Well, the freedom to speak out, protest and criticize injustice just got a whole lot more complicated in Canada. The Canadian Parliamentary Commission to Combat Antisemitism released its report and to the surprise of almost no one, it opted to pretty much redefine criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, instead of proposing ways to deal with real instances of antisemitism.
Well, not quite. In fact, it states that criticism of Israel isn’t by definition anti-Semitic, but then goes on to say that “applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation” is. It continues by claiming that “singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.”
So basically, if you want to criticize Israeli government policy or practice, you have to criticize some other nation at the same time or else be labelled an anti-Semite.
Well, that can be difficult, particularly for those organizing events specifically dealing with what’s going on in Gaza like Apartheid Week, seemingly the real target of this commission’s findings. But on the other hand, I’m always up for a challenge so I think I’ll give this a shot. Now, I’ve got to remember the rules: I can criticize Israel all I want, I just need to criticize someone else for the same thing or something comparable. Let’s get started:
Okay, so I’m against how the Israeli government cuts off freedom of mobility to Palestinians in Gaza, passes laws effectively creating a second class of citizens who are then discriminated against and labels any attempt to resist a terrorist act. Now, I’ve got to think of another regime guilty of the same thing and speak out against them, too. Got it! Pre-Mandela South Africa, I’m against that regime, too.
No, wait, it’s a dated example. Things have changed in South Africa in the past little while and it’s a bit of a cheat to say I’m protesting something that isn’t happening there anymore along with what’s happening now in the occupied territories. I’ll try again…
I’m against how the Israeli government continues to authorize and even encourage new settlements on occupied land, evicting Palestinians for no good reason, further aggravating a situation that is already pretty damn tense. Okay, so far so good, now for the second part…hmmm…ha. I’m also against the way the Canadian government under Harper (and let’s face it, under previous administrations, too) continues to ignore Native land claims while permitting new encroachments on un-ceded territory like they did for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I’m also not thrilled with the way they issued a tepid apology for what happened in the Residential School system without acknowledging the extent of what really happened.
Ha. I’m starting to like this game. I’ll try another one:
I’m appalled at how the Israeli Knesset recently passed a law making it illegal to criticize what’s going on in the occupied territories or organize a boycott of products from there or anywhere in Israel. This is a violation of the very principles of freedom of speech and such a law has no place in a free and democratic society.
Now, to cover my ass, the second part:
I am equally appalled at how Canadian parliamentarians from almost all parties (the Bloc opted out of this commission shortly before voters opted out of the Bloc) decided to use the spectre of antisemitism as a weapon to stifle criticism of the actions of a government, not the actions of a country’s citizens or people of a particular religion. It’s an attack on freedom of speech, that much is clear, but it’s also an attack on logic.
It’s a move that makes no sense unless you’re thinking in an Orwellian sense, but it does make for a fun game as I just demonstrated. This game isn’t free, though. To play it, you have to give up your right to protest injustice, a fundamental right in any democracy.
Famine is one of those things that seems to be poorly understood by Westerners. We’ve largely equated the word with a mere desire to eat. We have a wretchedly poor comprehension of what it means to not only have nothing at all to eat, but as to how long an individual can exist on infrequent and woefully small quantities of food. The answer is painfully long, that is, a human can survive for a very long time on extremely small quantities of food and water. They who do and there are a great many on our pathetically retarded planet who do do so with sick, emaciated bodies and gradually atrophying organs. They are the most resourceful people on the planet without a doubt, and the product of their labour is only to prolong the excruciating pain of their existence for there is scarcely any help for these people,
In North Korea,
In the Horn of Africa,
So a people are starving. They live in â€˜homelands’; they must carry identification to travel between them, and do so under the constant watch of a police apparatus designed to hinder the illusion of any personal rights. Working outside the homeland is dangerous but increasingly necessary, for the homeland has no real economy, no real government, none of what is necessary to build a society, a State. Instead, the streets are governed by thugs and religious zealots and the good people are systematically killed off, pushed out or put down Gaza looks like Mogadishu and operates like Salisbury (known today as Harare) in the late-1970s.
Gaza, like the rest of the Palestinian territories, is effectively the last real justification for maintaining a military the size of the IDF for Israel’s day-to-day defensive requirements. Gone are the days in which Israel was militarily outmatched by all of its neighbours. Lebanon is a wreck, Syria is on the verge, and Egypt and Jordan are Israeli allies (of sorts). In fact, the only local military large-enough to take on the IDF in a war would be Iran. And though there have been murmurs of just such a thing happening and soon there’s still a lot of doubt. After all, when these two nations shared a greater common enemy (Saddam Hussein in the mid-1980s), the Israelis had no problem supporting the Iranian air force with parts and equipment. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
So as a result of lacking just such a threat, and having a massive military to support, the Israelis have set their scopes and sights on the Palestinian Territories. And just like South Africa, Portugal and Rhodesia in the 1970s, they’ll commit this force to an endless series of â€˜skirmishes’; never acknowledging a war is going on, never playing by the rules of engagement. It seems as though this is all Israel has been doing for more than a decade anyways. And enemies especially the invisible kind are much easier to create when you have an endless supply of poor hungry people desperate to get out of the hole they’ve been told to lie in for decades upon decades. So the guns are turned inwards.
Freedom Flotilla II the second attempt to run the blockade of Gaza, has been met with acts of sabotage of various kinds, doubtless the work of the Israeli government, the IDF etc. Under the pretence of preventing a re-supply of militants and a recap of last year’s bloodbath in the Eastern Mediterranean, where IDF commandos killed nine unarmed activists, they instead focused on attacking the ships in port, with bombs detonated to cripple the rudders. Hey at least it’s better than using snipers, right? The ships were to carry humanitarian aid to the People of Gaza, but if the Israelis were to allow this, it would be tantamount to acknowledging there was a problem in the first place. And as a new deadline approaches, and the issue of State recognition for the Palestinian people grows stronger while Israel’s former enemies grow weaker, the fascist elements of the current Israeli administration will do whatever they can to demonstrate that the People of Palestine are unfit for self-determination.
Apartheid-era South Africa used the fear of international communism as justification. Today, Israel uses the fear of international terrorism. And time and time again the people of the Decadent West buy it, and fail to act. We are failing to prevent another catastrophe.
And so Israel exists beyond the realm of â€˜normal’ nations. Its economy is largely artificial and donation-based. Its diplomatic relations with almost all its neighbours is hopelessly strained, while its behemoth military seeds plans of an attack against Iran to remind the West Israel’s just our toughest ally. They remind the rest of the world of the threat of Islamo-Fascism, and point to the wars they created as justification for their existence. And Israel is so scared of the world discovering the reality of the situation they’ve created in Gaza they’ll go so far as to try and sue any nation that openly boycotts Israel because of its actions in Gaza, in Palestine.
A sovereign nation can be sued for not financially supporting a warmonger state,
Israel has become a Fascistic state.
The economies collapse,
And the people starveâ€¦
Meanwhile, over in Ha’aretz, Netenyahu is called out for his “bullshit”. His bullshit that the new law making it illegal to boycott Israel, or any Israeli company or institution, is not an infringement on freedom of speech. His bullshit that opposition to the occupation of Palestine is synonymous with a desire to destroy Israel. His bullshit that 1967 borders are indefensible, when many former heads of the IDF and Mossad have endorsed 1967 borders as a start point for negotiations.
Most of all, Carlo Strenger calls out Netenyahu for his bullshit “that Israel can be a democratic country with a Jewish character while continuing the occupation. A clear-headed discussion would show that the greatest danger for Israel’s future today lies not in the Arab world, but in the disintegration and radicalization of its political culture.”
Strenger warns that “Totalitarianism, as George Orwell showed poignantly, hinges on clouding the mind by polluting our speech. This is precisely what the majority of the eighteenth Knesset and the Netanyahu government have done: they have crossed the line where bullshitting pushes towards totalitarianism.”
He is far from alone. The pages of Ha’aretz are filled with denunciations of occupation, from Henning Mankell to Gideon Levy to Zvi Bar’el, to name three on their front page today.
But if Strenger had written these words in a Canadian paper, as a Canadian atheist rather than an Israeli Jew, I don’t doubt that he would have been swiftly denounced as an anti-semite, or at minimum a wooly headed idealist with no grasp on the “facts”.
But things are changing here, people are awakening to the big lie they have been fed: that Israel is always right, the Palestinians are always wrong and that’s enough talking about it anyway.
The thrust of Strenger’s critique is that “open society”, or liberal democracy, “depends on a culture that values clear speech; coherent, logical argument; and truly critical discussion.” Netenyahu, and certainly his uncritical allies in our own government, have waged war on clear, critical discussion using the weapons of propaganda, or as Strenger would put it, “bullshit”.
No one claims that the Palestinians have never committed a wrong, or are blameless in the current predicament, just as it would be preposterous to say that Israel is always right and has only ever acted in self-defence (although I have heard this said often enough here, it would be laughed off the pages of Ha’aretz or the Israeli street).
When conflicts become so entrenched, when critical discussion and just remedy seem impossible, we have a tendency to retrench, to retreat to absolutisms. “My country right or wrong” was a rallying cry for supporters of the Vietnam war. That this idea abdicates any sort of responsibility to ensure that your country is, in fact, acting righteously was obviously lost on its utterers.
This reality is exactly why we need a frank and critical discussion of the situation in occupied Palestine and our responsibility to make it better, not worse. Binyamin Netenyahu and Stephen Harper lead by division. They turn one part of their country against the other and use our fears, our ignorance and our trust against us.
Harper does not want us to educate ourselves on Palestine, he wants us to believe that half our country is composed of terrorist sympathizers, and trust him to beat them over the head with a stick. Frank, open and critical discussions lead to compromises and resolutions, and that’s the last thing Harper or Netenyahu want. Thankfully, they are finally losing the battle.
What last year’s tragic flotilla to Gaza, and this year’s abortive attempt, accomplished was to open the eyes of Canadians to the injustice, the suffering and the tragedy of the occupation. And further, to how simply it can be remedied.
The Greek government may have shamefully bent to the will of the powerful, keeping all but the tiny French vessel Dignite-Al Karama from sailing for Gaza, but it hardly matters.
Canadians have witnessed the courage of their compatriots and have begun to ask why. This asking, this questioning of the official narrative, is the beginning of a frank, open and critical dialogue. A dialogue which befits an open society such as ours, and which has been impeded by propaganda and absolutism for too long. This conversation must begin with the facts, not the lies and half truths used by our leaders to defend the indefensible. It must begin with the inescapable reality that the occupation must end, not next month, next year or next decade, but now. And it must begin with the repudiation of those who would use the label of anti-semite to smear critics of Israel. Not only has the use of this label impugned many good and decent people, it has dealt a great blow to the fight against real anti-semitism.
The losers in this conversation will be Harper and Netenyahu. The winners will be honesty, compassion and universal respect for the human rights of all peoples.
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.
A year after the first freedom flotilla set sail for the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of nine activists at the hands of the Israeli IDF, the world awaits the departure of Freedom Flotilla II. The flotilla of ten boats includes two cargo ships transporting nearly three thousand tons of aid, and eight other passenger boats with citizens of dozens of different countries. It was supposed to set sail at the end of June.
Over the last week or so, it has been mired in sabotage and Israeli diplomatic efforts to halt it with Greek officials who have their hands full (and tied) with their own domestic problems. The result is that the flotilla has been delayed from setting sail and activist morale has been lowered, but that has not deterred those involved. They remain focused on the flotilla’s overall goal of breaking the Israeli blockade to bring in humanitarian aid, and cheered that Israeli actions have actually helped their goal of bringing the plight of Gaza back into the media spotlight.
The Juliano, owned jointly by the Ship to Gaza organizations in Sweden, Norway and Greece, had its propeller house destroyed and its propeller shaft cut by hostile divers. The consequent damage would have happened gradually as the ship was sailing and would have culminated in a breach in the hull. The Irish-owned ship, the “MV Saoirse” also had its propeller shaft weakened by saboteurs who cut or filed a piece off the shaft. This weakened the integrity of the shaft, causing it to bend badly when it was put into use.
Dr. Lane, who was part of last year’s flotilla, said, “The Freedom Flotilla is a non-violent act of practical and humanitarian solidarity with the people of Gaza, yet Israel continues to use threats and violence to delay its sailing. They attacked us in international waters last year, now they are attacking us in Turkish and Greek ports. There is no line that Israel won’t cross.” One can only speculate about Israel’s involvement in the sabotage as there is not yet any proof, but given Israel’s unhesitating use of snipers and attack dogs against unarmed civilians, it’s not a stretch to imagine it is their doing.
On Friday the U.S. boat named after Barack Obama’s famous book “The Audacity of Hope” attempted to sail from the port of Perama, near Athens, but was thwarted by Greek coast guard speedboats. The 60-year-old captain was arrested and faces charges of trying to leave port without permission and of endangering the lives of the boat’s passengers.
The Canadian ship to Gaza, the Tahrir, was boarded before it had a chance to leave (on Canada Day). The Greek authorities attempted to confiscate Tahrir’s transit logs needed for travel, the delegates refused to hand them over, offering photocopies instead, which were in turn refused. This exposed the efforts to stop all ships departing from Greek ports if the intended destination was Gaza. Soon enough all Gaza-bound ships were stranded in Greece because they were “concerned primarily with the protection and safety of human life.” A fact we have since learned is not true.
Israel’s extreme right wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman admitted on Sunday that Israel was behind the Greek government’s decision to forbid the flotilla from sailing to the Gaza Strip saying “Things do not just happen on their own. The Quartet, the governments of Greece and Cyprus, object to the flotilla, understands the needs of Israel, and is acting effectively.”
The flotilla, I understand, will try and set sail again on Monday July 4th regardless of Greek and Israeli efforts to stop them. The blockade, now in its fourth year, is illegal under international law. The same goes for last year’s raid in international waters of the first freedom flotilla and for Israel’s forty plus year occupation of Palestine. Any form of peaceful protest should be welcomed by so called freedom loving nations such as our own; we should not be bowing to the will of a single apartheid-like government.
“We’ve received many visits and inspections from Greek authorities; we’ve satisfied all the technical requirements, all the paperwork. Our ship is ready. The Greek government is having its hand forced by the powers of the international community. It’s a shame on the Greek government, a shame on the EU, a shame on the Canadian and American government for cowing to one power dictating where their citizens can travel. This is a citizen to citizen initiative. We’re not going to be stopped by an order coming from the Greek government, when it’s in fact being manipulated by the Israeli government.” – David Heap, associate professor at the University of Western Ontario aboard the Tahrir
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On May 30, 2010, the Mavi Marmara led a flotilla of six ships and nearly 700 people across the Mediterranean Sea on a mission to deliver humanitarian aid to a blockaded Gaza. The flotilla was confronted by the Israeli military, whose soldiers shot and killed nine people on board the Mavi Marmara.
One year later a flotilla of 10 ships and over 1,000 delegates from 20 countries, including France, Germany, Italy and the U.S., will sail to Gaza in late June. For the first time a Canadian boat, the Tahrir, will be part of the flotilla, transporting 50 people, including Canadian and international delegates and members of the media.
Today, Forget the Box presents the story of five of Canada’s 32 delegates, their motivations and their state of mind as they prepare for a humanitarian mission with the highest of stakes.
She called back to make sure there was no misunderstanding. The 59-year-old mother of two wanted to ensure that her contribution to the Freedom Flotilla II was not being overstated. Modesty and a penchant for calm discussion came through over the phone as Lyn Adamson talked about her role in the mission of the Canadian Boat to Gaza.
“I’ve been interested in social change all my life and I’ve seen how individuals and groups have been able to make really significant changes and that’s what I’d like to see happen,” she said.
Adamson is the co-chair of the non-governmental organization Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. She is also a mediator and trainer in non-violent conflict resolution and will be helping to deliver a two-day training session on these skills to the Canadian boat’s passengers. “None of us have to do [something like this] very often so I think we all need some preparation,” said Adamson, “this is different.”
Adamson is keenly aware of what happened with last year’s flotilla and is naturally nervous, but when asked if her children were afraid for her, she laughed. “My children were writing Jack Layton and one of them has never written a political letter before,” she said. “Politicians pay attention when something resonates with the public and the public lets them know.”
Adamson, a Quaker, said one of the most important things she’s been doing is trying to rally political and diplomatic support. “That’s our safety, you know. Our safety is not us and what we do in the boat necessarily,” she said, “but it can be what is said and done behind the scenes as well as publicly before we go.”
Two NDP MPs had lent their support to the Canadian Boat to Gaza, but reportedly after speaking with his leader, Alexandre Boulerice of Quebec retracted his backing, leaving only MP Alex Atamanenko from BC’s interior backing the mission.
Parliamentarians from all parties have distanced themselves from the Canadian boat with New Democrats and Liberals suggesting UN strategies to relieve Palestinians’ suffering under the blockade and Conservatives calling the flotilla provocative.
Non-violent protest from within Gaza and the West Bank, however, has been garnering greater international attention recently. “What we want to do is bring some visibility to what Palestinians are doing,” said Adamson. “I think [non-violent protest] has great potential but only if it’s visible, it has to be visible and seen and supported and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”
This will be Lyn Adamson’s second trip to the Palestinian territory. She was in the West Bank city of Hares with the International Women’s Peace Service for two weeks in 2004.
Having been held captive for four months after being kidnapped in Baghdad, it might seem unlikely that 38-year old Harmeet Singh Sooden would want to be part of a flotilla with an unfortunately fatal history. Yet the man who was bound and imprisoned next to James Loney as part of a Christian Peacemaker Teams mission in Iraq and who Loney calls “a man of the highest integrity,” is committed and feels that certain principles need to be represented.
“We are responsible for what we do and what we can do,” said Sooden in a matter-of-fact email. He also said the privilege of people in Western countries confers proportional responsibility. Sooden believes that part of that responsibility, and the message that he wants to get across to people here, is that Canadians should find out more about Canada’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Perhaps because of his previous experiences, Sooden, an engineer who works for a health software company in New Zealand, seems less anxious than his fellow passengers on the Canadian boat. “I assess that the risks are relatively low. My fellow passengers on the Tahrir are highly experienced,” he said. “International media is focused on Israel and the fact that we are citizens of Western countries will provide us with a measure of protection.”
Still, Sooden admitted there will be risks. “Deaths are very unlikely on this non-violent initiative, but it is impossible to predict what will happen.”
The Canadian boat will be carrying medical supplies that are among the goods needed most in Gaza. “We are also carrying human rights defenders,” said Sooden. “If we reach Gaza, I intend to volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) doing accompaniment work and recording human rights violations.”
The Canadian boat also intends to bring back goods that the people of Gaza would like to export, though the blockade’s tight controls are likely to make these goods largely of symbolic nature.
Harmeet Singh Sooden was part of a Free Gaza flotilla initiative in 2008 after being denied entry to Israel, assaulted and detained by Israeli Defence Forces on the way to Palestine for humanitarian work.
The filmmaker and the lawyer
His father is an international filmmaker and documentarian so he understands his filmmaker son’s involvement with the Canadian Boat to Gaza. It’s not as easy for 32-year-old Santiago Bertolino’s young son. At only four years of age, Bertolino’s son has already come to understand the danger involved with the words Palestine and Israel, so much so that Bertolino has taken to telling him he is only going to Greece to save him the anxiety.
Marie-Ãˆve Rancourt’s family and boyfriend are no less anxious, and though they wish someone other than her were going, they support her participation. The 33-year-old Rancourt is uniquely placed, as a lawyer, to act as an observer and to document human right violations for the Ligue des droits et libertés, a Quebec human rights organization and member of the International Federation for Human Rights, one of over 150 organizations that has lent its support to the flotilla.
Bertolino and Rancourt sat side by side in the kitchen of a second-floor Montreal apartment on a quiet, sunny afternoon. While discussing the boat’s mission, the pair also described the vessel they have yet to see.
About 25 metres long, the Tahrir is a former Greek island ferry converted to be able to take to the high seas. With no sleeping quarters, the 50 or so passengers will share the space of the main deck to lay out sleeping bags and mats. “Everyone will be together so there will probably be a good vibe,” said Bertolino as the two shared a laugh. “As long as we don’t all get sea sick at the same time, we should be fine” Rancourt joked.
At times nervous, the self-described “cinéaste engagé” and the relaxed holder of a Masters in law spoke with clear heads about what they are getting into.
“As a Canadian citizen I want to raise the awareness of Quebecers and Canadians to mobilize more people and to force our governments to play a more active role in favour of peace” said Rancourt. “For me, participating in this trip is really the extension of my civil engagement here in Quebec, which means being active in demanding greater respect for human rights in Palestine.”
“I’m going as a filmmaker, but also as an activist” said Bertolino. “So unlike maybe a journalist from Radio Canada, I’m not simply an objective observer.” And that will mean making choices. “There will be moments when I want to take a position,” he said, “so that’s when I have to decide whether to keep filming or whether to participate in the non-violent resistance.”
Bertolino’s interest lies in what he sees as the changing nature of civil society in Palestine and what he calls the phenomenon of “people to people.” “They’re trying to make links to the international community,” he said. “They’re not working through the Palestinian Authority anymore, so they’re putting aside their own political bodies and trying to make direct connections with citizens around the world.”
Santiago Bertolino has been involved in Palestinian solidarity initiatives for the last three years, including the Gaza Freedom March in Cairo in late 2009. This will be his fourth trip to the Middle East as part of these initiatives.
Marie-Ãˆve Rancourt has traveled widely in Latin America and Asia, including for human rights work in Cambodia. She expects to return from the flotilla even more engaged in the solidarity movement than before.
Robert Lovelace and the state of Israel were born in the same year. Better known as Bob, the 63-year-old father of seven and lecturer at Queen’s University has followed the evolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine for many years.
A former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, Lovelace is perhaps best known in the media for his role in blocking uranium exploration in Sharbot Lake, Ontario in 2008. For his troubles, Lovelace spent over 3 months in prison before being released. Now, even in the face of what happened with last year’s flotilla, he has higher hopes for the Tahrir.
“There’s always room for progress, there’s always room for positive outcomes,” Lovelace said. He thinks there’s a will on the part of people in Israel and Palestine, activists and supporters of the peace process to move things forward, what he calls “restoring self-determination to people that have lost it.”
Lovelace’s stepfather was an aircraft mechanic who was working in Israel in 1948 and supported the creation of the Jewish state. His stepfather talked to him about that time as Lovelace was growing up. “He had lots of Palestinian friends and he was sorry that the whole thing had deteriorated into this war,” said Lovelace over the phone from his home outside of Kingston.
A teacher of indigenous studies, Lovelace sees several parallels between the history of Palestine and the European settlement of North America. “Many Palestinians left their homes to avoid conflict in the hopes of returning after things settled down and they weren’t allowed to return,” said Lovelace.
“And that’s certainly the case with our people. As settlement took place in Canada our people were driven into the far bush, they were absorbed into settler towns and had to make their own way,” he said. “They were made refugees in their own land.”
And despite his own history of non-violent resistance and wealth of experience, even Lovelace has concerns over his safety. “I’d be a fool if I said no,” he said. “My family’s anxious and, you know, we’re all concerned that things might get out of hand, but we don’t want that to happen.”
Still, Lovelace realizes that protest in Canada is not the same as protest in the Middle East. “We’re going into a part of the world where violence is far more normalized and the value of life is far less than when [aboriginals] face off with the Ontario or Quebec provincial police,” he said. “There have been casualties among aboriginal protesters, but we’re going into a situation that could be far more volatile.”
Central to much of Lovelace’s motivation for resistance is the aboriginal struggle against colonialism. “Bringing an end to colonialism of any sort will always involve conflict,” he said. “What’s important in conflict is for both sides to understand each other and for there to be a very high degree of predictability.”
This will be Robert Lovelace’s first trip to the Palestinian territories. He plans to bring the real world experiences of the flotilla back to the classroom and his students at Queen’s University.
Photos courtesy of tahrir.ca and Tomas Urbina. For more information on the Canadian Boat to Gaza please visit www.tahrir.ca
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it abundantly clear last week in his speech to the American Congress that he has no desire to negotiate for peace. Although Bibi’s talk drew several standing ovations in front of American lawmakers, few were smiling back in Palestine or Israel.
In his speech Netanyahu quickly dismissed virtually all key Palestinian demands for peace. He first shunned Obama’s remarks days earlier when he called for the future Palestinian state to be based on the borders of 1967. He then ruled out dividing Jerusalem, saying “Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.”
Netanyahu went on to say that Palestinian refugees did not have the right to return to Israel and that they had to remain in any Palestinian state. He also ruled out leaving the Jordan Valley and made no mention of halting settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. All this of course leaves the Palestinians with nothing. Bibi makes for a far better dictator than he does a negotiator.
Netanyahu then asked for President Abbas to tear up his pact with Hamas. Hamas of course was democratically elected back in 2006, but apparently democracy does not count when the victor is labeled a terrorist organization.
Hamas’s military wing has consistently used terrorist tactics and called for the destruction of the Jewish State, but you know what? That’s what enemies do, especially the governors of an occupied land. No one can deny that Israel has called for and even tried to bring about the destruction of Hamas. The only difference between the two militaries is that one side can afford uniforms. Whether a car bomb or a gunship missile, both bring terror and death.
A side note: Common definitions of terrorism refer to those violent acts which are intended to create fear and are perpetrated for religious, political or ideological goals, deliberately targeting or disregarding the safety of civilians. Going by this definition Israel has killed 5 times more civilians and ten times more civilians under the age of 18 than Palestinians in the last 25 years.
Hamas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish State should not hamper Israel’s decision to negotiate, but Netanyahu continually uses Hamas as a roadblock to peace. Imagine the world we might be living in if the US refused to talk to the Soviet Union after Khrushchev threatened to bury them.
Israel has the region’s strongest economy and military by far, complete with an arsenal of (not so secret) nuclear weapons, but we are constantly told by Netanyahu that his policies and positions are for Israel’s security, even though they have maintained a stable peace agreement with half their neighbors for decades.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been opposed to a Palestinian state for most of his life, right up until he was elected for a second term. Are we to believe that he has had a sudden change of heart or had some sort of Islamic epiphany? Nothing he has said or done recently would suggest so, and he’s not fooling as many people as he may think (aside from the American Congress).
Last Thursday, US President Barack Obama gave a stirring speech on the “Arab Spring” and America’s policies toward it. Unfortunately the only part of it that made headlines was his comment calling for any peace deal between Israel and Palestine to be based on the 1967 borders. His annotations angered Zionists, Republicans, right wing Jews and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
What Obama said however was nothing new; negotiations based on the lines of 1967 have been going on since the 1970s, in fact Bill Clinton pushed for such a deal at Camp David eleven years ago. The idea of land swaps also mentioned in Obama’s speech is again nothing new, but it seemed to be lost on everyone.
Land swaps are the key to any deal of course; the West Bank has been dotted with so many Israeli settlements over the years that Israel has made it virtually impossible for any deal to be made based solely on the 1967 borders. No Palestinian would agree to exchange a big meaty steak for only the fat in return. That means any deal would not only include the same amount of land, but the same amount of fertile land.
I believe, as do many, that Obama’s comments regarding the Palestinian/Israeli issue had more than one objective. While Obama was trying to restart peace negotiations, he was also trying to dissuade Palestinian officials led by President Mahmoud Abbas from going to the United Nations in September to seek statehood. Statehood was promised to the Palestinians by the UN back in 1947 when the Palestine territory was partitioned to make way for the state of Israel alongside it.
The day after Obama’s Arab Spring speech, Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that “A peace based on illusions will crash upon the rocks of Middle Eastern reality… I think for peace the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities.” He said that a return to those borders was impossible because the region had seen “demographic changes”. He argued the 1967 borders were “indefensible.”
Netanyahu’s statement completely destroyed Obama’s second intention. The following day, Nabil Shaath, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said “Of course we will go to the United Nations, especially after Netanyahu used the old pretext that he needs ‘defensible borders’ to keep stealing our land, control the Jordan Valley and create demographic facts on the ground.”
On Sunday, Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (America’s largest pro-Israel lobby) Obama said that while U.S. support for Israel remains ironclad, we cannot afford to wait decades to achieve peace. The President gave this speech only hours after Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak had approved the construction of 294 new homes in the occupied West Bank and construction began on two thousand others.
Obama was quick to mention Israel faced the threat of attack from Hamas rockets launched from Gaza and that a recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah “poses an enormous obstacle to peace.” Of course he failed to mention the main reason that peace talks are lifeless in the first place: the continued construction of settlements on occupied land.
I liked Obama’s speeches and was in fair agreement with them, but it remains my opinion that the United States will never be able to successfully broker a peace agreement so long as the President remains under the influence of the Pro-Israeli Lobby. A successful negotiator must be able to talk tough and act tough to both sides otherwise no one listens.
Over the last few days western countries have started to enforce a UN mandated no-fly zone over the skies of Libya. French jets fired on Libyan tanks, while over a hundred cruise missiles were launched from British and American warships in the Mediterranean.
The offensive was started almost immediately after an emergency summit in France was attended by 22 nations and organizations including: France, the UK, Germany, Italy, Canada, Spain and of course the US. In order to have support from the Arab community Morocco, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq and the UAE were invited as well. Of course all five Arab nations are major US allies.
The loosely termed “no-fly zone” resolution that was passed by the United Nations Security Council effectively gives permission for international forces to do anything it chooses in Libya short of occupying the country. That slack wording of the resolution was evident right from the first salvo, when bombs started dropping on rolling tanks.
Whenever a population rises up to topple an oppressive regime, the western democracies can’t help but show their support for the people, myself included. However, when the protests turn into an internal armed conflict or civil war, it gets a little more complicated. If an armed uprising started up in the United States or Canada for any reason you can bet it would not be tolerated and it would be put down quickly, democracy be damned.
The American government claims the military action in Libya is not intended to bring about regime change, but is a humanitarian mission to protect rebels and civilians from Gaddafi forces. I find it ironic that many of the rebels in eastern Libya that the coalition is trying to protect are anti-American extremists that have fought Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Arab League did take part in the French summit and supported a no-fly zone in Libya as well, but it has already cried foul about the extent of the operation in only the first couple of days (they later retracted these statements). Western powers say they have the backing of the Arab world, but with only their traditional allies behind them the prospect that anti-American and anti-western sentiment will rise is a real concern.
There are too many questions that still remain unanswered. What is the end goal of the military action? With Gaddafi unable to use aircrafts (and tanks apparently) the war on the ground between the Libyan military and rebel forces will most certainly result in a stalemate. Also what gives President Obama or Prime Minister Harper the right to enter into a military conflict without first going through Congress or the House of Commons? Is that democracy?
Most importantly, if we are there to protect the citizens trying to overthrow an autocratic regime, why aren’t we doing the same to protect the citizens of Bahrain, Yemen or the Ivory Coast? Last Friday 52 protesters were gunned down and hundreds were injured in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa by pro-government forces. At least six people were reported dead and hundreds injured after security forces in Bahrain drove pro-democracy protesters out of the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, Manama using tanks and helicopters. So what makes Tripoli so special, 2% of the world’s oil?
I’m tired of western powers pretending to express concern over human rights and civilian lives, but only when it suits them. We continually bomb who we choose at the drop of a hat, such as Libya and Kosovo, and condemn without action the behavior of others like Yemen but say nothing when thousands of policemen from Saudi Arabia go into Bahrain to help quash the same type of uprising. Does anyone else see the hypocrisy?
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently cited Al Jazeera for fine news coverage while at the same time criticizing the American media. She claimed that the United States was losing the information war by not reporting the real news, while Al Jazeera was “changing peoples’ minds and attitudes” by reporting on important issues. For example; on the same day her comments were made, 24/HR news networks such as CNN, MSNBC and FOX News were concentrating more on the ramblings of actor Charlie Sheen than on the situation in Libya.
In the fifteen years since its inception, Al Jazeera has grown to rival BBC World News with about 40 -50 million viewers and an English channel which can be viewed in a hundred million households. Since the Arab unrest started in Tunisia and Egypt, its English website viewership has grown by more 2500%. Experts believe that the Arab unrest will be as positive for Al Jazeera as the first Gulf War was for CNN.
The Arab news network has of course seen its share of growing pains, largely due to censorship attempts by the United States. In November of 2001, during the US invasion of Afghanistan, a U.S. missile strike destroyed Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul. When Al Jazeera went on to report very graphic footage from inside Iraq, US officials decried Al Jazeera as anti-American. In April of 2003, Al Jazeera’s office in Baghdad was hit by a U.S. missile, killing reporter Tareq Ayyoub and wounding another.
In 2005, a leaked memo from Britain claimed that U.S. President George W. Bush had considered bombing Al Jazeera’s Doha headquarters a year earlier. At times it seemed the Bush administration was at war with Al Jazeera as much as it was with Al Qaeda. In fact, one Al Jazeera cameraman spent seven years at GuantÃ¡namo, and was repeatedly interrogated by US operatives attempting to falsely link Al Jazeera to Al Qaeda.
Luckily for George Bush, the American media was much more compliant. The unrest and subsequent revolutions in the Arab world were made possible with the help of Al Jazeera opening the eyes of the people by televising the revolution. In contrast, Fox News and CNN helped make the Iraq war possible by closing the eyes of the American people and blindly reporting whatever the government told them.
Unfortunately not much has changed today. While Al Jazeera reports from the front-lines of major stories and sticks with them, the American networks are content to give their opinions on stories they barely cover. It seems if it isn’t “breaking news”, it’s not worth following up on.
One of the major American news channels last week decided to break from coverage of the Libyan uprising in order to show a “breaking news” story of Lindsey Lohan’s latest arrest. It’s just as sad to see CNN try new gimmicks to attract viewers; such as asking them to vote via text message on which of three stories they should report on, when all three are equally important.
It’s a shame that Al Jazeera English can only be seen in four of the fifty states in the Union (while in Canada it has been available since 2009). I find it more shameful to see that the most trusted name in news in America today comes not from FOX, CNN or from NBC, but from Comedy Central’s Daily Show.
This being the age of information it’s more important than ever to get the right facts, but more importantly it’s important that we learn from them. After all, knowledge is power and right now Al Jazeera has both.
“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.” –Noam Chomsky
Following the revolutions to oust Mubarak and Ben Ali, the world has turned its focus on the country sandwiched right between Egypt and Tunisia. On the 15th of February, only four days after the resignation of Mubarak, an uprising began in the western Libyan city of Benghazi.
At the onset of the uprising, Libya’s ruler of 41 years Muammar Gaddafi stayed uncharacteristically silent, to the point that many of his own followers believed he had fled the country. Unfortunately for everyone this wasn’t the case.
By the 21st of February violence had erupted as Gaddafi ordered a crackdown on the protests. By this time the protesters had reached the capital of Tripoli. Mad Muammar sent in the army and air force to bomb the protesters. Although casualty numbers are impossible to verify, estimates of the dead range from one thousand to three thousand lives.
Saif al-Islam Muammar Al-Gaddafi, the eldest son of Gaddafi, went on state television to warn all the dissidents of the dire consequences of their actions. He claimed if the uprising was successful “15 Islamic fundamentalist emirates” would take control of the country, he said this presumably to gain favor with western nations. He also mentioned that “mistakes had been made” in dealing with the protests.
The following day Muammar Gaddafi himself went on state television to deny rumors that he fled the country saying “I want to show that I’m in Tripoli and not in Venezuela. Do not believe the channels belonging to stray dogs.” Soon after, two Libyan Air Force colonels flew their jets to Malta refusing orders to bomb civilians.
Since Gaddafi’s first public address he has gone on television repeatedly sounding more desperate and crazy by the day. On the 22nd, he said he will hunt opponents of his regime, purging them “house by house” and “inch by inch”. He vowed to “fight until his last drop of blood” and “die as a martyr”. A Libyan diplomat who recently defected said this speech was “a code to start genocide” against the Libyan people.
Gaddafi has also threatened to blow up his country’s oil pipelines should his regime fall, saying “It’s either me or chaos.” This sent oil prices soaring over the $100/barrel mark in the last week, even though Libya only produces 2% of the world’s oil.
On the 24th he told state television that al-Qaeda was responsible for the uprising in his country and claimed al-Qaeda had been drugging the youth with hallucinogenic drugs. On top of that he compared himself to Queen Elizabeth of England saying only he had the “moral authority” over his country.
Madman Muammar is now more desperate than ever as his opposition presently controls most of the country including the three largest cities outside of Tripoli. He is now said to be held up in his bunker in Tripoli with loyalists in the army and armed mercenaries surrounding him, ready to be unleashed on the public in a last ditch effort to cling to power.
Over the past few days, the US, the UN and the EU have all put sanctions on the Gaddafi Regime and family in response to the violent crackdown on his people. They are trying to freeze the oil driven Gaddafi fortune, which some estimate to be as much as 92 billion dollars.
With no real American ties to the regime it was easy for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to pledge assistance to the Libyan opposition over the weekend, although it is not known what kind of assistance she was referring to (my guess is to protect the oil fields!).
No one really knows for sure whether or not Gaddafi will survive this third African revolution in a month and a half. The only thing that is known is that Libya, like Egypt and Tunisia will never be the same again.
They say that the young shall inherit the earth and it appears they have no desire to follow in their fathers’ economic, social and political footsteps and who can blame them. The youth in revolt, already tired of life without employment prospects, decent food and freedom are taking to the streets in northern Africa, the Middle East and around the world.
The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia could never have been successful without the resourcefulness of their countries’ kids. With their love of modern technology, they were able to organize massive rallies and protests using Facebook (even their CEO is a youth!), Twitter and cell phones. They were the main reason why decades of oppression and autocratic rule came to end in these two countries.
Knowing they should not have to settle for anything less than what most adults strive for; peace, justice, liberty and a means to live a healthy and happy life, the fires in their eyes have now spread to other parts of the world. The children of Libya, Bahrain, Iran, Morocco, Yemen and Wisconsin (really, Wisconsin?) have all seen their brothers and sisters take to the streets in recent weeks to vent their anger.
While the youth of the Middle East and Africa are fighting for the freedom that even their fathers have never known, the kids of Wisconsin are fighting for something that their fathers have always taken for granted, the right for government workers to collectively bargain.
Much can be argued about the usefulness of the unions for public workers with the seemingly limitless wallets of the government. The fact is, why should teachers, policemen and firemen have less rights then the plumbers or steel workers? Politicians give out handouts to banks and car companies, build sports stadiums and give out tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy and then they have the nerve to say that not only will you not be getting that annual inflation raise, but we’re going to take away your right to try and do something about it. I digress.
Kids today, just when you’ve witnessed them speak their first words, you turn around and they’re staring down a tank while screaming for freedom. Dissent will always be the realm of the young and I’m happy to see it’s not always about the size of their allowance.
Shortly after the uprising in Tunisia, the people of Egypt began to rise up, having had enough of the thirty plus years of President Hosni Mubarak’s military rule. The protests are now in their third week, with no real end in sight. The protesters have had everything thrown at them from rocks to Molotov cocktails to whip wielding Mubarak thugs on camels, and still the demonstrators refuse to budge an inch.
Each Friday has climaxed after prayers with hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy advocates crowding Tahrir Square, each one of them holding their breathe for that moment when President Mubarak steps down. Mubarak has promised to step down at the end of his term in September, but most Egyptians aren’t buying his delay tactics. They say he is just buying his time, riding out the present storm in order to cling to power and possibly extract his revenge on the dissidents at a later date. So the time is now, as they say.
With all the strain on Mubarak coming from the inside (the same people he has repressed) and virtually none coming from the outside, it’s hard to say just how much pressure he feels. In fact, it would not be absurd to think that there are outside powers telling him to stay on at least until September. It is not unheard of for western powers to support military dictatorships as long as it is in their interest to do so, the United States especially.
During the Iranian revolution of the late seventies, the U.S. opposed the overthrow of the Shaw, a brutal dictator the U.S. and British helped to install over Mohammed Mossadegh, who had tried to nationalize Iran’s oil industry (The coup was the first time the U.S. had openly overthrown an elected, civilian government). Ayatollah Khomeini had publicly criticized the United States government prior to his exile in the sixties, and if the U.S. had decided to support the Iranian people in what became their Islamic Revolution, Khomeini might not have come to power.
The United States right now is playing with that same double-edged sword in Egypt. An allied dictator whose main support now rests on the west, not his subjects. The Americans of course fear an Islamic revolution similar to that of Iran (I wonder why). In fact, most of the media coverage in the United States is concentrating not on the protests or Mubarak, but the fear of what might follow it.
The masses in North America seem to panic at the slightest mention of the Muslim Brotherhood, a multi-national religious conservative political movement comparable to the tea party in the United States. The Muslim Brotherhood has been around since the 1930s, has no central leadership and has not supported violence since a few of their members broke away to found Hamas. Its roots in Egypt might go deep, but even though they make up the largest opposition party, only twenty percent of the population support them. While some of them might harbour anti-American sentiments (no different than I) I refuse to believe they could become an anti-Israeli or anti-American state like Iran has becomeâ€¦ unless provoked.
The longer the U.S. (and Canada for that matter) waits on the sidelines without supporting the people of Egypt, the worse things will be for both sides in the future; the Egyptians will be stuck with a brutal dictator and the Americans will be forced to deal with more anti-Americanism. The Egyptians aren’t blind enough to not see the “Made in the U.S.A.” markings on those tear gas canisters. They’re also not dumb enough not to know that Mubarak’s family fortune is estimated at $60 billion; they know as well that American aid to Egypt has been about $2 billion annually for the last 32 yearsâ€¦ It would seem someone has been on Uncle Sam’s payroll.
If I were Barack Obama or Stephen Harper I would be doing everything I could to force Mubarak’s hand and make him resign. By not directly supporting the protesters we are in a sense supporting their master and the longer that goes on, the more the likelihood we see someone come to power who doesn’t see eye to eye with America, Canada or Israel. We seem to advocate democracy to the rest of the world with the exception of the people who really want it. It’s about time we practiced what we preach.
On December 20, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor tired of having his produce regularly confiscated and with no money to bribe municipal officials decided to burn himself alive in protest. Little did Bouazizi know at the time, his brave act of defiance would spread through Tunisia in a matter of days following his death on January 4th.
The Tunisian people in the town of Sidi Bouzid where the self-immolation of Bouazizi occurred took up his fight armed only with rocks and cell phones. Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook helped protesters spread the word by posting videos and comments from Sidi Bouzid to the rest of Tunisia. On January 14th, Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ended his 24 year reign.
In the month that followed Bouazizi’s sacrifice, at least a dozen others have burned themselves in protest in other countries; five from Algeria, five from Egypt, one each from Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. No ever knows what the trickle down effects of one’s actions might be, but I don’t think anyone saw coming what followed Ben Ali’s ouster.
Protests erupted in Syria, Jordan, Yemen and especially Egypt. Jordan’s King Abdullah dissolved his government and appointed a new prime minister. In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh increased wages and cut income taxes and of course in Egypt protesters are calling for nothing less than Mubarak’s departure.
President Mubarak learned very quickly from Iran’s massive protests in 2009 and Tunisia’s revolution a couple weeks earlier. When the malcontents in his country got serious he pulled the plug on Egypt’s internet and text messaging services, an internet blackout never seen on such a scale. Much to Mubarak’s displeasure, his stunt may have actually backfired as tens of thousands of demonstrators still pack the streets.
The age of information that we live in definitely makes it easier for us to organize, protest and rebel, but on the other hand it can just as easily go the other way with Facebook and Twitter acting as eyes for Big Brother. Most people in Tunisia were reluctant to post news, videos and other information in fear of government reprisals.
The Iranian government following protests against what many saw as unfair elections hunted down individuals responsible for organizing protests by way of the same social media sites. The lucky people were arrested, the unlucky ones were executed. Fortunately for them, you can kill a man, but you can’t kill his words once he’s said them and I believe it won’t be long before Iranians start to shout even louder.
I think technology and the spread of the internet will be far more instrumental in the removal of unwanted autocrats and the spread of democracy in the future as it is also much more peaceful than waging a full blown war in order to remove a tyrant. Given enough time and motivation (and followers on Twitter), even one man can start a revolution.
Rest in Peace Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad ibn Bouazizi
Part two of Viva La Muslim Revolution! will be posted soon and will concentrate on the ongoing Egyptian revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood and the western democracies that fear change.
In Egypt, two million people marched for an end to the regime of Hosni Mubarak yesterday. Meanwhile, in the United States, Glen Beck railed against the “coordinated plot” that began in Tunisia (which he compared to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand) and will end in the violent Islamo-Marxist takeover of the U.S.
According to Beck the “coming insurrection” will spread from the Middle East to England before jumping the pond. Oh, and the Russians are coming (no, seriously, he said that too). All hail the universal caliphate! Well now that we’re even, and you’ve been as enervated by that lunatic as I was after I made the mistake of watching a facebook video of his sputum, we can get down to brass tacks. Wither Egypt? And perhaps more importantly, wither the protest movement that has brought an aging dictator to his knees?
Yesterday was a day like no other in Egypt and around the world as news of the people’s success spread. A call for a “million man march” against Mubarak had been circulated since the weekend, but many in the outside world saw it in the same light as similar calls in western countries. If the protesters could assemble a quarter of that number it would be near enough. And they did, and then some.
Rather than a fraction of a million, more than double that number poured into Cairo’s Tahrir Square alone. Two million people is a rather inconceivable number for protest organizers in the west, sort of like talking to an autoworker about the number of zeros attached to their CEO’s bonus. But in Egypt it became a reality today. And in the moment of the protesters greatest triumph also came the possibility of their greatest division. Mubarak is a canny bastard, and no one has ever accused him of being stupid, but he has seemed a little dense between the ears when it came to figuring out the glaringly self-evident truth that his time was up.
Yesterday he came on state TV again to make a pitch for what is likely his last, and best, hope to save what remains of his presidency. He promised not to run again in Presidential elections scheduled for the fall, and made the rather laughable assertion that that had been his plan all along. He also used the words “security” “safeguard” and “peaceful” so many times that I’m pretty sure he cleaned out the word store. Finally, he spoke of his great pride in his years of service to Egypt and it’s people, and declared that he would die on its soil, and be judged by history. As the people in Tahrir square chanted “Leave, Leave” in response to his statement, elsewhere in the country Al-Jazeera reported many citizens questioning whether this promise shouldn’t be enough to quell the protest movement. After all they had gained something, and perhaps they should quit while they’re ahead? Avoid any further deaths or injuries? In the coming days this will be the greatest threat to the true self-determination of the Egyptian people. Not the fighter planes buzzing overhead, or the police who have returned from their sojourn as looters and pillagers, but the uncertainty of the population itself. Popular movements have a tendency of undermining themselves, and I truly hope that the Egyptian people will not be baited by the promise of stability and security dangled by the man behind their curtain. I trust and I hope that they will hold to the goals that brought them to the streets in the first place, but it will certainly be the thing to watch as events unfold this week.
Update 10:30 AM: This morning the crowds in Tahrir Square who continue to cry out for Mubarak’s departure have been attacked by roving gangs of plainclothes policemen and Baltagiya, the thugs in the employ of the police. Claiming to be pro-Mubarak demonstrators, these thugs have converged on Tahrir Square in a coordinated manner and are throwing rocks and fighting pitched street battles with the people for control of the square. Hundreds have been injured and the pro-Mubarak forces continue to try to storm the square. “Every time they try to come in we push them back, but at the cost of tens and tens of our people” according to Mona, a woman interviewed on Al-Jazeera who spoke through tears and fear to promise that the people would continue to hold the square. She reported dozens of injuries in her vicinity with the victims blocked off from help and no ambulances in sight. An Al-Jazeera journalist was beaten, and many protestors have been dragged off by these thugs, who are also throwing cement blocks and other debris from roofs surrounding the square. Meanwhile the army stands by and refuses to intervene. The dictatorship is in its death throes, but as with all cornered bullies, it will lash out as it topples. Now is the moment of greatest hope and promise for the people, but also one of great danger. If you pray, pray for these people, if you don’t, then think of them. Their courage will live on, no matter what happens.
Five days of protest. At least 100 dead. Thousands injured. One sacked government. A new Prime Minister and Vice President. An army, and a country, in the balance. And the rage continuesâ€¦
We woke up this morning to find that hundreds of thousands remained on the street in the face of a renewed curfew and promises of violence for those who disobeyed it. Soldiers so far have either not been ordered to use force to subdue the populist movement, or have refused to do so.
On Al-Jazeera, talk has shifted from if to when President Hosni Mubarak will depart and U.S. rhetoric has ping ponged wildly as President Obama strives to pick the winning side, seemingly changing his mind by the hour yesterday.
Internet and cellular service remains down, a barn door closed long after the horses have fled. Wikileaks provides insight, courtesy of diplomatic cables, into the favourable U.S. view of new Vice President Omar Suleiman.
The overwhelming picture emerging from the scattered and disparate images of popular anger beaming to the rest of the world is that of a seismic shift. Nothing will ever be the same in Egypt, and Mubarak’s vain struggles to reverse the inevitable seem more comical by the hour. Fear has been the glue of his regime for thirty years, and now that grip of fear has been irreversibly broken. In a matter of days the iron fist of Egypt has turned into a caricature of himself.
And what of the chaos, the lawlessness, the inevitable disintegration of social order once the police had been driven from the streets? There have indeed been cases of looting, reports from Cairo suggesting that many looters are released prisoners, and that looting is being supervised by plainclothes members of the police forces, trying to sow fear and division. But everywhere they were driven back by autonomously organized brigades of citizens.
At the famed Egyptian Museum in Cairo, citizens and soldiers joined together to fight the fire which threatened to spread from the torched HQ of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. Hours later, groups of citizens fought off looters at the same museum.
From rich neighbourhoods to poor, people have organized themselves into community defence militias. They are no longer afraid: of thugs, of police, of informers or of each other. The people have replaced the police across the nation and as one Cairo resident put it to Al-Jazeera, even in his rich neighbourhood every single resident is united in calling for the “old man” to leave.
Some army officers have stripped off their uniforms and joined the protests. The people in turn have greeted them as protectors and, so far, the army has done nothing to disabuse the people of their trust.
The people are in control of Egypt tonight. To have suggested as much even a week ago would have gotten one committed. And yet here we are. The people have seized control of their destiny and they have no intention of giving it back.
So now the question shifts. If the reign of Mubarak is indeed running out the clock on borrowed time, if it is indeed true that the military will not use force of arms to quell the protests and if the people continue to show no signs of yielding, then what comes next?
Many in the West fear the replacement of Mubarak, because the most well-known opposition force in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic movement.
But they will not rise to power now, not on the shoulders of this mass uprising of the Egyptian people. In fact, they come by their renown simply due to the fact that prior to this week’s events, few other Egyptians were willing to speak up. All of that has changed now and the Muslim Brotherhood, which refused to participate in the demonstrations until Friday, has been left in the dust of history.
Their support is confined to a small minority of the Egyptian people. The brave protesters who have found their voices on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria and Suez this week will not so soon have them subsumed by a theocratic dictatorship to replace that of the hated Mubarak.
The word on the street, if it is not always expressed as such, is pluralism. These newly awakened citizens will not stop until a new political system takes over, one that will have room for all Egypt’s citizens, from Islamists to Communists and everything in between.
A thirst has been awakened in the people, and nothing but complete and total change will sate it. We saw it in Tunisia and now we see it in Egypt. Protests have erupted in Jordan and Yemen as well, as the peoples of the Middle East have rediscovered their voices. How quickly people come together when they see that their actions can create real change.
In Washington, Obama speaks of “reforms” but refuses to use the word democracy. American presidents love to speak of democracy so long as there is no actual chance of it being implemented. Once the prospect of real change looms, they forget how to pronounce the word.
But this time there will be no reprieve for America’s longstanding and erstwhile ally, no reforms or half-measures will save him. Now is the time for America to get behind the people of Egypt and stop protecting a dictator, not out of some real concern for democracy or the will of the people but out of the blind self-interest that drives almost all American actions.
Now that this fire has been set, not even the almighty U.S., whose money bought the weapons used on protestors this week, can put it out.
The only question that remains is whether the people will settle for slight improvements and a new leader, or push for real and wholesale change, truly revolutionary change.
I hope and dare to believe that it will be the latter, but only time will tell.
Al-Jazeera is a news source like no other, I’ve been watching their coverage virtually non-stop since yesterday morning on my computer and my phone, and it really is indispensible. watch their live stream of developments in Egypt at: http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/