We are all Iraqis and Afghanis now!
By Carolyn Langdon, Co-Chair, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace
A few days after September 11, Margaret Wente's headline in the Globe and Mail said "We are all Americans now!" I wrote to her saying "if we are all Americans now then we are also Iraqis, Chechnyans, Rwandans, Columbians, Ogonis and Beothuk. Most of us have no quarrel with Americans but we dislike U.S. foreign policy, their war economy, their nuclear arsenal and the fact that they export more weapons around the world than any other country. We are critical of the politics of other countries, as well, including our own.
As the world's self-declared global cop, U.S. interventions have enormous repercussions.
In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. Secretary of State, was asked on national TV what she felt about the 500,000 Iraqi children dying as a result of U.S. economic sanctions. She replied that it was a "very hard choice," but that, "all things considered, we think the price is worth it."
Afghan women's organizations brought the brutal Taliban regime to our attention. Afghan women and girls are systematically robbed of their human rights. They are the "disappeared," absent from public and political spaces. It wasn't always this way.
We share the goal of ridding the world of terrorism but part company with the militarists, not least because of their methods. The Pentagon has recommended retaining tactical nuclear weapons as an option in the "war against terrorism."
Indian writer and peace activist Arundhati Roy describes George W.Bush and Osama bin Laden as twins: "Both are dangerously armed - one with the nuclear arsenal of the obscenely powerful, the other with the incandescent, destructive power of the utterly hopeless. The fireball and the ice pick. The bludgeon and the axe.... Neither is an acceptable alternative to the other." Bush's ultimatum of you're either with us or against us is not a choice that people should have to make.
NATO formally pledged to back the U.S. in any military strike. The Canadian government then publicly committed itself to participate in NATO operations. Defence Minister Art Eggleton assured us that Canada's forces are "ready if and when called upon," and the secret is out about Canada's anti-terrorist military commando unit Joint Task Force Two. There is no place for unilateral and disproportionate responses from the U.S. or NATO.
War is not the answer. Ursula Franklin reminds us that "Force doesn't work even for the enforcer."
The number of civilians, wounded and killed in conflict now vastly outnumbers that of combatants. More aid workers are killed than peacekeepers. More firefighters and police died during rescue efforts at the World Trade Center than U.S. soldiers in the last 20 years. Ordinary civilians pay the ultimate price of war yet have little voice in determining how relations between cultures and nations should be conducted. Matters of 'national security' are not decided by parliamentary debate, non-governmental organization consultation or citizen vote. Such matters are decided by the inner sanctum, the war cabinet.
Women and children represent the overwhelming majority of the 2 million amassed at Afghanistan's borders. The Canadian government agreed to open our doors to Afghan refugees and pledged $6 million in humanitarian aid. But, if women and the elderly are to avail themselves of Canada's largesse, then Immigration and Refugee officers must go to the border camps.
Our government is also proposing tougher immigration and refugee laws. NGOs must call for a larger refugee program to meet the special needs of millions of war-shocked women and children in the world's semi-permanent refugee camps.
We need to stop terrorism but we must also urge the U.S. and other governments to show the same kind of leadership in facing infectious disease, environmental destruction, illiteracy, malnutrition and homelessness.
Individually and collectively, we are thinking deeply about what it means to foster better understanding among all Canadians, what it means to embrace and celebrate diversity and to speak out against discrimination and racism.
Ontario Premier Mike Harris has responded monstrously with policies that could allow police to scapegoat people based on skin colour, religion, language or birthplace. Retired General Lewis Mackenzie, Ontario's new special security advisor says racial profiling is necessary. Government's statistics show that the vast majority of immigrants are law-abiding citizens with an over-all crime rate lower than those born in Canada.
We must be encouraged that NGOs and many in the media are calling for a debate of all proposed actions or legislative change in the rush to fortify domestic security. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our political and civil rights, including freedom from discrimination and protection of minorities are to be fiercely defended.
A VOW member, working in conflict resolution, is frustrated by the skewed priorities of our government that devotes more to war than to building peace and cross-cultural understanding. Canada has a youth program training 55,000 military cadets, yet CIDA has a peace-building budget of just $10 million per year. Citing adventure and travel, her teenaged children begged to join the cadets. She asks "where are the funds to prepare 55,000 youth for careers in peace building?"
Source: Presentatation at the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade's Vigil for Nonviolence, Oct. 6, 2001, in Ottawa.