Why Canada Slept Pt 6
Thanks to Gerhard for getting these to me, and thanks to Dave for letting me post this series of essays entitled "Why Canada Slept" which originally were published in the back of Cerebus. I have kept the original formating and haven't edit it at all. If you rather read a MS Word document of it, here it is.
Why Canada Slept
It is certainly a humbling experience to have a war, which existed only at the hypothetical outer horizons of speculation when I was writing the first part of this series of essays, over and done with before I have had time to begin to compose the sixth installment: a condition not dissimilar to documenting an avalanche from inside of it. Having just reread the previous installments to pick up the threads of my thinking, I can at least console myself that my prognostications, so far, have a much better track record than do those of the New York Times (whose editorial board I would strongly advise to retire the term “quagmire” from its journalistic lexicon except in describing ground conditions in parts of the Florida everglades). All those who consider themselves unreserved proponents of freedom and democracy can only express admiration and thanks to the “coalition of the willing”—the United States, Britain, Australia and the dozens of other smaller contributors—for their liberation of the Iraqi people and the toppling of the Hussein dictatorship in March and April of this year. Though the task ahead is formidable…
[An example of just how formidable arrives with the morning paper: “Slayings of alcohol sellers spark new fears” about the summary executions by fundamentalist Muslims of two Roman Catholic owners of alcohol shops in Basra. Although alcohol is banned in Islam, Saddam Hussein had issued licenses to Christians to sell alcohol. The friend of one of the executed men is quoted as saying “We have been selling alcohol for many, many years and despite their ban on alcohol were accepted by the Muslims with whom we have lived in harmony forever…” (the next part made me smile) “…and who were actually our best customers.” Said his brother, also an alcohol seller, “We’re under no illusion that Saddam particularly liked us, he just wanted to avoid chaos in his country.”
“Religious leaders in Basra condemned the killings yesterday. ‘The consumption of alcohol is banned under Islamic law, but we always sat down with these people and tried to reason with them,’ said Sheik Yussef al-Hassani, a Sunni cleric. ‘Killing is not our answer. Our Prophet once condemned a woman to hell because she tortured a cat.’”
It has boggled my mind repeatedly since 11 September to discover just how many fatuous blasphemies they are floating around modern-day Islam. To suggest that it was in Muhammad’s power to condemn anyone to hell is to violate a sacred centerpiece of the Muslim faith: you do not join gods with God. God will condemn to hell whom He will condemn to hell. Muhammad was His last messenger and Seal of Prophets, not Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife to God’s Sheriff Taylor. Of course I only know the Koran and as I’ve explained elsewhere I have no interest in anything in Islam—reputed sayings and legends about the Prophet, as an example—outside of that canonical work. There is absolutely nothing in the Koran that prohibits alcohol. In one of the suras there is a specific instruction that you should not go to pray when you’re drunk but to wait until you know what you’re doing (reputedly this happened when a drunkard made a scene at Friday prayers that the Prophet was conducting) and alcohol is included with gambling a couple of times as having benefits and drawbacks, but the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. In my own experience, the mere fact of having five prayer times between pre-dawn and early nightfall pretty much militates against going out and getting swacked (much as I enjoyed getting swacked) since its hard to tell when you have become sufficiently un-swacked to address God—and if you really got a load on into the wee small hours of the morning, you can be up to the third or fourth prayer time before you can be confident you’re no longer even semi-pickled. I haven’t had a drink in about four months, now. As was the case with fornication, trying to figure out how much is too much and second-, third- and fourth-guessing what my deepest underlying motives were became more of a pain than just chucking it altogether. But I definitely believe that alcohol is a perfectly legitimate free will choice on the slippery slope into hell which should be open to all believers and non-believers.
And even though there is no basis for it in the Koran, virtually all Muslim countries—at least ostensibly—do ban alcohol completely. Which undoubtedly makes most Muslim countries different from Prohibition-era Chicago—the “chaos” the above-mentioned alcohol seller alludes to—only by degree. As I say, the challenges facing the citizens of New Iraq are formidable.]
…there is no question that if Muhammad (Islam) has been heretofore resistant in coming to the Mountain (Western-style democracy), the Mountain has now, inescapably and “loaded for b’ar,” come to Muhammad. It seems to me that the crux of the problem facing the now-liberated citizens of New Iraq is whether or not the freedoms they confer upon themselves will include not only freedom of religion but also freedom from religion—a given in Western Democracies. Even under Saddam Hussein, the religious rights of Jews and Christians were protected in Iraq (in conformity with Muslim tradition which dates back to the Prophet and the revelation of the Koran to him) even as vast numbers of Iraqis’ human rights were (as we are now finding out) chronically abrogated to a nightmarish, sadistic and often lethal extreme. The self-evident need to eliminate the latter more flagrant violations of basic human freedoms and the equally self-evident need to perpetuate the former religious protections should prove to be a “no-brainer” for all but the most extremist of Wahabist Iraqis: extremists who are (presumably? hopefully?) in a somewhat shorter supply than was the case prior to 20 March—and in even shorter supply with the American policy of using lethal force against rock-throwing demonstrators who have been whipped into a frenzy by the radical Imams at Friday prayers. The deaths (thus far) of the dozen or so of these benighted individuals, in my view, falls into the category of “a stitch in time…” and should help to keep the Iraqis focused on the task at hand—creating a democratic form of government which assures basic freedoms of all Iraqi citizens—in much the same way that in a happier, healthier and less-feminized day (pardon the triple redundancy) “the strap” used to keep unruly schoolboys focused on productive learning rather than unproductive mischief-making. The toppling of Hussein’s regime constitutes the largest imaginable act of noblesse oblige on the part of the citizens of the United States (on whose nickel it was largely brought about) towards the citizens of Iraq and I think only the lunatics of the left-liberal, quasi-socialist ranks would (with the meter still running at a rate of billions of those nickels a day) fault such a “let’s cut the crap and get down to work here” approach. If it is not exactly taking Yasser Arafat out in the woods and putting a bullet in his head, American taxpayers can console themselves that it is, at least, a step in the right direction.
At that point where the citizens of Iraq and the coalition leaders do get down to work, I believe that the first, largest and most apparent chasm between traditional Islamic thinking and the hard experience of the Western democracies (since the Battle of Hastings) will open up over the separation of church and state. At first glance, to the Muslim mind, the separation of church and state is inconceivable and just another example of Western corruption. That is, to the Muslim mind, the West is corrupt largely because we have attempted to usurp God’s role in the political workings of society. In the Muslim experience (thus far) disestablishing God or attempting to sequester God or attempting to make God’s role in political life that of a totemic icon (“In God We, You Know, In a Manner of Speaking, Metaphorically Anyway, Trust (Sort Of)”), a mythological cheerleader or a vague conceptualization of “something really big and really good” on the sidelines or at the periphery of the action is a defining attribute of the infidel. “Infidel” is not some exotic Arabic term with an obscure meaning lost somewhere in the mists of antiquity. It’s a personalized form of “infidelity”, and rather neatly defines in a single noun those who have abandoned or lost their faith in God and are careening around like cars without a working steering column or functional brakes or accelerator in a chaotic, haphazard fashion for a number of years until its time for them to go to Hell (a state of existence known to most North Americans as a “lifestyle”). “Wretched the couch and wretched the journey thither,” as the Koran so succinctly puts it. That the term “infidelity” is more commonly associated in the West with marital “indiscretion” would only reinforce for a Muslim that we are “a people devoid of understanding” (as the Koran puts it) with appallingly skewed priorities in life. You’re more worried about being faithful to your wife than being faithful to God? “Wretched the couch and wretched the journey thither.” To a people who, from an early age, memorize vast tracts of the sacred book which was revealed to them through their Prophet who was sent to them for that purpose and who pray five times a day, seeing a people who, instead, memorize pop music lyrics, and theme songs to situation comedies (how many North Americans can recite the opening chapter of John’s Gospel? how many North Americans know all the words to The Brady Bunch?) (I’ll pause here while everyone cheerfully sings The Brady Bunch theme to themselves and basks in the small glory of their accomplishment) (all done? good) it has not (thus far) been at all difficult to recognize the self-evident distinction between a faithful one and an infidel.
To emphasize the point, let’s move on to what I would guess was Osama bin Laden’s reaction to Bill Clinton’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia: that is, that far from being a threat to Islam, a Great Satan (or Eblis as he is known in the Koran) or the living incarnation of the House of War that Islam would have to overcome in bringing about the long-promised worldwide conversion of all people to the Muslim faith, I’d bet dollars to donuts that bin Laden suddenly saw the United States as a mirage, a nation of djinn (malign spirits, the source of the English term “genie”), a giant phantasm with no more substance than thousands of square miles of coloured mist.
I’m sure President Clinton didn’t intentionally create that misperception. Being of the “quagmire” team and generation (that is to say, feminists/liberals/quasi-socialists), the events in Mogadishu probably looked to him like a low-grade Vietnam and why risk your presidency on a UN humanitarian aid mission to an African basket case country? And yet, the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the half-hearted response to the attack on the USS Cole were read differently by the decidedly un-infidel Osama bin Laden, whose faith in God was such that he believed that that faith was the only critical element in putting the U.S. to flight. Faith in God and courage in the face of the enemy are the cornerstones of victory in Islam. Christians would find a precursor to this in Jesus’ assurances to his disciples that if they had sufficient faith they could command a mountain to hurl itself into the sea and it would do so. Faith and courage led bin Laden to scheme big, very big. And 11 September was the result. The fact that the World Trade Center towers didn’t fall over (the presumed intention in targeting their midsections) but just…dissolved…into gray powder would only have reinforced for bin Laden the perception of the United States and all its works as One Big Djinn.
Events in Afghanistan and Iraq have dealt a crushing blow to that Islamic perception. The Iraqi information minister—er, “information” minister—and his inadvertently comedic state of denial about the imminent fall of Baghdad (I’ll resist the urge to suggest that he apply for an editorial post at the New York Times) was a very human incarnation of the death of one Islamic reality and the painful birth of a new one:
God is not with us. God is with those we have believed to be infidels.
To the secular Western mind, of course, it was and is far more straightforward than that: being, to the secular Western mind, an entirely “un-other-worldly” example of simple overwhelming military superiority. Whether God is with you or not with you, when you have the state-of-the-art military capabilities of the United States going up against the Iraqi Republican Guard, the latter are “done like dinner, pal.” The only even tangential Christian scriptural equivalent to these Muslim—to the secular and religious Western mind, inexplicable—military expectations of God is a solitary verse in Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus is being arrested in Gethsemane and one of his disciples draws his sword and strikes off the ear of a servant of the High Priest. The verse prior to it (Matthew 26:52) is the one that would be most familiar to Westerners, even agnostics and atheists: “Then said Iesus vnto him, Put vp againe thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword, shall perish with the sword.” This is a centerpiece of Christian and therefore Western thought, a variation on the “Do unto others…” Golden Rule which endures in everyday Western conversation as the proverbial “Live by the sword, die by the sword”. The ensuing verse, 26:53 reads, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my father, and he shall presently giue me more than twelue legions of Angels?” has no counterpart in the other two Synoptic Gospels and—given how the story of Jesus plays out from that point—its not difficult to see how it became marginalized in Christian thought. Jesus calling in a tactical air strike by an Elysian Fields Delta Force on Palestine’s Roman garrisons is so far beyond the most remote realms of the hypothetical in Christian tradition as to make even envisioning it anathematic to the Christian mind. But such is not the case with Islam. One of the longest suras in the Koran, sura 8, “The Spoils” serves as an extended “post-game show” for the real-life Battle of Badr:
How thy Lord caused thee to go forth from thy home on truth, and part of the believers were quite averse to it: They disputed with thee [that is, with Muhammad] about the truth which had been made so clear, as if they were being led forth to death, and saw it before them: And when God promised you that one of the two troops should fall to you: but God purposed to prove true the truth of His words, and to cut off the uttermost part of the infidels; That He might prove His truth to be the truth, and bring to nought that which is nought, though the impious were averse to it: When ye sought succour of your Lord, and He answered you, “I will verily aid you with a thousand angels, rank on rank.” And God made this as good tidings, and to assure your hearts by it: for succour cometh from God alone! Verily God is mighty, wise…When thy Lord spake unto the angels, “I will be with you: therefore stablish ye the faithful. I will cast a dread into the hearts of the infidels.” Strike off their heads then, and strike off from them every finger-tip. This, because they have opposed God and His Apostle: and whoso shall oppose God and His Apostle…Verily, God will be severe in punishment.
And so on, for seventy some-odd verses. If there was some doubt as to whether Jesus could have summoned legions of angels to assist him (not from his father, in my opinion: I think—unbeknownst to the Synoptic Jesus—his actual father was either God’s Spirit a.k.a. the Holy Spirit or YHWH, neither of whom, so far as I know, has an Angel to his or his/hers and/or its’ name)—and doubt never seems to be in short supply, especially when everyone has six centuries to mull it over—then the victory of the first Muslims over the overwhelmingly larger force of their Meccan persecutors, followed by the confirmation revealed to Muhammad in “The Spoils,” I would imagine, put them very much to rest in a vast number of quarters and corners of the world and the great by-and-by (or seven heavens, if you prefer) of the 7th century.
It’s difficult to get out of the Christian Western mindset, particularly when you’ve trained yourself (as most of my readers have) to believe that there is nothing Christian about you, but try to imagine what it would be like if God sending legions of angels to win a battle for your ancestors occupied the same areas of commonality within your societal awareness as do the Manger, the Virgin and the Cross. And multiply that times billions of people for x number of decades times fourteen hundred years praying five times a day, fasting in Ramadan and making the pilgrimage to Mecca. Let’s just say that, for much of the Muslim world, God’s choice not to intervene as the American forces rolled into Baghdad goes well beyond “something of a letdown”. The Iraqi Information Minister wasn’t actually “in denial” in the conventional Western psychological sense. On the contrary, he had probably never been more keenly aware in his life, knowing that all that could save him and his country and his fellow Muslims was absolute faith that God would not let Baghdad fall into the hands of the infidel, to disbelieve with every fiber of his being that Baghdad was falling and to believe, fervently, with every fiber of his being that the Legions of Angels were on their way.
A number of times in the last few months, I’ve brought up in conversation an observation made by one of the U.S. interrogators in Guantanamo Bay that most of the al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners that they are interrogating are, literally, not aware that the world is round. In almost all cases, I never get to elaborate on the significance of this observation in the face of secular humanist anguished hand-wringing and crocodile tears about the human rights of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. So let me get this right, for once:
The prisoners are fine. They are being cared for humanely. Your own team’s Red Cross assures you of that as a verifiable fact. They are eating better than they ever have in their lives before. They have the Koran. They have a sign showing them which way Mecca is. They don’t have their wealth (such as it was) or their children there to distract them from God and developing and maintaining their faith. To have that situation imposed on you by an outside agency so you don’t have to try to balance your religious life and your personal life is about as close to Paradise as a good Muslim could hope to get in this vale of tears.
The far more relevant point is: these unlawful combatants who were part of the organization that brought down the World Trade Center Towers and blew a big hole in the side of the Pentagon have absolutely no idea. That. The. World. Is. Round. Needless to say, if you have no idea that the world is round, you also have no idea of exactly how much bigger and stronger the United States is than you are. Which is why, in my view, “Shock and Awe” were exactly the commodities missing from the West’s dealings with Islam up to the invasion of Afghanistan. Which was why I fervently hoped that the United States would follow up its toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan with a “pause to reload” and then topple someone…anyone…else among the putrescent Arab pseudo-Muslim dictators. The extent of the military superiority which the United States holds against any and all Islamic challengers is a hard, hard lesson for Muslims to learn. The level of resistance to recognizing the inescapable fact of American superiority means it might take three or more campaigns for it to genuinely sink in. First Afghanistan, then Iraq and next, Syria. Or Iran. Doesn’t matter which one, just be prepared that the next one might prove necessary. The net effect, I think I am safe in saying will be, in the pan-Arab world, in the Arab street, in the West Bank and Gaza, in Ramallah, in Indonesia:
Oh. I see.
And then all these guys will quiet down and try to figure out how they can work within the new reality being imposed by the United States so the United States doesn’t, you know, steamroll anyone else in the neighbourhood since, along about the third or fourth toppling of a pseudo-Muslim dictatorship, it will be as clear as the sun rising in the morning who it is that God has been “shedding His Grace on,” militarily, over the last number of years. And who occupies a position very, very, very low in that particular pecking order.
Although for secular humanists, the more popular and recognizable analogy to the liberation of Iraq is the liberation of Germany from the control of the Nazis in 1945, I think the closest analogous situation in Muslim terms would be 587 B.C. when the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar steam-rolled Israel, sacked Jerusalem (having taken the city of Judah ten years before) looted and demolished Solomon’s Temple and drove the Israelites into exile in Babylon (coincidentally enough, present-day Iraq). I see this as the closer analogy because really, as far as I can see, this seems to be the first time that it really sunk in with the sons of Jacob that God wasn’t kidding…
[Although the Jews have been worshipping God and YHWH as interchangeable beings for millennia, I think I’m safe in saying that they have, all along, obviously and sincerely meant to worship God. They are monotheists, heart and soul (well, maybe not the women, women are perverse by nature, but male Jews, I believe are sincere monotheists). And all of the judgments of YHWH were effected by God, since YHWH, I don’t believe, has any power of his/her/its own]
…when He said, through Isaiah (Isaiah 9:14-17):
Therefore the YHWH will cut off from Israel head and taile, branch and rush in one day. The ancient and honourable, hee the head: and the prophet that teacheth lies, he the taile. For the leaders of this people cause them to erre, that they that are ledde of them are swallowed vp. Therefore the YHWH shall haue no ioy in their yong men, neither shal haue mercy on their fatherlesse & widowes: for euery one an hypocrite, and an euil doer, and euery mouth speaketh folly: for all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand stretched out still
That last line, a much-repeated refrain in the early chapters of Isaiah, always gives me chills.
The head and the tail. In. One. Day. Not a happy situation for God to have to kill the “ancient and the honourable” as well as the “no goods,” but when the “no goods” outnumber the “ancient and the honourable” to that extent, there isn’t really much choice. Isaiah preached from about 740 to 700 B.C. so its not as if they weren’t given fair warning. Over a hundred years to get your act together, well you can’t ask better than that when it comes to Fair, can you? God was even nice enough to have Isaiah tell His chosen people when and how the exile would end: with the victory of Persia over Babylon and the Persian King Cyrus’ decree permitting the Jewish exiles to return and restore the Temple.
[Secular scholastic perversity being what it is, these chapters of Isaiah—40 to 55—which starts with the “every valley shalbe exalted, and every mountain and hill shalbe made low: and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plaine. And the glory of the YHWH shall be revealed and all flesh shall see together,” which Martin Luther King used to such good effect in his “I have a Dream” speech are now widely attributed to somebody called (I swear to you I’m not making this up) “Deutero-Isaiah” since those chapters match the events so perfectly it is assumed that they must’ve been grafted on 150 years later by a redactor. Oy gevAAALT! What Jew do you suppose would dare a hundred years after Isaiah to say, “Say, I’ve got an idea, let’s add fifteen chapters here in the middle about Persia and Cyrus. Tell you what, I’ll write them and just, you know, pretend that I’m Isaiah.” What Jew would let him? And this literally constitutes the highest level of Torah scholarship in the world today. Redactors, for crying out loud. Basically, a mythological team of Torah editors who just, on their own initiative, spliced things into the Torah without any Levite or member of the Aaronic priesthood striking so much as a cautionary note like (maybe) “You know, if you so much as try to do that, we will kill you and your entire family.”]
But, my point is that all of the Muslims who are wandering around Baghdad in a daze right now probably have a great deal in common with the Israelites of 587 B.C. who (having clung to the certainty that God would never actually go through with His threats which His Prophets and messengers had been promising were very much “on the way” for a hundred years) (of the Prophets whose works are considered canonical more than half preached about the coming Babylonian conquest in the hundred years before the Babylonian conquest) were wandering around Jerusalem watching the goyim stripping the Temple of all its gold dishes and plates and spoons and candlesticks and ram’s skins dyed red and badgers skins and tapestries of “blew and purple and scarlet” watching their wives and daughters being raped and their children “dashed in pieces” against the cobblestones. And its not hard to imagine that most of them were thinking to themselves
Oh. I see.
Now, we have made amazing progress since 587 B.C. Through the entire U.S.-led liberation of Iraq, every civilian casualty was entirely inadvertent. Even left liberal quasi-socialists—those who don’t need to be institutionalized, anyway—have to agree with that. Not one soldier or pilot in the coalition went out looking to “bag me an Iraqi civilian”. There is no rape and pillage going on. The coalition troops are actively rooting through the rubble and looking for stuff that they can give back, tracking down those antiquities which have been “taken as souvenirs” by soldiers, reporters, foreign nationals and returning them. What sort of conquerors are these? What sort of infidels are these? Is this the face of the Great Satan? They steam-rolled over the best that the Iraqi military had to throw against them but when they were told by unarmed civilians to stay away from the mosques, by God, they stayed away from the mosques. In fact, under orders, as they approached Iraq’s most sacred mosque, the reputed burial place of the Prophet’s grandson, Hussein, they all smiled, went down on one knee with their weapons pointed at the ground and then departed the way they came. You think that one didn’t shake the world of every Shiite in the vicinity (most of whom are probably still chug-a-lugging extra strong coffee and trying to convince themselves that they actually saw what they think they saw). Many of the Imams are trying to incite revolution against the coalition. Of course. It’s in the nature of the worst elements of any entrenched priesthood to grasp for earthly power and material prosperity when a vacuum opens up. Not by any stretch of the imagination were all of the gold fixtures and marble and statues and paintings in the Vatican donated by well-meaning parishioners out of the goodness and generosity of their hearts and the proceeds from Renaissance bake sales. Much of the Vatican’s wealth is, no other word for it, “loot”. And the Imams are using the oldest trick in the book, rumour and innuendo, accusing the coalition forces of trampling a Koran in the dust, voyeuristically spying with high-powered binoculars on Muslim women, etc. etc. It won’t wash. The evidence isn’t there to support it. The Great Satan would not content himself with trampling a Koran in the dust, he’d turn the Mosque of Hussein into a brothel and he wouldn’t content himself with spying on Muslim women, he’d use them to stock the brothel and machine-gun anyone who wanted to stop him.
It is comparable to 587 B.C. in that there is, undoubtedly, a complete and total sense of impotence involved. There can be no greater hardship to be borne by a believer than the sure knowledge that God has turned away from you, abandoned you to the custody of those you consider to be lower than the lowest vermin. And it’s not open for debate. There is no philosophical sequestering of God in the Muslim mind, no aptitude for seeing God as a Being one minute and then as an Alan Moorian quirky manifestation of your left brain in the next minute and then as cartoon figure in the minute after that. No, God—who is more real to a Muslim and “closer to him than his own jugular vein,” as it says in the Koran—unmistakably not only allowed this to happen, but intentionally engineered it to be the most humiliating military defeat that could be imagined. As the Koran says, of those who plot God is the best at plotting, he knows the innermost secrets of the breast. And this plot involved no amelioration, no salve for the ancient and mortally wounded Arabic and Muslim pride—the pride which would not allow most of the Muslim world to accept any responsibility whatsoever for 11 September or to even edge over in the direction of an apology. No great battle where the Muslims heroically held out for two weeks, fighting to the last man, lighting a masculine beacon which would inspire future generations to rise up against the occupation and earning the grudging respect of the infidel. Nothing. In that, for the devout Muslim there is an inescapable message for him, personally, from God. Now he has only to bring himself to face that message directly.
And this brings us—and him—to freedom from religion.
Because, for the present generation of the Western democracies, it is such a self-evident given that no one has to believe in God or be a member of a religious order, it is easy to forget the fact that this is a very recent development in the West and that we are separated from a period when that was not the case by fewer years than separated the preaching of Isaiah from the Babylonian Conquest. Even in the United States, where religious freedom was, ostensibly, the raison d’étre of its very founding, the definition of religious freedom was, until recently, very narrowly defined. You were allowed to be whatever kind of Christian you wanted to be. You could be a Methodist, a Catholic, a Baptist (and keep company for the most part only with other Methodists, Catholics or Baptists), but it would be an inconceivable social scandal to even suggest that you might find a trace of verity in atheism or agnosticism. I forget which Founding Father of the Great Republic it was that I read about, but he became a virtual pariah in his community because he scandalously dared to declare himself to be a Deist. That is, that he believed in God, that there was one God, but he had no confidence that any religious denomination had the sole claim to Him. If it sounds inconceivable to you that such a (to 21st century eyes) petty nuance of religious belief could invoke such a disproportionate reaction, let me gently point out that this is directly analogous to the situation in our own society where you are allowed to be any kind of feminist you want, you are even allowed to not be a feminist, but you are not allowed to publicly declare yourself to not be a feminist without making yourself a pariah—with the same implicit judgment passed upon you as a given: if you are so loathsome an individual as to dare to declare yourself to not be a feminist, you have no one but yourself to blame if no one will associate with you.
It is, I think, fortunate for us as a society and a mark of the progress that we have made in such a short time that such sentiments have largely vanished from religious life in the West. It was a long and painful road we had to travel to get to the point where we recognize that each person’s relationship with God is his or her own business and no one else’s and that the choice to not have a relationship with God is likewise each individual’s own business and no one else’s once they have reached the age of majority (I don’t think, as a society, that we’re prepared to bring a Christian parent up on charges for forcing his or her children to go to church, but there is little that would surprise me as feminism and its championing of “children’s rights” enters its fourth decade). In bringing the full weight of that experience and hard knowledge to New Iraq, I think it would be worth pointing out to the now-free citizens of that country that there exists no form of shariat law which would satisfy both the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority in New Iraq—any more than you could actually negotiate a Judeo-Christian law which would satisfy the adherents of those two faiths, or a Protestant-Catholic law which would satisfy the adherents of those two faiths. As the Koran assures us, it was within God’s power to make us all of one religion just as it was God’s choice not to do so and the Koran implies that those disputes which divide Jew from Christian, Christian from Muslim, Protestant from Catholic, Sunni from Shiite are not resolvable in this world and that the settling of those “disputes wherein ye differ” will only come about in the next world. What is required is what the Founding Fathers of the United States determined in the course of their Continental Congress—that, self-evidently, the Name of God must be enshrined in a country’s foundational document because the idea that a society would exist apart from God was as anathematic to the former British Colonialists in the 18th century as it most assuredly will be to the former subjects of Saddam Hussein in the 21st century. To enshrine God within a country’s constitution at its founding is to exercise not only free will, but good will, to welcome His guidance, without which—as has been irrefutably demonstrated in the Iron Curtain countries of the last century—all human enterprise is doomed to the scrap heap of history. With His guidance, it takes only the good will of men of reason and common sense to ensure that all laws have as their purpose the greatest good for the greatest number of free citizens, that that government governs best which governs least—and that as He instructed His last messenger and Seal of the Prophets, that no person should be coerced or forced into having faith in Him, that the freedom to worship Him as one chooses is of no value unless accompanied by the freedom to ignore Him as one chooses. “Do then believers doubt that had He pleased God would certainly have guided all men aright?” (sura 13 “Thunder”) Implicitly, it is a blasphemous act that men would impose upon other men that which God has prohibited Himself from imposing. Those who ignore God are, indeed, infidels and djinn and they are, in their numbers, Legion. It is no understatement to suggest that our globe is literally awash in them and without their knowing repentance their fate in the next world is as sure as the Koran informs us it is—“wretched the couch and wretched the journey thither”. But the wretched couch and the wretched journey are instruments reserved alone to the Hand of God and no man can hasten or impede another to that couch nor hasten or impede another on that journey any more than, as the Koran also assures us, one soul can vouch for another on the Last Day. The choice between this life and the next, between Perdition and Paradise is an individual one and a free one, a centerpiece of the innermost sanctity of each individual’s person.
Because the military forces of the coalition represent the great democracies and, thus, in themselves, collectively and individually, embody the highest ideals of human freedom, assuring this implicit sanctity of each individual’s person and property from intrusion by the state or by other individuals—even as God Himself prohibits Himself from intruding upon that innermost sanctity of each individual—there is no doubt in my mind that the citizens of New Iraq will soon recognize the coalition’s motivating force as the Will of God: that same Will of God to which both the Sunnis and Shiites of New Iraq are duty-bound to submit by the very definition of the term, Muslim. Like its Creator, democracy has exhibited in this latest example of its manifold fruition that it is a fearsome juggernaut plying the ocean of human history, like its Creator inducing shock and awe through the infrequent exercise of the merest fraction of the fearful majesty its power, but—of infinitely greater moment here at this crossroads of its intended destiny—like its Creator, exhibiting in victory those central attributes of the Name of God which preface each sura of the Koran, “most gracious and most merciful”.
It is a source of no small regret that my own country has seen fit to volunteer neither its services (in however meager a capacity of which it was capable) nor its support to toppling the Saddamite dictatorship nor in bringing about the epoch-making birth of democracy in New Iraq. As I’ve grown fond of saying (to myself, since no one else listens) God has seen fit to put me into two of the squishiest and abhorrent communities on the face of His earth: Canada and the comic-book field. Although I in no way question His judgment in doing so and I would no more flee from either fate than I would choose to stop praying or fasting in Ramadan, I really wish that I was a Yank or a Brit or an Aussie these days. And so, regrettably, I now turn from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the nascent democracy of New Iraq to the mouth-breathing, retarded, left-liberal feminist socialism of Old Canada.
socialism n (1839) – 1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods 2a: a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b: a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state 3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
While it was certainly my intention to pick up where I left off at the end of issue 288, with the promised observations of Maj.-Gen. Lewis Mackenzie regarding Canada “hiding behind the UN’s skirts” and his decision not to seek the leadership of the Tory party, segueing into an examination of official bilingualism, between that time and this (today is 9 May) I cleaned up the office pretty thoroughly, putting all of my clippings on the deplorable state of my country and its government that I have been accumulating since late in 2001 in a green garbage bag for safekeeping. Having yesterday dumped them all out onto the carpet in the library I was seized with the overwhelming urge to just throw them all back in and put the bag out on the curb. As I composed the conclusion to part five you just read, I could feel them down there, like the albatross around the neck of the Ancient Mariner or Jacob Marley’s counting boxes, festering and malignant.
Partly to establish an overview of the largest problems I see in my country and partly to delay facing the newsprint evidence of the festering and malignant reality of what Canada is in the opening moments of the 21st century, I decided to open with the above dictionary definition of socialism so that you, the reader, can be assured that I am not using the term as a vague right-wing, cheap-shot pejorative. It is always worth turning to the dictionary to return precision to an argument where one side or the other has managed to blur all distinctions as has been the case with the term socialism. Definitions 1, 2a and 2b, I think we would all agree, have been thoroughly tested in the crucible of history and found empty of promise. Even in Canada, socialism’s heartland, the PetroCan experiment, the long-gone and in no way lamented government oil company are pretty widely accepted—even in liberal and Liberal ranks—to have been a serious error in judgment. The United States knows implicitly that this kind of government participation in those areas better served by free market forces is a complete non-starter, but most other countries (which harbour a secret self-loathing of the capitalism which is their life’s blood) just have to prove it to themselves, usually over the course of too many years and at way too high a cost to the taxpayer who takes it in the neck at the point of initiation, takes in the neck again through every subsequent bailout and subsidy and takes it in the neck yet again when the remains of the once-putative smoke-and-mirrors construct are at last sold on the open market at an astronomical net loss. We have a number of these in Canada, which are called Crown Corporations (perhaps as a means of forcing our gracious sovereign, Elizabeth II, to share some of the blame for the inevitable tanking?) but we have fewer now than ever before in our history. We are, in Canada, gradually, painfully, backing away from Karl Marx. We are doing so with the unmistakable sick longing of forsaken lovers etched upon most of our features, but we are, at least and at long last, backing away from Karl Marx.
My American readers doubtless believe that I’m exaggerating. After all no one really believes in Marxist theory in this day and age, right? Without a single example of Marxist success to point to anywhere in the world anytime in the last hundred years (above the scale of a hippie commune), the whole thing has been thoroughly discredited, right? Welcome to Canada, my friends. Welcome, as well, to France, to Germany, to Britain, to virtually every other democracy besides the United States and I can guarantee you that you won’t have to look far to find a Das Kapital skeleton in the governmental closet, its bloated bureaucracy suckling gleefully at the public teat. It is a centerpiece of my thesis on “Why Canada Slept” that the failure to recognize the complete and absolute failure of Marxist theory (Complete, liberals, and Absolute) which is a major contributing factor to my country’s ongoing somnambulism. It is no more possible to be even marginally awake while believing in Marxist theory than it is to achieve a state of even marginal wakefulness in a bad marriage. Particularly in Canada because we exist on the northern border of the vanguard capitalist state. To surrender our ongoing belief in Marxism, partial Marxism, intermittent Marxism, Marxist-style flavouring, New! And Improved! Marxist toppings and Marxist condiments in our national life would be to acknowledge that the United States was right in recognizing Marxism for the confidence game, the pyramid scheme that it is and to acknowledge the wisdom of the United States having avoided it like the plague that it is. Far better to content ourselves with our 72-cent dollars and keep shoveling taxpayer money by the billions into our various Marxist cesspools checking intermittently to see if they’ve grown any flowers.
Only the United States has completely discredited all four definitions of Marxism. Canada and the other democracies still cling to the hope that definition 3 might yet prove to be the pot of gold at the end of the socialist rainbow. My argument here is that most, if not all, left liberals secretly harbour the fundamental hope that if any part of any government department in any of the great democracies can even once be intruded into the private sector successfully that a governmental domino theory will result and one by one each of the great democracies will transform themselves into Marxist utopias. That is, the secret hope springs eternal in the liberal breast/male and breast/female that some hitherto overlooked and Fast! and Easy! governmental structural glissade will one day be found and the transition from capitalism to communism (like the equally fatuous and equally unfounded theory of evolution) will be accomplished. Just as we all grew into human beings from monkeys, so too will we all, one day, through scrupulous and measured “logics of the next step” grow into Marxists from capitalists. And won’t the Americans look foolish when that happens! I also believe that this is the underpinning of feminism as it applies to government. The most obvious recent incarnation of feminist/Marxist theory on the political world stage being Hilary Rodham Trotsky’s It Takes a Village. On the surface of it, just another in a long line of feminist non sequiturs (it takes a…what?) but more deeply and accurately (although it is perilous to use terms like “deeply and accurately” when you’re looking at the Empress’ New Clothes) a grudging acknowledgment of the self-evident fact that Marxist theory works only on a small scale (I’d have to see the size of the village: I still think a commune of fewer than a dozen people—and all of the males would have to be squishy—is the upper threshold for applied Marxist theory unless you’re prepared to institute mass executions for those who “just don’t get it”). I eagerly await Ms. Rodham-Trotsky’s “logic of the next step” sequel, Smashing Our Cities Into Ten Thousand Villages.
[I was scheduled to do a radio phone-in show in Columbus the night before S.P.A.C.E—which took place April 5, around the time the coalition was securing Baghdad airport. I ended up sleeping at O’Hare Airport instead (another story for another time), but anticipating host Steve Cannon’s free-wheeling shoot-from-the-hip style, I figured he would put me on the spot about Canada’s shameful track record since 11 September. Condensing my views to a conversational radio sound byte what I had decided to say was, “I support the United States 100%. But democracy cuts both ways. Picture living in a country where there’s me, the province of Alberta of a few million people, 200,000 or so readers of the National Post, and outside of that, there are approximately 22 million Hilary Rodham Clintons.” I tried it out on an American Cerebus fan renewing his subscription on the phone. There was, unquestionably, a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line.]
Like the Marxists who spawned them, a disproportionate number of feminists believe that there is an unequal distribution of wealth in our society—that the “haves,” men, have too much of it and the “have nots,” women, have too little of it—and that this unequal distribution can only be equalized through government intervention and enforcement. Robin Hood as statesman writ large, in a manner of speaking. It presupposes wealth as being a fixed commodity, a pie that is either shared in an equitable fashion or shared in an inequitable fashion, instead of as a liquid commodity which can be acquired and increased by any individual through thrift, intelligence, initiative and effort: qualities in which the average woman (forgive my bluntness) (though not all women, by any means) are sorely lacking. Particularly the first quality, thrift. If you spend every penny that you get your hands on, the problem is not unequal distribution of wealth, it is the inability to restrain one’s own short-term appetites, one’s own immature impulse towards instant gratification in the interests of those benefits which only accrue, through self-discipline, in the longer term. Put another way, that Oprah Winfrey is the head of a corporation with a book value of hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars while I’m a partner in a corporation with a book value of a few hundred thousand is not an example of the unequal distribution of wealth in our society favouring black women over white men, although I daresay I probably work just as hard as she does. It’s a matter of choices and to what uses you put your own thrift, intelligence, initiative and effort. I’m not interested in what Oprah Winfrey has. To build your life around the marketing of mealy-mouthed, platitudinous psycho-babble and fatuous emotion-based “feel-goodism” and to own tractor-trailer sized walk-in clothes closets and multiple residences with more bathrooms than I have sweaters appalls me at every fundamental level of my being and soul. You couldn’t pay me enough to play in that sandbox. And I’m sure that my brand of austere, isolationist, cold, hard socio-pathological Judeo-Christian-Islamic-based logic would appall her at every fundamental level of her being and soul. And you couldn’t pay her enough to play in this sandbox. But, that’s what makes capitalism great. “Go for what you know.” “Follow your heart or your head, it’s up to you.” “Work at Macdonald’s until your retirement age and spend all your money on lottery tickets if that’s your choice.” Only don’t go nattering on about the unequal distribution of wealth in our society when your choices lead you into abject poverty.
The “unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done” is diametrically at odds with my own largely Islamic beliefs, neatly encapsulated in the Koranic phrase that “God will not wrong you so much as the husk of a date stone”. That is, that everyone has exactly what they deserve to have, no more and no less. If you deserved more you would have more. If you deserved less, you would have less. Everything is balanced, macrocosmically and microcosmically as everything has been since the Big Bang. I believe we worsen the problems in our society when we attempt to a) decide what is and isn’t equal and b) attempt to make things more equal. We are not God. We wouldn’t know equal if it came up and bit us on the ass so it seems to me ludicrous to suppose that—given that our own collectivist initial assessment of a) where inequality exists and b) the precise extent of that inequality would be, implicitly, seriously and dramatically flawed—any attempt to redress that imperfectly perceived and imperfectly measured inequality would, implicitly, only compound the initial flaw of our assessment with even more seriously and dramatically flawed results. Government farm subsidies are a perfect example. I’m 100% beside the Bush Administration and their approach to the EU on this one. You want to play the farm subsidies game with a 10-trillion-dollar-a-year economy? Okay, let’s play farm subsidies. KA-THOOM. There y’go, pardner. There be some Texas-sized farm subsidies. My father used to say, “You can’t add things up” as a corollary to his other homily, “Life isn’t fair.” In light of my newfound faith, I would amend these to read more accurately, “Life is entirely and completely fair because God made it that way” and “Everything adds up, but only God is capable of doing the math on that scale.” If you see your life and what you have as being unfair, you’re seeing it wrong.
A perfect example of misapplied Marxist theory—the attempt to institutionally achieve a state of equality where inequality is perceived to exist—here in Canada is the Department of Indian Affairs. As with most idiosyncratic Only in Canada policy-making, the underlying motive is to prove to ourselves (and anyone willing to listen to us until their eyes glaze over) that we exist on a higher plane of morality than do the citizens of the United States. Ever since Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, our eternal Liberal government has been busily shoveling metric tons of taxpayer dollars in the vague direction of our aboriginal people, Canada’s First Nations, that is to say (or, rather, not say) Indians so as to establish our “cultural sensitivity” bona fides with the usual suspects who are interested in that kind of thing (leftists, socialists, feminists, the UN, the New York Times). At this point, in a country whose annual military budget is $11 billion, we are spending $7 billion a year subsidizing life on Indian reserves. That works out to approximately $70,000 a year per reserve-resident household. $70K per household per year. As the National Post editorialized yesterday (“Don’t scrap native reform,” 9 May)
But because many Indian reserves are geographically isolated, bereft of significant economic activity, mismanaged and corrupt, this massive investment does little to improve the lives of ordinary Indians. Meanwhile, the only option that will lead to progress in the long term—a policy that encourages Indians to leave reserves and integrate into urban Canadian society—is rejected out of hand as culturally insensitive.
This leads into the on-going Marxist theory-based mess which is known as Native Self-Government which, at essence, involves not just forming a new branch of the government (i.e. as if the United States were to add a fourth branch to its government: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judicial and the Indian) but to form a completely separate government, a country within a country at arm’s length and with full autonomy over all issues concerning natives. The citizens of the quasi-nation state of Quebec could be forgiven for scratching their Gallic heads over that one. Why is it okay for Natives to have Self-Government but its not okay for the Quebecois? And, of course, there’s my ongoing question about Native Self-Government. I’m all for it if it’s paid for by Native Tax Dollars. But you can’t finance the start-up of a new country with another country’s tax dollars, particularly when you intend to have no accountability to the financing country (that would be paternalistic, patriarchal and culturally insensitive). Just a full-time staff of Marxist theory bureaucrats shoveling money as fast as they can into the latest Marxist theory money-pit in the name of redressing inequality. The editorial goes on:
The First Nations Governance Act (FNGA), introduced last year by Indian Affairs minister Robert Nault, does not signal the needed sea change in Canadian policy. But it at least provides a few useful tweaks to the current system. Specifically, it would make band leaders and councils more accountable to the rank-and-file Indians they purport to represent. For instance, under the FNGA, band councils would be forced to disclose their internal administrative rules, annual budgets and salaries. Bands would also have to produce written electoral codes, outline definitions of corrupt electoral practices and create mechanisms for launching complaints against band leaders. In short, the FNGA is aimed at making the political culture of Canada’s Indian reserves more democratic.
As we have noted here before, it is hardly a surprise that the country’s largest Indian lobby group—the Assembly of First Nations—is opposed to the FNGA. Despite the group’s name, the AFN does not speak for ordinary Indians. Rather, it speaks for their chiefs. And since the FNGA would improve accountability, and therefore erode the discretionary powers and perks enjoyed by Indian leaders, the AFN naturally opposes it. Thus Matthew Coon Come, the AFN’s Grand Chief, has fired off a barrage of hysterical accusations against the FNGA—most under the general theme that it somehow marks a return to “colonial” policy-making.
What is more shocking is that Paul Martin is apparently sympathetic with Mr. Coon Come’s complaints. During a Liberal leadership debate last Saturday, the former finance minister and de facto prime minister-in-waiting declared his opposition to the FNGA. Thanks to a lack of native input, he said, “the well has been severely poisoned.” While he endorsed Mr. Nault’s goal of fostering good governance, he said the best course would be to draft a completely new piece of legislation in consultation with “the First Nations leadership.”
Mr. Nault must have fallen over when he heard this. As a Cabinet minister until late 2002, Mr. Martin had full knowledge of Mr. Nault’s extraordinary efforts to solicit the views of ordinary Indians: His ministry consulted with 10,000 aboriginals through more than 400 information and consultation sessions. The fact that Indian elites with a vested interest in the status quo have predictably criticized Mr. Nault’s initiative hardly indicates a “poisoned” well.
Mr. Martin’s stance here is instructive. As his take on the FNGA shows, the real problem with Indian policy in this country lies with a guilt-ridden political elite too timid to face up to Indian band leaders.
I think the problem goes far beyond that, given that the only reason there is such a thing as “Indian elites” in the first place, the band leaders of the AFN (one of whom “earns” more than the prime minister and many of whom are paying themselves $100,000 a year and more out of Canadian tax dollars which are shoveled in their direction as fast as the shovels at the Treasury Department can dish it out) is because of pure Marxist-theory-based largesse. I think the only sensible approach to the problem is to offer each individual of the native population a choice: a) he or she can join Canadian society, such as it is, and start working his or her butt off like the rest of us to make ends meet or b) he or she can move onto a vast tract of primordial wilderness (of which this country has no shortage whatsoever) which will be left in its pristine original form which it had hundreds and hundreds of years ago before Europeans came to this country and he or she can return to living just the way his or her ancestors did five hundred years ago. BY LAW no modern convenience of any kind will be allowed to sully the immaculate perfection of the eco-balance of that pristine wilderness. BY LAW no hunting rifle, ammunition, fishing rod and/or tackle, toilet paper, Coleman stove, cigarette, packaged or canned food, tampon, Kleenex, television set, electricity, toilet (chemical or standard), telephone, penicillin, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, knife, fork, spoon, plate, pan, pot, bottle, thermos, knapsack, blanket (electric or standard), radio, walkman, VCR, DVD player, satellite dish, beer, wine, spirits nor any other modern convenience with which we Europeans have been steadily eroding the exalted standard of life on this continent for, lo, these many centuries will be permitted AT ANY TIME anywhere in, on or near Firstnationsland. The citizens of Firstnationsland would, of course, be entitled to hunt and fish and farm in whatever proportions they chose to do so and to make any and all of what they deem for themselves to be their basic human necessities out of birch bark, beaver guts and moose antlers.
It is my considered opinion that, were such an offer to made, it is very likely that each aboriginal individual electing to choose option b) could probably be given something in excess of five or ten thousand acres to call his or her own since I can’t imagine more than ten or twenty people would actually go for it and not one of them would survive the first snowfall anyway.
To avoid ending on that rather caustic note:
There have been a number of bright lights in the Liberal firmament even as the party as a whole has been locked in its folie à deux with Karl Marx for decades without number. One of these was Eugene Whelan, Liberal minister of agriculture under Pierre Trudeau, a plain spoken regular sort of guy who, twenty years ago, was chosen to host part of a 10-day visit to Canada by Mikhail Gorbachev, at the time a junior member of the 12-person committee that ruled the Soviet Union. At the time, it was the highest-ranking visit by a Soviet official in over a decade and the first since Canada had joined the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As documented in Christopher Shulgan’s article in Saturday Night (“The Walk That Changed the World,” April 2003), the visit began with a meal at Whelan’s home and continued with a bus tour of Southern Ontario.
Driving through Windsor, [Gorbachev] wanted to know where the “working people” lived—Whelan explained that the workers were free to live wherever they could afford. According to Whelan, Gorbachev intercepted the supervisor at a meat-packing plant in Kitchener run by Schneider Foods and peppered him with questions: “How many people work here? Do you have health insurance? When did you start working here? Do you have a university degree?” The plant supervisor told the Soviet politician that he had begun working at 17, but he did indeed have a university degree, thanks to a company program that paid for schooling for employees who maintained C averages. Gorbachev was impressed. Sheltered as he had been by the umbrella of Soviet propaganda, Gorbachev hadn’t realized the extent to which Canada or other Western countries were more advanced than Soviet Russia. “He had a funny idea about Canada,” Whelan says. “He never thought we would have the standard of living that we did.”
Halfway through the tour, on a bus in Niagara wine country, Whelan showed Gorbachev some supermarket coupons from a newspaper. Discussing the prices, Whelan got the feeling that Gorbachev thought many aspects of his visit had been staged to display an unrealistically rosy portrait of Canadian life. For example, Whelan sensed that Gorbachev suspected the prices in the supermarket coupons might have been doctored. Seeking to convince Gorbachev otherwise, Whelan suggested they pull in to the next grocery store they passed, so Gorbachev could take a look at the prices himself. Gorbachev was up for the detour, and the tour bus turned into the next supermarket.
Few things symbolized the differences between the West and Soviet Russia better than the countries’ Cold War-era supermarkets. Soviet groceries were gloomy places where shelves were often empty and products tainted. There were lineups for the most basic staples—bread, flour, sugar. Shoppers who found meat at a Soviet grocery didn’t ask what kind it was—they considered themselves lucky to get it at all. “Basically, if you wanted to cook with a tomato in [Soviet-era] Moscow you had to fly to Helsinki to get one,” says [Geoffrey] Pearson, the former Canadian ambassador to [the U.S.S.R.].
Comparatively, the Canadian supermarket where the Soviet contingent staged their impromptu visit must have seemed like a miracle of plenty. The store’s mid-afternoon grocery shoppers were treated to the unusual sight of two dozen Canadian and Soviet politicians, in suits and ties, filing down produce aisles and ogling the merchandise. The Soviets looked profoundly taken aback by what they saw. “Most people in the Soviet Union, back then, had never had a banana. They’d never even seen a banana,” says Wright. “And to see fruit, and vegetables, and different cuts of meat…was just hugely impressive to the Russians.”
“He couldn’t believe it,” Whelan says, recalling Gorbachev’s reaction. “He was flabbergasted.”
For Gorbachev, the most troubling stop of his voyage was a tour of Heinz’s Leamington factory, a 45-acre site where 1,000 workers made dozens of different sauces and canned goods, from relish to tomatoes. Gorbachev was struck by the extent to which the factory was automated; from the unloading of trucks to the boxing of the containers, the products went untouched by human hands. Everything was animated, robotic, gleaming stainless steel, buzzing and whirring. Toward the end, he muttered something in Russian to [then-Soviet ambassador to Canada Alexander] Yakovlev. [Jim Wright, then in charge of the Soviet desk at Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, now the department’s assistant deputy minister for global and security policy], fluent in the language, overheard what Gorbachev said: “In Russia, we won’t have factories this advanced for a hundred years.”
The expression on Yakovlev’s face said, “See? I told you so”.
Three days after the dinner at Whelan’s house, Canadian protesters provided Gorbachev with his first glimpse of North American-style political dissent. The tour group had flown to Alberta, with Yakovlev and Gorbachev spending most of the trip deep in conversation. After landing in Calgary, they toured Albertan ranches, then drove into the Rockies to spend the night at the Banff Springs Hotel. Just outside the stone walls at the hotel’s entrance, Gorbachev spied about 20 protesters waving placards and chanting. He said something in Russian to Yakovlev, who immediately confronted Wright.
“Mr. Wright, you must make these protesters leave right away,” Yakovlev said in Russian. As the bus parked at the hotel entrance, Yakovlev explained that Gorbachev was offended that his hosts would allows Canadian citizens to protest against an invited guest. Wright, conscious that everyone on the bus had directed their attention to him, leaned over and peered through the smoked glass of the bus window. Twenty years later, witnesses’ accounts of the protest vary. But they all describe the event (whatever its purpose) as small, calm and polite, posing absolutely no threat to Gorbachev.
Wright straightened. Conscious that Gorbachev was listening, Wright pointed out the existence of the Canadian right to free speech. Wright told Yakovlev the group was able to demonstrate about pretty much anything they wanted. He shrugged. “Look,” he said in Russian, “we’re not going to tell them to go away.” Minutes later, a contingent of Soviet bodyguards escorted their future leader into the hotel.
The next day, Gorbachev returned to Moscow. Yakovlev followed a month later to fill a senior post at a prestigious Communist Party think tank…Gorbachev was named the seventh (and last) leader of the Soviet Union on March 31, 1985, and Yakovlev became the most radical liberal in Gorbachev’s inner circle. Years later, Yakovlev would be hailed by Western academics as the father of glasnost, the godfather of perestroika and, behind Gobachev, the most influential man in the Soviet government during the final years of the Cold War…Because of the policies developed by the two men, the Berlin Wall would fall in 1989, Gorbachev would win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, and Yakovlev would one day be allowed to devote his life to rehabilitating the reputations of the millions of Soviet citizens killed for political crimes by Stalin.
Wright would learn just how much the trip meant to Gorbachev seven years later, in May 1990, during another of the visits the Soviet leader made to Canada. With relations between the West and the Soviet Union vastly improved, the Soviet Embassy staged a banquet in Gorbachev’s honour at the National Gallery in Ottawa. Wright was talking to then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney when Gorbachev suddenly appeared. Mulroney, about to introduce Gorbachev to Wright, was astonished to see Gorbachev wrap his arms around Wright in that traditional Russian greeting, the bone-crushing bear hug. “Jim!” Gorbachev cried. “It’s great to see you.” Wright smiled at the look of astonishment on Mulroney’s face.
“Oh,” he said. “We go way back.”
Next issue: Some not-so-happy endings as part six continues with an examination of the way Marxist/feminist theory has continued to infect Canada’s policy-making.