Saturday, 2 April 2022

The Concept Formerly Known as Nationalism: Canadian Theatre in Theory and Practice

(This post is a repurposing of a conference presentation from 2002.)

Plenary Panel with respondents Djanet Sears, Richard Rose, Ker Welles and John Mighton, Association for Canadian Theatre Research (ACTR), 25 May 2002, University of Toronto

                                                            Professor Jay Sour, PhD, GDCS, MA, BA

In 1975, the theme for the newly-founded Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures at the  Learned Societies’ Conference in Edmonton was Canadian and Quebec theatre.  Although the conference programme was designed as a series of  “Confrontations” between French and English Canadian presenters, what emerged was a schism between academics, on one side,  and theatre practitioners, led by George Ryga, on the other.  Ryga would later write that the conference 

. . . left this observer with some critical questions about the role of universities as a supportive force in developments of Canadian drama in both languages.  Well-intentioned and vigorous statements were made about critical study and publication of papers on our dramas.  No doubt, these enquiries will have their effect.  I am in agreement with the sardonic comment by Jean-Claude Germain that more young Canadians are now studying Canadian drama that will ever see it as a living art in our theatres. 1 

The first question I would like to put before the panel is: Has the situation improved since 1975?  In 1975,  I fully agreed with Ryga that the academy did not seem willing to fulfill its moral obligations to promote Canadian theatre.  Today as a university professor I find Canadian theatre the most difficult subject matter I am required to teach.  Despite the existence of organizations like the Association for Canadian Theatre Research, my impression is that the gap between the academy and the theatre, between theory and practice, has grown over the postmodern period.  Is there reason, hope or even a desire to establish a framework for understanding the common ground of mutual interests among Canadian theatre practitioners and scholars? 

In the '70s my answer to this question would have been, without hesitation, “yes,” but its justification would have been couched in terms of Canadian nationalism. The concept of nationalism seems to have proven endlessly problematic and, in the end, perhaps even a liability in this country.  So, how do we get beyond the myths and negative stereotypes of Canadian nationalism?  How do we get beyond what John Ralston Sal calls the “negative nationalism” of fear and panic leading to conformity, ethnocentrism and xenophobia?  How do we steer clear of the pitfalls of essentialism and identity, as well as liberal-humanist illusions of universality?  How do we get beyond that nationalism which has been so readily labelled as zealous, jingoistic, militant and even racist, or condescending multicultural pigeon-holing, imposed bi-culturalism, or hegemonic harmonization?  How do we move toward an embracing and celebration of transculturalism and post-nationalism?  How do we take advantage of what Robert Wallace calls “the opportunities [which indeterminacy] provides for social justice” and begin to imagine the as yet “unimagined” alliances he alludes to ( Theatre and Transformation in Contemporary Canada 52)?     The objective of my presentation is to open reflection on how to continue the process of both theorizing and practising Canadian theatre as part of an  “imagined community” or at least as a crossroads of many “imagined communities,” as part of  what Denis Salter describes as  “an ideological complex which to function completely must always subject its premises and methods to rigorous re-examination” and Richard Knowles calls the cultivation of  “concerted difference and radical contingency.”  How can we participate in what Charles Taylor characterizes as  “deep diversity in which a plurality of ways of belonging would also be acknowledged and accepted” and  Sal calls the “positive nationalism of an open debate”? 

The premise of my argument is simply this:  No thing means anything by itself.   In my thinking, meaning derives from one thing’s connections and relationships to other things, to the world around it.   A text means something because it has a context.  A sign, a gesture, a word, a phrase, a play, a performance, a life–each has the potential to mean something because it can be connected and related to some other matrix of signs, gestures, objects, ideas, lives.  “Meaning,” in my thinking, is never sure, never guaranteed, never absolutely accurate or controllable.  Meaning is an endless process with infinite potential.  Conscious effort is required to grasp particular, specific meanings once the conditions are in place,  but ultimately, I suspect, most meanings simply happen.  We all do it, but I take artists in particular–such as playwrights, directors, designers and actors–to be in the business of putting things together in new and original ways and thus creating new meanings.  Readers, audiences, critics, scholars, teachers and students engage in the process which the artist unleashes.  Sometimes they “get” an intended meaning; sometimes they miss or misconstrue meanings; sometimes they add, transform and even enrich meanings.  Most of the time they do all of the above.   I take theatre artists and theatre scholars to be deeply and actively involved in this meaning-making process.  We have a mutual vested interest in making meanings as full and rich as possible. 

When I make the leap of speaking of Canadian theatre, Canadian playwrights, Canadian audiences, I do so, not to impose a restriction, not to suggest a requirement or even an objective.  I think it is a sound, logical assumption that the meanings circulating through and around plays written and performed by Canadians and viewed by a Canadian public should be particularly rich, full, vigorous and apparent.  If this is not the case, we need to wonder and ask why?   

To begin to illustrate my thinking in concrete terms I will have to outline where it and I came from. My first encounter with what might be called a nationalist issue was as a high school debater in a tournament at the University of Ottawa being asked to debate Mathews and Steele’s proposition that ‘two-thirds of Canadian university professors should be Canadian educated.’  I was opposed.  When I was an undergraduate at Carleton University, Robin Mathews created a stir by publicly complaining that there was not a single Canadian literary work in the required first-year survey for English Majors.  I was not impressed.  Although I knew the lyrics of  Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot,  could recite poems by Robert Service, had read a number of Pierre Burton’s Klondike books and had seen all the episodes of The Whiteoaks of Jalna on TV, I felt an unmitigated pride in the superiority of my honours BA degree in English because I had been able to complete the first three years of it without ever being required to study a single piece of literature written by a Canadian.  To add to my cynicism about a nationalist agenda, one summer of my undergraduate years  I was part of a theatre troop which garnered an Opportunities for Youth grant by unabashedly claiming that we were going to spread the good news of national unity across the Maritimes.  When a graduate student named Terry Goldie was invited to give a presentation on the history of Canadian theatre in one of my classes, I was honestly surprised to discover that some people thought there was such a thing as Canadian theatre, all the more so that it had a history.  It was at this same moment that I happened to befriend Bill Law, a fellow student who shared my interest in theatre but who was, much to my discomfort, tightly connected with the Can Lit cabal at Carleton University. In 1974 when (my friend) Bill Law and I had taken over the leadership of Sock ‘n Buskin, the Carleton University Drama Society,  I was shocked and dismayed by Bill’s stubborn insistence that we were going to do a complete season of Canadian plays.  I decided to follow along with Bill’s plan because I was convinced that he would see the folly of his aspirations as soon as we tried to put them into action.  I thought I had proven my case when I checked out all the Canadian plays I could find in the Carleton University library–there were eight. 

     Bill Law remained undaunted and in the next twelve months Sock 'n' Buskin produced six plays including the premiere of Robin Mathew’s problem drama, A Woman is Dying, Mavor Moore’s musical Sunshine Town based on the Leacock sketches and Gerry Potter’s collective creation Chaudiere Strike.  The success of this season inspired us to join with Lois Shannon, Robin Mathews and Larry McDonald to form the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa with the continuing mandate of producing Canadian plays.  Although I remained the token liberal in the years I served on the company’s board of management, this period of nationalist awareness left me with the clear impression that nationalism was an obvious and appropriate response to the kinds of events and situations I found myself facing in the mid to late '70s. 

“Nationalist awareness” sounds terribly significant and expansive, but what I mean is simply that once the idea that Canada was a sovereign nation and, as such, should logically be promoting its own growth and development was in my head, I began to notice and question those times when it became obvious that this was not happening.  For example, I discovered that in 1974 there was considered to be an appropriate language for doing theatre in English in Canada.  When I called the Ottawa Little Theatre looking for a lead actor,  I was surprised that the very first question I was asked was would I accept an actor with a Canadian accent.  Thus, in a single moment, I discovered that there was such a thing as a Canadian accent (and, it slowly dawned on me that I must speak with this accent) and that it was not apt for the theatre. I found poetic justice in the fact that the first hit of The Great Canadian Theatre Company was an original play called Yonder Lies the Valley which required that the actors speak a broad Ottawa valley brogue and learn to step dance and appreciate the virtuosity of fiddle music. 

At the 1975 Learneds, I was sitting beside Robin Mathews listening to A.J.M Smith present a paper on Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.  When Smith concluded his paper with the comment that the play demonstrated that Canada didn’t have the kind of heroes which could be successfully dramatized on stage, Robin Mathews began to boo loudly.  The room cleared quickly, everyone trying to get away, as fast and as far as possible, from Mathews.  It probably didn’t help that someone had salted the rumour that I was Mathews’ bodyguard. 

When I became involved in the process of trying to raise funds for the newly formed company, I quickly discovered that the most common reason given by granting institutions, various levels of government and individuals for not supporting the GCTC was that they already supported The Ottawa Little Theatre or The National Art Centre.  When I pointed out that neither of these institutions produced Canadian plays, the argument had little purchase.  In fact, despite my earlier impressions that a nationalist agenda was a guarantee of funding, I began to realize that almost the opposite was the case.  The company’s mission to produce plays by Canadians seemed to put its credibility in question.    

Even after leaving the theatre company and beginning studies in film and television, I seemed condemned to nationalist epiphanies.  I remember a university professor who was giving a course on Canadian film being asked why Don Shebib who had directed Going Down the Road had used only American actors for the leading roles in his film Second Wind.  The professor’s answer was that “there are no Canadian actors.”  When pressed, he allowed that there were three or four significant Canadian actors, but if Donald Sutherland, Genevieve Bujold, Christopher Plummer and John Collicos were busy then a director would have to use American actors. 

When I canvassed my fellow students in this course, I discovered that I alone preferred Shebib’s Canadian classic over his later work.  As one of my fellow students so aptly explained to me, “it makes perfect sense that people would prefer the later film because it looked more like what they already knew and considered ‘good’; that is, an American film.” 

In 1979 I happened to be in the control room in Toronto where CBC producers were receiving the feeds for the National News.  Most of the footage for the Canadian news was being fed to us from American sources.  The control room which was usually a somewhat noisy, bustling place went completely silent as everyone stopped to watch a series of scenes from David Fennario’s Balconville being broadcast to us from Montreal. When the sequence finished, the noise returned and the decision was quickly made not to include it in the National News.  Instead of the scenes from Balconville, there was an announcement that after three days in hospital John Wayne was resting comfortably.     

And so in the 70s, nationalism, to me,  seemed like the right answer, a logical corrective response to what seemed to me obvious errors and oversights.  Nationalism meant that Canadian theatres should be presenting plays written and produced by Canadians, and theatres which took the extra risk of presenting new and original Canadian works should be funded.  It meant that theatre in Canada should be allowed to be done in whatever languages, dialects or accents Canadians happened to speak.  To me, nationalism also meant that Canadians should be cognizant of the fact that there was an overabundance of talent in the country.  Canada had the good luck and grace of attracting talented immigrants from around the world.  Talented people were born and developed here.  Canada had talent enough to export endlessly into the USA and still have enough left at home to keep life interesting.   Nationalism meant recognizing that Canadians were as fit subjects for drama as the peoples of any other nation.  Nationalism also meant educating audiences to an openness to new, original and different styles of performing art, and it meant that when a play came along that was of obvious interest and significance, the national media had an obligation to tell people about it. 

But of course, nationalism was also the wrong response.  Even within the Great Canadian Theatre Company, we talked about how we were a vanguard movement, a radical response to a temporary situation.  When a hundred theatre companies started doing Canadian plays we would be happy to be put out of business.  However, in the years that followed I discovered a heartfelt animosity toward nationalist agendas in the Canadian public–people telling me that they would never accept having Canadian theatre shoved down their throats.  People who had never seen a Canadian play, couldn’t name a Canadian playwright and would be perfectly open to Italian theatre or German, or British or American theatre, still maintained that their liberty would be threatened by Canadian theatre.   There was clearly a mythology of nationalism in Canada; and here I mean "mythology" in the terms used by Roland Barthes; that is, a connection of one word to others that did not derive from its denotation.  The GCTC never seemed to be identified as simply a group of nationalists, but always as rabid, ranting, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalists in addition to being narrow, provincial, parochial and tribal. 

Of course, I understood the objections to nationalism in conceptual terms and from world history, but I still had trouble making sense of the objections in the Canadian context.   Every textbook on the subject of Canada rehearses the same basic set of facts.  At first glance, Canada doesn’t make sense as a country.  Everything about the country’s social and physical geography suggests that it should not exist.  We live in a country that is three thousand miles long, in which 90% of the population lives within a hundred miles of the American border; the vast territories to the north remain largely unknown to the majority of the population.   We are divided by language, race, ethnicity, gender, by sexual and political orientation, province, region and class.  The urban centres are growing, largely in isolation from one another, while every place else stagnates and shrinks.   Such a place can only be held together through conscious and considerable human effort.  Yet, nationalism seems to be a minor and extremely weak force in Canadian life.  I grew up being told that this country was held together by a railway.  The railway was sold because the truth was that in an age of communications the country was really tied together through its public broadcasting system.  As soon as this notion had installed itself, the budgets of the CBC were massively slashed.  Most recently the truism has become that Canada is held together by its distinctive network of social programmes: no sooner said than those programmes are under attack at every level of government in the country.  On the basis of recent history, I am not about to propose that the theatre is or should be a means of holding the country together. 

Of course, I have often wondered about the distinct antipathy of Canadians toward nationalism.  1970s notions of colonial mentalities and inferiority complexes have never rung completely true for me.  The idea of a capitalist conspiracy has at times seemed to supply at least the beginnings of an answer but, these days, the intentions of a globalized economy, though carried out behind closed doors, seem too apparent to be called a conspiracy. To me, Canadians seem quietly conceited about their nationality. 

For the sake of the discussion–because I think the discussion is all–let us bracket nationalism as an impediment and an attack on individual liberty. Let us remove Canadian nationalism from the discussion because of its potential associations with imperialism, racism, fascism, essentialism, patriarchalism, and xenophobia.  But at the same time let us embrace this other thing that celebrates difference and the ex-centric, that takes into account the rights of individuals and the legitimacy of self-interest, as well as justice and reason, tolerance and openness, creativity and imagination, pleasure and play, and critical and aesthetic judgment but which, in the end, allows us to remain net promoters of Canadian theatre and the theatre in Canada.  I am prepared to be unsentimental about the destiny of the Canadian nation, but I would consider it a tragedy if Canadians did not participate fully in the exchange and debate and decision-making process that determined its future and if theatre practitioners and admirers, teachers and critics were not part of that process.   Let us resurrect the lost art of “conversation” (297) which Richard Gwyn alludes to in Nationalism Without Walls and recognize, as Ramsay Cook underlines, that the basic obligation of the nation is “peace, order and good government” and the provision of a structure to “protect cultural pluralism.”  Then let us talk in and about a framework, a forum, an open debate, an encadrement , and recognize that it is time to prioritize problem-solving and construction.  Perhaps we find a hint of the beginnings of what we might be looking for in Alain Filewod’s observation of the documentary theatre’s impulse to “accommodate rapid social change” (qtd in Wallace, 24). 

I speak most humbly in the shadow of great projects and works on Canadian theatre that have been undertaken and completed by scholars in recent years.  My sentiment is that this work has not been celebrated sufficiently and widely enough.   I was also motivated to open this discussion after witnessing the presentations of Guillermo Verdecchia,  Rahul Varma, Michel Marc Bouchard and Aviva Ravel at the Laval conference last year, and recognizing how much they had contributed to the vitality and the validity of the association’s meeting and wanting to encourage more of the same. 

My remarks have been intended to create an opening where I perceived an impasse, a hesitance, a reluctance to discuss.  It is an impasse which I see as having an effect on me as both as an amateur (I like the French word because it implies a lover) of the theatre in Canada and as a teacher.   Last year I taught a course I had created called Anglo-Québécois Literature.  As I told my students, I really didn’t know if there was such a thing as Anglo-Québécois literature and the course title should have ended in a question mark.  However, the course gave me the excuse to present works by David Fennario, Vittorio Rossi and Colleen Curran, and to invite each of these playwrights to speak to the class.  The students’ attitudes toward the concept of anything Anglo-Québécois ranged from chauvinistic attachment to pronounced antagonism, and there was little harmony in the writers’ responses to the expression. Nonetheless, the students’ awareness of the issues in question gave meaning to the works of these writers and significance to their presence. 

During the same period, I led a graduate seminar on Comparative Canadian Drama, a course which I regularly and apologetically describe to students as a study of forensics because although I intend that we should study the theatre, by which I mean the performance of plays, we, in fact, could only study history, biography, theory, and scripts together with our own readings, improvisations and background knowledge of performance.  When I had the opportunity to invite David French, a playwright I have long admired, to this seminar, I realized that the students had very little means through which to relate to French and his work.  The students had read Salt-Water Moon and Antonine Maillet’s much-praised translation of the same play, La Lune Salé, but French was not really a Newfoundland writer although his play is set there, nor could he say very much about the business of translation.  When asked about being a Canadian playwright, French’s answer was an icy “If I was being produced just because I was a Canadian; I’d rather not be produced.”  Immediately, I thought, ‘what a typically Canadian answer!’    What Italian, Swedish, German, Japanese, English, French, Ethiopian, American, Moroccan or Iranian writer would answer the question “what does it mean to be a playwright of your nationality?”  this way?   I am in agreement with Filewod’s observation that “‘true Canadianism . . . can never be achieved” (“Between Empires” 14).    I am not interested in a list of immortal features or a defined and regulated culture or an identity to call Canadian, but I would like to be able to have a conversation on the topic of  “Canadian theatre” and  “theatre in Canada,” whatever these expressions might mean,  just to see where the conversation takes us. 

1. qtd. in Rota Herzberg Lister’s  “Constructing a Canadian Theatrical Culture: The 1975 Conference of the Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures in Historical and Personal Perspective,”   Textual Studies in Canada/ Études textuelles au Canada , 6 (1995): 22-32. 

Friday, 25 March 2022

Foreign Policy Realism: Can an Agreement on Ukrainian Neutrality End the War?

The USA and NATO are to blame . . .

In his 2015 lecture at the University of Chicago, Professor John Mearsheimer argued that expanding NATO  to Russia's borders was a mistake.  In 2022, Mearsheimer has continued to reiterate his position that a neutral Ukraine serving as a bridge between Russia and Europe would serve everyone's best interests:  the Russians', the EU's, the USA's, the West's and especially and most importantly, the Ukranians'. As early as 1998, George Kennan, author of "The Long Telegram" and "architect of America's successful containment of the Soviet Union" also decried the reckless and ill-advised expansion of NATO to Russia's borders. The expansion of NATO was a mistake, they argued, for two basic reasons:  1) it would eventually goad Russia into a hostile response and 2) it offered a false promise of military intervention to new member states (the USA was highly unlikely to engage in a nuclear war with Russia in defence of Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia, for example, when they had no strategic or economic value for the Americans).  


The "Historical pattern" counterargument

In a New Yorker interview, Stephen Kotkin, a scholar of Russian history, declares:

In a Globe and Mail article entitled "To understand why Ukraine is under attack today, we need to look at Russia's actions over the last 70 years," Michael Ignatieff adopts a similar "historical pattern" argument.  Ignatieff writes:  "This story of four Eastern European capitals, all under attack from Russia, over the past 70 years makes nonsense of the claim that NATO expansion eastward caused this crisis." 


 Foreign Policy Realism

Perhaps because I have become so familiar with the aphorism which always accompanies financial advice--"Past performance is no guarantee of future results"--I find the "historical pattern" argument unconvincing.  Additionally, a close focus on Russia's historical pattern of behaviour tells, at best, only half the story.  Any attempt to analyze a global conflict would, logically, have to consider the American historical pattern of behaviour over the last 70 years:  a 20-year war in Afghanistan, two wars in Iraq, the war in Yugoslavia, bombings in Syria, targeted assignations throughout the Middle East, interventions in Granada, Panama, Chile, Nicaragua, etc, etc, all the way back to the Vietnam War. Imagining, on behalf of the Russians, that they had nothing to fear from the US expansion of NATO and that what is happening can be completely explained by Russian imperialism and nostalgia for the Soviet Union strikes me as willful blindness. 

Reading Ezra Klein's NYT interview with defence and foreign policy analyst Emma Ashford, I discovered that my thinking had a name:  "foreign policy realism."  As Klein explains:

Realism is a political framework that understands international relations as a contest between relatively rational states for power and security. It’s pretty structural in that way. It sees the actions and activities of states as quite predictable, given their role and needs in the international security hierarchy.

[ . . . .]  It wants to be structural, not personal or individualistic.

In this case, there’s a particular realist analysis that has caught a lot of people’s attention, which is John Mearsheimer’s model of the conflict.

Realism, Neo-classical realism, game theory and chaos theory

Emma Ashford is, according to Klein, "what’s called a neo-classical realist. She begins with a structural, state-based, power-based analysis of realism, but then opens it up to more influence from domestic politics — the psychology of individual leaders, the messiness of reality."  We've been here before in another context.  My post "The Market, the State and the Monkey in the Middle" highlighted economist Jean Tirol's "game theory" which, like neo-classical realism in strategic studies, proposed that the traditional models based on the assumption that all agents would act in rational self-interest were inadequate because they failed to take into account the cognitive bias and ideology of individuals.  I must also admit that I believe in "chaos theory" (see "The Chaos Theory of International Trade"), the idea that individual actions can unleash global consequences, as in the case of Gavrilo Principthe Bosnian teenager whose assassination of Archduke Ferdinand is said to have started World War I. 


The Danger of melodrama

In the current crisis, I retreat to realism because being rational and crediting our enemies with being rational is the only way to de-escalate and to avoid the worst possible of all catastrophes.  As I have reviewed Western media coverage of the war, I have noted the high frequency of images of desperate women and children.  The intent is to call upon our compassion and, of course, compassion is called for.  But compassion over time and with increased intensity can become simply passion, overwhelming emotions which have no real objective but create an irrational antagonism towards Russia, Russians and all things Russian.

I have long observed that a story "has legs" in Western media if it manages to copy the structure of melodrama:  strict moral justice,  a courageous hero, an evil villain, innocent victims,  suspense, and surprising happy ending--all the features which dominate our TV and film entertainment.  The word "melodrama" is synonymous with heightened emotions and derives from the practice of playing music during a character's speech to raise the emotional intensity.  An emotional response to the war in Ukraine is appropriate but the substitution of a melodramatic narrative for a clearheaded, rational awareness of what is going on is dangerous.

Consider Michael Ignatieff's recent article in the Globe and Mail ( O1, 06, 9 March 2022).  Ignatieff writes:

The Russians need to understand that if they stage a military incursion across the NATO border--Lenin's bayonet probing--they will be met by force, and if that fails to hold them, they will be met with nuclear weapons, at first tactical, and then as necessary, strategic, too.

As a Harvard University professor, Ignatieff was a supporter of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.  He was leader of the federal Liberal Party and, were it not for his impatience, forcing an early election that no one wanted, he might have become Prime Minister of Canada.  In case you missed the gist of his halting prose, he is advocating a nuclear war against the country which holds the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on the planet.  


Claims of Putin's insanity make him more dangerous not less

Ashford, like Mearsheimer, is categorical that "Putin is a rational person [and] that he’s making rational decisions."  However, Ashford contends that Putin is being ill-advised because he is surrounded by sycophants determined to tell him what they think he wants to hear.  Western foreign policy and strategic analyses all too often prove to be pseudo-psychological speculations on Putin's innermost dreams, fears and ambitions.  Ruthless, autocratic and amoral as Putin might be, melodramatic depictions of him as an insane, evil villain, protagonist to courageous, heroic Zelensky, the movie star who became president of Ukraine in fiction before he became President of Ukraine in fact, move us in only one possible direction:  escalation, with the hope that the hero will save the day as he always does in the movies.  If Putin really is the mad megalomaniac we have been encouraged to believe he is, then we should be showing much greater fear of him than we have so far.


Are We the centre of the universe?

The Globe and Mail article entitled "UN General Assembly deals Russia overwhelming diplomatic defeat over Ukraine invasion" displayed this map:

Blue indicates the 141 countries which voted in favour of the resolution condemning the Russian invasion.  Red indicates the 5 countries which voted against the resolution.  Yellow and grey indicate the 35 countries which abstained and 12 which did not vote, respectively.  Considering, as a block, the 52 countries which failed to condemn the invasion, including China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan and 17 African countries, a division of the globe between East and West begins to appear.


Noting this division reminded me of Peter Frankopan's The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. For me, the book was, in fact, a "new history of the world." Throughout my studies and my career as a professor, the world began in Greece, spread to Europe and the UK, and eventually crossed the Atlantic to the USA and Canada--there was barely anything else worth knowing about. Awareness of the East changes the entire world narrative that we call history. Western imaginings that the West is the centre of the world are not unlike that time before Galileo when we thought the Earth was the centre of the universe. Our imaginings are not easy to give up. When the Inquisition showed Galileo the instruments of torture he recanted his claims that the earth and planets revolved around the sun. It would take the Catholic Church 350 years to admit, in 1992, that Galileo was right all along while absolving the Inquisition of any blame for their justified, well-intentioned error.

We, in the West, imagine that "we are the world" at our peril.  Without paying much attention, our self-absorption has made enemies and forged alliances against us among countries that have been erstwhile enemies to one another:  Russia and China, India and Pakistan, China and India, Iraq and Iran.  For much of recorded history, the East (not the West), as Frankopan elaborates, has been the centre of wealth, progress, civilization and empires.  It is Western orientalist folly to imagine that the East can never rise again.

The USA sanctions China and Russia at the same time

In his 2015 lecture, Meirsheimer argued that the USA would need Russia, as an ally, to compete against the growing power and influence of China.  The opposite has, of course, been happening, as the USA practically forces Russia and China to ally with one another by imposing sanctions on both countries at the same time.  Only a few short weeks ago, the USA was accusing China of genocide and passed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Act which, if Border Security Agents enforced the letter of the law, would ban virtually all imports from China. The Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement free trade agreement would compel Canada and Mexico to do the same. (See What if China Isn't Using Forced Labour?)

Joe Biden's recent State of the Union, which focused on Russia, Ukraine, and NATO adopted a distinctly different tone toward China.  In fact, China was only mentioned in the context in the new US infrastructure bill:

In tone, this State of the Union downgrades China from "evil empire" to one of many friendly competitors and Xi from an aggressive dictator to a "good ol' boy" confident.  

However, as reported in Politico, the more recent two-hour-long call between Xi and Biden indicated that the China-US relationship had turned "profoundly negative."  As reported in Politico:

 Russian Tanks versus a weaponized US dollar

Since President Biden has already signed into law a ban on the importation of goods from China, further sanctions would have to be the kind of weaponized financial sanctions that the USA has already imposed on Russia, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela.  Weaponizing the USD (US dollar) against China has been much discussed in recent years. (See Analyzing the Discourse.) Canadians got a small taste of how that process functions when we were called upon to arrest the Huawei CFO on a charge of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei's financial transactions in Iran. The current American weaponization of the dollar against Russia is of such a scale that in addition to claims that it will destroy the Russian economy, it is raising questions about the survival of the USD as the highly privileged global reserve currency.

In "Ukraine and Dollar Weaponization," George Pearkes writes: "America has responded by threatening Russia with an unconventional weapon: the dollar. However, deploying the dollar may actually undermine its power, and hasten its departure from the US arsenal."  Discussions of how long the USD can remain the global reserve currency and what might happen as it declines have been around for a long time.  Historically, six countries--Portugal, Spain, France, Netherlands, Britain and now the USA--have held the coveted status of "global reserve currency" (i.e., being the country which produces the money that other countries must use for international trade).  On average, countries have maintained the privilege of being the global reserve currency for 94 years.  The USD has been the global reserve currency for 101 years.  Both the Chinese yuan and Bitcoin have been discussed as candidates to replace the USD as the dominant global reserve currency.


What Happens next?

To state the obvious, we have never been here before.  Many may predict but no one knows how these never-before-seen variables will play out.  For those who might have thought of the "weaponized dollar" as an esoteric myth, the current circumstances make plain that a weaponized dollar is a real-world strategy.  The question remains as to how strong and effective a weapon it is.  David Frum, in The Atlantic, claims that financial sanctions will cause the collapse of the Russian economy.  In the State of the Union, President Biden announced that 

Some commentators have pointed out that the sanctions and seizures might be largely symbolic.  Seized yachts, planes and apartments remain the property of the Russian oligarchs until such time as it can be proved in court that they are connected to criminal activity or support for the Ukrainian invasion.  Many of the Russian oligarchs are finding sanctuary in Israel which has shown muted support for Ukraine's Jewish president.


Of the states which have been the target of US financial sanctions:

Can an Agreement on Ukrainian Neutrality End the War?

In recent days, President Zelensky has announced that Ukraine will not join NATO.  Ezra Klein cites this fact as evidence that NATO expansion was not the cause of the invasion.  History has proven over and over again that wars are easier to start than to end. For those who embrace a melodramatic vision of the war in Ukraine, Zelensky's declaration might seem a setback for the hero and a victory for the villain, but it is also a step toward ending the war without escalating the destruction and bloodshed.  At least one of Putin's claimed justifications for the invasion has been removed.  We might ask why it took twenty days of warfare to get to this point.  Putin's other conditions, sovereignty over Crimea, which he has held since 2014 and is dominantly Russian in terms of ethnicity and language, and the lifting of sanctions, seem not unreasonable concessions compared to the risk of a nuclear war.  It might grate that we would be rewarding Putin's bad behaviour but this isn't kindergarten; it's the real world with lives at stake.


Interviewed on "Going Underground," John Bolton claimed that Putin's real interest in Ukraine is the eastern and southern provinces--sites of the Ukrainian civil war and ports on the Black Sea, respectively.  (I cannot link to the interview because internet access to Russia Today is now being blocked.)  The hard negotiations will likely centre on these territories. 

Russian forces overrunning Ukraine sites where the USA has established bio-weapons labs have sparked new areas of concern.  The claims of US bio-weapons labs in Ukraine have been broadly dismissed, but Glenn Greenwald offers a convincing argument that such facilities do exist even as US officials manage to deny their existence.  However unsavoury and unpalatable a negotiated peace might seem, it pales in comparison to the alternatives.  Consider: What would a Ukrainian victory look like?  What would a Russian victory look like?  In the end, there isn't much difference between the two:  everyone loses in a lengthy war of attrition--likely lasting longer than the major players will be alive--guaranteeing more destruction and loss of life, and the potential escalation and expansion of the war beyond any measurable limit. 


Monday, 14 February 2022

A Canadian Army Officer Is Openly Guilty of Mutiny and Sedition: How Does the Media, the Military and the Government React?

 Listening to a Speech by Canadian Army Major Stephen Chledowski on Youtube, my first reaction was "This can't be real!"  Scanning various media reports, I confirmed that Stephen Chledowski is, in fact, an active military officer and he has not denied or recanted the content of the video recording of his speech. Chledowski is openly guilty of mutiny and sedition.  Under military law, a recommended punishment is life in prison, yet everyone I have read reacting to his speech--online commentators, military spokesperson, reporters, etc--implies that he is likely to receive a slap on the wrist.  Have we all become so removed from reality and the law?

Dear readers, I don't think I can pare this down to make it more easily digestible.  It's pretty straightforward. Here are the relevant sections of the military Code of Service Discipline, Part III of the National Defence Act.  Read the law; then listen to Chledowski's speech.  My interpretation is that a major in the Canadian forces is inciting his fellow soldiers and the police of Canada to overthrow the Government of Canada.   I'm not trying to express an opinion or make a recommendation here.  Here is the evidence (the video linked above) and here (below) is the law:  Please tell me what I'm missing.


Marginal note:Mutiny with violence

 Every person who joins in a mutiny that is accompanied by violence is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to imprisonment for life or to less punishment.

  • R.S., 1985, c. N-5, s. 79
  • 1998, c. 35, s. 28

Marginal note:Mutiny without violence

 Every person who joins in a mutiny that is not accompanied by violence is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years or to less punishment or, in the case of a ringleader of the mutiny, to imprisonment for life or to less punishment.

  • R.S., 1985, c. N-5, s. 80
  • 1998, c. 35, s. 28

Marginal note:Offences related to mutiny

 Every person who

  • (a) causes or conspires with any other person to cause a mutiny,

  • (b) endeavours to persuade any person to join in a mutiny,

  • (c) being present, does not use his utmost endeavours to suppress a mutiny, or

  • (d) being aware of an actual or intended mutiny, does not without delay inform his superior officer thereof,

is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to imprisonment for life or to less punishment.

  • R.S., c. N-4, s. 71

Seditious Offences

Marginal note:Advocating governmental change by force

 Every person who publishes or circulates any writing, printing or document in which is advocated, or who teaches or advocates, the use, without the authority of law, of force as a means of accomplishing any governmental change within Canada is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to imprisonment for life or to less punishment.

  • R.S., c. N-4, s. 72


Marginal note:Disobedience of lawful command

 Every person who disobeys a lawful command of a superior officer is guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to imprisonment for life or to less punishment.

  • R.S., c. N-4, s. 73

Marginal note:

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

What if China Isn't Using Forced Labour?

Poor Saddam Hussein!

I can't bring myself to sympathize with Saddam Hussein, but still, I think about the lead-up to the second Iraq war (which, by the way, cost 151,000 to 1,033,000 lives--depending on whose statistics you believe). Over and over again, in anticipation of the 2003 invasion, we were told that all Saddam had to do was turn over his "weapons of mass destruction."  Imagine Saddam's frustration!  He couldn't halt the invasion by turning over his weapons of mass destruction because he didn't have any.  Just saying he had no WMDs wasn't going to do anything because the US had the witness statements of Iraqi defectors, CIA intelligence reports, recordings and leaked documents, and, of course, the satellite images which Colin Powell presented to the UN.

Here We go again!

I've read the Uyghur Forced Labor Act and its earlier drafts, the Forced Labor Enforcement Task Force "Report to Congress," and the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (aka USMC Implementation Act) in an effort to figure out what's really going on. According to the draft Act approved by Congress, the USA knows that China is using forced labour in Xinjiang because they have witness statements, "official media reports, publicly available documents, official statements, and official leaked documents from the Government of the People’s Republic of China" and, wait for it . . . "satellite imagery."  Of the reports, articles, documents and statements I've read, some assert that "China is the new evil empire" but none provide conclusive evidence of "forced labour." Of all the human rights abuses the Chinese regime is being accused of--mass incarceration without trial, repression of free speech and religion, coercive family planning, forced assimilation, invasive surveillance--the least evident and most difficult to prove would be "forced labour."

Satellite Imagery

The Australia Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has taken the lead in providing satellite imagery of Xinjiang. The ASPI describes itself as "an independent, non-partisan think tank" but is equally forthcoming that most of its funding comes from Australia's Department of Defence and other government agencies.  Australia is of course a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and has recently reinforced its allegiance with the USA in opposition to China.  

The ASPI's interactive map, indicating images of hundreds of detention centres, mosques and religious sites, still requires a leap of faith that what we are looking at--buildings with walls, turrets and fences--are in fact prisons, detention centres and re-education facilities whose inmates are used for forced labour.  The same suspension of disbelief that Collin Powell invoked when he showed satellite images of buildings in Iraq and told the UN that they were production and storage facilities for "weapons of mass destruction" is once again being called for.

What's really going on?

Just as "weapons of mass destruction" provided the pretext for the war in Iraq when the protection of western oil interests was widely believed to be the more credible and obvious cause, this time "forced labor" is being used as an excuse to escalate the USA's geopolitical contest with China.  Of all the crimes that the USA might accuse China of, why focus on "forced labor"?  China has a history of moving its workforce from one part of the country to another, separating families for long periods of time.  Arguably, "forced labour" has been part of Chinese culture for thousands of years.  Why has Chinese "forced labor" become a US obsession in 2021-22?  How do you prove "forced labor" from thousands of miles away?

Rebuttable Presumption

The Uyghur Forced Labor Act provides a simple solution in Section 3: "REBUTTABLE PRESUMPTION."  "Rebuttable presumption," a concept in law that, in the simplest of terms, means guilty until proven innocent.  Therefore, the US government is instructing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to assume that anything being imported from China is the product of forced labour until proven otherwise.  

What if China isn't using forced labour?

What if China isn't using forced labour?  It really doesn't matter.  What is or isn't accepted into the USA will be determined through negotiations between CBP (and various other US intelligence services) and the American company doing the importing.  Contrary to my claim in the previous post, Walmart will no doubt lobby for an exemption.  As outlined in the New York Times article, "U.S. Effort to Combat Forced Labor Targets Corporate China Ties," Coke Cola, Nike and Apple have already begun lobbying.

The Tariff Act of 1930

Oh my naivety!  You may not have detected it but, in my previous posts, I was struck by how quickly and easily American legislators seemed to accept claims of genocide and human rights abuses without challenging the sources or questioning the substance of the evidence.  I was confounded by the fact that US legislators focused on "forced labor," the most difficult accusation to prove, rather than any other of claimed abuses.  I was unaware of the Tariff Act of 1930 and its recent amendments.  It is perhaps worth noting that until 2016, US law . . .

permitted the importation of goods made by forced labor “if the goods were not produced in such quantities in the United States as to meet the consumptive demands of the United States.”

US legislators honed in on "forced labor" because the recently amended law was already on the books, in international and US law, against "forced labor."  This was the approach that would allow them to block, on a fairly ad hoc basis, any and all imports from China.  A law designed to protect against child labour, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and slave labour is being used to block the advancement of a global competitor. 

Is Canada going to be played again?

Article 3 of the Uyghur Forced Labor Act requires the US government  . . . 

(3) to coordinate with Mexico and Canada to effectively implement Article 23.6 of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to prohibit the importation of goods produced in whole or in part by forced or compulsory labor, including those goods mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region;

Did US negotiators anticipate in the summer of 2020 when the USMC trade agreement was being signed and Canada had accepted "the China clause" barring a Canada-China free-trade deal without notifying the US, and Canada had accepted the US request to arrest Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei CFO, further driving a wedge between Canada and China, that they also had Article 23.6, an ace up the US sleeve, to further prevent trade between Canada and China? Will the Canadian government respond to the Uyghur Forced Labor Act and Article 23.6 of USMC, the same way they did the US-Canada Extradition Treaty in the Meng case? Will we once again find ourselves in a trade war with China to the detriment of Canada for the benefit of the USA? And the answer is . . .

It's a Done deal

According to the Government of Canada website entitled "Public Safety," the ban on "forced labour" imports became law in Canada two years ago.

Canada has imposed an importation ban on goods that were produced by forced labour, as described in An Act to implement the Agreement between Canada, the United States of America and the United Mexican States, which received Royal Assent on March 13, 2020. As described in paragraph 202(8), Chapter 98 item No. 9897.00.00 of the Customs Tariff, the law has been amended to include a reference prohibiting goods mined, manufactured or produced wholly or in part by forced labour. These amendments made under the Act came into force in Canada on July 1, 2020, as outlined in CBSA Customs Notice 20-23, Import prohibition on goods produced wholly or in part by forced labour.

Friday, 4 February 2022

"Weaponizing Human Rights"?

Say Goodbye to Walmart!

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act is now law in the USA.  Beginning June 2022, the Act requires the US Customs and Border Protection Agency to block all imports from China, unless the Agency has "clear and convincing" evidence that the goods were not produced with forced labour.  Say goodbye to Walmart, the largest employer in the USA which imports 70 to 80% of its merchandise from China.

"Weaponizing Human Rights" 

 I first encountered the expression "weaponizing human rights" in an interview with former British diplomat and MI6 officer, Alastair Crooke (Going Underground:  RT  Russia Today).  The expression crystalized my vague notions that claims of human rights abuses were being promoted for various realpolitik agendas quite apart from concern for the victims. 

Alfred de Zayas, a Cuban-American professor of law and senior lawyer with the office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, argues that:

The weaponization of human rights has transformed the individual and collective entitlement to assistance, protection, respect and solidarity — based on our common human dignity and equality — into a hostile arsenal to target competitors and political adversaries.

De Sayas aptly and succinctly outlines so much of what is wrong with the weaponization of human rights:

Experience shows [. . .] that naming and shaming fails to alleviate the suffering of victims and only satisfies the strategic aims of certain governments, politicized non-governmental organizations and of a burgeoning human rights industry that instrumentalize human rights for the purpose of destabilizing others and often enough to facilitate “regime change”, regardless how undemocratic [ . . . .]

 The Challenges to logic

 In Red China Blues, Jan Wong self-mockingly described herself as a "Montreal Maoist" and confessed that in "the naive logic of the young" she reasoned that if Western governments were lying to us, then China must be telling the truth. There is a propaganda war going on between the USA and China.  Reading today requires avoiding the pitfall of the false dilemma, the logical fallacy of "either this or that" must be true especially when it is obvious that both sides have good reason to lie--and every good lie contains some degree of truth.

We are also challenged to avoid "truth by assertion," the feeling that something must be true because we have heard it so many times--which is more colloquially referred to as "brainwashing."

A further problem with the "weaponizing of human rights," which I am particularly sensitive to, is that it makes the issues more difficult to discuss, especially when "weaponizing" invokes a "genocide."  Ostensibly, I have written two posts on genocide:  On Reading "The Uyghur Genocide: An Examination of China's Breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention" and On Reading "The National Inquiry Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls." I would hasten to point out that I have analyzed and written about two published reports of genocide--not the genocide itself.  In both cases, I questioned whether the reports had reasonably proven their conclusions of genocide.  At the same time, I noted that the presumptive creators of the reports, despite widespread claims of "independence," had an obvious interest in reaching a conclusion of genocide--a fact that further aroused my skepticism.

The Uyghur Tribunal 

In December 2021, a panel of lawyers and advocates in the UK, self-identifying as The Uyghur Tribunal, delivered its judgment on "China’s alleged Genocide and crimes against Humanity against Uyghur, Kazakh and other Turkic Muslim populations."  In the Judgment, the Tribunal stresses its independence, judiciously outlines a number of similar organizations, one of which has and numerous others which have not reached a conclusion of "genocide," and provides access to its budget and witness statements.

As displayed on the Tribunal's website, multiple news agencies picked up on the report with the headline "China Guilty of Genocide." What most news agencies would struggle to explain is the serpentine route by which the Tribunal arrived at this judgment.  For example, according to the Tribunal, "genocide" isn't what most of us think of as genocide.  The Judgment is categorical that "there is no evidence of organized mass killings."  According to the Tribunal:

191. This Judgment, with no evidence of any mass killing, may be thought to diminish the perceived status of genocide as a crime. In one way it may do that, and if so, in one way, not necessarily a bad thing. The use of superlatives – ‘world’s gravest crime’ and hyperbole – ‘crime of crimes’ – when attached to tragedy brings public attention, sometimes at a cost to other tragedies able to attract less attention despite being as serious. [ . . . .]
192. Further, in truth, genocide is not necessarily the worst of all possible crimes: [. . . .]

Adopting a framework of "sociological genocide," the Tribunal concluded "beyond reasonable doubt that the PRC, by the imposition of measures to prevent births intended to destroy a significant part of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang as such, has committed genocide."

Despite a promise that "The Tribunal will consider both inculpatory and exculpatory material on an independent and impartial basis," I could find no hint of exculpatory evidence in the report.

Adrian Zenz, a key witness for the Tribunal's judgment of genocide

The Tribunal's conclusion of genocide from the extrapolation of birthrates is significantly based on the research of Adrian Zenz, an evangelical Christian working for The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.  Zenz and his research were pilloried by The Grayzone in a 21 December 2019 report.  The Tribunal Judgment specifies that Zenz's research was peer-reviewed by "Professor James Millward and Dr David Tobin."  However, since both Millward and Tobin were outspoken critics of China's human-rights record and collaborators with Zenz, the objectivity of their peer review appears dubious.

Zenz's research was presented as axiomatic in the Newsline Institute's report entitled The Uyghur Genocide.  According to The Grayzone, "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last-minute accusation of 'genocide'" was also based on Zenz's data.

Uyghur Tribunal Judgment vs Newsline Institute's The Uyghur Genocide

In my review of Newsline Institute's The Uyghur Genocide, I asked the seemingly absurd question, "Who wrote this report?"  In the Uyghur Tribunal Judgment, I found the answer:

Professor Packer and Jonah Diamond, principal authors of the Newlines Report, came to London to give evidence in person and the Tribunal was and is very grateful to them in that regard.

The identification of Packer and Diamond, names I had never noticed, as the "principal authors" of the report I had analyzed sent me back to the original online document.  Sure enough, in the appendix containing the biographies of the thirty-two signatories of the report, Yonah Diamond is identified as "an international human rights lawyer [. . .] at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre [. . . .]  And,  "Yonah Diamond served this project as principal author."  John Packer is identified in the same appendix as a Law Professor at the University of Ottawa who "served this project as principal advisor" (but not the author).

In my post on The Uyghur Genocide, I questioned its provenance (as did The Grayzone) because Newsline Institute was a division of Fairfax University, an alleged visa mill, allegedly sponsored by the Turkish Islamic scholar,  Muhammed Fethullah Gülen.  I was somewhat taken aback when reading The Two Michaels, that what I had assessed as a Newsline Institute report was being identified as the product of the  Raoul Wallenberg Centre.   In the online version I downloaded, there is an acknowledgement of the Wallenberg Centre's contribution.   However, in more recent versions of the report, the Wallenberg Centre's logo now appears on the cover for the first time.  In the Uyghur Tribunal Judgment, The Uyghur Genocide is repeatedly and consistently described as a product of the Newsline Institute.  There is no mention of the Wallenberg Centre in the Judgment.  I am at a loss to clarify what this confusion (or is it conflict?) about the provenance of The Uyghur Genocide indicates about its credibility.

Although Packer, Diamond and Zenz were important witnesses for the Uyghur Tribunal, the Judgment attempts to distinguish itself from the earlier report and at times hints at scolding The Uyghur Genocide's soi-disant authors.

What I learned from the Uyghur Tribunal Judgment

In addition to the fact that a demographic prediction of a decline in population could be called "genocide," I encountered a number of surprises and clarifications in the Judgment.  I am always struck by the number of individuals and organizations that declare a genocide in China with absolute certainty, including the Canadian parliament, without any indication of the evidence upon which this certainty is based.  

The Tribunal's judgment draws attention to the fact--which is generally ignored in the public domain--that The Uyghur Genocide claimed a lower standard in proving genocide than is used in criminal prosecutions.  The "clear and convincing" standard of truth translates as a 60% probability.  In contrast, the Uyghur Tribunal claimed their verdict of a sociological, demographic genocide was "beyond a reasonable doubt," which translates as being a 98 or 99% probability.

The Judgment provides a substantial list of groups and organizations which have investigated human-rights abuses in Xinjiang.  Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International,  the United States Holocaust Museum, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the Essex Court Chambers. the Bar Human rights Committee and the Yael Grauer Intercept Report have all studied the available evidence without reaching a conclusive judgment of genocide.  Although Mike Pompeo declared a genocide in China, twenty-four hours before leaving office, and both President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken have unofficially claimed a Uyghur genocide in the press, the USA has refused to officially declare a genocide or provide evidence for the unofficial claims.

The Tribunal used evidence from the Newsline Institute's report but attempted to separate itself from The Uyghur Genocide by pointing out:

51. Professor Packer and Mr Diamond may have given encouragement to those who thought the Tribunal would only succeed if it found genocide – a wholly inaccurate understanding of the Tribunal’s function.

Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Lithuania and the Czech Republic have each passed "non-binding resolutions" (the epitome of lip service) declaring a Uyghur genocide.  No Muslim, Asian or African country has labelled China's treatment of its Muslim minority a genocide.

[What's going on in this picture--the cover of "Bearing Witness"?  Yes, there is a "POLICE" presence.  Why is the bus labelled in English?  Doesn't this picture show thousands of Muslims publically practising their religion, in contradiction to widespread claims that Islam has become a crime in China?]

The United States Holocaust Museum "Bearing Witness" report

According to the executive summary of its "Bearing Witness" report, "The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is gravely concerned that the Chinese government may be committing genocide against the Uyghurs."  This report reiterates the concerns and evidence presented in other reports, publications and witness statements.  As such, the problem of a "feedback loop," which I pointed out in On Reading The Uyghur Genocide, persists.  At the risk of sounding like Judge Judy, I have to point out that much of what is presented as "evidence" is obviously hearsay.

Additionally, it is both understandable and problematic that the clear intention of the report is to arouse concern and persuade the reader of the need for action against the regime in China.  I credit the report with at least mentioning the wider context but, in each instance, the rhetorical spin invariably plays down any justification for China's actions in the region.  

For example, according to the report, "Following the September 2001 attacks on the United States, the Chinese government co-opted the language of the 'War on Terror,' [ . . . ]."  The report goes on to provide a cryptic listing of various Uyghur separatist attacks on the Chinese population, including riots, bombings, car attacks, stabbings and threats of "a chemical and biological weapons attack," yet the verb "co-opted" clearly informs the reader that these terrorist attacks should not be compared to 9/11 without explaining why.

Consider the wording of the report's description of Uyghur extremist attacks:

In 2013, a car was driven into a crowd at Tiananmen Square, Beijing, killing two tourists and three people in the car—a man, his wife, and his mother—in what appeared to be a suicide attack.32 At the time, TIP claimed it was behind the attack, though many Xinjiang experts “responded with skepticism.”33 In March 2014, the Chinese government blamed Uyghur separatists for killing more than 30 people and injuring more than 100 in a knife attack at a train station in Kunming, in Yunnan Province.34 A month later, a deadly attack occurred during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Urumqi.35 In May 2014, in Urumqi, two cars ploughed into shoppers while setting off explosives.36 Chinese authorities held Uyghur separatists responsible for the attack, which reportedly killed 31 people and injured more than 90. 37

And now the analysis:

  • "a car was driven into a crowd":  passive voice avoids telling us who drove the car
  • "appeared to be a suicide attack":  driver killed himself, but still only "appeared to be a suicide"
  • "experts 'responded with skepticism'":  terrorists' claiming responsibility isn't sufficient evidence
  • "the Chinese government blamed":  they were knife attacks!  can we doubt who did it?
  • "a deadly attack occurred":  passive voice, it just happened, no-one did it
  • "two cars ploughed into shoppers":  again the cars did it; were they driverless?
  • "Chinese authorities held Uyghur separatists responsibly":  was there any room for doubt?

The purpose of the rhetorical spin is to dissuade us from any inkling of justification for the Chinese response.   The report tells us that twenty-two Uyghur members of the East Turkestan Islamist Party (aka TIP/ ETIP), which the USA officially listed as a terrorist organization from 2002 to November 2020, were imprisoned in Guantanamo.  However, the report would have us believe that the USA's designating  TIP/ETIP a terrorist organization for almost 18 years, arresting (without trial) and torturing (aka "enhanced interrogation") its members was a matter of political expediency and the USA's submitting to pressure at the UN from China.

Despite its arguably good intentions, the report clearly goes too far when it starts getting the numbers wrong from its own sources.  The report's description of an event I had never heard of caught my attention:

In 1990, Uyghurs in the town of Baren in Xinjiang’s Kashgar prefecture rebelled against restrictions on the practice of Islam imposed by the Chinese government.14   The state responded with force, killing an estimated 1,600 Uyghurs.15

I followed footnote 15 to the East Turkestan Information Bulletin, the source of the report's claim.

On April 5, 1990 an armed uprising broke out in Baren provoked by Chinese Communists. Almost three thousand armed Eastern Turkestanis under the leadership of Zeydin Yusuf disarmed the police forces, occupied the Baren township Party and government building and declared war against the Chinese Communists in order to establish a independent Eastern Turkestan Republic. By late afternoon the uprising had spread to nine other townships in the area.
The Chinese Communist authorities dispatched armed police forces, militiamen and Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) units to Baren early on the morning of April 6. At the same time 200,000 special anti-riot forces from Lanzhou Military District were dispatched to Eastern Turkestan. Troops were flown in day and night by military transport planes and helicopters. The airports of Urumchi, Aksu, Kashgar, Yarkent and Hoten were closed.
The Eastern Turkestani people took up hunting rifles and any weapons they could find while some Chinese soldiers threw away their weapons and fled. According to the witnesses the Chinese used tanks and fighters to bomb townships in the area. Nine townships were bombed and almost one thousand Eastern Turkestanis and 600 soldiers and policemen died

According to Human Rights Watch, "A reliable tally of the casualties at Baren may never be known: according to the government, the death toll came to around twenty; but Uighur sources claimed that several hundred rebels were killed."  The point here is that the numbers are being determined by whose side you want to be on and, unfortunately, the Holocaust Museum has too obviously chosen its side.  The 1600 Uyghur casualties claimed by the Holocaust Museum report turn out to be, according to its own source, 1000 Uyghurs on one side and 600 soldiers and policemen on the other.  Other reports note that at the beginning of the uprising, Uyghur insurgents beheaded members of the local police force.

Following the Money

In stellar efforts at transparency, the Uyghur Tribunal has published its operating budget online and pointed out that most of its participants have worked pro bono.  However, in an equally transparent gesture, the Tribunal website explains that "In June 2020 Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress formally requested that Sir Geoffrey Nice QC establish and chair an independent people’s tribunal to investigate ‘ongoing atrocities and possible Genocide’ against the Uyghur people."   The World Uyghur Congress is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).  Damon Wilson, president and CEO of the NED, is a former employee of the National Security Council who is lauded for "helping to enlarge NATO" and for "playing a lead role on the Alliance’s response to 9/11 and its operations in Afghanistan [. . . ]."  The NED was established with funding under "the State Department and USIA."  The USIA (United States Information Agency) was, according to its "former Director of TV and film service," Alvin Synder, ""[t]he biggest branch of [the US] propaganda machine."  Not surprisingly, the first priority listed on the World Uyghur Congress website is "to promote democracy [. . .]."


The Holocaust Museum's "Bearing Witness" report   highlights the testimony of four key witnesses:  Bahram Sintash, Ferkat Jawdat, Eset Sulaiman, and Rushan Abbas.  All four are well-known Uyghur activists employed and/or funded by the US government.  Sintash, Jawdat and Sulaiman work for Radio Free Asia which is funded by the US Congress. Rushan Abbas is "the founder and executive director of the nonprofit, Campaign for Uyghurs."  She was also an employee of Radio Free Asia and worked as a translator for the CIA when 22 Uyghurs were being held at Guantanamo.  She is a US citizen and a business consultant with ISI Consultants where she is described as having "extensive experience working with U.S. government agencies, including Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Justice, and various U.S. intelligence agencies."  

How 40% becomes 60% becomes 98% becomes 100% 

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act has now been passed by the US Congress and signed by the President.  The legislation prohibits "the import of all goods, wares, articles, or merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, by forced labor from the People’s Republic of China [. . . .]."  The USA typically imports over $400 billion in goods from China every year.  In a Covid year of supply chain interruptions and absentee truckers (or any year for that matter), it is difficult to imagine how US Customs and Border Protection will be able to act upon this legislation which requires that they block anything coming from China unless there is "clear and convincing evidence" [60% certainty] that the goods were not produced with forced labour.

I have already pointed to the problem of a "feedback loop," when ideologues with shared interests are talking to themselves without acknowledging their shared loop.  In their reflections, the American legislators who prepared  The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act repeatedly quoted the United States Holocaust Museum "Bearing Witness" report without ever acknowledging that in many ways they were talking to themselves.  The report they quoted as an external source was far from external to the cognitive bias and interests they all shared.

Having read numerous victim statements about the alleged Uyghur genocide, I find myself believing about 40% of what I have read.  In the statements I found most credible, there was a consistent pattern of individuals crossing the border from outside China into Xinjiang for odd reasons.  These odd reasons aroused the suspicions of Chinese authorities and the individuals were unreasonably and harshly detained.  I have no doubt that crimes and abuses of human rights have been committed.

Reading Senator Marco Rubio's comment to the CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA that the Holocaust Museum report is "a document that should leave zero doubt about the evil policies and practices of the Communist Party of China toward Uyghurs [. . .],"  I was struck by how my 40% conviction became a 60% probability of genocide in the Newsline Institute report then a 98% probability of a birthrate genocide in the Uyghur Tribunal Judgment until finally becoming 100% proof of evil in the Congressional Commission.

The Chinese Response

In December 2021, the New York Times did an expose on "How Beijing Influences the Influencers."  The gist of the article is that China is manipulating social media to create positive images of the country.  Paradoxically, despite the article's intent, Raz Gal-Or's videos (included in the online NYT article)  still manage to undermine claims that China is using forced labour in the cotton fields of Xinjian. China has also produced this youtube video:  claiming that 80% of the cotton in Xinjiang is harvested mechanically.  I have to admit that given China's past history as a boundless supply of so-called "coolie" labour and its modern history of high-powered technological development, it seems counterintuitive that China needs to depend on forced labour for its export market.

What purpose does "weaponizing of human rights" serve?

Why weaponize human rights?  Why to not weaponize seems obvious as it is the opposite of promoting human rights.   The presumed victims end up being used as pawns in a geopolitical conflict.  How will sanctions serve the interests of the Uyghur of Xinjiang?  How have American sanctions served the people of Cuba, the people of Iran, or of Venezuala? 

“When goods don’t pass international borders, soldiers will.”   In 2015, the FBI whistleblower, Sible Edmonds, predicted that Xinjiang would be the next Taiwan and that the USA would adopt a method of weaponizing human rights through the media.  Is the weaponizing of human rights a prelude to war, a new proxy or preemptive war like Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam?  Nikki Haley, Trump's ambassador to the UN, is described in Haaretz Magazine as a potential Republican candidate for the presidency in 2024.  Her comments on China tell us that "the domino theory," the rationale for the Vietnam War, is once again back in fashion in the USA.

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