Saturday, November 05, 2005

Ignatieff: Human rights without the Humans

Ah yes. Michael Ignatieff is in the building. Or at least he's in the country. I might as well come right out and say it: I don't trust this man and I don't think he's going to do a bit of good for Canadian policy/politics. Why worry about Michael Ignatieff? Well, as fellow progressiveblogger John Murney wrote this morning, Ignatieff is currently making the rounds in Canada. He's due to speak in Saskatoon this weekend at the Saskatchewan Liberals meeting.

Until very recently, Ignatieff was a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights, at Harvard. Ignatieff has left Harvard for a UofT professorship at the Munk Centre. This past summer, rumours began to circulate that Ignatieff was going to make a play for a Toronto Liberal seat and--eventually--for the leadership position. The scuttlebutt is that he will try to take Bill Graham's or Carolyn Bennet's seat, i.e. Toronto Centre Rosedale (Graham to Ambassador in Paris) Or St Paul's (Bennet to Senate). Well goody for him. Here's the problem: although Ignatieff is (a) a Canadian and (b) a self-described "liberal," this man is not a Canadian Liberal. [And by "Liberal" I just mean strong progressive, not necessarily a Grit]. So why the big harsh-on for Ignatieff? Well, I urge you to read on!

[click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]

[A] Some of you may have seen his pieces in NY Times Magazine and some-of-some-of you may have noticed that Ignatieff has an annoying habit of referring to himself as an American, while in America ("we" and "us"). As the Globe's Marjorie Robertson noted ("Ignatieff Redux," June 30, 2005):
No doubt Michael Ignatieff will be dusting off his Canadian version of the pronouns "we" and "us" as he readies for the launch of his bid to become a Liberal member of Parliament (Ignatieff Sets Sights On Ottawa -- June 29). But Mr. Ignatieff, professional mental gymnast and idea contortionist, lost his Canadian moorings long ago -- about the same time he lost his ethical moorings and set out his shingle as "mind for hire," putting his matchless vocabulary to whatever challenge his masters required.
[B] I first heard of Ignatieff in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Like Tom Friedman (NY Times) and Peter Beinhert (New Republic), Ignatieff gave the invasion a patina of "liberal" cred in America--and advocated for the illegal invasion as an humanitarian mission of mercy. Oh sure, these self-styled hawks sniffed and complained when things didn't go "well" post-invasion, but alas, they maintained that only American force could "give" the Iraqis their democracy. If you want to listen to Ignatieff plead his case, check out this October 2003 debate on Cross Country checkup. Rex Murphy moderated a live debate between Ignatieff & Gwynne Dyer. It's worth a listen; Dyer can barely contain his laughter :)

[C] As I mentioned in [A], Ignatieff is a contributor to NY Times Magazine. Well, Ignatieff spun out a doozy this past June, in which he compared Bush to Thomas Fucking Jefferson. A kind of Bush-as-big-dreamer-of-democracy. It was, ca va sans dire, ludicrous on its face. But what really made me furious was the picture he painted of a heroic, democracy-spreading Bush, suddenly betrayed by his friends:
Other democratic leaders may suspect Bush is right, but that doesn't mean they are joining his crusade. Never have there been more democracies. Never has America been more alone in spreading democracy's promise. [...] The deafening silence extends beyond Germany. Like Germany, Canada sat out the war in Iraq. [...] [America] is the last country with a mission, a mandate and a dream, as old as its founders.
Blechhh, eh? Don't say I didn't warn you. Ok: time for the creme de la creme. This is the number one reason we can't let Ignatieff wink & shape-shift into a Canadian Liberal (drumroll): [D] He's a "human rights" expert who thinks some forms of harsh interrogation are a-ok in a pinch. In his May 2004 NY Times magazine piece:
Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental health or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress.
Naturally, his human-rights brethren were none-too-pleased to see Ignatieff mealy-mouth his way towards advocacy of torture. And they sure let him know it. First, note that my last link does not take you to the original NYTM piece but, rather, to an Aug 2005 TorStar writeup about Ignatieff [I can't find the original piece]. The TorStar profile really opened my eyes to what Ignatieff is all about: "reputation." And Ignatieff threw a right-fit when called on his ridiculous "Lesser Evil" stance:
It all began with an article on torture by Conor Gearty, a professor of human rights law at the London School of Economics (LSE) in this year's first issue of the quarterly Index on Censorship. Gearty's concern was to show the process by which a number of well-meaning liberal intellectuals and human rights lawyers had handed U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld "the intellectual tools with which to justify his government's expansionism." He was particularly exercised by the manner in which such people had created a climate in which even torture could be condoned. One of the liberals cited by Gearty in this context was Ignatieff.
[...] Rumsfeldians could not transform liberal discourse on their own. They needed a great trauma like Sept. 11 on which to feed and, crucially, they also needed some ideological support from apologist intellectuals and lawyers that would help to explain "why there is no conflict between torture and our liberal code of laws." It is at this point that Gearty rounds on Ignatieff, whom he describes as "probably the most important figure to fall into this category of hand-wringing, apologetic apologists for human rights abuses."
[...] Ignatieff confronted such moral reservations in 2004 with The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. His preface outlined the key questions he would be addressing: "When democracies fight terrorism, they are defending the proposition that their political life should be free of violence. But defeating terror requires violence. It may also require coercion, deception, secrecy, and violation of rights. How can democracies resort to these means without destroying the values for which they stand? How can they resort to the lesser evil without succumbing to the greater?"
[...] A particularly hostile review in The New York Times in July 2004 by international relations professor Ronald Steel began with this summary of Ignatieff's thesis: "Michael Ignatieff tells us how to do terrible things for a righteous cause and come away feeling good about it."
[...] Owen [the editor of Gearty's article] replied to Ignatieff regretting that Gearty's piece had caused him so much distress. She had realized that he might like to respond to the article but never expected him to be so outraged and insulted as to reject this standard form of academic response. ain't easy, is it, Mike? Particularly with such, how you say?, gauche timing [cue: leashes and hoods]:
It was unfortunate, to say the least, that this article was on its way to the distributors when the first pictures came through from Abu Ghraib prison, one of which showed a hooded Iraqi standing on a box. America's historic role was now defined, with reference to Jefferson, as bringing democracy and freedom to the world and anyone who refused to go along with that project could be written off as backsliders.
All this might have been meat and drink to the neo-conservatives and military officers with whom Ignatieff enjoyed conversations at Harvard. But it was a step too far for his former human rights colleagues. Ignatieff was no longer merely a supporter of a war to get rid of Hussein: he was now an active proselytizer on behalf of all American interventionism. The new U.S. empire's "grace notes," he declared, "are free markets, human rights and democracy, enforced by the most awesome military power the world has ever known."
Ignatieff works hard at all of this reputation-building. For him, it's clearly borne of the "centrist" or "triangulating" Democratic strategy that lost them the last election (well, close 2nd after voter fraud). That means cultivating bona fides as a "liberal" who's not 'soft on terror' (=gay, P.S.) [from the Aug. 2005 Toronto Star profile]:
There is one word that resonates throughout this episode — "reputation." Ignatieff uses it four times in his original letter of complaint and then returns to the subject again in his correspondence with the guest editor. To some, this concern about reputation is best explained by an unexpected development in Ignatieff's career path: his apparent new interest in pursuing federal political office in his home country of Canada."
[...] His outraged response to the Index article was perhaps an acknowledgement that he could no longer keep his former colleagues on board. The circle could no longer be squared.
Meanwhile, the editors at the Index are still waiting for Ignatieff to reply to their request for a written response to Gearty. So far, there is only silence.
So there you have it. Don't be fooled by the Remington Steele thing he (thinks he) has goin' on there, ladies & gents. Ditto "I'm a Trudeau liberal! No one protested more stridently against Vietnam than I did"-type bleatings. Ignatieff is no Canadian Liberal.
Footnote: full interviews with Mike can be found here (Evan Solomon) & here (Brian Stewart).


Blogger John Murney said...

I could not agree with you more about Ignatieff. And to boot, he has not lived in Canada for about 30 years, so what the heck does he know about what is happening in this nation on a local or daily basis?

11/06/2005 3:58 AM  
Blogger Godammitkitty said...

Yes! 30 years in the gilded-Harvard-cage doesn't exactly prime you for Canadian public policy making. This guy has no idea. By all means, let'm muck around at UofT...just keep him outta politics :)
Thanks for writing, John! Cheers!

11/06/2005 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Mac said...

ignatieff has got to be, bar none, the scariest thing to ever appear on the scene...intellect for hire, as you say.....yeccch! a new phrase, a catchall needs to go round, like, ziggy heil! to wake up johnny canuck to this dangerous imposter....

4/13/2006 7:03 PM  

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