Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"A new standard? Or the end of activism?" August 13, 2007.

In those days, corporate human rights buffs were so bedazzled by the huge Chinese market and all the endless supply of impoverished cheap labour they convinced themselves—and our political leaders—that human rights would gradually fall into place if only they could get their hands on a piece of that good pie.

As we approach our annual maintenance break at the end of August, I am planning to change the World Report website and blog in some ways I hope will make them more accessible, more interesting, and more usable.

The first of these changes is already in place. The blog now has a new address. Point your browser to If you are already used to the old URL, it still works. I hope the new one will be easier to remember and use and easier to say clearly over the air. It's worldreport—there's no www, just worldreport, and that's all one word. Worldreport dot see jay ell wye dot net.

Not everyone knows what a blog is. The World Report blog is where text versions of the broadcast are kept along with quotations, some articles of interest on the same subjects, and a listing of events, campaigns and actions including direct actions—all catalogued both chronologically and according to a short list of key words or labels. The blog is where you can make comments on any of these items.

If you have ever felt frustration that you know the world is going to hell in a handbasket, but you don't know what to do about it, the World Report blog may be a good place for you to start finding out and discussing it with others. My goal for next season is to extend the reach of World Report to a wider audience and to do this in part by reaching out through the blog. I hope it is, or will become, a place where you feel you can make a contribution. That address again is

The website is just the other way around— slash worldreport. If you go for one and end up at the other, each has a link to the other so you can get yourself set the right way around.

CJLY continues to broadcast during the maintenance break, but most of the live material is suspended and replaced with re-broadcasts. In addition to providing an opportunity to rest, clean up, and make technical improvements, the maintenance break provides me with a reference point that I use as the beginning and ending of my broadcasting year.

While the mainstream journalists are writing their end of year reports and recaps in December and January, I carry on until August and the cjly maintenance break. Next week will be my year-end review of the world's events as seen from here. The maintenance break will follow from August 25 until September 3.

The first World Report for the new season will come on Tuesday, September 4. For stations that syndicate or rebroadcast World Report, mp3 files will continue to be available on Mondays, and new material will be available during th break. That's the plan.

Selection of the top 5 most underreported stories--or think of that as top 5 media failures--for the past year will continue to be a key feature early in the new season. Let me encourage you to submit your own ideas for this feature. If you know of a story—whether it be local or provincial, national or internatioanal—that you think has been blown by the mainstream media, drop me a line at Be sure to include some information about the story, links to supporting materials, where you found out about it, what you think the real story is.

Meanwhile, there has been no shortage of material worthy of consideration in the public discourse. Among the momentous events of the last week is one that happens every year: commemoration of the bombings at Hiroshima on August 6 and at Nagasaki on the 9th.

I was looking for something else in one of my usual sources when this letter to the editor from a reader living in South Africa reached out and grabbed my attention. The writer is Jacques Despelchin; the letter was written last Thursday.

"With regard to Hiroshima/Nagasaki, [he says] my sense is that the master narrative still dominates and threatens us with severe and collective punishment if we were to call it, as it should be, i.e. the modernization of Auschwitz, itself the modernization of previous unspeakable crimes against Africans and Native Americans which continue unaccountable. If we are going to repair, as in healing, the human conscience, then one should work at making it ultra sensitive to any form, intention of maiming, diminishing life in any of its manifestations. Gaia is a living organism. [he says] The level at which it has been violated is still misunderstood and/or denied through the use of propaganda which is no longer perceived as such. On this anniversary, is it possible for people to stop any business as usual? Is it possible to insert in our lives, consciously, a moratorium, a sort of time out away from the modernized enslaving system called globalization. Time out to treat our nuked selves, time out to take time to heal and rebuild, really, a conscience worth calling a conscience. Time out to reconnect with the collective conscience of those who, like the Native Americans, like Corbin Harney, who warned against the idea of messing up with the yellow cake (uranium), long before the physicists decided that splitting the atom was not an act against nature.” (from a Letter to the editor by Jacques Depelchin to Pambazuka News #316 August 9 (Nagasaki Day), 2007).

To pursue this indirect avenue to the point for just a moment, Depelchin was commenting on an article by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, the Kenyan poet and novelist entitled “Farewell to political activism.” Ngugi had just returned from a conference on pan-Africanism, and begins by writing:

We either value African life, understand a black life as equal to a white life, and the poor as equally deserving as the wealthy – or we do not. This reformulation of Frantz Fanon’s 'a given society is either racist or not'; or better yet of Malcolm X’s 'If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress' are reminders that there are no fractions when it comes to human dignities and freedoms. They either exist in full or they do not. Africans, however, have been prescribed quarter-doses of health and education, one-sixteenth dignities, and piece-meal freedoms for so long that what would not be acceptable elsewhere is welcomed in Africa.

Later in this meditation, he says, “The activist, as I understand it, was born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the revolutionary died.”

At the same time, two cheers for the CBC's enthusiastic coverage of the activists from Students for a Free Tibet. For a brief moment, it seems that the CBC has had a change of heart.

In the unlikely case that you missed the story, the activists rapelled down the face of the Great Wall of China and unfurled a banner 42 square metre that said “"One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008" in English and Chinese.

The CBC graciously did not ask if any local laws had been violated by what they freely admitted was a “stunt.”

While the activists were held overnight and deported back to Canada the next day, CBC held three straight days of feature interviews with family members, posted a link to the group on the CBC website, and when one of the cousins described the team as quote “professional human rights activists” the famous Heather Hiscox smile did not waver even for an instant.

I have to admit that back in the olden times I was one of those who thought that we should make trading with China conditional on improvements in their human rights practises. But more ambitious minds prevailed.

In those days, corporate human rights buffs were so bedazzled by the huge Chinese market and all the endless supply of impoverished cheap labour they convinced themselves—and our political leaders—that human rights would gradually fall into place if only they could get their hands on a piece of that good pie.

I have learned to reconcile myself to defeat.

But last week, watching the CBC I thought maybe times had changed, I thought. This could be a good thing.

Not long ago, James Loney of the Christian Peacemakers Team was treated like a kook for getting in the way of America's good war in Iraq. The whole tone was different.

Let's imagine that the CBC's treatment of Lhadon Tethong, Sam Price and Melanie Raoul sets a new standard for the journalistic treatment of Canadian activists abroad.

Montreal activist Jaggi Singh who fought against deportation from Israel in 2002 would be glad to hear that the CBC had reformed its ways. He would probably pleased to learn “professional activist” is no longer a term of vilification. Canadian ISM activist, Tarek Loubani, who was arrested and allegedly beaten by Israeli police in 2003 would be glad for the new standard too.

But let's not pick on Israel. That was five years ago. Right now, Canadian activists, including one from Nelson are living in the peace communities of Colombia where evidence of government complicity in massacres by right-wing paramilitaries is growing by the day.

Maybe when they return home, they will receive the same kind of moderately inflated hero's welcome the CBC has shown it knows how to give when it wants to.

In a moment of self-criticism, we might even reflect, while there is still time, on the very strong analogy between Tibet in the western hinterland of China and the wild west and back country of the still expanding interior empires of the United States and Canada.

Leonard Peltier and Sitting Bull may have more in common with Nelson Mandela than with the Dalai Lama. But what is at issue is a moral question, not a popularity contest.

The list of industrialized ways of killing is almost endless, says Depelchin, the letter writer. And the killing, he points out is quote “perpetrated against the Jews, the Palestinians, the Ota Bengas, the street children, the raped babies, women, the Armenians, Chinese in Nanking, the people of Rwanda, DRCongo, pygmies, Namibians, Native Americans, Amazon Indians, Aborigenes in Australia, Inuit, Untouchables, the list is almost endless. [he says] If we do not join hands with the current Hibakusha, sooner or later we shall be sorry we did not, whatever the reasons might be, because we are all being led, some knowingly, some not, to a nameless slaughterhouse.

Poet and novelist Ngugi asks

At what point in history do we simply say what we are doing is not enough? Not because the path we have chosen is bad, or entirely wrong-headed. But simply because the problem is clearly much bigger than the solution we are struggling for? And if we keep doing the same things but expecting different results, aren’t we just a little bit mad?

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