de Menezes: Victim of the Politics of Global Insecurity

Yesterday's news: according to the CNN, murdered civilian Jean Charles de Menezes was living in Britain on an expired visa. Now, it is de Menezes who has expired. The triumphant tone of this report suggests that, well, as an illegal resident, and a racialized person to boot, de Menezes was pretty much asking for it. His innocence - given this new information - has come under suspicion: while de Menezes was not a terrorist, he was guilty of the next best thing; he was an illegal resident.

The elision between terrorists and non-status or "illegal" residents is a keystone of the war on terror. Because alongside and subtending the war on terror, there is another war going on in the global north: a war on migrants, immigrants, refugees, and non-status people. The politics of fear have made possible the overt criminalization of some of the world's most vulnerable people. Border security measures and new refugee and immigration rules adopted since the bombings of 9/11 have arguably done less to stop terrorism, and more to block legitimate refugee claims; to prevent the immigration of racialized "undesirables"; and to make possible formerly illegal detentions and deportations of non-status people.

Take, for example, the so-called Safe Third-Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S., which dictates that a refugee entering Canada from the U.S. cannot seek refugee status here (and vice-versa). This agreement is part of a broader program of harmonizing Canadian and U.S. refugee and immigration policies, which has as its eventual end the complete merger of refugee, immigration, and border policies of Canada, U.S., and Mexico. In March of this year, a report was written jointly by Canadian, American, and Mexican officials, recommending the establishment of a joint security perimeter as part of the formation of the so-called "North American Economic and Security Community." The report, endorsed by the Canadian, U.S., and Mexican administrations in late March 2005, proposes measures to "build a North American economic and security community by 2010. To enhance security, prosperity, and opportunity for all North Americans, the chairs propose a community defined by a common external tariff and an outer security perimeter." Concerning "security," among the most unsettling concrete recommendations of the report were the following:

"1. Develop a border pass for North Americans. The chairs propose a border pass, with biometric indicators, which would allow expedited passage through customs, immigration, and airport security throughout North America. "The governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States should commit themselves to the long-term goal of dramatically reducing the need for physical scrutiny of traffic, travel, and trade within North America."

2. Adopt a unified Border Action Plan. The three governments should "strive toward a situation in which a terrorist trying to penetrate our borders will have an equally hard time doing so no matter which country he elects to enter first." First steps should include: harmonized visa and asylum regulations; joint inspection of container traffic entering North American ports; and synchronized screening and tracking of people, goods, and vessels, including integrated "watch" lists. Security cooperation should extend to counterterrorism and law enforcement, and could include the establishment of a trinational threat intelligence center and joint training for law enforcement officials. On the defense front, the most important step is to expand the binational North American Aerospace Defense Command to make it a multi-service Canada-U.S. command with a mandate to protect the maritime as well as air approaches to North America. Canada and the United States should invite Mexico to consider closer military cooperation in the future." (Quoted from Canadian Council of Chief Executives report. In-text quotations in the text are from the trinational report. Emphasis is mine.)

Clearly, if implemented, these recommendations signal the formalization or institutionalization of U.S. hegemony over North America. And they spell trouble for immigrants and refugee claimants. What's interesting is how "community" is being defined here: by the imposition of an economic border, and by the increased militarization of national borders. But really, given the commodification of human beings, these two aspects really amount to the same thing. Whether it's the traffic in goods or the traffic in people, they are subject to much the same criteria of desirability and undesirability. Essentially, "community," on this conception, is about keeping the right, or, rather, the "wrong" people out, especially those from the global south, seeking asylum from political and economic conditions which are overwhelmingly the result of northern imperialism. North American "community" entails a retreat from, a rejection of global community. And while these policies claim to be about the enhancement of "public" security, in fact, they are contributing to global insecurity, for the majority of the world's people, including ordinary civilians in the North American nations, whose bodily integrity is coming under attack with the implementation of biometric identification technologies.

On Tuesday London's Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair revealed that 250 incidents involving innocent civilians, seven of which involved "shoot-to-kill scares," had taken place as part of the investigation into who was responsible for the July 7 bombings. This was Blair's statement justifying the "unfortunate" domestic casualties of Britain's war on terror:

"There are suicide bombers there and we have a job to do. This is a tragedy but it must not divert us from the main issue. We must be able to protect the public" (quoted by CNN)

But what construction of "the public" is operative here? Wasn't de Menezes a member of "the public"? Weren't these 250 unnamed civilians - who will, I have no doubt, turn out to be members of Britain's racialized immigrant communities - members of "the public"? The Metropolitan Police must be held accountable for its use of racial profiling in the investigation of terrorism; it must be held accountable for its use of illegal force during the investigation of de Menezes and others.

I use that word, illegal, advisedly. Take a look at this law professor's analysis of police actions in the hunt for terrorists: he argues that British law contradicts the rhetoric in defense of the police's "shoot-to-kill" response to de Menezes' "flight" from police, given that:

"(1) There is no general legal duty to assist the police or to obey police instructions. Rice v Connolly [1966] 2 QB 414
(2) There are special police powers to arrest and search. But there is no special police licence to injure or kill. If they injure or kill, the police need to rely on the same law as the rest of us."

(Thanks to Lenin for alerting me to John Gardner's webpage.)

As the family of de Menezes are burying his body, the Bush-Blair terror machine is desparately trying to bury the little open secret that the war on terrorism is nothing other than a pretext for state-wielded terror against racialized civilian populations, abroad and at home. The point is that de Menezes' murder was not an accident, but a necessary consequence of the racism inherent in the politics of global insecurity. And that's something for which the Anglo-American war of terror is unlikely to apologize: for nothing fails like success.



To while away the time on my bus-ride to Québec this weekend, I bought the Globe and Mail newspaper, something I rarely do anymore -- which reminds me, where have my long, leisurely Saturday mornings gone, anyway? It certainly gave lie to the popular assessment of the Globe and Mail as Canada's "liberal" alternative to the slop that the ultra-conservative CanWest-Global media machine doles out (in multiple formats). In fact, its coverage of and commentary on everything -- from the anti-Muslim backlash in the aftermath of the London bombings (or, the lack of it, according to the G&M), to the economic situation in Cuba (a feature on the Cuban black market attributes it to the failure of socialism, a "testament to the Cuban government's inability, in the end, to wield absolute power and control over its people") -- shows the G&M to be the conservative, bourgeois rag that it is. Which is why I had avoided reading it, for a long while -- until Saturday. I used to have a subscription to the G&M, which I recall having to cancel in protest (the way most of my subscriptions go, eventually, it seems). And they've never published any of my many breathless letters.

But after this Saturday's edition, it seems that another such letter is in order. I was aghast, in particular, at Margaret Wente's column, titled, in typical Wente fashion, "Europe is a factory for terrorists. Are we?" Those blissfully unfamiliar with Wente should note that she has demonstrated herself in the past to be -- in my estimation -- an Islamophobe. For example, in the fall of 2003 she published a long article arguing that Iraqis weren't "ready," or sufficiently politically "mature" for democracy, proof for which she considers the possibility that they might, if enfranchized, vote for the wrong party, i.e., an Islamist one. In this installment, after giving a potted history of Muslim immigration to Britain and France, she turns to compare that history to patterns of Muslim immigration to Canada. Of course, it's not clear that what is being called "Muslim immigration" has a discernible pattern, given the obvious fact that Muslims are not an ethnic or nationally-identified group, but rather, comprise the largest religious group in the world, and reside on all continents. Not to mention that - horror of horrors! - some Muslims are born white Christians, and convert to Islam, and other people, juridically-identified as Muslims aren't observant. In any case, such inattention to detail is Wente's currency: "[i]n Europe, the whole idea of immigration is relatively new," she writes, whereas "in the U.S. and Canada, immigration is our history." It's our history, only if you conflate immigration with English and French colonialism, an elision that the textbook rendition of Canadian history consistently and neatly performs, summarized in the claim that "ours is a nation of immigrants." Neither is it true that immigration, in a loose sense, is new to Europe -- guest-working, education, and the flight from famine conditions have been among the motivating reasons for intra-European migrations for centuries. As for extra-European immigration, while this phenomenon boomed with decolonization, "Europe" has been much more racially differentiated for much longer, than contemporary xenophobic constructions allow.

But let's get to the crux of Wente's argument. Wente quotes Robert Leiken, whose recent "prescient" article, "Europe's Angry Young Muslims," published before the London bombings, suggests that the rise of Islamic terrorist activity in Europe is due to the fact that "younger Muslims [are] reject[ing] the minority status to which their parents acquiesced" (quoting Leiken). Wente insists that conditions for immigrants -- especially Muslim immigrants -- are particularly prosperous in North America, by which she means the U.S. and Canada (not Mexico), and this, according to Wente, prevents the emergence of Islamic terrorist groups born out of discontentment with social conditions:

"In North America...[Muslim] kids grow up in a society where race and background don't matter very much. Our society isn't completely colour-blind. But it's possible for an Indian boy from the Punjab to come to Canada at 17 and rise to the top of political life. It's possible for the son of immigrant Jamaicans to become the U.S. secretary of State, and for a black woman who grew up in Alabama to succeed him. This kind of meritocracy is uniquely North American. And it's what makes Canada and the U.S. two of the world's most succesful cultures."

Canadians (in particular, bourgeois Anglo-Canadians, who have been in Canada for many generations) are particularly fond of asserting that there is no class system in Canada (maybe Americans do the same, I don't know. In fact, most Americans I know are keenly aware that class is alive and well in the U.S.A.). And they are equally fond of heaping praise on themselves for fostering a multicultural society based on the "mosaic" model (in contradistinction to the "melting pot of cultures" in the United States): for, in other words, being tolerant of (politically benign) expressions of cultural "difference" (e.g., the wearing of culturally or religiously traditional dress -- as long as it's not the hijab). But the most superficial examination of the social landscape reveals an altogether different reality for racialized people, both immigrant and indigenous.

Kanada's indigenous peoples -- especially those living on reserves -- live in third-world conditions, in the midst of an overdeveloped nation. According to Kanadian government figures, only 57% of aboriginal people have adequate housing; aboriginal people are 8 to 10 times more likely than other Canadians to contract tuberculosis, a disease that, today, in the industrialized west, is overwhelmingly associated with poverty, inadequate and overcrowded housing, and poor nutrition. Because the majority of aboriginal people living on reserves do not have access to safe, potable water and proper sewage treatment facilities, they are at high risk of getting enteric and water-born diseases, that the non-aboriginal Canadian population hardly has to worry about, including giardiasis (beaver feaver), hepatitis A, and shigellosis. Life expectancy rates are lowest among aboriginal people, and infant mortality are highest. Suicide rates are highest among aboriginal youth under the age of 35. How does this reflect a meritocratic social system?

The mental/material division of labour is highly racialized, in Canada, a state whose immigration policy encourages immigration from middle-class and upper-class brackets but which does not institutionally recognize immigrants' formal qualifications -- e.g., university degrees, diplomas, or certified skills. In Canada, state-sponsored and informal racism and xenophobia conspire to make white-collar jobs and professions off-limits to immigrants "fresh off the boat." Thus most immigrants to Canada who don't have sufficient capital to start a small business (usually in the service sector), will be forced into minimum-wage jobs requiring little or no education. Wente illustrates her claim that immigrants and racialized people can escape their class location (in some cases, a location which changes radically upon immigration) in Canada or in the U.S. by refering to individuals who have, reportedly done this, among them, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice. This is a red herring, an argument typically made by people who want to claim that the system allows for class mobility, and that there are no racialized obstacles to such mobility. But this only gets off the ground, rhetorically, precisely because the system only allows a few racialized, immigrant, minoritized, or working-class individuals to ascent to power -- namely, those who will support the interests of power, as Powell and Rice have shown themselves eminently capable of doing. In fact, that Wente can only name three (or any finite number of hypervisible exceptions) performatively disproves her point. In any case, the obverse isn't true: a bumbling, lying, uncharismatic white Anglo male shipping magnate won't be "rewarded" for his ineptitude under our ostensibly "meritocratic" system; no, he'll become prime-minister, and probably survive one of the biggest political scandals in Canadian history. Those, like Wente, who insist that ours is a meritocracy have to explain how and why it is that the vast majority of people in power are white, male, rich, non-naturalized Canadians. (And any explanation of this phenomenon will quickly reveal its racist true colours.)

Racists and those who benefit from racialized class exploitation have always attempted to insulate themselves and to conceal their racism in the production of the myth of the happy slave, the prosperous immigrant, the grateful refugee, the civilized native. Here's a newsflash, Wente: most recent immigrants, refugees, and non-status people -- especially those who can't pass because of their racialized status -- would not agree that their merit determines their life-conditions, and they would disagree that "race and background don't matter very much" in Canada. Neither would Canada's aboriginal people. On the contrary, their lives are structured, overdetermined, and dominated by the political difference that race and origins make. These communities face a set of specific dangers at the hands of the state that is, supposedly, so tolerant of their "difference": racial profiling, police brutality, the limitation of their rights to due process, and their basic human rights by racist domestic and foreign policy (here I am thinking of security certificates, deportations, being forced to live underground). And they face racism, at the hands of their ostensibly tolerant, merit-loving white Canadian neighbours; a racism with many formal and informal manifestations, which affects them in all aspects of their lives: in the kind of employment they'll get; in the kind of education and life-chances their children will have; in the shape of their social relations, marital and familial relations, friendships; in their "choice" of neighbourhood, housing; in how, what or whether they will eat; in whether their child will lose its life to the criminalizing indiscretions of a racist police officer; in whether their child will die of a preventable disease; or in whether their house be consumed by what would have been, outside the reserve, an extinguishable fire.

All of which tells us two things: 1. That the denial of the existence of racism is, itself, racism. And -- what did I expect? -- 2. That I should go back to not reading the Globe and Mail. It's a no-good way to spend a Saturday.



Review of Kiarostami's Ten

A couple of nights ago I watched Abbas Kiarostami's 2002 film, Ten. I was struck by how claustrophobic a space the interior of a car, the interior of this woman's life, was. But also by the kind of proximity that women can achieve, and can fail to achieve, in the face of alienating conditions. And by the depth of passion this woman exhibited, in the most ordinary and unremarkable of circumstances. Although the film is set in Tehran, Iran, I don't think it is reductive to say that its drama -- centred on this woman's intimate relations -- is transferable to other geopolitical locales, to other patriarchal cultures -- like mine. And this is the effect of Kiarostami's deep humanist intuition: to enable affective and political identifications with individuals who are normally constructed as our "Other"; whose experience, values, and desires are constructed as the very antithesis of our own.

I once had a conversation in passing with an Iranian acquaintance about Iranian film. He was very critical of the politics of importation of Iranian film by the west, claiming that although the Iranian film industry predominantly produces comedies, the west only imports its tragedies. Western audiences therefore only have access to Iranian films that support the prevailing, orientalist western construction of Iranian culture and politics, and especially its gender politics. But, to my mind, Kiarostami's Ten is an exception. For, while it has something of the heaviness that I, as a western cinemaphile, associate with Iranian film, Ten also is infused with the energy and humour and passion of a woman who refuses to be dominated, and who, to a certain extent, succeeds in eschewing normative gender ideology, embodied and transmitted by her young son. Ten acquaints us with a woman who tries to have ethical relations with strangers as well as intimate friends, and whom we often see struggling and failing to do so, with a woman who is trying to learn how to love herself. As a character, she is not unproblematic: but this too is instructive, from her paternalistic interaction with a sex-worker whose contempt for her bourgeois hypocrisy is palpable, to her unreflective stance on domestic labour.

In a non-didactic way, Ten shows us the mundane negotiation of feminist politics on the ground, by an ordinary, politicized woman. It arrests the orientalizing gaze, and controverts the western construction of Iranian women -- and Muslim women more generally -- as entirely divested of agency, and as lacking a sense of self independent of the projects, desires, and needs of others. It depicts an Iranian woman as mobile, both literally and metaphorically agentially engaging the world, encountering obstacles, to be sure, but obstacles much like those women encounter -- and have become accustomed to seeing as apolitical or normal aspects of their lives -- in the west. In fact, by occasioning the identification with its central character, who does regard the limitations society places on her freedom and her desires as political, Ten generates questions about the status of social roles in the western viewer: if the normative pressure to be a paragon of maternal love is political in Iran, is it not also political in Canada? Ultimately, viewed under the right lens, Ten can be seen to motivate the argument that we need a transnational feminist politics, precisely because women simultaneously share and don't share an experience of oppression, and so that women can flourish as subjects everywhere.



War on Terror is War of Terror

Fifty people are reported dead and over 700 injured, with casualties expected to double in number as emergency response teams continue their search through London's underground. Take a look at Lenin's Tomb for analysis of the bombing of London, its political causes, and its political exploitation:
"The interpretation of Labour Against the War, Socialist Worker, Mike Marqusee and George Galloway was that this is the catastrophic blow-back from Blair's foreign policy, that Londoners are paying the price for a policy that they didn't implement and by and large didn't even support"
As London mayor Ken Livingstone declared, the attack on London targeted working people, taking public transit to work that morning. (My friend Victor Serge makes an argument along these lines -- see his blog And your little dog too). Though no group has formally claimed responsibility at this time, already all fingers are pointing toward "Islamic extremists", and claims that the attacks have all the "hallmarks" of an al-Qaeda operation are proliferating in the Anglo-American press. (Al-Qaeda may well prove to be responsible; that is beside my point here.) Even though Londoners are apparently reacting calmly to the tragic events, the potential for retaliation against Muslim and immigrant communities in Britain is high, especially in light of the thinly-veiled, islamophobic statements of leaders of the self-described "civilized world". "I think we all know what they are trying to do", said Blair in an official statement yesterday:
"they are trying to use the slaughter of innocent people to cower us, to frighten us out of doing the things that we want to do, of trying to stop us going about our business as normal, as we are entitled to do, and they should not, and they must not, succeed. When they try to intimidate us, we will not be intimidated. When they seek to change our country or our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed. When they try to divide our people or weaken our resolve, we will not be divided and our resolve will hold firm. We will show, by our spirit and dignity, and by our quiet but true strength that there is in the British people, that our values will long outlast theirs. The purpose of terrorism is just that, it is to terrorise people, and we will not be terrorised." (Emphasis mine...but implicitly his)
Thanks for the illuminating tautology, Tony. And thanks, for once again displaying your prediliction for the most eggregious of double-standards. Because "the slaughter of innocent people" was, manifestly, also the modus operandi of the Anglo-American imperialist invasions and occupations of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of the Balkans. And the victims of those brutal wars and occupations are ordinary civilians, "innocent people," in Blair's terms. Britain and the U.S. are nations at war, and these attacks are acts of war, and war always terrorizes ordinary, working-class, powerless people. And what about terror in its other, more mundane forms? What about systemic inequality, inescapable poverty, starvation, poisoned water, unemployement, homelessness, barred access to life-saving medicine, life-long drudgery, indebtedness, indenturement, oppression...? In Afghanistan, ostensibly liberated by the U.S. over three years ago (but where U.S. bombing continues),
“39 percent of the population in urban areas and 69 percent in rural areas have no access to clean water. One child in eight dies because of contaminated water. People living in Kabul and other urban areas have electricity only a few hours a day...Life expectancy is 44 years. One woman dies from pregnancy-related causes every 30 minutes. All this in a country that has been forcibly handed to the institutions that the G8 leaders tell us can make poverty history." (Elaheh Rostami Povey quoted in Socialist Worker)
Global in/security, in its many forms, is terrorism, to which billions of people around the world are subject, and who now are expected to be grateful for the pittance they are handed with much self-aggrandizing moralistic fanfare by the leaders of the so-called civilized world. At the much-anticipated culmination of the summit at Gleneagles, the G8 has pledged a mere 50 billion USD in aid to Africa, and has agreed to the cancellation of the debts of 18 of the world's poorest nations (14 of which are in Africa). Two developments which had been announced before the summit even began. And how does this commitment to "relieve" these nations of their debt measure up, in political economic terms (terms which are deliberately and consistently eschewed for moralistic platitudes)? Well, as the Green Left Weekly reports,
"Britain’s annual contribution to the debt write-off will amount to between $70 million and $96 million, which is much less than the Blair government spends on its occupation of Iraq each year, and just a shade more than the $67.1 million it forks out each year in payments to maintain Queen Betty Windsor and her dysfunctional family. Washington will need only find between $130 million and $175 million a year, which is almost three times less than it spends each year just to run its Baghdad embassy. The total 10-year cost for the US is around what Washington will spend to build a new embassy in the Iraqi capital. Washington alone spends $2 billion a month to wage war in Iraq. If those figures call into question the “historic” scale of the West’s benevolence towards Africa and the Third World, compare them to the US annual “defence” budget, which will be more than $441 billion in 2006 alone. Or to the G8's spending $350 billion year on subsidies to its agribusinesses, which allows the of flooding Third World markets with cheap produce that has devastated local producers. Or compare it to Britain’s income from arms sales to Africa, which topped £1 billion (US$1.8 billion) in 2004. Or to US President George Bush’s cutting taxes for the richest Americans by $200 billion a year. It should be also noted that debts owed to the Inter-American Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank are not included in the deal, nor are the Third World countries’ huge bilateral debt burden (that is, debt owed to individual rich countries)." (Emphasis mine, quotation from "Africa Needs Justice, not Charity," at Green Left Weekly)
Organizations lobbying the G8, most prominently Oxfam and the Make Poverty History Coalition, declared their disappointment at the G8's all-too-minimal, all-too-typical commitments. The question is, why, in the first place, did they invest hope in the leaders of the world's most powerful nations, who have repeatedly and consistently demonstrated themselves to be the most callously indifferent, destructive forces on this sad, struggling little planet? Why go along with the show, when its fraudulence is so transparent? And why reproduce the politics of dependency and implicitly endorse the racist, self-serving rhetoric of the "white man's burden" by appealing to the G8 to "restore" Africa? The eminently concise words of Ghanian socialist Mani Tanoh are worth repeating here:
“We will not beg for aid from the G8. Instead we demand justice.”
What is needed is a unified call for reparations. The G8 must be resisted as the world's plunderers that they are, not aggrandized as the world's leaders, or much less, the world's saviours.
My hope is that Londoners -- and British people, in general -- will make these connections between what is considered around the world as the reign of terror of the Bush-Blair regime and the acts of terror against civilians in the west. That they won't retaliate against Muslim Britons, South Asian, Middle Eastern and African immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, that they won't reproduce their leaders' islamophobia and racist constructions of a "civilized world" subjected to acts of "barbarism", that they'll resist the us/them logic in Anglo-American foreign policy and in their own neighbourhoods; that instead, their calmness will give way to anger, the kind of anger that has the potential to occasion epiphanies on a mass scale, and which they'll harness in order to collectively take Blair down. My hope is that they'll expose his complicity with terror, both at home and abroad, and they'll begin to demand justice, for Africans, for Iraqis, for Afghanis, for Palestinians, for non-status people hunted by immigration authorities and dominated by borders, for Americans -- whose political morale and imagination are likely at their lowest levels ever -- for themselves, and for all of us, taking the same underground train day in, day out, suffering little deaths of spirit, little amputations of our being, which compound, ossify, deaden us, little by little, with routinized regularity, as we wait for something to change. My hope is for a very different kind of explosion, one that has the power to "stop all speeding trains" -- to quote Joe Hill; an explosion of the collective human spirit, against terror in all its forms, against terror waged against all the world's working people.



Iraqi doctor and political activist Dr. Salam Ismael, the general secretary of Doctors for Iraq Society, has been denied a visa to enter Canada. Dr. Ismael had been planning a Canadian speaking tour organized by the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Toronto-Gatineau coalition Together Against the War/Ensemble Contre la Guerre to report on conditions currently facing occupied Iraqis, and to recount his experience of the U.S. siege and massacre of Fallujah (known as "Operation Phantom Fury"), in November of last year (see his article in Socialist Worker: "Fallujah:The Truth at Last" at www.socialistworker.co.uk).

The grounds for the decision to deny Dr. Ismael the visa seem spurious, to put it mildly: Dr. Ismael, who is 28 years old, was told that his application for a visa had been rejected because he had “insufficient employment opportunities in his home country (Iraq)” and therefore posed a risk to stay in Canada. A particularly ironic statement, given the Canadian government's participation in the decimation of Iraqi civil society over the last 15 years, of which widespread unemployment is but one symptom. But clearly, political reasons motivate the Canadian government to refuse Dr. Ismael entry into the country (Dr. Ismael was also denied entry into Britain earlier this year, again on questionable grounds. The U.K.-based Stop the War Coalition is taking legal action against this political censorship). The Canadian and British governments seem to consider Dr. Ismael a threat to national insecurity and to the success of the continuing Anglo-American occupation of Iraq. After all, Dr. Ismael has been witness to the violation of human rights and the commission of war crimes, under the Geneva convention by U.S. forces.

Most recently, he has been speaking out about the actions of U.S. military in Haditha and Al Qa'im, west Iraq, where “an urgent humanitarian crisis is unfolding ... US soldiers have conducted simultaneous military operations in cities across the area. Between May-June 2005 the heaviest of these attacks took place in the cities of Haditha and Al Qa’im. These cities and surrounding villages are home to an estimated 300,000 people. Eyewitness and medical personnel in the area have described how US soldiers prevented food and medication reaching Haditha and Al Qa’im and targeted the cities’ two main hospitals, medical staff, and ambulances. US soldiers violated the Geneva Convention and international law by preventing civilians from accessing healthcare. Eyewitness reported at least one patient being shot dead in his bed on a hospital ward. Doctors were prevented from assisting patients and civilians in need. A number of doctors and medical personnel were killed in the attack and others were arrested by US forces in the hospital. They were later released, along with the hospital manager who was detained for two days. The huge military operation in the area has caused widespread damage and an unknown number of civilians were killed and injured during the attack. Video footage shot by doctors shows a badly damage medical store in the Haditha hospital and damaged surgical theatres. The medical store contained medicine and equipment for all hospitals and medical centers in the west of Iraq. Staff and patients say the damage was carried out by ‘by violent and barbaric US soldiers’." (Doctors for Iraq Society quoted in Iraq Occupation Focus Newsletter at www.iraqoccupationfocus.org.uk)

Meanwhile, according to CBC radio, after the largest demonstration in Scotland's history was held on July 2 (in which more than 250,000 people participated) Scottish police has "cancelled" the anti-G8 demonstration planned at Gleneagles today, reportedly because of damage to property for which "anarchist" factions in the last rally are being blamed. How easily fundamental civil rights - like the right to association and assembly, the right to free speech, and the right to occupy public space - are trumped by the precious rights of a few broken BMW windows, and all this in one of the west's leading "democracies"! So much for appealing to the good conscience of Tony Blair et al to "make poverty history"; instead, under his watch, the G8 machinery is continuing to make dissent history.

What's also interesting is the convergence between the critique of liberal anti-poverty politics (representatively, those of the Make Poverty History coalition) coming from socialist quarters, on the one hand, and the statements coming from G8 leaders and their aids, on the other, chastising "naive" demonstrators for expecting fundamental change in Africa to come from the G8 meeting - "you can't do it in one summit," says Tony Blair (you certainly can't - especially if you aren't planning to "do it" at all); "if I was to say that I was going to cure all the evils of the world in one Summit, no that would be an exaggeration", concedes Blair, but " I think we are getting there on Africa...I am optimistic we will make progress". But what, precisely, constitutes "progress"? Forget aid and debt relief, the west should be paying reparations for centuries of colonialism; forced deportation; indenturement and slavery; for the decimation of languages and cultural groups; for the role the partition of Africa has played in conflicts since "decolonization"; and for the destructive economic and social effects of the forced liberalization of markets as a condition of IMF loans and international aid. Blair is at his most despicable when he claims that "the world, rightly, looks to the G8 to show leadership on Africa". In fact, what the world wants is an end to Anglo-American neocolonialism in Africa and globally, and an end to imperialist wars and occupations. 250,000 people in Edinburgh declared this (in however inchoate a way) a couple of days ago. 10 million people on five continents declared this on the eve of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. That you can't eliminate all the world's "evils" in one G8 summit is indisputable: especially since eight of the world's evils are the G8, safely ensconced by a wall of steel and wire and riot police, plotting how to secure their Empire, predicated on the domination of the very people whom they claim look to them for "guidance". (To read the full interview with Blair, by John Lloyd of The Financial Times take a look at the official G8 website at http://www.g8.gov.uk -- but it's really just more of the same.)



My friends A.R. and M.M. are in Dawson City, on the last legs of their cross-Kanada McCleave Suitcase Gallery Tour: they curated a travelling cross-country exhibit of art works on the theme of "Trade and Exchange" that fit into the interiors of suitcases. On their Montréal stop, I was lucky to catch the opening show here, featuring the work of local artist Kit Malo (which was about Montreal icon Louis Cyr and the gentrification of a working-class neighbourhood, St-Henri) as well as the other suitcases they'd collected along the way (starting in Halifax, Nova Scotia). They're keeping a blog documenting their travels to various art communities (big and small) and their misadventures (like when their van got broken into in Winnipeg, and all the suitcases were stolen! Luckily, the thief didn't think they had a high resale value and stashed them under a random porch nearby) - definitely worth a look (link on sidebar). And there are apparently plans for a European McCleave Suitcase Gallery Tour when A.R. leaves her home in Toronto to study cultural theory in Amsterdam.

P.S. [02.08.2005] In fact, the second installment will take place here in Canada. To submit bookworks for consideration to the Second McCleave Suitcase Gallery Tour, on the theme of lineage, take a look at the call for submissions.



Make Poverty History: the politics of charitable consumption

In solidarity with the U.K.-based Make Poverty History Campaign (part of the Global Campaign Against Poverty), which is holding a mass rally today in protest of the G8 meeting in Edinburgh, I've added a link to their website (at the foot of the page). In so doing, I don't want to endorse the Campaign without reservation: for while they correctly diagnose the problem of poverty as a political phenomenon, they seem to place inordinate faith in the power of the existing social system (with some fairly minor structural modifications) to eliminate this phenomenon. The campaign consists in raising public awareness and stimulating public discussion about poverty (both good things) and pressuring politicians (especially Tony Blair, and the British government) to "make poverty history" by living up to commitments to cancel third-world debt, to increase international aid, and to regulate trade. All good policy suggestions, to be sure. But will they make poverty history? Doubtful. If poverty - and structural material inequality more generally - is a symptom of private property, only the elimination of private property will translate into the eradication of poverty. And this will require more than a few concerned e-mails to Tony Blair.

Which brings me to the second objection I have: throughout their manifesto and their eponymous publication, Make Poverty History continually emphasize how easy it is for citizens to participate in social transformation. A strategic misrepresentation, I expect, but a problematic one, nonetheless. I'm all for making mass politics accessible to most people, who have little leisure time or psychic energy - and I have a distaste for the activist who defines political practice as an ascetic devotion, such that only the privileged few have time or resources to participate; such martyrdom is really about self-glorification, not social change. But is making poverty history as effortless as Make Poverty History seems to suggest? According to them, it seems that all that's standing between human flourishing and the dismal present are five simple steps. We "buy the book" ("brilliantly simple, but life-saving", the website gloats) and/or the underpants (designed with the young in mind, apparently). We wear the branded bracelet. We advertise the campaign on our website. We write earnest appeals to Tony Blair to help him see how "simple" eliminating poverty really is. We show up to a "spectacular" rally once (today). And we all do it by ourselves, but as we've been told, and at the same time; (buy) now, now, now. Now - is this political participation, or is it consumerism?

P.S. (03-07-05): My friend V.M. told me that she's seen ersatz charity-branded bracelets, in the style of the Make Poverty History bracelet, for sale in Toronto's Chinatown. They say "love" and "peace" but the proceeds don't go to a charity or political coalition - they go to the store-owner. But this is precisely what the commodification of politics leads to: depoliticization. The claim is that Live 8 and Make Poverty History aren't about charity, they are about justice: but the connection between buying a bracelet and fighting for justice is tenuous, at best. Which doesn't mean that people shouldn't wear their politics on their sleeve or enjoy politicized cultural events - but surely the struggle doesn't end there, and it's doubtful that it productively begins there, either.

P.S. 2 (04-07-05): Thanks to Victor Serge, for leaving a comment directing me to Lenin's Tomb for more dirt on Make Poverty History. See also the critique of the MPH/Live 8 "mobilization" against the G8 by the Committee for a Workers' International.
P.S. 3 (08-07-05): The G8 summit is over, and (surprise!) its final proclamations will ensure that poverty remains very much a thing of the present. I'm removing the Make Poverty History banner, not least of all because of its conciliatory response to the G8 aid, trade, and debt relief program:
"Make Poverty History has become an unprecedented movement of passion, energy and solidarity. Never before have so many people in the world come together, fully united in demanding action to end poverty, with a roar for justice that they felt was impossible to ignore. Today the G8 have chosen not to do all that campaigners insist is necessary to free people trapped in the prison of poverty. Important steps have been taken - steps that will bring hope to millions. But more action is urgently needed if they are to play their role in bringing about real change for the world's poorest people and consigning extreme poverty to the history books. To secure a deserved place in history, the G8 must go a lot further and secure real change by working with other world leaders at the UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals and talks around the World Trade Organisation. The people of the world are already on the road to justice. They expect their leaders to be with them. Today's announcement has shown that the G8 need to run much faster to catch up."
The MPH campaign an "unprecedented movement"? Hardly. The G8 bringing "hope to millions"? Cynicism, drudgery, suffering, and hunger, is more likely. And since when are we only interested in "consigning extreme poverty to the history books"? What about "moderate" poverty? Relative poverty? Those are acceptable? The G8 needing to "run much faster to catch up?" Isn't it unbearably clear that the G8 are proceeding in precisely the opposite direction?! I've had it with MPH's lukewarm admonitions, timid proposals and general G8-ass-licking!