Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Harper and MacKay abandon neutrality, refuse to communicate," August 14, 2006.

This week Stephen Harper's picture appeared at the top of page one on the website of the conservative Jerusalem Post.

It was a political advertisement. "Rate PM Stephen Harper's performance. Good. Could be better. Answer for a Free iPod with Compliance of Terms and Conditions." The left-of-center Ha'aretz ran the same ad.

"What's neutrality here?" Harper asked on CTV's question Period.

"Are we neutral with regard to Hezbollah? Are we neutral on a terrorist group? I don't think the opposition wants to say that....What exactly are they saying? Are they suggesting Israel unilaterally stop defending itself, ... or declare a unilateral ceasefire? Are they suggesting we become neutral vis-a-vis terrorist organizations that we're fighting in Afghanistan, that we're frankly fighting in this country with the arrests in Toronto? This is not a viable position."

Foreign Minister Peter MacKay went a step further at the Emergency meeting of the Parliamentary committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade. "For me it's not a difficult choice," he said, "between siding with a state--a democratically elected government, a democracy--that's being attacked by terrorists--and a group of cold blooded killers.

Nothing here suggests either Harper or MacKay has any special aptitude for or even understanding of neutrality. "Are we neutral with regard to Hezbollah?" Harper asks.

But we are not neutral with regard to one party or another in a conflict. We are neutral with regard to the conflict as a whole. If one expects to be the peacemaker, the mediator, the adjudicator--then you simply cannot choose sides.

It's true that times have changed, but there is still no surplus of honest brokers.

MacKay speaks specifically of the choice between "siding with a state...and a group of cold blooded killers." Neutrality does not occur to him. All he imagines is a choice between one side and the other. He is a partisan not to be trusted with neutrality.

If some aspect of a conflict predisposes us to favour one side over the other--if, for instance, we own shares in the company or receive financial rewards from one side or if we are sleeping with the husband--then we have a conflict of interest and that disqualifies us from playing a neutral role.

After 15,000 Quebecers marched through the streets of Montreal, Israel's Ambassador to Canada Alan Baker objected to what he called "incited groups of Muslims that are running around the streets on the weekends."

Like MacKay he went on to make an appeal to democracy "Any opposition party that expresses surprise at the fact that Canada, a democratic country, is supporting the right of another democratic country to defend itself really doesn't understand where they're coming from."

Baker and MacKay offer the unusual position that living in a democracy must so dispose us in Israel's favour that we are disqualified from playing a neutral role in the conflict among Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah.

But exactly the opposite is the case. Because we live in a democracy, we have learned to ride the same buses, eat in the same restaurants, attend the same schools and churches and even on occasion to be governed by people who are different from us, and, even moreso, by those whose opinions and styles of living may be offensive, even loathsome to us. A handful of Albertans were ready to separate if Canadians voted Liberal again. We call upon our courts not to prejudge cases of mass murder, child sexual abuse, and all manner of objectionable fraud and wrongdoing. Neutrality is a near relative of tolerance and democracy requires them both.

Moreover, Lebanon's government is democratically elected. Hezbollah is a legitimate political party in the parliament and the cabinet. Yet this does not appear to predispose Mr Baker's government to any particular kindness, justice, or even communication with them.

Baker expressed gratitude for Harper's pro-Israeli stand. Members of the Liberals, NDP and Bloc have criticized the Harper government's position on the Israeli-Lebanese crisis. That's how democracy goes.

Israel's ambassador to Canada has denounced federal Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and other Quebec politicians for taking part in a pro-Lebanese rally in Montreal.

Politicians attending the Montreal rally included Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who represents a downtown Montreal riding and is a supporter of Liberal leadership contender Michael Ignatieff, as well as Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair. (Blanchfield)

"We're seeing the leaders of opposition parties marching in Montreal under Hezbollah flags -- Hezbollah, which is an organization, a terrorist organization that's been outlawed by Canadian law."

Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe says, "What I perceive is that people have no sympathy for Hezbollah, that's very clear and we don't either." According to Duceppe pro-Hezbollah protesters were systematically ejected from last weekend's demonstration in the streets of Montreal.

"It is simply that (Israel's) counter attack is disproportionate. We see the images. Lebanon is in the process of being completely destroyed. Will that help peace? Unfortunately, Israel is in the process of making Hezbollah more popular than it was. That is a grave error."

King Abdullah of Jordan, one of only two Arab countries to have a peace treaty with Israel, observed that the fighting has caused a backlash against moderate Arab leaders and is strengthening the extremists it was intended to destroy.

Hezbollah is officially listed as a terrorist organization by only six of the 192 UN member governments: Australia, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US. In particular, Brazil with a large population of Lebanese immigrants like Canada sees Hezbollah as a legitimate political party. France, the former colonial power, does not list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization either.

Yet Frank Dimant, vice-president of B'Nai Brith Canada, said his group is negotiating with Canadian police forces and the federal government "to ensure that the Hezbollah manifestations on the streets of Canada will not endure" (Blanchfield Aug 10).

In fact, few Canadians challenge the right of Israelis to protect their country. But we might reasonably question the practical effectiveness of Israel's program for countering terrorism, and the wisdom of adopting this failed approach in our own country.

When Harper mentions the arrests in Toronto, do we need to be relieved that he did not call in air strikes on the offending neighborhood? Canada has a history of experience with terrorism. During the October Crisis of 1970, Pierre Trudeau responded with draconian legislation, detentions, limited martial law. Tanks roamed the streets and soldiers in battle gear raided homes. But the Canadian Forces did not bomb the apartment and office buildings where they thought the FLQ might be. Nor did the Trudeau government refuse to talk with the FLQ.

Even here in the Kootenays is a history which I have heard senior officials from Foreign Affairs describe as terrorism. There was arson and bombing, even a school bombing and an assassination. Canada responded to what one hysterical journalist called Terror in the Name of God, with massive arrests, curfews, the imprisonment of children. But there were no artillery strikes, no effort to wipe out villages where the Sons of Freedom lived. (Note in the case of Hezbollah, these are called "strongholds.") What did eventually happen was a process of dialogue and negotiation that has continued well into this century.

The notion that "we don't talk to terrorists" is an especially vain pose entirely void of any useful diplomatic strategy. Israel tried it with the PLO in the 80s and only survived that folly because some courageous Israelis decided it was a law that had to be broken.

Alistair Crooke and Mark Perry have recently written at length to explain why the former Iraqi president Ayad Alawi only won 5% of the vote in the most recent election when US experts had predicted a decisive victory; why the US Secretary of State was in her own words, "stunned" by the Hamas landslide in the Palestinian elections; and why the State Department failed to anticipate the memorandum of understanding between Hezbollah and Lebanese Maronite leader Michel Aoun.

"The US and its allies overestimated Ayad Allawi's strength, were 'stunned' by Hamas' win, and were surprised by the Aoun-Nasrallah agreement because they don't have a clue about what's really going on in the region" (Perry and Crooke Talking).

The reason: In addition to Israel, there are "five political movements and governments in the Middle East of undeniable importance: Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The governments of the West don't talk to any of them."

The result is that the same people who expected dancing in the streets of Baghdad are now waiting for the Lebanese backlash against Hezbollah. It isn't happening.

What is happening is unprecedented popularity for Hezbollah, an enlarged role in the region for Iran, and some very nervous moderate Arab leaders who have maintained stability in their countries by ignoring their people's demands on behalf of the Palestinians and have chosen to appease the Americans instead.

Under Harper, Canada is choosing to isolate itself with the Israelis and the rest of the Anglosphere. These are decisions that go deeper than partisan politics. Harper is accelerating some of the worst decisions made by the disastrous Martin government, and losing popularity in the process.

A recent poll by Decima Research, found support for the Conservatives in Quebec had dropped from 29 per cent in May to 17 per cent in late July while support for the Bloc had climbed from 38 per cent to 44 per cent. Support for the Liberals was at 22 per cent - the first time since the election the Liberals had polled higher than the Tories in Quebec. (Gazette Aug 13 06)

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