Remaining CPT hostages rescued

You’ve probably heard the news by now: James Loney, Harmeet Sooden, and Norman Kember were rescued yesterday after being held hostage in Iraq for 118 days.

The rescue began when US forces detained two Iraqis and learned where the hostages were being held. The house, located in west Baghdad, was raided within hours. The hostages were bound but apparently healthy. Their captors were not present.

It goes without saying that Loney, Sooden, and Kember are lucky — or blessed — to be alive. A fellow hostage, American Tom Fox, was killed earlier this month.

On Friday, an early evening mass will be held in Sault. Ste. Marie, Ontario (where Mr. Loney’s parents live), to mark the safe release of the other three hostages.

Two of the former hostages are Canadians. According to the Ottawa Citizen, Canadian soldiers played a role in the rescue:

[Canada’s] Department of National Defence yesterday would not disclose any role in the successful mission, saying they don’t comment on the secret affairs of [Joint Task Force 2], which is based in Ottawa.

But British and American military sources yesterday, however, made a point of crediting Canada’s key role in the mission. Pentagon and British military officials said that Canadian and special forces took the reins of the ground operation.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that a high-level squad of diplomats, soldiers and intelligence officials from the three countries had been working closely together for “weeks and weeks,” along with civilians and Iraqis in order to secure the hostages’ release.

Britain runs a special intelligence network, the Black Task Force, aimed at tracking hostages in Iraq. The unit was created after the deaths of kidnap victims Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan last year.

Kudos all around, then: to the USA for gathering the intelligence that made this rescue possible; to Britain for the work of the Black Task Force; and to Canada’s JTF2 unit for taking a lead role in the ground operation.

In the comment section of an earlier post, a few of us speculated about what story the captives might tell after their release. They are about to become pawns in the great public relations battle precipitated by the Iraq war.

When they joined the Christian Peacemaker Teams mission, they believed that Iraqis are the good guys and Americans are the bad guys. Do they see things differently after they were held hostage by Iraqis and rescued by the Americans (among others)?

They are going to experience some pressure to say the “right” thing whenever they talk to Western media. But of course, the “right” thing depends a great deal on your vantage point.

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Thanks for saving us; now f*ck off

The Iraq war has been in the headlines again this week, because we have just arrived at a milestone: the war’s third anniversary.

Many of the Iraqi people are of two minds about the U.S. invasion. Their attitude is summed up in the title of this post: “Thanks for saving us from Saddam; now f*ck off out of our country.”

That is my conclusion, based on data published by the Globe and Mail this past weekend. (Worldpublicopinion.org is the original source of the data.)

I’ve put together three bar graphs for you. First, 77% of Iraqis think all the hardships they have suffered have been worth it to be rid of Saddam Hussein. (Click on the graph for a larger version.)

bar graph

Second, 87% of Iraqis believe that the US-led forces are still needed in Iraq. (The Globe expresses the data the other way around; 13% think the forces are no longer needed.)

bar graph

But here’s a kick in the head for you: 47% of Iraqis approve of attacks on the US-led forces!

bar graph

To be blunt about it, some Iraqis are quite irrational. There’s only one way to account for the data. In many cases, the men and women who are glad to be rid of Saddam and who, moreover, recognize that the US military presence in Iraq is necessary, are the very same people who are glad to see American soldiers killed.

Thanks; we really couldn’t do it without you; but I still love to see you get your head blown off!

Many of the Kurds and the Shiites fall into this camp, even though they have benefitted from the “regime change” (whereas the Sunnis lost power).

The US military isn’t exactly triumphing, either. Here’s a look at the trend with respect to civilian deaths:

bar graph
So far, each year has been worse than the one before it. (The fourth bar represents total US casualties — not a reduction in civilian deaths.)

According to the Globe, attacks by “insurgents” increased by 29% from 2004 to 2005. In the latest shocking turn of events, Iraqi gunmen stormed a prison and released 30-odd prisoners.

If there’s a bright spot to the story, it’s this: US casualties in Iraq (2,314) are much lower than they were in the first three years of the war in Vietnam (19,159).

I’d like to believe that this is a winnable war. I’d like to believe that the USA is making real progress in Iraq; that it’s only a matter of time before the country becomes stable and democracy takes root.

But we’re nowhere near that point — not yet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
copyright © 2006, Stephen

Whither multiculturalism?

There was an excellent column in the Globe and Mail this weekend by Margaret Wente, one of the Globe’s regular columnists. It is subscription-protected, but you may be able to access it by googling the title, “End of the multicultural myth”.

Welcome to the new millenium, in which radical Muslims are driving the global socio-political agenda. The West is stuck in a defensive posture, reacting rather than taking initiatives. Some of our most beloved notions are wearing thin:  including, as Wente points out, the multicultural ideal.

The Netherlands are leading the way — forward or backward, I’m not sure which.

Until very recently, the Netherlands was the most “progressive, liberal, tolerant nation on the planet,” according to Wente: but not anymore.

Starting this week, would-be immigrants (but not from the European Union or North America) are required to watch a video about life in the Netherlands. It includes shots of bicycles and windmills, and also of a topless woman and two men kissing. “People don’t make a fuss about nudity,” says the narrator, who also informs us that men can marry other men, and that women have equal rights.

“These are little facts we just want to give,” said one government spokesperson. But critics call the new immigration policy culturally biased and anti-Muslim. “This isn’t education, it’s provocation,” said Abdou Menebhi, who chairs a Moroccan interest group in Amsterdam. “The new law has one goal: to stop the flow of immigrants, especially by Muslims from countries like Morocco and Turkey.”

Dutch politicians deny it. But the critics are largely right. The Netherlands wants to slam the door on Muslims. The multicultural ideal has been a failure.

What has happened to bring about this reversal of values? A series of awful shocks, beginning with two murders:

of the gay politician Pim Fortuyn, who had warned about the threat of unassimilated Muslims, and then of the filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Muslim kids began harassing gay men and women on the streets. Instead of finding Dutch-born wives, second- and third-generation immigrants made arranged marriages with uneducated women from back home. Despite strenuous efforts at integration, Amsterdam’s school system became completely segregated.

We’ve all heard about the violence many times, but there is a second cause for alarm: the demographic trends.

Today, this little nation of 16 million people has a Muslim population of 920,000. Six hundred thousand immigrants don’t speak Dutch, and as many as 60 per cent are unemployed. Many of the foreign imams who are their main source of authority tell them they have no obligation to obey the rules of secular society. Theo van Gogh’s killer, a Dutch-born Moroccan, was so popular in some neighbourhoods that kids put pictures of him on their schoolbags. …

Islamic radicals are convinced that time and demographics are on their side. This week, Mullah Krekar, a leading Muslim supremacist living in Norway (which faces similar problems), said the triumph of Islam in Europe is inevitable. “The number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes,” he said. “By 2050, 30 per cent of the population in Europe will be Muslim.”

In the circumstances, Holland’s tough new immigration laws look less like discrimination than a desperate grab at cultural survival. “We demand a new social contract,” Jan Wolter Wabeke, a high court judge in The Hague, told Newsweek. “We no longer accept that people don’t learn our language, we require that we send their daughters to school, and we demand they stop bringing in young brides from the desert and locking them up in third-floor apartments.”

The new laws include tough restrictions on the practice of importing women for arranged marriages. The city of Rotterdam has passed a new “code of conduct” requiring that Dutch be spoken in public. Nationally, the burka has been banned.

Violence and demographics — these two trends are causing all European nations to reconsider the multicultural ideal:

Even before the Danish cartoon wars, attitudes had begun to harden in much of Europe. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy says France should take a cue from the Netherlands. Some German states are now requiring would-be immigrants to take 600 hours of German-language courses. One German state has a citizenship test that asks about a person’s views on forced marriage, homosexuality and women’s rights. Another has introduced a test that asks whether the applicant believes in Israel’s right to exist.

North Americans are a little more insulated, but we cannot escape the issue that Wente has illustrated so effectively.

My oldest child begins university in September. I worry about what kind of a world my generation will pass on to him and his children.

I find climate change alarming. I worry that the human race will precipitate a global ecological crisis and try to slam on the brakes when it is too late to avoid a calamity.

And I worry about the decline of the West, as our lofty (but naive?) values are swamped by violence and demographics.

What do you think of the Netherlands’ attempts to discourage Muslim immigrants? Of its banning of burkas? Of Rotterdam’s law that people must speak Dutch in public?

What do you think of France’s schools forbidding children from wearing anything that would identify their religious affiliation? Of the citizenship test in one German state that asks about a person’s views on forced marriage, homosexuality and women’s rights?

I entitled this post, Whither multiculturalism. But perhaps I should have spelled it wither.

CPT hostage killed

You may have heard by now that Tom Fox has been killed. Fox was the only American among the four Christian Peacemaker Teams hostages. (My original post on the subject is here.)

photo of Tom Fox
According to Saturday’s Globe and Mail:

Tom Fox, 54, of the Christian Peacemaker Teams had been held hostage with two Canadians and one Briton by a group calling themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.

The group has demanded the release of all Iraqis from American and Iraqi prisons, but has not set a deadline.

Mr. Fox was conspicuously absent from a video dated Feb. 28 that showed the other three activists …

[CPT co-director Carol] Rose extended her condolences to Mr. Fox’s family and said the killing left her and her co-workers “trembling with grief.”

However, she said Mr. Fox’s killing has not caused the organization to reconsider its decision to stay in Iraq. CPT still has five members in the country, excluding the hostages.

Fox was a Quaker and a pacifist. The Christian Peacemaker Teams organization evidently regards Iraqis as victims of unjustified American aggression. Fox had worked with Christian Peacemakers on several Middle East projects,

including efforts to oppose the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He also tried to put detained Iraqis in touch with their families. Ultimately, however, his captors singled him out and made him suffer a grisly fate. …

His bullet-riddled body was found at a garbage dump near a railway line three days [after the video was broadcast on the Al-Jazeera network]. Iraqi police told The Associated Press that Mr. Fox had been beaten or tortured.

People are still hoping for the release of the other three CPT captives. The February 28 video from which Mr. Fox was absent was the first contact by the kidnappers in more than a month. It suggests that the other three men are being cared for relatively well.

“All of the men appear to have access to shaving and bathing facilities, and their clothes looked reasonably clean,” said Paul Buchanan, a professor of international politics at Auckland University in New Zealand and a former CIA consultant.

“This would indicate again that the kidnappers really have no intention of killing them and are making the point that their treatment of the hostages is fairly humane.”

Frankly, I think the CPT organization is misguided to demonize the USA and indiscriminately regard the Iraqis as innocent victims.

Nonetheless, I respect Tom Fox’s decision. Presumably he understood that he was putting his life at risk, but that did not stop him from acting on his convictions. In other words, he was a deeply committed follower of Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace to you, Tom.

Deadly prejudice

An aboriginal woman in Brisbane is lucky to be alive today. Delmae Barton apparently suffered a stroke while waiting for a bus:

After collapsing on one of the bus stop seats, she was unable to move other than to turn over to stop herself choking on her own vomit.

No one picked up her handbag which lay where she had dropped it as she fell. Its contents lay scattered on the pavement.

Apparently she lay there for more than five hours, though a bus company spokesman denies she was there that long. Passers-by assumed she was just another aboriginal drunk. Eventually, a group of Japanese students summoned security and an ambulance was called.

photo of Ms. BartonMs Barton is a highly respected indigenous elder and opera singer, whose son William is an internationally-renowned didgeridoo player.

Her friend and director of the Gumurri Centre at the university, Boni Robertson … said it was a disgrace Ms Barton’s plight was ignored by hundreds of commuters as buses came and went.

“She said to me that she thought it was because she was Aboriginal,” Ms Robertson told ABC radio.

“And she said ‘I was neatly dressed, I wasn’t dirty’.

“She said ‘I hadn’t been drinking’ and she said ‘is this all I’m worth Boni, is this all I’m worth’.” …

More than 450 Brisbane City Council buses pass through the Mt Gravatt campus bus stop each day, collecting and dropping off hundreds of students and commuters.

It’s tempting to leap to the conclusion that the people of Brisbane are more heartless than other human beings, but of course that just isn’t so.

Indigenous people have been marginalized wherever they have survived into the modern era. Here in Canada, some First Nation and Inuit groups fare relatively well, but the overall picture is still one of socio-economic disadvantage.

Many individuals with limited prospects in their own communities migrate to the cities, where things may go from bad to worse. It’s easy for the non-Aboriginal population to develop a prejudice based on the Aboriginals who fall through the cracks and end up in jail or living on the street.

And then the stage is set for a Delmae Barton scenario to play itself out.

Years ago, a streetcar driver in the city of Toronto impressed me by not making any such assumptions. He saw a man lying on the sidewalk, apparently unconscious. He got out of the streetcar, established that the man was drunk but otherwise OK, and then returned to driving his route.

All these years later, I still remember that expression of concern for a fellow human being. When I read about Delmae Barton, I immediately thought of that streetcar driver.

Prejudice can be deadly. Ms. Barton is alive today only by the grace of God — or blind luck.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
copyright © 2006, Stephen

Dana Reeve

There is no justice in this world. Here’s the sad announcement in yesterday’s Globe and Mail:

Writing a tragic coda for a life story already overstuffed with adversity, Dana Reeve, the 44-year-old widow of Superman actor Christopher Reeve, passed away Monday night at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan after a brief battle with lung cancer.

Ms. Reeve leaves the couple’s 13-year-old son, Will, and her two grown stepchildren, Matthew and Alexandra.

The cancer was yet another of her life’s many antagonists she had done nothing to invite, for Ms. Reeve was not a smoker. But she was not alone. When she announced her illness last August, cancer experts noted that one in five women diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked.…

Dana ReeveDana Morosini was a promising actress and singer when she met Christopher Reeve while performing in a late-night cabaret at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1987. The two married in April, 1992, and she delivered their son Will two months later.

Ms. Reeve performed off-Broadway and on television, and served on the boards of the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

Talk about not getting your just deserts. Dana Reeve gave up her acting career to care for her husband after he was rendered quadriplegic by a riding accident in 1995.

She also campaigned alongside him. Together, they promoted paralysis research and called attention to quality-of-life issues for the disabled, particularly those with spinal cord injuries. The Christopher Reeve Foundation raises about $14 million per year in charitable donations.

I admire the selfless choices Ms. Reeve made after a tragedy that interrupted the course of her life.

Yes, most women stay with their husbands to support them when a catastrophic illness or injury occurs. And I suppose it was made easier in her case because of the money available to her.

On the other hand, you could argue that she was living a Hollywood dream-come-true that was rudely interrupted. If Ms. Reeve was a shallow human being — as some celebrities appear to be — she might have looked to escape from her marriage.

Instead, she honoured the marriage commitment, “in sickness and in health”. That is a thankless position to be in when the “sickness” is quadriplegia.

Christopher Reeve died nearly a decade after his accident, in October, 2004. At that point, Ms. Reeve might have begun to build a new life for herself. Instead, less than a year later, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer.

Senator Diane Feinstein sums it up: “I thought that after everything that she had gone through with Chris that she would have time to smell the flowers and be in the sun. But apparently that was not meant to be.”

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copyright © 2006, Stephen

Why Canadians should support the mission in Afghanistan

Why should Canadians support the war in Afghanistan? Here are three reasons.

First, there was a direct link between Afghanistan and 9/11. The Taliban harboured Osama bin Laden, and it was from Afghanistan that he coordinated the catastrophic terrorist attacks.

Second, the war in Afghanistan was authorized by NATO. It was not a unilateral act of aggression on the part of the USA.

Both the direct connection to 9/11 and NATO’s approval set the Afghanistan mission apart from the disastrous invasion of Iraq. To support the mission in Afghanistan does not constitute blanket support for the Bush Administration’s “war on terror” policies (pre-emptive attacks, setting the Geneva Convention aside, permitting the use of torture, the “rendering” of suspects, and the rest of it).

Third, the people of Afghanistan are depending on us to establish law and order. The Taliban were easily deposed from government, but NATO needs to continue the mission until a new government is securely in place.

Job one for any government is to provide security. It is the precondition of everything else:  the construction of roads and buildings, the provision of electricity and running water, economic development, the promotion of human rights, etc. We will be letting the citizens of Afghanistan down if we don’t create the conditions where they can go back to their day-to-day lives in a context of stability.

The catalyst for this post was a misleading poll published in the Canadian media. The headline in the print edition of Saturday’s Ottawa Citizen reads, “Support for Afghan mission falls as casualties rise”. The article explains,

The Ipsos-Reid poll … found that 52 per cent of Canadians feel that the 2,200 Canadian Forces troops deployed to Kandahar are on a vital mission and should stay the course, while 48 per cent said the troops should be brought home as soon as possible.

The poll results are meaningless because the two options are not mutually exclusive. Of course the Canadian troops should be brought home “as soon as possible”! What’s the alternative? — to leave them in Afghanistan when there’s no longer any reason for them to be there?!

I agree that that the Canadian troops should be brought home as soon as possible. The goal is for the people of Afghanistan to take control of their own affairs. The sooner that happens, the better. But I also agree with the other statement: the mission in Kandahar is vital and our soldiers should be there.

The first job of any government is to establish law and order. According to Rick Hillier, Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, that’s why our troops are in Afghanistan:

Decades of civil war and occupation have laid waste to Afghanistan, where warlords and ethnic groups have frequently fought among themselves in the periods when Soviet, U.S. or Arab fighters have not staked any claims to the country. …

With Western help, a democratically elected Afghan central government is forming, but remains fragile as it lacks strong security forces needed to fight insurgents.

Canada can help create conditions that will curb Afghanistan’s high infant-mortality rate, Gen. Hillier said, and help increase the average annual income of $300 to the point where farmers are less tempted to cultivate opium. But any development is contingent on security, the general said, and that’s why the Canadian military’s most crucial job is to help Afghans police themselves.

“We’re doing an entire spectrum of operations, from straightforward negotiation and dealing with folks, to training police, training the army, to helping work with the international community. … Right through to firefights with the Taliban, to ensure they are not going to be able to stop the progress.”

Our soldiers understand the risks they’re taking when they ship out to Afghanistan. But they also understand that this is a worthy cause. We Canadians should do our part by supporting the mission.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
copyright © 2006, Stephen

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