01 April 2010

Defending Freedom for Afghans, Attacking them at Home: the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee

A group calling itself the "Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee" (CASC) seems devoted to making special entreaties for the defense of Afghan "freedoms," and in using that pretext routinely calls for an extension of the Canadian contribution to the war of occupation in Afghanistan. Leaving aside for now the fact that wars of occupation are a violation of the most basic human rights, or that most Canadians have historically rejected this war, there is another curious feature of the CASC's political practice: while allegedly defending freedom for Afghans, it attacks freedom for Canadians. We can see this most recently in the CASC's attack on the freedom of speech of the 16 conscientious critics at the University of Regina, who rightly called for the termination of "Project Hero" at their university. In "CASC Calls for Censure of U of Regina Faculty and Public Forum Over Project Hero," the CASC writes the following:
Members of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee calls [sic] on the University of Regina to publicly censure faculty who have asked for a withdrawal of the Project Hero scholarship program....As such, we ask that the University’s President Vianne Timmons take this opportunity to make the university’s position clear and publicly rebuke the following faculty for their outrageous and shameful stance.
Ironically, the CASC says this in almost the same breath as "the rights and freedoms that we take for granted here in Canada," while also denouncing the straw man who thinks "human rights, security and peace are only for those in the West." Apparently, according to the CASC which wants free thinking faculty to be censured, those freedoms are not to be had here in the West either. It is on the basis of this spurious defense of freedom, while eroding democracy at home, that the CASC would like us to support its mission for Afghanistan?

While clearly having a grudge against the majority of Canadians that has consistently rejected this war, the CASC also seems to be intellectually incapable of substantively addressing an argument, opting instead for virulent insults -- and what a stream it is: "perverse...uninformed analysis....extremist, relativist views...supposedly educated people...a mockery of scholarship...an embarrassment to Canada." Elsewhere, one of the public spokespersons for CASC referred to the University of Regina professors as "ludicrous and buffoonish," followed by sermonizing against making "embarrassing" statements -- irony once more, lost on its own authors. Attacking the character of the persons behind a message is very different from the critique of a message, and is not the kind of vulgar strategy chosen by the Regina professors. To add more irony, CASC calls into question the professors' abilities as critical thinkers and educators -- yet CASC's own witch hunting method is to answer what it considers to be bad speech, with absolutely awful speech.

What is more instructive is that, once again, by witnessing the range of interests that have weighed in against the professors, we see proof demonstrating the associations the professors made between a scholarship program, the glorification of war, and the politicization of support for students (to privilege a mere few). From the pro-war lobby, to private business, to politicians, all have denounced the professors.

Clearly, this is no mere scholarship. Re-read the shrill piece from CASC -- in every single sentence they are unable or unwilling to disentangle the scholarship from support for the war -- thus adding further evidence for one of the critical observations made by our colleagues in Regina. These interests reacted because they felt attacked, not because they felt a scholarship was attacked, and they defended the scholarship in terms that support the very implications that the professors correctly read into the program. The students are clearly meant to be used as pawns.

Imagine criticizing a scholarship program that you believe is racist, and the people speaking out to defend it are members of the Aryan Nations. Now what message would that be sending to any reasonable person?

There are important lessons to be learned from such moments, especially as they tend to repeat a basic pattern that ought to be instructive. In almost no case has a protracted war abroad come without a high price for democracy at home. This includes accusing opponents of war of being unpatriotic, and thus not deserving of freedom of speech, to suggesting other nefarious and sinister motivations possibly amounting to a threat to the state. In addition, the erosion of the rights to privacy at home are also usually curtailed, through various programs of "public security," usually couched in terms of "safety," to domestic spying (our Canadian Security Intelligence Service). We have also sent our citizens to be tortured by third party states, and have actively sought to cover up the extent of our knowledge that our detainees were being tortured once handed over to Afghan authorities. Complicity in war crimes has been matched by increasingly strident rhetoric at home and an escalated militarization of public politics, from adventurous and heroic appeals to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces, to the worship of military service pushed in documents sent to new Canadian citizens. Democracy at home never flourishes under conditions of wars of occupation abroad. Historically, this has never been the case.

Prolonging the war in Afghanistan is also proving to be a major boon for both the resistance, which acquires far more money from corrupted international aid programs than from opium, and for the warlord government of Hamid Karzai, which has fed on Western military and economic support to build its own power base. Afghan human rights have never before seen such widespread and deep violations as at present, for all sectors, including and especially women. Again, it is also historically true, and here anthropologists know a great deal about this, that the best way to foster a local backlash is to throw lots of Western resources at another nation, especially troops. Nationalism in what is misleadingly called the formerly colonized world has most often been a form of anti-imperialism, and there ought to be little surprise here. What is more surprising is the degree to which some will go to ignore these lessons.
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