Saturday, February 28, 2015

Hold that Bill!

On the one hand, a state can run like a corporation with owner/boss/manager group at the top and the rest of us workers-without-a-union doing as we're told with cameras and spies and informers making sure we don't stray outside the boundaries set by the bosses. East Germany before 1989; North Korea today; Islamic Califate of the future. 
On the other hand, a libertarian state with minimal official interference in individual choices and activities is imaginable, something like today's internet writ large.

Canada today falls between the poles, obviously, but it's a sliding scale and there's always a possibility that circumstances will move us to a place where we'd rather not be. It's the fear of being shunted too far in the direction of the authoritarian state that has us spooked regarding the current security bill: C-51.

I’d be the first to admit that my life cannot be considered private, let alone secret. I went to see my optometrist yesterday and watched over his shoulder as he added to the mass of information he already had on file about me. The secretary at the doctors’ office this morning needed only to glance at my Saskatchewan Health Card to bring up on her computer all the information existing about my health, my visits, my address, age, height, weight, etc. We are a data base-driven society, and in this notorious compulsion for data gathering and saving, industry and government are probably the most efficient.

And therein lie issues that are central to our age and about which we need to debate and discuss--with reliable, non-partisan information--if we're to prevent being lulled into allowing unnecessary increases in surveillance and policing, ostensibly to protect us. It’s bad enough to send out a request on the internet  for a quote on an item and then find yourself deluged with offers and come-ons for all kinds of things from all kinds of places. It’s infinitely worse to know that a surveillance apparatus has filtered all emails coming into the federal government and bureaucracy, pulling out any that suggest a possible leaning toward an ideology or idea that the government of the day might consider threatening to the security of the state.

How much do I need to know about my neighbour in order to feel safe? Obviously, the temptation to snoop increases as my fear of his possibly-harmful inclinations increases. Hidden cameras, bugs, drones, something is necessary when you suspect your neighbour of stealing your apples. Security systems make us feel safer, but somehow or other, the need for heightened surveillance surely tells us something about relationship failure.

A majority of Canadians (by recent polling) is ready to let CSIS surveillance mandate be broadened, authority being given to a watchdog agency to act like policemen. It's not surprising now that propaganda has been doing its best to give all of us the jitters about ISIL/ISIS inspired attacks on us. But how many Canadians know that Bill C-51 is vague to the point where, for instance, an advocacy group demonstrating against a new bridge could be targeted for “interference” by CSIS if the authorities of the day deem that bridge a necessity for security reasons?

We will all be scrutinized more closely after C-51; question is, do we care? The primary tool for the establishment and maintenance of a totalitarian system is comprehensive information about individual citizens. Bill C-51 slides the bar along just a bit more to the right on the scale.

Let's think about this carefully, pay attention to what Tom Mulcaire and so many others are saying about the bill. According to Elizabeth May, one of our most astute political leaders,

This bill needs way more thought than the government is prepared to give it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A tolerant nation, but . . .

Eigenheim Winter
The federal government will quarrel with the Supreme Court again, this time because the wearing of a niqab by a conservative Muslim immigrant during a citizenship ceremony is considered "offensive" by the prime minister while the court interprets our existing law and Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect being so attired as a religious right.

            Some claim that Harper's picking of this as another fight is mostly a pandering to the demographic that can't tolerate difference (he probably knows that bigotry is so entrenched in Canada that you can actually win some seats by promoting intolerance). I personally agree with the sentiment that women being required to cover themselves thoroughly in order to prevent men's lascivious thoughts and actions is as objectionable as its reverse: the libertarian assertion that "I can wear as little as nothing wherever and whenever I want, so get used to it." But my convictions were shaped by Christian community and Canadian values, not by Islam or libertarianiam.

            No religious faith I know of can withstand the scrutiny of logic, especially when applied by someone not raised in the particular set of beliefs being considered. Requiring an orthodox Muslim woman to uncover her face in the presence of men who are not her husband is probably as traumatic for her as a Jehovah's Witness adherent being forced to undergo a blood transfusion, or an orthodox Anabaptist or Quaker being compelled to march in a military parade carrying a rifle.

            Of course the response from an intolerant right wing is and will always be, "Tough! You don't like it, stay out of my country!"

            The government spokesperson on CBC's Power and Politics defended its position by saying that a judge needs to be able to see a person's face during the administering of the oath of allegiance in order to be sure she's actually saying it.  Poppycock! The option of being sworn in separately in the presence of a female justice could be easily arranged.

            Petty as this last attack on religious freedom in the Charter seems, it's only another phase of our government's narrow range of tolerance. Far more scary is the entangling of Canada in a coalition seeking to defeat "jihadist" militancy . . . militarily. I wasn't raised to value niqab-wearing, sweat lodges or the healing properties in crystals, but I "believe" that love conquers evil; nothing else can.  Counterintuitive as it will seem to most, Canada's best role in the Middle East right now would be in providing escape options, sustenance, relocation  to those being steam-rollered by ISIS.

            Most urgently, though, we need a new government. The prospect of that happening without a progressive-side merger are looking slimmer by the day.

            So sad.


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Terror, war and propaganda

Before the Beginning

I don't know what the word terror means to you, but for me it's that feeling of being tossed about in an airplane in extreme turbulence. It's fear-with-a-deadline, it's a state half physical, half psychological, half spiritual and if that adds up to three halves, so be it; 150% of possible alertness sounds about right.  

            The word is bandied about a lot these days and anyone trained in the nuances of language has to be shaking his head in amazement when politicians quibble for days over the question of, for instance, whether or not a deranged man galloping through the capital with a stupid hunting rifle is a terrorist or not.

            Of course, agreeing on what's meant by particular words matters in law where drunk has quite arbitrarily been decided to mean +.08 blood alcohol level. But in the public square, words are not precise points, they're clouds, and when Stephen Harper declares that ISIS has declared war on Canada, he's deliberately releasing the fox into the hen house. The war cloud is big and dark in people's minds and surely we haven't forgotten how George Bush used the war word to prepare the public to accept his astronomically stupid invasion of Iraq.

            Terror, war easily become blunt but effective instruments of partisan propaganda. If we're at war, then all the tools of the wartime propagandist can be deployed: patriotism, loyalty, sacrifice, war-measures actions, curtailing of civil liberties in a dangerous time, etc. Most of all, any criticism of government can be branded as disloyal, unpatriotic, even subversive. Listen to government rhetoric; it's happening right now.

            How would our responses be different if our government characterized Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, ISIS as what they really are, criminal gangs in need of arrest and detention? I remember wincing when the war on terror phrase was introduced into political currency, handing over to Al Qaeda criminals a legitimacy they didn't deserve. We respond differently to crime policing than we do to war.

            Words, words, words.

            Terrorism does have a definition, of course. It's a strategy of inciting fear in order to gain an advantage in conflict. A definition, incidentally, that would fit many a parent, many a teacher. And quite coincidentally, Harper's declaration that "The Jihadists have declared war on us" rather neatly fits that definition as well, given that elections are about as conflict-ridden as we get here in Canada.

            Wartime governments invariably gain election advantages. If our government can't render us jubilant over the economy, by jove, they can always terrorize us into voting for them. What with the economy tanking and an election barely 9 months away, a new strategy is not a surprise. The old adage that "you can't fool all of the people all of the time" just isn't that reassuring, at least not to me; in Canada you literally need only fool a third of the people most of the time to be politically successful.

            I wonder if embarrassment is driving John Baird's resignation.