Saturday, November 21, 2009

Harper in India: an exercise in masking himsa

It never ceases to amaze me how the evil in the world co-opts the language of the spiritual and justice-minded to do their dirty work. Remember the Smiling Buddha? Now, you could be excused for thinking it's a reference to the central spiritual icon of the ancient Asian faith of Buddhism, but no: it's a nuclear bomb that Canada helped India develop in the 1970s!

We're beating that nuclear war drum again.

from the videozone, Toronto Star online

Don't be fooled by PM Harper's playful romp through India, where Canadian media highlighted him dancing Bollywood style on an Indian reality show, and donning a pious Sikh persona as if he had some sort of spiritual awakening that made a crack in his rigid right-wing Christian belief system. Next, perhaps we'll see him on another trip taking his shoes off and entering a mosque. There's no lack of creativity on behalf of his PR team to re-invent his dull, awkward, inaccessiblity. Don't be fooled by the recent media images; Harper was in India to sell them Canadian uranium and nuclear technology. He is eager to have Canada help India create more nuclear war technologies.

Has he no sense of hypocrisy troubling his soul as he accepts this bust of Gandhi while in India to promote nuclear bomb-making!?

I have an old book on my shelf, published in 1964, called Gandhi on Non-violence, which is a collection of sayings by him on ahimsa, or non-violence, and the necessity to repudiate himsa, or violence. Here is a quotation from page 32:

"It has been suggested by American friends that the atom bomb will bring in ahimsa as nothing else can...This is very like a man glutting himself with dainties to the point of nausea and turning away from them only to return with the redoubled zeal after the effect of nausea is well over. Precisely in the same manner will the world return to violence with renewed zeal after the effect of disgust is worn out."

and on page 53:

"Without the recognition of non-violence on a national scale there is no such thing as a constitutional or democratic government."

Harper says 2009 ain't 1970. Now, what does that mean? That the narrative of 'the war on terror' that the West itself created means that peace through dialogue is a dead horse and violence is the only language that speaks? Why aren't more Canadians speaking out about this turn to take our country even deeper into a war economy of death and destruction?

Thomas Walkom, a political economy columnist for the Toronto Star, has written a very good overview of the state of Canadian politics, our prime ministers, and our shifting move as imagining the hope of Canadians as peace-keepers to our current much more belligerent positions and war economy. I've posted it below as he does a very good job of wrapping up a whole host of history and Canadian policies and ideas of the nation state in a short, well-written article. The article is helpful and informative on many levels. If you are interested as a non-Canadian to find out how Canada has become so much more conservative in the world arena, it's a good quick read on why that is. And if you are a Canadian, Walkom provides some thought-provoking ideas about national myths, shifts to the right, militarism, and conservatism, to name a few places that we need to be proactive on as justice minded Canadians.

A transformative prime minister. by Thomas Walkom
Sat. Nov. 21 2009 Toronto Star online

How will history regard Stephen Harper? My guess is that he'll be seen as a prime minister who transformed Canada's view of itself.

Not necessarily through concrete reforms. While Harper's Conservative minority government has made important legislative changes, such as slashing corporate taxes, many of these were continuations of schemes started by previous Liberal regimes.

Rather, Harper's major accomplishment has been to redefine the terms of political debate. This unlikely figure (among Canadian prime ministers, only Mackenzie King had less charisma) has made conservatism and conservative causes respectable.

Ten years ago, Canada was a country that prided itself on pacifism, deference to law and its status in the world as a middle power. It did not matter that these characteristics were often more mythic than real. That's how we saw ourselves. We were the peaceable kingdom, the honest broker.

Today, Canada is a nation proudly at war, headed by a government that not only disregards laws (its persistent refusal to enforce gun registration being the most obvious example) but actively takes on the courts – most recently in its decision to limit the discretion of judges in sentencing.

In international affairs, we no longer even pretend to speak with an independent voice but instead openly and fully ally ourselves with the U.S. on virtually every front – from unequivocal support for Israel to unequivocal opposition to Iran.

Indeed, at times, Harper seems more in tune with the elemental thrust of American foreign policy than U.S. President Barack Obama. Obama went through a brief period of attempted even-handedness in the Middle East, before returning to the pro-Israeli position of his predecessor George W. Bush. The current president's initial and markedly un-Bushian overtures to Iran promise to follow the same route. Harper, by contrast, hasn't bothered with the detours.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the death of the middle power period more than Harper's recent trip to India. Ten years ago, Canada was an ardent advocate of nuclear disarmament and an equally ardent supporter of international rules aimed at isolating nations, like India, that didn't play along.

Ottawa also had to live down the embarrassing fact that in 1974 India used Canadian technology to secretly and illegally construct its first nuclear bomb.

Then, last year, Canada joined the U.S. to quietly change the rules governing nuclear exports to India. In his trip to New Delhi this week, Harper spent much time trying to sell the Indians both Canadian uranium and Canadian nuclear technology.

"We are not living in the 1970s," he said there by way of explanation. "We are living in 2009."

It's perhaps telling that this about-face on what had been a key Canadian foreign policy plank earned the prime minister virtually no criticism from the public, opposition parties or media.

But Harper's key success in the ideological remoulding of Canada has been his ability to change the country's perception of soldiering.

While it was former prime minister Paul Martin who first authorized Canada's deadly military involvement in Kandahar, his then Liberal government tended to downplay the conflict.

Not so Harper. Aided by former top general Rick Hillier, as well as the agreeably acquiescent media, he has pounded the drums of military nationalism, reminding Canadians of their proud traditions in war.

At the same time, he has drawn on one of the country's most enduring mythic beliefs – that of Canada as northern giant – to win support for military spending technically aimed at defending Canada's Arctic sovereignty.

It matters little that Ottawa is eagerly co-operating with the U.S., the one Arctic country that actually threatens Canada's sovereignty claims (the two nations dispute both ownership of the Northwest Passage and key undersea oil reserves).

Nor does it matter that Harper's real interest in the Arctic appears to lie in its gas and mineral reserves.

What matters is that he has been able to successfully tap Canada's romantic view of itself.

To credit Harper with single-handedly inventing a new Canadian sensibility would be to exaggerate. This is a country of contradictory and often internally inconsistent views. We are both warlike and peaceable, deferential to authority but also suspicious.

We both love and hate the U.S., marrying resentment with envy and genuine affection with anger at being ignored.

For years, small l liberals – in both the Liberal and Conservative parties – played to one half of this complex mood. Liberal Canada was a country that, theoretically at least, prided itself on sharing and caring, tolerance and diversity. Its patriotism was muted but real. Jingos were frowned upon.

Given the realities of the post-war period, this self-image fit. For a while, Canada was truly a middle power, explaining the U.S. to the rest of the world and the rest of the world to America.

At times of stress – such as the Korean War – it was always clear whose side we'd be on. But in most years, push rarely came to shove. Canada could and did avoid both the Vietnam War and the Washington-dominated Organization of American States. We were less obsessed by Communism than the U.S. and thus more nuanced in our approach to Cuba, China and the old Soviet Union.

We relished our image as a peacemaker and, in the ongoing disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, cleaved to middle-of-the-road positions staked out by the United Nations.

Even before the end of the Cold War, that middle power role was beginning to erode (former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's fruitless 1984 peace mission across eastern Europe marked the end of the honest broker period).

By the early '90s, North American free trade arrangements had made Canada's economic dependence on the U.S. more visible and direct – which is why Ottawa, even under Liberal governments, began to hew more closely to Washington's line.

Under Brian Mulroney's Conservatives, we joined the OAS. Under Martin's Liberals, we aligned ourselves more closely with the U.S. position on Israel.

Similarly, it was a Liberal government that implemented the new conservative domestic agenda – lowering taxes on the wealthy, privatizing crown corporations, cutting social services to the poor, eliminating health and safety rules.

But as the Liberals moved farther to the right, they always exuded a slight sense of embarrassment. Rhetorically, the party insisted it hadn't changed even when the evidence showed otherwise

With Harper, there is less confusion. While he is not uniquely responsible for all the changes in Canadian political life, he articulates them better than his political opponents.

He is mining the Canadian psyche to create a new language of politics. The old language emphasized fairness in foreign affairs (don't take sides in the Middle East), independence (don't always agree with the U.S.) and tolerance (make adjustments for immigrants).

The new language emphasizes morality in foreign affairs (side with Israel); loyalty (always agree with the U.S.) and responsibility (immigrants should adjust to us).

Earlier this week, my colleague Chantal Hebert noted in passing that Canadians shouldn't doubt Harper's capacity to bring about transformative change. Given that language is important, she was quite right.


Ari said...

Term "finlandization" was very popular when other western countries mocked Finland because of it's Soviet policy. Finland had to obey Soviet orders in everything. Now Canada is on the same way with USA. USA is trying to be the Godfather of the whole world.

marja-leena said...

Good grief, ever more bad news comes with this man! I don't understand people voting for him.

Merche Pallarés said...

Excelent article! I've learned a lot about Canadian politics (and names of prime ministers who I didn't even know existed! Except Trudeau and Mulroney...) and I'm aghast to see where the country is going. How sad, how terribly sad. It's a strangled country, to say the least, between the USA and Israel. I hope and wish Canadians, living in Canada, react energetically to this abuse of power. After all, you citizens ARE the MAJORITY. Hugs, M.

northshorewoman said...

Ari, yes Canada has been sleeping with Big Brother for quite some time and the relationship is getting more embedded.

ML, good grief, indeed. That phrase aptly captures our frustration and anger as Canadians.

MP, I'm glad Walkom's article was helpful for you, as it was for me. It is good for us to see things clearly written, short, and to the point; it allows us to remember things that we need to put together to make sense of things.