18 April 2010

Stand Against Project Hero: Please Sign the Petition

We the undersigned urge Canadian universities and colleges not to participate in "Project Hero," a program in which post-secondary institutions waive tuition and course fees for "children of fallen soldiers."  Children of deceased members of the Canadian military already have access to benefits through the Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance passed in 1953.  These benefits cover course fees and tuition as well as a monthly living allowance.

Project Hero is not about aid to the children of deceased soldiers, as their needs are already being met.  Rather it is a political effort to justify Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan and glorify militarism on our campuses.  We do not believe our colleges and universities should be participating in this kind of political campaign masked as a student aid program.

We support the effort by University of Regina faculty members to raise the issue of Project Hero on their campus.  We are deeply concerned about the response they have met in the form of hate mail, threats and calls for their dismissal.  They have every right to raise these issues, and it is essential that free discussion and debate about foreign policy and the role of the military be allowed without vilification and threats of retribution.  The University of Regina Administration and the broader community must strongly defend the academic freedom of these faculty members.

The very name of "Project Hero" demonstrates its fundamentally political nature.  We believe participation in this project threatens to align our universities and colleges with a particular political message about militarism and the war in Afghanistan.  We therefore urge university and college administrators to reject participation in this project.

15 April 2010

Canada’s military academics in the Afghan war and at home

Many thanks to The Dominion for providing the first mention of AJP in any media source.


12 April 2010

Freedom In Spite of the Military -- No Canadian Heroism in the Afghan War

Regina 16 say common folk won freedoms

By John F. Conway, For The Calgary Herald
April 6, 2010

The 16 University of Regina academics who signed the letter protesting the university's participation in the Project Hero Scholarship program were clear in stating their reasons, and have replied to dozens of angry e-mails containing gross distortions of their position, vicious personal attacks, and ominous comments bordering on threats of physical violence.

I did not hesitate to sign the letter of protest. There is nothing heroic about the Afghan war, an illegal imperialist war of invasion and occupation.

Insisting it is the equivalent of Canada's role in the Second World War and many UN peacekeeping missions is reprehensible.

Our troops, on behalf of our government, are among the invaders and occupiers as members of the NATO coalition.

Our young men and women are dying to protect a U.S.-puppet regime composed of gangsters, warlords and drug traffickers.

It is not worth one drop of Canadian blood. The best way to support our troops, and their worried families, is to bring them home immediately.

Project Hero is not about scholarships for the children of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, since educational support is available from the federal government, under Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act C-28.

The scholarship covers not only dependents of Canadian Forces and veterans who die or died as a result of military service, but also those who are or were pensioned at a 48 per cent disability level at the time of death. Effective Sept. 1, 2003, recipients were granted $4,000 a year for tuition expenses and a monthly living allowance of $300. Support in 2010 has increased to $5,000 a year for tuition and a $372.44 monthly living allowance.

Project Hero is part of the ongoing propaganda offensive from the militaristic, pro-war cabal led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the former chief of defence, retired general Rick Hillier.

From the beginning, this propaganda offensive sought to silence criticism of the war by equating it with a failure to support our troops.

Efforts to turn this into a heroic battle will fail.

Many Canadians are ashamed of Canada's role in this dirty, savage war which pits the random techno-barbarism of advanced warfare against a poorly armed insurgency. For this the blame lies with the government and our spineless Parliament, not our troops carrying out their orders.

As this controversy unfolded, two worrisome trends emerged among the messages from outraged detractors. Both suggest a serious deterioration in Canada's tradition of an open and vibrant democratic political culture.

The hostile messages we received were in the worst tradition of U.S. Republican-style pit bull attack politics. This politics attacks those who express contrary views. Lies are told about them. Their position is deliberately distorted. They are smeared and personally attacked. Sometimes, they are threatened with physical harm. This puts a chill on democracy, making individuals think twice about expressing dissent. We received messages like "if you can't get behind our troops, get in front," "16 idiots," and "you deserve to be taken to Afghanistan and strapped to a roadside IED."

The other worrisome trend among the detractors was the glorification of the military in Canadian history, only made possible by a complete re-writing of that history. We were instructed that we enjoyed our freedom of speech, our democratic system, and our constitution thanks to the sacrifices of the military. It seems our democratic system rests on the firm foundation of our military, the defender and author of our freedoms.

This is historically untrue. Our democracy was fought for and won over many generations by movements of common people struggling for freedom, justice and dignity. In 1837-38, the Reformers in Upper Canada and the Patriotes in Lower Canada fought for responsible government. Louis Riel, and the movements he led, fought twice for the democratic rights of westerners, including the Metis and First Nations, in Confederation. The organized farmers in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s struggled against the special interests dominating our politics, and created new political vehicles which won power in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, creating reform-oriented third parties -- the Progressive party, the CCF and Social Credit movements -- which forced change on the old parties. The suffragettes won the vote for women. Workers fought for generations for the right to organize to get a better deal from their bosses. The democracy we enjoy today emerged from the struggles of common people who organized movements for change and gradually won many of their demands.

Look at the historical record. What was the role of the military in this struggle for democracy? As an arm of the state, the military was used, often with protests from its own ranks, as an instrument of social control and repression. The rebels in 1837-38 faced the military and many died. Riel and his movements faced the military. At Batoche, it employed the new Gatling gun, and many died. Workers faced the military repeatedly during their strikes for a better deal, and at Winnipeg in 1919, workers faced the military in machine-gun nests and armoured cars. Protesters against conscription during the First World War were shot down by the military on the streets of Quebec City. The list is long.

We did not win our democracy, thanks to the military. The military was among the dominant forces from which Canadians had to wrest democracy. All too often the price exacted was paid in Canadian blood on Canadian soil.

Democracy is in danger when war is glorified, when the military has a big say in determining government policy, when dissent is met by threats and attacks, when history is rewritten, the role of the military in civil society is elevated, and we are called upon to worship thankfully at its feet.

John F. Conway is a University of Regina political sociologist and a signatory to the letter protesting Project Hero.

02 April 2010

Canada's role in the occupation of Afghanistan

Canada's Role in the Occupation of Afghanistan is a "must read" for anyone willing to have an honest encounter with the many facts of our participation in the occupation of Afghanistan. This document, now published in edited collections, but also available online (here, here, and here), is an excellent resource for anti-war activists and those specifically against the war in Afghanistan. It was produced by the Échec à la Guerre collective.

The following is a summary of the collective's overall position on the war in Afghanistan:
  • The war in Afghanistan is not a just war; the invasion of Afghanistan was never authorized by the Security Council and cannot be justified by invoking self-defence.
  • “Reconstruction” and “democracy-building” in the Afghan context are pure propaganda at worst, self-congratulatory rationalization at best. After five years of foreign intervention in Afghanistan, the country is in a disastrous situation that bears no relationship to the stated good intentions of the countries involved.
  • In reality, the goal of this war has always been to install a regime favourable to US interests and those of its allies. It is part of a broader offensive – the so-called “war on terror” – whose real purpose is to expand the US empire into Central Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.
  • Canada is participating in this strategy in order to preserve and deepen its strategic partnership with the United States, and several large Canadian corporations expect to benefit.
  • For all these reasons, the collective is calling for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan.
The document answers 18 questions, in five sections. Many thanks to the Collectif for this amazing effort.

01 April 2010

"We've been attacked for views we don't hold"

Reposted from Rabble.ca:

By Joyce Green and Darlene Juschka | March 31, 2010

On March 23, 16 University of Regina professors, including us, signed a letter to our president, Dr. Vianne Timmons, asking that she review her decision to join the U of R to "Project Hero."

We wrote: "In our view, support for ‘Project Hero' represents a dangerous cultural turn. It associates ‘heroism' with the act of military intervention. It erases the space for critical discussion of military policy and practices."

What followed was a media feeding frenzy that mostly misrepresented our position, and a week of the worst sort of national attention for us and for the university. Despite several of us doing numerous interviews, most media focussed on the erroneous notion that our opposition is to soldiers being considered heroes and to parentless children being given education assistance.

Those of us who signed the letter have been subjected to virulent hate mail and argument by decibels and epithet. The language of many of our critics would make a stevedore blush and a grammarian wince. Always helpful, local Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski poured gas on the fire at every media opportunity, repeating his claim that we oppose help for the bereaved and honour for the dead and demanding our public apology (boiling oil not being available) for something we didn't say and didn't intend.

It seems that some of his fellow travellers have created Facebook groups to maintain that focus and invite people to put pressure on us and on our university. We could be pardoned for thinking that much of the furore has political fingerprints all over it.

On Sunday evening, the local CTV news again ran the story, framing it on our alleged opposition to calling dead soldiers "heroes," with Lukiwski as the talking head, again demanding an apology from us.

What to do? Well, as one elder advised one of us, "Stand firm. Repeat your message. You've argued for peace your whole life."

Here goes, one more time:

Our objection to the Project Hero program arises from its language, which we think glorifies war. We object to its adoption without institutional discussion. It has financial and political implications for our university, as universities contribute tuition and scholarship monies and, in so doing, sign on to the notion of war as heroic. We think war is a problem to be solved, preferably by diplomacy and peace.

We also note that the federal government can, and does, provide for education assistance for families of soldiers; we have no problem with that.

The benefits listed in the "Children of Deceased Veterans Education Assistance Act C-28" provide for additional educational expenses beyond tuition. Although the act should be consulted for the most accurate information, the Veteran Affairs Canada website provides a quick summary:

"We have a program to help children carry on with their education past high school if they have a CF parent who dies as a result of military service; or was pensioned at a medium or high level at the time of his or her death.

"Under the program, full-time students can qualify for grants of about $6,700 a year to help pay for their education and living expenses. This amount may change over time to allow for increases in the cost of living.

"To qualify for the program, students must be under the age of 30 and attend a post-secondary school in Canada. Former students who went to school after 1995 can also apply to have some of their education costs reimbursed."

There was no policy gap and no need for "Project Hero." We continue to think our university should not adopt a program that effectively endorses the glorification of wars -- one of which now is in Afghanistan. Some of us consider that imperialism. That word bothered a lot of people.

We think it fits, but surely, the difference of opinion can be tolerated. After all, Malalai Joya, an Afghan woman politician in the current government, considers Canadian troops as unwelcome imperialists, and wants the troops to leave.

We also think that now, when the U of R is rationalizing its budget, when tuition fees are going up, following the recent provincial budget, when First Nations University is fighting for its financial life against an indifferent federal government -- surely, now, we can argue that all of our students are worthy of funding.

One of our concerns with the language of "Project Hero" is that such language normalizes militarism, and shuts down democratic and academic space for discussion. Our experience proves us right.

Joyce Green and Darlene Juschka are professors at the University of Regina; Green in political science and Juschka in women and gender studies, and religious studies.

Extending Canada's War of Occupation in Afghanistan

As some of us have been expecting, with over 18 months left before the promised withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, there is pressure for yet another extension of a war consistently rejected by most Canadian voters -- and for good reason. In fact, a few good reasons:
  • The unacceptable complicity of Canadian Forces in human rights abuses; 
  • our government's disrespect for parliament and senior diplomats in covering up its complicity; 
  • the increasingly shrill politics of the pro-war crowd; 
  • over $18.5 billion spent (and more spent than in any other Canadian foreign development assistance); 
  • mounting Canadian casualties; 
  • continuing deaths of civilians; 
  • an Afghan resistance that has never been more powerful; 
  • that rather than some fabled war against misogyny, women's rights have receded dramatically under a regime dominated by warlords; 
  • an implausible, historically baseless "domino theory" that "losing" Afghanistan means losing a region, when it is the occupation itself that has spread war into Pakistan; 
  • and, the public statements of several high-ranking NATO military officers attesting to the fact that the war cannot be won.
 The war that is clearly futile and against Canadian national interests and stands against the self-determination of the people of Afghanistan. Yet some are already calling for a third extension (the first two being in May 2006 and March 2008).
"It is not clear what it is that we are trying to accomplish....We will not prevail in Afghanistan....We are simply not prepared to foot the massive price in blood and treasure, which it would take to effectively colonize Afghanistan and replace their culture with ours, for that seems to be what we seek, and the Taliban share that view. It is time to leave. Not a moment, not a life and not a dollar later."--Senior Canadian diplomat, Robert Fowler
For now, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is speaking as if it is adamant about the troop withdrawal, "We have been very clear that Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011," he said in parliament on 30 March 2010 (1). Harper emphasized, "Whether we get asked about it this week or last week or next week, we passed a motion in this Parliament in 2008 and Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011" (2). Yet in the recent past, government statements have been ambiguous, suggesting only "combat troops" would be withdrawn, as if there were any other kind. Indeed, the prime minister's own spokesman said months ago that a smaller Canadian military force would remain in Afghanistan, in spite of the will of Parliament (3). There is also evidence to suggest that high level pressure from the United States is being exerted on Canada, now openly, as well as from Britain (4). In Canada, Senator Hugh Segal, a Conservative, called in the Senate on 30 March 2010 for revisiting the 2008 parliamentary resolution committing Canada to withdrawal of all its troops from Afghanistan by 2011: "Canadian troops have spent too much blood and grief and shown too much courage and progress to end the engagement before realistic stability goals are attained" (5, 6). Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has been as decisively ambiguous as the ruling Conservatives. On 29 March 2010 Ignatieff told reporters, "The Canadian combat mission must end in 2011 and it's up to the government of Canada, not the government of the United States, to define what, if anything, we can do" (7). In a TV interview this week, his message was different: "We have invested massively in Afghanistan....We have left brave men and women behind. We think that there is a justification for some continued mission in Afghanistan after 2011" (8). Alexander Moens, a professor of political science at Simon Fraser University (and member of the Fraser Institute, of course), asserts that it is "not in Canada’s interest to just walk away from Afghanistan," clearly paying no attention to what Canadians want, and not even mentioning Afghan interests (9). The Toronto Star wants to see the issue "debated," when we thought it was already resolved. The Globe and Mail has been considerably more brash, calling for an extension outright, premising its argument on little more than vague ideals of some sort of "honour."
"We all know that we cannot win it militarily."--Kai Eide, U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan
"We’re not going to win this war" --Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith
Instead, the issue has now become that in order to maintain a civilian development presence, some military support may be needed for their protection, thus extending the military mission (10). Prime Minister Harper has already stated clearly in parliament, “We will continue with a mission on governance, development and humanitarian assistance" (11). At stake for those wishing for a prolongation are: the reputation of NATO and its "seriousness" on "humanitarian" issues (assuming one is naive enough to take NATO seriously on these counts to begin with); the status of the Dahla Dam; and not wanting to be seen as "cutting and running." The wishes of the majority of Canadians do not count. The wishes of the Afghan people are not measurable by any reliable polls. The United States plans to formally ask for an extension of Canada's military presence, asking for about 600 troops to remain, to train troops (which inevitably means fighting alongside them) (12). Indeed, in the person of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. has already asked formally for an extension, back as far as 2008 (13). This new round of pressure is in spite of the fact that "the Americans realize it would be politically impossible for any Canadian government to reverse its commitment to leave, since there is broad support among Canadians for ending the deployment" and such pressure is partly responsible for the demise of the Dutch government (14).

As Canadians, we have to do our utmost to ensure that the Canadian contribution to this seemingly permanent war of occupation is brought to a halt, and that the will of the people is recognized and respected. Please consider writing to your MP today and renewing your opposition to this war. Check for more announcements here and take the time to blog, write letters to newspaper editors, write Op-Eds, and take part in anti-war rallies.

Related Articles:

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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