Thanks to reporter Don Butler in this week’s Citizen, we know that some 20 Canadian “peace” activists just finished hanging out in Cairo with Islamist terrorists. It’s both alarming and depressingly familiar. The question is, will people on the respectable left in Canada take a stand? Against, I mean.
I realize that most progressive politicians, academics, journalists and citizens would never attend such an event. But it’s not enough. They must publicly and indignantly refuse to rub shoulders with people like the Canadian Peace Alliance, who have been rubbing shoulders with Hamas, Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Jamaat al-Islamiya. Unless, as writer Terry Glavin warned in yesterday’s Citizen, they don’t mind seeing causes they support hijacked by lunatics. And unless they cherish the disgraceful title of fellow travellers.
That people on the far left hold odious views is old news. Beneath the hard smiles and yelling about tolerance they are seething cauldrons of hate. But there isn’t much point in arguing directly with them: Blowing up civilians isn’t peace and you know it; Hezbollah loathes homosexuality and you know it; the Hamas Charter speaks of killing Jews, not Israelis, and you know it; and so on. Why expend useful argument on unresisting villainy? You know what you are and so do we.
The problem is the shelter and sympathy such people find on the broader left. And yes, it is primarily a problem on the left. Remember when, weeks after 9/11, Sunera Thobani, prominent feminist and University of British Columbia professor, denounced U.S. foreign policy as “soaked in blood”? Do you think if a right-winger had talked like that after the Oklahoma City bombing he’d have kept his Canadian academic job? Or found defenders in the mainstream press? Not that we don’t get the odd kook or bigot, but we do our best to detect and expel them. Whereas the progressive reflex that there’s no enemy on the left has a demonstrated capacity to create curious, even wilful blindness to evil, provided it shares their immediate dislikes.
I applaud those who resist this impulse. The Liberal Party of Canada recently dumped a nominated candidate in Edmonton, Farhan Mujahid Chak, who’d written very nasty stuff about Israel and peddled conspiracy theories about terrorism, though technically they booted him for falsifying his résumé. And when Green party leader Elizabeth May learned that Kevin Potvin, nominated for the Greens in Vancouver, had written disquieting things about 9/11, she investigated, then ditched him. Such vigilance is especially important now, when anti-Semitism is trying to creep in on the left. In the fever swamps, “Never again” is turning into “Well, maybe once more,” making this otherwise trivial Cairo conference an urgent test for decent progressives.
For instance, Wednesday’s Citizen reported that “Ali Mallah, who represented the Canadian Arab Federation, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and two antiwar groups” in Egypt, said “the question of Israel was ‘very difficult,’ because Middle Eastern groups reject its right to exist.” What’s difficult about that? Denounce it and walk out. Since he didn’t, has CUPE anything it would now like to say? Or, indeed, the Canadian Arab Federation?
Mr. Mallah, the Citizen added, “said officials from Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood told delegates they do not view religion, nationality or ideology as a barrier to co-operation with other activist groups, ‘as long as they agree on opposing the war, striving for peace and most importantly, standing up against imperialism and occupation.’” The paper then quoted former CSIS chief of strategic planning David Harris that “to the extent that their audience and any of us are gullible enough to actually believe that, then perhaps we deserve the consequences.” Actually, the Islamists were both clear and honest that they don’t care if you share their ideology as long as you’re willing to serve their purposes. If you think that sounds attractive you have major problems, but gullibility isn’t among them.
Especially since we’ve been here before. In the 1930s Stalinists said that if western progressives were willing to help destroy democracy, Communists wouldn’t ask awkward questions about why. Too many progressives did prove willing: When Malcolm Muggeridge reported Stalin’s genocidal famine, his newspaper fired him; when Walter Duranty concealed it, he won a Pulitzer Prize. There really were spies and fellow travellers. And in the 1960s, too many liberals gushed over Castro and Mao.
If I now say that those people and groups that attended this Cairo conference and came home happy should be shunned, investigated, and expelled from larger organizations, will I face the wrath of progressives?
If so, we’ll know which side you are on, too.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]