The Conservative government is going to court to prevent the Military Police Complaints Commission from holding hearings on allegations that Canada ordered its soldiers to hand prisoners over to Afghan security, while aware of torture practiced by the Afghans. Government lawyers make the novel argument that the Commission can only investigate specific complaints, not general ones. When it was set up, it was foreseen that it would investigate both.
Last year, the Conservatives promised full cooperation with the Commission. That was then and this is now. Alex Neve, Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada, commented that “They are always looking for ways to avoid transparency and accountability.”
Semitism and anti-Semitism
Joseph Massad is having some difficulty getting his tenure at Columbia University. A Congressman has demanded his firing. New York City Council held a special meeting to address the threat that he posed. A group of Jewish students, most of whom had never had a class from him, accused him of anti-Semitism and thought control. Yet, he says, he numbers among his defenders his Jewish colleagues and Jewish students. So what is all the commotion about?
Invoking Said’s concept of Orientalism, Massad explained that in 19th Century Europe the popular social Darwinism looked upon Jews and Arabs as “other,” and as cases of arrested cultural development. Zionists often accepted the anti-Semitic caricature, demanding a new beginning in Zion to give a chance to create the New Jew. Now, Zionists have transferred this caricature to Arabs.
Zionism calls upon modern-day Jews to remember their peoplehood. The are told to identify with their Hebrew ancestors, to “remember” a distant past and forget. Forget their European history and forget that there were other people in the Holy Land.
Massad’s comments on remembering and forgetting made me remember two things: a passage from an anthropology textbook and a conversation I once had with my mother. First the anthropology.
In his book “Man and His Works,” Melville Herskovitz observed, “No traits that characterize the Jews as such everywhere they are found, have been distinguished. A rich store of evidence, on the other hand, demonstrates that Jews of a given region resemble the general population of the region they inhabit.” So on to my personal remembering.
Some time ago my mother informed me proudly that our family are Levites. That is, we are descended from the Biblical Aaron. I replied by referring to an algebra assignment in junior high school. We were told to calculate the number of our direct ancestors back to the time of Columbus. Two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. I did not remember the formula or the answer, but I did remember that it was in the millions.
Former ambassador talks about change
Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and currently director of the Laurier Center for Global Relations, told an audience at Ottawa’s First Unitarian Church that power in the world is shifting. While the United State continues to be militarily the most powerful nation in the world and the dominant economic power, its power has diminished and will diminish further, though it is by no means in eclipse.
Russia for its part has clearly indicated that it will not be ignored or humiliated and will stand up for its interests. The recent conflict in Georgia and the reaction to U.S. missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic show that, Cold War or not, Russia is not to be trifled with. Then there is the European Union, an economic powerhouse. Latin America is also growing and showing increasing independence. Because U.S. domination cannot last in this changing world, diplomacy and multi-lateralism become paramount.
The world, said Heinbecker, is no longer in a struggle between East and West. Rather, it is now between North and South. The East-West conflict was over security, while North versus South is economic. Third world security relates to natural disasters such as the tsunami, wars in Africa, deaths in childbearing, and AIDS, for example. Kofi Annan said that there is no security without development and no development without security.
The positive role of the U.N. has, according to Heinbecker, been underestimated. It has played a vital role in promoting agriculture and democracy. It carries out many of the day-to-day tasks in the business of the world, related to aviation and postal services, for example. The nuclear proliferation treaty has meant that many countries which have the technical capacity to join the nuclear club have chosen not to. International courts have helped to promote justice in the world.
Canada has pushed the principle of the Right to Protect, giving the U.N. the right to intervene where a country cannot or will not protect its citizens. However, countries with a past as colonies are very wary of this principle, seeing it as a potential threat of recolonization.
Heinbecker also called on us to put the corruption involved in the Oil for Food Program in perspective. That program allowed Saddam’s Iraq to get food and medical supplies from the U.N. in exchange for oil that Iraq was allowed to sell. While no corruption can be condoned, the amount involved in this fraud has finally been determined to be $140,000. The real fraud appears to have occurred later. When the Coalition Provisional Authority was established in Iraq, headed by Paul Bremer, the U.N. turned over $9 billion collected in the program. That $9 billion has simply disappeared.
As ambassador to the U.N., Heinbecker was in New York on 9/11. For about a month after, he said, the U.S. government tried to address the question, “Why do they hate us?” However, the answer that George W. Bush and his aides came up with was that they hated the U.S. for its success. Heinbecker said that that was nonsense. The hatred stems from what America does, not what it is, particularly in regard to its policies related to Palestine.
With the replacement of Bush by Barack Obama, Heinbecker sees a sign of hope. Bush relied on unilateralism and militarism. McCain was a military man from a military family. Obama, on the other hand, has had a broad range of experiences abroad and in Hawaii. Perhaps his different life experiences will lead him to a greater appreciation for the need for a multilateral approach.