Sunday, March 09, 2003

Strikers had no Class, Man

Well, first off, let me say that I am officially off the fence with regards to Iraq. I was temporarily persuaded by some humanitarian interventionist arguments that an American overthrow of Saddam might help Iraqis emerge from tyranny, and bring democracy to the country. Alas, unlike what took place in Afghanistan with a coalition of countries involved, the current American plan is to occupy Iraq for at least two years, and have it run by a military government. Likewise, Bush has made it clear that he intends to sell out the Kurds in northern Iraq in order to appease Turkey. Plus, without worldwide support, the whole thing looks headed towards a divisive, devastating disaster.

It'd be nice if regime change helped the Iraqis, but it’s not likely. According to the Christian Science Monitor, out of the 18 regime changes the US has forced in the 20th century, only five resulted in democracy. Those aren’t good odds.

Sigh. I was optimistic. Back to the cold comfort of pessimism.

So, no war with Iraq. Right. Now what? Protests seem in order.

Yesterday's McGill student strike was an example of good intentions, bad idea. It divided the campus and most students simply ignored it. It shifted the focus of debate from how to prevent war, to whether or not students should skip class to protest the war. Again and again, I heard students say that they were against war, but didn’t understand how striking would help.

Among the classes that the hardcore strikers wanted cancelled was Professor Rex Brynen’s Peacebuilding poli-sci class. I won't belabour the irony, but I did want to commend Brynen’s clever decision to call yesterday’s class a "teach-in" in order to strategically avoid the strike issue. That Brynen should go into politics.

Not all of the classes that went on yesterday were quite so specifically peace-oriented, of course. But it is my assertion that education is, in many ways, the opposite of war. Some of the strikers had signs that read, "Books, not bombs." That’s my sentiment exactly, and that’s why I attended class.

The trouble, if you can call it that, with opposing a US war on Iraq, here in Quebec particularly, is that the prevailing sentiment is anti-war. 150,000 marched in the streets a couple of weekends ago. The provincial government has voiced its opposition, and the federal government has strategically dodged the question and worked towards uniting the UN Security Council. The only staunch warmongers to be found in Canada are in the press.

This leaves little room for adrenaline-boosting confrontational protests. So, the strike organisers turned the administration and/or campus security and/or students who crossed the picket line to attend classes into the villains for the day.

I remember the rush I felt as tear gas rained down in Quebec City two years ago. As my eyes burned, I felt truly alive, truly relevant, like history was being written right there in the streets. Back in Montreal, I kept yearning to feel that again; I couldn’t keep still. The world was so unfair and I was angry. It was months before I felt like myself again.

So what did the strike accomplish? I dunno. It seemed to me a clear example of how certain activists just have the wrong idea, and thrive on adversity instead of solidarity. Remember when, shortly after September 11, Bush said “you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists?” I heard that echoed yesterday, as a striker told me that if I attended class then I supported Bush, I supported war, I supported the deaths of innocent Iraqis.

Whereas the peace marches last month were uplifting, yesterday’s protest was dispiriting. Take the unfortunate protestor who held up a sign reading “Honk for Freedom.” Alas, there is no freedom in Iraq. There ain’t going to be freedom for Iraqis, war or not, folks.

Oh, what the hell.

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I don’t intend to comment on the SSMU elections this term, simply because I am graduating and the results don’t make no nevermind to me. However, this Saeed character is an absolute riot. Does he actually believe that putting up pictures of himself with L.L. Cool J, Jean Chretien, and “Jessy [sic] Jackson” is going to help him win the election? Maybe if he was running for President of the Lame Society of Lameness. Scram, scram, Saeed.

On the Fence appears in The Daily on Thursdays. You can email Kelly at

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