Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Holy Month of Ramadan

This is the manner in which ferociously revenant Islamists celebrate Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran. Islam too, celebrates a trinity.

Terrorists claim to do the bidding of Allah. And that Great Spirit demands no less of aspirants to His grace than that they dedicate their corporeal essences to His spiritual need. While it's true most readers of Islam's holy scriptures inhale the injunctions to love one another, the Taliban and al-Qaeda interpret those same passages quite differently.

And so it is that they carefully lay their plans, and select Ramadan, that most holy of times in the Muslim calendar of remembrance and honour to assail their fellow Muslims. For they are not true believers. To truly believe and respond as a Muslim one must eschew un-Islamic mores.

To believe what has been written one must apply oneself to the injunction to jihad. This is truly submission. Life is but a fleeting affair during which time one prepares for final absolution. To aspire to sainthood is the highest claim to the Islamic ideal.

Journey to Mecca is but an inspiration for the final aspiration. To leave this mortal coil is no sacrifice, it is a celebration of Allah's will. The Taliban, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas are not loath to practise their fundamental connectedness to Islam and Allah. Nor do they hesitate to sing their praises of these actions in the ears of future generations. As God gives and takes away, so do they. And what better time to demonstrate their twisted fanaticism than during Ramadan?

Which is why, in the rampaging, murderous assault upon other Muslims, they leave true confusion in their wake. Millions upon millions of Muslims who defy belief in the reality of their actions; refusing adamantly to believe that Muslims could conceivably visit such horrors upon other Muslims. And so, they close their eyes and their ears to such eerily phantasmagorical horrors.

Some, however, face the reality and their anguish is palpable, if ineffective. Like President Hamid Karzai pleading with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar to put a halt to the unspeakable carnage. The latest celebration of Ramadan took a mere 30 lives in Kabul; not quite to be compared with the ongoing hurricane of death visited upon Muslims in Iraq.

Were he to face the Taliban leader and the rabidly murderous warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, he would attempt to sue for peace; not at any price, but a negotiated, hoped-for clemency from death through some form of co-operative agreement to get along with one another.

As though it were possible. He would ask of them: "Esteemed mullah, sir, and esteemed Hekmatyar, sir, why are you destroying the country?"

Because they would. They are but responding to the will of Allah.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Funded By Whom?

Isn't there always two sides to every story, each claiming a perception of right or wrong or in-between. Doubts raised that what one hears from one source will be echoed by another? People assert one thing, and others lay claim to a different set of realities than that originally laid bare.

It depends, goes that old saying, on whose ox is being gored, perhaps as much as anything. But trying to understand what really lies behind the two conflicting versions of any event or particular set of circumstances can be complex, frustrating and sometimes close to impossible.

There are passionately-activisit charitable groups, NGOs, set up for no purpose other than to protect indigenous peoples in third-world countries from blatant exploitation from developers. People who farm little plots of land in subsistence circumstances, and whom large land-owners pull out all the stops to dispossess them of their lands.

Sometimes those large land-owners are their own governments, eager and determined to lay claim to land rich in mineral deposits, or a geography proving to be a new source of fossil fuel extraction potential.

Then there are all those foreign investors from abroad with expertise and funding, who work overtime to sway governments of third-world and/or emerging economies to agree to combining efforts and profits for the purpose of extracting natural resources to profit the foreign investors and corporations - and just incidentally the handily co-operative government agents whose pledge to their peoples' betterment is swiftly sloughed off.

Just lately, news out of Lima, Peru. That ecologists have photographic evidence of nomadic tribes deep in Peru's Amazon rainforest, whose presence had hitherto not been known. This, at a time, when the world worries about the well-being of native peoples desperately striving to maintain their traditional low-impact way of life, anxious to hold on to their ancestral lands, and strenuously avoiding contact with the world outside.

At a time, concomitantly, when multinational oil corporate interests are champing at the bit to explore the potential riches residing deep in that same jungle. While at the same time a growing awareness of environmental degradation impacting on the quality of life on this globe, imperilling our very existence in the long run, and short-range extending the list of threatened species is a direct and dire reality.

These primitive and hermetic people, content to live in palm-leaf huts and hunt with arrows are elusive, secretive and fearful of detection. Their vulnerability, as a last gasp of an ancient way of life worries the administration of the countries they are a part of, along with international aid and human-rights organizations.

Yet it's difficult for any country with a slowly emerging economy to deny itself and its large population the benefits of modern life. So the government of Peru goes out of its way to encourage foreign oil exploration.

Environmental and Indian-rights groups stand in firm opposition to these governments, particularly in remote jungle areas. So while land is being auctioned off to to the highest bidders for petroleum prospecting, these indigenous people who have long shunned outside-world contact are in danger of losing this protracted battle with modernity.

"The Peruvian government is actively promoting oil and gas exploration in areas where uncontacted tribes live", moan advocacy groups.

For it is not only their traditional ways of life that are imperilled by this unwanted and feared contact. Contracted loggers or oil company workers could expose these hitherto-intact tribes to deadly diseases, much as has happened in the past, in countries around the world. Disease contracted through contact with foreigners who have themselves developed an immunity over generations to diseases their populations normally come in contact with, have had the dreadful effect of halving many Amazon tribal populations.

Little wonder the NGOs are so frantic, so emphatic about the need to protect these elusive, primitive tribes from incursion into their traditional territories. The impact on these people is swiftly deleterious. Not only destroying their valued way of life, but threatening to destroy all vestiges of their ancient populations as well. Yet another threatened species at risk in our steadily evolving environment.

Here's another side to that same story, however. A quarter-page advertisement in my local newspaper on behalf of Federacion Shuar de Zamora Chinchipe. Never heard of them. Who might they conceivably be? Oh, indigenous people from the Amazon Rainforest of Southern Ecuador, in league with the Confederation of Amazonian Ecuadorian Indigenous Nationalities (representing over 220,000 indigenous peoples of Ecuador).

The Shuar people of Southern Ecuador are represented by one of their leaders, Ruben Naichap, who explains that over 95% of the indigenous population lives in crushing poverty on less than two dollars a day. They are aware that their geography is rich with potential, an immense mineral wealth which, as the people of Ecuador, the indigenous people of that country, they feel they are entitled to assist in exploiting as a development tool that will help to bring them out of poverty.

To further educate Canadians on their plight, a meeting was set up, inviting all interested within this nation's capital to attend, titled "The Business of Poverty". Actually the invitation was to "the Canadian people and citizens of Ottawa (the nation's capital). And the invitation's purpose was to alert those interested that the meeting was, specifically, an"invitation to participate in a presentation on 'the Business of Poverty' and the role of Canadian NGOs.

Here's the clincher: "Our way out of poverty is presently under attack from Mining Watch Canada which is a Canadian (Ottawa-based) non-governmental organization that is raising money from the Canadian people to stop our people from having a life with dignity and opportunities. Mining Watch Canada has/is opposing our local communities who openly support responsible mining and mining partnerships with Canadian Mining Companies."

Everything clear now?

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Drat! There's Another Illusion, Shattered

Proponents of all religions like to dwell on the moral superiority of their beliefs. They point to the sacred word sent down from above. To which adherents must respond to lead an exemplary life, reflecting all that is potentially good in humankind. The loftier impulses, the humanistic emotions brought into active play and acted upon for the good of society. Above all, to reflect well on the religion whose precepts bring these specific and particular qualities into play.

Islam has taken great comfort in being able to point out to any that are interested that their code of ethics implanted in their religion through Sharia law, prevents them from taxing funds loaned out to borrowers. They exact no interest on monies borrowed, they glow with pride. Good trick if you can do it. But business and banking institutions must have some incentive to provide services to those who rely upon them for temporary support.

And so it is that interest payments precede the repayment of loans, (in the case of mortgages, where interest represents by far the greater initial proportion of repayment) or at the very least healthily augments repayment in regular, agreed-upon and discrete amounts. It's the way of the world, the manner in which the economy operates to everyone's advantage.

Needless to say, it is to the consumer's advantage when lending institutions see fit to exact modest interest rates, (reflecting the health of a local economy) rather than whopping ones reflective of shady operatives which prey on the desperate, unable to procure the loans they need by traditional, more reasonable means. They have collateral, reputation and a perceived ability to repay.

Islamic economic institutions, was the boast, help end social and economic injustice by ensuring the well-being of all those in need. By uniformly offering required funds, but practising economic restraint to the extent that interest is never anticipated, only repayment of the original sum. Now that's truly amazing, and wonderful as well.

Trouble is, it's an Islamic urban myth, and does not at all appear to reflect Islamic tradition.

It is, according to Timur Kuran, Professor of Islamic Thought and Culture, an "invented tradition" appearing in the 1940s, in India. It was the idea and ideal of a South Asian Islamist intellectual, Abul-Ala Mawdudi who envisioned such an economic system specific to Islam as a way in which to minimize relations with non-Muslims, strengthen the collective Muslim identity while bringing Islam into another area of human activity; modernizing without submitting to Westernization.

It was evidently during the oil boom of the 1970s when Muslim oil interests and exporters came into substantial capital and at that time bought into the ideal of an Islamic economic discipline "that is distinctly and self-consciously Islamic" that the system was adopted. Those that celebrated the Islamic economic way claimed that the capitalist system was a failure and that the Islamic way was one of ethical success.

In his research toward the publication of
Islam and Mammon, Mr. Kuran examined the functionality of Islamic economics, primarily its three claims that it abolished interest on money, brought into focus economic equality, and exemplified in its practise a superior business ethic. None of which contentions held up under close scrutiny, evidently.

"Nowhere has interest been purged from economic transactions, and nowhere does economic Islamization enjoy mass support", he wrote. Furthermore, banks claiming to be Islamic "look more like other modern financial institutions than like anything in Islam's heritage." Oh. Oh dear. Oh dear me. Reality does have a way of extinguishing pride in unreliable witness.

As one study had it "by the end of 2005, more than 300 institutions in over 65 jurisdictions were managing assets worth around US$700-billion to US$1-trillion in a Shariah-compatible manner. Ah, the moral superiority of hosts of believers and the utility of smoke and mirrors. Alas, the truth appears to be far distant from the proud illusion.

It has also been pointed out that should Muslims have strictly practised what they preached - the forbidding of exacting of interest; either paying or charging it - their opportunities for economic success would have been severely minimized, shunting them to the back pages of the international economy.

- Another Daniel Pipes revelation. Thank you, sir.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Responsibility to Protect

There we go again. Another crisis facing the United Nations Security Council, and yet again they remain frozen in a posture of incapability. They have long since risen to the level of their combined ineptitude. Now a senior officer with Burma's government-in-exile has called upon the Security Council to spring into action under that high-minded principle introduced by Canada, named "responsibility to protect".

This same Burmese exile is appealing directly to the government of Canada for its help in organizing an inter-governmental lobby to scream, shout and hand-wring (diplomatically, needless to say) for the Security Council to remember its endorsation of that principle which calls for international intervention when civilians require protection which their own government cannot or will not provide.

There are some in the international community that look to what is beginning to occur now in Burma as having a special resonance, a reminder of Rwanda and Darfur. Where loss of life was and remains catastrophic and uninterrupted by the international community which simply sat looking from the outside in with true dismay but futile inaction.

A debate certainly is taking place within the sacred precincts of the United Nations. As debates tend to do, there is a certain amount of consensus toward action. Held back, invariably, by a powerful bloc that continues to caution for patience. Inevitably, those who hold back, who advise against intervention and hold for a waiting attitude are those same countries whose own human rights record leaves much to be desired.

U.S. and European determination to condemn Burma's military dictatorship for its violent response to public demonstrations has been forestalled by China and Russia. Those same good-hearted and patient countries whose opposition to international censure and intervention in pariah-countries like Iran, North Korea, Sudan and now Burma have a weary ring of hopelessness to world order and human rights guarantees.

Canadians, however, should take heart: our new minister of foreign affairs stands staunchly at the podium to declare that this country demands an end, instanter, to the Burmese junta's attacks. "Burma", he intones righteously "has an obligation to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its people, including the freedom of association and of expression, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

That, and $3.50 will get you a coffee at Tim Horton's.

(Not all is lost, however; Canada has imposed trade restrictions with Burma - kind of. Canadian exporters can get around that troublesome little nuisance by applying for special permission.)

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Accountability and Oversight

Two vital ingredients in the mix that go into the current situation in Iraq where the United States is the keeper-of-security aligned with newly-recruited and trained Iraqi government militia and police attempting to maintain some semblance of order, with the latter assaulted and decimated by rogue militias and terrorists, while the former makes reluctance use of "security" firms otherwise known as private-enterprise militias.

As the Iraqi government troops are incapable of controlling their allied militias, let alone foreign Islamofascist militias bent on destroying the fledgling state along with any possibilities, however remote, of a successful population integration, so does the U.S. military find itself faced with the ongoing problem of reining in the too-enthusiastic frontier tactics of irregular militias employed on contract by their own state department.

Who have a habit of conducting their own version of hit-and-run. Wreaking unfortunate havoc among the civilian population with their trigger-happy responses to perceived threats to their own safety, while engaged in guaranteeing the security of American officials and diplomats they've been hired to protect, then hastily decamping the scene, leaving the military to clean up, make apologies and look glumly incompetent.

To the extent where the U.S. Defence Department has had to "remind" their commanders in the field that courts-martial can take place when private security guards operating under military contracts make criminal hash of U.S. military law. The Pentagon has roughly 37,000 contractors in Iraq whose numbers roughly equal U.S. troops on the ground. A by-product of U.S. downsizing of their military, post cold-war. Who knew, after all?

But it isn't only Blackwater involved as required back-up assistance, but others, such as DynCorp International and Triple Canopy. However, it's the Blackwater contingent seen to be responsible for countless episodes of needless force impacting on the reputation of U.S. personnel, and ultimately embarrassing to the U.S. administration. Their incidence of unfortunate trigger-happy encounters is double that of other security companies contracted to provide security for diplomats and elite civilians in Iraq.

Having said which, the U.S. State Department, in view of the current investigation of Blackwater, will admit to a tiny number of infractions by the company's gung-ho militia. Even admitting that Blackwater's rate of "episodes" were double that of other convoy missions, they cling to their version that of the 1,800 escort missions by Blackwater in the current year there were "only a very small fraction, very small fraction, that have involved any sort of use of force."

Seems the Pentagon and the State Department have a little misunderstanding between them. U.S. Military officials are pressing the State Department to a firmer control over Blackwater since the shooting debacle in a Baghdad square that took the lives of ten Iraqi civilians and wounding many more. The military is simmering with anger over their carefully orchestrated relationship with Iraqis now on the cusp of degradation.

"This is a nightmare" according to a senior military official. "We had guys who saw the aftermath and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we're trying to have an impact for the long term." Indeed, but despite all the lightning-bluster of the Iraqi government it isn't likely the contractor will be tossed out any time soon.

There are just so many regular troops to go around, and the private contractors fill in the gaps, from force protection to guarding perimeters. Freeing up U.S. soldiers for duty on the combat front, and ensuring neighbourhood security. Both of which are iffy propositions at any time, given the casualties, the deaths both military and civilian and the freedom with which Sunni and Shia militias roam alternate neighbours creating death-agonies wherever they pass.

The U.S. military must know of what they speak in their scorn for the discipline and accountability of contracted-out Blackwater personnel. "They are immature shooters, and have very quick trigger fingers. Their tendency is shoot first and ask questions later", according to a lieutenant-colonel serving in Iraq. Fittingly enough, the company, for the most part, secures its operatives from among former Navy SEAL personnel.

As much as the Iraqi government is incensed at the presence of these mercenaries who love the action and danger their employment offers them, along with their nice fat paycheques, one can honestly posit that the larger anger at their dangerously irresponsible antics lies with the U.S. military and their ongoing loggerheads with the U.S. State Department.

But in a sense all of this is largely irrelevant in the larger picture of bloody chaos in that country, where daily attacks and car bombs kill scores of people and wound hundreds others. And where the spectre of cholera looms its black head. And where foreign terrorists continue to fray any potential for a dimly future national reconciliation.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Prolonged Exchange of Pain

One cannot escape the horrors launched upon others in the name of tribal unity and unmitigated hatred for what is not of your own. Sooner or later, sometimes sooner than later, occasionally later than sooner, justice is seen to be done. Apprehension of the malefactors is of the first order and justice lags not far behind.

And so it has been with the long and tireless search for the principle instigators and murderers in the not-easily forgotten events that horrified the world seven years ago. When two reservists of the Israel Defence Forces were bludgeoned and lynched by a blood-hungry mob of Palestinians in the precincts of a Palestinian Authority police station in Ramallah, in October of 2000.

The two Israeli reserve soldiers who had accidentally entered PA territory did not live to regret their error in geography, a mere 6 miles from Jerusalem. They were taken into immediate custody by PA police, brought to the police station in Ramallah where they were effectively handed over to a slavering mob bent on delivering death and a profound indignity to human beings whose lives had been peremptorily and brutally snuffed out.

IDF soldiers have now arrested the remaining PA terrorist identified as being responsible for those dreadful events; one of two held responsible for the bludgeoning of Vadim Nurzitz and Yossi Abrahami. Whose arrest and custody by PA police was directly responsible for what followed.

The mind-numbing events, captured on camera, were later aired on television and viewed internationally, showing a body of one of the two Israelis tossed out of the station window to local Palestinians who proceeded to flagellate and beat upon the two lifeless bodies, then tear them limb from limb.

Triumphantly holding aloft prized body parts, extending their blood-soaked hands for admiration by the surrounding mob. Those who took part in this inhumane travesty of civilized behaviour were many, but eighteen of their number were identified and sought, to be brought to justice.

The numberless others will have the memory of their triumph always in mind, without ever having to pay for their primitively abhorrent actions.

One of the 15 men originally arrested in 2001 had admitted rushing toward the police station upon news that Jews had been placed within it. He admitted also his involvement in helping to strangle the Israelis all the while they were being mercilessly bludgeoned.

The Palestinian Authority policeman who had apprehended the Israelis and taken them to the station, then handed them to the mercies of the mob, had done his part also, in actively assisting in the murders.

One other of the terrorists who had participated in the Ramallah murders had previously been given release from an Israeli prison in one of those good-will gestures to appease the Palestinians during signal times of hopeful detente; on this occasion that of the Oslo Accords.

He went on to murder a woman police officer in Jerusalem, wounding another ten Israelis in the attack he organized and participated in. To add to his docket of deeds he orchestrated yet another attack in Tel Aviv, in the process murdering two Israelis and wounding 31, before he was finally taken into custody.

These are some of the deeds of many Palestinians whose pride and honour remains intact, in acknowledgement of ancient rituals and revenges visited upon any who would intrude upon the tribal entitlements of an ancient culture refusing to become civilized and enter the modern world. Preferring instead to live by anger and hatred and bloodlust. It is with such as these that Israel sees itself attempting to bargain peace.

And then there are others of whom we hear but little, those who fear backlash from bitter neighbours because they prefer to live in peace with all their neighbours. And those whose mindset has been turned to acceptance of others within their midst, who abhor the primitive lethality of tribal revenge, and attempt to work coherently with the Israeli administration.

Their reward is often short, swift, brutal and permanent.

In memoriam notices have been published for Haidar Abdel Shafi, one of the founders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Who was also seen to be a negotiator for peace between Palestinian and Israeli. He became an respected politician affiliated neither with Fatah nor Hamas, both of whom now that he is dead hail him as a great figure in Palestinian history. He was a medical doctor, practising in Gaza in the 1930s, a rarity at that time.

This man headed a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation to the 1991 Madrid peace conference, participating in negotiations that concluded the success of the Madrid meeting. "In the name of the Palestinian people, we wish to directly address the Israeli people with whom we have had a prolonged exchange of pain: Let us share hope instead" he declared in his opening remarks in Madrid.

"We are willing to live side by side on the land and the promise of the future." He told Palestinians: "The road before us is still long. You must be patient and united." It has indeed been a long and wearying road, marred by lack of trust on both sides, and actions by each side inimical to the cause of peace. As for patience and unity, not much of either has been seen, let alone practised.

Abdel Shafi led a life of service to his people. His words betrayed no one. His actions spoke for his dedication to peace and to the future well-being of Palestinians. From 1972 to 2005 he was chairman of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. His tireless work must have been frustrating and hopeless-seeming at so many junctures in the process of suing for peace.

He cannot have died a fulfilled and happy man, satisfied with his efforts on behalf of his beloved people. The prolonged exchange of pain is ongoing and the future remains hazily indefinite.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

He Said: It Meant...

The hysteric moment has passed into the oblivion of disinterested history.

Thus said Lee Bollinger of Columbia University: "Our responsibility today is to listen and ask questions in an atmosphere of civility and restraint." And he proved his point by introducing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a beautifully embroidered accolade: "Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator", as he faced his honoured guest with the most convincing compliment his fevered mind could muster.

To which the honoured guest responded with his own blend of resplendent verbal furbelows thusly, (defending his sterling knowledge-base as a former scholar of religious jurisprudence) of which he speaks: "I think the text read by the dear gentleman here, more than addressing me, was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here, present here."

More than adequately defending the honour of the university setting where a president of said university would defile his position by labelling an invited guest as a "petty and cruel dictator". Reminding Mr. Bollinger that: "In a university environment we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk so that the truth is eventually revealed by all."

On the Holocaust
He said:
If the historical event named Holocaust did indeed occur, it was a European travesty of human rights abuse on a grand scale. But we cannot assume the scale simply because historians and eye-witness accounts have given impetus to scholarship verifying it.
He meant:
It's your problem to solve, you lousy Europeans, why shunt it over to our part of the world and give us short shrift to amend the wrongs you committed?

On Holocaust Deniers
He said:
Legitimate historical researchers exist who feel due diligence to data was not observed in cataloging the events leading to the unfortunate attempt to liquidate European Jewry. They seek to option their scholarly views to re-balance the historical record. Why are they charged with crimes against the sacred memory of millions sacrificed (inadequately) to a megalomaniac's whim?
He meant:
Perspective is everything. The alleged perpetrators of such an affront to humanity, if it ever occurred, are to be commiserated with, having succumbed to public pressure to make amends for their ill-doing. Which, in fact, was not their fault at all, since everyone knows how despicably annoying Jews are, always calling attention to themselves and cunningly seeking ways to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Nazi Germany simply lost patience with these vermin. Who could blame them for enslaving, imprisoning, torturing, and killing a handful of the worst perpetrators...?

On the existence of a Jewish state
He said:
We love everyone, even the Jews, with whom we are especially friendly. Our generosity toward Jews knows no bounds. We simply love the Palestinians a whole lot more and seek justice for them for the simple reason that they are not Zionists and the Jews are.
He meant:
The poor misguided Iranian people generally enjoy good relations and live with respectful amicability among Iranian Jews in the country. Although we take a hard official line, the population would rise up in revolt were we to unleash the full fury of Islamic denial upon Iranian Jews. They are more complacent when we speak of "Zionists", and since most Iranians suffer the indignity of living under our repressive regime, protests are kept to a minimum respecting interference with the Jewish state. Just kidding!

On nuclear research
He said:
Science should know no borders, and it ill behooves any civilized country to retain vital scientific information for its own delectation, refusing to share with uncivilized tyrannical states. Never mind that during the Cold War scientific exchanges regularly took place between Russia and the United States and much of the scientific world elsewhere; they definitely did not share nuclear secrets.
He meant:
The IAEA has its serious doubts about our true agenda, but for the time being they're (almost) satisfied that we wish to attain nuclear sufficiency only for our energy needs, since our oil production and revenue leave us short from time to time.

On the 9/ll terrorist attacks
He said:
Who can tell the mysterious ways of covert operations to wreak havoc one nation upon another, one rogue terrorist group upon its target?
He meant:
What a charge they must've got out of their success in unleashing that world-shattering event! Whoever they are (tee-hee) kudos!

On executions of homosexuals in Iran
He said:
Heaven (and Allah) forfend that Iran should be even mildly infected by such a scourge as homosexuality. Fortunately, as a result of firm adherence to the sacred tenets of Islam, Iranians know such evil practises are forbidden by God and state.
He meant:
It's only in socially degenerate countries such as yours that the possibility of a huge segment of the population would be so emotionally, culturally and gender-sterile as to practise what their genetic endowment prods them to becomes an acknowledged reality. We simply wouldn't tolerate it. Incarcerating, torturing and occasionally "accidentally" killing potential usurpers of public decency serves as a lesson in prudence. Just kidding!

On international relations
He said:
Since our glorious Islamist revolution we have practised what we preach: loving kindness toward all men. Women too. I personally proved my surrender to that guiding principle when, as a student member of the Revolutionary Guard I took immediate and painstaking steps to lovingly and gently assemble all members of the American legation in my country and sacrificed a year of my life to protecting and sheltering them from harm. We removed a dire dictatorship and instituted instead a revolutionary new concept, offering freedom and democracy to our own, and nurturing kindly relations with all other countries. Oops, with two exceptions.
He meant:
All peace-loving democracies are our especial friends, and we particularly adore the great United States of America and her sterling allies, France included. Canada too. We're doing our best in the way of consolidating our international relations to ensure that not only
we (please regard this as confidential) attain nuclear weaponry, but also our great good friends in North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Burma - and ex-officio "countries" like al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, etc., etc. Hey, I'm not kidding, here.

Get the picture?

Aw, give it a rest...!

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Afghanistan's Agony

Seems President Hamid Karzai got a bit of a pasting in the United Nations, a kind of censure for work done to date by his administration. Not moving very far up the scale toward all the indices of success that five years of UN-approved and NATO-supported assistance might warrant, in their view. Still, one must give this embattled man his due; his is an anxiously, heart-troubling work sheet of accomplishments.

Not at all helped by his parliamentary colleagues, some of whom cannot see beyond their own history as war lords, nor their current preoccupation with supporting illegal poppy-growing for the riches that fall into their laps. Afghans are fighters. Historically respected for their courage and determination. They've lived under centuries of attack by countries as disparate as Britain and Russia, both historical empire-builders.

Not to mention more recent episodes of attempted occupation and subjugation. They're a fierce mountain-tribal people. Proud, and insistent on their ability to rule themselves. A geographic hot-house of opportunities for the formulation of paramilitary-political invaders, ultra-religious marauders, an unfortunate combination that resulted in a recent and unsuccessful Russian invasion. Whose wake led to the Taliban installation.

So here we are, the Taliban ousted, then the rag-tag remnants ignored and left to lick their wounds in their inaccessible mountain redoubts, where they finally re-armed and re-invented their techniques, strategies and followers. And Canada, among other nations, is in the unenviable position of fighting off the resurgent Taliban, helping to train Afghan militia and police, assisting in reconstruction.

And like many other NATO-aligned countries whose citizens are broodingly unhappy about their armed forces' presence in far-off Afghanistan, faced with the decision of staying or leaving, the job not yet accomplished. That famed warrior culture is not yet prepared to have the work of routing the Taliban completely handed off to them. International aid is still required to help build civil infrastructure.

And poor Afghan farmers growing poppy crops that yield the best return for their efforts remain beleaguered by an American force whose administration remains wedded to drug eradication. When they, Canadian and all other allied forces involved in the region should recognize that they will lose increasing numbers of poor Afghans to the lure of the Taliban should this arc of eradication continue.

The Senlis Council advocates, knowingly and aptly, that this war on drugs will not work here; not at this time, not in this place. A poor country which can offer its agricultural segment in remote geographical provinces no support whatever cannot afford to destabilize their local economy, sending them into the hands of the Taliban who threaten the farmers on the one hand, if they don't grow poppies and share the proceeds, while the occupying troops on the other, destroy their crops.

The only reasonable option is one that has been tried before, many years before, with Turkey. India and Turkey now grow legitimate poppy crops for opiate and medicinal use, and the same should be done with Afghanistan. Making the growing of such crops legal, enabling them to reliably recompense the farmers whose livelihoods depend upon these crops. There is a large world market for medical opiates.

Their alienation, a result of poverty and frustrated anger against NATO's International Security Assistance Force will be signed, sealed and delivered into Taliban hands should the present insistence on eradication continue. If the international community wants Afghanistan to succeed in its straining trajectory toward independent self-capability, a reasonable response to the needs of its agricultural community must be realized.

A comfortably assured livelihood will do much to engender trust in the ISAF presence and purpose. A moderately self-sustaining community represents one more likely to recognize the good work foreign forces are performing on behalf of the country's future. There would be less likelihood of locals turning their heads away neutrally when IEDs are placed on highways killing and injuring foreign military.

Knowledge of insurgent weapons caches will be likelier to be revealed by local village heads when they make the connection between an assured standard of living and the presence of international representatives doing their utmost to protect their way of life.

It's called reasonable accommodation - and it extends its utility both ways.

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So What, Exactly, Was Gained?

To be more precise, exactly what did Columbia University and its president Lee Bollinger gain for its embrace of freedom of expression - let loose in the elegantly-inspired surroundings of an institute of higher learning in a country whose citizens, among the most aware and freedoms-plastered in the world - by presenting Iran's redoubtable president a yet another public forum for his pathetic rants?

It's clear what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gained. Recognition of his status as a troubling world agitator of unfortunate recent renown and much-earned scorn. But frankly, it would be most instructive to know definitively, apart from offering a measure of legitimacy and credibility by the very formal invitation to lecture at the highly esteemed Columbia University - what was gained?

Do we know now what truly motivates this man beyond his fanciful self-identification with a mystical ancient prophet of Islam? This former Revolutionary Guard, former Mayor of Tehran and now de facto dictator of the country whom former Grand Ayatollah Khomeini moved from a kingdom to a rigid theocracy is exactly what he appears to be.

His agenda is writ large in his boastful harangues, despite his cautionary denials when he has been deposited on Western soil. The aeons-long sting of power and control wrested from Islam's political aspirations of universal power still resonate and still impel fervid Islamists to recapture what was once nearly theirs; world domination.

Kind of silly, aspirationally, given that we are world of powers, small and large, intransigent and co-operative, fully reflective of the full range of human desires, emotions and failings. But back to the original enquiry here: what was gained? Nothing, actually.

In his bid to restore public faith in his judgemental abilities, Mr. Bollinger added no lustre to his reputation by repudiating and reviling the character of an international pariah whom he had personally invited to take part in a classic academic exchange of ideas and opinions. He has, instead, sullied himself by a studied lack of awareness in his judgemental capabilities, in the demonstration of his profound lack of intellectual and social responsibility.

By his cynical attack on Ahmadinejad, in introducing his guest du jour of unquestioned ill repute in most thinking circles, he hoped to restore his tarnished credentials, but what he succeeded in doing was to promote a faint and unfortunate sympathy for a dangerously doltish ignoramus with great destructive powers.

And just incidentally, through the persuasive powers of respect for academic institutions of well-earned reputation for instructive learning and probity, enabled that vile dictator to over-reach into an audience who might have been stirred to recognition of some elusive truths hidden tantalizingly within the garbled message of denial.

Not the least of which were to be reckoned the over-arching ambitions of a powerful government aspiring to control much of the world; politically, economically, culturally, socially. Just so, incidentally mirroring the aspirations of power-assertive Iran.

Ahmadinejad's handlers/speech writers/research team prepared him well, at least in this regard, assiduously performing their homework to uncover home-grown dissent in left-wing corridors of academia and the press, adopting a handy socialist device to detract from his own indefensible agenda.

Much as Osama bin Laden did recently, fervently espousing in part a civil liberties-inspired and Marxist-oriented ideal, aligning himself, it would seem, with the third column in the despised society his ambition it is to destroy or at least replace.

He had, ready at hand, a neat laundry list of civil-liberty failings on the part of the official U.S. Reflecting in part, the counter-attack launched by Iran on Canada, for its offence in pointing out Iran's dire anti-human rights excesses at a United Nations forum.

So, does a university president demonstrate his intellectual superiority and humanity by publicly savaging, searingly castigating a petty tyrant on his ignorance, lack of humanity and awareness of history to gain ground in the universal battle against what he rails at?

The man must be given his due; he was more unflappable than his accuser. Where the latter expressed a fervently emotional repudiation of all that his guest stood for, the former remained self-contained and rigorously unmoved by the accusations; extending courtesy to his accuser, withal.

Ahmadinejad is so staunchly convinced of his righteous direction he is prepared to respond to none but the Almighty.

Reason with such as he? Bring him to account before a cosmopolitan audience of free thinkers and audaciously-available intellects priding themselves on their ability to sift the wheat from the chaff? What, exactly, has been accomplished?

A silly display of righteous indignation from a cerebral administrator which reflects itself as an exercise in triumphal egotism.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Fumigate the Place

So Columbia University went through with it, after all. There was a headline the day previous out of Bloomberg News printed in the National Post that the university had decided at the last moment to disinvite that vile personage, but they got it wrong. Freedom of enquiry is sacred in the hallowed halls of academe, and who are the great unwashed to argue with that?

Freedom of expression is yet another one of our hallowed rights, to be extolled and extended to all and sundry, however despicable their message happens to be, however contrary to all the expectations and values of a civilized society. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was anxious to appear in such an impressive intellectual forum, ready to respond to his questioners, agreeing beforehand to respond to a set of enquiries.

"We need to take advantage of such opportunities to present the positions of the Iranian people as they (the Americans) are very keen to hear them." Said he. Wot? Wot! That preeningly pompous popinjay; that the absolute best he could do? The Americans are keen to hear his fascist views on the rights and privileges of the honourable country he represents. Dollars to doughnuts half the population of Iran winced in embarrassment.

A stout upholder of human rights, knowing how commanding his stalwart figure would appear to his over-awed questioners who no doubt would be struck dumb at the sight of that sacred light filtering about his head. The same halo he described at his last appearance at the United Nations, setting him apart and above other humans whose knowledge of the imminent arrival of the Hidden Prophet is absent.

"The General Assembly of the United Nations is a good opportunity to present the solutions of the Iranian people to solve the problems of the world", quoth he to his adoring public and the news-slavering reporters thrusting microphones representing all the credible news agencies of the world toward this sterling representative of the human race for quotable ripostes.

Such as his precious responses during his time at Columbia University when he patiently sat out its president's introductory lauding of Ahmadinejad's administration and worldly view of history and the affairs of the world. His heroic figure did not shrink from public display, nor did he hesitate in the face of truly unfortunate uncomplimentary protests by the rabid crowd of protesters outside the institute.

So what did those present learn at this splendid opportunity to question the political leader of ancient Persia? His usual, balanced, thoughtful, insightful world view unfolded for all to grasp the opportunity to understand that which they have so egregiously erred in perceiving. The unfortunately incorrect information being bruited around about the human rights record in his country, for example.

There is no incarceration, torture and murder of homosexuals in Iran; the audience, like the country at large, is sadly misinformed. For the very simple reason that there are no such freaks of nature in Iran. Homosexuals, lesbians, the trans-gendered are symptoms of American degeneracy; they exist in the United States, not in Iran. Understand?

The Baha'i, that ancient offshoot of early Islam is not at all harassed in Iran. We must understand that simple fact. In fact, the Baha'i are illegal. A difficult concept for North Americans to grasp, granted, but they are illegal, and as such have no official standing, and since they have no official standing they are not qualified to have protection under the law. Understand?

As for the Holocaust, Iranians do not claim it did not exist. It may well have been a fact of life and death of Jews. It is the extent to which it occurred, the numbers involved that official Iran questions. The Jews are so fond of exaggeration. The purported Holocaust was a simple fabrication in its width and breadth, a very useful tool for future exploitation of sympathy. The question one must ask is what qualifies the incidence of the Holocaust to persecute the Palestinians and to grasp their land?

Israel, you ask? What about it? Oh, its deserving obliteration. What's your problem with that? Nice of you to ask, but the response is self-evident; it is an illegal Zionist entity. Understand?

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Split-State Solution?

Advocates of a split-state solution for the intractable dilemma of suiting Israelis and Palestinians toward an arrangement of living alongside one another in something resembling harmony within one state point to places like Ireland and Switzerland, Belgium and Canada as examples where something approximating what they advocate is realized and practised as a hopeful solution to the accommodation of separate wills.

We've yet to see whether or not Belgium splits as some within that country have been recommending. Ireland's experiment in split-administration of a single state has yet to be examined in real time and place. Canada's long-standing accommodation of Quebec's insistence to singular recognition in a confederation of other provinces, all of which claim their own uniqueness has not been without pain on an ongoing basis and Canada's own flitting flirtation with separation-inspired terrorism.

In any event, all situations have their own unique characteristics which auger for success or failure in an enterprise of split jurisdictions within a singular entity-state. At the heart of the matter is whether or not implacable foes between whom nothing seems to approach the potential for laying down of arms toward peaceful co-operation can eventually graduate from hostility to hospitality.

Ireland is a good case in point. In Northern Ireland much blood was spilled and the animosity between Protestant and Catholic factions had its genesis in a long history of primal suspicion and anger. Even with the present-day situation where the furnace-blast heat of chaotic violence that seeped its deadly way into other reaches of the British Isles now is but spent ashes, hatred rears its ugly head.

But Ireland's history of reluctant alignment with England and the island geography of Great Britain do not really reflect that of the Middle East in many ways. Yes, tribal antagonisms have their counterpart both in incidence and horrific violence, but in the end both sides were amenable to bringing a halt to the carnage, and each side brought reason and civility to negotiations, however grudgingly.

It just isn't like that in the dynamite-charged anti-functional atmosphere of the Middle East. In Israel proper there is the situation where democratically-elected Arab-Palestinian Members of the Knesset, citizens of Israel representing their Palestinian-Israeli constituents, behave with little regard for their citizenship apart from its parliamentary enrolment; expressing no loyalty to the State of Israel at all.

To the point where some Palestinian MKs take the extreme road of actively participating in seditious acts inimical to the very existence of the state which has granted them citizenship and given them the opportunity to participate in lawmaking and due representation of that demographic of the electors who placed them in office. If their behaviour is to be taken as a token of the utility and practicality of Israelis and Palestinians ruling side-by-side, it serves as a dim omen of failure.

Some Arab MKs actively conspire to destabilize the Jewish state, including those times when it is at its most vulnerable, during attack, or returning attack for attack as occurred during the Israel-Hezbollah war. Conspiring with the enemy for the purpose of harming the society one represents is clearly not an action designed to bring the malefactor into great esteem in the Israeli Knesset, nor is it particularly helpful to that same Palestinian-Israeli demographic.

Ask an Israeli of Arab derivation if he would prefer to live within the mandate of the Palestinian Authority or indeed anywhere else in the Arab world and his response would likely be an emphatic "no". As is the case with the sister of the leader of Hamas, living in Israel within the Kurdish community and content to do so. Yet some Palestinian MKs align themselves with the deadly aspirations of external terror groups whose reason for existence is the destruction of Israel.

Make common cause with such as these? Whose agenda, after all, do they serve?

Is it at all clear that Palestinians living within Israel as citizens are loyal to the country, or merely content to live with the freedoms and opportunities available to them as citizens of the country? That they are not always treated equally in contrast to the opportunities of Jewish Israelis is another matter; Israel, like most countries, has its failings as a state purporting to extend equality to all its citizens. A matter, under other circumstances that can and should be rectified.

One need only look at the conditions under which Palestinians live in other Arab countries where their presence is grimly accommodated on a strictly temporary but unwelcoming basis. With the exception of Jordan which had its own black past showdowns with refugee Palestinians. Fellow Arabs recognize no obligation to assist the Palestinians among them, whom refuge has been granted on tolerance, with the understanding there is nothing permanent about it.

In many countries, such as Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are despised, denigrated and their presence decried. Rather surprising in a way, since the traditional Arab way of the desert tribe was to welcome strangers and offer them hospitality. Rather surprising in its own way since convention and the sacred written word in Islam was to hold one's brothers dear and offer kindness to others.

Yet, given a choice, Kurds and Arabs, Druse and Christian Palestinians will choose to live in Israel as entitled citizens. Knowing full well that their human rights will be respected however deficient in some areas. The opportunities, business, educational, social, economic are superior and available to all citizens. Yet covert machinations continue unabated, including signal instances of national urgency.

Whose end will a fractionalized, semi-unified state serve? As though there are not sufficient problems in unifying the wishes and aspirations of an already-segmented society in that country. With a split-state solution, a quasi-unification of both populations comes the death knell of the Jewish state. Unstable, low birth rates plague Israel, other than those of the stolidly religious. Emigration from the ancient dispersal of Jewry reached is apogee years ago.

An initial coalescing of 6 million Jews and 6 million Arabs under a single state doesn't equate with an equal partnership. It speaks of an opportunity for the Palestinian diaspora of refugees to return to swell the split-state population. The higher birth rate of rigidly observant Muslims will augment the Palestinian demographic. The single country in the world whose legal establishment was a response for a need to provide refuge for Jews in an historically unfriendly world will be history.

Palestinians will have successfully accomplished, through a back-door solution, what up until now incessantly violent upheavals were not able to produce. Minority status for the tolerated presence of Jews; majority rule for Palestinian Arabs. The Jewish identity of the state destroyed. And the international new-left is given reason to celebrate the nobility of Israel in accepting the inevitable; no longer an intellectual-left pariah.

As it is, while Israel is attempting to bargain in good faith with the Palestinian Authority, now headed solely by Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, PA negotiators are boldly up-front about their expectations for side-by-side states. Enact the law of return, split Jerusalem, giving the PA the old sector, just incidentally excluding Jewish entry to its most hallowed religious sites. Sites ancient in situ, long over-built by an exultant Islamic occupier less ancient in time.

It is not only fanatical Islamists who wish to refuse entry to Jews, it is the "moderate" PA bargainers. Reasonable accommodation for reasonable people?

Can you take the tribal impulse out of a people rigidly glued to its traditional of violent reaction? Its cultural indifference to placatory compromise, seeing it instead as capitulation to unrealistically shrill demands. Rewarding the alarming violence that engenders the need to reach a reasoned compromise.

Bargain in good faith? Dead in the water. Live in harmony with such intolerance. Unlikely accomplishment.

We have yet to see any indication, however trivial or hesitant, that human life is valued, in reflection of Golda Meir's observation that the Palestinians will be ready for peace when they value their children as much as Jews do. The PA - Fatah, Hamas - demonstrates no compunction at sacrificing the lives of children, as human bombs. Children are taught from their most vulnerable age that it is a duty and a privilege to assist in destroying the Zionist enemy.

These lessons are taught by educators through PA-authorized school textbooks, and parents are complicit, or they would object strenuously enough to make their worried voices heard above the jihadist message of deliverance from occupation. An obviously unwilling, but newly defensive occupation of necessity, born of the first Intifada, after Israel had helped to establish the Palestinian policing authority, helping to fund and to train them.

Here is a culture stuck in the ancient tribal past. Domination remains the prevailing mode of accommodation to a population's aspirations. The very idea of shared geography, of equality of co-operative sharing - co-existence - has no resonance of promise for the future. It is an alien, imposed concept whose purpose is dim and unacceptable to a people whose aggrieved entitlement demands surrender to its will, and nothing less.

To the demands of its inalienable, perceived needs. There is no satisfying an all-or-nothing mentality of unremitting enmity. Who to negotiate with, then? Palestinian demands are entitled items not amenable to reasoned debate and reasonable alternatives. They are non-negotiable rights and entitlements. The veneer of civility is thin, the agenda soon revealed. Even at the cost of peace and stability.

No surrender of perceived rights, and no obligations to accommodate anyone else's needs. Submit or prepare to die. And they do, and they do not hesitate to exact the same sacrifice upon their adversaries.

Split-state solution? They wish.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Speeding Sainthood Along

Well, there are all those finagling power-hungry preachers on television enthusing about their direct line to God, whose Sunday sermons fuel fervent watchers to re-embrace their lapsed faith. There is that ardent spokesperson for God Almighty claiming the ear of God. And he promises to speak to God on behalf of those who rush to send in donations. For the devotional work of God comes with a price, perforce.

Just think of the riches amassed by all these foxy preachers who speak with passion of their calling, their very personal collision with the Holy Spirit. At a time in their failed lives when they contemplated ending their passage through the vale of life, a heavenly encounter with the Holy One claimed them to a life devoted to spreading His word. And the tired, overworked, under-privileged, poverty-ridden hordes who faithfully tune in, rush to send in their hard-earned dollars.

But then the more polished among the population, the aware, the sophisticated, recognize these sad, tired old ploys for what they are; the actions, however successfully realized, of religious charlatans whose only purpose is to line their own pockets. The world is full of individuals whose purpose in life is to deprive others of as much of their disposable income as conceivably possible.

We're familiar with the hypocritical work of the Tammys, the Johns, the folksy, just-like-us people with the special callings, exhibiting all their human frailties, but swearing fealty only to God, and in the process promising to heal the souls and failings of their followers. But this is something else again. We're talking Vatican here, the Roman Catholic Church.

Encouraging the faithful to log onto their Web site (forget televangelists...) and offer their credit card (prayers are nice, too) to speed things along in the rush to sainthood of Pope John Paul. After all, the good Pope, he of late lamented memory, went out of his pious way to speed sainthood on Mother Teresa of Calcutta fame. And during his 26-year papacy, oversaw no fewer than 500 canonizations.

What had previously taken four hundred years to accomplish, this great compassionate pope accomplished in a mere quarter-century. Is he then not worthy of the swiftest sainthood in the history of the Catholic Church? And who says money can't buy everything?


Picking Partners

Now it's Hamas complaining that Fatah is picking on them. Well, perhaps that's too mild a phrase; rather, Hamas-affiliated individuals living in the West Bank bitterly complain that they'd be better off as prisoners of Israel, that Fatah has been arresting, imprisoning, accusing and torturing them, an affront to their common heritage and their common purpose, so awkwardly rent asunder.

Just as Fatah's people are being harassed, arrested, interrogated, exposed to humiliating beatings and incidences of abuse by Hamas, in Gaza. What an incorrigibly unfortunate situation. Erstwhile allies, albeit uneasy ones, at each others' throats. Gaza-residing Fatah members campaigning against an ascendant Hamas, attempting to gather in mass protests, only to be confronted by determinedly violence-prone Hamas militias making quick work of the attempted protests.

Hamas sympathizers residing in the West Bank, taking great pains to gather food and medicines to spirit them over to their need-abandoned, Gaza-centered, Palestinian brethren desperate for assistance. To which generosity of spirit and intent, Fatah militias respond with an emphatic 'not on their watch', shutting down these charitable impulses. Clearly, no love lost on either side.

Yet the separation of Palestinians book-ending Israel represents a state-aspirational unhealthy division of people, even arguing that residents of the West Bank are marginally more temperate than those of Gaza. They are still representatives of a fairly homogeneous people, severed politically by secularism versus religion.

Worse, accommodation with the West Bank may seem feasible toward achieving peace, but leaving Gaza out of the equation results in a festering wound which, left untended, may yet kill the nascent state. Any agreements reflect temporary measures without the inclusion of Gaza, impossible as it seems at the moment.

And the reality of the situation is however much Fatah and Hamas positively loathe one another, their ingrained distrust and hatred for the Jewish presence in what once was their perceived territory (irrespective of the fact that they were never recognized as a people deserving of a state by their-then territory-administating Arab neighbours) remains the single tie that binds.

As much as Fatah swears to the U.S. and Israeli government suppliers of potently-updated weaponry that they have no intention of re-uniting with Hamas, the real world of urgent events proves otherwise. Hamas has inherited an arsenal of weaponry beyond their wildest dreams in acquiring Gaza for itself, deposing Fatah and disposing of its militia, while adopting its weapons caches so generously provided by American and Israeli 'allies'.

Furthermore, Hamas remains a bargaining trump card for Fatah negotiators with Israel. Who hint darkly of re-uniting with Hamas, should their peace and nation-building negotiations not proceed in accordance with Palestinian Authority demands. The undercurrent of threat is there; that should Israel not sufficiently concede to PA demands, Fatah reserves for itself the option of reconciling with Hamas.

It's inevitable, in any event. Since 1993 a multitude of aid packages including arms, training and funding has enriched Fatah through agreements with Israel and the United States. Sophisticated surveillance equipment and up-to-date training facilities, along with the weapons once handed over with assurances they would remain with Fatah now embolden Hamas. And the process repeats itself yet again.

So is it a phantom pledge that shimmers with promise that is currently engaging Israel in negotiations with Fatah? When, in the past, has any PLO representative ever kept his word, let alone dealt with Israel frankly and honestly, to begin with?

What other options reveal themselves other than to partner in the negotiation of hope to forestall further and ongoing violent upheavals between Israel and the PA?

You dance with the partner you came with, but there are no guarantees your partner won't dance off into the future reflective of the past with another, more attractive partner.

Back to square one. Again, again, yet again.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Scruples, Principles and Victims

It's beyond sad that African countries appear to care more for defying former imperialist occupiers than opposing a tyrant within their midst who continues to victimize his own people. They have elected, almost unanimously, and with few very modestly-quiet abstentions, to protect a symbol of defiance. In the process willingly sacrificing a helpless population to the totalitarian whims of a self-obsessed, aged tyrant.

When will Africa abandon its timidity in settling its internal affairs to better reflect the maturity of a continent which insists it is capable of providing for its own? The African Union has been incapable of providing a solution to the ongoing disaster in Sudan. Yet they will not see fit to work alongside a United Nations contingent in defiance of Sudan's refusal to accept an outside army - and the country's obsession with defeating rebel Sudanese - in the process murdering Darfurians beyond number.

The European Union is preparing its annual summit with the African Union. Britain's new prime minister, while threatening tougher sanctions against Zimbabwe, also has made it known that he will not attend the joint summit if Robert Mugabe attends. Diplomatic contact with such a contentiously contemptible figure really does go beyond the obligations of statehood. It has the effect of empowering the already robust feeling of entitlement for this brutal dictator.

Yet Zimbabwe's African neighbours, knowing the desperate plight the country has succumbed to under the criminally debilitating mismanagement of President Mugabe have accepted a state of frozen inaction. It's generally hands-off criticism of a grizzled old warrior who, while once deserving of admiration in battling colonialism, now stands rightfully condemned of sacrificing his country's wealth to his personal ambition.

Ghana, which now presides over the African Union, insists that Mr. Mugabe remain an honoured member of the enclave, receiving equal consideration extended to the full membership in good standing. Britain's European allies well understand Mr. Brown's frustrated renunciation of extending political and social courtesy to a totalitarian monster whose erratic governance has beggared his people.

But they also insist that they are prepared to attend the summit with Mr. Mugabe in attendance, rather than a diplomatic government substitute, claiming this will gain them an opportunity to publicly inform the Zimbabwean president of their perception of his crippling measures on the economic and social fortunes of his country. Not likely they will succeed in their kid-gloves approach to impair this megalomaniac's self-regard.

What can any sane, rational onlooker think of the inaction by African Union members in the face of Zimbabwe's desperate straits? Well Africa is so resistant to criticism, however well deserved from any outside source and all the more so from the mouthpieces of their former colonial masters they remain complacent about Zimbabwe and rigidly opposed to interference in their affairs.

The Tanzanian president of the Pan-African Parliament has gone so far as to accuse Mr. Brown of "arm-twisting". Rather than engage in some introspection to ascertain the cause of the outrage and frustration evinced by the British Prime Minister against the ongoing criminal oppression of Zimbabwe by an horribly incapable and ultimately state-destructive administrator.

But as Gertrude Mongella of Tanzania would have it: "I think this is again another way of manipulating Africa. Zimbabwe is a nation which got independence. In the developed countries there are so many countries doing things which not all of us subscribe to." A poor excuse to say the least for a destructively chauvinistic attitude, sacrificing the futures of Zimbabweans.

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Canada, You're All Right

For all the things we're messing up in our usual haplessly fruitless attempts to get them right as a society, it's nice to know there are some things we're getting right. (We're not doing so badly on the home front with our record of inclusiveness and equality under our laws of universality.) However timidly and carefully. Standing by our principles, our standards of ethics and moral values. As part of the world community, doing our best to carefully pick our way around the landmines inherent in errors of judgement.

Canada has of late been a trifle more careful in its relations with our great good neighbour to our south, the United States. We're cordial and relatively co-operative - to a point. While at the same time optioning our sovereignty, in contrast to speedy agreement when points of contention arise, as they so often do in the political arena. Not doing so well, unfortunately, on the economic-partnering agenda, but that'll come, too. One can only hope.

Relations have been re-balanced slightly with China, that great economic juggernaut whose products are everywhere, relentlessly unavoidable. For which condition we have no one, alas, to blame but ourselves. Good for China that her huge and skilled labour force has upended traditional manufacturing in other areas of the world, beggaring their work force while economically enabling hers.

But while we embrace ongoing trade relations with China, we also reserve the right to observe and comment on modes of internal conduct unbecoming a responsible government which too often overlooks the basics in human-rights entitlements. Which is to say any country has the right to reserve the scope of its future contact with another on the basis of its responsiveness to its peoples needs.

And when a country, in its haste to extend its economic embrace stands down from its international obligations to use all the diplomatic means at its considerable disposal to entreat or encourage its allies to observe basic human rights for its population (think Sudan, Iran, for example) that country sometimes requires a little nudge to recall its international obligations.
Canada stands as guilty of those occasional lapses as any country it singles out for same.

But look, here is Canada's newest prime minister, readying to officially greet the Dalai Lama, that very outstanding individual of huge repute and renown shut out of Tibet by China's One China policy. China's longstanding argument of ownership of Tibet, has led to its brutally shutting down dissent and jailing Tibetan dissidents. This act of solidarity with the head of another country under great political and social duress will not go down kindly with China.

Canada is preparing to serve notice within the United Nations that Iran's behaviour is counter to its obligations as a member-state that requires it to embrace and to adhere to human-rights-obligatory conduct. Conduct becoming any official entity representing a great nation, but shrugged off by Iran as it pursues an agenda inimical to human rights, both internally and externally.

Canada has been sympathetic to Taiwan's aspirations to achieve neutral severance from Greater China. Under China's unrelenting drive to achieve its One China policy, and world wide recognition of its greatness as an immense and strong nation, it has forbidden Taiwan on pain of violent upheaval (invasion and war) to continue its struggle for full independence and final sovereignty. Canada's surreptitious diplomatic exchanges with Taiwan will not further endear her to China.

And now, what's Canada up to? Aggravating Greece and Canada's own tens of thousands of Greek-Canadians by agreeing to formally recognize the naming of Macedonia, the country neighbour to Greece. Greece complains it has a province thus named (who knew Philip of Macedonia came from Greek Macedonia?) and strenuously objects to Canada's venture into empathy with one party while angering another ally.

That Canada finally also took the required steps to ally itself unswervingly with Israel as a member-democracy, in support of that country's need of recognition of its untenable position vis-a-vis her neighbours' aggrieved posturing bordering on overt hostility is also a matter of deep satisfaction. Recognizing terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah for their violent purpose and labelling them as such adds to the treasury of Canada's human-rights obligations fulfilled.

It's tough work being a member-state of the world. There are so many fractious enmities and distractions of one kind or another. You do the best you can. And we're doing all right.

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Obliterate Canada Too?

Now, that's head-spinning chutzpah. Tehran gunning for Canada. In response to Canada's official position at the United Nations, condemning that country for its human-rights abuses. In its official position as a country in good standing anywhere in the world, standing firm in its commitment toward upholding the international standards of human rights, and standing by its word by clear actions and commitments, both at home and abroad.

But in the netherworld of mystical machinations and their deep commitment to unsettling the world order, Iran steadfastly holds to its claims of representing a true higher order. And in that spirit they have happily bowed to the will of the Divine, in unleashing an unprecedented attack upon Canada. In which cause they have assembled a document purporting to demonstrate Canada's utter failure as a decent, law-abiding exemplar of human-rights.

The document was compiled, written and solemnly distributed to the diplomats of the world's nation representatives as a 70-page indictment of Canada - "in the name of God", no less. God's all-seeing, ever-present, holy and humanity-committed sacred presence, balancing the scale of accusation against Canada, an enlightened democratic country of some 30-million souls assembled from all corners of the world.

Oops, no contest. God wins hands down. Who could possibly begin to doubt, cavil at assertions placed in a public forum as indubitable facts of reality with the imprimatur of the Holy Spirit? That's a tough one, no doubt about it.

Canada has suddenly become a pariah, intent on devouring the very people it is accountable to through the democratic ballot box, by denying them the very essence of life; food, clean water and the right to work. Moreover, unlawful beatings by Canadian police represent an occurrence long a matter of concern by the international community, claims this booklet,
Report on Human Rights Situation in Canada.

Can't say the Iranians don't have it on good authority. God has guided them. Encouraged that devoutly theistic government to spread the news so that all may know them by their deeds. That's a tough one, no doubt about it.

"It is a great concern that the rights of women are violated, and no serious attention has been paid in promotion and protection of women's rights in Canada", the book avers. (Bet that'll surprise a whole passel of Canadian feminists.) "Canada's position as a self-declared standard-bearer on human rights has been demoted to a blind-folded-bullied (sic) follower of the new school of unilateralism and the axis of derailment of international human rights law."

Ouch, doesn't that really sting. Gender equality in Iran is a sacred trust not to be denied by the administration there. Which explains why police harangue and threaten Iranian women for immodest dress, and permission is not given for women to attend the most prosaic of sports events. The upholding of basic human rights remains such a sacred trust for Iran that it is of no particular moment that a Canadian-Iranian woman is tortured and murdered in an Iranian jail.

Of course human rights as a commitment must also have its limits. Not extended, for example, to a country like Israel which Iran has deemed has no place in that theocratic geography. But what do we know? God has directed them after all. That's a tough one, no doubt about it.

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's shared agenda with God and the Hidden Prophet is brought into play to counteract Canada's plans to introduce, for the 5th consecutive year, a denunciation of Iran's "purportedly" dreadful human rights record. Ahmadinejad is comfortably prepared to speak for God, on arguing at the United Nations that Canada stands accused and guilty of the high crime of supreme hypocrisy.

For Canada is, God seems to claim, an unquestioning puppet-state of that Great Satan, with whom it shares a continent. Junior Great Satan stands accused by God of being one with the axis of evil. Now where the hell have we heard that neat little expression before? Ah yes, I recall, the "axis of evil" speech by President Georgie Bush, where Iran, Iraq and North Korea were thus identified as fearfully destabilizing influences on the world body politic.

Gotcha! right? And nah, naw, all you superior Western types who insist on relaying tainted information to the great world at large that democracy is the ideal of governance, and capitalism its running dog of success.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Hallowed Halls of Academe

There are some institutes of higher learning that, by their very names and the reputations they have garnered over years of intellectual excellence and exploration into the annals of history, the arcane workings of the human mind, the parsing of international politics, and the learned research activities of scientists of every description - give reason to remain highly respected institutes celebrating the heights of human achievement.

So is it a form of curiosity, of intellectual searching for truth, or an alternative of arrogance that impels those who speak on behalf of such an institute as Columbia University to flirt with evil incarnate? In the interests, ostensibly, of understanding the apparently obscure, the depths to which human depravity of mind and reason can aspire to. A compelling reason to mount an attempt to learn what motivates someone like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Conjecture is one thing, theory another, but actually eliciting information straight from the mouth of one who espouses genocide, nation-cide, and the achievement of nuclear sufficiency in weaponry seems for them a compelling exercise in knowledge-acquisition. Is it sheer boredom with the sameness of intellectual enquiry? Might it be a result of knowing the answers to most questions? The enticement of facing off against another mode of thought and mind entirely contrary to the reason exercised by most thinking individuals?

Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, seems to feel he will be offered the opportunity to challenge Ahmadinejad's deadly assertions through studiously careful enquiry. To probe the depths of this man's mind. To perhaps discover vestiges of humanity. He would have to probe diligently to uncover anything of that nature. For this is an individual serene and secure in his place in time and in history. His prosecution of the Iranian agenda brooks no interference. His single-minded devotion to militantly-devotional Islam that foresees triumph as reward is not to be diverted.

Perhaps a good start might be a discussion on the readiness of the Hidden Prophet to reveal himself at long last. Whereupon Mr. Ahmadinejad might deliver a scholarly treatise on the vital importance in world affairs of mysticism and cataclysmic upheavals. And his readiness on behalf of his country and his pledge to Allah to deliver the world into the realm of a new reality where there is no looking back. And, incidentally, no forward looking either.

He is prepared to take his place at the helm of a sphere destined to be consumed by the hellfires of Armageddon.

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Rise Up, Ye Muslims

There he goes again. Now he's dropped his pseudo-Marxist agonizing to reveal once again his authentically fundamentalist Islamist fascism. Need anyone be surprised? Evil hatred has many guises, to be employed expeditiously when situations reveal themselves. Fashioning the message to meet the temper of the times and the receptivity of the audience.

General Musharraf was so certain he had done the right thing for Pakistan in reaching a mutual agreement of co-operation with Pakistan's hinterland tribal leaders. Their doings would be off bounds to his military as long as they were prepared to stop supporting the Taliban. They would, he assured the United States, become allies of a sort. They would not be welcoming of al-Qaeda operatives, and could instead be relied upon to resist the incursions of al-Qaeda, and rebuff their message.

In their own self-interests of course. A law unto themselves, through tradition and isolation. And fierce determination to shelter pure Islam and their culture, their aeons-old way of life from exposure to foreign, godless values.

Likely he knew of what he spoke. But then, as happens, shit hit the fan when the leaders of the Red Mosque and their fervently fundamentalist adherents insisted it was their duty as searingly devoted Muslims to ensure that Pakistan's societal mores be less accommodating to the odious encroachment of western mores and culture on Islamic values and traditions - and went to great lengths to prove their point.

Needless to say, their flagrantly open opposition to reason and particularly to the recommendation by General Musharraf that they cease and desist left him little option but to close them down. Violently, as it happened when the Red Mosque students and their clerical masters defied authority and met armed violence with equally armed violence. Earning General Musharraf the outraged censure of those same Islamist tribal leaders.

Who then saw fit to make common cause with al-Qaeda, spurred on by their mutual devotion to rigid Islam and their signal rejection of all religion-defiling, tradition-despoiling actions of the government. The result has been a struggle for survival. On the part of President Pervez Musharraf, whose own country's courts and justices hold him in less than high esteem. Not to mention the opposition parties eager to have their exiled former heads of government return.

And last of all, General Musharraf's personal defence, Pakistan's beleaguered military, fighting a rearguard action against insurgents, Taliban and al-Qaeda. Troops taken hostage. Others kidnapped on a daily basis. Mutilated and dumped. Facing the growing presence of suicide bombers. His elite commandos targeted, his defences and support fading before his very eyes. This is evidence of manifestly hostile Islam; a kinder gentler treatment of erstwhile allies turned enemy.

Most troubling of all, to now view tapes aired on public television for all to see, being lectured, castigated and harangued by Ayman al-Zawahri and Osama bin Laden. Who the hell do they think they are?

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Racial Tensions Redux

Tensions repeated, no real surprise, just disappointment. People will enjoy their little discriminations, after all. Gone underground, that's all. Erupting in vile explosions in the light of day, from time to time. Hard to believe for some of us that we harbour such a recalcitrant inability to accept differences between ourselves. Surface differences. But there it is.

In some places, at some times, black and white remain opposing forces of denial and distrust. There is a hateful resurgence of shallow prejudices coming to the surface. But isn't it heartening to see the black community come together in a combined refusal to accept the conditions that were once demeaningly endemic in the society they share with the larger white population of the United States?

Cymbals clash, bugles blare, the heavens resound with the clarity of their call to action. Not being there, one can only dare hope there are ample white supporters in the throng of civil rights demonstrators converging on Jena, Louisiana.

Symbols matter. Particularly when they're hateful for what they represent. The Nazi swastika, for example. A playful noose hung from the limbs of a tree as another example. The symbolism is a blatant provocation. Born of a simmering hatred. Ensuring a once-embattled and bitterly vulnerable demographic doesn't remain too complacent.

Was a time when the law simply was blind when a white person violated the human rights of a black person. When the law smote heavily and often with deadly application when a black person was even suspected of violating the property rights of a white neighbour. When segregation was imposed legally to preserve a way of life that consigned a black population to non-status.

Whispered campaigns of deliberate, unanswerable accusation were once sufficient to consign a black person to the purgatory of long confinement. Finally, there were sufficient numbers of people of goodwill of every colour come together to extinguish the darkness of racial discrimination in the United States. But it lives on, there, and here and everywhere.

A part and portion of the human condition. Where people must find others to blame for the misfortunes befalling themselves, and the likeliest targets for blame are those most unlike themselves.

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No Holds Barred

Hard to believe that an ostensible political party - even if it is in reality a terrorist organization which just incidentally plays itself out as a socially-conscious, but inherently militant political entity - throws all caution to the winds with the kind of vicious temerity not seen outside the Middle East. Playing its hand so breathtakingly blatantly.

One assassination after another. Any Lebanese politician opposed to Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs knows that he is a target for violently-bloody removal from active duty. There is no surcease, no let-up of the threats implicit in the determination of Hezbollah to control Lebanon as a puppet of Syria, and functionary of Iran.

While anti-Syrian politicians still have the majority, they are losing it by steady attrition. With the bloody assassination of Christian Phalangist Antoine Ghanem on September 19, there are now eight fewer Syrian political antagonists in Lebanon, since the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

But these are all simply incidental and unfortunate events. Some unnamed, unknowable source is responsible for these deaths, for the fear, horror and destabilization visited upon Lebanon. Certainly these unpredictable events cannot be placed at the feet of Hezbollah, answerable to Allah and therefore compelled to compassionately responsible action.

Nor can Syria be implicated as a puppet-master in these unavoidable tragedies. For Damascus has denied involvement. Unfortunate tragedies occur. They happen. That's life. This is the Middle East. One never knows.

Seven people killed beside the lawmaker. Nineteen injured in the bomb explosion, their bloody bodies carried away to hospitals for speedy repair. Cars demolished. Buildings severely damaged. Why, one might think the Israeli airforce had been involved. Ah, there's a thought. After all, why would, how could Hezbollah possibly plan to visit such an viciously violent outrage on other Lebanese?

Little wonder that a number of anti-Syrian politicians have sought temporary refuge in Cairo. In an attempt to preserve their majority for the upcoming parliamentary vote to bring in the next president. The irony is that Mr. Ghanem had been among them, living in Egypt for fear of assassination. For all such anti-Syrian lawmakers have received death threats.

"You cannot separate this killing from the presidential election", according to Butros Harb, an MP, anti-Syrian coalition member and presidential candidate.

The current, pro-Syrian president of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, has written to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, requesting technical assistance in the investigation of "this horrific assassination".

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Surprise: Gaza is a Hostile Entity

Shock and horror - that Israel would take steps to demonstrate what is most obvious; that she lives next door to a population comprised of Palestinians whose representatives cleave to the determination to wreak limitless havoc within the Jewish state, and whose ultimate intent is to demolish the reality of the state and disperse those of its population who do not meet death during the violent incident of state annihilation.

These are not nation-entities sharing a geography who also share differences of opinion with a degree of tolerance. These are fundamentally oppositional solitudes each of whom regards the other as a very direct threat to their existence. There are no opportunities presenting themselves through which each solitude may speak earnestly and logically with one another for the purpose of entente and eventual mutual acceptance.

Each has claims of sovereignty called into question by the other. One is an established state whose presence is threatened on an ongoing violent manner by the other. The other represents an ethnic-cultural-social geographical existence without having ever attained to statehood. Each entity is comprised of a fractious and occasionally cohesive population, although the Palestinians tend to be less comprehensively coherent in their violent opposition to their neighbour.

Neither is entirely willing to submit to a process which will have the end result of sacrifice. Although the State of Israel has demonstrated that it is prepared to offer some measure of sacrifice to attain peace with its neighbour. The Palestinian population in Gaza, and its political representatives are adamantly opposed to dealing with Israel which they consider their oppressor, and whose presence they are prepared to sacrifice their own lives to destroy.

So how to deal with an adversary with whom one cannot exchange views and ideas and opinions, let alone conduct talks aimed at reaching a mutually acceptable compromise? Patience, urges the United Nations. How much patience is enough? Gazans have proven themselves unwilling and/or incapable of compromise; it is all or nothing. What opportunity can there possibly be to speak creatively and intelligently with one driven to lunacy by hatred?

Patience is this: one makes every effort to accommodate another's quarrel by attempting to understand, empathize, and if possible defuse it. Unless to do so is to sign one's own death warrant. In which case one offers conditions of one's own. Conditions that come with the compelling argument that pain will be caused if violence continues unabated. This is the civilized way of attempting to instill a level of comprehension in those whose rage doesn't enable them to fully comprehend how their actions are in fact, harming their own self-interests.

All of Gaza's fuel, including diesel, gasoline and natural gas comes from Israel, as does 62.5% of electricity. Another 28.6% of Gaza's electricity comes from Gaza's power plant, which depends upon Israeli fuel. The remainder of the electricity comes from Egypt. Why would a country under continual siege, whose border communities are constantly threatened by Kassam rockets pounding down, occasionally maiming and killing, be expected to continue countenancing this "inconvenience" to the safety of its citizens?

The Israeli Minister of Defense revealed that Hamas-controlled Gaza permitted terrorists to fire 700 Kassam rockets since the start of the year; a total of 4,000 rockets since the second Intifada. The population of Gaza's voters effectively elected Hamas in an overwhelmingly favourable cast of their ballots. In the face of unremitting attacks, Israel is warned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that interrupting vital supplies to Gaza would violate international law. There is no concomitant disapproval of Hamas from the UN.

Hamas calls the declaration by Israel tantamount to a declaration of war. Which is more than a trifle ironic since the Hamas charter is in and of itself a declaration of war against the State of Israel. But then it also characterizes Israel as a criminal, terrorist Zionist entity. Again ironic, since most of the world considers Hamas to represent a terrorist organization, despite its recent 'legal' standing as a democratically elected entity through its political wing.

Some might feel, on the evidence presented, that the suffering of the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza is self-imposed. They can, after all, declare their willingness, however unwilling, to engage in serious discussions with representatives of the State of Israel, demanding that those whom they have elected represent them with integrity and intelligently in such discussions. For the purpose of finally ending the absurd stand-off that benefits no one, least of all themselves.

Israel's intent is to promote sober, second thoughts in the minds of those whose intelligence has been fogged by hatred and blood-lust. Emergency food, medicine and energy provisions to the population suffering such privation will continue to be permitted through selected border crossings. Israel is not bereft of humanitarian impulse. Sanctions, however, will be implemented in stages, as the need is perceived, should attacks not cease.

Is that not an intelligent, and hopeful, response to what presents as an intractable situation?

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's a Tough One

"If you leave prematurely, Afghanistan will fall back into anarchy", warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Speaking to the Canadian people, using the presence of Afghan-based Canadian reporters to alert Canadians to the need of Afghanistan to ensure that foreign troops continue to commit to assisting his country in keeping the Taliban out. As well as in reconstruction. That's a lot to ask for, and Mr. Karzai is well aware, it would appear, of the turmoil in public opinion in this country with respect to maintaining Canadian troops in his country.

As part of the NATO presence in Afghanistan, Canada has committed itself to the dangerous and arduous work of fighting back the Taliban advance. Of maintaining contact of a friendly and helpful nature with tribal chiefs, of assisting in the development of social and government services, of lending assistance in reconstruction of municipal, legal, policing, social, health and education facilities, when possible. But the Canadian troop presence of some 2,500 personnel is heavily engaged in the military aspect of challenging and ousting the Taliban, for the most part.

And it is the loss of some 70 armed forces personnel and a diplomat that is uppermost in Canadians' minds. That, and the unwillingness of many Canadians to be and remain involved in a foreign war which seems to have no good news emanating from the front. Which, allied with the perception that the Afghan government at every level sustains a high level of corruption, also seen in the local police forces, is a sobering assessment of what foreign troops cannot on their own alleviate.

Mr. Karzai warns that the date of 2009 as a potential for the withdrawal of Canadian troops in the hopes that the Afghan Army will itself be by then prepared to pursue its country's enemies and protect their own geography, will leave the country unprepared to protect itself. "It will be a weak body prone to attack", he cautioned. "The presence of Canada is needed until Afghanistan is able to defend itself, and that day is not going to be in 2009."

Why, one wonders, just in passing, does President Karzai, good man that he undoubtedly is, not approach a neighbouring country with whom he professes to have good relations, and ask them to assist in the manner that NATO countries are doing? Why is a neighbour like Iran, whose president Mr. Karzai has stated a good opinion of, not ready to step in and be helpful? Why must it be an entirely foreign presence, so far removed from the geography whose responsibility it has become to stabilize this geography?

Cannot he see the reality of Iran actively finding common cause with the Taliban and assisting them surreptitiously? Is that possibility so extremely far-fetched from Afghan reality for Mr. Karzai to recognize?

Canada's position in the volatile south of the country leaves its troops vulnerable to constant attack, to threats from IEDs. British, US and Dutch forces share in large part, the pressures placed upon Canadian troops, while other NATO-affiliated countries have a more muted, non-involved presence in quieter, safer parts of the country. They are unwilling to share the burden of being up-front and responsible, partly because they are aware of the reserved judgement of their own citizens, in their country's involvement in Afghanistan.

President Karzai's argument is persuasive: "Anarchy will bring back safe havens to terrorists, among other things, and terrorists will then hurt you back there in Canada and the United States. Simple as that," said he. "That happened before, because of international neglect." True, it doesn't take much to embolden Islamists, intent on establishing their own indelible version of religious lifestyle on a helpless country. Nor to reach out beyond their territory to visit destruction elsewhere.

Political opposition in Canada would have our troops withdraw from the direct danger zones. Have them engage more directly in reconstruction, with a continued diplomatic and helping presence. Putting them in direct agreement with other countries steadfastly refusing to lend their troops to those violent areas of continued terrorist attack. Allowing them to adhere to the quaint notion of Canadian troops as peacekeepers, not warriors.

Canadian troops, on the other hand, believe in their mission. They are proud of what it is they are doing. They empathize with the local population, and try to understand their social system, realizing that we are all similarly endowed with similar emotional needs waiting to be fulfilled by our various destinies. Canadian military personnel remain committed to their mission, they are obdurately inclined to continue, to feel they are adding positive value by their presence.

That President Karzai is differentiating between the al-Qaeda-affiliated hardcore Taliban, and the local residents pressed into service by the Taliban, and being prepared to accept the latter back into normal Afghan society is a credit to him as a leader. That he adamantly refuses to accommodate his government to the demands of the hard-core Taliban who demand a withdrawal of NATO forces before meaningful talks take place, is a credit to him as a realist.

This is a hard one. We have international obligations to other countries of the world, requiring our help. We most certainly are obliged by compassion and humanitarianism to ensure that women are no longer enslaved by a rigidly demeaning religion-centered view that degrades women and denies educational opportunities to girl children. Yet that too, to a certain extent was a part and portion of the historical, prevailing culture.

We do have an obligation to assist other people to attain to a higher standard of living where freedoms and equality are possible attainments. We can dream of a better world.

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