by Steve da Silva
Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have boycotted the Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka last week, but he still managed to reach the summit of hypocrisy.
Harper confirmed in October that it was with “somewhat of a heavy heart” he would be boycotting the meeting due to Sri Lanka’s human rights record, the specifics of which he was vague. Harper cited extra-judicial killings and the ongoing intimidation and incarceration of political opponents and journalists as reasons, but he remained made no direct reference to Tamils, the genocide they experienced in 2009, and the ongoing oppression they face in Sri Lanka.
Of course, media sources (here, and here) in Canada were quick to pick up on the fact that the diplomatic move was a clear gesture to Canada’s Tamil population, the largest Tamil diaspora in the world with nearly 300,000 people. Toronto is now home to the majority of this population, with a very active community in ridings that the Conservatives would like to cultivate a base in.
Toronto-area Tamil activist and BASICS occasional correspondent Pragash Pio, who has long supported Indigenous people’s struggles in Canada and has worked to develop relations of solidarity between the Haudenosaunee nation (of Six Nations) and the Tamil community, told BASICS that “Harper’s criticisms of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record and subsequent ‘boycott’ of the [Commonwealth meeting] in Sri Lanka is electoral opportunism and political hypocrisy. Tamil’s make up a significant voting bloc in key ridings in Toronto and are known to be a well organized community with higher then average voter turn out and Harper’s is courting them with this personal boycott.”
Sri Lanka shot back last week, with government officials reported to be citing Harper’s move as a way to placate Tamil Tiger activists in Canada. A ridiculous charge, to be sure, considering that Canada has prosecuted people with alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and even dismissed that a genocide ever occurred in 2009 (as this would place Canada under obligations to recognize the country’s refugees). However, cultivating a Conservative base of support amongst Tamils – that’s another thing entirely.
In 2009, the Sri Lankan state has launched a war of annihilation on its minority Tamil population that consisted of a 5-month campaign of indiscriminate shelling and bombing of the north coast, which is home to a majority of the Tamils. The campaign included the deliberate targeting of safe zones, hospitals and schools. The outcome was the death of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, even if the main objective was the decimation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which many Tamils recognized as their legitimate national organization. Civilians that survived the government onslaught were forced into detention, and some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were imprisoned in state-run concentration camps.
For its part, the Canadian government aided Sri Lanka in this war by adding the LTTE to its list of designated terrorist organizations in 2006, and days later raided the offices of the World Tamil Movement, which it also listed as a terrorist organization in 2008. During the course of the genocide, Canada sent aid money to Sri Lanka and demonized Tamils in Canada who were in the streets as “terrorist supporters” for trying to bring attention to the killings in their homeland. Refugees desperately fleeing the genocide were halted, and the claims to be refugees were dismissed as frivolous.
Pio was in Vancouver (Coast Salish territories) this past week speaking alongside Indigenous, Palestinian and other solidarity activists at a series of events called “Criminalizing People’s Liberation Movements: Scrap the So-called Terrorist List.” The events also featured Toghestiy, a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en nation who has been involved in the Unis’tot’en Camp. In an interview with BASICS over the phone, Pio also linked Tamil oppression to Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people: “There is also the hypocrisy of the Canadian state accusing the Sri Lankan state of human rights abuses against the Tamil Nation such as land theft, torture, illegal detention, and systematic sexual violence against women when the Canadian state has similar patterns of abuse against First Nations.”
While some Tamils may have appreciated the little boost that Harper’s boycott may have given to their struggle for the recognition of the 2009 genocide, Pio sees it differently: “There has been no significant change in the Canadian state’s position on Tamil refugees, deportations to Sri Lanka, and illegal detentions. The CBSA is rigorously contesting in hearings the status of many of the Tamil refugees who arrived by the MV Sun Sea and MV Ocean Lady. There are two cases of deported refugees being tortured, and one murdered because of the CBSA’s collusion with the Sri Lankan security in labeling en masse Tamil refugees as terrorists and security threats has already been discovered.
Canada’s boycott of the Commonwealth summit is especially hypocritical in the face of Canada’s dismissal of some of the findings and recommendations of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Ayana, who toured First Nations communities and met with Indigenous nations in early October. Anaya issued strong criticisms of Canada’s “adversarial approach” to land claims, the ongoing issue of missing and murdered native women, and Canada’s rushing ahead with the First Nations Education Act. Canada has also continued to resist calls for an Inquiry into missing and murdered, which was among Anaya’s recommendations.
by Saraswati Ali, writer and lawyer in Toronto
The Threat of Liberation: Imperialism and Revolution in Zanzibar by Amrit Wilson
Pluto Press, 2013. 192pp. Paperback. African Studies. CDN$ 32.56 at Amazon.ca
The Threat of Liberation returns to the tumultuous years of the Cold War, when, in a striking parallel with today, imperialist powers were seeking to institute ‘regime change’ and install pliant governments… The book also draws on US cables released by Wikileaks showing Zanzibar’s role in the ‘War on Terror’ in Eastern Africa today. – Pluto Press, Publisher
The Threat of Liberation reflects on the history of a party which confronted imperialism and built unity across ethnic divisions, and considers the contemporary relevance of such strategies.
In her first book on the topic, US Foreign Policy and Revolution (1989), Amrit Wilson, feminist activist and writer based in London, UK, discussed how this union of regions was orchestrated by the U.S., who was desperately attempting to prevent Zanzibar from becoming the Cuba of Africa, spreading dissent and revolution through the continent.
In her new book, The Threat of Liberation, Amrit Wilson tells us what the U.S. was so scared of – the Umma party, its characteristic leader A.M. Babu, and the leadership’s dedication to fostering multiracial unity, socialism in Africa, and independent relations with China and the Third World.
Wilsons delves into the historical details of 1950s and 1960s Zanzibar through records and interviews with the few leading activists who have not been murdered or died. A.M. Babu has also left extensive writings which form the guiding spirit of the book. It is an important tale of an attempted revolution, in the midst of the Cold War. It conveys how the presence of an organized and principled Umma party, and especially a youth wing, helped convert a revolution led initially by “lumpen” elements into a focused revolutionary government.
However, the process was only allowed a few months before it was hijacked by Julius Nyerere under orders from the U.S. Nyerere was a pro-West leader. He led a one-party state which governed Tanganyika and then Tanzania from 1961 to 1985.
Zanzibar became relegated to dominion status within the union, and a viciously oppressive and racist (anti-Arab and anti- Asian) clique was permitted to govern Zanzibar. All the Umma activists were either murdered, tortured and jailed for years. Hundreds of women suffered forced cross-racial marriage and rape by the ruling party in the early years.
As and when opportunity presented itself, and when he was not imprisoned, Babu continued to cultivate links with radicals, including Malcolm X. They spoke together at rallies in Harlem, and Babu influenced Malcolm X into adopting an anti-imperialist perspective.
In the second half of the book, Wilson uses Wikileaks released material to bring the story to the present and to look at how and why Zanzibar continues to present itself to the paranoid U.S. as a threat – this time because of its masses of unemployed Muslim youth sitting on…. an abundance of natural gas and oil. Talk in foreign intervention circles is ongoing regarding “allowing” Zanzibar to secede – this time as a disciplined workground for SEZs coupled with oil extraction monopolies.
In this section, Wilson takes us through the contours of the horrific current processes of recolonization of Africa with the descent of multinational extraction companies and donors like vultures on the land, in search of gas, oil, valuable metals, and minerals. It is a very important story to hear because it tells of the contrasting methods of the Western powers (including Norway usually touted for its wonderful social democratic state) compared to China, who is also gaining access to the oilfields, but through setting up long-lasting infrastructure projects which could potentially bring benefits to African development.
One of the most important aspects of revolutionary struggle that Wilson discusses at some length is the nature of the underlying vision – what did Babu and other radicals in the PanAfrican movement want. This is best seen as what Babu attempted on one occasion – he went to Indonesia in 1964, then a major importer of Zanzibar’s cloves. A tri-lateral trade cum industrial agreement was made, where Zanzibar would provide Indonesia with cloves, Indonesia would provide East Germany with raw materials of equal values, and Germany would provide Zanzibar with industrial tools and machinery. By the time he returned to Zanzibar, however, Nyerere had taken over, with no vision of development for Zanzibar. Later, however, Babu did manage to get the Chinese to offer Tanzania the historical Tanzania-Zambia railway. This permitted Zambia to be able to export its copper from a port outside of racist South Africa. Hence Zambia could partially de-linking from the imperial-controlled routes and take an autonomous stance on apartheid. The World Bank and the U.S. government had refused to finance this railroad.
Wilson also offers us a debate between the African socialism model of Nyerere and the socialism in Africa model of Babu. The former, with its romantic rhetoric of pre-colonial class-less Africa, had no concept of how to raise the necessary capital for the welfare it wanted to deliver. The model became implemented as an authoritarian system of top-down rule leading to the impoverishment of the peasantry on the other as they were compelled to live in collectives under terms of austerity with no infrastructure, market, or subsidy. A.M. Babu and the Umma party, long dissolved, could not put into practice or refine their own vision, but Wilson at the end of her book imagines what it might look like in the contemporary context: where the extraction of oil and gas in Zanzibar is controlled by and used to benefit the people; such that illiteracy and poor health can be relegated to the past; and housing , education and employment a birthright to all. She does not tell us if anyone is discussing these ideas with the ‘radical Muslim’ youth in Zanzibar, but perhaps that is one reason why she wrote this important book.
by Steve da Silva & Laura Lepper – Co-produced with Two Row Times
TORONTO – On the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, on October 7, the Idle No More movement took to the streets in over 50 places across Turtle Island and beyond to show the world that the movement for Indigenous rights has not faded. “We haven’t gathered here to celebrate that document which has led to the loss of so much of our land,” said one INM speaker.
In Toronto, over a hundred people gathered for a Unity in Action event under the specific theme “We Have the Right To Say NO”. Many denounced the Harper government for advancing policies of colonization that trace back to 1763 and before. Aaron Detlor of the Haudenosaunee Development Institute reminded the Toronto rally that we were gathered in the traditional treaty territory of the Beaver Hunting Grounds. “As a Haudenosaunee person,” Detlor proclaimed, “I am tired of asking. The time for asking is over.”
Canadian colonialism was hit from an international angle as well. Suraia Sahar, a young Afghani activist, brought it to people’s attention that it was twelve years ago to the day that Canada and other NATO-member countries invaded and occupied Afghanistan: “The Canadian military is still an occupying force in my native land of Afghanistan.” Sahar was flanked by fellow anti-war activist, Jules Tingangan, a Filipino-Canadian who is a veteran of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. Tingangan denounced Canada’s role in Afghanistan, in which he was a direct participant, and announced his support for all peoples under occupation: “They sent me to another country to kill brown people just like me.”
The gathering also served to educate participants on the Two Row Wampum. Speaker Davyn Calfchild stated, “Everyone needs to learn about the Two Row and the nation-to-nation relationships it represents. It’s not just for Native people, it’s for non-Native people too.”
Through speakers and music, cold rain poured down. But when the final words were being spoken, sunshine broke through the clouds and a full rainbow framed the gathering. Under the newly pink sky, dozens of people lifted a 100-foot Two Row Wampum to begin a march from the westside residential neighbourhood near Trinity Bellwoods Park into the downtown core.
In order to help the growth and development of Basics as an organization, the general membership has created a Women’s Committee. For the working class to organize themselves, we need a media apparatus that reflects our struggles. Although Basics strives to present all issues in a way that addresses the most oppressed and exploited group of people, the perspective of working class women is not always reflected in our journalism.
To improve the quality of our journalism, the Women’s Committee will contribute to the editorial process, ensuring that working class women’s perspectives are reflected throughout all of our media productions. The Women’s Committee will also contribute to the internal growth and development of the organization by facilitating workshops and educationals on issues of concern and importance to women.
Some of the issues we hope to address include women’s mental health, the unemployment and underemployment of women, childcare and lack of social services, to name a few. We need to address all of these issues and more so that we can contribute to the struggle for women’s liberation.
For more information or to join the struggle send us an email at email@example.com.
by Nicole Oliver
New York City | The 4th International Assembly of Refugees and Migrants (IAMR4) kicked off this week in New York City. Since 2008, the IAMR has brought together grassroots migrants’ organizations from across the globe. Under the banner of the IAMR organizations stand together in opposition to the gatherings of the Global Forum for Migration and Development, which was formed by the UN High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development in 2006. Those who assemble at the IAMR meetings over the years “seek to expose the bankruptcy of the United Nations’ line of managing migration as a tool for development”.
Migrant workers and their supporters unite at the IAMR in the struggle for human rights and justice for migrants. The IAMR seeks to address the root causes of forced migration and highlight issues that migrants and refugees confront daily, such as family separation, labor exploitation and wage theft, detention and deportation, barriers to health and social services, racism and xenophobia, gender and sexuality-based violence and discrimination, and neoliberal labor export policies.
BASICS Community News Service is included among the various organizations in attendance. Other organizations composing the Canadian delegation include Anakbayan-Toronto, International Workers’ Centre (IWC-Canada), Migrante-Canada, Mouvement contre le viol et l’inceste-Montreal, and Pinay-Canada.
The activities scheduled for October 1 included a church witnessing with migrants and a candlelight vigil held outside of the Church Centre for the United Nations.
The October 2 IAMR4 activities brought together grassroots folks in Washington Square Park for an animated flash mob dance. Cultural performances and key note speeches held at St. Patrick’s Church relayed strong messages of solidarity and people power in confronting the struggles of migrants. The Tuesday evening concluded with a powerful and motivating performance from the hip hop group Rebel Diaz.
IAMR is the main gathering organized by the International Migrants Alliance, an international network of progressive and anti-imperialist migrants organizations.
The IAMR4 continues in New York City until October 5, 2013. For more details on the scheduled events visit http://iamr4.com and or https://www.facebook.com/IAMR4.
by Steve da Silva – Produced for TwoRowTimes.com & BASICS Community News Service
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is now taking drastic measure of emptying out two-thirds of Cold Lake in Alberta to contain the spilling of bitumen at no less than four sites at its Cold Lake project for over a month now. More than 1.5 million liters of bitumen (a mixture of oil sands, heavy crude and water) is said to have leaked. The bitumen leaked would fill 9600 barrels.