Mideast war burns all who come too close to it
By James Travers
If hindsight were foresight would the current Middle East conflict have been allowed to start, let alone last, so long?Any answer but "no" ignores the new realities emerging, along with hope that the ceasefire now in place will hold.
Losers far outnumber winners in the latest eruption in a cycle of violence rolling effortlessly from one century into the next. Along more than 1,000 Lebanese and 100 Israelis killed, the long and lengthening list of victims includes world institutions, far-flung governments and politicians who seized war as opportunity.
Both the July G-8 Summit and the United Nations failed, by demonstrating, once again, that diplomacy idles too far behind events.
Israeli and Lebanese governments are weaker today than when the first shot was fired and the prospects for an eclectic assortment of politicians, including Stephen Harper, are less promising.
The contrasting list of those counting their gains is short and worrying. By surviving the furious assault of the region's most powerful military, Hezbollah wins the local hearts-and-minds struggle while both Syria and Iran are showcasing their malevolent ability to manipulate the region.
None of this matches predictions. Supported by the Bush administration, Israel's zealous response to reckless ? if relatively routine ? provocations was expected to degrade Hezbollah militarily while deterring its Damascus and Tehran patrons.
It's not yet certain if Hezbollah is more deeply entrenched than anticipated or if the vaunted Israeli Defence Force is no better at asymmetrical combat than other conventional militaries. What's clear is that Hezbollah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who trumpeted victory on Lebanon TV yesterday, is better positioned than Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Unlike their unwavering war support, Israelis are questioning the competence of the Olmert cabinet as well as the high command's strategy. In a country engaged in an existential struggle, those doubts have direct political consequences.
Harper's miscalculation pales in comparison as well as significance.
Conservatives may still reap election rewards from their unequivocal pro-Israeli position by shaking loose traditional Liberal voters in Montreal and Toronto. But the lingering message is that this ruling party can't be trusted with more than minority power.
Disguising domestic diaspora politics as a principled defence of good vs. evil is as damaging to Canada's ethnic mosaic as it is startlingly simplistic. In effect, Harper is joining George W. Bush in erasing some seven decades of layered history by positioning regional, solvable differences as central to the amorphous, unwinnable worldwide war on terror.
Along with mistaking strong leadership for telling core constituents what they want to hear, using foreign policy as a wedge national issue is highly risky. It elevates the game all parties play with ethnic and religious communities to a more precarious level by indirectly endorsing the aberrant notion that citizen and voter loyalty to Canada is a secondary priority.
The danger inherent in that approach demands from this government the same kind of policy review that is now so obviously overdue in the Middle East.
Harper should now reconsider if the chance of winning a few urban seats is worth the risk of straining the national fabric, undermining the country's useful international independence or diminishing the pleasure and safety Canadians get from wearing a flag that is respected abroad.
Of course, Middle East governments would in a minute trade our problems for theirs. Lebanon must now rebuild one more time not knowing if it will again be destroyed by a neighbour or internal factions, moderate states need to recover ground lost to radicals, and Israel's formula of building walls while partially withdrawing from occupied territory is in shambles.
Worse still for Olmert's government is that another model ? one Israel traditionally resists ? is emerging as the only way to keep enemies apart.
If a buffer zone and peacemakers are the answer along the Lebanon border, why not one between Gaza and Israel, where bloody attack and counter-attack continue unabated if almost unnoticed?
That would dramatically reduce Israel's military room to manoeuvre as well as put some of its security ? along with that of Palestinians ? under foreign control. But it begins to look attractive as an alternative to the foolish, deadly and destructive military adventures that the world witnessed this summer and may ultimately decide it can no longer tolerate.
I know what it's like to be a Muslim today
By Chantal Hebert
Most Canadians have never had occasion to be singled out as a group for the extreme beliefs of a few. But some of us have.
By the time the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec broke out, I had lived in Toronto long enough to know that I only needed to count to three out loud to reveal I was French-speaking but not quite long enough to do anything about it.
In time, I would come to master the sound that is so distinctive of the English language (although the French accent would stick with me for the rest of my life) but in the fall of 1970, I was still a long way from the level of bilingualism that has led me to the pages of this paper.
For Canadian teenagers, the '70s was a fearless time and Toronto not quite the mega-city it has since become. To make up for the deficiencies of the suburban TTC service, I had become a veteran, if not totally expert, hitchhiker.
That fall, I deliberately became even more inarticulate, striving to stay as silent as possible. I did not want the drivers who picked me up ? and who often vented aggressively about the events unfolding in Quebec ? know that I was a francophone.
Even more so than today, Quebec politics at that time set the temperature of francophone life in other parts of the country.
Whenever Quebec was undergoing a hot spell, the Toronto climate could turn frigid.
For a while after French President Charles de Gaulle made his "Vive le Quebec Libre" speech from the balcony of Montreal's City Hall in the summer of '67, our Willowdale neighbourhood turned decisively chilly. Eggs were occasionally plastered on the front windows of our house.
During this period, francophone communities across Ontario were striving to take advantage of then-education minister Bill Davis's policy of allowing for a public, French-language high-school network.
In these less enlightened years, there was no lack of Ontario school boards willing to treat parental requests for all-French schools as an act of separatism ? in line, trustees claimed, with the setting up in Quebec of the Parti Québécois.
To its credit, the North York Board of Education was not among those. École secondaire Etienne Brûlé, the Toronto area's first French-language public high school, opened one month before the kidnapping that set the October Crisis in motion.
The early '70s was a turbulent time. In the U.S., young Americans were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam; in Paris, French flower children were tearing up the streets and in Canada, driven by Pierre Trudeau's language policies, young French-Canadians were claiming a place for themselves as francophones outside Quebec.
Late in the summer of 1970, a group of us had placed an order for macaroons sporting the slogan "Frog Power." The idea, inspired by the Afro-American rights movement, was to turn on its head the taunt we had all had occasion to hear on the streets of Toronto.
The macaroons were delivered the very week British diplomat James Richard Cross was kidnapped by the FLQ. They sold like hotcakes.
With the school under police protection and threatened with firebombing, some concerned parents pleaded with the principal to ban the macaroons. He replied that his school was into fostering pride, not fear.
I remember little of the Grade 12 courses I took that fall; so busy was I shipping thousands of macaroons across the country. From Moncton to Vancouver, francophones ?young and sometimes old ? snapped them up.
We were always taken aback by suggestions that they were even remotely connected with the violent acts that had taken place in Quebec. In our minds, affirmation and separation were opposite sides of the same coin.
In hindsight, it would have been easier to treat living as francophones outside Quebec as one long hitchhiked ride and try as best we could to melt into the background. As opposed to today's Muslim communities, francophones are very much an invisible minority.
But then I, for one, would have missed learning early on that the answer to domestic terrorism involves equal parts respecting differences and repressing extremism.
Think of it as weeding out a lawn: It will only work if something vibrant is allowed to grow in place of the weeds.