Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sometimes a Fiction

Today I want to recommend a novel...which contains some interesting poetic inserts...but which is fascinating in its history. Louis de Bernières has written Bird Without Wings as a history of the period from 1900-1925 or so, centred in the upheavals between Greece and Turkey and the change from the Ottoman Empire under Kemal Atatürk, the First World War, the displacement of the Armenians, the Christian/Muslim conflagration, the destruction of Smyrna, the vilification of David Lloyd George...all woven within a story of a small town caught up by these upheavals. The characters become very familiar and the writing itself is exquisite. An astounding piece of historical fiction.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The change...

and so begins the shift from summer into fall. rain pours as though oceans released from skies, something pent up, something hidden, something to greet gardens spiralling to grey...

still tomatoes, still a few beans, basil has grown high, zinnias & sunflowers still chorus life but
today, I have made my first fire of the season to ward off cool, to keep light and heat close,

to believe that comfort is still possible. I hope to change my mind, to shift its view of weather
before snow, to enjoy each moment, live to the full. when younger, I was an optimist. change

has sent sensations I scarcely recognize, a certain sadness when light fades early and shadows
begin. there are solutions in the scent of roasted chicken, a potato yellow and fresh, a squash.

sweet peas still climb their colourful way about the garden, yellow still ranges across the back
fence, summer will send its last pinwheel soaring soon and I will wave goodbye, till next time.

Friday, August 25, 2006

a glimpse of mind

in the mail today: Broken Jaw Press 2006 Catalogue. and a book: Edward Gates' Heart's Cupboard. here a glimpse of the heart of a poet, a life in numbered segments, without titles. how he thinks, what he knows; what he thinks, knows: his are plural, "poem taken/from the closet". a series of poetic impressions, bled of all extraneous chat like a Monet painting of rain. winner of the Poets' Corner Award for 2006, these are, as most things I have read from Broken Jaw, spare. Erin Mouré, in her jacket description, says "The pieces grasp at but elude description..."; in this she finds a "gentle, wild beauty". i find them like sketches which come back as image gaining holographic depth. the whole is more than the sum of its numbers, roman numerals in an accretion of what it is to write and be a farmer. full of blueberries, some too cold to juxtapose.

last year, after travelling Saskatchewan, i made a chapbook which i titled wild blueberries, sent it out in a very limited edition. my poems are more full but the same small sweetness is present, the truth for Gates that "a hundred and/twenty acres ripe//with laughter/keeps me going". it is not all sweetness...there is a "plaintive lament" present and many, many "frozen" moments...emotions stilled at source, walking briskly to XXXXVI where the poet says, "I tighten my jacket//and walk back to//mouth eyes nose//away from the wind/...." to "the houses alone and silent//flesh can freeze if I stop//....a damp damp cold". yet he ends hopefully, "buds open slowly first cat/eyes then the break into blossom."

something to think about from this poet of mind, heart, land.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stephen Lewis: my hero


This is the last speech I shall make at any of these international conferences in my role as United Nations Envoy. I'm glad, for obvious Canadian reasons, that it comes in Toronto. But I'm equally pleased because this has been a good conference, covering an extraordinary range of ground, and I therefore feel confident in asking you to join with me in giving force to the oft-repeated mantra: "Time To Deliver."

Of what would that meaning consist? Allow me to set out a number of items.

Number 1: Abstinence-only programmes don't work. Ideological rigidity almost never works when applied to the human condition. Moreover, it's an antiquated throwback to the conditionality of yesteryear to tell any government how to allocate its money for prevention. That approach has a name: it's called neo-colonialism.

Number 2: Harm reduction programmes do work. Needle exchange and methadone treatment save lives. More, it would be positively perverse to close the 'Insite' safe injection facility in Vancouver when it has been positively evaluated in a number of studies; in fact there should be several more such facilities in Canada and around the world. Russia, Central Asia, parts of India are all struggling with transmission through injecting drug use. To shut 'Insite' down is to invite HIV infection and death. One has to wonder about the minds of those who would so readily punish injecting drug users rather than understanding the problem for what it is: a matter of public health.

Number 3: Circumcision, as a preventive intervention, should not be subject to bureaucratic contemplation forever. We have enough information now to know that it is an intervention worth pursuing. What remains is a single-minded effort to get the word out, respect cultural sensitivities, and then for those who want to proceed, make certain that we have well-trained personnel to do the operating.

The men are lining up for the procedure in Swaziland. And when I was in the Zambian copper belt, just a couple of weeks ago, at an animated meeting with the District Commissioner, he indicated that he was a part of an ethnic group which was circumcised. I then revealed that I was circumcised, and there followed a joyous frenzy of male bonding amongst all the circumciseees. The fact of the matter is that even in the remotest parts of Africa there is now an awareness of the issue; it's important to act on it.

Number 4: The growing excitement around a microbicide is entirely warranted. This is a preventive technology whose time has come. To be sure, there can be no flagging in the dogged quest for a vaccine, but it would appear that where preventive technologies are concerned, the microbicide is first in line. Now is the time to make certain, in advance, that when the discovery is made, it is instantly accessible and acceptable to the women of the world, wherever they may live.

Number 5: In the hierarchy of preventive measures, the Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission is very near the top. It is a bitter indictment that so few HIV-positive pregnant women have access to PMTCT. But that's just the half of it. It is inexcusable that in Africa and other parts of the developing world we continue to use single-dose Nevirapine, rather than full triple therapy during pregnancy, as we do in western countries like Canada. This means that hundreds of thousands of babies continue to be born HIV-positive, rather than reducing the transmission rate virtually to zero. I ask: what kind of a world do we live in where the life of an African child or an Asian child is worth so much less than the life of a Canadian child?

Number 6: It is now accepted as unassailable truth that people in treatment need nutritious food supplements to maintain and tolerate their treatment. And yet, there is a growing clamour from People Living with AIDS that decent nutrition simply isn't available, leaving them in a desperate predicament. The World Food Programme released a study at this conference calculating the cost of food supplementation at 66 cents a day for an entire family; what madness is it that denies the World Food Programme the necessary money?

Number 7: One of the issues that received an insufficient airing at this conference is sexual violence against women. Just a few months ago, I was visiting the local hospital in Thika, Kenya, which houses the one rape counseling centre in that part of the country. The rise in sexual violence has meant that there are over thirty reported cases every month, with multiples of that number never of course reported.

In April of this year there were forty-six reported cases. Twenty-two were under the age of eighteen; half of those were under the age of twelve. Horrific you say? Without question. But how would you characterize an emerging pattern of the sexual assault of women between the ages of sixty-five and eighty, the rapists confident that they can rape with impunity without fear of transmission?

Sexual violence is everywhere reported, from marital rape to rape as a war crime. The phenomenon is by no means singularly African; we live in a world community where the depravity of sexual violence has run amok. In Africa, however, the violence and the virus go together. And yet, we lack the laws, the jurisprudence, the enforcement that would give to women even a modicum of protection. If ever there was a cause to mobilize AIDS activists around the world, this is it.

Number 8: We urgently need a resolution of the vexing debate over testing and counseling. We made progress at this conference, but by no means definitive progress. It seems to me that the growing embrace of routine testing and counseling, with an opt-out provision to protect human rights, is the appropriate emerging consensus. Everyone should keep an eye on Lesotho where the Know Your Status campaign will, I believe, become the bench-mark, pro or con, for the continent and beyond.

Number 9: There is an ongoing epidemic of child sexual abuse. The dynamic of abuse of children is often different from that of the sexual abuse of women: what is common to both is the terrifying danger of transmission. Children require different interventions. Alas, we are nowhere near the articulation of a response. In this instance, as in every such instance, children are relegated to the scrapheap of society's priorities, and have been so relegated throughout the twenty-five years of this pandemic.

Number 10: It is impossible to talk about children without talking about orphans. And it is impossible to understand how, in the year 2006, we still continue to fail to implement policies to address the torrent, the deluge of orphan children. Countries have programmes of action; they languish unfunded. One of the most chilling pieces of statistical data is the finding that only three to five per cent of orphans receive any intervention of any kind from the state.

The monumental numbers of orphans, so many of them now adults because the pandemic has gone on for so long, pose a bracing, almost insuperable challenge for the countries which they inhabit. I appeal to everyone to recognize that we're walking on the knife's edge of an unsolvable human catastrophe. Inevitably we're preoccupied with the here and now, but the cumulative impact of these orphan kids, their levels of trauma, their overwhelming personal needs, their intense collective vulnerability strikes at the heart of the human dynamic, creating a sociological rearrangement of human relationships. And we're doing so little about it; our response is microscopic. We are inviting the whirlwind, and we will not be able to cope.

Number 11: It is impossible to talk about orphans without talking about grandmothers. Who would ever have imagined it would come to this? In Africa, the grandmothers are the unsung heroes of the continent: these extraordinary, resilient, courageous women, fighting through the inconsolable grief of the loss of their own adult children, becoming parents again in their fifties and sixties and seventies and eighties. I attended a grandmother's gathering last weekend on the eve of the conference: the grandmothers were magnificent, but they're all struggling with the same anguished nightmare: what happens to my grandchildren when I die?

We need major social welfare programmes that will recognize these essential caregivers' contributions to society as legitimate and difficult labour, and offer the guarantee of sustainable incomes to the grandmothers of Africa: from food to school fees to income generation, the answers must be found. It's another test for the delegates to this conference.

Number 12: In the midst of everything else, we must continue to roll out treatment. I am worried by the new figures. There were one million, three hundred thousand people in treatment at the end of 2005. Six months later, there are one million, six hundred and fifty thousand in treatment. The additional three hundred and fifty thousand seems a very modest increment. Treatment is keeping people alive; treatment is bringing hope; treatment is stimulating prevention; treatment is meshing more and more frequently with community-based care; we cannot let the process slow.

Number 13: And while I'm on the issue of treatment, I am bound to raise South Africa. South Africa is the unkindest cut of all. It is the only country in Africa, amongst all the countries I have traversed in the last five years, whose government is still obtuse, dilatory and negligent about rolling out treatment. It is the only country in Africa whose government continues to propound theories more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state. Between six and eight hundred people a day die of AIDS in South Africa. The government has a lot to atone for. I'm of the opinion that they can never achieve redemption.

There are those who will say I have no right, as a United Nations official, to say such things of a member state. I was appointed as Envoy on AIDS in Africa. I see my job as advocating for those who are living with the virus, those who are dying of the virus . All of those, in and out of civil society, who are fighting the good fight to achieve social justice. It is not my job to be silenced by a government when I know that what it is doing is wrong, immoral, indefensible.

Number 14: Unbeknownst to many, we are on the cusp of a huge financial crisis in response to the pandemic. I think we have been lulled into a damaging false security by the fact that we jumped from roughly $300 million a year from all sources in the late 1990's, to $8.3 billion in 2005. And indeed it sounds impressive. But we need $15 billion this year, and $18 billion next year, and $22 billion in 2008. Any straight line projection will take us to $30 billion in 2010 . the moment of universal access to treatment, prevention and care.

We're billions and billions short of those targets. If these circumstances continue, universal access is doomed. All governments, as they continue to expand their treatment and prevention initiatives, are spooked by worries of financial sustainability. They're right to be spooked.

The financial promises made at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles one year ago, are already unraveling. We will never accumulate the extra $25 billion for Africa by 2010 as was committed.

PEPFAR has not yet announced its extension beyond 2008; when it does (as it surely will), the annual contribution, given the other demands on the US Treasury, will probably remain at $3 billion a year. That large amount was a very significant percentage of the total expenditure on AIDS back in 2003/2004. But as a percentage of what is needed for global AIDS programmes in 2008 --- $22 billion --- $3 billion seems pretty paltry from the world's superpower.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is still half a billion short this year and more than a billion short next year. At the moment, there is no obvious way to close the shortfall. It is almost inconceivable that the extravagant promises of Gleneagles are revealed as so fatuous that the Global Fund is now compromised. No one is asking for any more than that which was promised. But the Pavlovian betrayal of the South has already begun.

Everything in the battle against AIDS is put at risk by the behaviour of the G8. Yesterday, Dr. Julio Montaner characterized that behaviour as genocide. I remember back in 2001, in an op-ed for the Globe and Mail, I used the phrase mass murder. It's hard, in the face of the annihilating human toll, not to be driven to linguistic extremes. This issue of resources makes or breaks the response to the pandemic. It is imperative that the delegates here assembled never let the G8 countries off the hook.

Number 15: I want to say a strong word about human capacity.

What has clearly emerged as the most difficult of issues, almost everywhere, certainly in Africa, is the loss of human capacity. In country after country, the response to the pandemic is sabotaged by the paucity of doctors, nurses, clinicians and community health workers. The shortages are overwhelming. Everyone is struggling. Most of the shortage stems from death and illness; some stems from brain-drain and poaching. But whatever the source, we have a problem of staggering dimensions.

The capacity crisis illumines, more than anything else, what is needed. There are solutions: investment in the public sector and in extensive ongoing training can begin to fill the gap. But again it needs the donor community to uphold its responsibilities. And most important, the key to recovery lies at country level. The key to subduing the entire pandemic lies at country level.

What has to happen, I think, is that we place a temporary moratorium on the endless, self-indulgent proliferation of meetings, seminars, roundtables, discussion groups, task forces ad nauseam, plus the production of reports, documents, monographs, statistical data ad repetition, and concentrate every energy at country level.

At the opening of this conference, Peter Piot talked of the next twenty-five years. He's right to do so. He indicated it would be a long and difficult haul; he's right again. But if the next twenty-five years are to take advantage of the guarded optimism of this conference; if the next twenty-five years are to overcome the lethargy and inertia of the last twenty-five years; if the next twenty-five years are to link, inseparably, poverty and disease and the Millennium Development Goals, then it has to happen, in-country, on the ground, organized and orchestrated by the countries themselves.

And the agencies on the ground, whether multilateral, bilateral or civil society, must be held accountable. That's what's been missing. That's the job of the delegates to this conference: holding people and organizations accountable. And that includes everything from the pharmaceutical companies that have been so intractable about prices of second-line drugs to bilateral trade agreements designed to deny access to generic drugs.

Number 16: This 16th International AIDS Conference, beyond any preceding conference, has given voice to youth. But it's still a limited and marginalized voice, reflecting the hostile ambiguity of the adult world. The figures are brutal and stark: fully fifty per cent of new infections between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. And yet who can deny the appalling absence of programmes for, and engagement of, young people in the fight against the pandemic. The situation cries out for redress, and it must be redressed well beyond smarmy tokenism.

Finally, in my view, as delegates doubtless know, the most vexing and intolerable dimension of the pandemic is what is happening to women. It's the one area of HIV/AIDS which leaves me feeling most helpless and most enraged. Gender inequality is driving the pandemic, and we will never subdue the gruesome force of AIDS until the rights of women become paramount in the struggle.

Last Monday morning, at the women's march, the signs read "Women's Rights are Human Rights". That was the slogan that captured the Vienna International Conference on Human Rights in 1993. It was the slogan repeated at the Cairo Conference on Population in 1994, and yet again at Beijing in 1995. It's never been made real, and so long as men control the levers and bastions of power, it never will be real.

Whether it's the apparatus of the United Nations, including the agencies, or the endless numbers of High-Level panels, or auspicious studies of human development like the Blair Commission on Africa, the demeaning diminution of women is everywhere evident. And those examples are but proxies for the wider world, particularly the developing world, where freedom from sexual violence, the right to sexual autonomy, to sexual and reproductive health, social and economic independence, and even the whiff of gender equality are barely approximated.

It's a ghastly, deadly business, this untrammeled oppression of women in so many countries on the planet.

My closest colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that one of the ways to diminish the impact of the AIDS virus is by creating a powerful international agency for women, funded and staffed to the teeth. There must be voice and advocacy and operational capacity on the ground for fifty-two per cent of the world's population. There is a UN reform panel at the moment, contemplating the creation of a new entity, provided they have the courage to confront the warped and abysmal gender architecture of the United Nations. If they find the courage, I deeply believe that we could begin to still the carnage.

And what works for AIDS can work everywhere.

I challenge you, my fellow delegates, to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honourable and productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in this world. All roads lead from women to social change, and that includes subduing the pandemic.

For my own part, when I leave my post of Envoy at the end of the year, I have asked that my successor be an African, but most important, an African woman.

-- Stephen Lewis

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Writer's block

Each day more writing, discipline, the gifts of listening. Yet sometimes the words do not come. It isn't something you can force, although the simple act of sitting down and waiting, what Crozier described in terms of 'immanence', can open areas you did not know were within. Sometimes a scent, a letter, a glimpse out the window can begin to create the poem.

Yesterday I was on the phone and outside my living room window, where tall red sunflowers have grown, a bird stopped to feed from seed. Tiny, not as small as a hummingbird but small, delicate, a gift of pale yellow lingering on the broad leaves while I watched, breathless, until my exclamation. I don't think the stranger I was speaking with was overly amused to hear my shout-out for the bird. Who cares? I am learning to appreciate moments of beauty.

Monday, August 21, 2006

more on mclennan

I mentioned rob mclennan's new book, aubade, the other day. I am making my way through it and wanted to share a little sample with you today. He has written an elegy for Diana Brebner which moved me deeply. Read it and remember. Better still, order the book so you can read this poem and others...simple magics...

in the darkness of that same century
(for diana brebner

what thru the stony ground, elevates, a need
or consideration

it speaks to the same, what you think
you are thinking of

is this the best or the worst time for small-talk

delivering packages to the nurse where yr
sound asleep, not
what a memory is for

this is still, & still a place for
what the heart goes out to

sharing a pack of earth, whether carrying
a satchel, or walks w/ a cane, still takes
the same #14 bus, still talks a while

we know where this is heading

& borders thru archways, the tremble
of past lives & present neath yr feet

& ishtar gate, astarte, the goddess of,
youd so long been searching, love

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Aylmer Marina: moments of beauty by a river

Today I took my daily exercise in a different venue. My son wanted a ride to Aylmer (which has been amalgamated into the larger city of Gatineau but still retains its character.) It is an old town, old buildings, and along the river, a lovely walkway from the boats to riverside homes through a park.

Someone was flying a kite shaped like a fish, multicoloured. A small girl ran after a seagull. She did not think about running. She just ran, calling to the bird as if expecting it to come. On the water, sailboats, a kayak. In the water, a few small children on the sand. Along the pathway, an older, rather portly couple, holding hands. Slim young runners. Many cyclists, one an older man, grey-haired, carrying a bag of milk in his basket. Some helmeted, some not. Beside the pathway, a fountain. A breeze. I gathered a feather, a shell. Two small schoolboys were eating lunch near their summer class in sailing. They greeted me with a friendly bonjour, much to my surprise.

I could feel the smiles inside. For a while, I listened to the sound of water and wind. Then, my trusty iPod, starting with Van Morrison, then hearing Alanis and Seals&Crofts and Cat Stevens and Smith & Dragoman, Rosemarie Petersen, and the Baha'i Choir singing Blessed is the Spot. It was exactly that: 50 minutes along a river, blessed in summer sunshine. A breeze.

More on our evening of Poetry

On the principle that a picture's worth (or a few pics) a thousand words (which I actually heard turned nicely on its head as a thousand words are worth a picture (somewhere along the line) and in fact, as a wordsmith, I value words...

with this wordy introduction, allow me to link you to Pearl Pirie, who has made a lovely wee blog of our evening here of poems.

Monday, August 14, 2006


rob mclennan, chez moi. Photo is courtesy of Pearl Pirie.

Tonight, as always happens in the company of fine poets, I learned a new word.


It's the title of a new book by rob mclennan; I now have a signed copy...

after an evening here at home with rob, Amanda Earl, Jennifer Mulligan, and Pearl Pirie, who joined our family for burgers (thank you my husband the chef) and brownies (some with pecans, some without) and lots of conversation, the reading of poems (our own and others'), a little laughter, fullness.

If you ever have a chance to hear Ottawa poet rob mclennan read, do go and hear. When rob reads a poem, whether his own or someone else's, there's an uncanny quality of voice which brings the words alive on the page. I am very appreciative of this; would rather listen to a good poem well read than almost any music. Of course, some poems and music are song, but that's a different sing. A sound.



Sunday, August 13, 2006


Today is not a poem. Today is a suggestion: read The Ottawa Citizen for its amazing special edition, edited by the incomparable Stephen Lewis. The whole thing is on the HIV/AIDS Africa issue, for which, of course, Mr. Lewis is the Canadian U.N. Envoy...

look in section B for the story of the Grannies...and see my friend Marilee Rhody there. Marilee and husband David have spent considerable time living in Africa, and I am way proud of her activism...

Today is a poem, has been rich with family and friends...

and tomorrow we welcome some Ottawa poets here for a BBQ and evening of new works...

Summertime, and the living is...


Friday, August 11, 2006

Borrowed Words

The other day I received a copy of a speech from my cousin, Jack McLean. I won't reformat it...but I cannot resist posting it here for anyone interested in its analysis. I found it intelligent and disturbing. And I am also about to read another book from Gwynne Dyer. Call it history month...

This speech is by the former President of Weizmann Institute of Science,
Haim Harari April, 2004.


By Haim Harari

As you know, I usually provide the scientific and technological
"entertainment" in our meetings, but, on this occasion, our Chairman
suggested that I present my own personal view on events in the part of
the world from which I come. I have never been and I will never be a
Government official and I have no privileged information. My perspective is
entirely based on what I see, on what I read and on the fact that my family has
lived in this region for almost 200 years. You may regard my views as
those of the proverbial taxi driver, which you are supposed to question, when
you visit a country.

I could have shared with you some fascinating facts and some personal
thoughts about the Israeli-Arab conflict. However, I will touch upon it
only in passing. I prefer to devote most of my remarks to the broader
picture of the region and its place in world events. I refer to the
entire area between Pakistan and Morocco, which is predominantly Arab,
predominantly Moslem, but includes many non-Arab and also significant
non-Moslem minorities.

Why do I put aside Israel and its own immediate neighborhood? Because
Israel and any problems related to it, in spite of what you might read
or hear in the world media, is not the central issue, and has never been
the central issue in the upheaval in the region. Yes, there is a 100
year-old Israeli-Arab conflict, but it is not where the main show is.
The millions
who died in the Iran-Iraq war had nothing to do with Israel. The mass
murder happening right now in Sudan, where the Arab Moslem regime is
massacring its black Christian citizens, has nothing to do with Israel.
The frequent reports from Algeria about the murders of hundreds of civilian
in one village or another by other Algerians have nothing to do with
Israel. Saddam Hussein did not invade Kuwait, endangered Saudi Arabia
and butchered his own people because of Israel. Egypt did not use poison gas against
Yemen in the 60's because of Israel. Assad the Father did not kill tens
of thousands of his own citizens in one week in El Hamma in Syria
because of Israel. The Taliban control of Afghanistan and the civil war there had
nothing to do with Israel. The Libyan blowing up of the Pan-Am flight
had nothing to do with Israel, and I could go on and on and on.

The root of the trouble is that this entire Moslem region is totally
dysfunctional, by any standard of the word, and would have been so even
if Israel would have joined the Arab league and an independent
Palestine would have existed for 100 years. The 22 member countries of the Arab league,
from Mauritania to the Gulf States, have a total population of 300
millions, larger than the US and almost as large as the EU before its
expansion. They have a land area larger than either the US or all of
Europe. These 22 countries, with all their oil and natural resources,
have a combined GDP smaller than that of Netherlands plus Belgium and
equal to half of the GDP of California alone. Within this meager GDP, the gaps
between rich and poor are beyond belief and too many of the rich made
their money not by succeeding in business, but by being corrupt rulers.
The social status of women is far below what it was in the Western World
150 years ago. Human rights are below any reasonable standard, in spite of
the grotesque fact that Libya was elected Chair of the UN Human Rights
commission. According to a report prepared by a committee of Arab
intellectuals and published under the auspices of the U.N., the number
of books translated by the entire Arab world is much smaller than what
little Greece alone translates. The total number of scientific publications of
300 million Arabs is less than that of 6 million Israelis. Birth rates in
the region are very high, increasing the poverty, the social gaps and the
cultural decline. And all of this is happening in a region, which only
30 years ago, was believed to be the next wealthy part of the world, and
in a Moslem area, which developed, at some point in history, one of the most
advanced cultures in the world.

It is fair to say that this creates an unprecedented breeding ground
for cruel dictators, terror networks, fanaticism, incitement, suicide
murders and general decline. It is also a fact that almost everybody in the
region blames this situation on the United States, on Israel, on
Western Civilization, on Judaism and Christianity, on anyone and anything,
except themselves.

Do I say all of this with the satisfaction of someone discussing the
failings of his enemies? On the contrary, I firmly believe that the
world would have been a much better place and my own neighborhood would have
been much more pleasant and peaceful, if things were different.

I should also say a word about the millions of decent, honest, good
people who are either devout Moslems or are not very religious but grew up in
Moslem families. They are double victims of an outside world, which now
develops Islamophobia and of their own environment, which breaks their
heart by being totally dysfunctional. The problem is that the vast
silent majority of these Moslems are not part of the terror and of the
incitement but they also do not stand up against it. They become
accomplices, by omission, and this applies to political leaders, intellectuals,
business people and many others. Many of them can certainly tell right from
wrong, but are afraid to express their views.

The events of the last few years have amplified four issues, which have
always existed, but have never been as rampant as in the present
upheaval in the region. These are the four main pillars of the current World
Conflict, or perhaps we should already refer to it as "the undeclared
World War III". I have no better name for the present situation. A few more
years may pass before everybody acknowledges that it is a World War, but we
are already well into it. The first element is the suicide murder.
Suicide murders are not new invention but they have been made popular, if I may
use this expression, only lately. Even after September 11, it seems that
most of the Western World does not yet understand this weapon. It is a
very potent psychological weapon. Its real direct impact is relatively
minor. The total number of casualties from hundreds of suicide murders within
Israel in the last three years is much smaller than those due to car
accidents. September 11 was quantitatively much less lethal than many
earthquakes. More people die from AIDS in one day in Africa than all

Russians who died in the hands of Chechnya-based Moslem suicide
murderers since that conflict started. Saddam killed every month more people than
all those who died from suicide murders since the Coalition occupation of

So what is all the fuss about suicide killings? It creates headlines.
It is spectacular. It is frightening. It is a very cruel death with bodies
dismembered and horrible severe lifelong injuries to many of the
wounded. It is always shown on television in great detail. One such
murder, with the help of hysterical media coverage, can destroy the tourism industry of
a country for quite a while, as it did in Bali and in Turkey.

But the real fear comes from the undisputed fact that no defense and no
preventive measures can succeed against a determined suicide murderer.
This has not yet penetrated the thinking of the Western World. The U.S. and
Europe are constantly improving their defense against the last murder,
not the next one. We may arrange for the best airport security in the
world. But if you want to murder by suicide, you do not have to board a plane
in order to explode yourself and kill many people. Who could stop a
suicide murder in the midst of the crowded line waiting to be checked by the
airport metal detector? How about the lines to the check-in counters in
a busy travel period? Put a metal detector in front of every train
station in Spain and the terrorists will get the buses. Protect the buses and they
will explode in movie theaters, concert halls, supermarkets, shopping
malls, schools and hospitals. Put guards in front of every concert hall
and there will always be a line of people to be checked by the guards and
this line will be the target, not to speak of killing the guards themselves.
You can somewhat reduce your vulnerability by preventive and defensive
measures and by strict border controls but not eliminate it and definitely not
in the war in a defensive way. And it is a war!

What is behind the suicide murders? Money, power and cold-blooded
murderous incitement, nothing else. It has nothing to do with true
fanatic religious beliefs. No Moslem preacher has ever blown himself up. No son of an
Arab politician or religious leader has ever blown himself. No relative of
anyone influential has done it. Wouldn't you expect some of the
religious leaders to do it themselves, or to talk their sons into doing it, if
this is truly a supreme act of religious fervor? Aren't they interested in
the benefits of going to Heaven? Instead, they send outcast women,
naive children, retarded people and young incited hotheads. They promise them
the delights, mostly sexual, of the next world, and pay their families
handsomely after the supreme act is performed and enough innocent
people are dead.

Suicide murders also have nothing to do with poverty and despair. The
poorest region in the world, by far, is Africa. It never happens there.
There are numerous desperate people in the world, in different
cultures, countries and continents. Desperation does not provide anyone with
explosives, reconnaissance and transportation. There was certainly more
despair in Saddam's Iraq then in Paul Bremmer's Iraq, and no one
exploded himself. A suicide murder is simply a horrible, vicious weapon of
cruel, inhuman, cynical, well-funded terrorists, with no regard to human life,
including the life of their fellow countrymen, but with very high regard
to their own affluent well-being and their hunger for power.

The only way to fight this new "popular" weapon is identical to the
only way in which you fight organized crime or pirates on the high seas: the
offensive way. Like in the case of organized crime, it is crucial that
the forces on the offensive be united and it is crucial to reach the top of
the crime pyramid. You cannot eliminate organized crime by arresting
the little drug dealer in the street corner. You must go after the head of the

If part of the public supports it, others tolerate it, many are afraid
of it and some try to explain it away by poverty or by a miserable
childhood, organized crime will thrive and so will terrorism. The United States
understands this now, after September 11. Russia is beginning to
understand it. Turkey nderstands it well. I am very much afraid that
most of Europe still does not understand it. Unfortunately, it seems that Europe will
understand it only after suicide murders will arrive in Europe in a big
way. In my humble opinion, this will definitely happen. The Spanish
trains and the Istanbul bombings are only the beginning. The unity of the
Civilized World in fighting this horror is absolutely indispensable.
Until Europe wakes up, this unity will not be achieved.

The second ingredient is words, more precisely lies. Words can be
lethal. They kill people. It is often said that politicians, diplomats and
perhaps also lawyers and business people must sometimes lie, as part of their
professional life. But the norms of politics and diplomacy are
childish, in comparison with the level of incitement and total absolute deliberate
fabrications, which have reached new heights in the region we are
talking about. An incredible number of people in the Arab world believe
that September 11 never happened, or was an American provocation or, even
better, a Jewish plot.

You all remember the Iraqi Minister of Information, Mr. Mouhamad Said
al-Sahaf and his press conferences when the US forces were already
inside Baghdad. Disinformation at time of war is an accepted tactic. But to
stand, day after day, and to make such preposterous statements, known to
everybody to be lies, without even being ridiculed in your newspapers
from giving him equal time. It also does not prevent the Western press from giving
credence, every day, even now, to similar liars. After all, if you want
to be an anti-Semite, there are subtle ways of doing it. You do not have
to claim that the holocaust never happened and that the Jewish temple in
Jerusalem never existed. But millions of Moslems are told by their
leaders that this is the case. When these same leaders make other
statements, the Western media report them as if they could be true. It is a daily
occurrence that the same people, who finance, arm and dispatch suicide
murderers, condemn the act in English in front of western TV cameras,
talking to a world audience, which even partly believes them. It is a
daily routine to hear the same leader making opposite statements in Arabic to
his people and in English to the rest of the world. Incitement by Arab
TV, accompanied by horror pictures of mutilated bodies, has become a
powerful weapon of those who lie, distort and want to destroy. World does not
notice it because its own TV sets are mostly tuned to soap operas and
game shows. I recommend to you, even though most of you do not understand Arabic,
to watch Al Jazeera, from time to time. You will not believe your own eyes.

But words also work in other ways, more subtle. A demonstration in
Berlin, carrying banners supporting Saddam's regime and featuring three-year
old babies dressed as suicide murderers, is defined by the press and by
political leaders as a "peace demonstration". You may support or oppose
the Iraq war, but to refer to fans of Saddam, Arafat or Bin Laden as peace
activists is a bit too much. A woman walks into an Israeli restaurant
in mid-day, eats, observes families with old people and children eating
their lunch in the adjacent tables and pays the bill. She then blows herself
up, killing 20 people, including many children, with heads and arms rolling
around in the restaurant. She is called "martyr" by several Arab
leaders and "activist" by the European press. Dignitaries condemn the act but
visit her bereaved family and the money flows.

There is a new game in town: The actual murderer is called "the military
wing", the one who pays him, equips him and sends him is now called
"the political wing" and the head of the operation is called the "spiritual
leader". There are numerous other examples of such Orwellian
nomenclature, used every day not only by terror chiefs but also by Western media.
These words are much more dangerous than many people realize. They provide an
emotional infrastructure for atrocities. It was Joseph Goebbels who said
that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. He is now
being outperformed by his successors.

The third aspect is money. Huge amounts of money, which could have
solved many social problems in this dysfunctional part of the world,
are channeled into three concentric spheres supporting death and murder. In the inner
circle are the terrorists themselves. The money funds their travel,
explosives, ideouts and permanent search for soft vulnerable targets.
They are surrounded by a second wider circle of direct supporters, planners,
commanders, preachers, all of whom make a living, usually a very
comfortable living, by serving as terror infrastructure. Finally, we
find the third circle of so-called religious, educational and welfare
organizations, which actually do some good, feed the hungry and provide
some schooling, but brainwash a new generation with hatred, lies and
ignorance. This circle operates mostly through mosques, madrassas and
other religious establishments but also through inciting electronic and
printed media. It is this circle that makes sure that women remain
inferior, that democracy is unthinkable and that exposure to the outside world is
minimal. It is also that circle that leads the way in blaming everybody outside
the Moslem world, for the miseries of the region.

Figuratively speaking, this outer circle is the guardian, which makes
sure that the people look and listen inwards to the inner circle of terror
and incitement, rather than to the world outside. Some parts of this same
outer circle actually operate as a result of fear from, or blackmail by,
the inner circles. The horrifying added factor is the high birth rate. Half
of the population of the Arab world is under the age of 20, the most
receptive age to incitement, guaranteeing two more generations of blind

Of the three circles described above, the inner circles are primarily
financed by terrorist states like Iran and Syria, until recently also
by Iraq and Libya and earlier also by some of the Communist regimes. These
states, as well as the Palestinian Authority, are the safe havens of
the wholesale murder vendors. The outer circle is largely financed by Saudi
Arabia, but also by donations from certain Moslem communities in the
United States and Europe and, to a smaller extent, by donations of European
Governments to various NGO's and by certain United Nations
organizations, whose goals may be noble, but they are infested and
exploited by agents of the outer circle. The Saudi regime, of course, will be the next victim
of major terror, when the inner circle will explode into the outer circle.
The Saudis are beginning to understand it, but they fight the inner
circles, while still financing the infrastructure at the outer circle.

Some of the leaders of these various circles live very comfortably on
their loot. You meet their children in the best private schools in
Europe, not in the training camps of suicide murderers. The Jihad "soldiers" join
packaged death tours to Iraq and other hot spots, while some of their leaders
ski in Switzerland. Mrs. Arafat, who lives in Paris with her daughter,
receives tens of thousands Dollars per month from the allegedly bankrupt
Palestinian Authority while a typical local ringleader of the Al-Aksa brigade,
reporting to ------, receives only a cash payment of a couple of hundred
dollars, for performing murders at the retail level.

The fourth element of the current world conflict is the total breaking of
all laws. The civilized world believes in democracy, the rule of law,
including international law, human rights, free speech and free press,
among other liberties. There are naive old-fashioned habits such as
respecting religious sites and symbols, not using ambulances and
hospitals for acts of war, avoiding the mutilation of dead bodies and not
using children as human shields or human bombs. Never in history, not even in
the Nazi period, was there such total disregard of all of the above as we
observe now. Every student of political science debates how you prevent an
anti-democratic force from winning a democratic election and abolishing
democracy. Other aspects of a civilized society must also have
limitations. Can a policeman open fire on someone trying to kill him?
Can a government listen to phone conversations of terrorists and drug dealers? Does free
speech protects you when you shout "fire" in a crowded theater? Should
there be death penalty, for deliberate multiple murders? These are the
old-fashioned dilemmas. But now we have an entire new set.

Do you raid a mosque, which serves as a terrorist ammunition storage?
Do you return fire, if you are attacked from a hospital? Do you storm a
church taken over by terrorists who took the priests hostages? Do you search
every ambulance after a few suicide murderers use ambulances to reach their
targets? Do you strip every woman because one pretended to be pregnant
and carried a suicide bomb on her belly? Do you shoot back at someone
trying to kill you, standing deliberately behind a group of children? Do you raid
terrorist headquarters, hidden in a mental hospital? Do you shoot an
arch-murderer who deliberately moves from one location to another,
always surrounded by children? All of these happen daily in Iraq and in the
Palestinian areas. What do you do? Well, you do not want to face the
dilemma. But it cannot be avoided.

Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that someone would openly stay in
a well-known address in Teheran, hosted by the Iranian Government and
financed by it, executing one atrocity after another in Spain or in
France, killing hundreds of innocent people, accepting responsibility for the
crimes, promising in public TV interviews to do more of the same, while
the Government of Iran issues public condemnations of his acts but
continues to host him, invite him to official functions and treat him as a great
dignitary. I leave it to you as homework to figure out what Spain or
France would have done, in such a situation.

The problem is that the civilized world is still having illusions about
the rule of law in a totally lawless environment. It is trying to play ice
hockey by sending a ballerina ice-skater into the rink or to knock out
a heavyweight boxer by a chess player. In the same way that no country has
a law against cannibals eating its prime minister, because such an act is
unthinkable, international law does not address killers shooting from
hospitals, mosques and ambulances, while being protected by their
Government or society. International law does not know how to handle
someone who sends children to throw stones, stands behind them and
shoots with immunity and cannot be arrested because he is sheltered by a

International law does not know how to deal with a leader of murderers
who is royally and comfortably hosted by a country, which pretends to
condemn his acts or just claims to be too weak to arrest him. The amazing
thing is that all of these crooks demand protection under international law and
define all those who attack them as war criminals, with some Western
media repeating the allegations. The good news is that all of this is
temporary, because the evolution of international law has always adapted itself to
reality. The punishment for suicide murder should be death or arrest
before the murder, not during and not after. After every world war, the
rules of international law have changed and the same will happen after the
present one. But during the twilight zone, a lot of harm can be done.

The picture I described here is not pretty. What can we do about it? In
the short run, only fight and win. In the long run - only educate the next
generation and open it to the world. The inner circles can and must be
destroyed by force. The outer circle cannot be eliminated by force.
Here we need financial starvation of the organizing elite, more power to women,
more education, counter propaganda, boycott whenever feasible and
access to Western media, internet and the international scene. Above all, we
need a total absolute unity and determination of the civilized world against
all three circles of evil.

Allow me, for a moment, to depart from my alleged role as a taxi driver
and return to science. When you have a malignant tumor, you may remove
the tumor itself surgically. You may also starve it by preventing new blood
from reaching it from other parts of the body, thereby preventing new
"supplies" from expanding the tumor. If you want to be sure, it is best
to do both. But before you fight and win, by force or otherwise, you have
to realize that you are in a war, and this may take Europe a few more
years. In order to win, it is necessary to first eliminate the
terrorist regimes, so that no Government in the world will serve as a safe haven for these
people. I do not want to comment here on whether the American-led
attack on Iraq was justified from the point of view of weapons of mass
destruction or any other pre-war argument, but I can look at the post-war map of
Western Asia. Now that Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are out, two and a half
terrorist states remain: Iran, Syria and Lebanon, the latter being a
Syrian colony. Perhaps Sudan should be added to the list. As a result of the
conquest of Afghanistan and Iraq, both Iran and Syria are now totally
surrounded by territories unfriendly to them. Iran is encircled by
Afghanistan, by the Gulf States, Iraq and the Moslem republics of the
former Soviet Union. Syria is surrounded by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and
Israel. This is a significant strategic change and it applies strong
pressure on the terrorist countries. It is not surprising that Iran is
so active in trying to incite a Shiite uprising in Iraq.

I do not know if the American plan was actually to encircle both Iran
and Syria, but that is the resulting situation.

In my humble opinion, the number one danger to the world today is Iran
and its regime. It definitely has ambitions to rule vast areas and to
expand in all directions. It has an ideology, which claims supremacy over Western
culture. It is ruthless. It has proven that it can execute elaborate
terrorist acts without leaving too many traces, using Iranian
Embassies. It is clearly trying to develop Nuclear Weapons. Its so-called moderates
and conservatives play their own virtuoso version of the "good-cop
versus bad-cop" game. Iran sponsors Syrian terrorism, it is certainly behind
much of the action in Iraq, it is fully funding the Hezb'Allah and, through
it, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, it performed acts of
terror at least in Europe and in South America and probably also in Uzbekhistan
and Saudi Arabia and it truly leads a multi-national terror consortium,
which includes, as minor players, Syria, Lebanon and certain Shiite
elements in Iraq. Nevertheless, most European countries still trade with Iran, try
to appease it and refuse to read the clear signals.

In order to win the war it is also necessary to dry the financial
resources of the terror conglomerate. It is pointless to try to
understand the subtle differences between the Sunni terror of Al Qaeda and Hamas and the
Shiite terror of Hezb'Allah, Sadr and other Iranian inspired enterprises. When
it serves their business needs, all of them collaborate beautifully.

It is crucial to stop Saudi and other financial support of the outer
circle, which is the fertile breeding ground of terror. It is important
to monitor all donations from the Western World to Islamic
organizations, to monitor the finances of international relief organizations and to react
with forceful economic measures to any small sign of financial aid to
any of the three circles of terrorism. It is also important to act decisively
against the campaign of lies and fabrications and to monitor those
Western media who collaborate with it out of naivety, financial interests or

Above all, never surrender to terror. No one will ever know whether the
recent elections in Spain would have yielded a different result, if not
for the train bombings a few days earlier. But it really does not matter.
What matters is that the terrorists believe that they caused the result
and that they won by driving Spain out of Iraq. The Spanish story will surely
end up being extremely costly to other European countries, including France,
who is now expelling inciting preachers and forbidding veils and including
others who sent troops to Iraq. In the long run, Spain itself will pay even more.

Is the solution a democratic Arab world? If by democracy we mean free
elections but also free press, free speech, a functioning judicial
system, civil liberties, equality to women, free international travel, exposure
to international media and ideas, laws against racial incitement and
against defamation, and avoidance of lawless behavior regarding
hospitals, places of worship and children, then yes, democracy is the solution. If
democracy is just free elections, it is likely that the most fanatic regime will
be elected, the one whose incitement and fabrications are the most
inflammatory. We have seen it already in Algeria and, to a certain
extent, in Turkey. It will happen again, if the ground is not prepared very
carefully. On the other hand, a certain transition democracy, as in
Jordan, may be a better temporary solution, paving the way for the real
thing, perhaps in the same way that an immediate sudden democracy did not work
in Russia and would not have worked in China.

I have no doubt that the civilized world will prevail. But the longer
it takes us to understand the new landscape of this war, the more costly
and painful the victory will be. Europe, more than any other region, is the
key. Its understandable recoil from wars, following the horrors of
World War II, may cost thousands of additional innocent lives, before the
tide will turn.

Haim Harari is the former President of the Weizmann Institute.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Quote of the Day! dedicated to rob with affection

Poetry is what I start to hear when I concede
the world's ability to manage and to understand itself.
It is the language of the world:
something humans overhear if
they are willing to pay attention,
and something that the world will teach us to speak,
if we allow the world to do so.
It is the wén of dào: a music that we learn to see,
to feel, to hear, to smell, and then to think,
and then to answer.
But not to repeat. Mimesis is not repetition.

Robert Bringhurst

Thinking and Singing
Poetry & the Practice of Philosophy

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Today's Poem


(for Pablo Neruda)

suck small pit
juice inside
flower, fruit
flesh swollen
around sweet
exactly to fit
your mouth

O! red
burst of beauty


Thursday, August 03, 2006


The poetry world in Canada is small...but much larger than it used to be. If you want to know about poems, you have to read, of course. I thought today I might tell you where you can find some poems and poets I recommend for your contemplation. Some of these poets have accumulated numerous awards, including the Governor General's award for poetry, or perhaps the CBC Literary Award, or the Griffin Poetry Prize, along with provincial recognition. Some have been published only a few times; some are becoming household names for those who read poems. I share these links not only if I 'like' a poet, but also if that poet makes me think, teaches me something about using words, and mostly, feels like somebody who 'knows' what it is to struggle to make a poem.

Perhaps no poet is more inclined towards philosophy than Tim Lilburn, whose work I first encountered during Brenda Carr-Vellino's Master's class in the long poem, at Carleton University. His work, Kill-site, had just won the Governor General's award (2004) and our class read the poems as almost a final sampler of the course. I can't claim to have 'understood' but something responded to this person who had conflated nature, philosophy, and narrative with something grander: perhaps the exploration of the soul, all done in the context of the Canadian prairie, which I consider my other home in Canada. I may live in the Ottawa Valley and have worked most of my life in British Columbia, and I like both of these places, but Saskatchewan has a hold on me.

I was deeply blessed when I produced a chapbook after my journeys through Saskatchewan last year, wild blueberries, and the illustrious poet, Margaret Avison, allowed me to use an epigraph from her "Prairie Poem": " on the Saskatchewan praire is/choosing to find out that/space calls, to a reshaping/of person. This above and/beyond the going to, the choosing."

So Lilburn, though he now teaches in Victoria, embedded himself in the Saskatchewan ground, and grew a tree full of poems. Or, as he says on the McClelland website, "Kill-site is a long poem about prayer..." Maybe that's one of the reasons I keep going back to it; the times for poems tend towards the secular, so something in my spirit responds to the sense of soul embedded in a work.

Lorna Crozier is another prairie poet who is now teaching in Victoria (the weather's better out there, friends). I don't yet own all of her works, but I have Whetstone close at hand. Given the date I am writing, the heat, I can offer you no better sample than this, "The Weight of August":

The exhaustion of flowers, midafternoon,
the stale sun's spill and stutter
across the lawn, a sprinkler lifting
its tired arc and letting it fall. All things
moving to an end. Soon
I'll go in, wake you from your nap
and start our supper, anything
the garden's greens have left to give,
lettuce and chard, that undertaste of
bitterness. We live with who we are and not
what we once wanted. Late August,
its weight on my shoulders, my hand
not on your skin. I turn back
the page and start again,
not sure if I've read
this part before.

Here she writes a story of garden, time, marriage...and here she writes a world:

"...We live with who we are and not/what we once wanted..."

This is a woman who, like me, is coming to terms...and taking in the details, the small senses attuned to a pulse in the world. She writes, elsewhere, that "what is holy/is how the light falls on the tomato" and I have just come up from our garden which is full of, August 2, ripening on the vine. I do not know if my children have eaten many, if any, vine-ripened tomatoes, and this will be their year to do so....we have already begun on the yellow beans Melodie planted, I used the cilantro Maya planted yesterday in a soup, and on one plant, this morning, in our Gatineau garden, a tomato ripens.

On a garden note, I cannot believe how fast a pumpkin grows, and how widely the leaves range.
That particular soft yellow of flowers offering a foretaste of fall. Hallowed evenings.

And back to poets: I spoke to you the other day of Anne Compton. The websites about her are not overly comprehensive: I think she deserves more coverage. I guess you just have to buy her books! Processional is lovely.

Also, Don McKay: I found an interesting article by Stan Dragland, epigraph from Robert Bringhurst (poets on a poet) from UTQ, and some stuff at the University of Calgary site.
You can hear McKay read from Camber, at the Griffin short-list prize site. The Dragland link takes you to Brick Books, one of Canada's foremost poetry publishers. If Brick has the book, it is poetry worth reading. I can also say this of Buschek Books, whom I'm glad to promote. A local (Ottawa) small press, the books from this company are also lovely, and a wonderful representation of Canadian poetry at its best.

A word for the poet who was the main subject of my Master's work, Di Brandt. She is also a writer who has worked through, and continues to do so, the powerful influence of religious belief and family in one's adult life. (For fiction, in this area, I turn to Sandra Birdsell).

I have offered you only a short beginning. Another day, another poet, another poem. I shall finish with Lilburn: "Everything takes a religious pose." Amen.