The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: peace

Election 2015: Fear and Elections

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AUTHOR JEREMY ALDANA NOTES, “Insecurities have the ability to shape and mold our minds to live with things we otherwise wouldn’t accept, thus creating pain.” With the rise of rogue terrorist groups carrying out their actions around the world, we can easily get the sense that we are vulnerable, that all isn’t well with the world, and that, if we’re not careful, we could be placed in danger.

Modern elections are all about this propensity for fear and insecurity, and, to be sure, such threats carry weight in any campaign. Trouble emerges, however, when political parties, especially those with an authoritarian bent, opt to use election seasons to rouse up fears in the voters instead of hope and creativity. In such a state of perpetual insecurity, citizens lose perspective on other things they would normally worry about. With global insecurity once again an active element in political life, our own worries can easily eclipse other problems we can overcome.

What of our fear for our children’s future in areas of education and employment? Surely those count for something. How will we overcome our insecurity regarding climate change and the coming desolation? With poverty becoming more deeply entrenched every year, how will we deal with our collective worries about our declining social expectations?

In each of these areas politics has failed to come up with appropriate and timely responses, and so it does what it always does to distract us: scare us into overlooking such things in our distress over terrorism. Surely a capable government would assuage the fears of its people in all these areas.

It remains a foolish thing to believe that military action alone, or exclusive concentration on international trade, will be sufficient to keep us safe in all these dimensions. The number of Canadians involved in international peacekeeping presently numbers less than twenty. How can we fight war when we have undermined the resources for peace? The Harper government’s penchant to shut down embassies, abolish the Canadian International Development Agency (it is now part of the trade file), pull out of global institutions in which it was once an active member, the cutting back of diplomats, and black and white policies that only foster more conflict, means we have become victims of fear as opposed to proponents of peace.  They are signs that we have been in the process of gutting the very international diplomatic, development, gender, even military infrastructure, that were developed to deal with problems where they occurred and not wait for them to visit our shores. It is for these very reasons that Canada couldn’t win the slam dunk opportunity to be voted into the United Nations Security Council.

If a government were serious about protecting its people against foreign evils, it would place the bulk of its efforts on prevention, since such actions as peacekeeping, international development, gender equality programs, and, yes, trade deals that benefit the average person in difficult regions, have proven track records. The more we cut them out of our actions as a nation, the more that armed conflict will become inevitable.

That will also prove true domestically. Unaffordable post-secondary education, a growing gap between the rich and poor, the refusal to take climate change or our aboriginal situation seriously – these things, along with a growing list of others, will eventually lead to internal discontent in Canada. Perhaps worst of all, our dysfunctional political system shows no propensity for coming up with solutions to such dilemmas.

The chief character in the book (and subsequent movie), Divergent, watches everyone shrink back because of collective fear. “Fear isn’t supposed to shut you down; it wakes you up.” she tells the collective gathering.

It’s time we all woke up from our fearful nightmares and got to work on our collective dreams to build opportunities domestically and grow the peace globally. Franklin Roosevelt was right; we have nothing to fear but fear itself, especially the kind that renders us inactive in an age when democratic renewal is required more than ever. The opposite of fear is not courage, but peace, and it’s time we had a government that understood that distinction.

A Virtuous Circle

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IN A WORLD WHERE A KNIFE, a gun, or a raised fist rapidly become defining symbols of the modern age, an emblem as old as humanity has emerged to stand up against intolerance – the circle.

Norwegians have felt the deep sting of hatred in recent weeks and as a people they could be forgiven for secluding themselves in their homes, with curtains drawn. They chose the opposite, preferring to testify to their respect of tolerance in the light of day.

It all started on Saturday, February 21, when more than 1,000 Muslims gathered together to form a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue. It was a direct response to an earlier attack on a synagogue in neighbouring Denmark a week previous, where a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants killed two people in an event promoting free speech at the city’s synagogue. It was Copenhagen’s only synagogue and the effects were immediately felt.

So it was that Oslo’s Muslim community showed their solidarity with their Jewish neighbours by forming a circle, 1,000 people strong, around the synagogue as the service progressed. Norway’s Jewish community only numbers 1,000 people itself and was understandably insecure following the attack of the previous week. The demonstration sent a clear signal to not only Oslo, but all of Europe, that the time had come to stand up against hatred, prejudice, and killing.

The Jewish community and all of Oslo could have left things at that, but they had a further statement to make, again in the form of a circle. Hundreds of Norwegians from all walks of life gathered to form a “human peace ring” around a Muslim mosque as a kind of symbolic “thank you” for what the Muslim supporters had done the week previous. The call for citizens to join the rally put it simply but firmly:

“We want to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim fellow citizens to show disgust towards increasing Muslim hate and xenophobia in society. In this time of fear and polarization we feel it is more important than ever to stand together and show solidarity. We believe in and will highlight the human will to live together in peace and in respect for each other regardless of religion and ethnicity.”

This is what it will take, not just in those areas where attacks occurred, but in every peace-loving community around the world, to remind us that we still have to gather if we are to prevail. Or, as Albert Schweitzer put it: “Until we extend our circle of compassion to include all living things, we will never find peace.”

Haters have to find objects against which they unleash their own inner turmoil. They lack a sense of proportion, believing that their own violent and hate-filled acts are greater than they really are. They live out their own alienation. In their actions they seek out respect as confirmation of their cause. But they can’t get it because the larger community of citizens and institutions are built on a greater understanding of tolerance. The powerlessness of those who hate to such a degree is revealed by those communities that refuse to yield. If forming a circle is the way move forward in peace, then so be it.

Run to Meet the Moon

 

Remember

OUR FAMILY WILL HEAD DOWNTOWN TO THE CENOTAPH this evening, as we do every year on Remembrance Day, and lay two roses on its steps – one each for Jane’s father and my own. Occasionally I leave a poem to Dad as my own way of saying thanks for struggling for what he believed in, despite the emotional and physical wounds he received during World War Two.

During that conflict, along with being a soldier, he also wrote poems from the front for the Calgary Herald. One of these is titled The Moon and Mars. I bring it out every year and have to come to terms with the reality that Lloyd Pearson was not only a brave citizen but a confounded one as well. I’m starting to understand what he was getting at.

In The Moon and Mars, he speaks about his love for his country, his family, his local community, and romantic love. All these he likens to the seasons of the moon and its ability to enchant the human race with its sense of affection and possibility. But always on the heels of those sentiments came the presence of Mars – the ancient god of war, as epitomized by the Red Planet, who saw peace as merely the trite interplay that happens between conflicts. The hue of the moon over the battlefields nevertheless calmed my father’s soul, reminding him of why he was fighting. But the redness of Mars always drove him to despair because it was about how war seemed to regularly outdo the penchant for peace.

Years later, he would tell me how he came to believe that war was what happened when people stopped listening to the better angels of their nature. Once, as we sailed in the water off Penticton, British Columbia, he said that the most important thing about why he fought was that the love he felt for those people behind and with him was stronger than any animosity he might have felt for the enemy in front of him.

In other words, my Dad, like millions of others, fought for the kind of life he believed in. He had fought for the nationalization of parks in Western Canada, endeavoured to find ways to help the poor find work, was president of his neighbourhood association, a great believer in sports, and sought to expand the vote to Alberta’s aboriginal populations. These were the things he was fighting to preserve, along with the welfare of his family.

I wonder what he would think now. How would he respond to the fact that food banks are growing? Could he tolerate a kind of politics that refused to dedicate the resources required to locate the approximately 1,000 aboriginal woman who are presumed murdered or have disappeared in Canada? What would he say about all those recent veterans who for the life of them can’t access the benefits promised them after they returned home to struggle with PTSD, family poverty, even suicide? His world had been one in which the burgeoning middle-class could find employment, build their communities through good paying jobs, and bring up their children to follow a life that was bigger than themselves.

Lloyd Pearson died almost 40 years ago, but I sometimes fret that his dream died with him. There was a very real sense that, for him, the true battle of World War Two wasn’t about ridding the world of tyranny, but about building the kind of Canada that was fair, prosperous, sustainable, and equitable. Hitler and Mussolini are gone. The fascists were defeated. But sometime along the way, we began losing the battle at home. In place of abundance we have food banks; instead of communities we struggle with homelessness; in the place of enlightened lives we have education solely for the sake of employment; and instead of citizens with purpose we have components of capitalism with little sense of honour to those communities in which it thrives. Mars seems alive and well and I think that reality alone would break Dad’s heart.

Harry Leslie Smith is 90 years old, a veteran, and living out his final years in Britain. He has said that this will be his final year for wearing a poppy because we don’t truly honour those who perished in conflict if we continue to lay aside the true purposes for which democracy stands and for which they fought. He powerfully concludes in his piece in the Guardian:

Next year, I won’t wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilized state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.

These are sad words from someone who has earned his opinion and they make mine feeble, yet I will still don my poppy.  But they would light a fire in my Dad’s heart if he were alive today. He would say, “Take the torch, citizens; our real fight is about the fairness of home and not merely the foes overseas.” As Robert Frost would say, “Let us run to meet the moon.” Mars has had its way long enough.

Canada Abandons a Former Partner

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Jane with an observer from the European Union during the South Sudan referendum

The following in my Huffington Post piece regarding the news that the Government of Canada has opted to significantly remove its presence in south Sudan during one of that country’s worst crises.  You can view the original article here.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

It won’t be easy. It’s never been simple. But for over 15 years a large number of Canadians have been investing in such initiatives, even during some of the worst years of the now-concluded civil war. During those early occasions, Canada’s reputation had been sullied by the presence of a Canadian oil firm that, in Southern Sudanese eyes, was making a fortune out of their misery. Eventually the firm pulled out and we sensed a warming to Canada as our government invested more deeply in peace initiatives and relief efforts, and as it became clear that we weren’t just interested in financial gain.

Some very capable Canadian diplomats were of key assistance in constructing and funding some of the key efforts required to end the war between north and south Sudan following so many decades. And Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which had provided such stellar service during the war years, assisted in helping the Southern Sudanese move forward as they peacefully achieved independence and became the world’s newest nation. For years, the Sudanese conflict had remained high on the radar for successive Canadian governments, who worked in conjunction with many of their international partners in that deeply troubled part of the world.

But being a new nation with limited resources doesn’t make for an easy transition into good governance. Tribes that had held together to fend off the incursions of north Sudan during the lengthy war have started to come apart over the problems of administering the peace. The recent troubles in the south that sprung up only a month ago, and the instability that has resulted, has pressed that African region to the precipice. Western nations that had so greatly assisted in early years but who had moved on to other regions are quickly returning with new initiatives to assist the south in holding itself together as it journeys towards adulthood as a nation.

Sadly, one of those countries will not be Canada. For well over a decade, Sudan had been a Canadian priority. But just this week, the Harper government, through its Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has recommended, “that Canada consider downgrading its development program (in Sudan), or exiting entirely.”

CIDA correctly figured that it was going to prove difficult to administer aid in the south. But that’s the way it has been for decades. Some of Canada’s most effective investments occurred during the civil war’s costliest years. This country, along with the U.S., Britain, the European Union, and others, kept their eye on the ball, slowly but progressively nursing that troubled country into an era where peace became a possibility.

What’s the reason for Canada’s change of heart and focus? According to an internal reportacquired by the Globe and Mail, Sudan is no longer an area of “strategic importance” to this government. Both Foreign Affairs and CIDA have been instructed to implement a new era in international intervention, primarily focused on what’s best for Canadian business. At the moment, little such opportunity seems apparent in Sudan and downgrading this country’s historic investment has been recommended.

All this is transpiring just as Sudan requires not only Canada’s ongoing partnership, but its influential diplomatic expertise. The Globe and Mail’s release of the internal report reveals that all this couldn’t have come at a worse time. In preparation for our trip to South Sudan in a few days, we learned that numerous contacts at various levels have been taken aback by what for them is even more fulsome evidence that Canada has lost its way in recent years.

While the United Nations has put out an emergency appeal for one billion dollars from donor countries to assist the Sudanese effort, tongues have already begun to wag in capitals throughout the West about how Canada appears to have gone AWOL. As one American government official told me today, “It’s now difficult to know how to involve your country in these important security and development issues anymore.”

All this will be embarrassing and not a tad sad to speak about with the Southern Sudanese. But, as with those earlier times, we will remind them that the people of Canada will continue in their interest and investment in a troubled country even as our own government loses interest. But hanging over all of us will be the understanding that Canada is leaving the southern Sudanese to their own fate, in this, their adolescent years as a new nation. Some investment will continue, but our government’s imagination is gone. This is not our finest hour.

A Nobel Gesture

Fifty-five years ago today – October 12, 1957 – a cable was sent to his residence from Oslo, but ended up at the wrong house. It informed him that he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He had no idea. Four hours later a reporter called him requesting an interview regarding the honour and for the very first time Lester Pearson learned of the award. He said later that day that he was both shocked and honoured.

Those seemed like simpler times looking back on the era, yet they were anything but. We watch the developments in Syria or Libya and harbour a certain trepidation that things could suddenly explode. But think what it was like during the dangerous early days of the Cold War when Britain, France and Israel planned a secret invasion of Egypt. When America, the Soviet Union and the UN caught wind of it and forced the invaders to abandon their plans, the world stood on the brink of something it feared. When Pearson suggested an international peacekeeping force to stand in the gap, a way out of the dilemma was discovered – thus Pearson’s Nobel Prize a year later. Many times during my sojourn as an MP I would visit the lobby of the Foreign Affairs building in Ottawa just to see the that medal on permanent display. There wasn’t one time I didn’t come away inspired.

Those were the days when Canada had a remarkably respected diplomatic corps and when we fought for an international policy separate from the powerful influences of both Britain and the U.S. – our two key partners. I understand that those days are now in our past, but what say we make a daring move in this direction once more by pushing for the Nobel Prize next year to be awarded to one of the most remarkable groups to ever throw their weight behind peace.

I speak specifically of the women of Sudan – north and south. Canada has invested plenty of resources in ending that conflict since the days of Brian Mulroney. The truth is that many in our successive governments never believed the day would come when north and south Sudan would settle for peace instead of maintaining Africa’s longest running civil war. So much has been made of international influence, the male leaders of both south and north, and the intervention of other African luminaries, that few know of the profound influence of Sudanese women on both sides of the border.

The idea for pressing their case for the Nobel Prize is not mine, but found its origins in the remarkable research work of Margret Verwijk. Senior policy officer at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Verwijk worked in the Dutch embassy in Khartoum for years and likely knows the deep influence of Sudanese women better than anyone else.

“Women were tired of war,” she says. “My research demonstrates that their struggle for peace was not in vain. Their contributions and demands reflected longer-term interests. For example, improving women’s economic situation and their political participation. Their struggle and efforts did not stop at the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.”

My wife and I, along with the teams we take repeatedly to Sudan each year, can confirm Verwijk’s finding from our own experience. At almost every level women from the north and south continue to be frustrated by the never-ending penchant for violence often shown by military leaders and march in defiance of such an outcome. The Sudanese women, as with any war, are always the ones remaining behind to pick up the pieces of shattered societies. We have discovered that it is their ability to take up the responsibility for survival of their communities that has changed the channel in Sudan: violence is no longer the preferred option. The very women who were the primary victims of civil war have now become the champions and guarantors of peace. Once the war ended they could have just gone back to their mud hut tukuls, attempting to carry on with the remnants of their lives. But instead they opted to remain engaged because they understand well enough, following centuries of experience, that the end of war does not guarantee the permanence of peace. They hold up more than half the sky; they shoulder most of the hope for a sustainable future.

Gone are the days when we viewed women as mere victims. They are interventionists, administrators, guarantors, mediators, entrepreneurs, advocates, fearless visionaries, and the fundamental grounding for the future of both north and south.

Groucho Marx used to joke that, “only one man in a thousand is a leader of men, the other 999 follow women.” It’s not a joke in Sudan; it’s largely a reality. Of course men still dominate the major leadership roles, but women fill in the rest, thereby giving their communities the grounding of peace.

Successive Canadian governments for over two decades have assisted in laying the foundations for this remarkable transformation. Canada provided women leadership training. CIDA constructed women’s micro-enterprise centres. The travel for women to attend peace conferences in places like Nairobi, Kenya, was funded by Canada.

This country is invested in the future of both Sudans by resourcing women at numerous levels. We should now take it one step further and push for their nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Such a precedent is neither outlandish or beyond possibility. Yesterday was officially the International Day of the Girl. The year should be topped off with a Nobel Prize for those very women who are paving the way for all those girls who are about to expand the envelope of peace.

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