Column for August 27, 2006: The crime of telling truth

The price of speaking the truth

So let me get this straight. Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj is forced to resign as his party’s deputy foreign affairs critic for the crime of telling the truth about the situation in the Middle East — which is that the only way to achieve any lasting peace in that troubled region is for all the combatants, including Hezbollah, to talk to one another. And that the most useful role for Canada is to do what it can, including talking to Hezbollah, to encourage that discussion to happen.

Well… duh.

Everyone — including George Is-That-Microphone-On Bush and Stephen Me-Too Harper — acknowledges Hezbollah was a key player in the most recent flare-up in the long-smoldering war between Israel and Lebanon.

Having emerged as a paramilitary resistance force during the last Israeli occupation of Lebanon, Hezbollah has since gone on to become a political party in its own right, with elected legislators and seats in the Lebanese cabinet, as well as a potent social welfare organization that has managed to provide services to people in southern Lebanon the national government hasn’t been able to.

But it is also a militia — whether you choose to call its adherents terrorists or freedom fighters — and there is no question Hezbollah’s kidnapping of Israeli soldiers touched off this latest confrontation. (Having said that, it is worth pointing out that the kidnapping was, by itself, nothing out of the ordinary in an ongoing pattern of parry and thrust played with equal disregard for the rules of engagement by both sides in the six years since Israel’s last withdrawal from Lebanon.)

For its own reasons, and perhaps those of the Bush administration — according to New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, Bush saw the Israeli air-and-ground assault on Lebanon as a convenient dress rehearsal for his own plans to attack Iran — Israel made the kidnapping the rationale to employ its superior armed forces to crush Hezbollah once and for all.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, Hezbollah emerged as an even more potent political force throughout the Middle East. During the crisis, the Lebanese government proved powerless to defend its sovereignty or its citizens. The U.S., Canada and other supposed friends of Lebanon’s fledgling democracy looked the other was while Israel bombed bridges, roads, airports, power lines and civilian neighbourhoods with seeming impunity.

Hezbollah, on the other hand, fought back. They won by not losing. And, when it was over, it was Hezbollah’s leader who was the first to promise aid to reconstruct the neighbourhoods American-supplied Israeli bombs had destroyed.

Which may help to explain why Hezbollah now has the shocking-to-the-West support of so many in Lebanon, including those who previously wanted it disarmed, if not to disappear.

Hezbollah’s current popular support in Lebanon and in the Arab world generally makes it impossible to ignore.

Enter Borys Wrzesnewskyj. The Liberal MP initially quoted said Canada should take Hezbollah off its list of terrorist organizations. He later backtracked from that position in the face of condemnation, but maintained that the ban should not prevent communication with the organization’s political wing.

For this bit of common sense, of course, Wrzesnewskyj got run over by a stampede of skittish, skittering Liberal leader (sic) wannabes, and pilloried in the press, including in an editorial in the Daily News that, incredibly, described Wrzesnewskyj ‘s resignation as “the most sensible thing he’s done so far this week.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Jason Kenney, Stephen Harper’s pitbull parliamentary secretary, not only got unqualified support from his boss — and the silence-is-consent endorsement of the media — for condemning Wrzesnewskyj but also did his best to ratchet up the rhetoric by comparing Hezbollah to the Nazis. And implying that Wrzesnewskyj was a latter-day Chamberlain appeaser. The Liberals, he said, “cannot distance themselves from Mr. Wrzesnewskyj’s words unless they are prepared to remove him from that position.”

But Kenney, it now turns out, also lent his own — and the prime minister’s — name to endorse an Iranian opposition group the Canadian government also brands as a terrorist organization.

Will Mr. Kenney do the “most sensible” thing and resign? Will the prime minister ask him to? Will the media demand it?

Don’t hold your breath.

Common sense is in short supply these days.

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