Saturday, July 22, 2006

Gratitude & compassion

Peter Remple, Darcey and I have been taken to task by balbulican at Stageleft for our criticism of the Canadians evacuating Lebabon.

balbulican says that he doesn't blame the government given the circumstances but:
But I am sickened by the viciousness of the smug, small minded “Canadians” who feel compelled to pass judgement on fellow citizens who are exhausted, terrified, disoriented, and uprooted. I don’t care what your political or religious affiliation is: you don’t help people who are in trouble so that you can bask in their gratitude. You help them because they need help. Their response under extreme stress is irrelevant.
Listen, critics: I understand it’s difficult to have much compassion for people when the toughest thing you’ve had to deal with in your life is a hangnail or a slow internet connection. But at least have the decency to keep your mouths shut and refrain from broadcasting your narrow-minded nastiness to the world. You’re embarassing the Canadians who support the rescue - not for the praise or the thanks - but because it needs to be done for our fellow citizens.
I won't speak for Darcey or Peter -- I know they can speak for themselves well enough.

In these two paragraphs, a man who knows nothing of me or my life has accused me of being smug, compassionless, narrow-minded and vicious because I dared suggest that people who were leaving a war zone in a boat and not a bodybag should be grateful -- not to the Canadian people, not to the Canadian government -- but grateful to be alive -- grateful that the fates, providence, God, Allah, good fortune, luck, karma -- conspired to bring about the circumstances that meant they had a place to evacuate to, and a means to do so.

Our government has gone above and beyond the call --as have other governments the world over, but my suggestion that the evacuees should be grateful never even implied that their gratitude should be for the expense, or the time, or the logistics, or the manhours involved in bringing them home -- but rather, just for the very fact of being alive.

Maybe I'm small-minded for thinking that a crowded, stinky boat is better than the coffins that will carry home Al-Akhrass family.

Maybe I'm vicious for thinking that the twenty hours it took to be processed and transported to Cyprus is a better fate than the unknown months of war that face the family and friends many of these evacuees left behind.

Maybe I lack compassion for thinking a person should be grateful for leaving the uncertainty and violence in Lebanon, even if the journey to peace and freedom is slow and bumpy.

There is no smugness in what I've said. I've never been to a country being ravaged by war and I'm already grateful to have been so blessed.

How dare someone say that I'm "embarassing the Canadians who support the rescue" --I'm one of those Canadians who supports the rescue.

Pardon me for thinking that these fortunate Canadians might spare a thought for the family that won't be coming home and for the countless people in Lebanon who don't have the benefit of alternate citizenship.

Sometimes the best way to cope with an unpleasant situation is to remember that someone else has it worse -- that's compassion and it's the first step to gratitude.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Whining their way home

Our military was left in such a state by our previous government that we couldn't even transport our own troops overseas, we had to hitch a ride with the Americans --and yet some of those who are being rescued from a war zone can't understand why they have to wait for help -- why the conditions are not First Class.

One angry evacuee said that on the five hour trip to Cyprus, the first wave of Canadian refugees had to face unpleasant conditions. There was "no food, no A/C, people had to sleep on the floor. People were vomitting -- we were treated like animals."

Well, I can think of 8 Canadians who would gladly trade places with them. Too bad they're dead.

Quit your whining and be glad that in this day and age all the governments of the world have decided to use this flare up to establish the precident of fully aiding and organizing an evacuation of all of their citizens from a crisis zone instead of just providing travel information and advisories.

Be thankful you're alive and that your governments care enough to help you stay that way.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Taking sides on the Middle East

A commenter on my previous post suggests that I've only looked at one side of the coin when discussing the current Middle East crisis. Kevvyd says that both Israel and I have failed to make a distinction between Lebanon and Hizbollah. On his own page, kevvyd links to my 'Compare Israel' post and says:
The idea is that I might not have the right to comment on Israeli actions because I have never been in the shoes of an Israeli citizen, living under the threat of an attack at all times. It is obvious that this is both a dodge and true at the same time. It's a dodge because the same people that write this will in the same paragraph write that they want Israel to totally destroy Hamas and Hezbollah, which if my reading comprehension is correct, is also commenting on the situation.
I really, really hate my words being misrepresented. Disagree with me all you want, but don't assign your own meaning to things I've said.

To clarify, I never said that I want Israel to 'destroy' anyone or anything. I simply said that when comparing how Israel responded to the assault on its territory by an armed militia, the comparison shouldn't be made with the armed militia, but with other nation-states more similar to Israel. Making a distinction between Hizbollah and Lebanon is to some degree like differentiating between WWII era Germans and the Nazis. It works on a cerebral level, but not on a practical one. It's a sad reality that makes me glad to be over here and not one of the Israeli decision-makers.

I also never said that anyone who doesn't live in the area shouldn't be criticizing or commenting on the crisis. I simply suggested that when we pontificate (as bloggers are apt to do) we should remember that we do so from the luxury of a safe distance (both in terms of geography and experience). Never did I suggest that only those who take Israel's side should be allowed to comment.

kevvyd admits he would be scared etc. if he were an Israeli, then flips the coin:

Naturally, those that pose these questions of us Israel-critics (for want of a better term) seem unlikely to flip the question around and ask how they would feel if they were Palestinian. It's a useful exercise - try it. Since I'm good at following my own lead, I'll take that one on, too.

If I was Palestinian, I might be the second or third generation living in a refugee settlement without power and little or no water. I would likely have no job and come from a family in which no one has ever had a job. I very probably would know or be related to someone killed by Israeli shelling or rockets. (Body counts vary, but a rough estimate for the number dead during the recent Intifadah are about 3500 Palestinian and 1000 Israeli.) What's more, in all likelihood, I would have little or no hope of ever seeing any change in the situation for me or my kids. I'd be angry, scared, and hopeless. I might be angry at my government enough to do something aside from tossing protest votes at Hamas, but when the only alternative offers more of the same (with a smiling American stamp of approval), that is unlikely. It's more likely that if this world offers no solace I might make plans instead for the next one. And when those proffering the next world speak in the language of 72 virgins (or white grapes), I might just listen. (For what it's worth, I'd be a pretty churlish dead guy if it turned out to be grapes. I would haunt mosques. Unless they were really, really good grapes.)

Kevvyd implies that those who identify with Israel, do so because we have not tried to identify with its adversaries. Because his post is in response to mine, I can only suppose kevvyd means me.

Neither of my posts on Israel are meant to be unsympathetic to the plight of the average Lebanese, but my guess is that most people in the West, except for the most hardened souls, already do sympathize with them. But in my opinion, it's Israel's actions that require special understanding precisely because in comparison with its neighbours, Israel seems so much more powerful, more affluent, more organized, more civilized, more capable and therefore more open for criticism for its re-actions, than its neighbours are when they incite those reactions.

Critics tend to look on Israel as having an advantage because it is a modern state and they assign blame to Israel because its unfortunate neighbours are victim/underdogs -- as though somehow Israel's success is a result of, or to blame for, the failures of its Arab neighbours. I don't see any of the Arab states or territories as victims of Israel, I see them as victims of themselves and of each other. And while my post was primarily about the current crisis, I'll respond and say that I do pity the Palestinians, but not because they are 'victims' of Israel -- but because they are victims of their parents' and grandparents' hatred.

Rather than build up their own society, Palestinian leaders have tried for 60 years to destroy Israel. Blame checkpoints and humiliation, but remember -- those things wouldn't exist if terror weren't an everyday, ongoing, relentless threat to Israeli citizens.

Blame lack of electricity, and housing -- but don't blame Israel alone for those conditions. Remember that the territories where modern-day Palestinians have lived in squalor in refugee camps for 50 odd years, were not independent nations robbed of infrastructure by Israel --they belonged to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, and are the remnants of the war their own Arab nations started and which Israel had the audacity to win. Millions of dollars in aid haven't helped their situation -- not because Israel hasn't allowed it -- but because the leadership has been too busy lining its pockets and stirring up resentment to be bothered trying to establish a better life for its people.

The Palestinian failure to create a viable society, is its own failure and that of its fellow Arabs/Muslims who put their hatred of Israel and Jews ahead of their people. The Arabs of the Middle East chose to let Palestine fester for 60 years. It was allowed to do so by the three nations that lost those lands to Israel, because doing so lent itself to creating more animosity toward Israel, and yet another excuse for its destruction. Those nations are the ones you should look to for WHY the Palestinians live in such deplorable conditions -- those three are responsible --- first for launching wars of annihilation, and later and still, for their failure to accommodate and assist their own civilian populations left behind in lands held by Israel when their quests for its annihilation failed.

Ask yourself if Israel would be a threat to the region if there were no threat to Israel. Israel's goal has been to exist in peace. That's why it has succeeded in building infrastructure, democracy and a viable social order while its neighbours have failed. And it is why if I were Palestinian, I believe that by now I'd be starting to look to my own society's leaders and aim my vitriol at them.


Comparing Israel fairly

War in the Middle East is a minor inconvenience to most of us in North America. A rise in the price of gas is about as profoundly as we are affected. We have no stake in this conflict unless we have some familial connection to the region.

It's easy to sit back from the comfort of our privileged world and espouse on a situation that we can't imagine and will likely never experience but we do it, I suppose in an attempt to make sense of it all.

As I've wandered around reading opinions on this current crisis I've been surprised by the stupid analogies I've seen which seek to condemn Israel for it's response to the kidnappings and breach of its border.

Amongst the stupidest are: fighting a gnat with a hand grenade & attacking an ant with a hammer

Those who indulge in such inane comparisons might consider: fighting fire with fire or better still, a fight for one's life. These seem more accurate and still don't imply correct action on the part of the Israelis, but also don't understate the devastation that is being caused by Hizbollah.

It is disingenuous to compare the State of Israel with Hizbollah and pretend that a giant is swatting a fly. It is unfair to suggest that because of its superior equipment, infrastructure etc. that Israel should not respond or should respond weakly, to an overt act of war. The more realistic comparison would be made between Israel and every other country in the world -- what would the international expectations be of say . . . Germany . . . or Italy . . . or Japan . . . or Russia . . . or France . . . or China . . . or Canada --- if a terrorist organization, which had governmental recognition/ approval from its host country -- were to slip beneath the border between any of these sovereign nations and an unfriendly adjoining nation and murder and abduct military personnel?

What if diplomacy with this unfriendly nation had never worked in the past?
What if despite security concerns, you'd removed troops from their side of the border in good faith several years previous, but still could not guarantee the safety of your citizens because the terrorist organisation had been using that same area since your withdrawal, to launch attacks deliberately targeting civilians?
What if you offered to cease fire in the present crisis if your soldiers were returned but your offer was rebuffed?

There's much more to it, I know. I know Israel holds prisoners that Hizbollah and others dispute are terrorists. I know that Israel's superior firepower has meant more civilian casualties on the side of the Lebanese. I also know that some people will always see Israel as wrong (or right) and vice versa.

But we on the opposite side of the world who are thinking of these things should remember that of those seven nations mentioned above, only one has never invaded another country/initiated a war through beligerant action/joined forces with another nation to initiate war.

None of the above countries has ever responded to an act of war by another nation/faction within a nation, by turning the other cheek.

All but one of those nations have colonized, occupied or otherwise imposed themselves on a sovereign country and at least three continue to do so to this day.

All but one of these nations has used its superior military to suppress the goals of a nation under its control --- either currently or within the last 60 years.

None of these nations has ever willingly returned territory it gained through war -- particularly in those instances when they did not initiate the war.

Compare these nations to Israel because that is a more reasonable comparison. And remember, Canada is the only exception on the list -- and even Canada, provoked by the Yanks when they came north in 1812, didn't try to talk things out. We used all means at our disposal to fight because they breached our border. Our goal back then was not to thwart annihilation, only annexation and yet still we responded to an act of war, with war.

Even if people persist in drawing comparisons between Israel and its enemies, Israel still compares favourably, if only because of it's ultimate goals -- peace and co-existence with its neighbours. The fact that Israel is surrounded by countries/factions whose ambitions are diametrically opposed to those goals, puts Israel in a unique disadvantage -- a show of force draws criticism from Europe and the UN; a show of weakness emboldens those who pose the threat.

Israel is faced with a choice between criticism, and continued, perhaps escalating assaults and threats against its citizens. There is no such thing as 'doing the right' thing in war -- to Israel, there is capitulation and there is survival. It is easy not to see it in those terms from the comfort of our livingrooms.


(edited for spelling thanks to 'grammar nazi' ;> )

Sunday, July 16, 2006

On Israel . . . France should talk

Jacques Chirac's reaction to the Israel/Lebanon crisis is quoted at timesonline:
"One may well ask if there isn’t today a kind of wish to destroy Lebanon - its infrastructure, its roads, its communications, its energy, its airport. And for what? I find honestly - as all Europeans do - that the current reactions are totally disproportionate. In the Middle East we are currently in a situation of great fragility and instability. We are in a dangerous situation, a very dangerous situation. We must be very, very careful."

This is the same man who tempered his criticism of footballer Zinedine Zidane's head-butt in the World Cup final by saying that it was 'unacceptable' but that it must have been 'provoked'. The French leader is saying that disproportionate violence on the soccer pitch at an individual level is mitigated because nasty words are a sufficient instigator for a physical assault.

During much of recent history, France has danced with the devil while haughtily dishing out self-serving advice to other nations about use of force.

As recently as 1995, France was still conducting nuclear testing. France conducted 176 test blasts at the Mururoa and neighboring Fangataufa atolls from 1966 to 1995 despite the protests of much of the rest of the world. Even the US (a more likely target of an incoming attack) had stopped testing three years previous after the tensions of the Cold War had abated.

In 1985, France was responsible for the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior before it could protest French nuclear testing. (Talk about a pre-emptive strike.) That action by the French killed someone -- and recent documents show that France actually tried to blame Britain for the attack. The French response to non-violent protest --murder. Hypocracy thy name is France.

Then there's France's response to anti-French protests on the
Ivory Coast. Between 20 and 60 Ivorians were killed during protests after France destroyed the Ivorian air force following attacks by the loyalist army that killed 9 French peacekeepers. France acted unilaterally and did not seek approval from the UN, despite there being 6,000 UN Peacekeepers on the ground who were potential targets for retaliation. Apparently France felt justified in not simply destroying the former colony's air force, but in killing people who protested that action. In fact, the French spokesman said that the reaction was 'moderate and restrained'.

Oh, and let's not forget
France's special relationship with Saddam. The Oil-for-Food scandal has not shamed the French, despite people at the highest levels of their government being neck-deep in the affair. It is not unreasonable to think that if France had not been dealing duplicitously and illicitly with Saddam Hussein between the Gulf War and the Iraq War, that the Iraq War might well have been averted altogether.

Had France, Russia and China not been selling arms and raking in billions from Saddam, they might have seen the wisdom of calling Saddam's bluff rather than that of the US and Britain. Instead, the three sanctimonious nations correctly calculated that the left-tilting world would perceive the war to be aggression on the part of the US -- an insatiable lust for oil -- nevermind that these three are more dependent on Mid-East oil than is the US.

These three, with France at the fore, pretended to prefer peace, despite knowing full-well that a show of solidarity by the Security Council against Iraq's repeated breach of conditions laid out for the cease-fire, might have caused Saddam to back down -- instead, the three postured for the world press, openly slamming the US and lobbing accusations at Bush, while hiding their dirty linen behind their 'virtuous' anti-war facade. These three countries are hardly anti-war -- just look at their recent histories of use of force against less threatening adversaries.

Peace was never their goal -- shielding their misdeeds from scrutiny and maintaining the flow of bribe money-- with the bonus of sticking it to the US and Britain --that was their aim.

Forget whether there were WMD in Iraq, that's irrelevant -- Iraq had continually violated the UN Resolutions that had suspended hostilities in 1991. The Security Council had adequate reason to threaten a resumption of war to protest Saddam's non-compliance. Had every member of the Security Council been onside with the threat of war, actual war might not have been necessary.

Israel is responding to the breach of its border, the abduction of its soldiers and assaults on its population by an unreasonable and intractable enemy. As Hizbollah's missiles rain down on civilian targets in Haifa, ask yourself what France would do if it had to walk a mile in Israeli shoes? Sixty years ago, France might have thrown up its hands but its recent past shows that when it serves its own purposes, France is ready and willing to use excessive force to get its way or to seek vengence -- even when its own civilians are not at risk and when acting with force might put international troops in harm's way -- yet somehow Chirac feels entitled to suggest Israel should back off and use restraint when dealing with overt acts of war, which threaten not only it's population, but which could if left unchecked, threaten its very existence.

With its dodgy dealings in world affairs France is not a paragon of peaceful virtue. It is a nation that speaks out of both sides of mouth, and Jacques Chirac should just shut up.