Lots on Northern Cauca coming – Uribe’s made his political countermove, trying to undermine the indigenous organization. I’ll get some stuff on ACIN’s response soon.
Meantime though, let me report on a rather bizarre experience I had on the weekend. I attended the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Canada (CAIR-Can) fundraiser on Saturday evening. CAIR-Can is an advocacy organization. It does media relations work, tries to educate Canadian society about Islam and Muslim-Canadians, and raises some civil liberties as well. That was my interest, and the interest of the group I was with that attended. In particular, we went to hear Maher Arar speak. Maher Arar, you’ll recall, is the Syrian-Canadian who had the misfortune of traveling through the United States, which was enough to get him shipped off to Syria for 10 months of torture. He gave a speech critical of the federal government’s bill C-36, Canada’s own ‘anti-terrorism’, anti-civil-liberties law. The head of CAIR-Can gave Maher Arar an award. He made a nice little speech at that point about the difference between ‘advocacy’ and ‘activism’. Maher Arar had said he wanted to be called an ‘advocate’ not an ‘activist’, because Arar considers himself unworthy of the title ‘activist’. So the head of CAIR-Can said he was obliged to call Arar an ‘activist’ because to him, an ‘activist’ was someone who suffers personally and makes sacrifices for the cause, while an ‘advocate’ is more detached. That makes Arar an activist (and I suppose it makes me an advocate!)
None of that was the bizarre part. The bizarre part was who else was speaking. Among the attendees was Lloyd Axworthy, former Canadian Foreign Minister. Some people I talked to thought Axworthy’s speech was completely incoherent. I disagreed. I think Axworthy’s speech was a coherent intellectual formulation of Canadian imperialism. In order to create such a formulation, Axworthy had to engage in some serious myth-making. But that was no problem for the established politician.
Axworthy began by telling a story of how he was in Egypt the week before. Egypt’s (I’ll just insert a little reminder that Egypt is a client state of the US with little pretense of any democracy whose President ‘wins’ elections by margins of 99%) Foreign Minister talked about the ‘flowering of democracy in the Middle East’ (that would be one of the myths) and asked ‘where is Canada’?
Lloyd challenged the audience with that question. He suggested Canada had been too isolationist since the trauma of 9/11 (that would strike me as another myth – for one, Canada wasn’t struck by 9/11, and I don’t think there was much national trauma there, and for another, that ‘national trauma’ didn’t stop Canada from occupying Haiti – but we’ll get back to Haiti in a second). He then discussed how Ethiopia and Eritrea are having a border conflict that is devastating, and how Canadians got obsessed with their border too.
Then the – ahem – BS started to flow fast and furious. He described what he called the ‘turmoils’ in Iraq, ‘the Middle East’ (don’t say ‘Israel’, Lloyd, much less ‘Palestine’), Sudan, Congo, Uganda. He described a world where ‘threats’ like a disease nobody knew could reach Toronto. He described the framework he built as foreign minister, one of ‘human security’, because individuals face threats. These threats?
The fanatics, the warlords, the drug people, the smugglers. An underworld of power. Information technology can bring them into your living room, to rip society, overwhelm security, and destroy the young.
(The whole rant was worthy of Tom Ridge when he used to declare those orange alerts, really).
So to deal with these ‘threats’, Lloyd formulated ‘human security’ and ‘the Responsibility to Protect’. The test case for this was Kosovo, where they took responsibility and protected the people (by bombing). An interesting test case, that, and one I won’t go into here (there’s an archive at ZNet if you’re looking for some)
‘Responsibility to protect’, Lloyd said, would protect small states from big ones (like it protected Iraq from the US? Or Haiti from Canada/France/US? Or the Congo from Rwanda? Or…) The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was the antidote to those who wanted to divide the world into ‘civilizations’ (I guess Lloyd was talking about Huntington), divide the world into those ‘inside’ and ‘outside the law’ (I guess he was talking about the US with their concept of ‘enemy combatants’, but he certainly didn’t say so). We shouldn’t let 9/11 force us to draw inward, he said (strange way of being drawn inward, ousting governments and occupying countries), but we should open the door to the future.
Really, ‘Responsibility to Protect’ is just another term for ‘White Man’s Burden’.
By now you’re probably wondering why I called this coherent. There’s a reason. Now I just read Walden Bello’s ‘Dilemmas of Domination’ and its effect was the opposite of the one the author intended. He was arguing that the empire is weak: it made me think that the empire is stronger than he thinks. I don’t think the collapse is going to happen any time soon, and I think when it comes it could very well take all of us with it. But I suspect that well before that happens, there will be some testing of strategic alternatives. The Bush people are a particularly nasty kind of imperialism – they offer nothing to their subjects, very little even rhetorically. Lloyd sketches out a kinder, gentler seeming way. The same dirty deeds can get done, but without the clumsy (or is it just brazen?) contempt for the pretense of legitimacy exhibited by the Bush people. Canada’s historic role in imperialism, exemplified in the Vietnam war, has always been like this. Canada’s the good cop – a better analogy would be the doctor who shows up to help keep the torture victim alive so the torture can proceed for longer.
A testament to Lloyd’s incoherence, as opposed to his being understood for what he was really saying: he got a standing ovation.