Joanna Palani, a 23 year old fighter of the YPJ, the famous Kurd “Women’s protection unit”, is currently detained in Denmark, presumably for terrorism. The YPJ is an all-female brigade of the Syrian Kurdish forces, engaged in the fight against ISIS.

In a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Palani says she is currently in prison in Denmark. She says she doesn’t know for how long, but “it could be two years.”

“I need your help to spread the news that the YPJ is not a terrorist organization,” she pleads.

The YPJ is part of the YPG (also known as the People’s protection unit), which is the armed force of the Kurdish Region of Rojava in Western Syria. They have been widely recognized as instrumental in the fight against ISIS in Ìraq and Syria. They most notably played an important role in taking back Kobane from terrorist control in 2015.

Palani is a Danish student, born in a refugee camp in Iraq. She comes from an Iranian Kurd family of Peshmerga fighters (the armed force of Iraq Kurds). Last year, she abandoned her studies in Copenhagen to fight with the Peshmergas and with the YPJ.

Both organizations are significantly backed by the US and generally acknowledged as legitimate military units. However, when Palani returned to Denmark while on permission after fighting for a year, she was forbidden to leave the country and her passport was confiscated.

Danish police told the Russian channel RT that Palani was suspected of wanting to leave the country to participate in activities that could threaten Denmark’s national security. She hasn’t been able to return to the YPJ since. The only information about her arrest to date is the short video she filmed herself.

The confiscation of her passport, and, presumably, her subsequent detention, are supported by legislation intended to stop Danish citizens from joining jihadist groups abroad. Some argue that Denmark is courting Turkey’s help to keep refugees out of the EU and, therefore, included the YPJ, a group Turkey doesn’t like, as a group to watch out for.

David Romano, a political science professor at Missouri State University, formerly of REMO, the réseau du Moyen-Orient du CERIUM (Université de Montréal), told Forget the Box that he can’t speak to Danish motivations as it would simply be “speculating about behind-closed-doors Turkish pressure” but did have this to say about YPJ/YPG:

“In the court of public opinion, they are certainly pretty legitimate — empowering women, protecting minorities, fighting ISIS, etc… The U.S. does back them, so that is an indirect indicator as well. High level U.S. officials meet publicly with YPG leaders, and U.S. special forces are embedded with them (along with many Western volunteers). Russia calls for them (via their political parent, the PYD) to be included in peace talks on Syria, and only Turkish objections prevent this.”

On September 18, the Scottish nation went to polling stations all around their country to decide whether they would become an independent country or not. Turns out, 55% of those who voted wanted to stay in the United Kingdom (UK).

We have to interpret this result carefully. After all the difference between those who voted yes and those who voted no is about 400 000 people. This is not a small number; it represents 10% of the entire electorate. If you compare this with Quebec’s similar referendum in 1995, where the referendum failed by a mere 1%, you start to see the difference.

The 10% means that there was, apparently, no chance for the vote to go either way. It indicates a clear decision made on part of the Scottish nation, and it is very important to emphasise this. The referendum was not a victory for the British government, nor a loss for the Scottish government. It was a statement made by a nation in a democratic context.


At least, that’s what they say.

Using human rights rhetoric, we can say that the victory here belongs to the concept of right to self-determination: the idea that the nations and peoples of this world have the right to decide their own fate. Even if the Scottish nation voted not to become an independent country, the fact that they were able to vote on it sends a clear message to the world: it was their decision.

Assuming that governments are the sole “official” representatives of nations, this is the only definition we can work with.

Thinking within the Western paradigm of countries and governments, this is all very great. Let the people vote and let them decide whether they want to be ruled over by a government of their own peoples, or a government of other peoples. However, we need to realise that the right to self-determination only matters for those who already have power.

Take for instance Crimea and their referendum to choose between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The Crimeans overwhelmingly voted in favour of joining the Russian Federation. This is exactly where the picture gets a bit muddy, when the politicking of people in power is mistaken for the decision of a nation. Was it actually the average Crimean’s desire to become a part of the Russian Federation, or was it ex-President Viktor Yanukovich’s hesitance to say no to Vladimir Putin?

Propaganda poster from Crimea. “On March 16, we will choose.”

The Crimean referendum happened within the context of a military occupation. Pro-Russian forces were occupying the parliament, when they decided to hold their referendum.

For the average Scottish person, the fact that Scotland will remain a part of the UK does not change much. But for Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, the referendum also means that he has lost the chance of becoming the president of an independent state. And even if Scotland had become independent, Queen Elizabeth II would still remain the queen of Scotland.

Nevertheless, Scotland has made its decision; or more importantly was able to make a decision. There are other nations out there who cannot even get to that stage; let alone discuss the finer implications of the right to self-determination. The Catalonians living in Spain are denied their right to hold a referendum by the Spanish government, and the Kurds in Turkey cannot even openly talk about self-determination.

The world of politics loves to pacify people by making them believe their choices matter. The human rights rhetoric is the most perfect tool of legitimization in the 21st century. Argue that you are doing things to protect the rights of your nation, and for the betterment of the people you represent; and everybody seems to forget that you are in a position of power, and anything you do is technically in order to protect that position.

It is an understatement to say that, during this past summer, tensions have been high. The Israeli carpet-bombing of Gaza exacerbated tensions all around the world. The other day, I overheard a conversation, which went a little bit like this: “You’re Jewish?” The answer was “Yes.” “Well you must be a Zionist then?” was the follow-up.

Jewish communities around the world are affected by the actions of the Jewish state. For instance, during the 1950s and 1960s, because of the continuous tension between Arab nations and the new state of Israel, many Jews were forced out of their countries – countries, which they had inhabited for hundreds, if not for thousands of years.

Israel was supposed to be the refuge for the toiled masses of Eastern European Jews escaping the horrors of the Second World War, but from the outset of its creation, Israel came to be identified as the banner carrier, the symbol, and the sole defender of the entire Jewish culture and creed. Thus Zionism, which in itself was a relatively marginalized ideology within Jewish communities up until the end of WWII, became conflated with Judaism as a whole.

Pseudo-intellectual generalizations of the sort, supposedly “common knowledge”, are very slippery slopes indeed. Today the general knowledge — at least based on my few interactions within the past few months — is that all Jews are Zionists. There is quite a stark parallel to be drawn between this intellectual fallacy and the myths, for example the protocols of the elders of Zion, which were at the forefront of anti-Jewish propaganda at the dawn of the 20th Century. Such generalizations were, and still are, the breeding grounds on which fascist, nationalist and xenophobic groups lay their eggs of hate.


In France, for example, the Front Nationale is trying to create bridges between themselves and the Muslim youth, who are rightfully revolted by the events in Gaza. This is a recurring event throughout Europe in this day and age. The French comedian and political activist Dieudonné and his highly controversial gesture “La Quenelle” are but part of a cultural trend that manifests the rise of a new anti-Jewish sentiment, whose slogan is “Every Jew is a Zionist” and whose fuel is the civilian casualties in Gaza.

Subsequently, anti-Zionism, as a result of these neo-fascist movements, becomes synonymous with anti-Judaism, thus allowing the Israel hawks or the right-wing Jewish diaspora to categorize any criticism of Israel as anti-Jewish, or anti-Semitic, which is a term I prefer not to use, because not all Semites are Jews.

On the one hand, every thing that is Jewish is seen as Zionist, and on the other everything that is anti-Zionist is seen as anti-Jewish. Even left-wing figures have been caught in this dreadful trap. George Galloway, leader of the British Respect Party, was caught equating all Israeli citizens with Zionists; although he must know very well, that there is a strong anti-Zionist intellectual contingent within Israeli academia and Israeli society at large.

Such intellectual shortcuts are dangerous, and there’s only one way to deal with them: going on a journey down memory lane. In most situations, in order to find solutions for the problems of today, we must dig into a past that has been, more often than not, purposefully omitted.

Before Zionism had the prominence and the global notoriety that it now has, it was a marginal ideal within the Eastern European Jewish community. Its main rival and anti-thesis was embodied by the Bund.


The General Jewish Labor Bund of Lithuania, Poland and Russia was founded in 1897 in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was a socialist labor organization in the vein of the workers’ organizations sprouting-up throughout Europe at the time. Bundism — as it would be called — ideologically differed from other labor organizations, in the sense that it had the specific objective of uniting all of the Jewish workers within the Russian Empire, but its core principals and ideology were still based on the struggle to create an international workers movement that would uproot capitalist exploitation.

Bundism, was thus the nemesis of Zionism, because no dimension of Bundism appealed to any sense of ethnonationalism. The “Bundist” belief was that Judaism could be an internationalist creed, and thus the combination of international socialism and Judaism was a perfect match.

No wonder why, that, today, the Bund is all but forgotten, swiped under the rug. Zionism is a nationalist movement; a movement for the return of the Jewish people to the holy land. Parallels can be drawn between this ethnocentrism, which is at its foundation, and the ethnocentrism that serves as the foundation for the majority, if not the totality, of contemporary Western nationalist movements.

With the mounting xenophobia throughout the world, we are on the brink of a catastrophic head-on collision. Bundism is needed now, more then ever. A strong, inclusive, and tolerant Jewish alternative movement might be the dearly needed vaccination for our world’s predicament; not only for Jews, but for people of all walks of life. It is certainly needed in the current context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the media is constantly saturated with close-minded Zionist rhetoric.

The antidote to dislodging the nationalist fear mongering, and avoiding a deluge of hatred, is going back to the roots of an internationalist interpretation of Judaism.

George Orwell taught us that sometimes, with the right reinforcement, war is peace.  This week, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in New York proved that they were paying attention when they declared Stephen Harper World Statesman of the Year.

This announcement comes a few days after Canada decided to cut off all diplomatic ties with Iran. Regardless of what you may think of the Iranian regime (I for one think it’s rather shitty), such a bafflingly bold move is at best counterproductive and at worst a provocation.

No matter how you cut it, though, a deliberate decision to close all diplomatic channels is not very diplomatic. For me, a statesman (or stateswoman) should be a diplomat first and foremost.

To be fair, though, the foundation probably chose to give their award to Harper before his government announced its plans for Iran. That means they looked at the rest of his record.

And what a record it is. Let’s see, he formally pulled out of Kyoto, effectively backing out on Canada’s commitment to the international community. He also lost a bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, not a very proud day for Canada or something a statesman would want to put on his CV.

Beyond that, well, there really isn’t much to mention internationally, except maybe for how he annoyed a bunch of politicians in Europe. Harper’s record at home doesn’t help him either—an embarrassment actually.

A decade ago, American tourists were pinning the maple leaf to their backpacks when they travelled around Europe. Now, that’s not the case, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Canadians were now doing the opposite. That’s Harper’s record as a statesman.

And then there’s his unquestioning, unwavering support for Israel, no matter what their government does to the Palestinians. Oh wait, that’s exactly why Harper is getting this award.

New York rabbi Arthur Schneier, the foundation’s founder, admitted that it was a major factor in selecting Harper, while claiming that his organization was not a one trick pony. Given the rest they had to go on, or rather the lack of tangible reasons to pick Harper, I beg to differ with Schneider’s assertion.

So that explains why Harper is getting this award, but it doesn’t explain why he is accepting it, or rather when he is accepting it. He’ll grab his trophy when he heads to New York this month and skip out on a chance to speak to the UN general assembly to do so.

Call me old fashioned, but wouldn’t you think that a world statesman would rather spend his time speaking to a roomful of active players on the world stage than getting a pat on the back from a banquet hall full of former players and politically like-minded people? It seems like Harper is more interested in playing the statesman to his friends then actually being one for everybody.

While the headline that Harper will be named World Statesman of the Year smacks of 1984, the reality of his decision to accept the award the way he will is not so much Orwellian as it is very high school and kinda lame.

* Image by Sherwin Arnott

Omar Khadr was in the news again the other day. Remember him? The Canadian citizen charged and convicted as a ‘war criminal’ by the U.S. Kangaroo courts at that infamous U.S. legal black hole, otherwise known as Gitmo, back in 2010.

Khadr’s lawyers held a press conference last week to try to shame the government (do they even have any at this point?) into honouring their agreement with the 25 year-old , to extradite him to serve the rest of his eight year sentence in a Canadian prison.

If there is a striking irony throughout Khadr’s ordeal, it surely must be his stubborn, some would say delusional, refusal to believe that his government would betray him, even though the Canadian government has repeatedly done just that by, among other things, giving him false hope when they sent CSIS agents to interrogate him back in 2003, with the intention of gathering evidence that would eventually be used against him at his trial (For an excellent account of this episode I recommend watching the Canadian documentary You Don’t Like The Truth: 4 days inside Guantanamo).

The prosecution worked out a plea bargain with Khadr, requiring him to plead guilty to the killing of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, in exchange for their assurance that he would be allowed to return to Canada, his birthplace and home for much of his childhood. Now the Harper government is dragging its feet on the extradition, making it the only western state with detainees at Gitmo to completely wash its hands of its nationals, despite U.S. requests that he be repatriated .

Omar Khadr as a 19 year-old.

Setting aside the question of Khadr’s guilt which is, legally speaking, a moot point, there are many other troubling legal questions that the trial raises, including the fact that he is being tried as an adult despite the fact that the incident occurred when he was only 15 years old, thus making him a child soldier according to international human rights law.

As Senator Roméo Dallaire, one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, has said, “We need to respect the international convention [on the rights of child soldiers] that we have signed.”

“The United States and Canada have both been guilty of violating these conventions, particularly concerning the rights of children and…the goal of making sure that child soldiers are demobilized, rehabilitated and reintegrated.”

Shockingly, even National Post columnist Chris Selley agrees with this point, although he points the finger at former Liberal foreign minister Bill Graham, in charge of the Khadr file in 2002 when the situation first came to the government’s attention. Selley’s not buying the argument that the minister did everything he could to repatriate Khadr, saying bluntly, “What he knew then was that 15-year-old Canadian, a child soldier by definition, was being held in Cuba without access to consular visits. The world’s grown-up nations made an exponentially bigger fuss about their adult detainees.”

Then there’s the matter of the military commission’s set up for trials of detainees at Gitmo. These ‘courts’ involve military juries, have highly suspect standards regarding evidence (especially the kind obtained through torture, by definition inadmissible in a regular U.S. criminal court or any international tribunal), and were designed by the U.S. government to provide legitimacy to a quasi-judicial process that has lacked basic due process from the word go. It’s hardly surprising that most human rights lawyers, like Andrea Prasow former defense attorney for the Pentagon, condemned the whole process stating, “I don’t think anyone looking from the outside can say it was a fair trial and that justice was served.”

Harper may not like it, but he needs to bring Khadr home, as he promised the Americans, to spend the rest of his jail time in a Canadian prison, no matter how unpopular politically such a decision might be with his supporters. Every other major democratic government has done their part, it’s time we do ours.

Photos courtesy of the Howl Arts Collective and 4WardEver UK via Flickr

Of all the feelings I thought I’d have at a memorial to gay Holocaust victims, shame was the furthest from my mind. Yet it’s exactly what I felt.

While on a walking tour in Berlin recently, my boyfriend and I stopped at the breathtaking Holocaust memorial by the Brandenburg Gate.

A graveyard of towering grey pillars overwhelms its guests as they work their way into the grid. And as city sounds give way to silence, the sheer madness of the Holocaust, the demented logic of fascism, and the utter bleakness of World War II are brought to bear on those who enter.

The absence of identifiable symbols or colours—religious or otherwise—strengthens the inclusive nature of the monument. So when I found out the memorial was not actually for all victims of the Holocaust, but only for the Jews, I felt shameful.

I felt shame that my own community’s suffering was deemed unworthy of inclusion in a most important Holocaust memorial. Was the pain felt by a gay man somehow lesser than that felt by a Jew?

Enough people felt the suffering of homosexuals was worthy of commemoration, though, that a monument was eventually built for them. But after seeing it, I’m not quite sure what to think.

Coming from the immense Jewish monument, the ‘Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism’ is underwhelming, to say the least. It stands as but a single, towering, unmarked block of concrete, nestled away in a nondescript enclave of the famous Tiergarten.

The juxtaposition of the two sites—one impossible to miss, the other hard to notice—only added to my initial shame of exclusion. Why is the monument for gay victims hidden in the bushes?

Maybe it’s a fitting place, I thought to myself. Maybe a memorial planted in the forest, where those it commemorates were once shamed into seeking discreet sex, is appropriate. Or maybe not. In any case, the jury is out on that decision, so I’ll continue with the tour.

The shame of homosexuality is further explored in a video, seen through a window in the giant block, that features short clips of same-sex couples caught kissing in public. Despite hesitancy from the couples, all continue embracing their partner. The act, though hardly remarkable today, was once enough to end the lives of those caught under Germany’s anti-homosexual law.

Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, initially passed in 1871, criminalized sexual behaviour between men. Upon taking power, the Nazis intensified the law, allowing for the detention of homosexuals in concentration camps without any legal trial. Of the 5,000–15,000 gay men placed in concentration camps, up to 60 per cent perished.

Those that survived the camps were faced with further injustice after the war. Many of those “saved” were placed back in prison to finish the remainder of their sentence, since paragraph 175 was technically not a Nazi law. And even though the law was modified after WWII, it was not fully repealed until 1994.

Walking out of the woods and back on the main drag, I tried to make sense of the memorial. I realized I hadn’t even kissed my boyfriend in that most perfect of places. Caught up in the politics of the memorial, I’d lost sight of what it was all about: the ability to celebrate one’s love.

So I leaned in and, after a moment’s hesitation, we embraced—shame no longer on my mind.

The memorial may not be perfect. It may not be in the best spot and it may lack the power to inspire awe. But where it succeeds is in its simplicity with the message that love prevails.

Photo courtesy of Julian Ward

Canada’s  government should lobby its NATO allies to hold a full investigation into allegations of civilian deaths during its yearlong bombing campaign in support of Libyan rebel’s successful toppling of the  Gaddafi clan and the corrupt regime that kept them in power for over 40 years.

This may be a tad hypocritical of me.  You see, I supported the humanitarian intervention in that country, back when it seemed evident that Gaddafi would stop at nothing in order to quell the legitimate protests of his people (including preparing to carry out a civilian blood bath in the city of Benghazi!). Most Libyans still agree that the military strikes, as damaging  as they may have been, were justified on the grounds that they saved more innocent lives than they killed. Even a spokesman for Human Rights Watch (one of the non-governmental organizations calling for an investigation into the alleged war crimes) admits that the number of casualties (72 people) is relatively small, for a military operation of this size.

Presumably, this is why the Libyan government (such as it is) has yet to appeal to NATO for an inquiry into the deaths.
But the international human rights lawyer in me says that we have an obligation, moral and legal, to get to the bottom of this matter, and to do it now, so the victims of these errant bombs, if they can be established, may receive compensation and some measure of justice in this tragic affair.

First the legal case: international humanitarian law ( which used to known as the laws of war, during a less politically correct by gone era) clearly hold States responsible for their actions during wartime. Among other things, civilian deaths, even if accidental, are strictly forbidden (see Geneva Conventions, for more info). Especially if, as is claimed by the NGOs, they were caused by air strikes on targets with no military or strategic value.

It’s clear that, despite pressure from the international human rights community (Amnesty International, HRW, etc.), NATO is determined to drag its feet on this question. As a result, NATO flack Oana Lungescu made a slightly contradictory statement the other day, which attempted to nip the case against NATO in the bud, by claiming that, on the one hand, no civilians had been killed by NATO.

On the other hand, she then implied that even if they had, it was impossible to avoid such tragedies entirely in a complex military campaign and that , in any case, all “targets struck by NATO were legitimate targets.” This sounds an awful lot like hedging one’s bets, to my mind. Incidentally, as the author of the HRW report, Fred Abrahams, pointed out, NATO’s has no such qualms about investigating and compensating alleged civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Above all, there is a powerful moral argument for a NATO investigation into this. If NATO wants to maintain the moral high ground and continue to claim that they only use military force with the utmost regard for minimizing collateral damage (for lack of a better term), then they should show more accountability to the people of Libya, in this case. There is no better way, that I can think of, for the new government and its allies to demonstrate a commitment to the principle of the rule of law and, in so doing, help heal the national wounds that continue to divide Libya and distance themselves from the criminality of the ancien régime.


 When Ratko Mladic was arrested it was as a weak, pathetic and exhausted creature. At sixty-eight years old, if the accused war criminal is (rightfully) convicted of the atrocities committed at Srebrenica, it will be not as the figure of pure evil who oversaw the murders of some thousand Bosnian Muslims, but rather as a tired old man with far too few years left to begin paying for his crimes. For this reason, it is easy to forget about the horrors of Srebrenica, or Zepa. About the tens of thousands of women raped, about the concentration camps and mass graves that were set up even as NATO air-strikes bombarded Serbian positions. By the time of the supposed “peace treaty” it was already too late: the casualties were catastrophic, with mass graves of   men and women in the hundreds left outside of village after village. While the west wrung it’s hands, and “negotiated”, the war criminals took the time granted to them to continue a campaign of ethnic cleansing from which Bosnia has yet to recover.

If this were an isolated incident then perhaps a certain degree of wariness would be understandable, however if we look at the last two decades worth of war crimes a clear trend begins to emerge. Who can forget the eight hundred thousand in Rwanda, perhaps the best example of the old platitude “too little, too late”? Or the West’s past and continued feebleness in Sudan, and Zimbabwe? If there is one thing history has shown, it is that the gangsters and murderers and war criminals who carry out these campaigns will take any time given to them, and will trust in the meekness of the west and a multitude of stalling tactics to ensure that they can continue to murder, torture and rape until the international community is finally forced into action.

It is for this reason that we can match each of the massacres listed above with a corollary list of half measures, and partial solutions – their failures demonstrated conclusively by the overwhelming list of casualties in each and every one of the given situations. For those who favour humanitarian interventions in such situations, the label of “Hawk” or “War monger” is often one which is thrown readily by the supposed doves on the left. While I find the first term a little warm from use and the second to be a fairly ugly and unlettered attempt at an ad hominem, I admit readily that I embrace them both when used in this context. I am in favour of ground troops in Libya, as much as I am in favor of the dissolution of any genocidal despotism anywhere in the world. We’ve already seen what a “sustained air campaign” did for the people of Bosnia, and what the continued search for diplomatic solutions has done for countless men and women in unmarked graves worldwide. If ground intervention in Libya means preventing the brutal and demented head   of the Gaddafi crime family from carrying out another Bosnia then so be it. I am willing to embrace the consequences of voicing and supporting such a position whatever they may be. Likewise, I expect the supposed doves to be held equally accountable for their inaction; to do nothing is to do something. It is to give Gaddafi and his ilk time, and to dangerously undermine any chance of displacement. If the Hawk is to be held accountable for what they do, then it is time the pacifist be held accountable for what they do not. Had they been listened to in Bosnia the death toll would have been much higher then it already is. The principle of non-violence is in and of itself a respectable one, but for those willing to hold such a position I sincerely hope they are also willing to accept its inherent costs. We have seen what non-intervention does in countless killing fields the world over, and if I had such a track record I would not be so certain I held the moral high ground.

But what if it gets worse some might say? Well then, I would welcome the chance to be informed. If anyone would like to suggest that intervention in Bosnia, or in Sudan or in Rwanda would have wielded worse results then the ethnic cleansing which took place there they are more than welcome to try to prove their case. I, for my part, am quite content making the assertion that the little intervention that was offered is all that kept these populations from being annihilated entirely. However, if for the sake of argument we want to avoid violence and the horrible cost of war wherever possible, and if we’ve learned the lesson of Iraq that revolution must come from within, then the half-measures we’re currently engaged in are not just ineffective but wasteful. With this meandering, lukewarm campaign we receive the worst of both worlds: violence, destruction and the murder of civilians with no possible hope of stopping the massacre occurring on the ground. It is a waste of money and resources, directed towards unclear goals which are almost certain to be missed. While there may be several downsides to a ground intervention, there is literally no benefit to be gleaned from the current NATO campaign short of reducing a good deal of Libya to rubble. Hawks and Doves alike should be unequivocally against such half measures as they accomplish none of the the goals of the former, while producing all of the waste and violence feared by the latter.

It is time we make up our mind on how we are going to handle Libya. If we fear the toll may be too great then let us admit to it and withdraw. It is a legitimate concern for those who place a priority on such things. However, if we’ve decided that we won’t give quarter to authoritarians and war criminals, then let us stop with this half-baked attempt at a solution and any talk of compromise. There is nothing desirable in compromise with these people, and it is not something that should be pursued for it’s own sake or any other. As members of the international community, and signatories of the 1948 Genocide convention, it is time that our nation began swinging it’s proper weight on the international stage, and living up to our commitment to prevent these crimes wherever possible. It is not only that we have signed these treaties, but that if we are truly to be a leader for positive change in the international community, then it begins by not cowing to those who would rather make the easy decision of doing nothing at all. Our nation has a long history of being a voice for the voiceless, and of offering defense to the defenseless, and it is time that we do so once again. We cannot allow vicious autocratic despots to execute and torture their own citizens with impunity, and I will do my part to ensure that these despots are fought both in print and in person wherever they may be found. I can only hope our country will remember it’s history well enough to do the same.

Sometimes I simply get caught up in the emotion of my ranting and say something stupid, or dangerous, or something I’ll regret later. I also might embellish it here and there for flavour. Rants are rants, and therefore don’t always have to be 100% fact-based when dealing with my own prejudiced opinions. I do, however, realize that the correct facts must be there, and that editing is often needed, especially when information needs to get updated. I also realize that my rants don’t always make sense, and can seem biased. Even I don’t always agree with what I write.

I can sometimes be that irascible punk who can’t be wrong but is constantly at odds with everyone else in the room. Sometimes I have to fight to get my point across. Sometimes I can be just as stubborn and annoyingly repetitive as the next guy. Sometimes, I know my attitudes and opinions will be viewed as just plain wrong. I do my best still to at least get the facts straight as I understand them.

For example, unlike some of my colleagues at Forget The Box – and being part Israeli – I am a proud, hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool Zionist. My definition of Zionism, however, differs completely from that of the vast majority of Anti-Zionists.

I know we’re nowhere near perfect, but then, I’ve never heard of a refugee from Israel, either.

I do very strongly believe that the state of Israel has the right to exist, and if she must defend herself in order to continue existing, then that’s what she must do. Peace is always preferable, but if peace is not a given option, because certain dictators don’t like your tiny democracy being in their proverbial backyards, they will not hesitate to attack and teach their peasants to hate and despise those who are in a democracy, partly because of jealousy. Many a despotic leader has taught his citizens lies, utilizing the school systems as well as propaganda campaigns. Many of these lies find their way back into North American and European university campuses, sometimes as slogans,   and are treated as gospel fact.

I find it very hard not to take it personally when somebody tells me that I should have never been born. When someone tells me that my family or ancestry should have been wiped out many generations ago, but someone screwed up. I find that extremely hurtful.

Maybe that isn’t the best example, but it’s something I feel very strongly about. I believe that terrorism in general and especially suicide terrorism is a truly deplorable practice, and I have been the victim of it.

Having said all of this, I believe that those who wish to exclude themselves have every right to. I believe that those who call themselves “Palestinians” should have their own land and country if they desire it. As Theodore Herzl wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream.” While he was talking about the formation of the state of Israel, it may   still be applied to other people who wish to build countries as well.

In conclusion, I still say, as always, “believe what you want to believe, and I’ll do the same and believe what I want to believe.” Beliefs such as these are not worth losing friendships over.

For the past sixty or so years, Canada has been on the United Nations Security Council a total of six times, about once a decade. Every time they have been up for nomination they have been elected to a high profile, high power position on the fifteen member council. That is, until this past Tuesday when they were beat out by Portugal for the last remaining seat.

Instead of seeking a better understanding as to why The Harper Government failed to grab a seat for the first time since the UN’s inception, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon decided to place the blame solely on the back of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

“This is a government that for four years has basically ignored the United Nations and now is suddenly showing up saying, ‘Hey, put us on the council,'” Ignatieff said last month, “Don’t mistake me. I know how important it is for Canada to get a seat on the Security Council, but Canadians have to ask a tough question: Has this government earned that place? We’re not convinced it has.”

I’m no fan of Mr. Ignatieff, but he’s no more responsible for losing this seat than I am for JFK’s assassination. Since when does the 191 member UN listen to the ramblings of an unheard of opposition leader over the actual Government of Canada? And if they did listen to Ignatieff instead, what does that say about the Harper government?

Fact is Ignatieff was correct in questioning Canada’s earning of the position. In the four years of Conservative rule, what have they done? Let’s see… They have abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, cut bilateral aid to several developing countries throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia (limiting assistance to just 20 countries). They have taken soldiers away from peace keeping missions, a roll Canada used to be identified with and put them toward the Afghan Mission (a NATO mission) and let’s not forget Harper’s unabashed support for Israel in the Middle East.

“I do not in any way see this as a repudiation of Canada’s foreign policy,” Lawrence Cannon said, “The principles underlying our foreign policy, such as freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, were the basis of all our decisions.” Big deal… this day in age most countries around the world share those same principals including Canada’s competition for the council membership, Germany and Portugal.

Simply stating our moral fiber is the basis for our decisions does not make them the right decisions. African ambassadors for instance, pointed to a series of Canadian positions on African debt relief to the Conservative government cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and accusing it of having terrorist links.

Council members are supposed to be chosen on the basis of their contributions to international peace and security, Afghanistan alone simply doesn’t cut it. Under Stephen Harper’s watch Canada has lost its standing in the world and there are no signs of it returning.

The Harper Government, just like the former Bush Administration seems to have a problem when it comes to accepting responsibility for failure, instead choosing to shift the blame elsewhere or flat out denying there is a problem in the first place. This kind of politicking makes the politicians look like kids and tries to make fools of ordinary Canadians.

“Don’t play this blame-game stuff with Canadians. It’s an insult to their intelligence.”

Wow… Ignatieff was right twice!

Omar Khadr a year before his capture

Imagine if you will that you’re a young boy and brought to a foreign land where you are home schooled, taught to hate and trained to kill.   The mud huts and buildings where you’re staying are attacked and bombed by A-10 Warthogs and Apache helicopters reducing everything to rubble.   With almost everyone around you dead, you crouch on your knees in pain from the shrapnel that almost blinds you when all of a sudden you are shot twice in the back.

You’re then evacuated to a military hospital, called a killer and tortured, only to find yourself on your way to Guantanamo Bay where you’re charged with war crimes and aiding terrorists, tortured some more and denied help from your own country… sounds like the typical life of any Canadian teenager right?

I’m talking of course about Omar Khadr.   The only westerner still stuck at the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and being a child soldier at the time, he is also the youngest.   Whether or not Khadr was responsible (or even capable) for throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier is somewhat trifling given that he was only fifteen years old at the time.

After reading “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah (a book I recommend to everyone), I find it appalling that any kid should have to go through all the terrible things that Khadr has had to go through even before his capture.   I’m not saying that both Omar’s and Ishmael’s circumstances where identical, but child soldiers do have some distinct similarities: they are easily brainwashed and usually suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome.

A Long Way Gone

Before he arrived at Guantanamo, he was tortured at Bagram air force base.   Khadr said that he was refused pain medication for his wounds, had his hands tied above a doorframe for hours with cold water being thrown on him, forced to carry 5-gallon buckets of water to intensify his shoulder wound and was not allowed to use washrooms and therefore forced to urinate on himself.   His chief interrogator was Joshua Claus, who later pleaded guilty to abusing detainees.

During his incarceration at Guantanamo, he was at first considered an “intelligence treasure trove” by U.S. officials, having actually met Osama Bin Laden through his father, even though he was only ten years old at the time.   He was tortured with sleep deprivation, changing his cell every three hours for 21 days and isolation prior to being interrogated by Canadian CSIS agents who shared the information they received with his prosecutors.

Now at the age of twenty-three, blind in one eye and having spent more than a third of his young life behind bars, Mr. Khadr has fired his American defense lawyers and refused a plea bargain that would have kept him at Guantanamo for only five more years saying “I will not willingly let the U.S. government use me to fulfill their goal, I have been used too many times as a child.”   He then added that pleading guilty at his trial next month would “give an excuse to the government for torturing me and abusing me as a child”

What makes me angry still is that the Harper Government has refused to repatriate Khadr.   The Supreme Court of Canada even said that Harper and his government’s actions “offend the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”   Still Harper does nothing… even in breach of the constitution and Khadr’s human rights.

Please help bring Omar Khadr home.   He has long paid for any crime he may or may not have committed.

Present Day Omar Khadr in Court

It might come as some surprise to many that Canada is in the middle of free-trade talks for a large-scale free trade agreement with the European Union. Obviously, we know that these talks have not been getting the same media coverage as prior agreements. They also have not generated the type of public outrage and mass-protests that we’ve seen in the past. The reality is that negotiations have been underway for over a year at the federal government level and that only recently have we been made aware of any specifics as draft text begins to be leaked out of secretive meetings.

Last week, I had the chance to attend a discussion on the subject of the agreement, which is being called the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The discussion took place at UQAM and was hosted by activists from the Council of Canadians, Trade Justice Network and ATTAC (Association pour la taxation des transactions financières et pour l’action citoyenne).

It became evident and expected that the general tone of the discussion was anti-CETA, as were the open attitudes of many of those attending, including activists, students and members of public sector unions. Why would provincial union employees want to know about CETA? The answer is that CETA is not designed only as an agreement between federal governments but goes further. Unlike previous international trade agreements like NAFTA, CETA seeks to also apply directly to Canadian provincial and municipal governments, therefore making privatization of many levels of government service is a strong possibility.

Business above all?: European Commission president Barosso and Charest in 2009 (photo Council of Canadians)

What I found particularly interesting right away was that the CETA talks were largely a creation of Canadian free-trade proponents. The Charest government, for example, was one of the main initiators of these trade talks. We might all have our own ideas as to Charest’s intentions here, but what I learned about CETA is that, as written, it will strongly facilitate corporations’ pressure to privatize public sector services.

Having now gained backing by powerful European corporate lobbying, CETA resembles NAFTA in many ways. It would contain text very similar to NAFTA’s ever-so-dreaded Chapter 11 clause, which forces our Canadian federal government to hand over our tax money to rich corporations should they successfully sue Canada in NAFTA’s international court on the basis of trade barriers. A trade barrier is now more clearly understood to be any government law that would prevent a corporation from gaining profit through the sale of a product, no matter how dangerous for humans or the environment that product may be.

Other negatives of the CETA agreement I learned include text preventing farmers from planting their own saved seeds, an end to Canadian laws preventing full foreign ownership of our telecommunications sector and complete ignorance and irrelevance of international labour standards such as those outlined in the UN’s Convention 94, which Canada and many European countries have not signed.

Despite all the negatives I have to agree with the proponents of this agreement that there are positives to free trade. Under true free trade we would have easier access to European technologies, products and services. We could use their expertise in many areas, for example in greening our economy, with many restrictions and costs removed. Europe would gain greater access to Canadian manufacturers’ products, in theory creating many jobs here.

However, Canada’s economy being largely based on natural resources, these resources play a large part in foreign countries’ interests in striking free trade agreements with Canada. We seem to be choosing here to open our clean water, oil and minerals to foreign hands.

Whether or not we’re treated like a banana republic or fellow G8 member will ultimately depend on the final agreement text negotiators create, its approval or disapproval by federal and provincial parliaments, and provincial, federal and international court cases for years to come interpreting it.

Therefore the question we should be asking ourselves is: What type of agreements are our Canadian negotiators capable of and likely to make? For clues and a look at their prior work, examining the effects of the NAFTA and WTO agreements should prove helpful.

It’s no secret. We all know that Google wants to take over the world, or at least keep all of it on file. We also don’t seem to mind. Why?

Well, it could be because the way they’re going about it is interesting to say the least. Just have a look at Google Street View. Yes, seeing your own house, street and maybe even a blurred-out version of yourself online may be a little unsettling, but it’s also really cool. Not to mention the fact that you can scope out a location you’ve never been to before going.

Is it really? Google is kicked out of China (image edited by Chris Zacchia)

While the fun and practical outweigh the creepy, there’s also another larger reason why no one seems to mind. Google doesn’t seem to want editorial control over what gets out there and don’t seem to be interested in pushing any particular agenda.

For example, a few months ago, Forget The Box published an article critical of Google’s attempts to catalog all books for profit. Recently, we put Google ads on our site (in an attempt to offset some of our costs) and if you go to that article, you see an ad (or at least I saw an ad) promoting another online bookstore.

Not only did Google not opt to censor this criticism of it from its search engine, but they’re willing to help us make revenue off it (and make some themselves in the process). This level of openness is reassuring and seems to permeate throughout the company.

Videos on sites competing with YouTube show up in searches just as easily and sometimes higher than those on the Google-owned site, opposing points of view are treated equally in all of their media and when Google does come out publicly on an issue, it’s one like Net Neutrality which speaks to the core of this philosophy of openness.

Until recently, though, this approach didn’t extent to all of Google’s operations, namely those in China. If you typed Tiananmen Square into their image search in the West, the first thing that showed up would be the famous pic of the protester staring down a tank. If you typed the same search words into a computer in China, you’d get a pretty picture of a pretty square.

Now, as you’ve probably heard, that has changed. For refusing to self-censor their Chinese content, Google was effectively barred from China after going into what became their self-exile in Hong Kong.

While it’s too bad that for a while Google’s Chinese carpet didn’t match its North American drapes, now it appears that it’s unfiltered style has won out over potential revenues gained through being available to people in one of the largest markets in the world.

People can once again take solace in the fact that our would-be digital overlords have a hands-off approach to all the information they are collecting. It’s a good thing to practice what you preach.

The earthquake in Haiti on January 12th of this new year was another devastating blow for the country and the environmental problems before the quake pose further threats to the country now. We can learn some valuable lessons about long-term environmental planning, poverty and conservation from Haiti.

With less than 2% forest cover remaining, there are extremely high risks of landslides occurring. Having no vegetation to hold the soil back, the chances of recovery from environmental damage become less hopeful. This deforestation is largely based in tree to coal conversions, used for household fuel.

Before the quake, UNEP had planned projects for resource conservation, including forests and coral reefs, beginning in 2010. Thousands have died annually due to flooding in hand with erosion. Hurricanes have also had a larger impact on Haiti than on neighboring Dominican Republic from the severe lack of trees, which originally served as a natural buffer.

Satellite image of the border between Haiti (left) and the Dominican Republic (right) showing deforestation (source: NASA)

Haiti’s history of strife appears to be long and stricken with natural resource mis-management. The events of January 12th are acting as a headlight to look deeper into this unfortunately troubled country. Haitians are no stranger to disaster.

For more information on the history of Haiti’s environmental problems, please visit the following links:

Times of Malta

Excerpt: “Long-term efforts to help Haiti recover from the earthquake will have to reverse environmental damage such as near-total deforestation that threatens food and water supplies for the Caribbean nation, experts say.

The focus is now on emergency aid — Haitian officials estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 people died in the January 12 quake. But President Rene Preval urged donors to also to remember the country’s long-term needs.

Experts say deforestation in Haiti stretching back to the Duvalier dictatorships — leaving the nation with less than 2 percent forest cover — contributes to erosion that undermines food output by the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.”

Grist online environmental magazine, “10 things I Haiti about you”

Excerpt: “More than 90 percent of the country of Haiti is deforested. If you think that’s depressing, consider that the lack of trees to hold soil in place has left Haiti’s rural residents vulnerable to periodic floods in which torrential rainwater tumbles down mountains, picking up gravel and boulders that slam into villages.”

Al older posting from a Latin America studies website, dating to 2003, on Haiti’s environmental disaster.

Excerpt: “The environmental crisis is very real and entails much suffering,” says Glenn Smucker, a cultural anthropologist who has worked in Haiti for two decades doing studies for the U.S. government and other organizations. “It’s about soil and water erosion, agrarian and population pressures on the land, political crisis and ineptitude, and erosion of many, if not most, of the formal structures of society.”

A small final note: pity does not always lead to progressive change. Empowering Haitians to help Haitians is one of the most sustainable ways to get this country strong enough to stand on their own feet. Please choose to donate to organizations who will help to empower Haitians so that help can also come from within, and encourage governments in the wealthier minority world to forgive Haiti’s debt so that they can have a fresh start.

In Montreal this year, gentrification was on a bit of a rampage. It claimed the Cock n’Bull Pub back in August and while this legendary drinkery has plans to re-open soon in a new location, the old spot is still quite a loss. Another loss on the horizon, sadly, is Le Medley.

One attempt to offer an alternative to this beast of boring was shut down rather quickly when Montreal police forcibly shut down the Autonomous Social Centre. This community-based cooperative arts and culture centre built in an abandoned Pointe-St-Charles factory was raided before it could even have an opening party.

One group fighting against gentrification in the form of a colossal office tower proposed as the centerpiece of the Quartier des Spectacles (entertainment district) are the artists of Café Cleopatre. Along with their supporters, they took their case against the city-backed developer’s plans to the Office de Consultation Publique (OCPM) who sided with them.

Cafe Cleopatre as it stands now (photo Chris Zacchia)

Despite this ruling in their favor, revelations about Angus Development head Christian Yaccarini‘s criminal past, the surfacing of an email showing the developer’s true intentions, members of the coalition speaking out in the city council, benefit shows, public support for the artists and even an attempt to get Prince Charles on board, Mayor Gerald Tremblay is still committed to pushing through his handpicked developer‘s plan.

Now, Café Cleopatre is taking Tremblay and Yaccarini to court. This won’t be the only court challenge the mayor is facing. This was an election year and corruption on the part of Tremblay (and to a lesser extent, Louise Harel’s right-hand man Benoit Labonte) soon became the focal point of the campaign.

Projet Montreal on election night (photo Jason C. McLean)

Unfortunately, corruption wasn’t enough to unseat Tremblay. Fortunately, there were significant gains for Projet Montreal, a party endorsed by Forget The Box. They swept the Plateau Borough and made significant gains in other places including the former Tremblay fiefdom of NDG and Rosemont to name a few. This is after only eight years of existence and two election campaigns.

Another party that may very well make waves in the years to come is the Pirate Party of Canada. Inspired by the success of Sweden’s Pirate Party, they hope to reform Canada’s copyright laws and protect both privacy and net neutrality. They hope to do so by influencing the other federal parties.

In federal politics, the Harper government has been all about image control this year. We’re not talking about quashing stories about the rise of the NDP or their own dwindling support in Quebec, but rather eliminating potential embarrassment and as a result coming across like a bunch of repressive thugs.

In the run-up to Copenhagen, Greenpeace dropped banners critical of Harper’s (and Michael Ignatieff’s) environmental stance on the parliament buildings and as a result, anything Greenpeace-related, including t-shirts, were banned from Parliament Hill as a security precaution. Both during and after an embarrassing performance at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, Harper’s troops decided to attack Equiterre as well as parody websites put up by US activist pranksters The Yes Men instead of attacking Climate Change.

The Harper government is also ignoring another threat to the environment: the practices of Canadian mining companies around the world. Fortunately, there was some good news on this front in 2009.

For a few years now, the Frente Amplio Opositor in Cerro de San Pedro, Mexico and their supporters in Montreal have been trying to get an illegal mine operated by New Gold (formerly Metallica Resources) shut down. The groups have been working in solidarity with activists against the open-pit practices of Canadian mining companies both around the world and in Canada as well.

In May, under the banner of fake mining company Royal Or, FAO Montreal staked a legitimate claim to mine Mount Royal. This was a theatrical attempt to show what open-pit mining is like for other communities and it resulted, rather unexpectedly, in Mount Royal being officially protected against mining interests.

Mining pig (photo Raymond Bégin)

The group used theatre again when they took part in a global day of action against open-pit mining in July. They wanted to show what the real swine flu was with actors playing pigs in front of the Montreal offices of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

In November, the FAO’s efforts finally paid off and the mine in Cerro de San Pedro was closed by the Mexican government because it had been (surprise, surprise) operating illegally. There were rumors of initial violence, but they turned out to just be rumors.   Since then, the situation has escalated but it hasn’t gotten as bad as the one in El Salvador where activists opposed to Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining’s attempts to set up a mine have been killed.

Speaking of Vancouver, in case you haven’t heard, the Olympics are coming up real soon and resistance to it has been met with considerable repression. From pulling down artwork to questioning American journalists at the border for well over an hour, local, provincial and even the federal government have made it clear that this is one brand they want to protect from damage.

We’ll have to wait until 2010 to see how this unfolds and to see what becomes of Café Cleopatre and the other stories we’ve been covering this year. We also plan to cover quite a bit more and if you want to write for us or take pictures, please get in touch, that is after you take some time to ring in the new year!

There’s an old saying that time heals all wounds. While that may be the case in cases of heartbreak where both parties are friends to begin with, it’s not the case when the wounds in question are physical, numerous and in many cases fatal.

For eight years, George W. Bush was public enemy number one for people in the anti-war movement worldwide and pretty much anyone somewhat left-of-centre politically, not to mention those languishing in secret and not-so-secret US prisons around the world and let’s not forget the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Montreal, some would say, has probably been the most vocal against Dubya among North American cities since the start of the invasion of Iraq. Remember, this is where the American national anthem got booed at a hockey game and it was the Montreal contingent that made the most noise when then Prime Minister Paul Martin invited Bush to Ottawa in 2006

That was then and this is now. The promise of “hope and change” (remember Obama, a promise is a promise, time is ticking) has swept through the United States reducing the Republican Party to a bunch of lame Fox News-backed pseudo protesters, there are plenty of new political issues on people’s minds and I even saw George W. Bush, International Terrorist t-shirts sold for a discount at an activist event a few months ago.

Maybe he thought the time was right to attempt a trip to Montreal. Apparently, the Montreal Board of Trade agreed and invited him to speak at a $400 a plate luncheon at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (yes, the same spot where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their bed-in).

Why a board of trade would want to hear from someone who wrecked the global economy in the first place is another story, but the main story here is the fact that Bush and tinePUBLIC, the group who booked him for the Board of Trade luncheon were wrong people in Montreal haven’t forgotten about George W. Bush and what he did.

Those wars he started are still going on, just under new management. Those secret prisons he created are still open, too. There is talk of charges being laid against him and Dick Cheney, true, there has been this talk for years and nothing’s come of it, but it won’t go away. There are many who feel that George Bush should do time instead of do lunch and get roughly $100 000 for it. Today they came out to let him know just that.

According to mainstream media reports, which tend to downplay the numbers at these rallies, hundreds or in one report over a thousand came out in the cold in the middle of a workday to be part of a protest organized by the Échec à la guerre collective. They brought their shoes, too and started hurling them at the doors of the Queen E at around 11:30am. Shoes are fast becoming the most common way to greet Bush on his post-presidential travels and one can only imagine the anticipation that Montreal shoe retailers had upon hearing of the visit.

There were a few arrests for disturbing the peace, but one arrest didn’t happen at the Queen E, that of the speaker. If starting two wars, spying on your own citizens and throwing people away and throwing away the key without charges isn’t disturbing the peace, then I don’t know what is.