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December 2009 editorials

Tory attack flyers backfire

Conservative MPs have upset many Montrealers with their scurrilous attack ads, mailed to people with Jewish-sounding names in ridings with significant numbers of Jewish voters.

There is much that is abhorrent about the tactic itself and the content. Many of those who received the flyer are furious that the Conservatives assume, falsely, that Canadian Jews base their vote on support for Israel, over and above the community members’ long-standing preoccupation with social justice, health care, the environment and a host of other issues.

While most Montreal Jews do support the federal Liberals, for a variety of historical and policy reasons, they do not vote as a bloc. Even more egregious are the statements in the flyer, which Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler has denounced as “close to hate speech.” The pamphlet accuses the Liberals of “willingly participating in the overly anti-Semitic Durban I – the human rights conference in South Africa that Cotler attended in 2001 along with a Canadian delegations. In fact, Cotler, along with Israeli government encouragement, showed courage and leadership by staying on, along with representatives of major Jewish organizations, in an effort to combat and bear witness to what turned into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate fest. The flyer also falsely accuses the Liberals of being opposed to “defunding Hamas” and asking that Hezbollah be delisted as a terrorist organization. In fact, the Liberals in 2002 took the lead in branding the two Islamist groups as terrorist organizations, making financial support illegal.

If the Conservatives think they will make inroads with Montreal voters with these untruths and sleazy tactics, they are sadly mistaken.

Spectre of Vietnam looms in Afganistan

US President Barack Obama’s announcement of a 30,000-soldier surge to counter the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, bringing to 100,000 the United States’ military commitment to the region, is bound to fail. The parallels with Vietnam are only too obvious. The only possible positive thing we can foresee at this point is that the boost may take some of the heat off Canada’s 3,000-troop Afghanistan contingent, which is to end its combat role in 2011.

On paper, one can wonder how it is that the Taliban, with an estimated force of about 15,000 poorly armed soldiers, can manage to hold out against a coalition of 43 nations equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry and communications capability. The short answer is that, much as in Vietnam, there is a fierce and ingrained determination among the various Afghan peoples to reject foreign interference in their affairs, going back to the British withdrawal more than a century ago and up to the more recent and disastrous attempt by Russian forces to sustain the unpopular Communist regime. The rugged mountainous terrain is an ideal staging ground and hiding place for insurgents. That is among the reasons why US troops failed to capture Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in December 2001.

In Vietnam, US and allied forces were propping up a hated and corrupt regime. Military expert Anthony Cordesman recently told the Washington Post that the regime of Hamid Karzai is “a grossly over-centralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-­traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.”

The ballot stuffing that was a feature of Karzai’s recent re-election is but a shadow of the deeper problem. The Afghan version of what was called the “Vietnamization” in the early 1970s is training more Afghan soldiers and police. That is hardly reassuring to Afghanis who know that a uniform there is carte blanche for extortion and abuse. The arrival of 30,000 more Americans can only mean more riches for the Afghani elite whose assistance and cooperation will be needed to provide the infrastructure necessary for their health, safety and security. Let us not forget how deep is the cultural gap that separates that country from our liberal democratic values. Take women’s rights. The recent compromise on family law, after the international outcry over the initial draft in which married women could not refuse sex with their husbands, is this: A husband may deny food to his spouse, even until death, for refusing to have sex with her husband. A wife is now allowed to work outside the home, but only with her husband’s permission.

Thomas Friedman, the respected New York Times columnist, warns that the idea the US and its allies can transform Afghanistan is problematic at best, and deepening the commitment with limited prospects of anything like a victory is “a prescription for disaster.” We say prepare now for some kind of compromise by encouraging the Afghan regime to reach out to the insurgents. Afghanistan will not in our lifetimes adopt our value system. The best we can hope for is to lay the groundwork for building schools, training teachers, doctors, nurses, and engineers and inculcating the essence of our traditions and the rule of law to a new educated elite. Maybe a decent life will be possible in at least parts of the country, justifying to some degree the sacrifice of more than 132 Canadian soldiers since 2002. Ultimately, and sooner than some may think, it will be up to the Afghans to fashion the framework of their society.

Tremblay, Bergeron step up to the plate

While only 39 per cent of eligible voters turned out for last month’s municipal elections, Montrealers voted wisely in re-electing Mayor Gérald Tremblay, but with a reduced majority.

The alleged scandals in construction and water-meter contracts had a lot to do with it, but voters appeared to agree that the mayor himself was not involved. They seemed to say, however, that he should have been more vigilant. With that in mind, he has added the chair of the executive committee and the role of Ville Marie borough mayor to his responsibilities.

Voters also indicated a desire for change by choosing Richard Bergeron’s Projet Montreal to run Plateau Mont Royal borough, and electing to the central city council former Gazette investigative reporter Alexander Norris. Mayor Tremblay has acknowledged this important breakthrough by giving Bergeron responsibility for urban planning. This is an opportunity for him and his party to show whether they have what it takes to persuade Montrealers in four years that they should be in charge.



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