Sunday, July 09, 2006

Who exactly are the enemies of freedom? part III

This is the third and final section of a longer post which began with the ancient advice: Make a habit of two things –to help, or at least to do no harm.

In the first section, I linked to an article that appeared in La Presse. Here is my own translation of an excerpt of that article for those who cannot read french:

…soldiers enter a house after kicking down the front door. Some women and an old man come out. The man who has a long white beard is insulted. A soldier undertakes to make the man understand the way he sees things.
“It’s too bad for you if you don’t want to tell us where the Taliban are hiding” he says looking into the old man’s eyes. “We are going to kill them. We are going to blow things up and shoot everything. Is that what you want? So just go on saying nothing.”

I am white and Christian, but I can’t help wondering how my own grandfather would have reacted to a gang of nervous young soldiers with machine guns breaking into his house and threatening him in this way. My grandfather is remembered as a somewhat cranky old grit farmer and was fond of the saying: Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see.

Can we rely on the quality of the information that we are getting out of Afganistan. We are guaranteed to hear about the Canadian casualties. And we should hear about these brave men and women who are prepared to risk so much for their country. Their families in Canada will ensure that they receive the respectful coverage that they deserve. But otherwise we, and the journalists who inform us, are separated from Afganistan by a chasm of culture, geography, and language. Western journalists that are presently in this extremely dangerous country are not likely to stray too far from the protection of our troops, a factor that will be reflected in what they report and what they are allowed to see.

The effort to disarm the citizens of this deadly country makes me think again about Charleton Heston’s passionate defense of the NRA and his now famous challenge that, if “they” wanted his gun, “they” would have to wrest it “…out of (his) cold, dead hands.” And yet there is considerable vested political interest on the part of the Bush administration and now Stephen Harper as well that news reports out of Afganistan be favourable to the current aggressive counterinsurgency tactics. The embattled government of Afganistan also has an interest not to alienate the military and financial support coming from the West upon which it depends for survival. Because of this confluence of interests, we might be concerned that any Afgan who is killed, regardless of the reason, will be called a Taliban terrorist. They probably don’t carry a membership card in their wallet and Western journalists just don’t have the resources in this foreign country to know the truth.

The propaganda surrounding the Iraq invasion is telling. Like a lot of people, I am pissed off about being lied to by George War Bush. I am so pissed off words almost fail. Lies, lies, lies… There were no weapons of mass destruction! No Al Qaeda in Iraq before the invasion! The intelligence was constructed to mislead the public. Steve Harper's new friend, George War Bush, knows how to look at someone straight in the eye and lie. Is he really interested in keeping an open border with Canada? The paranoia pervading the United States that would require passports at the border is drawn from the same well of largely irrational fear that reelected George War Bush. George Bush has intentionally fed these fears to further his right wing agenda. And this is an election year in the United States. It appears that Steve Harper has similar designs. But by playing along with American hysteria, it is difficult to argue against the passport requirements. It would be best for Steve if the public accepted it as just another sacrifice in the war on fear. Unfortunately for him, the provincial premiers just won’t let it go as they continue in their efforts to make republican legislators from states bordering on Canada to see past the fear to the economic bottom line.

Irrational fear is also an enemy of freedom.

If you have been reading my posts, it should not surprise you that I am in favour of the deployment of troops in Afganistan provided certain conditions are met, a topic I will take up in my next week’s post, “What Canada learned in Rwanda.”

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