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Drawn Conclusions > editorials

"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer."

Henry Kissinger. New York Times, Oct. 28.1973


"The power of Shahid’s cartoons are acute. Take a close look if you dare. Instead of euphemisms, find direct statements; instead of evasion, find candor. The skill of illustration is matched by the acuity of vision..."

Norman Solomon







Nov 8, 02:32 AM

Enduring Operation Freedom

Since the cancellation of an exhibit in Hamilton earlier this November I have had an outpouring of support from people around the world…everyone expressing disgust at this blatant act of censorship. The exhibition, at the McMaster Museum of Art, was cancelled because The Washington Times accused a student at McMaster University in Hamilton of being an al Qaeda agent. This student was supposedly acquiring radioactive material to build a bomb. Even with the story refuted by perplexed administrators, the Museum felt my show would attract unwarranted attention with the curator also fearing for her job.

The exhibition, called “Enduring Operation Freedom”, was a selection of twenty-nine cartoons critical of the American “Operation Enduring Freedom”. The work documented American knee-jerk reprisals since September 11th. It was an unexpected surprise when the curator asked me if I was interested in a solo exhibition. I saw this as a bold move. My work is often seen as too hard-hitting – too critical of American foreign policy. Unlike Europe many North American editors and curators have reservations about using my work – so this opportunity was quite unique.

Censorship is a schoolyard bully. All journalists inevitably get their noses bloodied. I have faced it in Karachi with Benazir Bhutto; in Montreal because of Henry Kissinger; over the web due to Islamic extremists; in Toronto thanks to the Canadian Jewish Association; and in New York City because of American publishers. This time it was different. Why should Canadians dread possible repercussions for speaking out against American foreign policy? Prime ministers fear a Presidential snub, Ministers fear American tariffs, Businesses fear American quotas, and your average Canadian fears crossing the border. Canada is a country made up of immigrants. Multi-culturalism is defined as a mosaic of different cultures and thought. It is not a melting pot, as in the United States, where a cultural mosaic serves only as a canvas ready to be whitewashed. The curator is not directly to blame. The blame lies squarely with the schizophrenic policies of the Canadian government. Where were they for Maher Arar and Bill Sampson? A principled government protects its citizens and policies. How do Canadians values stand-up when confronted by a bully? Monia Mazigh, Maher Arar’s wife, said in a recent interview, “A Canadian citizen traveling on a Canadian passport must be treated according to Canadian values.” Have things really changed so much in Canada? At the height of the Vietnam War, Prime Minister Lester Pearson gave a scathing address against the conflict inside the White House. Afterwards, it was reported, that President Lyndon Johnson grabbed Pearson by the shirt collar, lifted the Prime minister off the floor and yelled, “You pissed on my rug!” Prime Minister Pierre Trudea, the sole reason many immigrants chose Canada as a country of preference, forged relationships with foreign countries irrespective of their political leanings. For this President Richard Nixon called him “an asshole”. Trudeau coolly responded, ”I’ve been called worse things by better people.”

What is so schizophrenic? Most Canadians are extremely critical of Bush’s doctrines. Prime Minister Jean Chretien scolded President George Bush for ignoring United Nation protocols in Chicago. Canada chose to legitimize the United Nations. This November Prime Minister Chretien told the House of Commons that the deportation of a Canadian to Syria was unacceptable. But then why does incoming Prime Minister Paul Martin after condemning the deportation of Maher Arar also states he “understands the American position.” Why then is Prime Minister Chretien so adamant about not allowing an independent inquiry into the case of Mr. Arar. Why then did Solicitor General Wayne Easter allow U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft to publicly wash his hands of the Maher Arar case? John Ashcroft went on to state, “In removing Mr. Arar from the U.S., we acted fully within the law and applicable international treaties and conventions that guide the activities of the United States in settings like that.” Unfortunately, governments are like parents. Children who do not have good parental role models often have a difficult time differentiating between right and wrong.

I am not, by any means, trying to equate my show-cancellation with the injustices braved by William Sampson and Maher Arar– that is obviously ridiculous. What I am saying is that the cancellation and deportation are part and parcel of a larger issue -an issue that needs to be publicly addressed here in Canada. Editorials spark discussions. The Press, Universities and Museums are platforms for these debates. We cannot have censorship. England, which has been such a staunch supporter of the United States, has a glut of cartoonists who regularly skewer Tony Blair and company in many of the major papers. Cartoonists Steven Bell and Gerald Scarfe routinely depict Bush as a monkey and Blair as a sycophantic poodle. I was recently told that Mr. Scarfe will be having an exhibition at the National Portrait Museum in London this coming April “irrespective of who he sees as an Ape”. Norman Solomon, author of Target Iraq, had agreed to write an introduction for my exhibition. He had gone to Baghdad on his own fact-finding mission with Sean Penn in 2002 to expose certain realities to the American public. He told The Toronto Star referring to the cancelled show, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” In my case I am lucky he was referring only to a cancelled exhibition.

I enjoy your site very much.

Donald Swain
Jul 22, 04:11 PM

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