July 18, 2013 § 1 Comment
Rolling Stone’s new issue is causing a tumult here in Boston. The cover image is one of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber. In the picture, he looks like a loveable kid, laid back, like your little brother. Not a terrorist. I suppose this was Rolling Stone‘s purpose. The article, by Janet Reitman, is an excellent attempt to figure out what went so wrong with Tsarnaev, and how a laid-back, captain of the wrestling team, because a murderer and terrorist. In other words, there is massive cognitive dissonance between the image and the article.
I find the image distasteful. I find it alarming. And I find it jarring. I don’t like it. Yesterday, CVS decided not to sell the image in its Boston-area outlets out of respect to the victims. Other local merchants have agreed and are not selling this issue. I re-tweeted the CVS one, thinking that this was the right decision.
Today, I’m not so sure. In part, because I had a long argument with with @lostinhistory (Better known as Jason Warren, purveyor of a very fine blog) on Twitter last night and this morning. This was NOT an argument about the article itself, which I think everyone in and around Boston should read. It was entirely about the image. Jason noted RS’s long history of provocative images with its mudracking journalism.
He cited the (in)famous Charles Manson cover of 15 June 1970.
But his larger point is that the article itself would hopefully spur greater discussion about what it was that made Tsarneav become a terrorist, and if the image helps further that goal, then that’s good. I disagreed. Vehemently. I re-read the article today. As I read, I found that the article remained as insightful as it was yesterday and that perhaps Warren had a point, the image is and may be provocative (and note how I have not reproduced it here), but the article should be required reading. It is chilling at times, especially when Reitman is talking with Tsarnaev’s high school friends in Cambridge; they had no clue. None. And given Tsarnaev’s public image, I’m not surprised. What’s so chilling is he managed to create this private life, very far removed from his public one of a happy stoner, and no one had any clue.
July 17, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’m working on a new research project, for which I am reading George H. Nash’s classic The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. Nash, a conservative himself, wrote this book 37 years ago, in 1976, but it has been updated regularly, most recently in 2006 (the edition I’m reading). It is, for the most part, a tour de force, but too often Nash (and the men he studies) are incapable of recognising the moral and real world implications of their arguments.
One glaring example of this is in the 1950s and the support of the American Right for McCarthyism. At least according to Nash, almost to a man, the right in the 1950s supported the bullying, unintelligent senator from Wisconsin. They supported his lies. They did so because of their belief in the evils of communism. But they seem to have been incapable of recognising the cost of McCarthyism. As one of my old professors, Steve Scheinberg (a 1960s radical) noted, many lives were destroyed by McCarthy and his accolytes in the early 1950s.
Nash even refers to one, Owen Lattimore. Lattimore was accused by McCarthy of being a Soviet stooge (along with many of the China Hands at the CIA, for that matter). Lattimore was was professor at Johns Hopkins University, in the 1930s, he was an adviser to both the American government and Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist movement in China. Chiang, of course, was engaged in a long and brutal civil war against Mao Zedong’s Communists throughout this period and was supported by, amongst others, the Americans. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee engaged in an investigation of the Institute of Pacific Relations, as well as the American government’s China policies (remember, Mao and the Communists won the civil war in 1949, Chiang’s nationalists withdrew to Taiwan, but it was not until 1972 that the Communists were recognised by the US as the legitimate government of China).
Rumours of Lattimore being a Soviet spy had existed since 1948, but it in the early 1950s, McCarthy went after him, calling him the top Soviet spy in America, as well as accusing him of having delivered China into the hands of the Soviets. After investigation, it was found that Lattimore, though he had been an admirer of the Soviet Union and Stalinism in the 1930s was not, and had never been a Soviet spy, nor had he engaged in espionage. But that didn’t stop the Subcommittee’s report from concluding that Lattimore was “from the some time beginning in the 1930s, a conscious articulate instrument of the Soviet conspiracy.” This was untrue and a lie. Nonetheless, it ended Lattimore’s career as a consultant for the CIA and the American government. Ultimately, he left Johns Hopkins and moved to Leeds University in England, perhaps for obvious reasons.
But very little of this is in Nash’s book. The quote from the Subcommittee above is, and then he goes on to note how the right then used the report of the Subcommittee and quoted it “from one end of the country to the other” and of the impact of the report and its supporting documents. There is not a single mention of Lattimore’s innocence. At all. And all throughout Nash’s discussion of McCarthyism and its import for the American Right in the 1950s, he conveniently avoids mentioning all the lives that were destroyed by Communist witch hunts.
To me this is intellectual dishonesty. Nash completely avoids the implications of the arguments made by the conservative intellectuals of the 1950s he studies. He decontextualises these implications. One could read this chapter in Nash’s book and have absolutely no clue of the excesses and dangers of McCarthy, an ill-educated bully who ranted and raved about names he had listed on what were actually completely blank pieces of paper.
April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
Scholars studying diaspora and immigrant communities have noticed that there are some very general, very real trends amongst diasporic immigrant communities. The first generation, the immigrants, arrive in their new home, but find themselves caught between two worlds, struggling to fit into the new home, whilst still maintaining very real and very strong ties to the homeland. Their children, the second generation, are citizens of the new country by birth, and grow up in that host culture, and generally do not express a lot of interest in the culture of the homeland; they are fully integrated into the new homeland. It’s their children, the third generation, that begins to cast an eye back to the old homeland, curious about where their grandparents are from and the culture their grandparents carried with them in the new land until they died. These are trends that have existed in North America since the Irish began coming over here in the mid-19th century, and have been replicated time and again by pretty much every single group that has arrived in the United States and Canada in large numbers since.
Immigrants, their children, and grandchildren, of course, have greatly changed North American culture ever since the Irish. Take, for example, the city I live in now: Boston. Boston is the birthplace of the American independence movement in the 1770s, and was a tight-knit Anglo-Protestant city prior to the Irish arriving. Boston was never the same after the Irish arrived in huge numbers in the mid-19th century. And as the Irish infiltrated the city’s economy, culture, and politics, they left their mark. This can still be seen today: at present Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey are both attempting to gain the Democratic nomination for the special election to replace John Kerry in the US Senate. Both Lynch and Markey are currently Congressmen. Both are Irish Catholics, Markey’s from Malden and Lynch is from South Boston, aka: Southie. He grew up in the same housing projects as Whitey Bulger. The Irish still have their tentacles in the Democratic Party machinery in Boston today, 160-some odd years after they arrived.
Other cities are affected differently. Take, for example, my hometown of Montréal. Montréal has long been the recipient of immigrants, dating back to the Irish, who began arriving there in large numbers in the 1840s. The Irish completely changed the city, adding an Anglophone group that was Catholic to an already divided city. The Catholic Church was also massively changed in Montréal as the Irish muscled their way in. Indeed, they are largely to thank for the fact that there is an English-language Catholic Church in the city today. But Montréal is also being fundamentally changed by immigration from nations in the Francophonie in Africa and the Caribbean today. In the past decade or so, Montréal has undergone a fundamental cultural shift, as new French-speaking communities arrive. The consequences for French Canadian nationalism and separatism should be obvious.
But this process of acculturation may be now speeding up. Our cities have become faster, life is lived at a frenetic pace in our cities on this continent. Last week, two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring over 200 more, some very seriously. The bombs were planted by Tamerlan Tsarneav, 26, and his younger brother Dzhokhar, who is 19. The Tsarneav brothers are immigrants, they came to the United States from Dagestan just over a decade ago. Tamerlan was here on a green card, whilst Dzhokhar became a citizen last year. Their parents have both returned to Russia in recent years, leaving them here. But they’ve been here a long time, Tamerlan was 14 or 15 when he arrived here, Dzhokhar was 8 or 9. They were both Americanised, and their brand of terrorism, experts have concluded is of the ‘home-grown’ variety.
Yesterday in the Boston Globe, Farah Stockman commented on this growth in homegrown terrorism, citing forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, who in 2008 predicted that terrorism in the West would increasingly be of this variety. Of course, by 2008, we had already seen the writing on the walls. On 7 July 2005, four terrorists detonated bombs during the morning commute in London. All four were homegrown terrorists, two were the sons of immigrants, a third was an immigrant himself, but had grown up in England. The bombing of Madrid’s transportation system in March 2004 was also of the homegrown variety.
This new generation of terrorists, the so-called 3rd wave, are younger than the Al Qaeda terrorists of the previous decade. According to Stockman, the average Al Qaeda terrorist in the 90s and early 00s was in his 30s. Today, the average age of these 3rd wavers is in his early 20s. The 2nd wave were devoutly religious and had grown up in devoutly religious homes. The 3rd wave grew up secular, as the brothers Tsarneav had. So, why the turn to radicalism and terrorism, she asks:
For some, it was out of a warped romanticism for a homeland they barely knew; an act of rebellion against hardworking immigrant parents who brought them to the West for “a better life.” Others were US-born converts to Islam who found in terrorism a sense of camaraderie and purpose that had eluded them all their lives. A few became terrorists after years of gang-banging and drug dealing. It was an ideology that transformed their violent tendencies into something heroic. It made them feel they were on the side of the angels.
Sagemean concludes that for some of these young men, ‘terrorism is a fad.’ This is an interesting thought. But if these young men are attracted, in part, by this romantic attachment to their parents’ homeland, or the homeland of their families, or to the religion that sustained their family generations ago, I’m not so sure that this is a fad. Scholars looking at notions of diaspora note the attachment 3rd generation children and those beyond have to the mythical homeland. Looking at my own community and what I study (the Irish), I would note that men and women whose families emigrated to North America 160 years ago remain curious and interested in the mythical homeland of Ireland. Ireland draws them in, they’re curious about the history, the culture, and some even the language. This becomes a life-long interest.
Maybe Sagemen is correct in that the violence of radicalism and terrorism is a fad of youth and some of these young men will eventually mellow out and choose to focus on aspects of their culture that do not lead to violence. Certainly there are echoes of this in the Irish diaspora, where many young men (and some young women) have been attracted to the glory of the violence in the North. This was certainly true when I was younger, before the establishment of peace following the Good Friday Accords in 1998. Young Irish-American and Irish-Canadian men would hold romanticised images of the IRA and the resistance “back home”. Most have long since grown out of this fascination with the IRA, of course. (This did, however, inspire Bono to go on a legendary rant during a performance of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” during the 1987 Joshua Tree tour, which was released on the DVD of Rattle & Hum).
April 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
Monday’s terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon was a little too close to home for my tastes. A few of my students were there, near the finish line. A couple had left by the time the bombs went off, a couple had not. They were unhurt, as they were far enough away from the bombs. I know Boylston Street well. A few days before the Marathon, I was there; I had dinner in the Irish pub in the Lenox Hotel, which is across the street from where the second bomb went off. In my mind’s eye, I can see exactly where those two bombs were.
Like most Canadians and Americans, for me terrorism happens in the abstract. It’s a news report on TV, it’s on our Twitter timelines, it’s pictures in a newspaper. Sometimes, it’s a movie. But we don’t experience it personally, and this is still true even after 9/11. I have not experienced terrorism personally, and yet, I have never been as close to a terrorism attack as I was on Monday. Not surprisingly, I feel unsettled.
But I have been shocked and dismayed by some of the responses to the bombs on Boylston Street. Aside from those on Twitter declaring this to be a “false flag” attack (in other words, a deliberate attack by the US government on its people), which is stupid to start with, there have also been those who have been declaring that this happens all the time in Kabul or Baghdad or Aleppo. That is very true, it does happen everyday in those places. Indeed, for far too many people around the world, terrorism is a daily fact of life. That is wrong. No one should live in terror. But by simply declaring that this happens all the time elsewhere, you are also saying that what happened in Boston doesn’t matter. And that is a response that lacks basic humanity.
This has been a week where I’ve been reminded too often about our lack of humanity. The inhumanity of the bombers, of the conspiracy theorists, and those who say this doesn’t matter because it happens all the time elsewhere.
News also broke this week about disgusting, inhumane behaviour surrounding the Rehtaeh Parsons case in Halifax. There, “friends, family, and supporters” (to quote the CBC) have taken to putting up posters in the neighbourhood around Parsons’ mother’s house supporting the boys who sexually assaulted her, declaring that the truth will come out. I’m sure those boys are living in a world of guilt and shame right now, as they should. But to continue to terrorise a woman whose daughter was sexually assaulted, and then teased, mocked, and bullied for two years until she took her life is inhumane. It is inhumane that those boys assaulted Rehteah in the first place. It is inhumane that her classmates harassed, mocked, and bullied her for two years for being a victim.
There has been plenty of positive, especially in response to the Boston bombings. As I write this, President Obama is at a memorial service in Boston for the victims of the bombing. There are plenty of stories of the humanity of the response of the runners of the marathon, the bystanders, and the first responders. #BostonStrong is a trending hashtag on Twitter. Jermichael Finley of the Green Bay Packers will be donating $500 for every dropped pass and touchdown to a Boston charity, and New England Patriots receiver will donate $100 for every reception and $200 for every dropped pass this season. Last night’s ceremony at the TD Garden before the Bruins game was intense. And so on and so forth. This is all very heartening. It shows that we are humane, that we can treat each other with empathy and sympathy and dignity.
But it doesn’t erase those who lack humanity. I had a Twitter discussion last night about this. About how this kind of inhumanity seems to be everywhere. This morning, I was talking to two students about this inhumanity and how it just makes us depressed and wanting to cry. I wish I could say that this is a new phenomenon in society. But it’s not. This is one of the (dis)advantages to being an historian. We have the long view of history, quite obviously. We have always been a vengeful, inhumane lot. We’ve used torture since we could walk on our hind legs. The Romans’ favourite past-time was gladiator fighting, where two men fought to the death. Public executions were big deals, social outings. All to watch a man (and occasionally a woman) die. What is different now is the Internet allows people to express their inhumanity so much easier and so much quicker, and to gain further exposure in so doing. And that is just unfortunate.
December 18, 2012 § 7 Comments
Sometimes there are few things as depressing as Canadian anti-Americanism. We Canadians are a smug lot, we think we’re smarter, more cosmopolitan, less racist, less sexist, more everything that’s good, less everything that’s bad than Americans. And yet we’re obsessed with Americans. For many of us, our self-identity as a nation is simple: we’re not American. Years ago, even the Canadian Football League fell for this with an ad that asked “WHAT’S THE DEFINITION OF CANADIAN?!? NOT AMERICAN!!!” Yeah, great, thanks for that. I find few things as sad, pathetic, and limiting as we Canadians identifying ourselves in the negative, as in NOT American, NOT British, NOT French.
But it appears that this means of self-definition still appeals to and obsesses too many of my fellow citizens. And this leads to this sad anti-Americanism. The kind that leads Canadians to proudly declare we live in a paradise of non-existant crime, racism, homophobia, etc. And sometimes, it leads to leftist Americans fetishising Canada. Think, for example, of Michael Moore’s fatuous claim in Bowling for Columbine that Canadians don’t lock their doors at night because there’s no crime. I have never, ever, ever left my door unlocked living in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montréal. Not once. Ever. You think I’m nuts?!?
Canadian anti-Americanism is quite the phenomenon in social media right now. All kinds of Canadians lecturing, hectoring, and badgering Americans (not that they’re paying attention) about guns in the wake of the Newtown massacre (and let’s not forget the mall shooting in Oregon last week) (if you’d really like to depress yourself about mass shootings in the United States over the past thirty years, I have this for you). The script of this particular anti-Americanism is consistent: “You Americans are dumb. You have guns. And you shoot each other and yourselves with them. We Canadians are smart. We don’t shoot ourselves and each other.” And so and so forth. To that, my fellow Canadians, I will remind you of the rash of shootings in Toronto last summer. As for mass shootings, I present École Polytechnique; Concordia University; Taber, AB; Dawson College. You want a closer look at mass shootings in Canada? Go here. But this kind of anti-Americanism is predictable. But it’s not like Americans aren’t upset and distressed by these goings-on. It’s not like Americans aren’t trying to have this very same discussion.
But there’s also the more prosaic kind of anti-Americanism. Since I re-located to Boston this summer, I’ve had a few choice comments directed my way on Twitter and in real life. Comments like “I could NEVER live in the States, it’s so violent,” “Ha! Better get a gun!” and “Americans are dumb” (yes, seriously), and so on and so forth. A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, one numbskull went crazy on me in response to a tweet about the subtle difference I have noticed between the two nations: Canadians have social programmes, Americans have entitlements. This now-former tweep went on a tirade about Americans and war, suggesting that the American entry into the Second World War had nothing to do with the Allies winning the war. But it got better. Apparently the only thing Americans can do is fight, they can’t do diplomacy, and they can’t innovate unless it’s war. Cars, electricity, nope, none of that comes from the United States. Certainly, this kind of irrational anti-Americanism is not the norm in Canada, but it is still symptomatic of the larger problem.
I don’t see how this kind of irrational anti-Americanism can square with our self-image as more erudite, more intelligent, etc. than Americans. For that matter, I can’t see why this comparison even exists in the first place. I am Canadian. Full stop. I am not not-American. I don’t care what Americans are or do. That’s for Americans to decide. As Canadians, we need to get over our inferiority complex.
December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
I am a reader. I read pretty much anything, fiction and non-fiction. As I have argued for approximately forever, reading, and especially, literature, is what keeps me sane. So I read. It’s also the end of the semester, so what I read devolves in many ways from lofty literature to murder-mysteries. I would argue, though, that a good murder-mystery is full of the basic questions of humanity, right down to the endless push/pull of good v. evil. I came to this conclusion when someone once tried to convince me that Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment was, at the core, a murder-mystery.
So, it is that I came to find myself reading the third in John Farrow’s so-far excellent series of murder mysteries set in my home town, Montréal, and featuring the crusty old detective, Émile Cinq-Mars. The third novel, however, centres around Cinq-Mars’ early career in the late 60s/early 70s. And Farrow, who is really the esteemed Canadian novelist, Trevor Ferguson, took the opportunity to write an epic, historical novel. It’s also massively overambitious and falls under its own weight oftentimes in the first half of the book. The novel opens on the night of the Richard Riot in Montréal, 17 March 1955, with the theft of the Cartier Dagger, a relic of Jacques Cartier’s arrival at Hochelaga in the 16th century. The dagger, made of stone and gifted to Cartier by Donnacona, the chief of Stadacona, which is today’s Québec City, has been central to the development of Canada. It has ended up in the hands of Samuel de Champlain, Étienne Brulé, Paul de Chomedy, sieur de Maisonneuve, Dollard des Ormeux, Médard Chouart des Groselliers, Pierre Esprit Radisson, and so on. But it has ended up in the hands of the Sun Life Assurance Company, the very simple of les maudits Anglais in mid-20th century Montréal. Worse for the québécois, Sun Life has lent it to that mandarin of ‘les maudits anglais,” Clarence Campbell, president of the National Hockey League, and the man responsible for the lengthy suspension to Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. Clearly, Farrow subscribes to the theory that the Quiet Revolution really began in March 1955 (I do not agree with this one bit, thank you very much).
Farrow then takes us through the history of the dagger, from Cartier until it ends up in the hands of Campbell, to its theft on St. Patrick’s Day 1955. And from there, we move through the next sixteen years, through the Quiet Revolution, Trudeaumania, and the FLQ, as Cinq-Mars finally solves the mystery of the theft of the Cartier Dagger in 1971 (which was also the year that an unknown goalie came out of nowhere to backstop the Habs to the Stanley Cup).
All throughout the story, Farrow, in true Anglo-Montréal style, is obsessed with franco-québécois anti-semitism. This is especially the case from the late 19th century onwards. We are brought into the shadowy underworld of the Order of Jacques Cartier, a secret society hell-bent on defending French, Catholic Québec against les Anglais and the Jews. Characters real and fictive are in the Order, including legendary Montréal Mayor Camillien Houde, and Camille Laurin, the father of Bill 101, and others. And then there’s the Nazi on the run after the Second World War, Jacques Dugé de Bernonville. We also meet Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his nemesis, René Levésque.
Outed as anti-semites are the usual characters: Maurice Duplessis, Abbé Lionel Groulx, Houde, Laurin, and, obviously, de Bernonville. Also, Henri Bourassa and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine. And so on and so forth. And, ok, fair enough, they WERE anti-semites (though I’m not sure you can call Bourassa and Lafontaine that). Québec, and Montréal in particular, was the home of Adrien Arcand, the self-proclaimed fuhrer of Canada. These are disgusting, dirty men.
But all throughout the novel, only French Canadian anti-semitism matters. This reminds me of a listserv of policy wonks, academics, and journalists I’ve been a member of for a decade-and-a-half. Years ago, we had one member who liked to rail against the sovereigntists in Québec, accusing them of being vile anti-semites (sometimes he was right). But, whenever evidence of wider Canadian anti-semitism was pointed out, he dismissed it out of hand. In his mind, only the French are anti-semites (to the point where he often pointed to the Affair Dreyfus in late 19th century France as proof the québécois are anti-semites to the core).
I am not suggesting that anti-semitism should not be called out for what it is: racism. It must and should be. But whenever we get this reactionary Anglophone obsession with Franco-québécois anti-semitism, I get uncomfortable. This is a bad case of the pot calling the kettle black. Anti-semitism has been prevalent in Canada since the get go, in both official languages. The first Jew to be elected to public office in the entire British Empire was Ezekiel Hart, elected to the Lower Canadian legislature in 1807. But he was ejected from the House almost immediately upon taking his seat because he was Jewish. The objections to Hart taking his oath of office on the Jewish Bible (which was standard practice in the court system for Jews) were led the Attorney-General, Jonathan Sewell. But the people of Trois-Rivières returned him to office nonetheless. He was again refused his seat. Opposition came from both sides of the linguistic divide in Lower Canada, and you will surely note Sewell is not a French name. Lower Canada, however, was the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to emancipate Jews, in 1833. The leader of the House, and the Parti patriote? Louis-Joseph Papineau.
At any rate, this isn’t a defence of the franco-québécois record on anti-semitism. It’s not good. But it is to point out that Anglo Canada isn’t exactly pristine. Irving Abella and and Harold Troper’s book, None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948 makes that point clear. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s immigration chief, Frederick Blair, made sure that Jews fleeing Nazi Germany weren’t allowed into Canada. Jews had been coming to Canada since the late 19th century, and there, they met an anti-semitic response, whether it was Montréal, Toronto, or Winnipeg. Even one of our great Canadian heroes, Lester Bowles Pearson, Nobel Prize-winner for inventing UN Peacekeepers and Prime Minister from 1965-7, was an anti-semite, at least as a young man before the Second World War.
And anti-semitism has remained a problem in Canada ever since. While anti-semitism is relatively rare in Canada, B’Nai Brith estimates that, in 2010, upwards of 475 incidents of anti-semitism happened in Toronto alone.
So clearly Canadian anti-semitism isn’t a uniquely franco-québécois matter. Indeed, one of the few Anglos to feature in Farrow’s book, Sir Herbert Holt, was himself somewhat of an anti-semite himself. And I am left feeling rather uncomfortable with this strange Anglo Québec fascination with the anti-semitism of francophone québécois, especially when it’s presented out of the context of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. This was a period of pretty much worldwide anti-semitism. It was “in fashion,” so to speak, in the Euro-North American world, from actual pogroms in Russia to the Affaire Dreyfus, to the US and Canada refusing to accept refugees from Nazi Germany thirty years later.
February 24, 2012 § 5 Comments
It is interesting looking at the search terms that have led people to my blog here in the past few days: “car theft pt. st. charles” “murder pt. st. charles” “housing projects pt. st. charles” “crime pointe-saint-charles” “low income housing pointe-saint-charles.”
All negative, all reflecting an old stereotype of the Pointe. When I first moved down here, from the Mile End way back in 2002, my great uncle, a man who has been around some, said to me, “That’s a good place to get your nose punched in. Or worse.” I kept trying to tell him it’s not like that, at least not anymore. He never believed me. I just shook my head. But it seems that old visions of the Pointe die hard.