Having already written a couple of posts about Israel’s interception of the “Freedom Flotilla” off the coast of Gaza (here and here), I suppose I’ll continue to cover developments until (1) interesting things stop happening or (2) I get bored. (If you, dear reader, are bored and think I should be writing about something else instead, do let me know.)
So… the confirmed death toll is still nine, including eight Turks and one US citizen of Turkish origin. Needless to say, the Turks are not amused. Although at least some Turkish pundits are calling for a measured approach, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc condemned Israel’s “barbarism and oppression”, and President Abdullah Gul insisted that relations between the two countries would “never be the same”. That sounds suspiciously histrionic: Canada-US relations eventually recovered from the War of 1812, and nine dead activists on a boat is pretty trivial by comparison. However, it’s certainly true that relations could worsen even further. There’s now said to be “talk in Istanbul of the Turkish navy escorting another humanitarian convoy to Gaza”, which would raise the stakes considerably.
Events continue to move quickly in the aftermath of Israel’s interception of the Gaza-bound “Freedom Flotilla” – or rather partial interception, sinc e one of the Flotilla’s ships had apparently fallen behind the others and is still proceeding towards Gaza. It will be fascinating to see whether this ship, the Irish-registered MV Rachel Corrie, gets the same kind of reception as the original six. The ship is backed by an Irish parliamentary resolution urging Israel to grant her safe passage, although only five of the nineteen people on board (including the Nobel laureate Máiread Corrigan-Maguire) are Irish. Furthermore, the Israelis might prefer to avoid any chance of further bloodshed, given the diplomatic fallout from the first maritime clash and the possibility that the MV Rachel Corrie may have a shillelagh or two on board. On the other hand, they might also prefer to keep their blockade intact despite the risk of violence. For the moment neither side seems interested in backing down.
The death toll, as far as I can tell, is still “at least nine”. Four of the dead seem to be Turks, but Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is already holding out the possibility of resuming normal ties with Israel “once the Gaza blockade is lifted and our citizens are released”. Lifting the blockade may be a tall order, but the Israelis are promising to release almost all of the Flotilla activists they took into custody. (The organisers of the Flotilla are indignant about the only apparent exceptions, four Israeli Arabs who have been remanded for a week.) Two of the three Canadian citizens who were detained have already been released, although the status of the third is unclear. Apart from Kevin Neish, nominally the subject of my earlier post on the Freedom Flotilla, the other two Canadians are Rifat Audeh and Farooq Burney.
As naval battles go, the interception of six ships of the “Freedom Flotilla” by the Israeli Defense Forces off the coast of Gaza wasn’t much to write home about. The most dramatic action took place on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which Israeli naval commandos boarded from helicopters in international waters. Someone called Daphna Baram noted in the Guardian that she had once been invited to join the flotilla, but had declined partly because she had been “somewhat horrified by the idea of spending a lot of time on a ship with a bunch of Kumbaya-singing hippies”. In the event, the “hippies” on the Mavi Marmara gave a surprisingly good account of themselves, reportedly inflicting “serious head injuries” on one commando before the others responded with live fire. They killed at least nine of the activists and wounded many more, ending all resistance.
The hundreds of people aboard the six ships were a motley crew of activists from many different countries, accompanied by journalists and a smattering of notable figures including the Swedish writer Henning Mankell and the Northern Irish peace activist (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Máiread Corrigan-Maguire. Some have already been voluntarily deported, but most remain in custody “in detention centres across Israel”.
Probably because I often look at the British media, my reaction to the ongoing clamour for an audit of the Canadian parliamentary budget has been a sense of vague foreboding. In the UK, the issue of parliamentary expenses exploded about a year ago, when the Telegraph began publishing leaked details of expense claims by individual MPs. Not surprisingly, some MPs had been taking considerable liberties with the rules governing what could be legitimately claimed, and the rules were apparently pretty generous in the first place.
The resulting public outrage, enthusiatically fanned by the media, was enormous. The story dominated the news for months. People were understandably both angry and fascinated, considering what certain unscrupulous politicians had been doing (or at least attempting to do) with taxpayers’ money in a tough economy. One Sir Peter Viggers famously tried to claim the cost of a floating duck house. Douglas Hogg claimed “the cost of having a moat cleared”. I have to admit to a bit of schadenfreude in the case of Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary and a nasty, prissy piece of work at the best of times. When she wasn’t conspiring to foist compulsory ID cards on the British people, she was out to improve their morals by toughening the classification of cannabis (in the face of scientific advice), tightening the UK’s already illiberal prostitution laws, and banning “extreme” pornography. It was quite satisfying to read that this puritan par excellence had been hounded out of office over dubious expenses claims – including one for pay-per-view “adult” movies that were apparently watched by her hapless husband Richard Timney.
First there was last Tuesday’s suicide car bombing in Kabul, the most lethal attack against Western forces in the city since six Italian soldiers were killed in September 2009. Among Tuesday’s 18 fatalities were six NATO soldiers, including three American colonels and Col. Geoff Parker of the Royal Canadian Regiment. The next day, insurgents staged an attack on Bagram air base, the largest US base in Afghanistan, and managed to kill one “American contract worker” – quite possibility a euphemistic reference to a mercenary. On Saturday night they took the battle to Kandahar airfield. Although American and Canadian personnel were wounded in the attack, there were apparently no Western fatalities. However, the Globe and Mail made it sound like the Taliban had aimed their munitions directly at the Canadian psyche:
This weekend’s twin-pronged attack on Kandahar Air Field involved half a dozen small, Soviet-era missiles blasting the sprawling base, including one that wounded a dozen near Tim Hortons, which overlooks an outdoor hockey rink where off-duty soldiers socialize.
Tim Hortons and a hockey rink? All right, Mullah Omar. Bombing convoys in Kabul is one thing, but now you’ve crossed a line. From now on it’s War with a capital W.
I suspect I’m not alone among Canadians in not quite knowing what to think of recent events in Thailand. On one side of the battle lines are the noisy “Red Shirt” followers of Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist, wealthy, probably corrupt former Prime Minister who comes across as a kind of Thai equivalent of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. The Red Shirt movement is said to be rooted among the rural poor of northern Thailand, who benefitted from Thaksin’s largesse during his time in power. Guarding the ramparts of the Thai establishment against the Red Shirts are a wealthy urban elite clustered around the current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the elderly King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The establishment forces seem to have won the current round by using the army to break up a big Red Shirt protest camp in the middle of Bangkok, but the situation is far from stable.
As a Canadian living in China, which is not that far from Thailand but certainly far enough, I have the luxury of being able to observe the situation through the media without becoming too anxious about it. Thaksin strikes me as a thoroughly slippery and distasteful sort of politician, but I don’t doubt that the Red Shirts have some genuine economic and political grievances. Mostly I hope that the Thais will be able to find a compromise and return to their usual (relative) peace and prosperity, but it’s a detached and dispassionate sort of hope. Subjectively speaking, Abhisit vs. Thaksin seems a lot less significant than Harper vs. Ignatieff or, for that matter, Canadian forces vs. Taliban. Nevertheless, there are a couple of interesting Canadian connections to the ructions in Thailand.
I’ve now got used to thinking of David Cameron as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. From a personal perspective, it feels like a big change, considering that New Labour had previously held onto the Prime Minister’s office for essentially my entire adult life. Tony Blair, in the end, was in power for about as long as Jean Chrétien in Canada, and like Jean Chrétien he probably overstayed his welcome but stepped down soon enough that a hapless successor was left in the path of the swinging pendulum.
The parallels in recent electoral history between Britain and Canada extend well beyond this, and have hardly been lost on commentators. Britain seems almost to be following a script that was written in Canada some years ago, in which a centre-leftish party loses control of the House of Commons in an electon that leaves a centre-rightish party with a plurality of seats but not a majority. The result is what the British call a “hung parliament”, a term that might suggest to exasperated Canadians a delightful fantasy about stringing them all up and letting the gods sort them out.