Liberating the Word in Colombia

This week I’ll be participating in a tour by one of Colombia’s best journalists and one of the leaders of Colombia’s indigenous movement. The journalist is Hollman Morris, in Canada to receive a ‘free expression award’ of the type normally given to the subservient to power but somehow given by fluke to a journalist of real integrity and courage. The indigenous leader is Ezequiel Vitonas, one of the leaders of the ‘proceso’ in Northern Cauca that I’ve reported on in various ways over the years. I’ll try to have something good for you in the next couple of days. Meanwhile check out the poster and the postcard. Their visit coincides with protests around the world at Mexican Consulates and Embassies against the vicious repression in Oaxaca, part of a national pattern that includes the theft of an election and the attacks on a teacher’s union in other parts of the country. They’re also visiting at a time an indigenous land reclamation is going on at Six Nations, right here in Ontario.

The latest from the Canadian roster of mediocrity

It isn’t the racism of Canadian pundits that is so distasteful so much as the combination of smug confidence and ignorance. Take Jeffrey Simpson, a frequent commentator and purveyor of conventional thoughts on various topics, in his analysis of the Canadian political landscape relative to Israel/Palestine. He talks about the shifts from the parties, and then attacks the NDP – most of whom are no friends to Palestinians – for their “utterly uninformed positions”. This is where the above mentioned combination of smug confidence and ignorance that characterizes Canada’s mediocre punditry comes in.

“It was discouraging at the recent NDP convention in Quebec City to listen to the overt hostility that speakers directed at Israel. And it was scary to hear the booing against those who sought more modulated party positions and the uncritical (and therefore utterly uneducated) lamentations about what had been done to Palestinians, as if they hadn’t done anything to themselves.”

Well, let’s see. Some questions.

Discouraging to whom, exactly? To Simpson, presumably, because “overt hostility” (to which we’ll return) ought not to be directed at Israel (only at the those Israel invades, occupies, and massacres, presumably?)

“Overt hostility” – according to who? And what is this overt hostility? Simpson provides no quotes of what these “speakers” said. Might it have been just reporting on what Israel has been doing recently, killing over a thousand in Lebanon and hundreds in Gaza over the past months? We don’t know.

“Scary” – again, Simpson is very easily scared, when he gets scared to see a party that has little chance of gaining power – a party he doesn’t support or vote for, I’ll wager – saying rather timid things against an ongoing slaughter of a helpless population. He didn’t find it scary that Israel killed a thousand people, has 10,000 in prison, sowed southern Lebanon with cluster bombs. No, he finds some speeches at an NDP convention that probably mentioned some of these things (timidly) scary.

And then, we have Simpson begging for nuance. How Canadian, to look at an utterly unbalanced conflict and call for modulation and nuance, so that we can be even-handed between the person who has a boot on the other’s neck and the person who’s being strangled. That’s a standard tactic and a long-standing way of opposing Palestinian rights in particular. It was the line taken by the Liberals when they switched their voting pattern at the UN. It was Harper’s line on the UN resolution on the Lebanon war. It’s because Canadians – including Simpson – can’t understand the difference between the aggressor and the victim.

And then Simpson makes a foray into the revolting, talking about uncritical and uneducated lamentations, “as if Palestinians hadn’t done anything to themselves”. Yes, Jeffrey, those Palestinians are starving their own children in Gaza by blockading themselves behind an electric fence, they are blowing up their own children on beaches, they are stopping themselves at checkpoints, they are building walls through their own lands, they are killing four or five or more of themselves for every Israeli who dies. How utterly educated of Simpson to express his knowledge of the subject. How critical of him to show how he understands all these things Palestinians have done to themselves.

With mediocrities like Simpson as our leaders of public opinion, it’s no wonder we’re so ill-informed.

What a grim field

A brief report from the stomach-turning exercise of watching Canadian politics. The liberal leadership race is unfolding and all candidates are competing to bend lower in obesiance to racism and contempt against Palestinians. How bizarre that Michael “not losing sleep over massacres” Ignatieff is now off to atone for calling a war crime a war crime. And Bob Rae, who scored cheap points by attacking Ignatieff for saying he wasn’t losing sleep, got to score more cheap points by attacking Ignatieff for calling the Qana massacre a war crime. And how does Rae know that the massacre wasn’t a war crime? Of course because he knows the intent of the Israeli military. Rae, like so much of the Canadian establishment, reads minds. He knows the Western minds of the Israelis would never deliberately kill civilians, so we have over a thousand accidents from the summer and hundreds of accidents piling up continuously in Gaza. He knows the Oriental minds of Hizbullah and so he can tell us that they deliberately killed civilians, even though they killed mostly soldiers who were invading their country, committing the ultimate war crime of aggression.

But then, the Canadian establishment has never understood the concept of aggression, from the time that Lester B. Pearson criticized Vietnamese aggression against the French in Vietnam all the way to today.

Nor does the Canadian establishment understand racism, including its own. Our culture allows a certain level and a certain kind of racism. Because of that permissiveness, racism against Palestinians, support for Israel’s ongoing massacres and ethnic cleansing, carries no political cost in our society. One need not expect the likes of Rae or Ignatieff to have pangs of conscience, but it would be good if at some point their kind of contempt of people’s lives and deaths met with the revulsion it deserved.

I’ve explored that topic in the past. A while ago, as I was heading into an extremely busy period, I received a personal challenge to explore that topic again, something I plan to do in the coming days. More on that soon…