Saturday, December 30, 2006

Just Who Will This Benefit?

A dictator is dead. He was a bloody dictator. There are more like him around. There are others whose leadership of their countries has been responsible for far more deaths than the reign that Saddam Hussein imposed upon his people. A number of African countries come to mind. They have not been brought to account for their misdeeds, nor will they in all likelihood. Their adherence to their particular rule of law which has brought death to many is more odious than Saddam's. Among them can be found the name most familiar to westerners: George W. Bush.

On the other hand, George Bush is not a dictator but a democratically-(legally?)elected leader of a great country who has misused the powers entrusted to him to launch an unneeded and unsupportable war on another nation simply because he wanted to. To set the record straight; to complete the task his father left undone. To let the world know that he meant business.

And his business, as it turns out, is dealing death. For his invasion is directly responsible for more deaths than we would like to think of; both of his own troops, those somewhat lesser of his "coalition of the willing" partners, and the far more numerous deaths occurring daily as a result of the lawlessness and sectarian violence his rash invasion of Iraq has unleashed.

In the end, Saddam Hussein was nothing but a poor, tired old man. A somewhat puzzled man I would venture to say, as well. Since he received great encouragement from the United States when he launched his ill-fated war against Iran - as both he and the U.S. reacted in fear and loathing to the newly-installed theocracy under Ayatollah Khomeini, fearing lest the caustically extreme Shi'ism infest Iraqis with the same Islamic ardour.

To his credit, in his last statement to his people, particularly those Baathist Sunnis who still venerate him, Saddam enjoined them not to hate, since hatred obscures the intelligence and causes people to react in a self-injurious manner. One might suppose that Saddam did not hate when he ordered the deaths of Kurds and other Iraqis who sought to foment rebellion against him. His intelligence informed him that his enemies must be destroyed and he responded accordingly.

At the present time Iraqi Sunnis and Shi'ites have long abandoned any vestigial intelligence they might once have owned, subordinating it entirely to the passionate embrace of hatred one against the other. The strongman gone, restraints born of fear are also gone, and vitriolic enmities are given free rein resulting in torture and murder, mutilations, rape, pillage, a total breakdown of civil order. This, the legacy of the Bush administration's decision to invade the country.

Saddam Hussein was no anomaly as a personage of note in the Middle East. This man shared the hostile tribal enmities that are so endemic among the populations there. In the ascendency, he was able to bring his own tribe to power and to ensure that power stayed with him he played the ruthless hand he was given by opportunity and circumstance. His tenure was, in fact, not quite as inimical to his people or their neighbours as, for example, that of Joseph Stalin in Russia.

As a former Iraqi resident, now living in Canada has been quoted to say: "The Sunnis and the Shiites will never see eye to eye. Bloodletting will not stop between these two. That's why you need a man like Saddam - while an evil man - to rule that country." Reasonable Iraqis, those who have fled the bloodshed and the bitter history to settle elsewhere to live civil and free lives understand the dynamics of what they've left behind full well.

Many of those same people had no wish to impose a death penalty upon Saddam Hussein, much as they feared and hated him. What purpose did it serve, after all? Once he was removed from power he became a ghostly presence of what he once was. While it's true that the evil men do lives long after they are gone, he was no longer capable of unleashing additional evil on the world.

The same cannot be said for the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and sadly, a whole host of others whose people cringe in fear of the present and worry over the bleak future of their offspring.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Poverty, Ignorance, Greed

Yes, certainly poverty, ignorance and greed were in part responsible for the inferno unleashed in the Lagos area of Abule Egba, Nigeria, yesterday when a gasoline pipeline ruptured and exploded. Greed, to begin with, enticed and encouraged pipeline thieves to tap into the pipeline overnight to collect as much of the liquid as they could for sale on the black market in their bid to enrich themselves.

One can understand that mindset for it is the ruling governing elite that is demonstrating how they themselves rob the country and its millions of their patrimony, by selling the country's resources abroad and pocketing the proceeds to enhance their own bank accounts, with little concern about the state of the country's impoverished population, nor their responsibility to ensure that state institutions and infrastructure be maintained and furthered.

Government corruption from the highest levels to the lowest echelons keep the population in poverty, while satisfying the energy concerns of well-financed trading partners. A country with enormous energy reserves which has the potential to advance living conditions within the country itself instead revels in selling out its responsibility to the highest bidder.

Nigeria is Africa's largest petroleum producer and as such has the potential to bring its people prosperity. In a country where a small flask of gasoline can be sold illegally at a price equal to a month's salary for the poor, everyone seeks to make a small profit where they can. Residents of this area claimed a gang had been illegally tapping the pipeline for months, carting away their spoil in tankers.

Tapping into a pipeline brings its own risks, not only of detection, but of explosions such as this one which took place yesterday killing hundreds of Nigerians in a poor neighbourhood. The overnight thieves didn't bother to ensure they had adequately sealed the conduit and as a result hundreds of nearby residents rushed to collect what they could before discovery.

The rupture ignited just at dawn, and women with little children, young men, old men, all were absorbed in the inferno that erupted. The gas scavengers, anxious to earn a little extra money, collecting the fuel in cans, buckets even plastic bags, were left a heap of bones and charred limbs. Their relatives would be unable to identify their loved ones, but left to grieve without closure.

An engineer who lives nearby described the scene, where he begged the scavengers to depart the scene, knowing full well the potential for disaster. Those whom he attempted to convince they were in danger scorned his warnings and splashed fuel on him, as well as on the few police officers who were also unsuccessful in persuading the people to depart.

Residents, it would appear, blame greed, graft and poverty. "This was a preventable tragedy", said a lawyer whose home is situated nearby where the blast occurred. "It was poverty, ignorance and greed." "How can this be, that people are so poor in Nigeria that they will risk their lives for a little thing?" a Nigerian university lecturer said. "But boats leave for America every day filled with oil."

To which one is tempted to respond: Why is it that the highly educated within the country, those who represent the middle class, do not respond to the urgency of the peoples' needs? They know that corruption is endemic and widespread, they're aware that mismanagement of the resources create fuel shortages within the country. Where is the conscience of those who are capable of making a difference?

Where is the popular movement to challenge the government and its massive corruption? The engineers, the lawyers, the university professors acknowledge what is happening, but if they make no effort to institute change, to encourage a popular revolution demanding government accountability, this kind of disaster will repeat itself again and again.

Place the blame where it rightfully belongs. Demand accountability and change.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Nicht Schuldik!

Or at least that's what Professor Shiraz Dossa claims. While under suspicion, under attack for moral lapses, for conduct seen to be unbecoming a professor in good standing at Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, why just stand your ground and pronounce yourself not guilty as charged. Nicht Schuldik was the very plea that Nazis standing trail at Nuremburg used to claim; they were merely following orders.

Professor Dossa is clearly following orders of a different yet sadly familiar type. He appears on the face of it to be one of a kind that fit in very nicely with the grand plans of the Iranian Holocaust denial conference. Shiraz Dossa clearly knows how to defend himself; he takes up the cudgel of outrage, lashing out against the university that has gently chided his questionable (to them) judgement in aligning himself with this nastily unsavoury group.

He is outraged that the university has "failed to defend his academic freedom". Freedom, one might suppose under the circumstances, to cast real, not imagined doubt on his denial of aiding and abetting Holocaust deniers; in fact, being one himself. No one likes to feel himself thought of as ignorantly scurrilous, certainly not from his own colleagues. This dilemma is easily solved, however.

Shiraz Dossa need only clarify matters and support his argument that he is not to be classified as a Holocaust denier (merely as an academic stumbler in the cesspool of historic revisionism) by revealing to an interested public at large and his colleagues in particular the text of his address to the conference. This should establish his claim, or refute it.

He claims the conference was relevant to his work. "The conference was unfortunately tainted by the presence of a small number of Holocaust deniers, but I feel it is a mistake to boycott any academic conference because of the presence of participants whose views one finds repugnant", he stated. Whatever can he mean by the presence of a small number of Holocaust deniers, in light of the fact that the conference was meant specifically to attract any and all such anti-Semites to its welcoming bosom.

Moreover, invoking the time-tattered and latterly-rejected absurdity of academic freedom to meet head on conferences whose purpose clearly runs counter to universal standards of decency and honourable intentions is to deduce that the professor holds the intelligence of his colleagues and the public in general in rather low esteem. It was in fact he himself who claimed ignorance of the purpose of the conference when he made his initial decision to take part in it.

He states "It is more appropriate to participate and confront and challenge repugnant views directly", and while no one might disagree with this statement at its face value, it would be more than appropriate for Mr. Dossa to enlighten his critics with proof of the manner in which he disagreed with the purpose of the conference, and the manner in which that purpose was addressed by the participants.

He must have been quite the sensation at the conference, a lone and lonely, but honourable dissenter. His was the duty to ensure that history was not distorted, nor the plight and fate of world Jewry stained by illogical doubt. Did he then question the reason that Iran's President Ahmedinejad so resolutely seeks to visit another genocide upon this much-put-upon people that he so stoutly defends?

He alone among the veritable crowd of Holocaust deniers, hate-mongers, white supremecasts, Jew-baiters, Islamists and Israel-bashers sought to put the record straight. We would like to admire his bravery. Until Shiraz Dossa enlightens us, however, we are unable to. He has but to publish his address, and we will clap in admiration at his resolve, clarification of the issue and courage in confronting this critical mass of historical revisionists.

Holding one hand up in denial of the accusations leveled against him, and the other busily clapping in self-congratulation, there is a large void, a silence, a lack of accountability and explication.

Until then, guilty as charged.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Conference, Anyone?

So much for the unassailable logic of those who stress the necessity of conferring with the enemy, when all else fails. It's such a good idea, so civil, so cerebral: speak to those whose agenda you don't quite agree with, those whose behaviour runs against the grain of moral, ethical, civilized mores. At least as seen and recognized by the West.

For it is the West represented by soldiers from Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, the United States, Denmark and Estonia currently involved with NATO, under the UN-sponsored blessing of aiding and abetting the national aspirations and hopes for the future of the population of Afghanistan, threatened by a resurgent Taliban that face constant danger, along with Afghan national security forces.

Those bystanders who bemoan the difficulties seen in completely combating the Taliban in their fanatically fervent determination to once again hold the balance of power in Afghanistan, feel it might be helpful to communicate with these Islamist fundamentalists, to palaver for the purpose of reaching mutually-agreeable solutions to the current offensives.

The problem here should be obvious to anyone with half a brain, anyone who has made even a cursory study of the mindset of religious fanatics. They believe in nothing and no one but their own fundamentalist-inspired programmes of installing their version of an Islamic state. This is a hard-line, irreducible Islamist vision of total abnegation to the will of the mullahs and their interpretation of Islam.

What the West sees as social and economic repression and denial of basic human rights, the Taliban, their ruling mullahs and associated supporters recognize as the basic necessity of an Islamic state. There is only the will of Allah to be obeyed, and by extension that of the imams and mullahs who transcribe and translate the dictums of the Koran amply set out in a series of strictures that bely civil life.

There can be no dissent from among Afghanistan's population; they are meant to submit to the will of Allah, to the interpretations by the imams of the holy books, to the orders of their local mullahs should they wish to retain their very lives. So who will be delegated to speak humbly on behalf of the invading armies to treat with these rather opinionated leaders among the Taliban?

Will they, first off, chide the Taliban for the latest atrocities against civilians in the Kandahar area? Their bid to persuade locals that it is not in their very best interests to aid and abet the invading armies? The decapitated bodies of four men hang beside an Islamic shrine; another four hang beside a rest stop for travellers, while 18 additional decapitated bodies hang scattered in various area locations.

These stark reminders of what can happen to those who feel they can ignore the demands of the Taliban in favour of acceptance of NATO forces have the population cowering in fear of retribution lest they be seen as abandoning the Taliban. The population suffered under Taliban rule, and they may hate the Taliban but they understand they must be seen to help these religious fanaics or they will be murdered.

That sounds fairly uncomplicated; the Taliban take great umbrage at their ouster by the combined forces of the West. They have no intention of withdrawing, nor are they interested in discussing possible alternative outcomes with the invaders.

Yet since there are those who remain convinced that talks could be useful, stand right up and be counted. Get right out there and do your thing. Let us know how it all turns out.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

How Could We Be So Wrong!

We're totally out to lunch. No problem in Darfur at all. Why the West has to go about making trouble like this for a nice country like Sudan is beyond me. After all, they're just going about their business doing what countries do, governing their population, making every effort to ensure that everyone gets along nicely. And here we are, giving them grief. It's just too much to bear. So patently unfair. What? you say?

Well, listen, I have it on the very best authority. Straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. Could even be one of those horses the Janjaweed ride for all I know. Just kidding, of course, not to take offense, please. The inside dope is available for any and all to read. And, as we all know, to read is to believe. Could it be otherwise? Yep, right there in my daily newspaper.

Faiza Taha, Ambassador of Sudan (hoo-boy! we're dealing with the big ones here) wags his finger at us unbelievers. He tells us that the Darfur region "is suffering from confusing reports by various international agencies that raise more controversy than enlightenment about the real situation." Yes, that's right. About time someone had the good sense to put the record straight.

Hey, if the straight goods is coming from the Ambassador of Sudan, sit up straight, fella, and listen up.
The media, he confides, keeps inflating the number of Darfur "casualties". Casualties, one guesses is diplomatic double-speak for government-sponsored murder. So, check: we're wrong on that account.
Ah - the media, especially in the West "intentionally (or unintentionally, isn't he generous?) spread these fallacies, which become a constant cliche when Darfur is mentioned. Right-o!

Mea culpa! Aren't we just awful. Always on the lookout for good juicy stories to outrage the reading public. Nothing gets people so riled up as reports of mass murder, rape, homelessness, and all government sponsored, a threat brought to reality through a country's proxy militia of jihad-adoring Islamists. Oops, scrub that, there I go again.

Rape statistics in Darfur, the eminent Faiza Taha goes on to explain are very minimal compared with those of some western countries that claim to be protectors of human rights. And he quotes statistics from gleanings from the U.S. Justice Department. Guess he kind of forgot, that ingenious, er, ingenuous man, that in Sudan rape appears to be a government-approved game. In civilized countries it is considered a crime, one that is actually prosecuted, and malefactors brought to trial and justice.

He's right on the money, though, stating that rape is a gender issue, an ethical problem rather than a political or racial problem. Um, yes, that's a fairly accurate assessment on the face of it, generally speaking. Except that, on incontrovertible evidence of both victims of rape and human-rights aid workers rape is a government-sponsored political and racial tool of extreme harrassment. In Sudan.

Ah, now we're getting down to business; to quote the Ambassador of Sudan: "What Darfur really needs now is to encourage the internal peace process". Something, obviously that cannot be achieved through the intervention of the United Nations or concerned African nations, but only through the diabolical machinations of the Sudanese government. Damn! there I go again. Guess bad habits are hard to beat.

"...peace inDarfur will be made by the Darfurians and by all the Sudanese people first and then by the help of the international community." says he.

So, get set to stand by, world, and watch as Sudan's government continues its policy of justified genocide.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Somalia, Another Hot Spot - Yet Again

Another clash in Somalia. Somalians are another long-suffering population, enduring over a decade of instability, lawlessness, an environment destructive to civil infrastructure and hope for the future. As in so much of Africa. It seems as though this treadmill of human misery will never end. So much for progress in the 21st century. Now Somalia faces the very real prospect of another war.

There's the determinedly-recalcitrant, U.S.-blessed "legal" government ensconced in Baidoa, encouraged, aided and supported by its neighbour Ethiopia. These are two countries which are generally diametrically opposed to one another, old foes. But the U.S.-sanctioned government in Baidoa is a completely discredited, corrupt regime, comprised of brutal war lords, whose governance the people of Somalia loathe and fear and wish to shed.

In favour of the Somali Islamic Courts Council. Oops, yes, guess they're kind of sort of like fundamentalist Muslims. Never mind that this is a Muslim country to begin with. That the population detests its U.S.-approved government. Somalians are prepared to welcome the governance of the Islamic Courts Council which promises to bring order and good government back to the people, from its current status as one of the world's most lawless and dangerous countries.

Ethiopia and other neighbours of Somalia view this state of affairs with extreme nervous anticipation, unwilling to have a Muslim-governed country in such close proximity. So close that their presence might destabilize the others through their own growing Muslim populations. The problems that beset the Western world, particularly in Europe, are reflected in Africa.

The people of Somalia will have their way. They are determined to shed the current warlord-led government for one that offers them hope and a future. Europe appears prepared to accept the presence and legitimacy of the new de facto Muslim government. The United States remains adamant in their belief that the new government will turn out to be yet another Taliban regime, with ties to al-Quada.

Mogadishu's imams, preparing their people to fight for their freedom from the warlords' governing council, deride this view and claim otherwise. Even Somali women, modestly garbed in niqabs, hold aloft AK-47s, determined to fight for their freedom from the oppression of the warlords and their ruinous rule which brought poverty and civil collapse to the country. Private businesses contribute funds for weapons' purchase.

On the face of it, it is troubling that a UN report alleges that fighters, weapons and trainers were streaming into Somalia from Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. That bodes ill for the future, since these regimes are fascistic Islamists. One wonders at their eagerness to spread Muslim rule in black African countries and the contrasting indifference to the fate of black Muslims in Sudan relentlessly preyed upon by Sudanese Arab Muslims. Clearly engaging in a relentless spread of Muslim rule uppermost in mind.

In the final analysis it is the Somali people who can, should and will determine their own governance. The rest of the world can do no other than sit back and await proceedings before coming to conclusions.
And hope that dire apprehensions don't materialize. And then what? Live with the consequences.

Hope in the end that the untrusting solitudes will learn to live together. In peace.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Vaudeville at the United Nations

"My name is Ban, not James Bond. I"m not called the name 007 but I will take my office in '07. I may be shaken but I'm only too stirred."
Actually I've no complaints about that; vaudeville performances at the United Nations, that is. A little good-natured humour can be injected into any situation to defuse otherwise nasty misunderstandings and to draw people a little closer together. When applicable.

When the situation is such that the comic relief that vaudeville can bring to the topic at hand is timely and appropriate. Assuredly, there are some events that merit the blackest of humour to enable people to cope with the demands of the horrors endemic in emotive overload, but that's another story altogether.

So, who knows, it might be a good idea to inject maudlin, silly, irreverent humour into the United Nations. After all, those hallowed halls of tolerance and good will toward all, have been sullied with the permissiveness that allowed a former (according to some schools of thought) terrorist to bring a hip-holstered revolver into the General Assembly (did those united feel they were being hip in not protesting?).

Member states have been permitted to issue threats of doom and portentive annihiliation against another member-state, and the assembly did not rise as one in horror at this signal lapse of diplomatic niceties practised as a mantra of civil good taste in this institution. But then, every family has its ugly child and its orphan child, so why not the United Nations?

So here we have the formal investiture of a new UN Secretary-General, former foreign minister of South Korea, Ban Ki-moon. Who even knew he excelled as a stand-up comedian? If anyone did, they issued not so much as a peep of caution, something like: "to know him is to love him", or "wait 'till you hear this guy's schtik", or "his disarming blend of diplomacy and humour is unique!".

Mr. Ban Ki-moon addressed the assemblage by informing them that he is fondly known in certain circles as "Slippery Eel" (eauw!), and "Teflon Diplomat". Does that translate to the man's oily ability to slither out of uncomfortable situations? Could he translate that to urgent matters of bringing critical stand-offs within the UN to acceptable conclusions? On the other hand, if nothing sticks to him, can we ever hold him to account for malfeasance, for under-achievement, for dishonourable performance?

Already my head is aching. On the other hand, I have but to re-read his comments as reported in my local newspaper: "My name is Ban, not James Bond. I'm not called the name 007 but I will take my office in '07. I may be shaken but I'm only too stirred." Through the medium of halting English, yet. Not bad, not bad; a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek sophistication, one supposes.

And he's a song-and-dance man, too. He most capably offered to his audience a song: "To borrow from a carol of the season - Santa Claus is Coming to Town - everybody should know about." And then crooning:
"I'm making a list, I'm checking it twice, I'm going to find out who's naughty or nice. Ban Ki-moon is coming to town."
Chuckle, chuckle, the promise of great achievement on the international scene; the achievement of great breakthroughs in world peace, world poverty, the equalization of society, grappling with the universal phenomenon of climate change - through humour. On the theory, presumably, that if we're all tickled pink we'd be more inclined to love one another and work hand-in-glove to solve the world's woes.

Well, why not? Intelligent discourse has failed. Religious commandments to treat others as one would oneself have failed. Threats and plea-bargaining have failed. Public shaming has failed. Stringent (but porous) sanctions have failed. Why not chuckle our way agreeably to brotherly love?

Mr. Ban Ki-moon - the God of Merry Mirth bring blessings upon him - will have us laughing in the aisles while he solves the Darfur crisis and brings peace to the Middle East.

Friday, December 15, 2006


The world has embarked on a grand new adventure, surging with great hope into the still-new promise of a new millennium. So much was accomplished in the thousand years preceding, let alone the technological advances in the preceding decades. Humankind has the potential as never before to feed itself, house itself, medicate and treat itself as well as recognize our debt to the environment which surrounds us and reach a balance in what we can extract from it and degrade it beyond its tolerances.

We've soared above our own atmosphere into the great beyond, set foot on the moon, deployed intelligent mechanical devices to explore the surface of sister-planets and have delved into the seas to discover heat beyond belief near the earth's core along with the unbelievable life forms which thrive there. Discovered too that primitive forms of life flourish in icy climates never believed to host living creatures.

Our scientific communities are mapping our genetic DNA in a manner never believed possible, opening up all kinds of potential for better understanding our bodily structures and those of other animals with whom we share this thriving experiment in endurance, stability and survival. Mankind's eager, creative mind is busy unravelling the mysteries of nature and our very existence.

Yet the greatest mystery of all remains before us, unrecognized, unrealized, unknown. The human mind, the human soul, what it is that compels us to behave as we do, why it is that we lose sight of conscious intelligence and become submerged in those very emotions which have the potential to destroy us - on auto-pilot, incapable of regulating our primitive impulses, unwilling to turn darkness into light.

History has been witness to many spine-chilling occurrences of inter- and intra-tribal bloodlettings where humankind has unleashed ancient bloodlusts one against the other, leaving unspeakable carnage in their wake. We've seen manaical dictators come to power, bludgeoning their populace into acceptance of their reign, accepting the inevitability of murderous conquests against others.

From Hitler to Stalin to Mao, the world has watched as millions upon millions of people lost their lives through starvation, mass deprivation, disease, and deliberately planned and executed mass murder. These events go well beyond the usual wars unleashed by one country against another throughout history. These deviously inhumane acts were carried out over lengthy periods of time for the purpose of satisfying the whims and perceived needs of brutal dictators and their brutal regimes.

After the liberation of the death camps throughout Europe post World War II, the nauseated world claimed it would never againt turn its collective head away from the unpleasant need to directly address and counteract the deliberate intent to obliterate from the human record a group of people sharing a culture, history, tradition, religion, ethos setting them apart from others.

One can only imagine that the world has grown weary of standing on guard, of its self-imposed rigor in ensuring that mass harm no longer comes to specific groups of people, so readily identified by obviously identifiable characteristics manifest in their nationhood. We have become so inured of late to the ongoing pursuit of power, prestige and wealth by one group or another, one country or another, that the tedium of expressing outrage is barely evinced.

The United Nations - that body set up for the purpose of universal representation of the good that resides in mankind; to express its collective determination to ensure that all the representative nations were are deserving of protection from aggression; to ensure the encouragement of development for all to join the ranks of progressive nation-states, able to offer security and prosperity to their populations - has been hard put to do its duty.

That same body that seems now to have adopted the attitude that "countries will be countries" and they need to straighten themselves out, and will with maturity learn to get along with their neighbours. And then there's the ugly child in the family, the one whose parents and siblings deride it and penalize and torment it for it is different from the others. What parent stands by while one of its charges is threatened with death by the others and does nothing?

How is it possible that a country like Iran under the iron fist of its hard-line Ayatollahs, its frenetically-fascist president can utter threats of annihilation against the State of Israel, and suffer what amounts to mild rebukes from "outraged" UN member states, and nothing more.

How is it possible that a country like Iran can consistently defy the unease of neighbouring countries along with the UN's elder-statesmen oversight countries regarding its drive to achieve nuclear armaments without the type of censure required which would lead to cessation?

How is it possible that a country like Iran can take upon itself to make a mockery of the single most devastating undertaking to destroy an entire people and raise what amounts to a disengaged yawn from the world community?

Yes,there are disparate condemnations, from the United States, from Great Britain, members of the European Union, Canada, the Pope, all of whom state unequivocally their hostile distaste for the shameful display of historical revisionism, blatant anti-Semitism.

There are single, lonely voices calling out for condemnation and direct action to hold president Ahmedinejad to account in an international court of law, like that of outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton, like former Canadian Cabinet Minister Irwin Cotler.

While the world community rose as one to condemn (in fear and trepidation) the publication of Danish cartoons held by Muslims to be insulting to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, the world community now seems hushed and quiescent in the face of attacks against Israel, against the memory of millions who perished under the Nazi plan of mass extermination.

A kind of mass extermination, just incidentally, more than hinted at by Ahmedinejad and his accomplices, by Iran's and Syria's proxy armies of terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas. Where is the united voice of humanity's outrage?

Israel stands alone, bereft of firm support in her determination to surmount this indignity to the memory of the very same number of Jews which now represent the total population of this country.

Little wonder she feels abandoned.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Air and Sea Blockade? Let's Hope So!

Well, the United Nations has failed to "encourage" Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to permit UN peacekeeping troops to monitor the horrendous situation in Darfur, and now we have the potential of a joint U.S.-British initiative that might actually ease the intolerable and relentlessly ongoing Sudanese massacre of innocent civilians.

While the 27,000 UN peacekeepers are kept at bay, despite an August 2006 Security Council resolution politely asking President al-Bashir's permission to deploy, here are U.S./British officials speaking of military action with specific economic sanctions. After all, in so doing they are merely practising what the UN has agreed to preach: "responsibility to protect".

Already the violence in Darfur accounts for fully half the numbers murdered in Rwanda's unspeakable genocidal war; which translates to almost a half million dead. While two and a half million are homeless and many millions are dependent on international aid for their very survival.

Still the Sudanese-sponsored Janjaweed militias continue to rape women and children, continue to pillage villages as yet left intact, and to rampage and murder at will. Not so, declares the Sudanese president. These numbers are inaccurately reported, and in any event, what the Sudanese government sees fit to do with its population is its own business.
He suggested international concern over Darfur is a Western conspiracy engineered by Israel to divert attention from conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.
(Ah, Israel. Those damn bloody-minded, interfering, world-dominating Jews are everywhere. No wonder the world is in such a parlous state. Jews, Israel, control everything, nothing will satisfy them but to control the entire world.)

Even the International aid community has been targeted by the Janjaweed. Only a week earlier seven hundred to one thousand of the militia swooped down on El Fasher, a vital relief centre in Darfur. Which caused the United Nations to suspend operations and to withdraw its aid workers in fear for their lives. The supplies to aid the dispossessed were looted.

At this juncture it appears abundantly clear that no ultimatums, no pleas, will move Sudan's leadership to lift their genocidal war against their black Muslim population; they want to get on with their preoccupation with serving the country as they feel best and will brook no interference - either from their neighbouring African countries or worse yet, from the West.

An effective air and sea blockade will stop oil shipments and prevent the Sudanese government from attacking black Sudanese villagers with helicopters and jet fighters. Financial sanctions can pressure Sudan's financial sector, freeze bank accounts halting business procedures and bring the Sudanese government to abrupt attention.

Here's hoping it proceeds.

Heaven Forfend!

No, of course, Mr. Haniyeh, you would be entirely correct in stating: "We want to assure you that words such as 'civil war' don't exist in our dictionary". Yes, of course, how could it be otherwise? In your dictionary all is sweetness and light, we see that exhibited time and again throughout the Middle East. You honour your god, your religion and your Prophet by sweet and patient social arbitrage.

If differences of opinion exist, you sit down like the good souls that you are and exhibit the utmost tolerance of opinions until finally acceptable compromise is reached and accepted in good spirit by all concerned. After all, this is evidence of a civil society, a people whom tradition has taught to trust and respect others unlike themselves, to make sincere efforts toward acceptance of diversity.

That is why the unfortunate occurrence of 'civil war' cannot become a reality with your people, be they Hamas or Fatah, since your patience with slight differences is legendary. We see also how you treat your enemies, those whom you accuse of deliberately visiting harm on your people at large. You treat them as honoured guests, come to the bargaining table to relent their sins of the past. You give them ample opportunity to express their desire to live in peace with and among you.

This is most honourable of you. In doing such things you honour Allah, you honour the Prophet Muhammad, you honour the long history and tradition of the Arab peoples. Mind, we do know that some Arab Muslims have the surely-unjust reputation of harbouring ill will bordering on a mentality of bloodlust toward perceived enemies, but this is not your way.

Obviously, so very obviously. All the more so as you alert us to this. You abhor the savage mindset that would set out to murder children because their father is seen as an enemy. This you would never, ever support; you condemn such actions. Nor would you ever see fit to set out to explode personal suicide-murder devices against unarmed civilian women and children and the elderly.

This is the kind of unspeakable behaviour that you might expect say, of Jews, but certainly not Arabs.

Permit me a moment of personal curiosity, Ismail Haniyeh, but did you find time during your discussions in Sudan to enquire of Mr. Bashir on behalf of your brethren in Darfur?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

In The Company of Fanatics

Religious fanaticism has but one face. Just slot in the religion of choice. They burn with the light of divine prophecy. Their arguments and interpretations are irrecusable. Their divine directives are irrefragable, their claim to represent the true will of the Almighty irrefrangible. Fanatics have nothing to discuss with you or me. They know whereof they speak. And that of which they speak is to be respected, admired, obeyed without question.

Religious fanaticism has no social conscience. It answers only to God and God has no need of conscience for whatever God does or does not do, commands or proclaims is to be obeyed. God speaks through the mouths of his fervent followers, those to whom others defer as the earthly voice of the Supreme Being. Get the picture?

If the god who averted his holy eyes from history's genocidal war on Jews determines that the Holocaust did not really occur, then it did not. Iran's ayatollahs and mullahs deem it so. For they have a direct line to god; call him Allah. The Jews, once chosen of god; call him Jahweh, have been superceded by a far worthier line of humankind and they now have his ear.

Ask the orthodox Jews who have given enthusiastic support to Iranian Ayatollah Komenei, to Iran's president Ahmajinedad. They'll agreeably respond in the affirmative. Israel has no right to exist. Thus is it written, thus shall it be. These fanatical Jews, content in the company of Holocaust deniers await their Messiah and until the Messiah appears there can be no foundation for the existence of a Jewish State.

To the world at large, acknowledging the irreducible evidence of Nazi triumph in the clinical eradication of six million souls, the Holocaust remains a sadly relevant testament of man's inhumanity to man. To Jew-baiters, Jew-haters, the Holocaust was: a) a well deserved comeuppance for that inferior race; b) a non-event - it never happened. For why, after all, give Jews the upper hand in this morality play?

Better to believe that the myth of the sacrifice of six million Jews was but a down-payment on a clever plot to guilt the world into compliance to the wishes of Jewish elites with a plan to take over the world. Starting with that little corner over there, yes, kind of in the middle of those other groupings of countries in the Middle East. As good a place to start as any, given historical antecedents.

Now here, in this gathering in Tehran, an odious association of like-minded fanatics who have lovingly embraced the dread disease of anti-Semitism. In their self-admiring drive to forge their own compact with the evil forces of this world they are bereft of any humanitarian impulses; ready, eager and willing to sacrifice humankind on the higher alter of their version of service to the Almighty.

This inglorious group of hater-mongers are indecent in their self-absorbed lack of humanity.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Peoples' Shame

What the world needs now - a Holocaust conference. A conference advertised world-wide as the first of its kind, a conference to bring to light truth and justice. Truth, as it is seen by an Islamist theocratic state; justice following upon the stark truth revealed which would, in their opinion, justify their stand that a member-state of the region has no place there, and should vacate its geography in favour of another community.

Sounds simple, if not simply simple-minded. There, the gathering of dissemblers, historical revisionists, racists and anti-Semites can give comfort to one another, since much of the rest of the world views their single-minded pursuits in the interests of shifting the historical record and redeeming their hatred of Jews as wildly distasteful at best, criminal lunacy to be certain.

That they have been joined by one of the world's best-recognized racists is a boon to them. That they have been joined by an ultra-right-wing religious Jewish group whose rigidly pedantic view that until the Messiah, the true Messiah, the saviour of the Israelites, appears on earth to guide them back to the Holy Land, the current presence of Jews within a state of their own, is theologically illegal, not to be countenanced, to be denounced and where better than in this luminous company of Jew-haters?

To give credit where it is due, one must believe that the vast majority of Iranians are justifiably uncomfortable at this very public showcase of the ultra-bigotry and religious intolerance being displayed by their leaders. Not all Iranians are of the ilk of their Ayatollahs and their political masters. As an educated, cultured society it is nothing short of amazing that the population has allowed itself to be led by these puny-minded, vision-stunted, distorted mentalities.

These things can happen in the wake of religious, military, political revolutions. People exult at the changes that become so immediate, that appear at first glance to reflect their history, culture, traditions and desire for an improved civil infrastructure. It is only later, once the die has been cast and the new regime takes solid form that they begin to look back with longing at the relative freedoms once taken for granted.

A small group of Iranian student activists have courageously spoken aloud for all to hear what many feel. They have assembled to protest against the "shameful" Holocaust conference; that the conference "has brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world". They name their president Ahmadinejad for what he is, a "Fascist".

The conference has attracted academics, researchers and conspiracy theorists from around the world for the singular purpose of debunking the "myths" of the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad boasts that the very presence of the conference within Iran speaks to its openness and freedom of expression. While many Iranians themselves point out they are granted no freedom to debate pressing internal issues such as Iran's nuclear programme.

This current regime, building upon the blocks the previous regime has put in place, has squeezed out liberal and secular university professors, threatening a total purge of universities. A cleric has been placed at the head of Tehran University, while dozens of liberal-minded professors have been "retired" in the past year alone.

Although Ahmadinejad declares openly that it is his personal intention to do his utmost to see that Israel is "wiped off the map", one doubts he has the support of the majority of the people in the country. Those living in repressed conditions, brought to heel by the threats and demands of the ruling theocratic state seldom dare to express themselves too openly; the reputation of the penal system in the country has a disquieting effect on dissent.

Yet this is a people whose resistance to mass protest, to denial of the behaviours and direction of their government marks them as silently acquiescent to the vile statements of their president, to the quiet acceptance of their country's intention to become nuclear-offensive, posing a threat to the region and the world at large.

The truth must be spoken and it must be embraced and it must be honoured. Whether it is the truth relating to the historical record confirming that millions of innocent people were targeted by a mad dictator because of his wish to rid the world of a Jewish presence; whether it is the truth that reflects the mindset of a mad dog happy to thumb his nose at world opinion, upsetting the apple cart of nuclear proliferation to volatile states.

Shame is not enough. At some point, tolerance of the intolerant must result in complete disavowal and action.

Is the Existence of Iran a Mere Myth? Conceivably

The United Nations is bidding farewell to its long-serving Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and readying itself to welcome his successor, Ban Ki-moon. The future is a great unknown. Kofo Annan was without doubt a well-intentioned and honest person. The best of intentions don't necessarily translate to a job well done, and in Mr. Annan's case, it can be said with all honesty that the job was not well done.

During Mr. Annan's tenure, we saw the world in great turmoil, as nations fed in furious anger one upon the other. In Cambodia, in Bosnia there was carnage. In Somalia the world watched without hope as humankind devoured itself. The Hutus and the Tutsis taught us further how frail our tolerance is for one another, our reluctance to accept differences between ourselves.

Wars in the Congo, in Liberia, in Sudan, go forward without surcease, despite the most well-intentioned and frantic efforts of the United Nations. Darfur is a telling case in point where the Sudanese government was politely asked time and again to call off its deadly offensive, but calmy refused, claiming the rights of sovereinty.

The member countries of the United Nations meet in that august company in the calming influence of its serene representation of the best that human beings can attain to; tolerance and brotherhood. Member country representatives, courteously circle one another, knowing full well the human-rights records representative of each, yet offering diplomatic niceties.

A standoffish respect is the order of the day within the United Nations. Yet there is one nation among the many whose presence is viewed and treated by a representative group of developing countries as that of a pariah. This is not a country whose human-rights record, whose history and tradition has brought it to such a pass, but rather a country whose geographic presence offends.

This is the only country continually singled out for group censure. This is the only country whose member states can point to as being guilty of trumped-up charges absurd in nature, but acceptable nonetheless to the charging states and those in their economic, political or religiously-motivated thrall. The mother body of the human-rights commissions which undertake perenially to publicly censure the State of Israel has done nothing to curtail these offensively one-sided activities.

But worse is the fact that the United Nations had done nothing at all to protest the fact that one member country is permitted to stand in its hallowed halls and proclaim the illegitimacy of another, and its intention to clear the region entirely of the presence of this offending country. The president of Iran, a ranting, raving affront to decency and intelligent debate has time and again delivered his opinion that Israel should be wiped off the map, and he'd be happy to do it.

Yet not once has the United Nations, Secretary General Kofi Annan, nor any of his high-ranking officials issued a rebuke to Iran. Why might that be? Iran's president Ahmadinejad claims that the Holocaust is a myth, an event that never happened, a fabrication which Israel has used to blackmail guilt-minded countries which failed to come to the rescue of millions of men, women and children whose lives were extinguished by a racist madman and his henchmen.

Quite the myth, that. Of course, for that matter how do any of us really know that we exist? Does Iran exist, or is it a myth of epic proportions? This may be possible, after all: any country which asserts such rubbish, which behaves in such a criminally abrasive manner toward its neighbours, toward the world at large, must be the figment of someone's deranged imagination. In short, a pitiable myth.

In spite of which, it would be refreshing, intellectually invigorating, possibly peace-enabling, for the new Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to demonstrate the intellectual courage that appeared to elude his predecessor. Would it not be fitting, as an introduction to his new tenure at the helm of the United Nations, to see Mr. Ban Ki-moon denounce the flouting of decent behaviour by member states, and in particular that of Iran?

He could, conceivably, invite Mr. Ahmadinejad to enter the world of the 21st century as an honest and trustworthy member of the collective, or excuse himself from the gathering and spout his criminal rhetoric as the pariah he truly is.

It is up to Mr. Ban Ki-moon to uphold the principles upon which the United Nations was founded and the purpose for which it came into existence. It's past time the world awakened from its silent acquiescence to the threats of state annihilation of a member country by Iran.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Service to Whom Exactly?

We depend upon certain agencies in our society to ensure that law and order are the - well, order of the day. And of course there are certain levels of policing authority here in Canada, from municipal police forces to provincial policing agencies (in some provinces), to federal agencies like the time-honoured activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. And then there is our equivalent of other countries' secret service: Canadian Security Intelligence Services.

With all these authoritative bodies in law enforcement Canadians should be assured that we're generally in good hands. On the other hand, for the most part, we're a fairly law-abiding people to begin with. Reared at our parents' bosom to believe in equal opportunity for all, and the collective responsibility of behaving in a manner reflective of good citizenship, conducive to the achievement of a society respectful toward one another and the laws of the land.

(Case in point: Diplomats representing various countries of the world stationed at the United Nations run up enormous bills for law infractions relating to where and how they drive and park their vehicles. Those diplomats who largely represent "emerging" countries whose civil liberties are constrained are over-represented in the "bad citizen" department.
Whereas Canadian diplomats have not one single outstanding infraction for behaviour unbecoming a diplomat representing his/her countries' interests at the United Nations. Demonstrating also the best and the brightest that their countries have to represent them at the UN. And because they are diplomats and are accorded special status under the Geneva Conventions, diplomats cannot be forced by civic or federal law of the host country to ante up.)

So here we are, a law-abiding (by and large) population, with a fairly low overall crime rate (relatively speaking) under the oversight of various policing agents who can give us a metaphorical nudge in the right direction from time to time lest we forget our civil obligations. How to square this idyllic state of apprehension with the nightmare scenario visited upon a number of Canadians of Arab descent?

Well, mass hysteria for one. After the events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania which shook the world in the intensity of their bleak bloodlust it seemed for a while that nothing would ever return to what it had been before. Nor has it, exactly. But in the aftermath of thosehorrendous airborne missions policing and security agents everywhere went on high alert and detected the potential for disaster in every dark corner.

Given the backgrounds of those associated with the attacks it's unreasonably reasonable that people of Mideastern descent would be held in suspicion. Mistakes do happen. And in the interests of the larger public safety and the security of governments to do what they must, a certain type of zeal is understandable. Here in one corner, cowering, we have Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati. Here in the opposite corner, glowering, we have CSIS and the RCMP acting on our behalf.

These were sacrificial lambs to our shared terror of terrorism. Groping for clues, for possible answers, for identification of potential terrorists, misfortune pointed its nasty finger at these men. Like an urban myth out of control distortions come back to haunt the original supplier of tentative information. Those rebounded distortions bearing some resemblance to the original assertions serve to indemnify the uncertainty. Thereafter, it was with certainty that the two forces declared these men to be Islamic terrorists.

We don't do "off with their heads" any more; only in Alice in Wonderland. So it was off to Syria instead. Oh, we can plead innocent to that charge, but we were the enablers, so certain of having identified a clear and present threat and so determined to defuse it and while at it, throw a wider net and bring in other suspects. The thing of it is, while there may well have been legitimate aspirational terrorists in our midst these men were not they.

They were delivered into the tender care of brutal dictatorships with their brutal mindset, impervious to human identity and human dignity. These countries' embrace of medieval torture as a state device of kindly interrogation was visited upon these hyphenated Canadians. Former Commissioner of the RCMP Zaccardelli insists he would have done nothing differently. For that he is now the former Commissioner.

One must ask, how were we served, in the manner in which CSIS and the RCMP continued their characterizations of these men as enemies of our state, while their families and our parliamentarians were frantically engaged in attempting to secure their release? More, why is it that Maher Arar is front and centre, trembling with outraged memory of his ordeal, while we hear so little of the others?

Is he to be assuaged and recompensed for his suffering while the others remain lost to the public eye? If we owe the apologies vested in millions of dollars of taxpayer guilt to one, what of the others?

And how will we ever again fully trust our highly respected, somewhat-less-than professional public safety institutions?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Now That's a Bit of a Stretch

On the other hand, where would the world be if it didn't have its universal, perennial, dependable and most useful scapegoat close to hand whenever things begin to look a tad untidy? In lieu of a mea culpa, an admission, however grudgingly, that the U.S. has dug itself deep into doo-doo of its own making - a nod at that little old explain-all "shit happens", one can always turn the crooked finger of blame on - who else - Israel! Stands to reason.

After all, according to the Old Testament, G-d created the world and all that is in it - in a record six days, no less. This a Jewish compendium of Jehovah and his exploits, so they're responsible for what happens - anyhow, everywhere, timelessly. The Jewish biblical luminaries, Abraham, Isiah, Jesus (okay we're looking at the New Testament now, but what gave birth to it?) branched out into Christianity, then Islam. Get the picture?

Now you can understand why brainiacs like James Baker, L.H. Hamilton, L.S. Eagleberger, V.E. Jordan, Edwin Meese, Sandra Day O'Connor et al could draw the many conclusions they brought together in their
Iraq Study Group Report. These people represent the best and the brightest that the great United States of America could huddle together to conclude that "you talk to your enemies, not just your friends".

Yes, and you give aid and succour to your enemies and accuse your friends. Just to ensure you've got balance. Solve the seemingly unsolvable and eureka! success follows. If a Justice of the Supreme Court could assist in reaching the conclusion that Israel's long-standing face-off with the Palestinians has resulted in unprecedented turmoil in the Middle East then there's no need to ponder the ill-considered strategem that brought the U.S. into its current conundrum.

It stands to reason that resentment across the Middle East because the State of Israel has situated itself in their midst causes great unease. So great that Iraq attacked Iran and the resulting years of warfare between the Sunni-ruled dictatorship and the Shi'ite-ruled theocracy, both somewhat crazed Islamists, was Israel's fault.

Now the worm has turned, and fanatically theistic Iran hovers over its easy prey, thrilled to its core that the United States is trying to eat its tail in its anxiety to remove itself from full blame that it has unleashed bitterly ancient conflicts to the light of day, and the blood-curdling screams of Allah Akbar! as Shia militias attack not Sunni insurgents and vice versa - but rather both prey on alternate civilians.

It's a safe bet that the victor to whom will go these spoils will be a near neighbour, ready and willing to be offered this handy-dandy opportunity to invade and spread their version of Islam to the great consternation and fear of its Sunni neighbours. Aha! the added bonus being that with the sledgehammer of nuclear weapons who will deny its pre-eminence? Hey, Israel's fault. She, after all, has long owned the formula, the expertise and the commitment to produce, own (though not own-up) and maintain nuclear capability.

Note, while Israel has a long history of nuclear ability, never has she threatened or warned her adversaries that they'll be in a big muddle of trouble if they invade her borders. Yet, she's at fault for ownership of nuclear, it being an encouragement to others in the region. Said others, even before capability, promising to wipe Israel off the map.

Syria's predatory intentions toward Lebanon, its hulking military and political presence in that country, its wholesale swifting away of resources and finances became a reality because of Israel. Israel tried to put a halt to the Palestinian raids against Israel from Lebanon - and their invasion had the effect of breeding Hezbollah, Syria's unofficial jihadist army. Whose fault is that?

Yes, President Anwar Sadat, former general and formulator of a succession of military expeditions against Israel determined in his wisdom that the better part of valour is to recognize one's enemy and forge a peace pact with a force superior to his own and the combined forces of the region for the good
of all concerned. His was the wise course; it was the Muslim Brotherhood that assassinated him - for treason to the Muslim cause.

Sunnis in Egypt and Syria ask of Iraqi refugees whether they are Shia or Muslim. This is a bitter sectarian divide well over a millennium's age in the ripening. Is this too Israel's fault? Is the undying enmity between Sunni and Shia a recognizable result of the on-again, off-again search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians - a result of that latter-day conflict?

Should, miraculously, clearer and calmer heads prevail and a peace accord be eventually reached between Israel and the Palestine Authority will that translate into peace in the region? Will that guarantee that a country like Iraq will no longer wish to invade its neighbour, nor Syria it's?

Will Shia and Sunni Muslims finally put aside their mutual enmity, hate and bloodlust against one another? Truly, miraculous powers of healing must emanate from the State of Israel. Might they be the Chosen People?

Can we all take a deep, clean breath of air?

The Halo Party

One certainly hopes they're prepared to do better than that. The Liberal Party of Canada is busy polishing up their luminous halo, the one that became so sadly tarnished just a short election ago. This is the party that promises all, delivers nothing. This is the party that at one time truly was the choice of the great number of middle-of-the-road, but slightly-to-the-left Canadians and which did distinctly believe at least part of what it promised and ultimately did learn to deliver.

But as with all good things, even semi-good things, a kind of moral and ethical laxity sets in. It gets kind of boring, one supposes, being swept back into power election after election. It's all so (yawn) predictable, after all. No need to bother. The record speaks for itself. And so it did, for an awfully long time, even though from time to time doubts did erupt - on the basis of the current record.

Nothing to compare though, with the general outrage of an often-forgiving public, one that has proven time and again to have a short memory so that items of outrage at the time kind of shrivel into petty insignificance given enough time. A month, six months, a year? That'll do it nicely. Thanks for waiting. Yes, power certainly is corrupting, and knowing you're a shoo-in time after time lends a comfortable air of entitlement to the effort.

Well, during the last election the Liberals pulled every stunt of the black art of political smear that was available at the time. And most people bought into it. Despite which, the collective anger and disgust at the degraded performance of the Liberals too long in power, ensured that their dire warnings would go unrewarded - and out they were booted.

The Canadian electorate, despite its very prominent misgivings at bringing aboard a one-time Reform-Alliance functionary without a sense of humour, but with a deep sense of bringing the country back to a hard-right turn, took the option of voting Conservative and hello! Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The electorate looked long and hard at what they wrought and they shrivelled slightly inside.

Would this man whom the Liberals lavished pejoratively right-wing labels upon bring us to our knees begging mercy for the underprivileged, the overlooked in society, the minorities, the confusedly other-gendered? Would our vaunted way of life tilting toward social equality and fairness, our openness toward differences begin to crumble before our very eyes?

With bated breath we waited. And, nothing. Well, if anything, Canadians watched incredulously as their new prime minister (while making his share of missteps) assured us through his deliberate and well-thought-out actions that life would go on as before, and the nobility of the Canadian Experiment would continue apace. To bring home that message even more forcefully, the new government took principled, ethical steps that the former, disgraced government had hesitated to take.

So go ahead, Bill Graham, tell us again how much like Nazi propogandists the conservatives are. Yep, Jean Chretien, go ahead, call Stephen Harper Steve, he won't mind, why should he? The Zaccardelli scandal, the Maher Arar travesty all occurred under your watch, don't pin it on your successor. And Mr. Dion, don't excoriate the conservatives over their too-new-to-be-properly-evaluated intentions on the environment, given that it's been all too easy to assess yours as having produced nothing at all.

Canadians are kind of sad that the differences between the two parties are expressed by the liberals as being sea changes apart when in fact they're not all that different. It's just that one has been of late far more effective than the other, that "other" happening to be the liberals. And we now know that while the liberals still claim the halo, the conservatives don't hoist a trident.

So give us a break, back off the dire warnings of impending doom under a conservative agenda, and grow up. Behave as a responsible political collective should and start being honest with the electorate. That would be a refreshing change. If you're not certain how to go about it, consult with Stephen Harper, he's a nice man and he won't mind showing you how.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Loopy Laws in Germany

Seems that Germany remains dreadfully conscious of its Nazi past, nervous about how it is perceived as a decent, human-rights-observant state, unwilling to foist too many unfair laws upon its populace. Adolph Hitler it would appear, was a true martinet, convinced that government should implement laws to protect people from themselves. He was a health nut, an advocate of public safety and security and a staunch upholder of all things German. Unless, that is, you were a hyphenated German, and worse yet, a Jew, in which case the only law that might apply to you would be a death sentence, case closed.

Germany belongs to the European Union. The EU likes things nice and simple. A singular way of governance, enacting of reasonable laws, open borders and trade, assistance when needed to member states, but above all, a good measure of complementary order resulting in conformancy of regulation . Now here is Germany, the sole European country that the European Commission saw fit to wrist-slap in an effort to have it tighten up its anti-smoking laws in line with European Union guidlinles.

Or, heavens-to-Betsy (Bertha?) face legal action in the European Court of Justice. This is serious business, after all. It is generally agreed that scientific research has proven without a doubt that smoking tobacco directly endangers health and that includes the passive inhalation of cigarette smoke by bystanders, innocents who themselves do not engage in this filthy habit but who may live in close and helpless proximity to tobacco addicts.

Ah, but Germany asserts defensively that it has no intention whatever, no plans to ban smoking from public buildings or restaurants. It shall remain a matter of individual responsibility. To smoke or not to smoke, that is the question. Yes, the ill-health effects relating to smoking are a matter of public concern, since the health and welfare of citizens is concerning, never mind the costs associated with treating an unhealthy population. However, Germany is concerned that people not be over-regulated.

A germane concern, right?

Oh dear, Germany refuses to change a law dating back to the Nazi era which insists on the legality of chimney sweeps being able to force their way into homes to carry out check-ups on the state of the population's chimneys. A court warrant is not required; chimney sweeps are guaranteed by law the right to invade one's personal property for the purpose of inspecting and carrying out chimney cleanings. The sweeps are even able to enlist the assistance of police when they encounter a recalcitrant home owner.

The home owner may try to use the force of reason, by explaining that his home is heated with gas, not coal, not oil, and as a result his chimney is clean and therefore in no need of cleaning. Too bad, so sad, it just won't wash. These are enforced, obligatory, no-holds-barred legal actions which the chimney sweeps take at their leisure and their personal enrichment. These chimney sweeps descend upon hapless, helpless home owners four times each year, at a charge of $198 per visit. Forget about "thanks very much but no thanks"; it isn't an option.

The European Commission has warned Germany to abolish the monopoly and open its market, lest the case be sent to the European Court of Justice. Ho, ho, this is for the purpose of opening the market to its EU cousins. The lunatic obligatory nature of the practise isn't in question.

In a country loathe to over-regulate its population - so it will not protect them by enacting laws because the state insists people can make their own minds up - chimney sweeping is a legal obligation in the interest of public safety. Go figure.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Humanitarian Aid or Blind Capitulation?

Yes, it's truly a dreadful situation and one which deserves as swift a solution as possible. The Palestinian population deserves better - any population does - than the current situation which sees it deprived of sufficient food, health care, safety of persons, meaningful employment; in short, hope for the direct improvement of their misfortunes let alone that of their future.

Who exactly is it that has placed them in this dire condition? Casting memory back to the most recent election for representation in the Palestinian Authority, one dimly recalls an unheard-of victorymost European capitals as a terrorist organization.

Which means, of course, this was a deliberate choice by a significant number of Palestinians, to bring Hamas into political dominance of the governance of the Palestinian people, to represent them on the world stage and at home. That the fall-out of this ill-fated decision now rests heavily upon the population is hardly surprising, but they remain, along with their Hamas representatives, defiant. So why, now, is the world rushing to rescue Palestinians from themselves?

It was only yesterday that PA prime minister Ismail Haniye of Hamas once again promised that Hamas would never see its way clear to officially recognizing Israel's right to exist as a nation, despite that the quartet of Nations (US, EU, UN, Russia) insist that financial support will be withheld until Hamas renounces violence, upholds the former peace agreements between Israel and the former PA administration and ceases its declaration of intent to drive Israel from the Middle East.

The Palestinian Authority, under this Hamas government has lost billions of dollars because of the international funds cut-off. Still, the UN has declared an emergency (as such it indeed is) requiring funding in the astronomical sum of $650M for cash assistance, food, health and education and job creation - all badly needed by the Palestinian population at large. The PA has been unable to pay its 160,000 government workers whose salaries support a million Palestinians, despite millions in pledges from some Arab League members.

The EU under its own recognizance has privately funded thousands of Palestinians on a temporary basis. Israel has contributed aid to Palestinian families through the provision of expert medical treatment in pediatric care. Approximately a thousand Palestinians also receive medical treatment in Israel each month. In addition to which, despite the problems with terrorist insurgents in the Gaza strip, shipments of food, medicine and humanitarian aid have been permitted to pass through border crossings.

These stop-gap measures are clearly that, and in and of themselves do nothing to solve the larger problem. Humanitarian gestures are no substitute for a workable and mutually-agreed-upon political solution. By turning the focus on the plight of the Palestinian people - that same people who do have the option of declaring their current political situation unworkable and that they support scrapping it - the UN is falling into the Hamas-laid trap of intransigence meriting reward.

The original goal of the Quartet was clearly stated: that Hamas must recognize Israel's permanence in the Middle East, must accept that Israel and a new state for the Palestinian population can and should live side by side in peace; above all, Hamas must agree to disarm and become completely socially political not martially as is now the case.

This situation, inimical to the Palestinian peoples' well-being and intolerable to both parties' search for acceptable solutions, must be met with resolve and commitment, both of which appear to be melting away under the humanitarian stresses which the Palestinians have brought upon themselves.

What! The World's not Going to Hell in a Handbasket?

No kidding, we're not. Because delicate little matters like poverty, hunger, illiteracy, pestilence, famine and death are no longer affecting quite as many human beings on this earth at quite the same rate as they did in years past. Oh well, cross out that last one; death will appear whenever the Grim Reaper deems it's time, inconveniently premature or not; he's got his own schedule to adhere to.

But, as a recently-published book, The Improving State of the World, by U.S. economist Indur Goklany (published by the Cato Institute) fulsomely points out, we're feeding greater numbers, fighting dread diseases more successfully, and experiencing longer lifespans, country to country. Really, despite all the gloom and doom shouting out at us from every newscast and newspaper we're doing all right. Kudos, people.

We know, don't we, because it's constantly being drummed into our guilt-ridden western consciences, that the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer and the lot of us in between are glum about it all. But no, not according to Mr. Goklany's research; rather, it is the poorest who are enjoying the most dramatic rise in living standards. Driven, likely, by those same guilt-ridden westerners whose vaunted lifestyle is achieved on the backs of the poor.

Even the environmental record gets an improbable boost. Mr. Goklany's book points out that as countries become richer they also become cleaner, healthier and more environmentally conscious. So much for the widely accepted popular wisdom that on their way to becoming richer the developing countries heedlessly throw environmental matters to the winds and abuse the environment as a matter of necessity while hauling themselves into a state of acceptable development.

So, does it then follow that, in their search for success developing nations destroy their environment, and when success is reached, look back and suddenly begin to take care of whatever they have left? Can countries undo the degradation they visit upon themselves so handily when the time is right? Are we all worried needlessly, just for the sake of flagellating ourselves?
"We should be especially proud of the fact that humanity has never been better fed: The daily food intake in poor countries has increased by 38% since the 1960s to 2,665 calories per person per day on average. The population of those countries has soared by 83% during that time.
"Together with a 75% decline in global food prices in real terms in the second half of the 20th century, caused by improved agricultural productivity and freer trade, fewer people than ever before go hungry."
Famine, he further points out, and declining life expectancy now belong to the discrete countries who are governed by dictatorial mismanagement busy augmenting their own lifestyles and coffers at their populations' expense; those who reject capitalization and globalization. Aha! If people are to be fed and clothed and housed adequately, their governments must embrace the market economy, the legality of right-of-property, free trade and technological progess along with sound money policies.

Sounds very much like a polemic produced by the Cato Institute in reflection of the North American Way of Life (uber alles).

During the Middle Ages (500 - 1500 a.d.) anyone born in Britain might live to age 22 - 30; now that life span has increased to 77 years. Furthermore, life expectancy in poorer countries has improved even more exceptionally...China has surged from 41 years in the 1950s to 71 years currently.

Industrialization, despite its bad rap for having demolished the environment, given us a life-long love affair with pollutants and life-destroying chemicals, has had the effect of decreasing child mortality rates and child labour has been in steady decline (despite hanging stubbornly on in some parts of the world). While in 1960 a quarter of the world's children were engaged in labour, that number has fallen to 10%.

Improved technology, more efficient productivity permit us to conserve energy resources, decrease emissions of noxious substances, provide potable water and increase air quality in general. From Mr. Goklany's research it would appear, unbelievable though it seems, that western societies are not, after all wasting natural resources beyond control.

If the current trajectory continues he posits the world could eventually be without hunger and malnutrition; malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and other dire infectuous diseases and parasites will have been eliminated. And won't the world be a happy place then. I trust we won't be bored by the predictability of it all. That we would resort to hankering over the good old days, become sentimental about such great events as the Black Plague and other pandemics.

So don't worry, be happy. Rising crime rates, world terrorism threats, natural disasters, social dislocations resulting from intractable neighbourly rancour leading to death-dealing wars on a truly grand scale may be a problem, but remember, we're on our way to solving some other great bib problems, why not those, too?

Of course, it might help if we were able somehow to transform ourselves into reasonable, intelligent, friendly, inclusive, sympathetic human beings. Oh, the pain of it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

There's the Pain; Where's the Gain?

The United Nations is now asking donor countries to contribute a record $450M(U.S.) in aid to the economy-ravished Palestinians. They're in dire straits as a direct result of their successful democratic bid to elect a majority Hamas legislature, one whose prime mandate is to destroy the State of Israel. The result of which is that international economic sanctions on the Hamas-led PA has left the population bereft of their usual infusions of financial help.

Poverty and unemployment, always on the high end, have exploded throughout Gaza and the West Bank. The health and education systems have been severely eroded, and the government has been incapable, as a result of withheld funds, of paying salaries to the 165,000 Palestinian workers who make up the backbone of the economy. Get that? the public service is the backbone of the economy.

Hasn't anyone there noticed that the public service doesn't generate funds, its purpose is to spend funds that government collects through taxation of industry, business and personal gain-and-expenditure. If you haven't got that kind of fiscal infrastructure, there is no economy. What the Palestinians view as their economy is charitable handouts from conscience-stricken Western countries, those same pay-outs which, mostly through the United Nations, have supported the Palestinians for over a half century.

The purpose of any government is to get on with matters critical to the needs of the people it serves. That includes vital infrastructure to deliver safety and security, a judicial system, a health authority, institutions of education, encouragement toward economic outreach to neighbouring countries for the exchange of goods and products. Instead, this government and the one preceding it has seen fit to wage war against a neighbour.

The acting Palestinian finance minister, an Hamas official, shrugs his metaphorical shoulder, informing the international community that things will chug along nicely as they are, with direct help from Arab governments, along with millions smuggled into the country in defiance of sanctions. In other words, its a mere illusion and misunderstanding; Palestinians are just fine thank you very much, and the "die, Israel" agenda will remain firmly in place.

The massive $450M the United Nations is asking for is slated for job creation, cash assistance and food aid, along with assists to the health and education system. Palestinians have always suffered deprivation of one kind or another, but those were the good old days; now the situation is truly dreadful, hence the UN move. Yet Hamas remains resolutely adamant about the continued sabotage of their own economic prospects.

This is effectively down-playing the urgent need at the present time of the Palestinian population, as well as the impact the current crisis will have on the future of the Palestinian population as a workable state-in-waiting. But because there is also an inimical impact on Israel, upon its right to survival, upon its future in the area, implacable hatred denies the good sense inherent in striving toward a workable comprimose to benefit both parties.

And the long-suffering Palestinian people, the ordinary non-combatants, the elderly, the women and children, have they no opinion? Does their animus toward the Jewish state direct them to the same sacrificial implacability as Hamas? Were they to protest their condition and recommend that in view of their failed enterprise in democratic participation which delivered them into the hands of a terrorist group intent on destabilizing the region in bloodlust and revenge, they would prefer to opt for compromise - would this endanger them bodily as traitors to the cause?

Do they silently assent to the ongoing contretemps gaining them nothing at all in the short run and likely in the long run may emperil their future generations ad infinitum?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mere Legislative Details

Among all the nations upon this earth how is it that it falls upon the State of Israel to exhibit tendencies, celebrate a rare type of inclusiveness and practise a high moral standard simply not demanded of any other country? All this, of course, while the country itself is in a state of perpetual danger from without and incipient danger from within.

Since its formal statehood Israel has had to fend off deadly offensives aimed at its very existence by its many neighbours who practise Islam, whose sacred creed forbids land once occupied by Muslims to fall into the hands of infidels. Since 1948 Israel has fought one war after another, all designed to remove it from the geography of the Middle East, along with its Jewish population.

While some of the antagonists have over time seen fit to pull back from military aggression against Israel and now stand in (still-tentative) agreement with its right to existence in the Middle East, those countries whose stand against the interloper in their midst remains ongoing comprise a more deadly threat than ever before by virtue of the fact that their game of war has become deadlier, more dedicated, totally implacable to reason.

This is a tiny country within the unfriendly bosom of surrounding nations all of whom are larger in size and population, most of which are determined to drive Israel from the scene. Anti-semitism has become the mantra of the dispossessed and the Islamist protagonists, and the education of young Muslim children to despise and fear Jews has been unrelenting.

Israel, neither in its governance, its politics, its popular culture and its own apprehension through long sad experience, is the perfect state. Since human beings, whatever their derivation, their ethos, historical culture and traditions, let alone religions are not without fault, any state that they design to represent the entire entity will be fallible.

However, in comparison to the dictatorships and kingships; theocratic, military and semi-democratic in inspiration, Israel is a beacon of light as a participatory democracy whose rationale is solidly planted in the democratic ideal of social inclusion, pluralism, tolerance, freedom of speech and the media, and a proudly independent judiciary.

At some time in the future when and if the state is ever able to breathe a sigh of relief as events around it coalesce into a universal acceptance of its existence and peaceful co-existence with its neighbours, then it will have to become introspective and look within itself for answers to some of the exigencies it has accepted as a course of action, despite questionable ethics.

For the meantime, it can congratulate itself on being exceptional in a region known for hysterical rhetoric, human rights abuses, neighbourly aggression, aggravated battery of citizens' rights, and the general oppression of women. Israel has welcomed its Arab and Kurdish populations to take part in its parliamentary democracy as elected members of its Knesset.

Now it faces another threat of annihilation as a state whose function and purpose has historically been to preserve Judaism in the face of a world quiescent and uncaring when Jews faced the very real threat of extinction through the Nazi edict of eradication. Israel's very own non-Jewish citizens have become the threat that some Israelis always feared they would transmute into.

A new movement, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel has published a position paper insisting on recognition as a "national minority". They demand changes to the country's flag and anthem, altered immigration quotas and the official recognition of the dreaded "right to return". All of which, implemented, would sound the death knell of the country as a distinct place of refuge for Jews worldwide and transform the country in yet another Arab state, with Jewish residents.

The Arab-Israeli advocacy group insists that in addition to equal rights to which each citizen of the country is entitled, the Arab minority feels additionally entitled to "group differentiated" rights, listing ten significant "rights" that it demands Israel grant them, ranging from recognition as a "native" minority, to official status for the Arab language and culture, to autonomy in education, religion and culture. To a Canadian, this sounds suspiciously like the "two solitudes" of English and French, the historical divide between the two founding nations in Canada.

Trouble is, it doesn't work. The Arab-Israeli population will never be content to consider itself a part of Israel, no matter how many concessions it might manage to wring out of the government. And the government of Israel, mindful of its dedicated place in the world as a refuge and respite for Jews when all other governments and peoples fail them, will never and can never agree to these demands. They are illogical and counter-productive for a state such as Israel.

That which once was can never be returned to historical status. This is not the way the world turns. It never has worked that way. No one in their right minds could ever expect that an embattled country like Israel could or should entertain any thoughts of extending additional rights to its non-Jewish citizens, for it is paramount that all citizens of a country be treated equally; none has due cause for demanding additional rights.

This is a non-starter and must be recognized as such by those issuing these demented demands. Enemies without, enemies within. Detractors everywhere. Apply the same measure of good common sense to the needs of Israel as a determined success story for its people as would be applied to any other (non-regional) country.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Janus-Headed Chavez

It's a real head-scratcher, coming to terms with the outrageous aspects of the man's behaviour, his colourful and often-miserable political alliances. And then there's the other side, the one that speaks to his humanitarian instincts, his dedication to aiding and assisting the poor of the world, never mind Venezuela. Which side reveals the real person behind the mask? The one whom a free world may have cause to revile, or the other which an underprivileged world may have cause to respect?

Is the man a riddle, a conundrum, a confused moralizer, a credit to his country or yet another mountebank masquerading as a champion of the underdog? Hard to judge, isn't it? Based on news reports, on his mode of operation, his questionable alliances, his over-the-top rhetoric, his self-aggrandizing boasts. Could be that he is all that he appears to represent; the bad and the good both.

Here is this man newly re-elected for his second sitting as president of oil-rich Venezuela, promising to alter the country's legislative laws to enable him to continue running for re-election, despite current laws which prohibit him from offering himself up for a third election run. He feels himself to be so singular an answer to the needs of his country that he cannot, out of moral duty, refuse to continue to preside over Venezuela; to do otherwise would be to deny his destiny and his country's.

This is a different slant on democratic action, to be certain. But look here, he has company. None other than Vladimir Putin of whom, it is now said, the same intent may be revealed. Russia's laws too forbid a third run at the presidential office. However, Mr. Putin has revealed that he has been urged so strongly, so frequently, by supporters from all walks of life, that he will consider offering himself up again for re-election when the time is right.

These are democratically elected heads of state, although to be sure they also reign in a manner quite unlike that of most Western democracies, with a shade of dictatorship in the mix. It seems to work in some countries whose populations appear to be more than willing to hand over directly to their choices the kind of omnipotence generally conferred upon theisticly-governed or militarily-governed states.

To his huge credfit Hugo Chavez turns his attention to the plight of the eight million Venezuelans who live in grinding poverty; if Venezuelans are fortunate enough to own personal vehicles they need pay only 17cents a gallon for gasoline. Mr. Chavez's compassionate eye wanders abroad, and through Citgo the U.S. subsidiary of state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., a heating-oil program whereby winter fuel is provided a cut-rates to the poor in the United States has earned him a devoted following.

Furthermore, Mr. Chavez's PetroCaribe programme, providing oil to a dozen Caribbean nations, including Cuba, makes him a huge benefactor to the poor there as well. Mr. Chavez has, in addition, used some of Venezuela's vast oil revenues to pay for badly-needed infrastructure in countries such as Bolivia and Uruguay. Fully a third of Venezuelans continue to live in poverty, and gratefully accept their president's largesse at home, and supposedly abroad.

But the editor of the
Tal Cual newspaper in Venezuela has stated "This country can afford to be generous. But if you give money for a hospital in Uruguay when the majority of Venezuelan hospitals are worth nothing, then people resent that." In wealthier east Caracas the opinion states "There is a lot of poverty in this country that needs to be solved first".

Despite which, many residents of a sprawling slum in Caracas appear to approve of selling cheap oil, even to the richest nation on earth. "He is not giving it to the government of the United States. He is giving it to poor people who need it, who live in poor neighbourhoods like this. If it is necessary, then I think it is good that some of these Americans have it."

Mr. Chavez obviously has won the hearts and minds and certainly the respect, trust and support of most Venezuelan barrio dwellers. The returns from the recent election go a long way to proving just that. He has his majority, his mandate to continue presiding over the country and disposing of its wealth as he sees fit. Which includes, among other matters international, providing a 40% discount on heating oil to hundreds of thousands of the poor across the United States.

It's an anomaly of some proportions that Mr. Chavez, a strident critic of the United States and in particular of its president whom he likens in persona to the devil, supports the critical needs of U.S. poor while American oil companies such as Chevon and Exxon which also have major operations in Venezuela, haven't seen fit to do so; their profits are to remain in the hands of the privileged. Providing a wonderful opportunity for Mr. Chavez to tweak Mr. Bush's nose.

There's something to be said for a president of a country who, while going to some lengths to try to solve the endemic poverty in his home country looks abroad for opportunities to spread his largesse in support of the poor in other countries. Whether this demonstrates a true regard for the underprivileged wherever they happen to be, or an astute political move to garner support abroad for his particular kind of governance and his obvious disdain bordering on hatred for George W. Bush is anyone's guess.

For a president of a nation Mr. Chavez seems to have little regard for diplomatic niceties. All the more puzzling, perhaps, when he publicly heaps scorn on the president of a country to which he owes the lion's share of his own country's considerable revenues. Each, of course, is equally dependent upon the other.

And for a man who claims his moral compass is pointing in the right direction he has made some truly questionable overtures and public friendships among the worst of which must surely be that which he has celebrated with Iran's lunatic president Ahmadinejad.

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