Blind Man with a Pistol


Pyrrhic Victories

On 20 March 2003, under false pretences, under the grotesque banner of ‘shock and awe’, despite the protests of the largest demonstration the world had ever seen, despite two-million marchers in London on 15 February that year, the armed forces of the United Kingdom invaded Iraq. On 30 April 2009, with 179 British soldiers and untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens dead, UK combat operations ceased.

As someone who demonstrated against the invasion with 150 000 others in -30 C Montreal weather, an ‘I told you so’ has never come at a higher price. Exhausted with questions of the Downing Street Memo, the Dodgy Dossier, and Weapons of Mass Destruction, both now stale even as running jokes with the late-night talk show set, the question posed by the nation in the wake of  the British withdrawal is: ‘Was the UK mission in Iraq a success?’

What a question. A success for whom, one might wonder; and for what? Certainly the original rationale and legality of the war have been so crippled and enfeebled to render the prospect of success farcical. For those of us with functioning memories the answer is simple: there were no weapons of mass destruction, therefore any injury, incurred or evinced, returns a negative sum. Despite the fact that then-Home Secretary Jack Straw was caught on tape saying that the case for war was based on ‘thin’ evidence, on Question Time recently he desperately clung to a tortuous justification that would have made Michael Ignatieff proud: based on what we knew, we made the best decision we could; those who made what turned out to be the right decision, therefore, did so for the wrong reasons, and may God have mercy on their souls.

So much for weapons of mass destruction. But there is another helix to this double coil: the war on terror. Britain, who fought fascism alone in the streets of London, would rise again to help their American allies in the desperate wake of 9/11. Never mind that none of the World Trade Center hijackers came from Iraq. Never mind that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party espoused pan-Arab secularism and was historically at odds with the fundamentalist Islamic al-Qaeda. If We Do Not Take The War To Them They Will Take The War To Us. Except they did. Would the 7/7 2005 bombings of London occurred if Britain was not in Iraq? Perhaps. Although the Spanish people thought otherwise when the Madrid underground was attacked: they almost immediately deposed the sitting government and voted in José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s leftist party who promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. One question, however, renders such speculation instantly moot: are there less terrorists in Iraq now than there were on 20 March 2003? The answer is an emphatic and resounding no.

So our men and women in parliament turn to a new charade. The charade of democracy. Perhaps we did go into Iraq for the wrong reasons but look what we’ve done: we’ve deposed a tyrannical and genocidal dictator and given democracy to the Iraqi people. As if it was ours to give. As if the Iraqi people needed it given. What is democracy anyway? Listening to the cheerleaders of the invasion, you’d think it was a show of theatre: blue thumbs, long queues, smiles and broken English. But this is not democracy. It is a circus.

Such arguments that hope to rectify, if not erase, the lies and deception fostered by those we trusted to lead us want to cleave justice from history. Well, here we are now boys, in the bed we made, and by gum we will make a game of it. But, those who make this case, those who would have us believe that history is beside the point, forget, as always, that history is the point. History shows us that Saddam Hussein, the vanquished ace in the hole for Iraq warmongers, is himself a product of Western imperialism and meddling. History shows us that every time the Iraqi people attempted to rise up in chorus, they were thwarted by an empire promising first pacification, then civilization, now democracy.

Democracy is the people. Democracy is not a gift bestowed upon a willing nation by a guardian parent who feels its offspring is ready. It is not a thing that can be pounded into a square inch of dust like embossing in so much beaten copper. It is of the people, by the people and for the people; and its genesis in Iraq has been baffled by British egotism throughout the last one hundred years. But the thing about democracy is that it will not be baffled forever. Like murder, it will out. And no one knows this better than the citizens of Iraq, who, despite being bloodied, abused and beaten, have now seen the backs of British soldiers three times in a century.

So Britain continues to laud its military efforts, with soldiers who are kinder, gentler, than their American counterparts, and made the best of a bad situation. Keep calm and carry on, goes the motto. Besides, victory in Afghanistan awaits. So too, I hope, does democracy for Iraq. It’s been a long time coming.



Liberals Can’t Read

I don’t usually deal with party politics on this site, but in this case I will make an exception. As many of you probably don’t know, in the last budget, the Conservative government tried to ideologically hack research funding for the social sciences and the humanities by stipulating that money given to support doctorate research through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) be ‘focused on business-related degrees’.  You see, when Stephen Harper was roughly chastised for his Arts-hating policies last year, culminating with his statement that ‘ordinary folks don’t care about the Arts’, he didn’t give up. As Peter McKay would say, (Conservative) Canadians don’t cut and run. Instead, he took out his overnight bag and put some lipstick on that pig. Postgrads? No one cares about those entitled, clueless (and non-voting) kids. Postgrads in the humanities? Well, you don’t need to have read Jacques Derrida to deconstruct that move.

Hundreds of PhD students put down their mochaccinos and took notice. Unwilling to ditch Jane Austen for Ayn Rand, or Islam for Scientology, graduate students did pretty much everything that accounts for student activism these days: they started a facebook group.

It got some attention. Aside from the above Globe and Mail article (better late than never, I suppose), NDP MP and post-secondary education critic Niki Ashton started a petition against the funding change and has promised to fight it in the House. Chad Gaffield, President of SSHRC, responded with some mealy-mouthed interpretation that claimed SSHRC had always valued business-related degrees, but neglected to explain if SSHRC would now focus exclusively on them. Frankly, things were not looking good.

But, we graduate students had an ace in the hole: Michael Ignatieff. Iggy. Rhodes Scholar and Harvard academic. A man who knows the true value of a postgraduate education in the humanities. I knew if I wrote to the eminent leader of our opposition, he would hear me. He would understand. And he would lift us up from where Harper had brought us low. Yesterday, he finally wrote me back (he must have been busy). Here’s what he had to say:

Thank you for your letter regarding the federal funding of research in Canada.

The Liberal Party of Canada has always recognized the importance of supporting research in science and technology. Former Liberal governments have created powerful tools to reinvigorate public research: the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canada Research Chairs Program, Genome Canada and the Indirect Costs Program for Canada’s colleges and universities.

Er, ok. Maybe this is a form letter, and he’ll get to us English students later. That’s okay! I support research in science too!

In contrast, the Conservative governments’ recent budget demonstrates its failure to grasp the importance of scientific research for creating the jobs of tomorrow. Three national research granting councils, which play essential roles in funding the scientists who conduct the research, will be subjected to “efficiency and focusing” cuts over the next three years. Equally disturbing, the budget failed to provide Genome Canada with new funding, obstructing the multi-year process of engaging talented Canadian scientists and private-sector partners in the next research cycle.

Be assured that the Liberal Party will work relentlessly to push this government into making long-term commitments to science, research and innovation. We will raise this issue in the House of Commons, pressuring the government to send a clear message that our country is in this for the long haul.

By allowing our scientists to make long term plans government sends the signal that it really does believe in what they are doing, and, more importantly, that it understand the nature of their work. Long term, predictable support provides our scientists with the tools they need to do their work. It also communicates that we want our scientists to stay in Canada, and, moreover, that we want scientists from the rest of the world to come here to work.

I have to say, at this point, I was getting a little worried. I didn’t get the impression that ‘social scientists’ were included in Iggy’s noun. But, my patience was finally awarded and my serious concerns addressed:

This support must extend to all forms of research – engineering and natural sciences, medicine and life sciences, the humanities and social sciences.

Yesss! There I am!

It is not appropriate for government to impose constraints on which forms of research are more likely to be funded. Such a policy – valuing applied science over fundamental science that has less obvious commercial value – is shortsighted and wrong.

Okay, I’m not sure why he went back to applied science vs. fundamental (??) science, although there does seem to be a disapproving gesture towards business-related degrees. Kind of.

Thank you again for sharing your views on this important matter.

The Office of the Leader of the Opposition

It’s like I always say. Sometimes, unfortunately, there’s just nothing outside the text.

Title taken from skdadl at Bread n’ Roses.

ETA: it seems that Mr. Ignatieff’s letter is in response to the recent revelation that Stephen Harper’s Science Minister doesn’t belive in Science. While I suppose it is good that our opposition is fighting the ignorance entrenched in our government, I wonder why Iggy thought my letter about funding in the humanities deserved to be included in his response. Worse, I wonder if I would have received a response at all if Harper’s Laurel and Hardy show hadn’t decided to premier its latest act. Actually, scratch that, I don’t wonder.