Thursday, July 20, 2006

Middle East: gags and apologies in Ontario

Whenever I find myself wondering why I spend valuable time in the blogosphere, a news story appears that reminds me, once again, why this form of information and opinion-sharing needs to be nurtured and treasured.

An Ontario MPP, Phil McNeely, has discovered what happens in Canada these days when one has the temerity--or foolhardiness-- to criticize Israel's current adventures in Lebanon.

Mr. McNeely stands accused of stating the obvious in "an email obtained by the (Ottawa) Citizen":

1) Israel is engaging in collective punishment of the people of Lebanon.

2) After decades of war and devastation, Lebanon has been set back years by Israel's destruction of its infrastructure.

3) Israel's detention of a number of democratically-elected members of the Palestinian government is the act of a rogue state.

4) The federal government should apologize to Canadians for supporting this behaviour.

He had a few choice words to say about the war in Iraq as well, and concluded: "Arabs and particularly Muslims do not count as people for some governments."

In a subsequent interview with the Citizen yesterday, he enlarged a little on his views:

"I feel very strongly that the U.S. is going in the wrong direction and we have Harper, who is leading Bush instead of following Bush, who is a puppet of Bush and I felt as a Canadian, Ontarian that I have to speak out," he said.

He went on: "You know, the death of Arabs doesn't matter, they are expendable and I just feel very badly the way the world is going. I don't think it is the way to build relationship [sic], I think we should be reaching out to the Arabs and Muslims. We are not."

He said Arabs and Muslims in the community are continually barraged as terrorists, but "people like ourselves feel very strongly, but you know, it's very dangerous speaking freely in this country."

No kidding. The Canadian Jewish Congress was quick off the mark, demanding that McNeely "reconsider and retract" his statements. And then Dalton McGuinty got into the act, expressing "serious dismay and disappointment," distancing his government from McNeely's views, and phoning the Canadian Jewish Congress personally to assure them that everything was under control. Shortly afterwards, McNeely issued an abject apology that sounded as if it had been extracted under torture:

Recently I have made comments with respect to the current situation in the Middle East, which were inappropriate. I apologize for the language of my comments and sincerely regret the hurt they have caused. I recognize that the challenges faced in the Middle East are complex and longstanding. During this time of tension, it is even more important for everyone to remain respectful of each other, which I failed to do.

Meanwhile, the killing on both fronts continues. Lebanon "has been torn to shreds," her desperate Prime Minister cries out. But woe betide any public figure in Canada who dares cry out as well.

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