physically impossible for him.
Crowley had also called for a police wagon while inside the house. One wonders why he would have done so, given that no crime was in progress. Clearly he foresaw an arrest--but for what?
Once he had ascertained Gates' identity--Gates showed him ID--what was his response? To leave? No--to call for the Harvard police to attend the residence as well: "Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, I radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University police."
Pretty soon a number of police vehicles was on the scene. And this was after Gates had identified himself and the officer was satisfied enough with the ID to accept that Gates was who he said he was, and was affiliated with Harvard.
There are two good pieces of analysis here and here [h/t reader Gordon S]. Readers might be surprised that I am more inclined to go along with the second one. I am speculating, but I think what likely happened was this:
Sgt. Crowley has, by all accounts, a good rep in the Cambridge police department. Even given the automatic closing of ranks that happens when a cop is publicly criticized, there is little doubt in my mind that he is an above-average officer, who likely prides himself on being open-minded and tolerant, and has actually taught a course on how to avoid racial profiling.
Such people are particularly sensitive when they are called racists, and Gates may well have called him one at some point. That was an attack on his amour propre. All that hard work trying to understand racist attitudes and to become aware of them in oneself as well as in others, and to adjust accordingly, goes for naught. It feels like a fundamental assault on one's character.
Normally one has to suck that up and move on--or recognize that the rising anger in oneself might be defensive rather than justified, calling for even more introspection and reflection. But in this case, Crowley had the authority of a uniform and a badge. Gates was guilty of contempt of cop, and that was that. The officer decided very early on in the game that he was going to arrest this man, even after he had learned that no crime had been committed. His own report is quite revealing in that respect.
Clearly this entire saga is to some extent a racial narrative. But to a very large extent it has been racialized by actors who were not even at the scene. Leaving race aside, if that's possible, a man mouthed off to a cop, didn't show due deference, and paid the price. The officer felt insulted, he became angry, and his actions--including lying in a police report--followed.
After that, of course, the battle lines were drawn. The Right did what it usually does: attacking Gates' character, his politics, his scholarship, even his probity--check out this classic Wall Street Journal smear, for example. The Left, in some instances, reduced the whole thing to a simple case of racial profiling. It's obviously more complicated than that.
Meanwhile the two principals in this affair will be having a beer with the President of the United States, and I would give my eyeteeth to be a mouse in the corner. Because that promises to be one interesting conversation.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Guess who's the senior planner for the so-called "Integrated Security Unit" being run by the RCMP on behalf of the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee (VANOC)?
Hugh Stewart. Yup, the sadistic cop who pepper-sprayed non-violent students--and a CBC cameraman--during the APEC protests in Vancouver in 1997. Doesn't that just set the tone for policing before and during the games in 2010?
So it should come as no surprise that the hammer is being dropped, even as I write this, on anyone critical of that monument to hucksters' ethics, the Vancouver Olympic Games. RCMP officers have questioned twenty activists so far about their political beliefs, knocking on their doors to have a little chat.
Olympic critic Chris Shaw has been subject to continual police shadowing on what we might call the Chinese model. He is a UBC professor who was incautious enough to write a book that was less than favourable to the Vancouver Games. Shaw has been approached by plain-clothes cops, stopped in his vehicle, even detained at Heathrow Airport in London en route to a speaking engagement.
On one occasion two police officers detained him outside a coffee shop in Vancouver. One told him that he didn't like Shaw's book. The Mounties are hiring literary critics now?
Last word to Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham:
When Chinese security made surprise "visits" to activists, it was front-page news worldwide with screaming headlines about the repressive, autocratic, military dictatorship.
It should be no different this year.
Canadians ought to be furious with politicians for letting it get this far. We should be jamming their e-mail, voice mail and snail-mail boxes in protest.
This is Canada. We're not like China; not like Iran. At least, not yet.
Driving a taxicab is one of the most dangerous occupations in Canada. Assault is a daily occupational hazard. And even with unionization, cabbies (and their families) suffer when they are forced off the job by the injuries they receive.
In Ottawa, two cab drivers have recently been hurt on the job. I wrote about one of them, Sami Aldoboni, here. His alleged assailant, Shyldon Safruk, is an Ottawa cop. Safruk is now facing assault charges, but, unlike Aldoboni, continues to receive full pay. The second case is more usual: two thugs, both "known to police," beat up Abdinsaq Abdullahi on Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa after he had the temerity to ask for his fare. He remains in hospital.
Neither of the drivers, under current Ontario Workers Safety and Insurance Board rules, qualifies for worker's compensation, if you can believe it. (Are they "workers" or "independent operators?") While bureaucrats fiddle, these workers and their families go without.
The cabbies' union, CAW Local 1688, is asking for donations to help the drivers and their families. Please make out a cheque or a money order to "Taxicab Drivers' Relief Account" and send it to:
The Taxicab Drivers' Relief Account
CAW Local 1688
205-700 Industrial Avenue
Ottawa, ON K2G 0Y9.
For further information, contact Yusef Al-Mezel, President, Local 1688 at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 613.739.0900.
Many thanks in advance.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The racist Right is never satisfied simply to argue a case: when a Black person is involved, it's important to cut the uppity nigra down to size.
We now know that the police officer involved in US scholar Henry Gates' arrest simply made stuff up. Whether he was racist, consciously or unconsciously, Sgt. James Crawley didn't like being told off, and he abused his authority.
But Steyn, naturally, thinks Gates, that "Ivy League bigshot," that "blowhard grievance-monger," was the villain of the piece, and he uses this occasion to hack away at the über-uppity nigra Barack Obama as well. A twofer. And in a haughty couple of paragraphs of his poisonous column, he sees fit to attack Gates' credibility as a scholar, which is a bit rich coming from a former disc jockey who dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen.
In an attempt to nullify Henry Louis Gates' lifetime of major achievement, the far-right polemicist and intellectual wannabe mocks his better thus:
As to the differences between the professor's and the cops' version of events, I confess I've been wary of taking Henry Louis Gates at his word ever since, almost two decades back, the literary scholar compared the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew to those of the Bard of Avon. "It's like Shakespeare's 'My love is like a red, red rose,'" he declared, authoritatively, to a court in Fort Lauderdale.
As it happens, "My luv's like a red, red rose" was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. 16th century English playwright, 18th century Scottish poet: What's the diff? Evidently being within the same quarter-millennium and right general patch of the North-East Atlantic is close enough for a professor of English and Afro-American Studies appearing as an expert witness in a court case. Certainly no journalist reporting Gates' testimony was boorish enough to point out the misattribution.
No journalist was necessary, in fact: Gates himself did the job. On November 11, 1990, the New Republic's "Notebook" column took Gates to task for testifying in the obscenity trial that Steyn mentions:
Which leaves only the matter of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the critic who has risen to snatch cultural defeat from the jaws of cultural victory. Gates testified that 2 Live Crew's genital obsessions are to be justified as art, more specifically as parody. He observed that Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Joyce also used "lewd words," though he failed to observe that lewd words were not the only words that they used. Gates instructed the jury on metaphor: "It's like Shakespeare's 'My love is like a red, red rose.' That doesn't mean your love is red and has petals. No, it means your love is beautiful." Thus, the verse "Suck this dick, bitch, and make it puke" doesn't mean, if we understand Gates correctly, that the poet has a penis whose similarity to a throat should not be lost upon a woman who reminds him of a dog. No, it means--well, what it means is perfectly clear. There are few sights sorrier than the sight of an intellectual in solidarity with the street. And Gates's comparison of Shakespeare to 2 Live Crew comes at a time when the national college dropout rate for blacks is 70 percent. What effect does this black teacher think he is having upon the 30 percent who remain, who have left the extraordinary obstacles behind them and finally opened their Riverside Shakespeare? And all this time these kids thought they were in college to raise themselves up.
In response, Gates wrote the following letter, published in the New Republic on December 3:
Concerning your Notebook item on the recent Mapplethorpe and 2 Live Crew obscenity trials (November 12): when I was asked if there were instances of lewd language in Western literature, I cited a few obvious figures (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Joyce). This observation shows that lewd language isn't ipso facto proof of obscenity. That's all it shows. In no way did I "compare" 2 Live Crew to Shakespeare. Indeed, when the prosecutor asked me if I meant to compare the two, I explicitly rejected this absurdity. (You should have nailed me for my real gaffe--misattributing Robert Burns's best known line, incredibly enough.) [emphasis added]
I did argue that Luther Campbell's outlandish display of black macho made sexism look silly and repellent, not attractive; the jury agreed with my "Archie Bunker" defense and voted to acquit. In the Cincinnati trial, Janet Kardon, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, found aesthetic value in the "centrality of the forearm" in a Mapplethorpe photograph of a couple "fisting." Faced with such expert testimony, the jury voted to acquit. So the system worked, right?
Wrong. This is a system in which First Amendment protection hinges on the interpretation of critics and curators--a sorry state of affairs. According to Miller v. California, material that a community finds prurient and offensive (by "local standards") is not entitled to First Amendment protection. Exceptions are made only if the material has serious artistic, literary, political, or scientific value (as determined by "objective" standards: hence the juridical role of the "expert" witness).
The political climate for freedom of expression in this country is equally pessimistic. Campus activists seek to ban offensive "hate speech" instead of combating it the old-fashioned way--with more speech. Jesse Helms uses the same language as these liberal activists to draft his legislation.
People will continue to debate the racial and sexual politics of Mapplethorpe's portraits: Does his "fetishistic" focus on the massive genitals of his black subjects propagate insidious stereotypes of black male sexuality? People will continue to debate the racial and sexual politics of dirty rap performers: How can you tell parody from the thing parodied? And while the ultimate justification for Kardon's and my testimony may be that the First Amendment prevailed in both cases, ours is hardly the last word on the subject. But isn't it nice when you can decide for yourself? --HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.
Ironic, isn't it? In his rush to give the white cop the benefit of his flawed judgement, Steyn throws an ally under the bus--for here was Gates, embracing the First Amendment, making arguments that would normally have Speech Warriors™ like Steyn on their feet applauding. Race, however, apparently trumps free speech for Steyn, and the yahoos are lapping it up like cream.
But then, I've never really taken Steyn's word for anything since, far more recently, he lied about Canadian Human Rights Commission employee Dean Steacy, accusing him of criminal activity in the pages of Maclean's magazine. PC notions like "evidence" and "proof" don't seem to be part of Steyn's vocabulary, at least when it comes to CHRC staff, Muslims allegedly breeding like rabbits, and Black folks having the nerve to earn major academic reputations, stand up to officious cops in their own houses--and even become President of the United States.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Where is the proof that the man calling the shots at DFAIT today is really Lawrence Cannon? How do we know that he's even a Canadian citizen?
Friday, July 24, 2009
If it weren't for the strain on Mohamud and her 12-year-old son, this could be taken as low comedy. Her lips and her glasses, she was told, don't pass muster.
Two consular officials, present at the short Kenyan court hearing today, refused to speak with a Toronto Star reporter, give their names or even shake hands. Maybe they've seen the writing on the wall.
Overbearing police officer, drunk on authority, muscles a semi-handicapped older Black man around on his own property, makes a bogus arrest, and then discovers that his target is simply swimming in social and cultural capital, to the point that the President of the United States weighs in on his side. Uh-oh.
And good for Henry Gates for standing up for himself.
Whoa, not so fast.
The Uncle Toms are emerging. Here's Mansfield Frazier of the Daily Beast:
Back in the day, our parents gave us similar advice to survive such encounters: “Take low.” If a police officer is dogging you out, simply suck it up and accept it. Don’t display anger; don’t “buck,” as the old folks used to say; don’t look them in the eye and stand up for your rights. In other words, don’t do anything that will cause you to wind up as a statistic on a police blotter.
Sure, and why not do a buck-and-wing and holler "Yowza" while you're at it.
Cops will lock up anyone who continues to mouth off, be they black or white. Gates should have kept his cool and addressed his concerns in another, calmer, manner. His position at Harvard ensures that he would have been heard—much more so than the average black man. He had access to redress that other blacks lack.
And here's a senior editor of Mother Jones, if you can believe it--a white man giving the bla' folks the benefit of his advice:
You don't talk back to the police. You don't question them. And you certainly don't call them racist, even if you think they're profiling you. (And they most likely are.)
Because you will lose. It doesn't matter whether you're a prominent black Harvard prof, a white kid on his way to attend graduate school or a Hispanic high-school dropout. I understand the indignation of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard prof arrested last week on disorderly conduct charges, which were dropped after an officer established that Mr. Gates had not broken into his own Cambridge, Mass., home. Mr. Gates, however, has clout in the Cambridge community, and he could have brought his complaints straight to the brass or to local politicians. (And speaking of clout, even Barack Obama weighed in on the Gates case during a White House news conference on Wednesday – he accused the police of acting “stupidly.”)
But get righteous on a street cop and you will lose every single time. Henry Gates should have known as much.Luckily for Blacks in America, Martin Luther King didn't take this well-meaning counsel. He didn't cuss the cops out, but he didn't take any guff from them either. Nor did the Black Panthers, guns in hand, standing up to the local rednecks. After all this time, I still like Bobby Seale and his brash prose. Here is his description of Huey Newton in the early days:
Huey P. Newton, Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, the baddest motherfucker ever to set foot in history. Huey P. Newton, the brother, black man, a nigger, the descendant of slaves, who stood up in the heart of the ghetto, at night, in alleys, confronted by racist pigs with guns and said: "My name is Huey P. Newton. I'm the Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party. I'm standing on my constitutional rights. I'm not going to allow you to brutalize me. I'm going to stop you from brutalizing my people. You got your gun, pig, I got mine. If you shoot at me, I'm shooting back.
Never mind what happened much later to the Black Panther Party. Like many revolutionary organizations, it fell apart, assisted in this case by COINTELPRO. But the message is clear, and it's the one our parents told us: stand up to the bullies.
It is entirely true that police forces are largely unaccountable to the communities that they are sworn to serve and protect. The accountability mechanisms aren't there because they are stoutly resisted by the police themselves and their friends in politics. So communities have been forced to build their own grassroots accountability mechanisms--in Ottawa, the Ottawa Witness Group observes, records and reports on police behaviour at demonstrations; there's the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition; and in Vancouver, there's PIVOT.
But it is on an individual level that we must begin. Police officers, far too often, expect automatic deference to their authority, even when it is exercised inappropriately or illegally. They bluff and bluster and think nobody knows their rights. It's salutary to see what happens when they meet people who do. An exchange, at a "Public Service Appreciation Week" event held in a tent on Ottawa's LeBreton Flats during a period of tense public service collective bargaining:
Police officer: You aren't allowed to bring picket signs here. You'll have to leave.
Picketer: What law are we breaking?
Police officer: You're trespassing.
Picketer: Well, officer, you know that only the owner of a property can initiate a trespassing complaint.
Police officer: OK, then, I'm going to call the owners right now.
Picketer: Fine, then. We'll just proceed until you hear back.
Second police officer: You just wait right here!
Picketer: Are we under arrest?
Second police officer (looking sheepish): No.
Picketer: Good-bye. (the picketing continues)
Of course you have to be strategic--you don't walk into a police station and mouth off (although I've done so and left unscathed). You don't take on riot cops in full gear. But simply accept bullying, tug our forelocks and suck it up?
No one should do that, black or white or any other colour. Because if we accept the advice quoted earlier, nothing will ever, ever change. The bullies will rule the communities, and social hierarchies will continue to be brutally enforced.
The secret of change? Know your rights. And give them plenty of fresh air and exercise.
UPDATE: Excellent article here on the Henry Gates case. [H/t Bene Diction]
UPPERDATE: (July 26) It seems that the "outstanding officer" in the case, Sgt. James Crowley, might have some 'splainin' to do. Should have stuck with your gut, Obama. [H/t LuLu]
Thursday, July 23, 2009
While not calling for a moratorium on their use, which is admittedly disappointing, Justice Braidwood found that the weapons can indeed cause death, the risk of which is increased if the electric shock is delivered in the chest area, or is used multiple times. He was deeply critical of the BC government, moreover, for having "abdicated its responsibility to set provincial standards."
Braidwood stated that Tasers should only be used if there is an imminent threat of bodily harm, a higher bar than the one presently in effect for many police forces, who use the weapon in cases of "active resistance"--such as walking or running away from police. Or, as those of us who have followed its use have observed, being asleep in a car, or a 15-year-old Inuk girl handcuffed to the floor in a jail cell, or a woman with two kids on her lap, or a disabled Native man who refused to remove a ceremonial necklace*, or an 82-year-old heart patient in a hospital bed, or a fare-dodger on public transport.
As reported, among Braidwood's nineteen recommendations are these:
- Tasers should only be used for truly criminal situations, and not to enforce municipal or provincial bylaws.
- Stun guns must only be administered in cases of bodily harm, or where that risk is imminent, for the officer or for others nearby.
- Officers should get crisis intervention training to ensure they can use other avenues to de-escalate tense situations.
- A suspect should not be shocked for longer than five seconds.
- Paramedics should be called immediately in situations deemed "medically high-risk."
- Officers using Tasers should carry a heart defibrillator.
*Globe & Mail, 30 May 2008 (link disabled).
Calling CSIS "Canada's Mukhābarāt," he described what life was like for him in Montreal immediately following 9/11. CSIS agents began to hound him and his family, going so far as to pester his wife in hospital, where she was dying of cancer. They offered her "better cancer treatment in the US" if she would cooperate in their investigation of Abdelrazik. She told them that if they had any evidence that he'd done anything wrong, they should charge him.
When he received news that his mother was ill in Sudan, he decided to visit her, partly, he said, to get away from relentless CSIS persecution. Two CSIS agents came to his apartment for one last visit, asking him where he was off to, and then answering their own question--Sudan.
The exasperated Abdelrazik called the police to remove the agents from his premises. One told him, "You will see."
He arrived in Sudan on March 4, 2003. He visited his family and everything seemed normal, he said. Then he was kidnapped by Sudanese military intelligence, and kept in a tiny cell for 12 days, during which time no one asked him anything at all. Then he was brought out for interrogation.
He was asked questions by the Sudanese, not about Sudan, but about people in Montreal. He spent the next few months in prison. In October, 2003, he was brought into a room with two CSIS agents, one of whom had visited his apartment in Montreal, who said, "Remember I told you in Montreal you will see, and now you will see."
He underwent two days of interrogation, during which time the same questions were asked as the ones put to him earlier by the Sudanese. He said he wanted to rejoin his family in Canada. "You're Sudanese, not Canadian," one of the agents said. "My country doesn't need you." He told the agents he was willing to face any charges they might wish to bring. The response: "Sudan will be your Guantanamo."
He was returned to prison, and the real torture started: beatings, being tied to the door-frame of his cell, months of isolation. By the end of March, 2004, he had reached his limit, as he put it, pleading to have a lawyer and be brought to trial. There will be no lawyer and no trial, he was told, and if he didn't shut his mouth there would be "difficulties." He was released from this first period of detention in July, 2004.
At that point he was desperate to get back to Canada, but a consular official told him, "Why? Sudan is your country."
In November 2005, he was contacted by Sudanese military intelligence, who said they had received some documents from Canada and would appreciate having a chat with him. Abdelrazik stopped by the Canadian Embassy and spoke with the Ambassador, saying he didn't want to be re-arrested and sent to jail again. The Ambassador said he had been given assurances that this would not happen, but of course it did. He was able to call the Ambassador to let him know, before his cellphone was taken away
Nine more months of confinement followed, in a prison notorious even in Sudan as a place where people are simply forgotten about. He was beaten with a hose, tied up, and contracted both malaria and typhoid: in a marvellous bit of understatement, he said that at this point he was suffering "depression."
In July, 2006, he was released from prison for the second time. The Sudanese, who had, it seems, been holding him on CSIS' say-so, were no longer convinced he was guilty of anything.
He spent the next three years trying to return to Canada.
In March, 2008, he met Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai in the Canadian Embassy, who proceeded to interrogate him about links with Osama bin Laden, and what he thought about 9/11, and his opinions of Israel and Hamas. He was told that he wouldn't get any assistance if he didn't cooperate. He showed Obhrai scars from his torture, and was amazed: Obhrai showed absolutely no reaction and walked away.
A month later, Abdelrazik decided to go public. Given that his mistreatment at the hands of the Sudanese would be a significant part of his story, his lawyers in Canada advised him to seek refuge at the Canadian Embassy, which he did. "It felt like another prison," he said.
Answering questions after his statement, Abdelrazik said that "physically, I am here, but I'm still on the list: I can't get a job, receive medical care, can't even receive a small gift from my own family."
"I just want to live my life like a normal person, a normal human being, a normal Canadian."
There's some way to go yet, I think. Some long way to go.
UPDATE: Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon demonstrates his usual class:
Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, in a letter delivered Thursday, told Mr. Abdelrazik to check out a UN website that explains delisting procedures for individuals. “I regret to inform you that I must decline your invitation to meet,” the minister wrote. [emphasis added]
It was Mr. Cannon who labelled Mr. Abdelrazik a threat to national security, in spite of the fact that he had been cleared by CSIS and the RCMP. Mr. Cannon made no mention of the fact that the Harper government had already sought – in December of 2007 – to have Mr. Abdelrazik delisted after the security agencies said they had knew of no reason not to back the request.
That delisting application was vetoed, apparently by the United States, which originally put him on the blacklist.
Although individuals can apply for “delisting,” only governments can add people to the terrorist blacklist, and unless all 15 members of the Security Council agree to a delisting, it is denied. UN sources confirm that no one has ever been delisted without the backing of their government.
Let the Black man twist in the wind a little longer, eh, Minister? This song is dedicated to you--and to your type.
UPPERDATE: (July 25) Peter Van Loan, Minister of Public Safety, joins the lynch mob. [H/t Alison at Creekside]
Caught illegally marauding in a war zone, I think [Omar Khadr is] legally entitled to a summary hearing and execution on the spot -- not a real trial in Guantanamo Bay, Miami, Toronto or anywhere else. --Ezra Levant
No wonder this guy doesn't like Human Rights Commissions.
[H/t CC, who gets up earlier than I do]
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Michael Ignatieff's international reputation is taking a beating:
What, then, was Ignatieff's reaction to the Abdelrazik case? Almost total silence.
On 28 June, after Abdelrazik had already returned to Montreal, Ignatieff issued a joint statement with foreign affairs critic Bob Rae. "On behalf of the Liberal party of Canada we welcome Mr Abousfian Abdelrazik back to Canada. Many questions remain regarding Mr Abdulrazik's case," it read. The statement went on to list some of those questions, but the one that many Canadians might be asking when they next go to the polls was missing: Given his past professional post and his own writing, why on earth didn't Ignatieff say anything earlier?
Harper's lack of aid for Abdelrazik damned him long ago and left Ignatieff with an opportunity to set himself apart from his political rival. In that regard, he failed.
Suzanne Girard, director of Montreal's Divers-Cité artistic festival, said that far-right so-cons were trying to embarrass the Conservatives. Since the Tories came to power, she said, her organization has had more stable support than ever before.
Egg, meet face. Yesterday Divers-Cité, which applied for funding out of the same envelope as Toronto Pride and was told that it had met all the criteria, was informed that the application had been denied by Tony Clement, who took over the funding portfolio after Ablonczy was stripped of it.
Girard was shocked:
"We met all the criteria — this is a democracy. They changed the rules as they went along. I feel like I've been had."
One must feel a little sadness for Girard, who was either hopelessly naive, or else thought her spirited defence of the Tories might move her own application along. Either way, I hope she has learned her lesson well.
UPDATE: Kady O'Malley: Tony Clement's Charles McVety connection?
Their population is exploding--and they are bringing violence into peaceful neighbourhoods.
A day will come when there won't be any secular officials in office in the entire country, they boast. A thoughtful Jewish writer worries: "In these neighbourhoods, where I was born and grew up, the battle has already been won. Zionism has been pushed out of here, as if it had never been."
Violent protest is the norm. Department stores have been forced to cover up mannequins. Billboards in their areas may not show images of women. If women are not covered sufficiently, they're screamed at and called "whores." In some places they literally have to sit at the back of the bus. The newcomers are moving into neighbourhoods in droves, insisting on instructing their children in their own language in their own religious schools.
Their average family has eight children. The pressure on local housing capacity has been enormous. Their fed-up neighbours say they are moving out. Graffiti have been appearing with caricatures of the newcomers, and the phrase "Not among us."
"We worked hard to make this community a good place for families," said a resident. "Now they come in and tell us how to live."
"And now, they are challenging the state wherever they can," says an academic. Recent religious street riots mean "[t]hey're serving notice that things better start going the way they want them to, or else there'll be trouble." In fact, says another, the tendency to riot is part of their way of life.
But ours is a religion of peace, says a member of the group. We just want to bring our people closer to their religious roots.
Some have had enough of them, though:
"They're imposing their values on us. That's what makes it so hard to take. Believe me, if they come in here, we'll set the place alight. We'll use their own tactics against them ... and they'll be the ones to move out.
"This is a war."
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Shorter Ralph Peters, Faux News military analyst: "Take no prisoners. I am directing my remarks, of course, to the Taliban."
This man's view of the media, by the way, is...interesting, although the sentiment is hardly original:
"Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media."
Umm...been there, done that.
But if you want to try to grasp the way far-right conservatives think, read the whole article. After pouring yourself a stiff drink.
[H/t Unrepentant Old Hippie, Boris at The Galloping Beaver]
Score 3-0 for the good guys over the past few days:
- Toronto resident Francisco Lafreniere is behind bars, after allegedly threatening neighbours in his condo and impersonating a police officer. A search of his place revealed a stash of weapons and Holocaust-denial literature. He was found to be in possession of "a real deputy sheriff’s badge, which has been traced to a small town in Texas. Police are unsure how the badge was acquired, but said it may have been purchased online."
- Contrary to persistent belief in some quarters, white men do not provide the best service, a UBC study has concluded.
The researchers analyzed more than 12,000 patient reports on 113 doctors at the health maintenance organization and found that female and minority (mostly Asian) physicians were consistently rated lower than white male doctors providing the same services. In fact, the more the female and minority doctors tried to provide better service, such as being available to patients, returning patients' emails and taking time to talk, the worse they scored.
"This is very surprising and disturbing to us. But we don't have any data to explain why patients felt this way," Aquino said. "The findings are also significant because physicians received bonuses based on their customer service satisfaction ratings."
The researchers also found that close to 4,000 golfers from 66 golf courses gave lower ratings to courses that employed high percentages of women and minorities, even when productivity and quality of the facilities were the same.
For the bookstore setting, the researchers filmed actors interacting with customers and had university students rate the level of customer service. Even though the scripts and behaviour of the actors playing the bookstore employees never changed, the students gave the female and black male bookstore employees significantly lower ratings than the white male employees.
The students also gave lower ratings to the physical environment of the bookstore when females or minorities served customers, a phenomenon known as the "contamination effect."
- Warren Kinsella, author of Web of Hate, persistent irritant to Canada's neo-Nazis, has defeated a defamation action brought by local KKK fan Ian Verner Macdonald, who had sued the Liberal strategist for $1.2 million for, well, calling him a KKK fan. In her ruling, Justice Monique Métivier wrote, "It is clear from the evidence that Macdonald was known for his anti-Semitic, racist views and friends, and for being at least an admirer of the KKK."
Macdonald's lawyer, the infamous Doug Christie, is appealing. Good luck with that.
Yesterday Raoul Boulakia filed six affidavits from friends and family attesting to her identity. He has concerns with the official handling of this case: and so do I.
Why, he asks, has the Canadian High Commission in Kenya been pretending to wait for fingerprint confirmation when it now turns out that there are none to match the ones she voluntarily provided nearly two weeks ago?
A good question.
As reported, Boulakia also wants to know why government agencies haven't checked Mohamud's identity claims with those who could identify her--like her 12-year-old son and other family members, and friends.
Meanwhile, Liberal MP Dan McTeague came down heavily on the Conservative government saying Mohamud's case "devalues" Canadian citizenship.
"She's done her due diligence. I'd like to know what the holdup is," said the MP.
"I know the machinery of government can move a lot quicker if it has to," said McTeague (Pickering-Scarborough East).
"It requires intervention at the top end. Where is the foreign minister?"That's another good question. Lawrence Cannon and Public Safety Minister Peter van Loan, in fact, are doing the old two-step shuffle, each office referring all inquiries to the other one.
According to a well-placed source, DFAIT has referred the file to the Canadian Border Services Agency, claiming that fraud has been conclusively established. Their story:
- When Mohamud arrived in Kenya over two months ago, a photograph of her was taken, and the person now claiming to be Mohamud does not match the photo;
- Foreign Affairs and CBSA have conducted four separate investigations, and she has "failed" each one, including photographic matching tests and extensive interviews;
- Foreign Affairs requested the fingerprints, not Mohamud;
- Consular services are not being provided, because she is not considered to be a Canadian citizen;
- CBSA reports an average of five cases of attempted passport fraud per week in Nairobi, and knows how to investigate these cases.
Here are a couple more:
If there is no fingerprint comparison to be had, what about a DNA test? A DNA sample from Mohamud could be matched against her son's DNA. But Canadian officials don't seem very interested in DNA tests, even though they are conclusive.
Abdihakim Mohamed, a Canadian who has been marooned in Kenya for three years by Foreign Affairs, has offered his DNA to compare with that of his Ottawa-based mother, but has been ignored to this day.
Our taxes have paid for four investigations, when a simple DNA match-up would either confirm or disprove Mohamud's story.
And given that she has been in telephone contact with her family and friends in Toronto, why, if Mohamud is an impostor, has no one said, "Hey, that's not her voice!" Is the entire community part of a conspiracy?
DFAIT's story simply doesn't hold up. And for Mohamud and her family, time is getting perilously short.
UPDATE: (July 22) Mohamud's lawyer is now asking for a DNA test. What impostor would insist on such a thing?
UPPERDATE: DNA test coming up. But will the Kenyan authorities wait?