Chronicling a year’s offences

A glance back at the columns that got readers the most riled up in 2006

This being one of those year-in-review affairs that are filling the newspapers these days, I thought I’d have a go at making sense of what this Chronicles column was all about in 2006. Especially the columns that made people angry.

Five columns slagged off Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Five were reports from Indian country, or were otherwise concerned with British Columbian politics and cultural geography. These, as it happens, tended to make Gordon Campbell’s Liberals look bad.

Two were about campus life. Two were about civil-rights abuses. Four were about writers and books. Seven were columns that touched upon what you could call a deepening moral squalor, or at least a growing intellectual slovenliness, on the left.

These latter columns provoked the fiercest responses, mostly negative. And not just in the letters pages, but in telephone calls, e-mails, and personal letters sent to my home.

Why, I keep getting asked, have I suddenly decided to go after the left?

Never mind that nothing sudden has happened here, and never mind whether it’s really the “left” I’ve been going after. I reckon I owe everybody an explanation.

First, it’s what the Georgia Straight is for. This newspaper has a 40-year tradition of offering perspectives that don’t swim with the current, and it had already been rumpus-making for many years before my byline first appeared in these pages, the summer I got out of high school.

Second, it’s because I hold my side to a higher standard. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be on this side.

So for fun, I thought I’d go back over those Chronicles columns that prompted the wildest responses. At the very least, I reckoned this would force me to consider whether or not what I wrote still stands up.

The one that started it was the sympathetic treatment I gave to a manifesto authored by 11 prominent Muslim Canadian writers and academics. They were dismayed by the general silence on the part of left-wing intellectuals while extremists in Toronto were vowing to drown the Danish people “in their own blood” over some stupid cartoons, and while journalists in Jordan, Iran, Yemen, and elsewhere were being tossed in jail on charges of “apostasy” and “blasphemy”.

The next one made room for Vancouver’s Abdul Rahim Parwani, an Afghan immigrant and the former editor of the Kabul literary journal Tarjuma, who pointed out the objectively antiprogressive basis of Canada’s “antiwar” movement in the matter of Afghanistan: “And when we have placards on the street that say ”˜Troops out of Afghanistan’, then maybe one day they will have to go into the streets with placards that say, ”˜Terrorists out of Canada’.”

Third offence: In reporting the unfairly vituperative treatment meted out to the officers and staff of the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ B.C. division—they’d been unfairly associated with a CUPE Ontario resolution calling for a national boycott of Israel—I made it plain that I considered the resolution somewhat sinister.

Mainly, though, my most foul transgression appears to have been to stray from the fashionable anti-Zionist metanarrative so far as to note in passing that Israel’s so-called apartheid wall is actually almost entirely a wire fence, built following a wave of terrorist attacks, especially a June 2001 suicide bombing that killed 21 people and injured 120 at a Tel Aviv disco.

Fourth offence: Expressing some dismay that vast sections of Canada’s “antiwar” left had actually taken sides in the Israeli-Hezbollah war that had just broken out. And that the side they chose was that of Hezbollah, led by the fanatical Jew-hater Hassan Nasrallah (“If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.” The New Yorker, October 14, 2002), whose dirty work in Lebanon is paid for by the tyrant, Holocaust denier, and homosexual-lyncher Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Fifth offence: Pointing out that the “9-11 = inside job” theorists are nutcases.

Sixth offence: Noticing that “anti-Zionism” on the left is being used as a cover for such raw anti-Semitism that “you say something nice about Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, cite Noam Chomsky a couple of times, make a joke or two about George Bush, toss in words like resistance and hege ­mony, and you can have everyone singing ”˜Throw the Jew Down the Well’ before anyone even notices what’s happening.”

Seventh offence: Providing space for Clement Apaak of Canadian Students for Darfur to observe a disturbing indifference to the Darfur genocide within Canada’s “activist” left.

So, in hindsight, is there anything in those seven columns I wish I’d written differently?

I deeply regret to say, no. Not one dang word.