Apologies: I try to keep imminent doom out of titles, at least. But it’s hard to avoid thinking about today.
I have a few thoughts about the current situation in West Asia, some of which may be worth sharing.
Yesterday I went to the “Stop the Attacks” demonstration in Toronto. When the Gaza attack started in earnest back in June, I went to a vigil at the Israeli Consulate in Toronto. There were less than 100 people, and I couldn’t help but feel desperate that so few came out. A week later, another Gaza demonstration brought out over 300, and that was better. Between that one and yesterday’s “Stop the Attacks”, Israel killed about 300 Lebanese, displaced over 100,000 Lebanese, while continuing the relentless attacks and starvation of Gaza and the West Bank. Still, I was expecting about 500. In fact, there were more than 5000. Most, as far as I could tell, were Lebanese-Canadians, though of course the crowd, the flags, and the signs, were diverse, including a heavy Palestinian-Canadian contingent and many students, young people, and others. This morning I talked on the phone to a friend from London, Ontario, a town of about 100,000 some 3 hours outside Toronto. There, they had a rally of about 2-3,000 people.
As the atrocities get worse and the stakes get higher, more people come out. This is, of course, very good. What would be a shame would be if we get caught, as we seem to do, in old debates and rhetorical traps that dilute our energies when they are most needed.
One such trap that I can see on the horizon is the question of “Supporting the Resistance”. Remember that one, on Iraq? Perhaps it wasn’t too important in the US. Here, it was a very divisive question, and to my mind, an entirely irrelevant one. People would ask: “Should we support the Iraqi resistance, given their use of violence and their non-progressive agenda, because they are fighting imperialism?” To me, this question betrayed a lack of understanding of the word, “support”. Suppose we wanted to “support” them. What was being suggested? That we send money? Arms? Obviously not. So then, what? Try to get our governments to withdraw their actual *material* support for war, imperialism, destruction? Try to organize against our governments’ military recruitment, try to organize boycotts and campaigns against war profiteers? These are the sorts of things we *could* do, if we were well-organized and serious. So, given that we *could* potentially do these things, should we *not* do them because doing them would help non-progressive elements in the Iraqi resistance? The answer to that also seems to be a fairly obvious no.
So, the real question is, should we *rhetorically* support “the resistance”. Some will point to their resistance and the heavy losses they have suffered, to their social programs or their potential for progressive change. Others will make sure they preface every remark on the topic with a ritual condemnation of resistance groups, their methods, their regressive actions and elements. I don’t think our role is to praise or condemn resistance in other places. Our role is to praise or condemn ourselves, for changing or failing to change things we are doing in the world. I think the other questions are questions for a seminar and not for the practical work of campaigns and activism. I believe this question is going to arise over whether we should “support” Hizbullah, Hamas, and when Syria and Iran are attacked, them also. I hope that we can recognize these questions for the traps they are, relegate them to seminars, and get back to work.
This leads to the second point. Yesterday the march went from a logical starting point, the Israeli consulate, to a logical end point, the US consulate. Neither was coincidental. There was the slogan, “Stephen Harper, shame on you” and a poster with the PM’s face and the words “War Monger” on it. I have heard otherwise reasonable people praising Harper’s evacuation of Canadians from Cyprus on his plane, as if this was something other than cheap PR. Harper is vocally and materially supporting the bombers who put those Canadians in danger and killed half a dozen of them. Harper has sent Canadian soldiers off to kill and die in Afghanistan for US foreign policy goals, another act that puts Canadians at further risk of terrorist attacks. But while I have come to believe that the best actions and campaigns are ones that show knowledge and understanding of how our own society’s institutions contribute to problems and work to change them, I have found that focusing on the Canadian aspects of imperialism are not as successful as focusing on the US. Canada is rapidly moving in all the wrong directions, just as events are spiraling dangerously. Should Canadians focus on Canada’s role in the world? I think so, but I haven’t been able to determine whether this is an effective strategy.
Another seminar question that has the potential to divert us is the business of whether the tail wags the dog or vice-versa. Some think Israel is a tool in the hands of the US. Others say that Israel uses its lobby to control the US – proponents of this latter position are often accused of anti-semitism. You can see that I am using the rhetorical trick of positioning myself in the reasonable middle, though I’m a little closer to the former position. I think that Israel and the US share so much economically, politically, and ideologically that they, and their interests, cannot really be separated out. Canada has moved, especially since the mid-1990s, to join this morass of interconnected interests. Organizing and educating against these interests is a major task, one that CUPE-Ontario has taken on, among others. If it were just a matter of the lobby, they could be out-lobbied. Because it isn’t, there is a need to build significant public opposition. Because the media and political class is so deeply racist, especially on this issue (see Dan Freeman-Maloy’s latest media analysis for a sense of where the Canadian Media is on this), that will require a major effort, and it is important not to underestimate it.
The context demands a lot of activist energy, and the energy seems to be building. The consequences of diluting it and dissipating it in unproductive ways will be severe.