Waving at Bush with all five fingers

Bush extended thanks to the Canadians who waved at him with all five fingers. I can’t blog very much right now, but I can tell you there were tens of thousands waving. There was a spirited march from city hall to parliament hill, and at Bush’s dinner appointment at the Museum of Civilization there was a demonstration of several thousand that reached spitting distance (or at least shouting distance) of the venue. It was a good feeling – it feels like Canadians at least managed to come out in approximately the same numbers as Chileans did. As someone who was close to the Toronto organizing, I have to say that even though there were many people pouring tremendous amounts of energy into organizing these demonstrations, the sheer size and scale of the demonstrations was a pleasant surprise to all, and happened I think because there is massive repudiation of Bush in Canada as opposed to long patient organizing work (there was work done, but there just wasn’t time to build an event like this and there weren’t massive institutions mobilizing for it).

More tomorrow (I think!)

A Canada Reading Story

Before heading off to Ottawa, a quick blog. Of course it would be great if I were able to blog from the demonstrations but I can’t make any promises. Meanwhile, a piece of advice for readers coming to Canada – stop reading!

Books, that is.

Mahmoud Namini, a Dutch Citizen and an Iranian Refugee, was coming through Pearson airport in late October when immigration authorities found a ‘suspicious’ book, “The Bird About to Fly”, about a 1982 uprising against the Islamic Republic of Iran. It was written in Farsi and has militants dressed for battle on the cover. For that crime, he has been in detention in Toronto for a couple of months now. His fiance lives in Toronto. He was granted refugee status in Holland 10 years ago.

He needed it, because he was actually imprisoned by the Iranian regime for five years and in danger of further persecution.

Good thing people don’t have to worry about that kind of arbitrary imprisonment in civilized countries (Gandhi’s joke about Western Civilization keeps coming to mind).

Canadians who are unable to go to Ottawa and are looking for an outlet can help get Mr. Namini released, striking a blow for just immigration policy and for literacy at the same time. Details courtesy of Homes Not Bombs below.

Please forward far and wide…

Detained in Canada for “Suspicious” Reading Material

Free Mahmoud Namini and End Thought Crime in Canada 44-year-old Iranian Refugee and Dutch Citizen Jailed in Canada for Reading “Suspicious” Book

1. Introduction 2. Backgrounder 3. What You Can do: Letters and Wednesday, December 1 Vigil at 12 Noon at Judy Sgro’s Constituency office, 2201 Finch West

WHAT’S GOING ON? While Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin was lecturing Russian President Vladimir Putin on the need to respect democratic rights during an October visit, the Canadian Immigration bureaucracy was busy taking a page out of the former Soviet dictatorship with the detention in Toronto of Mahmoud Namini for the crime of reading a book which the Canadian government finds “suspicious”.

While Mr. Namini was coming through Pearson International Airport in Toronto in late October, immigration authorities took an immediate dislike to a book in his possession, Parandeh_ye No Parvaz (The Bird About to Fly), which documents a 1982 uprising against the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The book is written in Farsi and features a cover which shows militants dressed for battle in a jungle setting (hardly shocking given the fairly lurid covers of English-language thrillers, mysteries, and other paperbacks generally available at airports.)

Mr. Namini has been detained ever since while the Canadian government “investigates” possible security concerns related to his reading of this book.

Needless to say, at a time when Canadian literacy rates are dropping at an alarming rate, jailing someone for reading is certainly sending the wrong message to Canada’s students!

We are calling on the Government of Canada and, specifically, the ministers responsible for this outrageous detention for thought crime, to immediately release Mr. Namini. Below is a backgrounder on the case, as well as addresses for writing to ministers Judy Sgro and Anne McLellan.

WHO IS MAHMOUD? Seyed Mahmoud Namini is 44 years old, born in Tehran, Iran, and currently a citizen of Holland, where he was granted refugee status 10 years ago. He was one of thousands of individuals arbitrarily jailed for five years under the brutal regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran during the 1980s (and was in jail during the 1982 uprising covered in the book The Bird About to Fly).

Namini’s fiancé Nahid lives in Toronto, and was looking forward to seeing him when he came to Canada October 27. It was the latest of many trips which Mr. Namini has taken both to Canada and the United States to visit relatives, both before and after the events of 9/11/2001, all without incident or questioning.

Indeed, Mr. Namini spent five months in Canada earlier this year and was returning to Canada to finalize his marriage preparations in October. After an initial interview at the airport October 27, he was released and asked to return the next day for further questioning, whereupon he was immediately detained and subject to a barrage of questions, accusing him of membership in groups as diverse as the Kurdish Workers Party and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan).

Namini denied membership or association with any of these groups, but was told by CSIS agents, “We don’t believe you.” In classic style, the questioning continued, with CSIS no doubt hoping the intense repetition of such questions would force Namini to either “slip up” and say something “suspicious” or simply want to end the interrogation by “confessing” to anything that would please the agents.

Mr. Namini is not involved in any of these groups. He is a Systems Administrator/ Computer Networker interested in the politics of his birth country who simply wants to get married and get on with his life.

But for now, he remains separated from his fiancé by concrete and thick glass. Both Mahmoud and Nahid awake each day and go to bed each night — if they can sleep — with one question: why this continued detention?

The Government of the Netherlands has produced a document of good conduct showing Mr. Namini has been nothing but the most respectable of individuals during his years in that country.

Inquiries made on behalf of Mr. Namini indicate it is the book he was carrying which continues to raise the alarm bells at the Canadian War Crimes Unit of Immigration, which seems so focused on Namini that it may be neglecting a great catch in George W. Bush next week in Ottawa.


Write to Immigratiom Minister Judy Sgro (who described herself earlier this week as the “Minister of Hopes and Dreams” and Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan) and CC Paul Martin. The reference to comments in Parliament refers to Ms. Sgro, and should not appear in a McLellan letter

Here is a sample letter. In order to avoid the appearance of form letters which can be ignored, please personalize your letter

Dear Ms. Sgro I am concerned about the detention of Mr. Seyed Mahmoud Namini (File 374253834138 (Client ID: 5383-4138), detained since October 28 in Toronto for what appears to be the crime of carrying a book which Canadian authorities find suspicious.

This sounds like the kind of conduct for which the former Soviet Union was repeatedly condemned, not the kind of thing which is the hallmark of a 21st century democracy.

Mr. Namini has travelled in and out of Canada and the U.S. visiting relatives for years, all without difficulty.

You have stated in Parliament in recent weeks that you try and do the right thing when it comes to people seeking to enter Canada. It is clear that you can do the right thing here by ending this arbitrary detention.

Mr. Namini and his Canadian fiancé are both aware that individuals know about his case and are writing to seek his release from detention. Rather than respond to us that you cannot comment on the case due to privacy concerns, we ask that you please take whatever measures are necessary to ensure Mr. Namini’s immediate release.

Thank you.

Name Address

Please cc letters to tasc@web.ca and free_mnl@yahoo.ca

Judy Sgro Constituency Office Tel: 416-744-1882 Fax: 416-952-1696 2201 Finch Ave W, Suite 25 Toronto, ON M9M 2Y9 sgroj1@parl.gc.ca

Parliament Hill Office Tel: 613-992-7774 Fax: 613-947-8319 Rm 207, Confederation Bldg House of Commons Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6 sgroj@parl.gc.ca

Anne McLellan Deputy PM and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Edmonton Office 12304 – 107 Avenue NW Edmonton, Alberta T5M 1Z1, Canada Telephone: (780) 495-3122 Facsimile: (780) 495-2598

Ottawa Hill Office 306 Justice Building House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6, Canada Telephone: (613) 992-4524 Facsimile: (613) 943-0044 Facsimile: (613) 952-2240

4. DEMONSTRATE Join a Noon-Hour Vigil outside the Constituency office of Immigration Minister Judy Sgro, Wednesday, December 1, 12 Noon, 2201 Finch Ave West (one major block west of Hwy. 400, located in a big strip mall along with an Ontario courthouse) If you need a ride call (416) 651-5800 or email free_mnl@yahoo.ca

Sponsored by the Commitee to Free Mahmoud Namini (free_mnl@yahoo.ca) (supported and endorsed by Toronto Action for Social Change and Homes not Bombs, Toronto)

To add your name or group to the list of supporting organizations, email: free_mnl@yahoo.ca

Kole (not Cole)

My friend Kole will, like CP Pandya, occasionally be contributing insightful commentary to this blog. Kole is just what we need more of – an activist with lots of ideas and energy, who already knows a lot and is always learning more. Just back from spending 10 months in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where Kole ran the blog Into the Middle East. Kole is also a collaborator on the once and future En Camino site.

Stressful relaxation – ‘Alexander’

Hoping to unwind, I went and watched ‘Alexander’, which turned out to be a mistake. I like historical epics. It is true that they are violent, and full of stereotypes, and not usually progressive in their politics. But I like them anyway, mostly I think because I am interested in history and like to see ancient periods shown on film. I watched ‘Troy’, for example, and liked it. But Alexander was really bad.

Continue reading “Stressful relaxation – ‘Alexander’”

Anyone Surprised?

So the US and the Iraqi political parties it is sponsoring want to delay elections. Readers who follow this link will be impressed by the hypocrisy. Every story you read about Iraq now seems to have an obligatory feature about how many bodies the United States is finding as it turns a place like Fallujah or Mosul into rubble. These bodies, it’s important to note, are bodies that the US is claiming were killed by the resistance. As for the corpses generated by the US operations themselves… “we don’t do body counts”, and as Arundhati Roy said a few weeks ago, we don’t do the Geneva Conventions either. Instead, we shut down hospitals so they cannot report on body counts and murder journalists for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, I had to include this Reuters photo courtesy of Akram Saleh in Fallujah, of the troops we support stopping a dangerous terrorist in his tracks.


The Washington Post story I got it from is about how the Fallujah operations have brought the number of Iraqis in US custody to 8300. “The large influx of prisoners is putting stress on U.S. detention operations, providing the biggest test yet of new facilities and procedures adopted in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal this past spring, Miller and other officers said in interviews here.”

I wonder if it’s putting any “stress” on the Iraqis who are being detained? I would think that it would be, especially if those Iraqis are put into “stress positions”.

Anyone believe any of this?

The prison building that was the site of abuses by American guards has been turned over to Iraqi authorities and is used to jail criminals. Detainees in U.S. military custody are kept in recently constructed camps with climate-controlled tents, a visitation center and three hot meals a day. For the most cooperative prisoners, there are movies and a library.

Miller, who has been supervising detention operations since April, said many of the changes, including a computerized record-keeping system, have enabled guards and interrogators to operate more efficiently. Also helpful is the experience soldiers have gained since taking over at the start of the year from the units involved in the scandal.

Miller also noted that there are 180-210 interrogations a week. And even better:

Allegations of abuse against detainees are down about 60 percent from what they were in May and average about 10 a month, Miller said. Only two or three a month tend to be substantiated, the general said. “These are not intentional. These are overly aggressive kinds of things, like combat takedowns,” Miller said.

Allegations of abuse against detainees are down about 60%! What a relief.

There is more reading about Miller himself in Seymour Hersh’s new book.

Hector M and a little more

I have the honour of translating Hector Mondragon’s work. He is a very under-appreciated analyst and activist who lives underground in Colombia because he’s on paramilitary hit lists. His latest piece calls attention to the imperial visits Bush has been making and the lack of success Bush has been having in these whirlwind trips. Canadians can take heart – after planning to address parliament and stay for a couple of days, it now looks like Bush is going to breeze through Ottawa and head to Halifax before heading home. My prediction is he’ll change his schedule again. That’s not just because of fear of protests and public opinion, it’s also because of the bitter experience Bush has been having on his world tour. Odd, isn’t it, how the rest of the world doesn’t seem to accept the ‘mandate’ and the ‘political capital’ that he was given by the American people? (Aside – interesting how Bush said he was going to ‘spend’ his ‘political capital’, no? Aren’t smart capitalists supposed to invest capital?)

Bush’s visit to Colombia lasted 3 hours. Hector discusses the implications of the visit for Colombia’s president Uribe, who is still trying to swim desperately against the tide in Latin America. The battleground is there, between Colombia and Venezuela. That’s the lynchpin. If Bush and Uribe can make their terrorism work in Venezuela, they might be able to reverse that tide. Check out Hector’s explanation — it’s a ZNet Sustainer commentary…

Exit polls, the Ukraine…

Another election, another battle over the results. The story is all over the mainstream media, though the Ukraine almost never shows up on the radar otherwise.

The election was between an incumbent who apparently is backed by Russia (Viktor Yanukovych) and a “pro-Western reformer” (Viktor Yushchenko), and it was… ahem… very close. According to the Globe and Mail
Continue reading “Exit polls, the Ukraine…”


The plan is to be on the road until Tuesday afternoon, but I might be able to blog from the road.

Analyses, big and small

‘Big-picture’ analysis is always a dicey proposition especially when it seems that there are always emergencies to try and respond to. Responding to the raiding of yet another mosque, shooting and killing 4 people at prayer, with analysis, seems inappropriate. Especially when, by the time you hear about the mosque massacre, there are already bombings and attacks in response, and then more violence in response to the response…

And there’s that feeling that these things are going on and we seem unable to do anything effective to stop them.

That’s not much of an intro to the analyses I’ve been reading. First the little analyst, then the big analysts.

Pranjal Tiwari, a writer for ZNet, Left Turn, and a few other outlets, is based in Hong Kong and provides a smart, uncompromising perspective on East Asian movements and the way things look from East Asia in his blog In the Water. It’s one of the few blogs I’ve linked, so check it if you haven’t already.

Now for the heavy stuff. I got the Monthly Review in the mail, an article by Samir Amin. Amin is an interesting old Marxist figure, who thinks mostly about imperialism. Unlike a lot of North American-based analysts though, he doesn’t hold much hope out for the power of popular movements in North America. In his discussion of the role of Israel/Palestine in the world order, Amin emphasizes that he is not among those “who naively believe that public opinion in the democratic countries, such as it is, imposes its views on these Powers. We know that opinion also is manufactured.”

That analysis leads Amin to pitch his ideas more at regimes – regimes of 3rd world countries in much of his work and, in the article I’m quoting, at European countries. After explaining some of the elements of the global economy – the US as increasingly just a consumer and a military, with Asia and Europe doing most of the manufacturing and the periphery supplying raw materials and energy which the US guarantees with the threat of military force – and the ways in which it might all unravel, he gives some advice to, I assume, European elites:

“The major political conclusion that I draw from this analysis is that Europe cannot pass beyond Atlanticism as long as political alliances defining the blocs in power remain centered on dominant transnational capital. It is only if social and political struggles manage to modify the content of these blocs, and to impose new historical compromises between capital and labor, that Europe would be able to distance itself from Washington, permitting the eventual revival of a European project. Under these conditions Europe also could—even ought to—become engaged at the international level in its relationships with the East and the South, on a path other than that traced by the exclusive requirements of collective imperialism. Such a course would begin its participation in the long march beyond capitalism. In other words, Europe will be of the left (the term left being taken seriously) or will not be at all.”

Samir Amin is certainly not alone in doubting the status of the “second superpower” – public opinion – but his own analysis suggests good reasons why Europe’s elites are unlikely to take his advice. Aside from sheer genocidal violence, all empires always stand on collaboration. The amount of collaboration throughout the world, even in such extreme times as these, when the US is offering almost nothing in return and acting with incredible arrogance, is amazing, as Amin himself argues in his article.

Walden Bello is another one of those analysts who presents the big picture. If Amin offers strategies to European regimes, Bello offers them to the “antiwar movement”.

Bello doesn’t have illusions about the meaning of the US elections:

The terrible truth, however, is that the Republican victory, while not lopsided, was solid. Another phase of the political revolution begun by Ronald Reagan in 1980, the 2004 elections confirmed that the center of gravity of US politics lies not o­n the center-right but o­n the extreme right. Now, it remains true that the country is divided almost evenly, and bitterly so. But it is the Republican Right that has managed to provide a compelling vision for its base and to fashion and implement a strategy to win power at all levels of the electoral arena, in civil society, and in the media. While liberals and progressives have floundered, the Radical Right has united under an utterly simple vision the different components of its base: the South and Southwest, the majority of white males, the upper and middle classes that have benefited from the neoliberal economic revolution, Corporate America, and Christian fundamentalists. This vision is essentially a subliminal o­ne, and it is that of a country weakened from within by an alliance of pro-big government liberals, promiscuous gays and lesbians, and illegal immigrants, and besieged from without by hateful Third World hordes and effete Europeans jealous of America’s prosperity and power.

There are, indeed, two Americas, but o­ne is confused and disorganized while the other exudes a confidence and arrogance that o­nly superior strategy and organization can bestow. The Radical Right has managed, with its vision of a return to an imagined community—a pristine white Christian small-town America circa 1950–to construct what the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci called a “hegemonic bloc.” And this bloc is poised to continue its reign for the next 25 years.

One thing you have to love about these guys is the confidence of their predictions. The US is right-wing, Bello says, but “Latin America’s move to the left will accelerate.” His predictions about Fallujah suggest he doesn’t think of it as a major loss for the resistance:

Fallujah, however, is not an operational center but a symbolic center that has already played its role, and its “fall’ is not going to stop the spread and deepening of a decentralized resistance movement throughout Iraq. Moreover, the Fallujah insurgents are likely to retreat after giving battle, trading, as in Samara, a conventional defense of a city for a guerrilla presence that harasses and pins down the US army and its Iraqi mercenaries.

So what will Washington do? Without 500,000 troops, it can’t control Iraq. So it will “withdraw to and dig in behind superfortified bases and sally forth periodically to show the flag. While this would mean de facto defeat for the US, it will also mean that the Iraqi people’s resistance will not have de jure territorial control from which to declare sovereignty and begin the process of coming up with a truly national government.”

Bello’s advice to the antiwar movement? He wants “a rolling wave of global protests similar to that which marked the anti-Vietnam war mobilizations from 1968 to 1972–one that puts millions of people in a constant state of activism. Coordination, moreover, will mean coordinating not o­nly mass demonstrations but also civil disobedience, work o­n the global media, day-to-day lobbying of officials, and political education.” He wants “Sanctions and boycotts are methods that must be brought into play…not o­nly with respect to US firms but also with Israeli firms and products.” More militancy is needed: “more and more civil disobedience and non-violent disruptions of business as usual encouraged…At no other time than today, when the electoral option is gone, is it more necessary to resist the imperial writ nonviolently by invoking a higher law. ”

I do like this kind of stuff, even though in moments of demoralization I also wonder if activists who write this kind of strategy ever feel like a general staff without an army. Still I’m glad they’re doing it. There’s no way we’re going to learn or grow unless people throw stuff out and see if it goes anywhere or anything comes of it.

One “big analyst” who is annoying though is Juan Cole, who was completely appalled first that al-Hayat compared the US Marines to the murderers of Margaret Hassan, and then appalled that others found his defense of the Marines to be repugnant:

“the Marines at Fallujah are operating in accordance with a UNSC Resolution and have all the legitimacy in international law that flows from that. The Allawi government asked them to undertake this Fallujah mission.
To compare them to the murderous thugs who kidnapped CARE worker Margaret Hassan, held her hostage, terrified her, and then killed her is frankly monstrous. The multinational forces are soldiers fighting a war in which they are targetting combatants and sometimes accidentally killing innocents. The hostage-takers are terrorists deliberately killing innocents. It is simply not the same thing.”

“Soldiers fighting a war in which they are targeting combatants and sometimes accidentally killing innocents”? Backed by an UNSC resolution with legitimacy in international law? Apparently, Cole doesn’t seem to understand the Geneva Conventions or the Nuremberg criteria for war crimes (look up “international aggression”). And Cole is, apparently, a liberal.

Does that mean that if there really are, as Bello says, “two Americas”, that means that Juan Cole is part of the America that opposes Bush?