Bruce Cockburn, Warrior

I just came across this song by Canadian icon Bruce Cockburn. As a kid, Cockburn’s Christmas music always found its way into holiday playlist. This song is a bit harder, although motivated in the same feelings of love and commitment. The words bring forward the deep truth of retaliation, of the felt need to hit back against unjust force. This seemingly absolute duty can easily overpower other moral sentiments, and is probably the key motivating forces at the psychological root of contemporary “terrorism”. Even Bin Laden said he got the idea for the twin towers attack while watching the towards of Beirut fall while under the Israeli siege in ’82. His logic, if you care to listen to what he had to say, was that Americans would never understand the evil of their terror campaigns and occupation in the middle east so long as they suffered no similar losses at home. This sentiment, the need to “make them feel what we feel” is both normative (concerning what is right) and hermeneutic (concerning interpretation of a situation), both an act of moral duty and of communication – a kind of dialogue with the enemy. Accordingly, today’s western states that are concerned with terrorism have a duty to interpret the terrorism. And in their interpretation, they should see that among other things, terrorism is the morally commendable voice which demands the populations of imperial states to take account of the actions of their governments, to cease their imperialism and funding of brutal regimes for their own economic interests. The warrior’s honour requires us to hear it before it can be dismissed as archaic and relevant only to a past age. So long as the military forces of powerful countries control weaker areas of the world for their geo-strategic interest, retaliation (terrorism) will remain a key element in the moral dialogue about the modern imperial world.


Here comes the helicopter — second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher…I’d make somebody pay

I don’t believe in guarded borders

and I don’t believe in hate
I don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors

of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher…I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation — or some less humane fate
Cry for guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher…I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice — at least I’ve got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher…Some son of a bitch would die


Why CLASSE is Right not to take sides in the Quebec Election

In any revolutionary situation there is a question of resolution: which demands are enough, what kind of compromise do you make with power when you can’t win? Moreover, most revolutionaries during an actual uprisings are not extremists but moderates, and they require radicalization by a difficult situation to side with those who insist impossible ideas must be brought into being through struggle. Therefore, any revolution not sold out at the right time is in danger of becoming weak and undemocratic – when only a small portion of the revolting group supports the “popular” action there is a danger either of collapse of those actions or of authoritarian control over the entire group such that participation is sufficiently encouraged. What is more likely is the increasing isolation and vilifying of the revolting group, and increasingly strong (and, in fact, correct) counter revolutionary voices denouncing the ability fo that group to represent those they claim to represent.  Continue reading “Why CLASSE is Right not to take sides in the Quebec Election”

Settlement Boycott versus BDS

Last week’s United Church resolution endorsing a boycott of Israeli settlement goods it feels that this could be the year that civil resistance against Israel goes mainstream. Sure, the press has lambasted the Church for its foray into middle eastern politics, but since they actually lack any arguments I’m confident that this action can be built upon and economic boycott of the Israeli settlement enterprise can become politically acceptable in North America.

This creates a problem, however, for those of us who feel strongly about anti-Zionism. When you boycott the settlements, and only the settlements, you are explicitly recognizing the legitimacy of the existence of Israel within the ’67 borders. You can dress this up in disguises if you like, by saying you support the right of return of the refugees, or saying you only recognize Israel as an Israeli not Jewish state, but this is just rhetoric. The reality is that the boycott-the-settlements movement is Zionist, it, more than anything actually being done by Israeli politiciens, defends the future interests of Israel – which can only continue to exist if a compromise that creates a feasible Palestinian state is found.

And this isn’t a new problem. Since 1988 the Palestinian Liberation Organization has officially ceded 78% of historic Palestine, and effectively sold out the interests of the refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel, for the “pragmatic” dream of becoming the leadership of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO was so keep to become a government that they accepted the very weak terms of the Oslo agreement and became a native authority in territories that Israel has no intention of giving up. But all the while, because the official Palestinian leadership has been trying for the two state solution, shouldn’t Palestinian solidarity activists support that cause as well?

These tensions expose a dangerous fault-line in Palestine solidarity – the fact that while most Palestinians might be anti-zionist, the concrete, pragmatic politics of the PLO since 1988 has not been anti-zionist but has in fact pursued Israel’s interests much more devoutly than Israeli politiciens themselves. For Israel to continue to exist it needs peace with the Palestinians, a peace which doesn’t overthrow Zionism, and that is what the PLO has stood for since 1988. In fact, I’ve read things that suggest this is what the PLO would have settled for in 1982, that Arafat thought that by fighting Israelis to a standstill in Lebanon they could be persuaded to give Palestinians sovereignty over the occupied territories.

The BDS, or Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, has managed to efface over the difference between palestinian solidarity and anti-zionism by committing to a set of demands which does not explicitly entail the destruction of Israel, but which would effectively undo Israel’s zionist character. This is a bit dishonest, which is why Finkelstein called it out and denounced its leaders as cultish last year. Finkelstein was so angry because he thinks a solidarity movement based on the 2 state solution, in line with the 1988 PNC declaration of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, an argument which has basis in international law, could be successful – and that the fact activists were working towards something more than this was preventing the movement from becoming mainstream.

The adoption of a settlement boycott resolution by the United Church, and the near adoption of a similar resolution by the presbyterian church of the United States, in a sense demonstrate that Finkelstein is right – is the real boycott movement passing BDS by the wayside – moving forward with a less agressive, more potentially mainstream politics, maybe even one that will have better and more immediate results for Palestinians?

It is certainly possible to be too radical, and for your radicality to be effectively a reactionary force because you create a symbol to mobilize against more than you succeed in mobilizing yourself. Is that what BDS is? But if you don’t stand with BDS, if you scale back your politics and endorse a boycott which will strengthen rather than weaken the state of Israel, how can you say you stand with Palestinians when most of them (i.e. the refugees) have their rights trampled and excluded by the two-state solution?

There are no easy answers, and as the anti-settlement boycotts multiply groups that endorse BDS will be forced to choose whether they will change their own politics to potentially gain power and access to a more mainstream audience at the cost of no longer truly being able to identify as anti-zionist. This is a year for difficult decisions.

The BDS is not the Palestinian Leadership (or the centre of the Palestinian Left)

North Americans wishing to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause, especially those who consider themselves to be on the political Left, are likely to look to BDS for leadership and a Palestinian voice. This is understandable because BDS is the most powerful worldwide Palestinian solidarity organization, and it has a Palestinian leadership. Moreover, the BDS demands are matters of Palestinian consensus – important political and civil society groups representing the interests of Palestinian nationalists, Islamists, and leftist have endorsed the BDS campaign.

However, it is important to differentiate between BDS as a solidarity organization and BDS as a political movement within Palestinian politics itself. While BDS embraces consensus demands, important leaders and champions of BDS have their own politics which, considering Palestinian politics as a whole, is just one among many voices in the struggle. The most powerful Palestinian leader who is involved in the BDS movement is Mustafa Barghouti, a third party leader with very little support either in the West Bank or Gaza. In the 2006 Palestine Legistlative Council elections the results were as follows: Fatah – 41%, Hamas – 44%, PFLP – 4%, and Mustafa Barghouti’s Palestine National Initiative – 2.7%.  Continue reading “The BDS is not the Palestinian Leadership (or the centre of the Palestinian Left)”

Why I am still Vegan

I’ve been “a vegan” for a few years now. Four, I think. That means that, for the most part (I’ll explain that in a minute), I have refrained from eating dairy, eggs and meat. I feel pretty disillusioned about the whole thing, to be honest. But that doesn’t seem a good reason to stop.

I’ll try to explain – I’m someone who, how can I put this, does a lot of thinking. It’s my job, actually (weird, eh?). And I’m a very enthusiastic person – when I get into things, I really get into them. So when I became vegan I was really into it. I even helped organize a conference about it in my house. I argued with myself and others about the different ideas of what vegans should fight for, about how to liberate or improve the situation of non human animals. We even went to see the woman who started PETA, and were all very pleased with ourselves when we found our own arguments much better than hers. We were idealists, idealists in the sense that we busied ourselves with pictures of what would be right, given the obvious fact that what exists today is wrong. Watch “Earthlings” and it is clear that there is something deeply wrong with the way non human animals are treated today.

It’s not that I’ve become less idealist. Ideas are crucial. But what’s changed is I’m no longer very interested in ethics. What does it matter if you know what is right if your idea of what is right doesn’t motivate anyone to change their actions? Revolutionary transformations can only take place when force transforms the topography of society. That could take place with respect to the position of non-human animals, but there is little evidence that it is happening.

I’ve become less interested in what is right, then, and more in what is effective. Given that the current treatment of animals is not acceptable, and yet we all passively accept this, what ideas could motivate resistance against the status quo? I have respect for, but I am not a member of, Pig Save – a protest group in Toronto that witnesses and speaks out agains the slaughter of pigs in Toronto. They actually stand out on the curb while the trucks come by. They call themselves witnesses, and they are.

When a hypocricy is so massive, what means can confront it? It feels like common knowledge now that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian”. But it’s not true, at this point enough video has come out (not to mention the existence of youtube) that people can no longer pretend they don’t know of the horror inside those places, or of milking parlours or chicken coops.

It’s simply not true in today’s context to believe that spreading knowledge about the treatment of animals will lead to mass revolt against the system. While certainly you will increase the number of vegans, you also increase the number of those who withdraw, who form hardline opinions against the necessity of changing the human animal relationship. Now that everything is on the internet, there is nothing terribly disruptive about the truth.

At the same time, I think the situation is so dire, and I also think that even if the discussion were to break into the mainstream this would have an extremely positive effect. If veganism went mainstream, capitalism would be happy to sell us vegan food at fast food places instead of burgers. In fact, subsidies aside, I’m sure it would be cheaper. If the perceived cost of accepting the ideals of animal liberation wasn’t exclusion from normalcy, then it would be perhaps easy to have this debate out in the open. But the perceived cost is high today, and the debate can’t be had out in the open because everything is already as open as it’s going to be. Sure, I can encourage a few more people to think about the issues, maybe if I work really hard I can get a few  more people to watch earthlings every year. But this gets harder as more and more have already seen it and not just heard about it, and go about their ordinary business. They recognize the problem, for them it is out in the open, but they don’t see what can be done.

I suppose what I’m coming to terms with is the fact that it is not radical today to be vegan, at least not radical in the sense of disruptive or transformative. Perhaps to be truly disruptive today you should eat meat, but do it in a way that demonstrates the grotesqueness of the situation, as in a performance art piece of people eating meat while watching earthlings. (Although, the performance piece could be done with fake meat…)

But as disillusioned as I become, I will stay vegan. And maybe for counter-intuitive reasons – not because it is a sacrifice but because it really isn’t  a sacrifice. It’s so damn easy to be vegan when you live in Toronto and have access to a kitchen. It’s actually the cheapest way to eat.

Revolutionary Love

Strange, the concept that has most enamoured my conscience since returning from my travels is that of “love”. I read “Prisoner of Love” on the airplane, and it put a lot of things together for me. Solidarity, revolution, resistance, taking sides. These are not acts of conscious reason, acts of pragmatic improvement. These are acts which have the feel the absolute in them, the transcendent. And I think there’s a good reason for this.

But first – liberal politics, what is it? I think I learned in Foundations 103 about a hundred ago that politics, and by that they meant liberal politics because we didn’t study any revolutions in Foundations 103, was the ‘art of the possible’. I think it’s more often theorized as the science of the possible, whereas “art” is probably a fairer description of what politiciens actually get up to,but I won’t get into that distinction at this time. The emphasis on the “possible” is essential, and “possible” is actually a very restrictive idea. It means (liberal) politics only concerns itself with things which are possible given the existing arrangements, given the existing organs of power, given the existing discourse, given existing public sentiment, etc… Liberal politics isn’t concerned with transforming the world, just making it a little bit better as is possible given the circumstances.

Liberal politics doesn’t need love, because it doesn’t transcend anything. It doesn’t go beyond the normal, the everyday – it stays within those parameters, ideally making the most progress possible without stepping over the pragmatic boundaries for action. Liberal politics doesn’t need a family, or an in-group, it doesn’t need a militia or people to die on the barricades when the army stands down their non-violent protest.

Revolutionary politics is a politics of love because it transcends, it demands the impossible. To be clear what it actually demands is for the situation to revolve, to re-orient, for the topography to shift, for the questions to change. That usually involves a miracle – an event which could not have been predicted, who’s outcome could not be foreseen. An event which outstripped the capacity of liberal politics to contain the goings of things within the possible and the pragmatic. An event which changes the orientation, the relationship network between other events – literally changing the meaning of normal, everyday happenings. Miracles can’t be expected, but they can be demanded. They can’t be produced, like a house, but they can be instigated, like an earthquake.

Continue reading “Revolutionary Love”

Prisoner of Love

From the last page of Jean Genet’s last great work, “Prisoner of Love”:

Any reality is bound to be outside me, existing in and for itself. The Palestinian revolution lives and will live only of itself. A Palestinian family, made up essentially of mother and son, were among the first people I met in Irbid. But it was somewhere else where I really found them.


Perhaps inside myself. The pair made up by mother and son is to be found in France and everywhere else. Was it a light of my own that I threw on them, so that instead of being strangers whom I was observing they became a couple of my own creation? An image of my own that my penchant for day-dreaming had projected onto two Palestinians, mother and son, adrift in the midst of a battle in Jordan?


All I’ve said and written happened. But why is it that this couple is the only really profound memory I have of the Palestinian revolution?


I did the best I could to understand how different this revolution was from others, and in a way I did understand it. But what will remain with me is this little house in Irbid where I slept for one night, and fourteen years during which I tried to find out if that night ever happened.


This last page of my book is transparent.

The Other Wall

Palestine activists spend a lot of time talking about the Apartheid wall. And fair enough, that wall is terrible – it excludes about two million Palestinians from about 80% of their homeland – 3.5 millon if you include the wall around the Gaza strip. But there is another wall, called the “Israeli border”. That wall excludes all the Palestinian refugees who live outside Palestine, approximately 6 million Palestinians, from 100% percent of historic Palestine.

So, if we’re honest – which is the larger inhibitor of movement? A wall that restricts the movement of two million West Bank Palestinians from crossing into territory that Israel has officially annexed? Or a wall that keeps six million Palestinians from even entering their homeland?

Focussing only on the security barrier fits into Israeli policy of excluding the refugees from the conflict.

Solidarity Activism and Palestinian Agency

After a lot of reflection, discussion, and reading I feel myself coming to the conclusion that a key problem with Palestinian activism is the position of Palestinian agency within the movement. In order for activist groups to stand in solidarity with a revolutionary people, they must not simply stand against the oppression of that people but stand for the cause of that people, stand with the actions of that people, stand with that the agency of that people. So by Palestinian agency I do not mean simply the capacity of Palestinians to make choices, to act, to behave as agents, rather, I mean the ability of a revolutionary to point to emblematic actions, symbolic actions, characteristic actions, and stand in solidarity with those actions as examples of Palestinian agency. To be affirmed, to stand in solidarity with it, Palestinian agency must be identified with actions that affirm the conflict and affirm the cause of the Palestinians. Ideally, the action ought to express the “general will” of the Palestinian people.

Generally speaking, pro-Palestinian activist groups do not “stand with” Palestine nearly as much as they “stand against” Israel. They represent Palestinians as an “oppressed” people, and as an oppressed people demand that we stand with them against their oppression. We speak a lot about Israel, a little about Zionism, but most of all about human rights and the disastrous humanitarian situation that in which many Palestinians live. We speak about the inequality that Palestinians experience as a result of Israeli actions, and we speak about the need to cure Israel of its apartheid structure.

Continue reading “Solidarity Activism and Palestinian Agency”

Returning to Toronto

And I’m back in Toronto. I can tell most of all by the air, by the smell of it. The hot moist bath that passes for summer in Ontario. The bus crashes over the broken suburban pavement as we drive by a shopping mall. Other scents – the musky, oily flavour of the subway, the savoury smell of jamaican patties, (hot, plentiful and cheap at nearly every station). And most of all the people. The smelly, fat Canadian people. Poorly dressed, little sense of colour in the suburbs, and no one to tell them not to wear short shorts if you are a middle aged man with pasty white calves. The best dressed man on the subway reminds me of the worst dressed Arab in Palestine, with jeans coloured too light and an unpressed shirt of the wrong colour.

Continue reading “Returning to Toronto”