Global Justice, Not Global Economy, Should be Canada’s Agenda

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The U.S. is still driving hard to promote its global economy agenda, an agenda that would see massive expansion of free trade around the world. As the world’s largest economic power, the U.S. naturally stands to reap the greatest direct benefit from globalization.

But the world cannot survive with such a single-issue agenda. There is dire need for a balancing force, a global justice agenda, for which only Canada can campaign.

Most Canadians rightly believe that this great, unique, and distinct nation of ours has a mission in the world to promote global justice and fight against hunger, poverty, desperation and human misery.

Most Canadians also believe that justice is necessary for the achievement of true world peace and they will, therefore, support their government on policies which effectively promote this two-fold goal, both at home and abroad.

They have applauded Canada’s past peace-keeping and diplomatic efforts in Bosnia, Kosovo and numerous other troubled parts of the world. They have stood behind the movement to obliterate anti-personnel landmines from every continent. They have lent their support to efforts at reforming the United Nations Security Council.

At heart, Canadians sincerely believe in their collective power to do good, so it is not surprising that they are liked and respected the world over. Numerous Americans thank God that their neighbour, Canada, has spoken out on critical international issues when their own government has been held hostage to self-seeking domestic politics.

In fact, many Americans have come to believe that their government, regardless of who is in power, has no true foreign policy to speak of, only a domestic one. This has been alarmingly apparent from day one of President George W. Bush’s administration.

He insisted on excluding Cuba from the Quebec Summit of the Americas (to please influential Cuban Americans); he asked Palestinians to stop Middle East violence without demanding an end to the Israeli occupation of their land (to appease the American Jewish lobby); he withdrew from the Kyoto Environmental Agreement (to satisfy the corporate lobby); and he stopped funding any medical clinics abroad where therapeutic abortions might be performed (to appease right-wing religious fundamentalists).

There is some virtue in being so blatantly selfish, for it can be rationalized away as “self-preservation.” By whatever name you call it, U.S. international policies (myopic as they are) are firmly in its grip.

But Canadians cannot afford to follow the American lead (or, retreat) where international relations are concerned. We have long realized that a firm commitment to global justice and peace must be an integral part of our struggle for social justice here at home.

The late Lester Bowles Pearson, one of Canada’s most loved and respected Prime Ministers, introduced a comprehensive pension plan for the elderly, a national medicare system to keep our people healthy, and even managed to unite Canadians around a new maple leaf flag — how could we imagine Canada Day without it? And on the global stage, Pearson’s efforts as Minister of External Affairs (1948-57) to resolve the Suez Crisis were accorded the well-deserved honour of the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize.

Pearson showed generations of Canadians that when diplomacy fails, the solution is more diplomacy — not outdated and dangerous threats of war-reparations, or punishing economic sanctions which seem to be the only recourse of current American policy.

War and sanctions cannot achieve any goal more effectively than genuine peace can. While some conflicts may seem temporarily justifiable, it is irresponsible to fall back on the old “first, arms buildup — then negotiations” style of intervention. Canada is far more qualified to avert wars than to launch them, for conflict resolution is closest to the essence of our national psyche. Yet despite Canada’s impressive track record as one of the world’s most respected peace-brokers, our American neighbors seem not to want our advice.

Even at this moment, ongoing U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan are hurting this planet’s most vulnerable people — its children. Sanctions are a genocidal policy anywhere and certainly do not contribute to achieving peace. Just as a polluted environment could eventually kill us all, while a few make tons of money in the short-term, so sanctions produce a short-term illusion of peace, when all they really do is degrade and weaken a society to such an extent that mere survival absorbs all its energies.

The negative impact of a foreign policy that is gradually abandoning Canada’s traditional role as a peacemaking and peacekeeping nation, is becoming painfully obvious here at home. Canadians are losing their historic solidarity and pride in being able to care for the poor, the young, the elderly, the sick, and the unemployed. They are beginning to lose faith, as well, that we can be key players in the achievement of true global peace and justice. They wonder if their government is really “involved” anymore, or just listening to a powerful neighbor who would do much better to listen to us instead.

A renewed commitment to international peace and justice must be the cornerstone of Canada’s 21st-century foreign policy — not because others ask it of us, not because the U.S. does or does not approve, and not at some time in the future when we can “afford” it again. This commitment must happen now, because we are who we are.

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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