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Gaza May Be Riveting, But There’s Plenty To Think About Elsewhere

January 17, 2009

One of the most mysterious things about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is its astonishing ability to enflame passions beyond Palestine itself, and even beyond the Middle East. Given the power of Islam as a unifying factor across nations and cultures, it’s perhaps not too surprising to read about the Prime Minister of Turkey accusing Israel of perpetrating a “crime against humanity”, or to find Dr Mahathir Mohamad – the combative former Prime Minister of Malaysia – musing on his wonderfully eccentric blog that he “would like to have the Malaysian Armed Forces attack the United States and Israel”. But it’s a bit harder to understand why blogs and newspaper opinion pieces all over the English-speaking world are full of Gaza-related commentary, or why British demonstrators worked themselves into such a foamy lather over Starbucks’ supposed Zionist connections that they felt compelled to destroy one of the chain’s locations in London.

Canada has hardly been immune from all the recent Gaza-related angst. We’ve had angry pro-Palestinian demonstrations in our cities, too, complete with Hezbollah flags and signs comparing Israelis to Nazis (one of those wildly absurd comparisons that would probably induce apoplexy in an average member of either group). Meanwhile our pundits and editorial writers have been musing about such matters as the advisability or otherwise of negotiating with Hamas, and the difficulty of striking a balance between the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. For a tiny sliver of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, the Gaza Strip is attracting astonishing levels of Canadian attention.

I’m not suggesting that Canadians shouldn’t be interested in the fighting in Gaza, but it does strike me as regrettable that the conflict is casting such an enormous shadow over equally dramatic developments in some of the world’s other trouble spots. In Somalia, for instance, Islamist forces seem to be advancing into the power vacuum left behind by the recent withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, and the recent execution of a prominent politician for “apostasy” against Islam may represent the shape of things to come. Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, the national army captured the Tamil Tigers’ de facto capital of Kilinochchi some time ago, and has continued to make territorial gains in the north.

Unlike Gaza, Somalia and Sri Lanka are two parts of the world where Canada’s decisions have made a real difference. We had peacekeepers in Somalia in the early 1990s, and their withdrawal probably helped precipitate the country’s slide into failed statehood. As for Sri Lanka, the Tamil community in Canada was once a major source of overseas revenue and support for the Tamil Tigers, but we choked off that lifeline by adding the Tigers to our list of banned terrorist organisations. Canada bears a measure of responsibility for subsequent events in both places, and we should at least be keeping a close eye on things.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. Todd permalink
    January 27, 2009 6:59 am

    Since I’ve been back from the region, I can understand why this conflict captures world attention when it flairs up. Israel is tiny, the West Bank is minute and Gaza is a postage stamp. That being said, it seems as if these areas are at the center of the world. As much as you heard Hebrew or Arabic being spoken in the streets, Russian, French, German, Ebo and Yorba were not uncommon either. For most of the Western world, the faith was born in this small country. It’s the land of the Bible, the Torah and the Koran. To me it is quite logical that Westerners become overly focused on this conflict. However, it was interesting to see how both the Palestinians and the Israelis viewed Canada and its role in the region. Neither of group seemed believed that Canada understood the complexities of the region. This is our greatest failing. Though Canadians might have put pressure on the Tamil Tigers, we have done the same thing with funding for Hamas. Though we might have put peacekeepers on the ground in Somalia, peacekeeping as it is known was created over the Suez. Canada has a legacy in this region, one that it seems the Israelis, Palestinians and Canadians themselves have seemed to forget.

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