7.26.2006

responsibility

A Middle East correspondent for the Globe And Mail writes:
It's not as easy as it once was to be a Canadian abroad.

There was a time when being a Canadian would instantly bring smiles to the faces of whoever you were speaking to, whether you were travelling in Western Europe or in the Middle East. We were the peacemakers, the good guys.

In recent months though, as Canadian troops have grown more involved in Afghanistan and our foreign policy has become more aligned with that of the United States, our happy maple-leaf passport is not always as welcome as it once was. And if you happen to be a holder of that passport, often those you meet want to let their feelings known, immediately and passionately, whether they're positive or negative: as if you personally are responsible for every foreign policy decision of the last decade or so.

Take one conversation with an Israeli military analyst, a former intelligence officer who spoke with me at length about Israel's intentions in Lebanon. As the interview wound down, he insisted on keeping me on the phone for a while longer, thanking me profusely for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's strong stances this week, telling me how much the Israeli public appreciated such sentiments from such a "steadfast ally" at such a difficult time.

Then, there was a meeting yesterday with a Fatah legislator by the name of Abdullah Abdullah on negotiations in Gaza. There, an Israeli soldier is still being held captive, Qassam rockets are still being fired into Israel, and, night after night, airstrikes and artillery barrages by the Israeli military are shaking houses, and killing and injuring civilians, along with the militants they're trying to hit.

Mr. Abdullah spent nearly 20 years in Canada as the PLO's representative there, and was later the Palestinian ambassador to Greece. When he first learned I was from Canada, his face broke into a broad smile and he gave me a high-five. His children are Canadian citizens and his daughter, he says proudly, is a doctor there. By his account, during his days in Ottawa, he used to eat pizza with the family of now-Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, whom he described as wonderful people.

But then his face grew sober, and he began to grill me on why Canada is moving away from its traditional mediator role in the Middle East, and he told me how disappointed he is.

"It's cowardice," he said, throwing up his hands.

We're good, we're bad, we're on the side of right, we're siding with the enemy; just about every journalist working abroad hears the debate now.

And in this complicated part of the world, I still haven't figured out what my response is supposed to be - to any of them.

"And if you happen to be a holder of that passport, often those you meet want to let their feelings known, immediately and passionately, whether they're positive or negative: as if you personally are responsible for every foreign policy decision of the last decade or so."
Any American who has traveled abroad knows how that feels.

1 comment:

Lone Primate said...

One of the downsides to the Tories taking office in the last election is that it marks the (soft, so far) ascendency of a class of people in this country who like their morality in pill form... small, smooth nuggets that can be swallowed effortlessly and don't need to be chewed, never troubling the digestion. God help us if having to work it through should cause us any sleepless nights. I'm not saying that Paul Martin wasn't all-too-willing to provide the same perscription, but now it's openly public policy. Why be strong and risk criticism abroad? Go with the flow. Enjoy the soft stools to be had in the perfumed toilets of the halls of Western power, where everything's white and clean and anticeptic, and the soft violin music drowns out the cries of strange foreigners who don't matter anyway.

There was a time, not that long ago, when Canadian governments finally rose to the job and wrestled with the moral implications of their foreign affairs. Even Joe Clark realized he was sending the wrong signal in agreeing to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But today, the game seems to be find the people in the world who look most like us, write the sweetest declarations on parchment (whether or not they live up to them), have the most money and trade with us, and back them to the hilt no matter what. You can be right, but if you ain't white, it's 'good night'. Solves everything; you make the US happy, you make the cowboy hats happy, you make the money happy. Except in solving everything, you solve nothing. You help make things worse.

We have a prime minister now whose moral compass was set firm in grade three, where 'doing the right thing' meant siding with the biggest, strongest gang, and laughing the loudest at whatever torment they inflicted on the weak, the friendless, the different. If this is the sort of leadership philosophy we're prepared to endorse, then we hardly deserve the better reputation we feel at stake. We'll have earned the loss.