Category Archives: Holocaust

We Failed Rwanda; Let’s Stand for the #Rohingya

Indonesia Muslim Rally
Indonesia Muslim Rally

It’s been almost 20 years since the Rwandan genocide. We were too stupid, callous, or indifferent to stop it, and Senator Dallaire has more than a few words on the topic.

Granted, the WWW was just getting going in the early 1990s, so we didn’t have the kind of viral campaigns we see now, like Avaaz’s campaign to stop the imminent genocide of the Rohingya in Burma [see below]. It started on Canada/Settler Day and accumulated over 300,000 signatures in less than two days. They’re going for 1,000,000.

Genocide is perhaps the surest sign that humanity is reaching for profound depravity.

Why would a country not issue birth certificates to babies of one cultural group?

How can a people cultivate such hatred? How can a people ignore systematic execution? How can a people be blind to dehumanization? I wrote about it yesterday, with Canada’s nice-guy self-concept combined with a studied self-delusion about our generations of abuse of the first peoples.

Maybe that sheds some light on what is happening in Burma. Maybe that also sheds some light on why Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has sent over two dozen emails about expanding trade relations with Burma in the last 50 weeks, yet only one email that had any reference to the Rohingya. If they are hated for taking away jobs from other Burmese, Canada should stop pouring kerosene on that fire.

Maybe it also explains how Al Jazeera has some significant coverage of the Rohingya, but how the CBC doesn’t.

Whatever the case, the Avaaz platform of viral campaigns for social justice is a proven model, and a welcome development from those who spent the 1980s getting together one Friday each month to jointly write letters to support Amnesty International campaigns.

Signing on to shine a spotlight on an approaching genocide is a useful act, but it’s not a final one. It is an opening act. The rest of your responsibility lies in forcing our government to see ALL Burmese as humans first, not sweatshop labour.

You can let your Member of Parliament know what you want if you know your postal code.

You can let the prime minister, foreign affairs minister, leader of the opposition, opposition foreign affairs critic, Liberal party leader and Liberal foreign affairs critic know what you want them to do to help the Rohingya by emailing this article to these folks, along with your personal message:,,,,,,

Most people didn’t know who the Rwandans were until it was too late, and 800,000 of them were dead. Right now, the fate of Burma’s Rohingya people is hanging by a thread. Racist thugs have distributed leaflets threatening to wipe out this small Burmese minority. Already children have been hacked to death and unspeakable murders committed. All signs are pointing to a coming horror, unless we act.

Genocides happen because we don’t get concerned enough until the crime is committed. The Rohingya are a peaceful and very poor people. They’re hated because their skin is darker and the majority fear they’re ‘taking jobs away’. There are 800,000 of them, and they could be gone if we don’t act.

– from Burma: Stop the next Rwanda

Springtime for Hitler in Ottawa


Last week, our favourite sweater vest hoarding Prime Minister made the world’s laziest Nazi/Hitler invocation during Question Period. This is the latest in a string of Hitler references made by sundry politicos in Ottawa during 2012, and we’re not even half way through the year. His gaffe brought jeers and tears of laughter to denizens of the House and online. For your viewing pleasure, witness the exchange between Mulcair the Bearded Sandwich Explainer and Stevie Soulless Eyes HERE.

After I was done laughing and wiping tears of hilarity from my eyes, I went back to the Politics Respun crew, and asked them for their input. Stephen Elliot-Buckley, Kevin Harding, Jasmin Mujanovic and I weighed in:

Is there ever an appropriate time in debate for comparing our politicians, parties and policies to those of Adolf Hitler?
Short of starting some ethnic cleansing campaign or annexing a neighbouring state, no. The bar is set quite high. That said, I think there’s too much careless thoughtlessness when people are rejecting criticisms of fascism and totalitarianism and corporatism. Tossing those words around seems to fit some of the positions we’ve seen in Canada in recent decades that are contemptuous of democracy. As a society we need to be better educated about the meaning and historical context of those words so we can use them more intelligently. And we don’t need Hitler for all that. – Stephen

I’m not one to really ascribe limits to speech, save for the kind that involves things like yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theatre. That being said, I also think that there’s problems with making comparisons between exceedingly horrific historical events and the leader of the NDP asking Harper when he was going to bring Canadian soldiers home from our neo-colonialist romp in Afghanistan. There’s a balance; if you honestly, seriously, fully think that comparing the actions of your debate opponent to those of Hitler are necessary, then, by all means, do so – but don’t be surprised if you’re made out to look like an idiot after doing so. It’s a comparison that should be made exceedingly rarely, and only in circumstances that actually warrant it. – Kevin

Sure but only once they begin engaging in or advocating for the systemic genocide of a segment of our population. Until then, it’s juvenile idiocy. – Jasmin

If the politician/party/policies are truly akin to those of Adolph Hitler and not simply something that opponents of the politician/party/policies merely dislikes or takes offense to, yes. Using it as a tool to insult or derive a reaction (Godwin’s Law) does make it a de facto debating tactic. – Tia

Was Harper out of line on Thursday when he erroneously stated that the NDP did not support the fight against Hitler in 1939? Was Mulcair, when he shot back about Reform Party?

I think it would be wonderful to get into the debate about where Canada has stood on events like the Boer War, WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq x2, and Afghanistan. And the centuries of various forms of war against the first peoples. There is precious little serious, non-zinger based rhetoric floating around when, as a nation, we ought to be getting into the soul of the issue of the role of our military. – Stephen

No, and no. In the most literal sense. Take a look deeper at the statements – Harper said that the “leader of the NDP in 1939” didn’t even support war against Hitler. This – and only this – is specifically true. J.S. Woodworth, an ardent pacifist, opposed war in Germany. And he – alone in the House of Commons – voted against the declaration of war. And he was soundly castigated for his actions, and made fun of quite rightly, for his vote. Extending this smear to insinuating that the NDP itself loved Hitler is just fucking stupid, plain and simple. Mulcair, on the other hand, shot back about the Reform Party’s policies – here, he took the policies of the party as it then was and compared it to the actions of the party as it is now. No spurious smearing; if the party changed names, it’s still the party’s policies as they were, not the actions of an individual who was then castigated by the party. – Kevin

Harper’s statement was the depths of gutter politics–pathetic more than anything else. I thought Mulcair’s retort was rather funny, though, and I don’t even really like the guy. Not much else to do in a situation like that than mock the Prime Minister. – Jasmin

If the HOC was a UFC octagon (which would actually make a lot of politics in Canada much more entertaining and culturally relevant for the masses) this tactic by Harper would have been a move akin to kneeing your opponent in the balls. It was cheap, lazy and a last ditch effort to keep away from having to tap out. Mulcair’s retort was priceless, and he chalked up laugh points from me with his verbal ground n’ pound. – Tia

In the media (both traditional and social) there are perpetual invocations of Hitler/Nazis by Left of centre thinkers/commentators directed towards Harper, his government, and Conservative Party policy. Is there legitimacy in this comparison?

Like I said above, I think we need to be more precise. When we say totalitarian, we need to talk about an issue like “free speech zones” in Vancouver during our Olympics corporate orgy, with respect to the Charter and how such acts are an egregious violation of reasonable limits from Section 1 []. When we talk about corporatism and the corporate-political junta that is the neo-liberalism of the Liberal Party, Reform Party and Conservative Party, we should be clear on how we talk about governing for corporate interests. When we bring up soft fascism or hard fascism, we should connect that discussion with these handy 14 elements of fascism: – Stephen

There’s legitimacy in comparing a lot of the actions of governments to fascism. To Hitler? Nope. And don’t get me started in the stupidity that one can find in certain right-wing fora who insist that Hitler was a commie socialist, not a right-wing fascist. – Kevin

No, absolutely not. I have very, very strong objections to Harper’s policy in particular as it relates to our treatment of First Nations peoples and overseas(mis)adventures–situations where people are actually dying)but he’s not Hitler, nor are the Tories Nazis, either. We have plenty of fascist movements around the world (including Canada) who make very few bones about their politics; we’d be better off actually engaging those people than wasting time on these partisan theatrics. – Jasmin

Comparing what is actually going on in Ottawa with the current Conservative government and WWII Nazis is laughable and makes your argument look small minded and uninformed. Like Harper or not, he’s not actively gassing his enemies in death camps and annexing small nations. Find a better comparison in history or grab some originality and create a term. I’m fond of Sweatervestism, myself. – Tia

Is Nazism a useful symbol for what makes us angry, from opinions on extended breastfeeding to criticism about opposing politicians?

I believe in Godwin’s law. Short of contemporary Nazis and similar groups, I think we need to educate people with more precise terms. – Stephen

If you legitimately think that the comparison is necessary, sure. Just don’t be surprised if you’re made to look like a complete idiot on your comparison if it’s out of line. There are way more useful comparisons or symbols to use. Boots stomping on faces, sweater vests, et cetera. – Kevin
Only a Nazi could ask such a question! Which is to say: sure…but only if you’re kind of slow and un-creative. First of all, very rarely are our opponents actually Nazi-like in nature. And on the odd occasion where I have engaged with actual fascists, the comparison to the Nazis was hardly insulting to them. So, with very few exceptions, the comparison is unjustified–and none of those exceptions are part of the mainstream Canadian political scene. – Jasmin

What is the term I’m looking for? Ah, yes. Reductio ad Hitlerum: claiming that a policy/group leads to/is the same as one advocated or implemented by Hitler/the Third Reich, and so “proves” that the original policy/group is undesirable. Guilt by association. Having been called a “Boob Nazi” (somewhat erroneously) often and FemNazi a few times, I am always perplexed as to how the person making the comparison arrives at the choice of words. I presume that the person throwing the terms around lacks a functional vocabulary/creativity. – Tia

Does invoking Hitler/Nazi in Canadian politics trivialize and desacralize memories of holocaust and the horrors of WW2?

Yes. And while trying to elicit empathy for violated peoples is a valid motive, we should do it in a more realistic context. We don’t have to go to gas chambers to talk about the abject poverty that millions of Canadians are one paycheque away from because of neoliberal, totalitarian, corporatist soft fascism. – Stephen

No. It trivializes the person making the comparison, if the comparison is not justifiable. Cf “Godwin’s Law” and etc. – Kevin

Yes, full stop. – Jasmin

Hell, yes. It’s disrespectful of people who have been affected by Hitler, who dealt a lasting blow generationally to so many families and individuals around the world. My grandparents were children/teenagers during WWII in Germany/Eastern Europe and our family is still impacted, several generations later. – Tia

Other thoughts/comments on this topic?

Harper is clearly desperate. He’s seen his polling numbers drop stunningly since the NDP leadership race, which is the kind of event to give the NDP a bump, not usually a corresponding plummet in the governing party’s stature. And now that I enjoyed the Twitterverse Monday morning kicking the tires of the NDP talking about expecting a coalition government with the Liberals and not a merger, the Harper Junta will be further trimmed in the polls. And now that the Liberals are going to let non-members vote in their leadership race, Cullenistas in the NDP can vote for a leader who is interested in a distinct, yet cooperative posture with the NDP. And yesterday NDP House Leader Cullen called for the speaker to enforce more decorum in the house. Cooperation and dignity, two of Cullen’s core leadership messages, seem to be defining this era of the NDP even if Cullen didn’t “win” the leadership. Harper’s a politician full of hate and vitriol. He is so angry, eager to demolish the Liberals, eager to cram his self-assured ideology wherever he can for the sake of some monarchist imperial brand of corporatism. He knows that suppressing voter turnout illegally or through negative politics keeps voters who embrace hope from turning up and mobilizes his base that hates their enemies. We need to reject gutter politics. As simply as last spring when Layton unilaterally stopped his party from heckling in the House, there is room for building something positive. Harper is incapable of doing that. So he invokes monsters, and in doing so, Godwin. – Stephen

The meta-narrative on Harper’s stupidity in jumping into Godwin’s law so quickly ignores the fact that Harper didn’t have an answer as to when the troops engaged in neo-colonialism in Afghanistan will be coming home – so instead he pulled out Hitler. Idiot. – Kevin

I’ve been left with a Broadway show tune from The Producers in my head, ear-worming me endlessly. Springtime! For Hitler! In Germany! Thanks for that, Harper. – Tia

The Bridge Builders: Cultural Survival in Bosnia after Genocide

This is as close to a eulogy and an ode as I can write for a place with which I struggle every day.

As I write this, a now yearly procession is making its way to the town of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The remains of hundreds of men of all ages are making their way to the memorial site there, to join the bodies and remains of thousands of others already interred in the earth. They are Bosniaks, what some in the media still refer to as “Bosnian Muslims”, though presumably there were atheists, agnostics, and lapsed Muslims amongst them.

But such is the discourse in Bosnia. You see, the Muslims were late to “nationalize”, that is, to turn their religious identity into a secular, national one like the Serbs and Croats did before them. Hence, the “Muslims” of Bosnia were akin to the Jews in the rest of Europe: in practice, as much an ethnic group, as a religious collective. Continue reading The Bridge Builders: Cultural Survival in Bosnia after Genocide

Criminalizing Criticism of Israel? The Charter Weighs In

An “informal coalition of MPs (CPCCA) … are working to expand definition of antisemitism to make it illegal to criticize Israel.”

via Criticize Israel-Go to Jail? – Other – Vancouver.

Ok, quite simply this. If Kim Jong Il made it illegal for people to criticize North Korea, we’d laugh him back into one of his 19 private train stations.

This is Canada, folks.

A memory refresher may be in order:

Rights and freedoms in Canada

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Fundamental Freedoms

Fundamental freedoms

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

This means we have freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression in the press and other media of communication subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

I think this CPCCA may have skipped over this part of the Charter 28 years ago. It’s worth going back to read.

And if you knew this was wrong, but were looking for a good reason why, it’s the Charter. It’s on our side!

The Thing About Israel

OK, here’s the thing about Israel, OK, one thing: there is no greater concentration of political spin in all of human history than around the issues relating to Israel. And the spin has the [likely intended] consequence of creating a chill factor to keep people from trying to reasonably discuss issues on any side of Israel issues. This chill is bad for humanity.

By the way, while I’m not commenting on this news release, I would like to mention here that the International Committee of the Red Cross has just released a very important statement on ending the closure of Gaza. People will of course support or condemn this ICRC position for good, bad, non-rational or compelling reasons. But I’m not writing about that today.

Committed activists and ideologues on all sides of Israel issues contribute to this intense level of spin expertise. Within the discourse, there are, among other things: facts, disinformation, misinformation, irrational attacks, flagrantly hyperbolic analogies, opinions, rhetoric, invective, anger, racism, Polyannaism, political agendas, global conflict paradigms that in part revolve around middle eastern land, and the governments and lobby groups of dozens of countries. It’s a classic imbroglio flambe.

I will take but one example of a variety of things I have to say about Israel. Let’s start with an analogy, knowing full well that it can be creatively re-interpreted by anyone with an agenda to accuse me of pretty much anything. I can handle that.

[Note: just for fun, let me state clearly that I make no comments in this entire piece about whether “the state of Israel ought to exist or not”…just so that if anyone accuses me of being on either side of it, I’m just not talking about that issue in this piece. Later, though. Oh, and preemptive disclaimers are a feature of a society of discourse living under a chill.]

Here’s my question. Can anyone criticize policy decisions or actions of Israel’s government?

Can Canadians criticize the government of Canada for supporting tar sands development, or even spending tax money on child care subsidies? Typically, yes. And in doing so, few seem to be accused of being racist, anti-Canadian, or harbouring hatred for Canadians.

Can Canadians criticize the US government for its support of a free trade agenda with despotic regimes, or even spending tax money on food stamp programs? Typically, yes. And in doing so, few seem to be accused of being racist, or harbouring hatred for the American people, though to be honest, many are accused of being anti-American for criticizing or supporting something someone else either agrees with or disagrees with. That’s too bad. Chills suck.

If France begins above ground nuclear testing on a “French” island in the Pacific Ocean or embraces a Tobin Tax, do I necessarily hate/love the French people for decisions of the government, regardless of who voted for what and by how much? I wouldn’t think so. I think I’d still appreciate their cinema and fries.

So a while back I wrote [in a poem] about the difference between a people and a government’s policies [see below]. Are there any differences? What should be the significance of the differences? And if you are interested in testing your attitudes toward this issue, take this test: read this article and see if you can de/re-spin everyone’s perspective. It’s pretty complicated, but a worthwhile exercise. Maybe I’ll get around to doing that in here one day.

via 22 Impolite Questions: a Response to Rhetoric Crimes « Politics, Re-Spun.

are Noam Chomsky and Phyllis Bennis anti-American if they criticize their imperial government?

and what about Israel?

am i anti-Semitic if i disagree with the domestic or foreign policy decisions of the de facto fundamentalist Jewish theocracy in Israel?

do i wish all Jews in the world dead because i don’t agree with any given decision of the Israeli government?

are Noam Chomsky and Phyllis Bennis self-hating Jews if they oppose any given decision or set of decisions of the Israeli government or decisions of the US government that support Israeli policy they disagree with?

The Thing about Deniers: Holocaust and Global Warming

My daughter, who is a toddler and loves to dance, is addicted to the Weather Channel, particularly the local forecast because the music they play is fantastic to dance to. So while we do not quite have the TV on as wallpaper, often it’s on for her to dance.

This morning I saw on that channel yet another chat with David Suzuki talking about global warming. This time he was talking about how the media does a poor job of covering global warming. He says that as a member of the media we always try to be balanced and provide both sides of a story. That can be a problem.

His view, the correct view [and I know the risk in saying that, but keep reading], is that humans are contributing to global warming. He talked about thousands of academic studies that support that the planet is on a warming trend and we are part of it. Never before in human history have we had the power to influence the planet’s operation. And he talked about 980 recent studies that ALL agree that we are part of global warming. Further, many scientists who do not agree with the vast majority of those who recognize the truth of global warming are not climatologists and many of them are funded by fossil fuel industries, so they are possibly [or almost certainly] biased. I would add that many of the global warming deniers also have a stake in the status quo and don’t want to give up our lifestyle that direly exploits and abuses the planet [and the 4 billion or so of the poorest serf humans we keep impoverished with our global political economic system].

George Monbiot’s book Heat is considered to do a much better job than Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth in addressing far more than the ridiculously cosmetic solutions Gore argues for, in part I think because Gore falls into the category of being concerned, but not enough to recognize that Americans and the OECD world are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the sources of global warming so it is our responsibility to absorb a disproportionate amount of the lifestyle change to stop the problem. But Gore can’t argue that because doing so means telling Americans and the rest of the OECD world that our birthright is based on economically enslaving billions of humans and critically wounding our planet.

But back to the deniers. In its attempts to be balanced the media [which also has a stake in the status quo and is funded/owned by global corporations that even though they aren’t always in the fossil fuel sector depend on their products for the operation of the global feudal economy and their profit] spends far too much time presenting the skeptics’ side. Just by sheer numbers, the vast majority of scientists are recognizing the truth, which is far more than inconvenient, so you would think the media would reflect this. Not so much. The deniers and the politicians and celebrities who base their arguments on them get a ridiculously large share of air time.

And then I remembered Dan’s post about the Holocaust conference in Iran. If the media gave as much air time to the biased, often anti-Semitic, self-serving Holocaust deniers as they do global warming skeptics, the FCC and CRTC would not be able to answer all the phones or ever open their email ever again. The uproar would destroy media empires.

And when I said before that Suzuki’s view is the correct one, I mean that with all the sincerity of someone who says that the Holocaust did exist while there are some who for self-serving motives argue that it is something else entirely.

I now have a new level of disdain for global warming deniers. I just lump them in with Holocaust deniers and act accordingly.