Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Peace-making or War-keeping

It was March 19, 2003 around 5 pm and I was on my way home from work. My mind had been occupied with the threat of invasion of Iraq for days and perhaps weeks.

On my way, I saw the protesters at St. George Square in Guelph again. They had been camping on the street for days. Instead of going home, I walked toward the crowd, lit a candle and placed it near the fountain.

I sat down beside the candle, as the sun set on St. George Square. I held my knees in my arms and as I watched the candle burn, remembered the days of my childhood . Concrete bunkers, the Red Alarm, White Alarm, nights of sleeping in the basement...

To this day, I haven't been able to get the sound of airplanes approaching us out of my head. As much as I hated Saddam Hussein for ruining my childhood, my city and my country, I couldn't stop thinking about the Iraqi children that would suffer.

As tears rolled down on my face, I thought of the next day, first day of the New Year for many Kurds, who were seeking refuge near the Iranian border. There were reports that many families were camping in the cold with no food or water.

My candle burned out and I had to light another one. I could vividly remember the horrific scenes of destruction, dead soldiers coming home and the sound of military march that summarized my childhood.

It was March 19 and it was cold, but not as cold as it was for the campers in Iraq. I stayed up with the crowd until morning, when we heard U.S finally invaded Iraq.

That day, with all my heart and soul, I wanted the Canadian forces out of war. But today, our debate is on their role in Afghanistan.

No one wants the Taliban to come back. The Afghanis need help to re-build their police force and their country. Until they gain control, the Canadians need to support the mission. At least that's what the media are telling us.

As the bodies of two dead soldiers were brought home this week, I thought whether this really was a peace-making mission. How many soldier do we need to lose, before we decide that we don't want to clean up after the Americans?

I admire the Canadian military men and women, who put their lives on the line to re-build Afghanistan. But the truth is that I want to be convinced the cause is really worth their lives.

Do the people of Afghanistan want a peace-keeping force? Is that what we are doing in Afghanistan?

Read Jeffrey Simpson Column Today on this.


At 6:25 p.m., Blogger Inquisitor said...

You ask if Afghanis want peace-keepers in their country.

The military forces in that country right now are not peacekeepers of the traditional U.N. sense. They do not wear U.N. insignia nor do they wear the blue helmets, not that the average Afghani would know the difference between one foreign military force and another.

After the ouster of the Soviet forces, there was a brief window of opportunity for a return to peace. Unfortunately there were too many people who were brought up on a diet of violence and might makes right. The civil war that ensued resulted, arguably, in more bloodshed than the rebellion against the Soviets. The people were desperate for an end to the hostilities which broke down into ethnic and tribal warfare.

Enter, the Taliban who brought peace and stability, but at a price. An iron fist and their own brand of justice. Some of the good things that happened was a general cessation of hostilities except in the parts of the country they did not control, and a reduction in the drug trade, which has since flourished. The bad things we already know.

Shall we abandon the country to a clutch of narco-warlords and religious-extremists? We have decided that the Afghanis deserve better. Is this what the Afghanis want? Of course. But better in their own vision, which is not necessarily ours.

Keep in mind, Singapore grew from an undeveloped swamp and few natural resources with a poorly educated populace to a first-rank city-state that is one of the most modern in the world with a very highly-educated citizenry. All this in little more than two generations. It was and still is an autocratic state with tight control over political power and freedom of the press. A benevolent dictatorship, if you will.

Western-style democracy is not the only way forward. It worked for us, but then hundreds of years of participatory democracy and a gradual evolution of political thought in a highly-educated and enlightened country cannot be transposed on a country such as Afghanistan at this time in an instant fashion. It will take time.

It takes time to convince people that you do not solve problems by taking an axe and swinging it at someone's head. That the foreigner in the military uniform is not necessarily there to take your country from you, like all the other men in military uniforms in the past were. They have to see that there are other ways. The young generation has to know that there is more to life than the last 25 years of war in their country.

It will take time. And more lives. But it is worth it. It has to be.

At 1:43 a.m., Anonymous Niloofar said...

I know an afghan man ...this is what he saw in HARAT less than a year ago:
two afghan young men were trying to get in to another man's house who recently had been returned from Iran(probably have much money) they were trying to rub him. people saw them and catch them, they brought them to the top of a 3 store unfinished building and drop both young thief down as the punishment!
you see ...there are so many things that have to be changed there... did you know that just 10% of the houses in Harat have electricity?...I doubt that if the presence of a foreign military force can change any thing there...I dont know

At 8:48 a.m., Blogger Jackal said...

To inquisitor:

I reckon the "benevolent dictatorship" is a contradictory combination. Absolute power - read dictatorship - is corrupting in nature. How many "benevolent" dictatorships do you know throughout the history? Is there a single successful experience at all?

Plato, tired of the Greek democracy, suggested his utopia as a benevolent dictatorship of the elite philosophers. His ideas were not ignored and actually put to practice by Marcus Aurelious in the second century. It didn't last, nor was it successful at any rate.

Following that, benevolent dictatorship of the church (Men of God) started in europe in the form of the Holy Roman Empire. The result was devastation to europe through the crusades and inquisition.

Ivan the terrible of Russia, Bismark in Germany, and Napoleon of France are just a few examples. Even after the 1979 revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Beheshti - one of the main architects of the islamic republic - suggested that his ideal type of government is a dictatorship of the elite "solahaa"; and we all know what has come to that: "velayat e faqih".

And about Singapore, you're right; the ruling party has been there since the independance from the british empire after world war ii, with full control over the government, lesilatory bodies and media. Their main poicy is based on fear. A chinese ethnic island surrounded by vicious muslims (Malysia, Indonesia). Does that sound familiar? (At least Israel is a democracy). Anyone in singapore with slightest political opinion of his own is not tolerated, usually accused of espionage (familiar again!), his properties confiscated and imprisoned (or has to go to exile if lucky enough). In a city-state the size of Singapore, I suspect, this system would last a little longer than normal.

If that is the raod to progress and development - as you call it - I'd personally rather stay savage.

As for Afghanistan or anywhereelse, I agree with you that you cannot instantly transpose a certain system not yet tried or understood by the people. However, I believe the only way to learn it, is to practice it. Don't you think so?

At 9:33 a.m., Blogger Bahar said...

Today, Marcu Gee of the Globe and Mail wrote:

"On the nation-building side, they are helping set up schools and medical clinics and advising the fledgling Afghan government on how to run a modern administration. On the war-fighting side, they are helping to patrol and stabilize the dangerous Kandahar region."

The idea of exporting "modern democracy" bothers me. I would like to think that schools are built in afghanistan, hospitals and new neighbourhoods. However, "modern administration" is what we like, and not necessarily everyone else.

Take Saudi Arabia for example. They don't have democracy. They have been living in their own world of oil money and religious ignorance for years, and still love it. It works for their nation!

What if "modern administration" is not so compatible with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan (given the religious and traditional background).

I am just throwing out these ideas. You may say that it is our responsibility, as a nation that has relative democracy and peace, to teach the so called "post medival" nations how to do "it".

As my dad says, colonialism was perhaps the best thing that happened to India!

At 10:03 a.m., Blogger Jackal said...


Just looking at the last 50 years of Saudi Arabia is not the best way of analysing its condition. Ottoman colonialism had, to its scale, a similar effect that the british had in india. Arabia's elite were quite progressive and keen for development. But once the oil money started flowing in, the absolute dictatorship started to corrupt. The result in the people is either utter ignorance or Wahabi fundamentalism.

Are they happy this way? Of course they are happy!

"a hundred years ago you were living out here in tents in the desert chopping each others heads off, and that's exactly where you're gonna be in another hundred"

At 10:32 a.m., Blogger Bahar said...

Who is this last quote from?

At 10:49 a.m., Blogger Jackal said...


At 10:49 a.m., Blogger Jackal said...

Oops, the last quote is from the new George Clooney movie "Syriana"

At 11:28 a.m., Blogger Bahar said...

I have to watch Syriana or I will die of curiosity! Maybe this Friday night.

At 11:55 a.m., Blogger Jackal said...

have you seen his other one? "Good Night and Good Luck"
I haven't yet, but it appears to be another must see [;)]

At 3:41 p.m., Blogger Inquisitor said...


Yes, Plato did discuss the idea of a philosopher king. Some people thought that we had that with Pierre Trudeau, because with our style of parliamentary democracy and very tight party discipline, the Prime Minister here is like a king. He did some good things, but financially we were very burdened afterwards. One could argue that he invested in things that had a long-term payout such as schools. Depends on your viewpoint.

My point is, how can you practice that which you do not know? You will make many stumbles and you have to pick yourself up and try again. But the question is, when you stumble, will you continue on the same path, or diverge backwards?

Democracy can be very messy. The U.S. had a terrible civil war with more casualties than all other wars they were involved in, combined. France's republic elected a dictator in Napoleon. Germany allowed a seductive autocrat to seize power by leveraging his position in a democratically elected republic. That was Hitler. And Rome's republic gave away their freedom to a triumvirate.

So, if strong, educated (for their time) and rich and worldly societies like those ones, let slip their democracy (or almost in the case of the U.S.) in times of uncertainty, it does not necessarily bode well for a new democracy. As I said before, Iran tried, and a dictator seduced the people. I remember a quote from the student uprising. It was from a student who said something like, "Khatami is no good. He cannot get anything done. We need a strong man." Well, this student was asking for one dictator to replace another, which is what the Ayatollah did. He replaced the previous dictator.

They need a nice intermediary stage to ease into a democracy. that's what Zaher Shah, the former king, was offering up. Allow him to be king and he will shepherd them along, slowly. Now, of course, who knows if he, or his children would still have wanted to seize power for themselves. But it was an intriguing idea.

But then can they decide on an intermediary stage? Will the loya jirga suffice?

As an aside, I remember learning in classes that there have only been three times that two democracies have gone to war with one another and that, as a result, perhaps it is a good choice of government.
Who went to war?
proto-Canada/Britain vs U.S - War of 1812
US vs Britain - War of Independence 1760s
my mind slips what the third one was.

At 3:56 p.m., Blogger Bahar said...

"Democracy is messy" reminds of Martin. anyways...

In case of Khatami, there are many mixed feelings. Yes, we elected him with big hopes and dreams. We expected that over one term he can change around what the regime had done in 18 years. Yes I was 18 when I voted for him.

He changed the intellectual environment. We had a good window of opportunity for great ideas to grow. But we have to see how small the role of a president is in Iran.

People who say "Khatami was not strong enough" are not wrong, but the correct term is "revolutionary" not strong.

"They need a nice intermediary stage to ease into a democracy." I wonder if it could work for Iran, when there is such stage. (was there ever an intermediary stage?)

Iraq and Afghanistan, at this point, look like sick bodies in detoxification. If Iran goes any deeper, it will join the party, too!

At 4:24 a.m., Blogger Jackal said...


At 10:29 a.m., Blogger Jackal said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Post a Comment

<< Home