Blaming the victim

There are those of us in the blog community that have absolutely no shame whatsover. Fred at GayandRight gutlessly simply quotes from an editorial, thereby leaving plausible deniability to cover the stink of the premise: Are the Lebanese really innocent?

I mean, they barely have an effective army, and it was pretty well understood that it might well have been infiltrated by Hezbollah long before this all began. This might very well be one of the reasons that the fragile government was unable to contain the movement in the first place. Which Lebanese are guilty Fred? The civilians that are dying? The military that, against all bets have not tried to defend their own homeland as its south has been chewed apart by more-or-less indiscriminant aerial bombardment?

Man, oh man, it’s hard to not get personal sometimes.


Zolf on PMS

Larry Zolf, a newly-minted Stephen Harper cheerleader, tries to distance Harper’s foreign policy on the Mid East from accusations that it is just an echo of the US, saying that, au contraire, Harper is returning to Diefenbaker-style or traditional Tory foreign policy values. I will agree with him that the “pro-American” epithet is a simplification, but in a world where the American government has asked all countries to choose sides such simplifications are required, hell, they are requested.

The real question is what is the Canadian electorate going to think of these traditional values. I only speak for myself, but the moral clarity they offer reeks.


In Vino Veritas

“In Wine There is Truth”

Given Mel Gibson’s father’s tirades against Jews in the past, it is becoming apparent that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His fading popularity obviously not being sufficient reason to consign him to the dustbin of history, now he adds bigotry to his resume. Drunkenness is no excuse – his guard was down, he said what he was thinking, and his apology, after this and the Passion of the Commi$$ion, sounds hollow and untrue. So, life imitates art.

Somewhere, a publicist is weeping, somewhere, a former star has no credibility. Not that any of them really do. Gibson’s life is beginning to take on all the glamorous cache of Bob Crane’s, except that the sexual perversion that Crane displayed is sad, embarassing, and ultimately not all that bad. At least Col. Hogan had the advantage of dying before his shocking behaviour came to light; all Gibson has to fall back on is a bottle.

It can truly be said that instead of having a career in free fall, he has managed to pick up enormous amounts of speed. Never mind the Road Warrior, Mel’s next role should be in a live action remake of ‘The Roadrunner‘, so the audience will be better able to accept and cheer the reality, as Wile E. Coyote (Played by Mel, of course), is launched from an Acme cannon aimed straight downward over the edge of a cliff. Instead of falling silently, however, Ol’ Mel can break character and shout anti-Semitic slogans on the way down. When he pops back up in the next scene, he can deliver his apology before falling over the cliff again. Metaphorically and artistically appropriate.

Unlike Wile E. Coyote (Suuuper Geeniuss) however, the audience won’t be rooting for the coyote. They will hope instead that he gets all the cactus-up-the-butt-style rewards that he so richly deserves.

Ultimately, I’m hoping a well-earned obscurity is one of them.
You know how I loves the celebs.


Prin$ipled $tand, indeed

You have to check this out. Apparently Stephen Harper’s “strong, clear direction” on the current Israel/Lebanon crisis makes him among the “amongst the first of the world’s leaders to take a principled stand”, and that this

Moral clarity feels a lot better than the endless equivocation we found with our previous government.

And naturally all who oppose such a moral titan are:

opposition parties which “are only interested in maneuvering for party advantage” and are “blindly determined” to topple Mr. Harper’s minority government.

Get it? If you disagree with Harper’s stand you are “blind” and only interested in “maneuvering for party advantage”. Oh, thank you, Mr. Donison for pointing out this Buddha in our midst! I can curl up all comfy and cozy now in the knowledge that “Unca Steve” has everything all figgered out.

Of course it’s just the old “yer fer us er agin us”, except this time it’s tied up with a nice little request for cash donations for the Conservative Party of Canada. Welcome to the new politics.

(h/t to Kris)


Old dogs, old tricks

George Bush still doesn’t get it (I know, I know, but let’s not be mean):

Q Thank you, sir. Israeli’s Justice Minister said that the lack of a call from the international community for an immediate cease-fire essentially gives Israel a green light to push harder. And the top general there says there will be more several more weeks of fighting. Is your administration okay with these things?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I believe this. I believe that, as Condi said yesterday, the Middle East is littered with agreements that just didn’t work. And now is the time to address the root cause of the problem. And the root cause of the problem is terrorist groups trying to stop the advance of democracies.

Tortured grammar aside, this is a lamentable misrepresentation of the real situation that serves to limit all options for action to military ones. I can’t believe that this is accidental, after all Bush’s modus operandi since the outset of his presidency has been a straightforward military approach to solving problems, and he appears quite ready to ride off into the sunset of his presidency with the same bag of tricks. For Bush, it’s all nails, everywhere.

The implicit assumption in this statement is that the terrorist groups sprang into existence out of thin air for no reason whatsoever, a 2006 version of “they hate us for our freedoms”. By ignoring, denying, or failing to look for and understanding the causal factors that produce terrorist organizations, we lose the ability to prevent their growth and dissemination in ways other than direct military confrontation. And how’s that working out so far?

If I read his response right, he is brushing aside the idea of an agreement with Hezbollah outright and would like to find a solution without them in the picture. Somehow that seems like he is just crossing his fingers and hoping like hell that the IDF will make Hezbollah go away, something that is looking less and less likely with every day.

Reading this report on his meeting with Tony Blair today, I don’t get a sense that any change in plan is in the offing:

Bush and Blair remained united against many other European and Arab nations, by resisting calls for an immediate, unconditional end to Israel’s campaign against Hezbollah militants that effectively control southern Lebanon.

What has to happen for this administration to understand that trying to stamp out terrorist organizations without dealing with their root causes is like trying to cure a sympton?


On the road to Damascus and in neighbourhoods of Beirut

I don’t usually quote entire articles at length without commentary, however I’m going to make an exception this time. I quote it in its entirety because it is a letter to the editor and I don’t know how long they stay on-line and I want to keep it. And I won’t comment on it becuase it needs none.

On the road to Damascus and in neighbourhoods of Beirut


Because my wife Molly and I happened to be visiting our son Spencer in Beirut recently, our perspectives on events in Lebanon may be a bit different.

Beirut is a city of strongly differentiated neighbourhoods and the Dahieh is often referred to as a “Hezbollah stronghold.” On Sunday, July 9, we went for a walk there. It was a poorer area, with crowded streets and closely packed businesses. We had some sort of pizza from an outdoor stall, phoned my father from the Western Union office and shopped for clothes and trinkets.

Everywhere people were friendly and welcoming.

Our guide to the area was a friend of Spencer’s, born in Canada but with many relatives in the neighbourhood – so when we passed his grandmother’s place, etiquette dictated that we drop in for coffee. There was not much of a view from her second-floor balcony because the entire area was very thickly built up with closely packed eight- to 10-storey apartment buildings, but her sons supported her in her old age – it was a nice apartment.

Each area of Beirut tends to announce its political allegiances with posters of revered leaders, so the Sunni neighbourhoods have many photos of Rafik Hariri in heroic poses and South Beirut was dominated by pictures of Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader – but this is, in some ways, much like a Canadian election campaign. Hezbollah is a legitimate political party in Lebanon, with several seats in cabinet, and it was not clear how many signs were new or were left over from the recent general election. It was, however, absolutely clear that this was a peaceful, very densely populated civilian area, with no sign whatsoever of arms, militias or anything remotely resembling military activity.

The Dahieh is a fairly small area by Canadian standards, but it is the part of South Beirut that was attacked most intensively from the very first day. According to the New York Times website, in one 24-hour period last week, the Israelis dropped 23 tons of high explosives there.

The destruction of Beirut has been, however, a general thing. Christian neighbourhoods and the downtown, motorway interchanges, the airport runways and terminal, fuel storage depots, port facilities and public infrastructure of all types – all have been bombed repeatedly.

It is important to note that almost all of this destruction has no conceivable military purpose and no possible link to Hezbollah. Destroying an elevated motorway that is under construction in Beirut cannot possibly affect the ability of Hezbollah to conduct operations in the current conflict, but it does “make Lebanon pay a heavy price” (to use the words of an Israeli cabinet member). The only interpretation I can come to is that the Israeli objective is “collective punishment.”

Molly and I know which areas of Beirut were bombed because we watched on TV – like millions of people in the Arab world – the saturation news coverage of Arab-language satellite networks. By great good luck, we had gone to Damascus for a few days of sightseeing. There are TV sets in every little shop in Damascus, in every sidewalk pizza place and in every cafe where the men gather to suck on their water pipes. Everywhere, they were turned to the 24-hour news coverage of Lebanon.

The Israeli bombing was not just “an item” on the news; it was the news – but it is important for Canadians and Americans to realize that people in the Arab world do not see the sanitized version of events we typically get in North America.

Nothing grabs an audience’s attention like pictures of bleeding children, and Israeli bombing has produced many, many bleeding children in Lebanon. On the many competing Arab-language news networks, the camera does not flit away (as on North American TV news) – it shows every little detail, in long graphic shots, and pounds home the message (undeniably, a true message) that hundreds of totally innocent Lebanese civilians have died horrible deaths due to Israeli bombing.

According to the website of the Guardian newspaper of England, 377 Lebanese civilians and 17 Israeli civilians had been killed, as of July 25. I cannot imagine that the Lebanese total is anywhere near complete, since rescue crews have been unable to reach many areas of South Lebanon, or penetrate the collapsed wreckage of many Beirut apartment buildings – but even so, they imply that 95.7 per cent of civilian casualties in this conflict have been Lebanese.

For most of the TV viewers of the Arab world, the direct message of the unrelenting news coverage is simply one of Israeli brutality, but the implicit message is the total inability of the democratically elected Lebanese government to protect its citizens and the irrelevance of other Arab governments. When the New York Times website notes that the U.S. has expedited delivery of special laser-guided bombs to Israel, this information is disseminated instantly. Combine the ingredients – Israeli brutality, U.S. connivance, the irrelevance/acquiescence of their governments to prevent this suffering and humiliation – and the recruiters for al-Qaida must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Does Israel have a “right to defend herself?” Clearly, yes. Does that right mean that Israel can do anything it wants – kill any number of civilians, destroy any amount of infrastructure and housing – without criticism? I think not. The issue is not whether Israel had the right to respond to the capture of two of its soldiers – it is the brutal disproportion between provocation and response.

Collective punishment out of all proportion to provocation is, I am told, a war crime under international law. Having seen for myself the densely populated civilian areas of Beirut which have now been bombed into rubble, my opinion is that there is a reasonable case to be made that Israel is guilty of war crimes.

Collective punishment is also stupid policy. Collective punishment produces a collective experience and collective rage at unjust and brutal treatment. If Israel is to ever live in peace, it must some day sign peace agreements with its neighbours. Every bomb dropped in Lebanon makes it more likely that the rage and anger this brutality provokes will undermine moderate governments and fuel non-governmental organizations (like Hezbollah) whose raison d’etre is their uncompromising struggle.

Lebanon has lost hundreds of innocent civilian lives, billions of dollars of property damage and the hope for a prosperous, democratic, peaceful future. The region as a whole has lost any chance of peace for a long while to come. And all of us will lose a bit more of our personal security in future years, as the radicalism that Israel’s disproportionate response is producing percolates through the global system.

Lars Osberg is chair of the economics department of Dalhousie University, and a past president of the Canadian Economics Association.


Attention, Citizens…BOO!

McLean’s magazine has this week reached a new low in journalistic ethics. At least, Canadian journalistic ethics – I don’t think the American media has risen to this point in the last five or six years.

The article in question, the cover story for the week of July 24, is entitled “World War III”, and describes the imminent (if not ongoing) Third World War, which will spread even further across the world, likely when the West least expects itOHMYGOD, IT’S STARTED WE’RE ALL GONNA DIEDIEDIE!!!

There is a theory in social psychology that refers to ‘moral panic’. A moral panic is a mistaken belief that a particular cultural group, or set of cultural beliefs, or even a particular subculture, is dangerous, and poses a threat to the larger social structure.

The most interesting example of an inward-looking moral panic in America (and to a lesser extent in Canada) was the Satanic Panic of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Daycare centres were apparently hotbeds of satanic rituals, and there were more babies being ritually sacrificed in these suburban lairs of pure evil than had actually been born. Sooner or later, isolated voices began to pipe up: “Wait a minute – we’re not finding all these dead babies we were promised. Could it be they never existed?” The absence of evidence was recognized as not being a result of a widespread pattern of ritualistic abuse and a thorough cover-up, but a result of the events never having happened.

What we are experiencing now is a more outward-looking panic, the type that sees the alien beliefs of Muslim Arabs as dangerous. What the Maclean’s article goes to great lengths to point out is that this war (dubbed WW IV by some who regard the Cold War as WW III) is distinguished by an absence of front lines. The threat is therefore everywhere, as the attacks on New York and London illustrate – nowhere is safe, everywhere is the front line. The Home Front has become The Front.

The conceptual difficulty is that in order to maintain the aura of threat, we have to be at war with all Muslims, not just those who have radical interpretations of the Koran. The difficulty currently being experienced in Iran, Afghanistan and now in Palestine is that you can’t tell the ‘good Muslims’ from the ‘bad Muslims’, therefore it’s easier to fear them all.

Fear serves a purpose on a political level – it makes people more dependent on well-established authority, enhances the credibility of the police, the military (in theory, apparently not in practice), the clergy, the government, and, most importantly in this case, the Media. Fear sells, and it sells extremely well.

Understand that news outlets, be they magazines, newspapers, radio or television, are not doing what they do to ‘keep you informed’, or ’empower the citizenry by sharing vital information’. They are there to make a PROFIT. What you need is for something to grab people, to make them fear, but not think. To make them react emotionally rather than rationally, so this source of information is SOMETHING YOU CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT. You don’t want to be the one who doesn’t see the next war coming, do you? Wouldn’t you be letting your family down if you were uninformed or unprepared?

The bias is always toward exploiting the fear we all experience – the fear of armed conflict, the fear of terrorism, the fear of being judged negatively because your home doesn’t glisten, even the fear of appearing unfashionable or unattractive based on a particular ‘ideal’, which outsells even the fear of death on an annual basis, I’m sure.

I’m not saying the world is an ideal, safe place right now – that would be foolish. There are threats, there is danger; for ourselves, for our children, for our planet. What I’m saying is this: think. Just take the few precious seconds you have to exercise your right as a human being to actively and soberly consider reality. Not the reality they give you, but the reality behind that reality: criminals and terrorists attack others because they have been subjugated by the global system of distribution of goods, which places the majority of wealth in the hands of a priveleged few.

That doesn’t make attacking others fair or right, but it certainly makes it predictable – poverty, lack of health care, lack of basic human dignity, it all creates the anger that leads to violence, justified in some cases by re-interpretation of religious doctrine.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs describes the basic needs of the human animal, and when we make the most basic of these, food and shelter (biological needs) and personal safety, difficult if not impossible to acquire, we breed desperation and anger. When there are people who want more than their share at the expense of others, you have bred self-righteousness. There are much deeper historical reasons for what is happening out there, more detailed than the 30-second sound bite can provide. Don’t buy the shallow’analysis’ the news outlets spoon-feed us. Check on Aljazeera once in a while to hear the other side – just as biased, but in the other direction. Somewhere between the translated words of the MBAs in Marketing of Maclean’s and Aljazeera is the truth, and you have always had the power to decide what that is for yourself.

Don’t give in, don’t succumb to the fear. Big Brother does love you, Big Brother will keep you safe, but Big Brother will take your humanity and your dignity in return.