(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
‘Insurrectionists’, ‘occupying forces’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘siege’ are military-related terms. Their irresponsible use by the political class & media in relation to the truckers’ convoy frays our societal cohesion.
NOT ENOUGH LAND
In her book ‘The Punishment of Virtue’, former NPR journalist Sarah Chayes who lived in Afghanistan for several years after the 9/11 attacks, describes an incident where the international military forces were conducting a survey of the damage to several homes in a military operation. The idea was to compensate the homeowners by rebuilding what had been destroyed. One Afghan described his (now destroyed) home, complete with different rooms for each individual family member, such that the entire structure couldn’t possibly have stood on the small plot of land on which it had stood.
Although the incident is tragi-comic, it points to a basic human weakness to indulge in exaggeration with a view to gaining a position of advantage. This is precisely what I believe is happening with the treatment of the truckers’ convoy by our political class and much of the media.
It is interesting to note that when the convoy began its journey from the west coast, the emphasis was on trying to discredit it by use of terms such as ‘a fringe minority’ and ‘unacceptable’. Subsequent events proved that those descriptions were athwart the reality – the protest march attracted widespread support (moral and financial) from a broad spectrum of Canadian society.
It was therefore to be expected that the authorities and their partisan supporters would change their tactic in pursuit of the strategy of discrediting the protesters. Given their intransigence, it was a given that the new tactic would be in the style of an escalation. And given the nature of the present Canadian society as one that is hopelessly divided along partisan lines (especially when it comes to all matters relating to Covid), it was equally inevitable that this new line of attack would find significant support among sections of that society – and vice versa.
Lost in all this babble is any mention of arriving at a negotiated resolution of the impasse.
‘JAW-JAW’ BETTER THAN ‘WAR-WAR’
In the 1980’s, there were several secessionist movements going on in India. The one in the Punjab (the Khalistan movement) is better known in Canada (and indeed anywhere outside India), but there were also similar movements going on at the other end of the country, viz., in the Northeastern states of Assam, Nagaland and Mizoram. In addition, in the Himalayan region, there was a movement known as ‘Gurkhaland’, plus another movement in the state of Assam called ‘Bodoland’. There was much violence associated with each of these movements.
In December 1984, federal elections were held -in the wake of the assassination of the Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi – and her son Rajiv swept the polls to acquire a solid majority. In terms of the country’s integrity, it was a seething cauldron. PM Rajiv Gandhi – perhaps at the advice of saner heads – initiated negotiations with the leaders of each separatist movement, and in a relatively short time, signed ‘peace accords’ with them. Perhaps this hasn’t been mentioned enough in Canada, but even in relation to the Khalistan movement, he signed one with Sant Harchand Singh Longowal (the word ‘sant’ denotes his high position in the Sikh clerical hierarchy).
PM Rajiv Gandhi also ushered in the age of TV in India, and the prime-time newscast on the only (government owned) channel Door Darshan emphasized ‘unity and integrity’ of the nation on a daily basis (in the Hindi version, the word ‘integrity’ was replaced by ‘akhand-ta’ (meaning ‘non-divisibility’).
By the time the next election rolled around in 1989, the main campaign issue was one of corruption in a major defence procurement deal (known as the ‘Bofors scandal’). The secessionist movements were forgotten.
It was fascinating – and educative – to see how ‘jaw-jaw’ had succeeded where years of confrontation had failed.
What do words like ‘insurrection’ and ‘occupying force’ mean? Does one need to have experienced these at some level before applying them to the situation at hand?
I am not too fond of the term ‘lived experiences’ because I believe that there is only one kind that qualifies as ‘experience’, viz., something that a person has experienced themselves. In other words, ‘experience’ can only be lived; anything else that we may be tempted to call ‘experience’ is actually imbibed from others.
For all the lofty talk that we have in Canada about ‘lived’ experiences, we have seen zero evidence of anyone looking for the Canadians who may have it in relation to these military terms so we can verify if the terms being used are accurate – or at least apt. This may possibly be because we entertain the worth of ‘lived’ experiences only for their value in establishing someone’s place in the victimhood hierarchy; any contribution by someone with ‘lived’ experiences of an insurrection etc. would be illuminative and therefore unwanted.
It is tempting to say that by and large, Canadians don’t really understand these terms because they have led a sheltered existence that has (thankfully) left them without such unfortunate ‘lived’ experiences. But the reality is that we have a lot of Canadians who weren’t so lucky, and in fact are here in Canada because of the ‘lived’ experiences that they were undergoing.
Instead of conferring with them to see if the inflammatory terms are applicable to the protest in Ottawa, we have prominent members of the political class and senior figures in the media / punditocracy / commentariat proclaiming these terms from their lofty perches and ivory towers in an authoritative manner. The undertone is that what they are claiming is a self-evident truth that cannot be challenged except by the unhinged.
In this context, it is worth noting how much in lockstep the politics and journalism are in Canada at present. Barring a few notable exceptions, it appears as if the media sees its role as one meant to reinforce – and enforce – the messaging emanating from the nucleus of political power and its immediate orbit. Currently, a major obstacle in their path is that the information coming out of other countries is starkly at odds with that messaging. Therefore, the stubborn insistence on keeping an assortment of restrictions and measures in place is bound to face equally stiff resistance.
It is often said (and rightly so) in the context of actual military conflicts, whether between countries or within a country, that the solution will eventually have to be achieved via political processes or negotiations. The federal government has so far evinced zero interest in pursuing such a solution, right from the Prime Minister and the Transportation Minister all the way down to the ‘grunts’ in their cadres.
The resulting deadlock naturally but unnecessarily drags other arms of the State, such as the police departments and the army, into the dispute. Notably, even a major non-State player (Go Fund Me) has been caught in this crossfire.
I believe that the need of the hour is to defuse this volatile situation by steps aimed at de-escalating the tensions. Instead of (inappropriately) using inflammatory language, our authorities would do well to acknowledge that grievances cannot be resolved by ignoring them and by denigrating the aggrieved. The current approach, I am convinced, would only serve to deepen the fissures in our society and thus be ultimately inimical to societal cohesion.
Is there enough sanity in the circles of our government to make that happen?