The grand prix, hailed as Montreal’s biggest and most economically lucrative event all year, aside from Jesus’s birthday, hit the town last weekend. For those who commit serial sociology, it is a case study for all of the troubling contradictions in Western society. For those committed hedonists (including and excluding auto enthusiasts), minor and major criminals, and restaurateurs, it is a grotesque version of the Jubilee, where all debts are forgiven through the marginal profits of cardinal sin.

But I don’t have time for moral cleansing. Leave that for pastors, postmodernists and anarchists.

The opulence and ethics of the fanfare are small material concern, and unfortunately the focus of too many puritans trying to exorcise vice. Let the people drink and what not. The municipal humanitarian concerns are a by-product of the larger violence.

Oil and rubber and steel are violence. A good visualization and starting point is this map:

map grand prix

It is a good map. The world. You probably recognize it. Now, why the three colours? Green represents the countries that have Grand Prix circuits; dark grey are the countries that formerly had Grand Prix circuits and light grey are the countries that never had Grand Prix circuits.

The obvious observation is that there are currently no tracks in Africa, the Middle East and India. Africa, a continent of one billion people, 1/7 of the world’s population does not have 1/21 of the circuits. But that is a simple, casual observation. If this map was made 60 years ago, every track would be in a white dominated colonial country, a centre of capital, and today that is still, generally the case.

The location of the track and the map is of significance because it shows one thing: the countries that produce rubber and oil, the two main ingredients in an F1 racer and all vehicles, generally, do not have circuits and make little residual economic benefit from their production. The Grand Prix is the highest metaphor for the confluence of colonial and imperial exploitation, of surplus value being sucked for nothing from brutally colonized peoples and injected into the toys of the global elite. It is important to illustrate exactly how violent rubber extraction is.

It is well known now that the Belgians murdered millions to extract rubber from the Congo. Workers would have to climb trees (at the risk of falling to their deaths) and rub the stinky rubber on their skin, climb down and rip it off their skin to pay off the debts the Belgians placed on the workers. If the amounts were inadequate, the Belgians would cut off limbs or simply kill the workers. Resistance was often and brutally crushed. Ho Chi Minh, writing for a communist newspaper in Paris writes of French barbarity:

“Under the title ‘Colonial Bandits’ our comrade Victor Meric has told us of the incredible cruelty of a French administrator in the colonies who poured molten rubber into the genitals of an unfortunate Negress. After which, he made her carry a huge stone on her head in the blazing sun, until she died.

This sadistic official is now continuing his exploits in another district, still with the same rank. Unfortunately, such odious deeds are not rare in what the good press calls ‘overseas France’.”

Episodes as such replayed over and over in every colony. European brutality made Grand Prixs possible. Nothing brought fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom, the Swiss, French, Belgians together like a sunny day at the races.

The car, itself, a product of advanced manufacturing, can only exist in countries that have traditionally benefited from the capital accumulation of colonial adventures. The extraordinary profits reaped from the backs of starving colonized people, mostly coloured, allowed for precarious investment in the initial capitally intensive productive forces of vehicles and the high wages of the western industrial workers.

Lenin calls these workers, “the labour aristocracy.”

They, and most of the workers in the west benefit from the violent enforcement of cheap extractive techniques and cheap labour in the colonized world. The car represents the highest form of the contradictions in the global working class. Rubber and oil brings misery to colonized countries. Rubber and oil brings wealth to colonial countries.

The Grand Prix is not just a celebration of human ingenuity, it is a celebration of the armistice between the labour aristocracy and the global bourgeoisie over their dominance of the colonized world. The highest and most desperate expression of this union is fascism and imperial jingoism. Does this make the Grand Prix a fascist celebration?

Perhaps there is a classless entertainment value to watching cars fly around a track. Summer celebrations are fun. Sure, but it must be recognized critically and fully that the material conditions that allow for the existence of the Grand Prix are based on violent colonial exploitation.

Before I end I need to make something clear because not only is this an argument against liberalism, conservatism, but this analysis must be stated to be clearly against postcolonialism and postmodernism and incorrect interpretations of Marxism:

  1. The participation of the upper crusts of colonized countries in Grand Prix celebrations does not mean there is an equality in the participation of peoples as a whole.
  2. The Japanese are among the most brutal colonial exploiters and are equal participants in the production of cars. They are a fully imperialist nation.

This is to say, that the Grand Prix are not firstly an expression of white supremacy or white privilege as some postmodern anarchists might extol, but an expression of colonial/ capitalist inequalities firstly.

As a migrant, I’ve started to think about the concept of ‘belonging.’ I never truly felt like I belonged to any particular piece of land. Similarly, I never thought of myself as ‘entitled’ to any land. And before I go any further, don’t worry. I will not say anything about ‘feeling like a world citizen.’ This is not what I have in mind.

Belonging, in the sense of holding a nationality, is a strange concept. If you think about it, you will realize that it’s very arbitrary. Some people are born in Canada, others are born in Russia, yet others are born in Turkey. This is a spatial concept of nationality, in which it is implied that you are meant to spend your life where you were born. No one really explains why.

Is it not absurd, though? Let’s take Canada, for instance. All humans born in Canada are called Canadians. I’ll just skip the question asking why that’s the case. Instead, let’s ask: “Since when is this so?”

Many of you know that Canada was not even a thing until July 1, 1867. Before that, the various provinces that make up Canada today were colonies of the British Empire. Then on Canada Day, Canada became a country. United forever, all of its citizens proud bearers of the adjective: “Canadian.”

Is it that simple though? Especially in the case of a settler colonial country. The name “Canada” is not necessarily what the Indigenous peoples call this land that Canadians call “ours.” The adjective “Canadian” is certainly not what they call themselves.

Fireworks Canada Day
Canada Day fireworks (image Blixt A. via Flickr Creative Commons)

Unfortunately, I cannot claim to be an expert on the semantics of Canadianness. I would, however, like to get you to start thinking about it. As far as I’m concerned, I want to talk about migration and belonging. I bring up the colonial history of Canada for that very reason.

Before Canada, before Britain, before Europeans, there were people living on this land. Through the cunning use of treaties, this land was converted into a political entity, which, in turn, authorized itself with the right to give away citizenships. Long story short, any European settler who came to this New World was an expatriate, or simply put, a migrant.

Unless you are an Indigenous person, you are a migrant on this land – just like I am. But still, because you were probably born here, you are Canadian and I am not. Absurd isn’t it?

I’ve been studying in Canada for the past three years. That also means that I’ve been living here for three years. I’ve been experiencing this land just like any other Canadian – and in fact, I’m probably more Canadian than a three-year-old baby whose parents are Canadians. Yet still, that’s not the case.

There’s something missing in this analysis – or whatever it is that you would like to call this. You see, nothing can prevent me from feeling Canadian if I so darn please. I can freely feel like I belong here, if I so desire. But that means nothing!

Canada is a country and a political entity, not the land it happens to occupy. If the borders of this political entity were placed elsewhere, then that place would be Canada. This political entity has the monopoly over the power to give away citizenships and declare nationalities. It is because of this political entity that a three-year-old baby born to Canadians is Canadian and I am not.

A political entity does not care about feelings. It does not care about historical context. It does not care whether it’s right or wrong. It cares about legitimacy and legality. What determines the legitimacy and legality of a political entity? Curiously enough, it itself does that job. It declares that it is the legitimate representative of Canadians and that it has the legal power to determine who gets to be Canadian.

“But that’s what countries are supposed to do – that’s literally how the current world system works!” Interesting, isn’t it? Surely, this system was once based on the idea that communities should have the inherent right to decide who gets to live with them. But the current world system, as my strawperson has so eloquently put it, is not really a system of communities. A community implies intimacy – a country can hardly be an intimate being.

If intimacy was still a thing in the current world system, I’d be able to go be a contributing member of the community – you know, pay taxes, join the labour force, do community service – and then I’d be declared a bonafide Canadian. But because the current world system is based on countries I have to jump through so many loops. I have to have myself declared legitimate and appeal to appropriate legal customs in order to become Canadian.

My point is, when you’re celebrating Canada Day, make sure you distinguish the land from the country, and the community from the state. Most of us are migrants on this land; but some of us have more rights than others. Why should I allow some artificial entity tell me whether or not I belong here? Why should I have to pamper some artificial entity to grant me acceptance?

Happy early Canada Day everyone.

For his latest documentary, Hubert Sauper enlisted some friends to help build a plane, which they then flew into Sudan to shoot We Come As Friends over the course of six years: before, during, and after the referendum that caused the country to separate, and gave way to South Sudan’s independence.

Sauper was at the Quebec premiere to present the film, explaining that it’s a documentary about the pathology of colonialism. For those unfamiliar with the conflict, the documentary provides a brief history of Sudan’s opposing leaders and their allies: Sudan’s Muslim president Omar Al-Bashir keeps close ties to China, whereas South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir Mayardit was rewarded by president Bush with a cowboy hat for his Christian beliefs.

At first the viewer is given the impression that the country is torn due to religious differences, but it is quickly revealed that oil is at the root of the conflict, which has brought its share of foreign involvement. A number of situations and conversations reveal a seriously troubling reality.

Comments from foreigners induced many an eye-roll, from Texan missionaries calling South Sudan “New Texas,” to a British soldier claiming that if locals haven’t been able to gain peace in over 200 years, they must not want it badly enough. Foreign investors boast that their investments will allow the South Sudanese to profit some as well – so there is no shame in making a buck off oil extraction. Meanwhile, an old man explains how he was given a contract to sign without understanding what it was – a contract which paid him 25K USD to hand over his land, of which he never saw a penny.

This new colonialism seems more insidious now – though South Sudan was not recently discovered, it is all too familiar and unsettling to see white missionaries and investors arrogantly insert themselves into South Sudan.

I did catch myself being pleased at South Sudan’s independence, if only because I’ve romanticized the idea – until Sauper revealed that the independence was orchestrated by Texas oil companies, who were simply looking for another profitable venture (which most certainly explains the presence of Texan ministers and missionaries shaming children for being naked, forcing them out of any traditional garb they might don and into school uniforms). It’s typical “divide and rule.”

The film is striking in its contrasts, and Sauper has an exceptional eye for jarring details. The UN’s New Year’s Eve festivities see a drunken Scottish lout suggestively shake a bottle of champagne and pop it while a local South Sudanese woman is outdoors, carrying buckets and cleaning. Local villagers explain how their village is becoming a mass grave due to murders, and that water contamination has killed their livestock and plants, as a UN truck drives by, its passengers likely unaffected by these realities.

These situations might seem cliché, but the documentary does a great job of steering clear of sentimental commentary, merely showing a reality that us privileged folk like to pretend is over. Sauper admitted this was the longest he had ever worked on a film. One can only imagine how alert he must have been to capture such fantastic, telling, and eye-opening coincidences on film.

An absolute must see, especially for those who argue the benefits of oil extraction and colonialism.

For the full RIDM schedule, please visit ridm.qc.ca

Creating sustained and respected dialogue between Indigenous communities and settler society has long been a struggle in decolonization movements. Most recently, the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline in BC exemplifies the damage that the lack of  dialogue, and by extension, free, prior and informed consent, can do.

A new initiative, Skills for Solidarity, is attempting to work on mending, or at least, beginning a dialogue by exploring the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The initiative plans to offer a free program designed to “renew the relationship between nations” by exploring shared histories and offering tools for solidarity work.

There’s still a long battle ahead toward decolonization, however perhaps Skills for Solidarity could be considered a step toward it.  The full modules and program syllabus are listed on the initiative’s site (part of leadnow.ca).

 

 

This past Sunday, with the backdrop of the escalating events in Iraq, Tony Blair, former British prime minister and prominent supporter of the 2003 Iraq invasion, set out on a crusade on his blog to justify a second western intervention in Iraq, just eleven years after the first bullets were fired in March 2003.

In his blog post, faithful to himself and his blatant intellectual dishonesty, Blair made the case that the current situation of Iraq had little, if not nothing at all, to do with the nine year occupation of the country by the “coalition of the willing”. This of course was spearheaded none other than himself and his American partner in crime, former President of the United States of America George W. Bush.

It appeared clearly through Blair’s lyrical rendition, that if fault for the current unrest in Iraq laid with anyone, it was certainly with Iraq’s political elite and the Islamic fundamentalists under the banner of Islamic state in Iraq and the Sham —aka ISIS. Later during the week, this statement was echoed by current American President Barrack Obama, who stated on CNN that the west — read here the United States and the United Kingdom — had given Iraq “the chance to have an inclusive democracy” and that the only form of American intervention on the table was a strategic one to “protect national interests.”

As the events unfold at a velocious pace in the current Middle East geopolitical context, it is very important to pause and replace these statements in a historical perspective that encompasses the dominant foreign policy lines that have guided western intervention in the region since the end of the Second World War.

Eisenhower and Nixon at Dinner with King Saud
(l-r) Dwight D. Eisenhower, King Saud and Richard Nixon

The major historical element that is disregarded too often, and without which an understanding of western invention is always incomplete, is the Eisenhower Doctrine. The special message to the Congress on the situation in the Middle East is – until this day – the backbone of American interventionism in the Middle East and the foundation of American foreign policy with regards to Middle Eastern politics.

In many ways, the Doctrine is more of a strategic alliance with the Saudi strain of Wahhabism, which is an ultra-orthodox reading of the teachings of Islam, against the mounting influence of Nasserite socialism and Ba’athlism, pan-Arab socialism that was a major threat to American domination of the region in the mid twentieth century. In many ways it was the continuation of the divide and conquer  strategy which was espoused by both British and French colonial regimes after the First World War. The objective to split the Arab world into various fractions, and playing these fractions against one another, thus assuring the paramount position of western influence in the region, and the foiling of any pan-Arabist dream.

The reason behind the Eisenhower Doctrine and the emphasis that French and British colonial regimes instigated pseudo ethnic, tribal and religious division was to protect their national interests, the most important being of course the control of the primordial natural resource: petrol.

In the name of natural security and democracy, democratically elected governments were toppled such as the Iranian government of Mossaddegh  in 1953 when his administration made the bold move to nationalize the petroleum industry, or when Islamist extremist militant groups were funded to make the case for right-wing autocratic dictatorships which seated their power on being the final rampart against the Islamists.

But all in all, the gurus of American foreign policy fancied more the chances of advancing their agenda and “protecting their national interests” with the help of Islamist fundamentalists and autocratic regimes than with socialist ones, or left-wing movements be they religious or secular. This is why America has always openly supported the most backwards regime in the region, Saudi Arabia.

waronterror_Frank151It’s a known fact that Saudi Arabia has financed extremist Islamist groups. A current example is their unequivocal support for Islamist forces in the ongoing Syrian conflict. Not only do the Saudis offer financial support to such organizations, but also offer them with logistical support and cover.

The current situation in Iraq and Syria is but another chapter in a covert operation to maintain a managed form of chaos in the region that benefits none other than big western oil companies and corrupt oil drunk dynasties, all which promote extreme Islamist theories outside of their borders and repress them within. The War on Terror of which the Iraq War was a part, a war which was called by its main instigators a war against fear for freedom and democracy (and whatever other amalgamation of buzzwords that fit in sound bites) is anything but a war against terror.

Quite to the contrary, in fact, The War on Terror resulted in utter chaos and the destruction of a strong and viable pan-Arab movement which would have fostered an alternative to the Western colonial and neo-colonial domination of the region and the Saudi reactionary agenda. The War on Terror served an interest: the interest of those that first sowed the seeds of terror within the Middle East and whom without terror would cease to hold such a firm grasp on the petroleum reserves and the cash flow that coincides.

On the 30th of July, 762 (Christian calendar) while all of the “western” world was still engulfed in the dark ages, the city of Baghdad was built, a magnificent place of knowledge and architectural resplendence. Today Baghdad and the magnificent city of Damascus are piles of rubble, ruins, shadows of their former selves. The real terrorists aren’t the ones you might be afraid of.

A luta continua.

On June 11 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons and offered apologies on behalf of the Canadian government for the hideous Residential School program – a program with the purpose, in the words of its most ardent supporters, was to “civilize” First Nations, Inuit, and Métis populations. It was a system of cultural cleansing with a sole finality to destroy the remains of any Indigenous way of life and thus allowing for their complete assimilation.

The apology was supposedly a watershed moment in Canadian history, a moment which would allow for renewed dialogue, a dignified correspondence between the ‘saviours’ of such a system, their children, and the non-aboriginals populations of Canada. The Conservative government at the time, as it still does today, boasts about the historic moment as proof of their efforts to build a stronger partnership with Indigenous communities.

Outside of the universe of smoke and mirrors, of the political spin and lip-service that is Ottawa, the apology put forward by the Conservative government is a chef d’oeuvre of hypocrisy and the paragon of why the federal government’s relationship with Indigenous communities is not just broken, it’s non-existent.

A sincere apology is first and foremost a lesson and promise. It is an acknowledgement that our past ways were inhumane, cruel, and racist, and a statement that from this day forth the federal government would fight to eradicate the remainders of colonialism and neo-colonialism in all of its forms. Unfortunately six years after, the Canadian government’s apology seems void of any concrete steps to change the nature of our relationship with Indigenous communities, much to the contrary in fact.

10250339_714441488599389_4579690543337392858_n

The honeymoon period following the apology was short-lived. Within a few years of the statement the Conservative government was handed a majority and since then, it’s been a race to the bottom when it comes to the state of aboriginal/federal government relations.

In the past few years of Conservative majority rule there have been an incredible amount of low points when it comes to this government’s respect of Indigenous rights, and especially with regards to their unalienable right to self-determination and sovereignty within their own communities. For some right-wing pundits – read Ezra Levant – the  storyline is the following: Conservative government pushes for  natural resource extraction on Native land , Indigenous peoples oppose extraction, the Conservatives pushes forward with it because that’s what’s best for the economy and what’s best for the economy is what’s best for the aboriginal peoples of Canada … But when bill C-33, or the First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act (in good Conservative newspeak) is thrown into the mix, the “prosperity” argument that the ‘neo-cons’ construct to justify their willing incapacity to uphold treaty rights and their rampant violation of aboriginal sovereignty doesn’t apply.

Bill C-33 might have stemmed from a good intention (even though that is very doubtable), but a very misguided one to say the least. Bill C-33 is the legal framework for an education system for First Nations communities drawn in Ottawa without the consent or the input of First Nations – a framework that would impose an educational system in which the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another isn’t important, and the only objective is to “integrate”.

In the words of its proponents, it brings First Nations youth into the Canadian economy, aka assimilation by other means. The best manifestation of that is the fact that the teaching of First Nations languages doesn’t even have a place in the bill.  This new education system would answer to the needs of the market, the needs of Canadian employers, not to the aspirations of First Nation communities wanting to make sure their cultures and languages are passed on to the next generation.

481203_10151387202851280_1728882735_n

On the other hand, contrary to Conservative belief, 100% First Nations’ controlled education systems are the models that work the best. The province of Nova Scotia is the best example of a 100% controlled First Nations education program.

Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey has been an incredible success story. Today Nova Scotia has the highest rate of First Nations high school graduation in the entire country at a staggering 88% compared to 35% nation-wide. Statistics such as these put the Conservative government in a very awkward situation, because they prove that self-determination works, which puts the Conservative government’s entire economic plan in porte-à-faux.

Indigenous communities throughout Canada have been on the frontlines of the fight against the ruthless exploration and pillage of Canadian natural resources, which only benefit multinational corporations at the expense of the rest of us. We non-Indigenous peoples of Canada are indebted to these communities historically in many ways, but we are ever so indebted for the struggle they lead against the destruction of our natural wealth in this day and age.

This Conservative government is truly afraid of what Indigenous communities have to teach all of us, primarily that our greatest wealth is our environment. We cannot eat money, and that’s why the Conservative government is the main obstacle on the path towards a strong autonomous Aboriginal educational system in Canada. The Conservatives are scared of an educational system that promotes an alternative worldview in which prosperity is measured in environmental and social terms, not economic ones.

If we want to build a truly prosperous Canada, we have much to learn from our Indigenous sisters and brothers.