Thursday, January 23, 2014

It's About Recognizing The Realities

Over at Huffington Post, one of their columnists, JJ McCullough, is pontificating on Harper's trip to Israel.  In the comments, we find HP blogger Mitch Wolfe making the following daft statement:
This article is an excellent summary of Harper's pro Israeli policies. It also provides an excellent summary of the so-called pundits' views of Harper's pro Israeli position. The pundits, the Laurentian Consensus, Tony Burman of the Star and Simpson of the Globe, all fail to deal with Hamas, " the camel in the room". This is a terrorist organization that rules by violence and intimidation. There is no democracy, freedom or rule of law in Gaza. Hamas tortures and discriminates against those who do not adhere to strict Sharia/Islamic principles, which include non Muslims, women and gays of course. Hamas has become a mortal enemy of Abbas and the PLO on the west bank. Hamas still vows to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. But these ridiculous pundits want Harper to treat this disgusting group in a more even-handed and nuanced manner. No wonder these newspapers have sunk so low in public esteem and are bleeding red ink from dropping circulation.
I'll come back to McCullough's column in a moment.  Mr. Wolfe's statement is so ridiculous that it needs to be addressed before I tear apart McCullough's analysis.

Nobody I have read has ever spoken favourably of Hamas, Hezbollah or any other terrorist organization.  There is, however, something that needs to be paid careful attention.  Organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah are not just "terrorists" - in several countries they have become the agents delivering the social programs that alleviate the grinding poverty that so many people in the middle east find themselves living with.  In many respects, these organizations are the government more so than the actual governments in some areas.  In short, more so than the official governments, they actually have an enormous amount of practical political power which should not be ignored.

Further, the dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbours goes back not decades but centuries.  The grievances are entwined in the cultural fabric of the region on both sides.  We would be foolish indeed to believe that there is a "right side" and a "wrong side" in this dispute.  The issue is that Harper is taking sides in this dispute - unequivocally.

Returning to McCullough's column, let's take a look at a few things:
There are a lot of nasty tropes floating out there about the cryptic man running our country, and most of them are junk. The idea that he's ushered in a dramatic hike in military spending, for instance. Or massive cuts in scientific research. Or notions he's been pursuing a dogmatic anti-pot crusade, or has presided over a dramatic spike in greenhouse gas emissions, or is a fundamentalist Christian reactionary with a secret plan to destroy gay marriage.The no less oft-repeated claim that Stephen Harper is the most aggressively pro-Israel leader in the world, however  -- that one's on considerably firmer ground.
Let's see, on that military spending thing, under Harper military spending has increased to near WW II levels.  The amount he cut last year is a drop in the bucket compared to what he has poured into the military since 2006.

Harper's war on science ... well that's not exactly something I can ignore either.  This Prime Minister has done more to gut this nation's ability to make evidence-based policy decisions than any predecessor.  The fact that organizations like DFO have taken the brunt of these cuts merely speaks to Harper's dismissive hatred for anything that might substantiate climate change, or identify the damage that corporate businesses are doing to the environment.  So, while McCullough would like us all to believe that Harper's War on Science is just the imaginings of the "anti-Harper" CBC, there is so much evidence of this war starting in 2006 and continuing to present day (accelerating since 2011), that it cannot be simply dismissed as a "shibboleth".

As for Harper's environmental record, well, let's just say it's somewhat less than exemplary.  The man has axed a huge amount of research activity into matters of the environment, and during his tenure Oil Sands development in Alberta has increased in pace, in spite of concerns about managing the waste products of strip mining and "upgrading" the bitumen.

As for Harper on Gay Marriage - or other LGBT rights, his track record speaks for itself.  During the pre-legalization debate he and his party were vehemently opposed.  His caucus' voting on the Transgender rights legislation that has been before the House several times speaks volumes as well.  Harper isn't himself a "died in the wool reactionary" - he's smart enough to know that being overtly hostile himself has a political price that he is unwilling to pay.  He allows his backbench to keep throwing bits of red meat to the slavering base in the form of spurious motions and private member's bills.  He allows them to go on with them until such times as there would be a political price to pay for it.

Do I believe that Harper is hostile to Gay Marriage, LGBT rights in general, and women's rights (especially health issues like abortion)?  There is plenty of evidence that he and his government are - starting in 2006 when they came to power.  If the political price for reversing the Gay Marriage and abortion issues wasn't fatally high, I'm pretty certain that Harper would go after it.

McCullough seems to be willing to ignore or forget the evidence that is Harper's background and legacy.  The "tropes" about Harper exist not just because people don't like him, but because his actions past and present support those tropes.
The question is whether Harper has it in him to criticize his hosts after charming his way into their parlour. John Ivision at the Post thinks it's just as likely Harps will double-down on sucking up, and offer Netanyahu the sweetest diplomatic plum of all  --  a hint that Canada is interested in being the first country to formally recognize the plight of "the estimated 850,000 Jews displaced from states in the Middle East and North Africa" following Israel's war of independence. John says such an unprecedentedly fawning gesture  --  one that dramatically ratchets up the moral equivalency arms race between Israelis and Palestinians  -- could make the Israeli leader positively "delirious." 
I suspect he wouldn't be the only one.
Why yes, because nothing does your country more good than taking a polarizing position on a conflict that has been ongoing for centuries.   The consequences for Canada in this regard are enormous.  Harper thinks that he is bringing a "mature and decisive" approach to these issues.  What he is really doing is weakening Canada's voice on the world stage.

Israel is a nation located in lands that are believed to be sacred by Judaism, Islam and Christianity.  There cannot be a greater recipe for conflict to begin with.  Several centuries of conflict in the region has rendered the context in which Israel exists far too murky to justify taking a polarizing position as Harper is doing.

Now, the real question is what is Harper's motivation behind his stance on Israel?  There seems to be little sense to it.  Was this trip staged as a distraction to take attention away from the corruption and maliciousness being carried out at home?  Or is there something in Harper's unstated beliefs that supports his approach to Israel?  It's hard to say, but in any respect Harper is doing Canada no favours.

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