When women rule the world

| December 29, 2018 | 0 Comments
(Photo: Public policy forum)

(Photo: Public policy forum)

A warning: The first chapter of 100 Questions About Women in Politics by Manon Tremblay features a few linguistic eye-glazers — such as “hegemonic scope,” “antagonistic binomials” and “intersectionality.” They made me fear that I wouldn’t be able to plod through many pages without drowning in jargon.
Perhaps Tremblay thought about that, too, because both the writing and the pacing brightened after that leaden start, and the English translation of this 2015 work (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018) turned out to be loaded with fascinating facts and sharp research.
It’s worth your time for three reasons: The work is global in scope; its question-and-answer format addresses all the right questions; and Tremblay is unwaveringly committed to conclusions actually supported by data. This is not a reinforcement of dreary feminist tropes — though feminists should heartily appreciate it.
Let’s start with a few global tidbits:
• In lower or single chamber parliaments around the world, women occupied just 22.8 per cent of the seats as of June 2016;
• That same year, only two countries (Rwanda and Bolivia) had at least as many women in their parliaments as men. Most countries had a “feminization” rate of between 10 and 33 per cent;
• In general, the Nordic countries had the highest rate, 41.1 per cent; with the Americas in second place at 27.7 per cent; Europe at 24.3 per cent; sub-Saharan Africa at 23.1; Asia at 19.1; the Arab states at 18.4 and the Pacific region at 13.5.
Those are interesting numbers, but so what? Tremblay’s exploration of this question is what provides the value. Is there actually a “female vote”? Answer: No, though women do shade more in favour of spending on education, health and other social needs than men. Do voters perceive female and male politicians differently? Growing research indicates they do. Is the electorate sexist toward female politicians? As a general rule, no. Are the media sexist? Yes … and no. Do indigenous and non-indigenous women vote similarly? Should there be quotas? Does proportional representation favour more women winning office?
The book backs up its discussion with quick references to the growing breadth of research on women in politics. As a reader mostly skeptical of the “victim school” of feminism, I appreciated the author’s sober summation of this research, including where it didn’t fit conventional views.
This book also tells you in which countries women first got the vote — places where women once had the vote then lost it, at least for a time (hello, Canada); where women were first allowed to run for office (fun fact: Australia was the first nation in which women were simultaneously allowed to both run for office and vote — in 1902. On the other hand, Swiss women only voted for the first time in federal legislative elections in 1971.)
Research on the “glass ceiling,” on whether explicitly feminist parties are effective, and on which kinds of women actually win office (hint: the word “elite” features here) provide more surprises.
When all is said, the most important question is: Do women actually change politics? Writes Tremblay: “I resist this proposal … It seems to me that this idea promotes a moralizing concept of ‘women’ as the redemption of politics — a conception that I do not endorse.”
That’s a brave conclusion. Women are as capable of good or bad decisions as men are. We may want to see more of them in politics, but they aren’t saviours. They’re just humans.

Keystone cops, shattered lives
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. security agencies leapt into action, but with such panicked overreach that they routinely trampled the basic norms of international behaviour. Eager to assist in preventing more attacks, Canadian security officials — and those of other nations — enabled this egregious reaction. Western nations are still paying the price.
Many Canadians, for instance, criticize the federal government’s payout to one-time Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr. But Canada is far from alone among Western countries picking up the pieces of its own actions since 2001. Daniel Livermore’s book, Detained: Islamic Fundamentalist Extremism and the War on Terror in Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018) explores why this is.
Livermore is an authoritative source for such discussion. A Canadian foreign service officer for 30 years, he was director-general for security and intelligence at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade from 2002 to 2006, when many of the episodes in this book took place.
He argues that Canada, at least, still hasn’t learned some central lessons about the war on terrorism, even with two major commissions of inquiry into the fate of four citizens detained and tortured after 9/11. And he is clearly frustrated about that.
Detained starts with a helpful history of how Islamic fundamentalist extremism evolved, and how Western agencies didn’t see major terrorist attacks coming. It’s astonishing to read, for instance, how little U.S. intelligence knew about al-Qaeda prior to 9/11, even though the organization had already carried out major attacks against embassies and other Western targets, and even though some only failed because of dumb luck (such as the millennium plot to blow up the Los Angeles Airport, involving Canadian-based Ahmed Ressam).
Once the attack on the Twin Towers occurred, “perspective … was not possible,” writes Livermore. “Fear of the unknown and the absence of intelligence on al-Qaeda would frame much of the response to 9/11 and it would not abate for several years.”
The Americans’ goal soon became detaining any suspected al-Qaeda operative, anywhere, a policy that would have devastating impacts on Canadians and other foreign nationals. High-profile commissions of inquiry have looked into the detention and torture abroad of Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Maeyyed Nureddin. Yet earlier (and lesser reported cases) point to alarming ineptness on both sides of the border.
For instance, a handful of “suspect” Canadians or landed immigrants had the misfortune of being in the U.S. around the time of 9/11. They were detained not merely for a few days as authorities checked them out, but sometimes for months. A young Algerian, Benamar
Benatta, in the U.S. legitimately, overstayed his visa and tried to make a refugee claim at the Canadian border in 2001. Instead of following correct protocols for such cases, Canadians turned him over to the U.S. and, though he had no ties to terrorism, he was jailed until July 2006. (His lawsuit against the Canadian government, settled confidentially, was thought to have cost $1.7 million).
Such things happened even before the phenomenon of “extraordinary rendition” — whereby the U.S. arranged for people it suspected of terrorism ties to be sent to countries with brutal interrogation methods. Many Western allies were caught up in helping the Americans snatch people off the street and fly them to Syria, Egypt or other torture-friendly zones. In a three-year period after 9/11, reports Livermore, the number of “renditions” rose to between 100 and 150, involving nationals from several U.S.-friendly countries, and later leading to lawsuits against those countries. Livermore laments that Canada’s commissions of inquiry never studied the cases of people “rendered” from other nations, even though some cases bore striking similarities to Canadian events.
Meanwhile, Canadian agencies “were investigating cases that were murky and confusing and they had no operational protocols on consultation within the community or on agreed systems as to the right way to proceed … each Canadian agency went its own way,” Livermore writes. “In the fog of the war on terror, policies, principles and accountabilities were unclear or non-existent. Over time, the groundwork was laid for serious errors…” Senior political leaders weren’t briefed about these cases and “were not asked or encouraged to participate in decision-making.”
This operational chaos would come home to roost in sagas as different in their details as those of Arar, Abdullah Khadr (brother of Omar) and Abousfian Abdelrazik. Each story is told through Livermore’s lens.
They illustrate specifics of where the Canadian government failed in its basic duties. But he also argues that the commissions of inquiry the federal government set up later also failed, in important ways.
For instance, when the U.S. “rendered” a suspect abroad, it believed it was acting with the co-operation of the host government. Writes Livermore: “Despite two public inquiries in Canada, many court cases and several police investigations, no one has satisfactorily addressed the significance of this point regarding the Canadian cases. If co-operation was the norm, who in Canada co-operated in the cases of Maher Arar and others in their renditions and detentions?”
Have improvements been made since? Will we get this right in future? Amid the shrill voices currently dominating public discourse on terrorism, the arguments over foreign fighters, and the federal government’s struggles to ensure better oversight of security agencies, it is too early to say. But Livermore does not sound optimistic. Reading his book, Canadians should not be, either.

How to survive in hell
DIPLOMAT_2018-12-29_0079The average education level of Canadians serving in the First World War was Grade 6. But lack of schooling didn’t prevent the men in the trenches — cold, terrified, itching with lice — from creating a rich record of their experiences through poetry, newspapers, diaries, songs, cartoons and much more.
Marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War in November 2018, historian Tim Cook’s latest book — The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War (Allen Lane Canada, 2018) — focuses on the special battlefield culture of the men who fought the “Great War.” This isn’t military history as written by academics; it’s a smooth read about how soldiers coped with horrific surroundings, the constant expectation of death, and the abrupt, bloody loss of friends.
Cook reminds us early on of just how inhuman the soldiers’ lives were: Death was everywhere at the front; the sight of corpses was inescapable. No surprise that the imaginations of the soldiers were filled with “spectral beings, premonitions of death, and a belief in otherworldly events.
“No Man’s Land was unknowable and unoccupied. Within that ghost-haunted space, some soldiers felt there were monsters, including a supposed army of deserters,” he writes.
Yet, Cook continues, “In a war where soldiers could scream or laugh, most chose to do the latter.”

Tim Cook's new book, The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War, details how soldiers such as Pte. Donald Johnston McKinnon, above, survived war's hell. (Photo: RiverBissonnette)

Tim Cook’s new book, The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War, details how soldiers such as Pte. Donald Johnston McKinnon, above, survived war’s hell. (Photo: RiverBissonnette)

Start with their frequently colourful takes on popular songs of the era. “It’s a Long Way To Tipperary; it’s a long way to go” became “That’s the wrong way to tickle Mary, it’s the wrong way you know.” The song descended from there. The well-known hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” became “When This Lousy War Is Over,” with decidedly non-religious lyrics. Indeed, “The more blasphemous the song, the more it was sung with gusto, with some of the raunchiest songs being belted out on the march,” recounts Cook.
There were constant jokes about the food, including the ubiquitous army biscuits. One soldier’s description went thus: “The word ‘indispensable’ does not emphasize enough the value (the biscuits) have been to us, using them as candlesticks, paper weights, and hammers; as well as feeling pretty safe against shrapnel and sniper’s bullets, whilst carrying them in our pockets.”
The war also spawned its own vocabulary for the terrifying weapons that wreaked awful and sudden destruction. A high explosive shell was a “Jack Johnson,” named for an American heavyweight boxer. A light shell of high velocity was a “whiz-bang.”
“German hand grenades were known as ‘potato mashers’ because, with their long handle and larger metal head filled with explosives, they bore a similarity to this kitchen device. The multiple types of trench mortars had names like ‘flying pigs,’ ‘pineapples,’ ‘toffee apples,’ ‘footballs,’ ‘rum jars,’ and ‘minnies,’” Cook informs us. “Referring to the enemy’s ‘morning hate’ or ‘strafe’ was a sanitized way to describe the gut-wrenching, sphincter-clenching artillery bombardments that reduced men to red paste or drove them insane.”
To the delight of this journalist, Cook spends a chapter analyzing the trench newspapers of the day, which, while amusing, also often took aim squarely at superior officers. The Dead Horse Corner Gazette, for example, carried an inquiry from one soldier about “whether the officer of a certain Canadian battalion who ordered one of his men to pick up scraps of paper from the top of a communication trench in broad daylight attended the man’s funeral?” Another newspaper wrote that a “strategist” (presumably a general), was “a person who doesn’t care how many lives he risks as long as he doesn’t risk his own.”
Limericks, diaries, Vaudeville performances and cartoons filled with popular characters and gallows humour rounded out the attempts of these scrappy trench warriors to make their existence bearable.
Normally, Cook notes, we think of First World War soldiers as “men caught in a no-win situation, who stumbled around like the living dead until they were put out of their misery. This is the soldier as victim. The Secret History of Soldiers offers another way to understand the Canadian soldier in the Great War.” Brave, patriotic — and, for the sake of survival — often irreverent.

Other reads worth your time:

DIPLOMAT_2018-12-29_0081A United Nations Renaissance
By John Trent, Laura Schnurr
Barbara Budrich Publishers
Toronto, 2018, 168 pages

Someone has to defend the idea of the United Nations, particularly at a time when Canada still harbours ambitions of joining the Security Council. Happily, Trent and Schnurr are willing to take it on, and, just as happily, without rose-coloured glasses.
They readily acknowledge that the world’s biggest diplomatic chat room needs improvement and, in what amounts to both a primer and a manifesto, they explore a better future for the organization.

DIPLOMAT_2018-12-29_0082Oil and World Politics: The Real Story of Today’s Conflict Zones – Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and More
John Foster
James Lorimer and Company Ltd.
Toronto, 2018, 280 pages

It’s not the first time someone has examined the role of black gold in world affairs, but Canadian energy economist John Foster does so in clear, engaging language, drawing on his own considerable global experience, to shine light on some key conflicts — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan and Ukraine — using the lens of oil. “Given the acknowledged connections between petroleum and climate change, understanding petroleum becomes critical to our future on Earth,” he writes. “The links between petroleum and ongoing conflict and misery merit attention too.” In other words, Western nations are not always fighting the good fight when they march off to “liberate” other places.

Economic Statecraft: Human Rights, Sanctions and Conditionality
Cécile Fabre
Harvard University Press
Cambridge, 2018, 218 pages

Any book that starts with a reference to the Peloponnesian War automatically wins my heart, but there are better reasons to pick up this tome. Economic Statecraft asks important moral questions about the impact of economic sanctions between countries. Is it ethical, for instance, for states that are nuclear powers to impose sanctions on other states that want to develop their own nuclear armaments? Is it moral to punish any state with sanctions if we know the resulting suffering will mostly impact impoverished civilians? Fabre, an expert on the ethics of war, bravely navigates the long, long history of such tactics and dissects the dilemmas for countries that care about human rights.

Christina Spencer is the editorial pages editor of the Ottawa Citizen. She holds a master’s degree from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, and is a past winner of the National Newspaper Award for international reporting and for editorial writing.

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Category: Delights

About the Author ()

Christina Spencer is the editorial pages editor of the Ottawa Citizen and the inaugural recipient of the Claude Ryan Award for Editorial Writing at the 2017 National Newspaper Awards. She holds a master's in international affairs from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

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