Monday, April 27, 2009

Tamils and the dark magic of 9/11

Accidental Deliberations drew my attention to this National Post editorial, praising former human rights activist Michael Ignatieff for refusing to address an anxious crowd of Tamil Canadians on Parliament Hill. His political spinelessness was translated into a grand display of principle by the wiseacres at NaPo: it was supposedly taking a stand against terrorism.

The point made by my fellow-blogger is succinct, and needs little elaboration. Rather than stand up for the civilians being slaughtered by Sri Lankan troops even as I write, Iggy continues to move his party into Harper territory, sacrificing humanity for expediency. Nothing new there--it's Liberal politics as usual.

But a single sentence in the editorial, criticizing earlier Liberal governments, caught my eye: "Even after 9/11, the Liberals refused to put the Tamil Tigers on the government's list of banned terrorist organizations."

That's worth a closer look.

With that single comment, in fact, an entire historical period is defined--one that continues, and with no end in sight. A small army of commentators has already twigged, of course: 9/11 was just what The Man needed to waterboard our liberties and hassle us endlessly at airports and refuse to allow our own citizens to return to their country and families. The world didn't change, as that tiresome, stupid cliché has it: bad people simply concentrated their power, whether in a cave in Pakistan or in the Oval Office or in the PMO right here at home.

9/11 was a tragedy. Now it's an excuse.

Only nutbars at this point imagine that al-Qaeda had anything to do with Saddam Hussein, for example--a batty premise that finds its mirror reflection in Troofer talespinning. But hundreds of thousands paid with their lives in large part because that link was dishonestly made. And by now 9/11 has become the maid of all work for right-wingers, paranoiacs and editorialists. These categories, of course, are seriously commingled.

In this artificially created atmosphere of fear, 9/11 has assumed metaphysical dimensions, setting it apart from run-of-the-mill slaughters elsewhere. That sort of thing happens to beige people in other parts of the world--Iraqi kids, Afghan wedding-parties, Gazan and Lebanese civilians. It's not supposed to happen here. We're mostly white and well-off and above the fray.

So when it does happen, we can expect panic, state clampdowns, foreign wars and lots of crazy talk. And that's what we're getting in spades, in case anyone hasn't noticed. Even to bring up 9/11 in a commentary about Sri Lanka, and in such a breezy and offhand way, shows just how far we've drifted.

A civil war in Sri Lanka, extending nowhere else, untainted on either side by even a whiff of Islamism--a war in which a minority people, slaughtered mercilessly for decades, have come to identify (at least to some extent) with a brutal counterforce called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is now effortlessly connected to 9/11. Not through a process of reasoning, because there is no relation to be made through such means. Instead it is simply a hand-wave, an editorial tic, something so obvious, apparently, that it can merely be alluded to in a casual throwaway comment.

"Terrorism," in fact, has come to mean little more than those forms of resistance to which the Americans take exception. Had the contras in Nicaragua still been around, throwing their bombs into daycare centres, no doubt they would have been spared: after all, they were our sons-of-bitches. Palestinians and other peoples have also had plenty of reason to feel terrorized in recent years, but their oppressors aren`t on the list.

That, too, is all old news. But hurrying to keep up with the 9
/11 hysteria, Canadian authorities issued security certificates, collaborated in the rendition of Maher Arar, and are currently happily engaged in exiling other Canadians, including Abousfian Abdelrazik and the child soldier Omar Khadr, to prove that we can be tough on brown Muslims too. And others, for whatever reason: the LTTE was finally placed on a banned list by the Conservatives in April, 2006, simply because, I suspect, the US listed it as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" group in November, 2001.

Half incantation and half alibi, "9/11" is the political soporific that permits us merely to nod. It excuses anything and is relevant to everything. It's part of our living consciousness, and needs no longer be justified or explained. Fear is now literally part of our vocabulary. And so we go gentle into the ever-darkening night.

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