On Big Gay Fascism

You’re looking at the new face of the European Far Right. Mathieu Chartraire; Tetu magazine’s Mr. Gay for 2015. The magazine named him France’s hottest man about the community. He likes long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and xenophobic race nationalism.

...Gay Icon?....

Ew, not her. The cute guy on top of the post.

Marine Le-Pen, the leader of France’s Front National, is probably the most influential figure in French Politics right now. She may even be the single most popular one as well, though that says more about the near-universal disgust for the older, established political parties than it does about her. She preaches national unity and solidarity against an encroaching, evil other. Or, less charitably, racism, bigotry, and hatred. Certainly nothing new in European politics. She’s also, and this does seem to be causing some surprise, very popular in France’s Queer community. Dreamy Mathieu likes her, and it’s causing a stir. They (or should I say we?) prefer her by a margin of ten points over their heterosexual peers. This is being held up as being odd, even surprising. People don’t quite know what to make of it.

It doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s nothing new, and given the current political climate in France, and what life is actually like for gay men, (The larger Queer community’s struggles are often similar, but often very different as well, so this post will focus on my own tribe, about which I can speak) it makes a fair bit of sense.

First of all, hands up who remembers which party was by far the gayest in the Weimar Republic? Need a hint? Well, they were into bold, striking colour schemes, flamboyant ceremonies, and really stunning uniforms.

Gay Icon

Note the angle of the wrist…

For years, the prevalence of homosexuality in the Nazi Party was one of the things people held up as evidence of their barbarism and moral depravity. I’m currently halfway through American broadcaster William L. Shirer’s Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany; a well-researched and footnoted work of history, but also more of a primary source and a memoir of his time as a journalist in Berlin at this point than a great work of scholarship. He dwells frequently on the prevalence of ‘sexual perverts’ and ‘moral degenerates’ in the early Nazi Party.

The SturmAbteilung, or SA, Hitler’s first paramilitary shock troops, were notorious in Germany for being full of young, violent, blond gay men. Their leader, Ernst Roehm, was probably the closest thing Hitler ever had to a personal friend. Shirer introduces him as a ‘tough, ruthless, driving man – albeit, like so many of the early Nazis, a homosexual.’ The early history of Nazism, like the early history of most ultranationalist movements is a shady one, full of drunks, drug addicts and people from the poor, despised fringes of mainstream German Society. Not unlike modern Greece’s Golden Dawn. And in the thirties that included, as it almost always has, gay people. Shirer takes it for granted that his audience in 1950s America shares his disgust for homosexuality and cringes with him at this obvious proof of the evil and moral corruption at the heart of Nazism.

Hitler knew that Roehm was gay. He didn’t approve, and there would be no worse badge to wear in the concentration camps than the pink one that denoted a homosexual, but he also didn’t really give a damn. He was a sociopath. So long as people were useful to him, he didn’t care about their morals or proclivities. As soon as they stopped being useful, he would care equally less about ruthlessly killing them. And when the time came, in 1934, to eliminate the SA in the infamous Night of the Long Knives, he didn’t have any trouble finding an excuse to justify his wholesale slaughter of his most loyal lieutenants. No one in Germany mourned them. They were just a bunch of damn queers after all.

People have always hated us. Everyone else on earth is a member of a hated minority in one place, and comfortably in the majority somewhere else. Gay people are a minority everywhere. Times and places where gay men and women have been able to live openly in history are few and far between. And they’re brief. We always get the shit kicked out of us in the end. The best place in Europe to be gay in the 20s and 30s was Berlin until it wasn’t. Straight people do not like us. They think we’re disgusting. Subconsciously, science is proving that most of you feel the need to wash after you speak to me.

I have to admit that sometimes I can get really, really angry about it. It’s irritating that people have such strong feelings and opinions about an aspect of myself that I had no more hand in choosing than the colour of my skin.

It certainly meant I snorted with contempt every time I saw a hysterical report about Ebola. Even if the risible hypocrisy of the contrast between straight white people’s panic at a single case in Texas with their indifference to thousands of people dying horribly in Sierra Leone wasn’t enough to do it, I would remember that North America had already been ravaged by a deadly, horrible disease. It was the 80s, and we called it GRID. Gay Related Immuno-Deficiency System. It really used to get them rolling in the aisles at Reagan’s press briefings. Eventually Rock Hudson died emaciated and terrified, so Middle America finally felt that little twinge of fear that meant there was money for research into a cure. Nobody gave two shits about AIDS while the only people dying from it were us queers. We were just getting what we deserved, weren’t we? Sure, loads of straight Africans have it now too, but well…

Personally, I’ve had it easy. So easy it often makes me uncomfortable. I was born in 1989. By the time I realized I might be gay, society’s attitudes were already changing. I came out not long after Canada legalized gay marriage. Sure, I had to sit through endless dorm room chats while I was still in the closet about my fundamental inferiority, and how if my schoolmates had gay sons they would kill them without a second thought.   But for the most part, compared to what my first boyfriend had to go through, or what people like me still go through in most of the world, I really have no right to complain about having been persecuted. We all know what Putin’s been doing by now. If I’d been born in Mosul, ISIS would have thrown me off a high-rise building by now. And a lot of people would have turned out to watch.

But it’s early yet. And this stuff can turn on a dime. It frequently does. Ask the Jews. The difference is no one ever gives a shit about us. No one ever misses us when we’re gone, and no one ever really asks why we needed to be rounded up and shot. Everyone already knows.

Right now the cultural climate in the places I’ve lived is generally against open homophobia. Politeness is on our side. I remember in my first year of university having a smoke out the back of college with one of the Rugby Jocks. I’d heard tell that this guy might be homophobic. He was perfectly nice, and we were getting along fine on a wave of pints and good cheer. I hadn’t asked, but he took the time to explain to me that because I wasn’t obviously effeminate, he didn’t mind me so much. let me know that I was the ‘least offensive gay person [he’d] ever met.’

I didn’t make a thing of it. He was being nice, and I appreciated that he was making the effort. But still, for a long time afterwards I couldn’t help but think to myself…thanks? I appreciate your tolerance of my existence? I’m glad I don’t offend your sensibilities as much as other deviants do? I guess it must be a bit like when a black person bristles at a well-meaning generalization about ‘you people,’ or a Native American sighs an exasperated little sigh when people empathize with his or her ‘plight.’ But I don’t know for sure. I’m still white and from a privileged background, so I can’t pronounce on that with as much authority. This is why there’s such a field of inquiry as intersectionality. This shit can get complicated.

So why would some of us feel inclined to vote for a party like the Front National, when it seems superficially like such a counter-intuitive decision? Well, for a start, we’re not a monolithic ‘group,’ as some people think, and so we don’t have a monolithic opinion. We’re united only by our sexual preference, and often by veryLittleElse. We’re an ‘invisible’ minority as opposed to a ‘visible’ one, and we only ever have to reveal ourselves as such if we choose to. If you’re a fan of X-Men, being gay is a bit like being Charles Xavier. Sure, he’s technically a mutant too, but he’s also rich, white, and a professor at Oxford, so maybe that makes him a little harder to relate to if you’re The Beast, and you can’t actually go out to pick up normal humans in bars with your fancy mind-reading tricks.

I'm totally a mutant too, guys!

I’m totally a mutant too, guys!

But intersectionality bites both ways in our case. There’s less of the solidarity that other underprivileged groups feel for each other. And most of those other underprivileged groups hate us too. If you’re poor, black, gay and West Indian, and your family are ultraconservative Christians who will disown you for being who you are, then you’re going to have a tougher time of it than I did, I freely admit it. And if you’re gay and Muslim? Jeez, I don’t envy you one bit. I’ve met gay Muslims. Yes, they exist. No, I’m not going to tell you who they are. They have to be SERIOUS about keeping that away from their families. Dead serious.

THAT’s the crux of it. That’s why Mr. Gai 2015 is leaning towards Marine Le Pen. Because sometimes when two gay men get beaten up in the street for holding hands? As happens. They get beaten up by Muslim men. Sometimes the devil you know beats the devil you don’t. So it goes.

It should go without saying that I have no desire to feed into some bullshit apocalyptic narrative of Islam vs. the Christian West. I have no desire to play that game. But it should also go without saying that when I see photos of ISIS throwing people like me off a building, and I know that that isn’t a minority opinion in the Muslim world, it makes me look at guys walking down the street in flowing robes, white caps and beards with a bit of side-eye. I’m usually right when I take a guess at what they think of me. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose? I’d take the chance that Marine Le-Pen isn’t full of shit over the implementation of Sharia law. Yes, I know that’s a false choice. No, I don’t think we have to go there. But the idiots on the extremes really want us to. And the people of France have spectacularly taken the bait. And so I get why some gay men (and women?) are falling for it. Fear does crazy things to people. And people like me have an extra reason to be scared of radical Islam. We take it very personally. Because there aren’t any circumstances under which I can pretend that they aren’t also aiming at me when they shoot up a government building or a magazine’s offices. I’m on their list.

I’m going to close with a story that could superficially be taken as evidence of the aforementioned side-eye, but which I actually think is a sign of hope. At the height of the Rob Ford fiasco I was in a cab in Toronto being driven uptown. I was talking to the cab driver. I usually do that, because it’s invariably interesting. But that week everyone in the goddam city was exchanging meaningful glances about the latest exploits of everybody’s favorite town drunk.

He was a recent immigrant from Pakistan, and a very conservative Muslim. He was explaining to me how he was still going to vote for Rob Ford. Apparently he was a nice man, and he’d done a reasonably good job. After all, everyone was entitled to a private life. What business was it of his if the Mayor smoked crack on his own time? I was cringing through my nods and smiles, but did feel compelled to politely ask if that logic would still apply if Mayor Ford was gay? Would that still be his business? Would he still be voting for him? It wasn’t a barbed question. I was curious to see what he would say.

He thought about it. He clicked his mouth and tilted his head a bit to a side. Then he shrugged, and said sure, of course he would. If the gays put up one of their own, who was he to judge? They were good people. If a gay mayor did his job well, it was no business of his.

Sure, sure, ‘people.’ But you know what? I actually am grateful for tolerance. I don’t get mad when people make little mistakes out of ignorance. Why would I? I’m grateful they’re trying. I get mad when people make hate a part of who they are. We all get these little bigoted reactions from our Id when we’re scared or pissed off. The measure of being a good person is how effectively we tamp them back down again. Tolerance, respect, courtesy and basic human decency go a long way to defeating hatred. As Prince Faisal puts it in the classic film Lawrence of Arabia, ‘for [Lawrence] mercy is a passion. For me, it is merely good manners. You may judge for yourself which is the more durable motive.’

So sure, if it’s a choice between the National Front and ISIS, I can bet most gay people will choose the National Front. But that’s a horrible choice. So let’s start finding/figuring out a political movement that doesn’t suck. We’re going to need one pretty soon here.

The White Trash Oedipus: Rob Ford and Toronto’s Long, Slow Descent into Madness

“The genius of comedy is the same as the genius of tragedy, and the writer of tragedy ought to be a writer of comedy also.”

So says the character of Socrates towards the end of Plato’s classic work Symposium. On the one hand, this is exactly the kind of pretentious crap aristocrats say to each other at parties as the waiters are clearing away the champagne flutes at two in the morning. But on the other hand, it’s something the Ancient Greeks were acutely conscious of, and the reason that a well-staged production of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex still has the power to chill the soul thousands of years later, and a badly-staged one can have you rolling in the aisles long before Eddy claws out his own eyes to atone for unwittingly banging his mother.

Rob Ford has probably never read Oedipus Rex. Even if he heard the name bandied during his two terms at Carlton, I’d still bet good money that he’s totally unable to spell it. And yes, this is a good encapsulation of why he makes a lot of snooty pricks like me so very, very angry. But it’s also a fairly good parable about why he’s totally unfit to be mayor of Canada’s largest city. And yet so far, despite the crack scandal, despite rehab, despite the goddamn cancer he’s being diagnosed with as I write these words, he’s still running for public office. And there are an awful lot of people who are going to vote for him no matter what else happens. At this point he could publicly sodomize a puppy and still probably garner a respectable ten to fifteen percent of the vote.

Welcome to Toronto’s municipal politics in the waning days of the Ford era: a masterclass in insane contradictions more infuriating than the most impenetrable zen koans.

It hasn’t all been a joke. As he’s been barreling his way back and forth across the invisible line between tragedy and comedy, leaving it bleeding under his hooves like Pam McConnell on the floor of city council chambers, he’s been exposing some dark stuff about Toronto that we don’t often tell the rest of the world about, because we don’t necessarily always see it ourselves.

He’s completely blown the lid off of Canada’s strange, invisible class system, for one. I spent five years of my life in Britain, where class infuses everything people do, and they’re all acutely aware of it, conscious of their place in its intricate hierarchy, and don’t have to think very hard about how in any given situation they should relate to other people within its parameters. By the end of my first year there I was obsessively, unhealthily obsessed with the whole concept. Both because I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, and because my own place as a colonial within it was totally uncertain, oscillating wildly between its upper reaches and its nether depths. Coming back to Canada, I did start to dimly perceive that we have one too, even if we don’t often think about it. But it took the blazing white light of Rob Ford’s spectacular self-immolation to really bring its contradictions into stark, glaring light.

His blue collar fans think he’s one of them, and his wealthy detractors find this risible because he’s never had to work a day in his life. But he’s also relatively new money, and the grit of industrial Etobicoke hasn’t yet rubbed off the family name. So he’s got a foot in both worlds, but somehow belongs to neither. He’s exposed some of the worst elements of both camps. Their unwavering support perfectly illustrates the crass, boorish pettiness and self-perpetuating proud ignorance of the working suburban poor. And the undying hatred of the chattering downtown elite illustrates both their totally unbearable snobbery and their nauseating but completely shallow pretensions and compexes about Toronto’s emerging status as a genuine world city. We’re growing up, sure. But we’re also starting to turn into the Eloi and the Morlocks from H.G Wells’ time machine, and it’s getting super creepy.

He’s also blown the lid off some simmering, perhaps even really dangerous ethnic tensions that are too often obscured by the downtown elite’s pious cooing about the glories of multiculturalism. The fact that Ford Nation almost certainly contains at least one urbane, well-educated Pakistani doctor who’s been driving a taxi for the last thirty years because of Ontario’s byzantine, unexaminedly racist system of credential recognition, and who is totally getting off watching the WASPy journalistic elite completely lose their minds is terrifying, if you stop and think about it. That there are people who rude people can call any number of horrifying ethnic slurs, who cheerfully going to vote this October for a person who calls them stuff like that to their faces isn’t just weird, it’s totally fucking insane.

The masks are falling to the floor. The elephant in the room is trumpeting in heat, and shitting all over grandma’s Persian carpet. There is a great disturbance in the force. Our noses are a bit out of joint. The old joke about Toronto being New York run by the Swiss is getting both more and less true. Less because the Swiss wouldn’t put up with this shit for two seconds, and more because the Swiss are also nowhere near as perfect as the rest of the world sometimes thinks they are. There’s still a lot of Nazi loot in the vaults of Zurich.

Honestly? I can’t. I can’t even. I just. Can’t. Even. Deal. Anymore. And while there’s a slim chance that the end is in sight, and this is the last time I’ll ever feel compelled to write something about Rob Ford? Two things are true:

First, how I feel about that reminds me of the scene in the Dark Knight where Batman asks the Joker why he wants to kill him, and Heath Ledger laughs and says “I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? You complete me.” And when you start seeing where the Joker was coming from, it’s possible you went round the twist a long time ago and just don’t know it yet. So that thought is festering.

Second, I honestly don’t know anymore. This is 21st century Toronto. Not Rome during a Borgia papacy. But suddenly, and I’m still not totally sure how it happened, municipal politics in my hometown has become better TV than Game of Thrones. And while it’s possible that John Tory or Olivia Chow will win in October, and everything will start to go back to normal, it’s also possible that Doug Ford will pull off an upset victory, and then Rob Ford will burst out of his stomach like Alien and declare himself King of the Andals, the Royhnar and the First Men. And if that happens, and it’s then followed by former mayor Barbara Hall bursting out of the sky riding a dragon and reducing City Hall and the financial district to a smoking ruin in vengeance for our repealing the plastic bag tax, then the truly weird thing about all of it will be this:

I will be completely unfazed. And Jon Stewart will put it in a segment, and the world will move on. Because no one, anywhere, can even deal with this shit anymore. Jihadis in Syria will see it today on the internet, and feel bad for two seconds about OUR problems.

I’m both totally losing my shit about this, and so bored with it that I could yawn. At exactly the same time. It’s either an earth-shattering drama with world-historical significance, or it’s of less importance than Kim and Kanye’s pillow talk. Or both. Or neither.

I need a muffin. And a hot towel. And possibly a nap.

Somewhere in Robyn Dolittle’s book Crazy Town, which to my shame I still haven’t found the time to read, she points out that Rob Ford and his family really do think of themselves as Toronto’s Kennedys. This is funny not because it’s a lot easier to picture Doug Ford on the set of Jerry Springer than it is Bobby Kennedy, nor because JFK’s supposed breeding was a total sham, and actual Boston Brahmin society loathed Joe Kennedy as a parvenu, new-money Nazi-sympathizer without a shred of basic human decency. This is funny because it is totally, completely, one hundred percent true.

They are the trailer park Kennedys. The blue collar Medicis. And Rob Ford is the white trash Oedipus. By wishing it, they have made it so.

I’ve never met Diane Ford, nor do I particularly want to, but I can’t shake the terrifying suspicion that I would much rather hang out with Jocasta. By comparison, the suicidal mother of Oedipus seems generally much more grounded and sensible, and we’d probably get along better. RoFo and DoFo may be schoolyard bullies writ large, but I don’t doubt for a second that they come by their demons honestly.

As Rob Ford copes with his cancer diagnosis, and Doug Ford rushes to city hall to file papers to register in his place, and the extraneous tabloid bullshit piles higher and higher around them both, maybe this is as good a time as any to try and take sensible stock about what exactly this all means. And we can’t do that until we stop indulging the narcissistic wankfest that is Furd Nayshun.

This became spectacularly clear to me yesterday when I realized that the health and sanity of some fatass rotarian gasbag who doesn’t even know my name had the power to totally ruin my whole day. That’s completely insane.

Seriously, it’s been spectacular to watch. It’s not every day you get to watch a world city completely lose it’s collective mind, and have a four year nervous breakdown live on late-night TV. But it’s jumping the shark now. It’s time for us all to stop indulging the lunatic pretensions of a gang of feral children, and let the grown-ups start cleaning up the mess they’ve made.

That’s really all. Let’s all go home.

Rob Ford and the Shaming of the Town Drunk

Well, shockingly enough, he’s off the wagon.

The latest video, of His Worship the Mayor of Toronto drunkenly ranting in Jamaican patois (impressive, at least) in a Rexdale fast food joint, lacks the mysterious allure of the infamous, and as yet unseen, crack video. It doesn’t have the voyeuristic, dangerous thrill of the rage-fuelled rant the Star unearthed for public consumption in December. It doesn’t even have the cringe value of the third, and least discussed, video that Toronto police continue to quietly hold in their evidence locker. (Which I have on good journalistic authority is a sex tape. Sorry for putting that image out there.)

It’s just plain sad.

I know I should be filled with righteous indignation. I’ve torn numerous strips off the guy in posts past. I’ve ranted, I’ve raved, I’ve torn my hair at the indignity of it all. I’ve demanded his head on a spike for violating all my bourgeois notions about how politicians should think, speak and behave. My most puerile rant, which is also sadly among my all-time most viewed posts, piously denounced him as a ‘complete sociopath…a bully, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, and a cheat. A thug who associates with violent criminals.’

Strong Stuff.

He may be these things. He may be all of them and more. But at bottom, all he really is is your garden variety drunk. An addict and an alcoholic in the deepest, darkest funk of denial you ever did see. He’s slowly unraveling before our very eyes.

He’s not the first, nor will he be the last person to discover he has a problem with drugs and alcohol. The poor guy has just put himself in a position where he can’t work through this issue in private. Every lapse in judgement, every stupid decision is immediately posted to the internet for the mockery of the masses. Every slip is front page news from coast to coast. He’s late night comedy gold, and will continue to be so for as long as he remains in denial about himself and his issues.

And though the Toronto Star has simply been doing their job in exposing his weaknesses, frailties, and criminal behavior, there comes a point where they’re hurting, rather than helping their cause by publicly shaming the town drunk for weeks, months and years on end.

I oppose Ford politically, and look forward to his electoral destruction in October. But I also feel for the guy. He’s a sick, sick puppy, who’s refusing all help and continuing down a path that leads, in the end, only to jails, institutions and death. I feel no schadenfreude anymore. I just wish he’d take responsibility for himself and become a legitimate opponent once more.

Everywhere I go, I’m assured that there’s still a very good chance he can win in October. That the ravening hordes of Ford Nation will descend upon the ballot box and once again foist their man upon the rest of us, with all his powers reinstated.

I’m frankly not worried. Ford Nation aren’t stupid, no matter what the downtown glitterati believe. They know a train wreck when they see one. On the path he’s on, this can only get sadder and more pathetic. And a pathetic politician is a politician who’s career is over.

If he admits he has an unmanageable problem and seeks the help that is available? Then I’ll be worried. Because the guy has massive political strengths when he’s at the top of his game. He’s personable, he connects with blue collar voters, and he’s a true multiculturalist; capable of relating naturally and honestly with people that most of the downtown elite don’t even know exist.

When he’s drunk, he’s just another sad lunatic raving on a street corner. He just happens to be a famous one as well. And that won’t last forever.

On the Geneva Deal with Iran, Radical Islam, and the Fashionable Left

I remember the first time I met an Irishman. I was 16 and stupid, and after we’d talked for about five minutes, I immediately steered the conversation to the Troubles, assuming that he would find the subject as fascinating as I did. I think I mentioned how Ireland was a model for solving intractable conflicts, and praised the Good Friday Accords as a historic breakthrough, but don’t remember the details.

It’s the answer he gave me, rather, that I remember to this day, and which immediately came to mind when I read about the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. It was a laconic, sceptical ‘we’ll see;’ Nothing more.

We’ve been down this road many, many times before with Iran. And doubtless we will continue down it for some time. The chasms of disagreement still yawn fairly wide, and won’t be bridged because a paper has been signed in Geneva. Time will tell if President Rouhani’s new tone of dignity and respect is a genuine shift in attitudes within the Iranian establishment, or merely posturing to distract a credulous western public.

Though I will say that the pro-Iran lobby has been telling us for years that ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s senile blathering about Israel and the demon West was nothing to be concerned with. He didn’t speak for the Mullahs. He was a harmless figurehead. Cooler heads than the President’s prevailed in Iran. He was primarily a spokesperson to foreign nations, and shouldn’t be taken seriously, I remember being told.

It’s difficult now, after hearing so much of that, to believe that Rouhani’s tone of warmth is sincere. That the Mullahs who decide who wins Iranian elections haven’t just decided on a different tack in gulling the West, and that the olive branch Rouhani is extending doesn’t conceal a sword, which he is happy to use.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope it’s the real deal. Nothing would make me happier than a rapprochement with this ancient and beautiful civilization. It’s always been difficult to imagine a nation that has produced such treasures as Marjane Satrapi, Rumi, and Jian Ghomeshi, to range wildly over time and space, being quite what we’re told it is by Neo-Con hawks like Binyamin Netanyahu. This is an urbane, sophisticated society that actually has a few thousand years on the west in terms of its collective existence. It’s not to be infantilized. Edward Said is impossible to ignore.

But simply put, we don’t know who wields the levers of power in Tehran. If the political dynamic often seems opaque to Iranians who actually live there, how much more so must it be to us westerners, who glimpse it only through the filters of mainstream media propaganda, from both sides, and the blinkers imposed by our respective security establishments?

It’s most likely Ayatollah Khamenei, the country’s supreme religious leader, who is making the final decisions. But in that event, why isn’t he the one reaching out to the west convincing us of the need for peace between us? Why is that task being delegated to the ceremonial office of the President? Are they just playing on our gullibility and ignorance?

It’s important to remember that Iran’s Mullahs are playing a much longer game than we in the West are. Fundamentally secure in their positions of power, they aren’t thinking in terms of the next election cycle; they’re thinking in terms of the next hundred, even thousand years. They’re content to wait for what they want, which is the global triumph of their cruel, hateful brand of Islam, and feel no great rush to make it happen by tomorrow.

With that in mind, what’s more likely; that a set of committed religious fanatics have magically decided to stop hating Western values of individual liberty and separation between religion and the state? Or that they’re willing to don false smiles to get the boot of crippling sanctions off their necks, revive their economy, relieve the domestic pressure on their authoritarian rule, and get ready for their next bout with the Great Satan?

I don’t know. Only time will tell. But I do know that if we’re making the wrong call here, all we’re doing is punting the football of Iran’s nuclear ambitions down the field for another generation to deal with, as so many politicians are wont to do in lieu of actually taking a risk.

I consider myself a man of the left. Not a doctrinaire socialist, not a conventional liberal, but definitely on the side of progress, change, and social justice rather than that of tradition, hierarchy, and deference to established norms and elites.

But I often find myself lamenting the strange, Faustian, and ultimately suicidal pact that quite a few sections of the western left seem to have made with a radical, hateful current of Islamic thought; A strain of thinking, exemplified by Hamas in Gaza and the Mullahs in Iran, that is content to use the unthinking, credulous support of fashionably leftist western kids while it is useful to them, but ultimately wants to destroy the very freedoms that make it possible for those kids to ironically wear pink keffiyehs at peace raves while making out with their gay lovers and quaffing illegal substances like candy. Hamas, ISIS, the Islamic Republic and their ilk have seemingly become edgy, provocative, and hip. The sort of people whose smouldering good looks you can put on the cover of Adbusters.

But they’re not our friends, nor are they our partners in the war against colonial western imperialism. They’re the vanguard of an ideological tyranny that, were it ever to succeed in its wildest dreams of world domination, would make the old colonial empires of the West look like utopias of brotherly love and tolerance. And Iran is where they first assumed real political power. Try going to a peace rave in Tehran.

The members of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, to name just one organizational example of the strange psychosis gripping the western left, would have been among the first to hang from cranes had they the bad fortune to have formed in pre-1979 Tehran.

Yet the truth is that most of us are not ideological zealots bent on ordering other people’s lives for them. Most of us, no matter where in the world we come from, are capable of treating other people as individuals, entitled to basic human decency, and not as products of our complicated cultures and pasts. There is hope for peace, and hope for a better world. A bunch of old men in Switzerland, however, do not represent that hope. And we shouldn’t pretend they do.

It was probably best said by the aforementioned Marjane Satrapi, so I’ll leave you with a thought from her.

Wise words, and true.

Rob Ford and Stephen Harper

In conservative media outlets in what is now many countries, Rob Ford has been receiving kid-glove treatment.

Sun News are not only going to continue airing the mayor and his brother’s hateful opinions to what they increasingly imagine is an adoring faithful, they’re going to pull out the big guns, like Ezra himself, to defend him. Fox News and CNN have sat him down in a chair and given him the cooing, Barbara Walters treatment. As I’ll note they have done for Hermain Cain, Bashar al Assad, Muammar Quadaffi, and other lunatics.

I’ve personally seen this spoken of on Facebook as far away as Israel. Total strangers in Britain, where I’ve lived on and off for years, people who have no earthly reason to know who Rob Ford is, have been asking me since last year about our national crack habits. Everyone’s following it. It’s the best thing going. Pure comedy.

There’s an extent to which this has gotten out of control. And I don’t think any of what has been going on is just about him. To be honest, now that he’s literally been sat in the corner with a dunce cap and told to get out of the way and let serious business resume, I’m tempted to forget about him completely and decide who we should have next.

But he’s not gone yet.

A little story has been doing the rounds in the Toronto media world. Apparently, years ago, during John Tory’s campaign against David Miller, Tory was convinced by his advisers that he simply had no choice but to talk to the Fords. Mother Diane, widow of the late Doug Ford Sr., founder of Deco Labels, and brothers Robbie and Doug. They were councillors at this point. Presumably positions in Mrs. Ford’s gift.

Tory wasn’t happy to be going to see them. I don’t entirely remember why. But his advisers apparently convinced him it was necessary. Presumably it’s very difficult to get anywhere in Etobicoke politically if you don’t have the Fords on side. They are, after all, one of the richest families in the area.

It went well. Tory turned on the charm, and won an endorsement. Apparently, the conversation ended with Diane exlaiming, ‘OK, you can have it this year, but next year it’s Robbie’s turn.’

Robbie’s turn has been ongoing since 2010. Really since he was first elected to city council. It hasn’t been going well, in case you’d noticed.

I wonder if I should be, but I’m massively insulted that they decided Toronto deserved this. That Rob Ford could possibly be worthy of this job.

Yet amid all the theatrics, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that there are powerful interests in this country that do not want him gone. And we’re being asked to assent to the fiction that they’re legion by people like the good citizens of the Sun News Network. I wonder if they even release their ratings.

There are no more people slavering over Sun News egging him on against those snooty, downtown, latte sipping types. No one actually thinks like that in this country. We’re actually decent people, for the most part. And fiscal conservatives en masse are not to blame for him. None of them saw this coming. Personally I don’t think they were looking hard enough, but then again, neither was anyone else really. Municipal politics are dull. Important, but dull. So people’s ears only really perked up when they heard about the crack.

He’s let his supporters down massively. They deserved better. Someone fit for purpose, at any rate. A mature, responsible adult. Surely we can set the bar at least that high, as a society?

The only people left in the country pretending that Rob Ford is still fit to be Mayor of Toronto are the people who stand far too much to benefit from him keeping the chair.

He’s not. Still fit to lead. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The fact that he’s still in office is farcically stupid., and every paper in the city now agrees he has to go. That he hasn’t been physically dragged from the building and run out of town on a rail is a testament to the fact that none of us seem to care. It’s an amusing side show. No more.

I don’t really exempt anyone from the blame for this, including myself. Toronto has gotten, in some ways, the leader it deserved. Things only get this bad if we let them.

But I don’t think that means we should lose sight of what we’re dealing with when we talk about the people who have kept Robbie perched, wobbling, in his chair for three long years. By that I mean the Big Blue Machine. The Conservative Party of Canada.

Robbie is the stupid cousin of the clique of powerful Conservative interests that this country increasingly functions for the benefit of. He had to have something. Had to keep Mrs. Ford happy. So why not have him be mayor of Toronto, and watch all those downtown lefties choke on it. It’s hard not to imagine smug grins in a quiet, warm room somewhere in Ottawa, and certainly in Calgary, when Ford donned the chain of office. Especially as, I’ll note, they did just fine with their progressive, generous mayor. We dealt with this buffoon. A man who shouts at his people when he doesn’t immediately get his way. Like a spoilt child. A feral 16 year old boy.

NDP or liberal types at City Hall, I’ll note, won’t tell you who they work for there. They take the independence of municipal government seriously.

I won’t forget who took Rob Ford fishing, repeatedly, at Harrington Lake. And neither should you. THAT’s what he thinks of you.

No pity for Rob Ford

Now that it’s over, people are making truly gargantuan efforts to summon some compassion for Rob Ford.

And it is over. Make no mistake about that. He will have to resign before next week. And the likelihood at this point is that he should go to rehab, if not jail.

Compassion is not misplaced here. He has an unmanageable personal problem that will eventually destroy him. He is descending into madness, live on international television. There’s nothing funny about him anymore, to be frank. The line between farce and tragedy has been crossed. I do feel for the guy.

But it’s a bit early for that.

If he had bowed out when the video was first discovered with a good grace, if he had acknowledged that his personal life was actively affecting his ability to govern the city, bringing disrepute upon all of us, and paralyzing the business of government, and if he had gone to rehab months ago, perhaps he could still reasonably have been spared the ordeal he now faces. If he had done so, he would be entitled not just to our compassion and to our forgiveness, but even to our respect.

But he hasn’t yet. And I’m beginning to suspect he never will. As a result, it’s premature to be feeling pity for this pathetic excuse for a public official, who as of my writing this, is still clinging to his job.

Because he’s a complete sociopath. Our media, with a few notable and laudable exceptions, have been subservient to the point of cowardice. Our Tory friends have been indulgent to the point of blindness. Ordinary citizens who happen to agree with Ford’s small, petty vision of City Hall, have been smug and obstreperous to the point of denial.

But he’s a bully, a liar, a coward, a hypocrite, and a cheat. A thug who associates with violent criminals

King of the Douchebags

Rob Ford, yesterday.

and who when he puts his arm around you, there’s a chance you’ll end up dead.

Too far, you may be saying. And no, I don’t know if Ford had the slightest thing to do with the cruel slaying of Anthony Smith.

But I’ll say this: the true depths to which our Mayor has sunk will only start to become clear in the coming weeks and months, as the evidence the Police have been building against him comes to light. I’m not ruling anything out. And neither should you. All the dirty laundry is about to come out. And it’s naive to think it’s going to be pretty.

And since we haven’t woken up this morning to a statement of resignation from the man himself, an announcement from the city or the province that he has been removed from office, or the sight of the Mayor of one of North America’s largest cities being led away in handcuffs, then we have a duty to go down to Nathan Philips Square and demand that we get it. This has gone far enough.

And frankly, Ford Nation, stripped as it now will be of all decent, right thinking people, should acknowledge that gracefully.

I think nothing less of people for having voted for Rob Ford. I genuinely don’t. There’s no way they could have seen this coming, and though I may disagree with some of them on how this city could best be run, I don’t in any way hold them personally accountable for what has happened at City Hall since 2010.

I do think less of anyone who still supports him now.

And to those of you who do? Who still want him to stick it to those downtown latte-sipping nancy boys? You know who Ford is? You know who the closest historical analogy I can think of to this shameless buffoon you seem to think it’s funny to impose on the rest of us? Benito Mussolini. With all that that implies about you.

You may hate the Toronto Star, and the people who read it, but they hate you right back, and with some justification. You called them liars, you called them maggots, and questioned their right to do their jobs and live their lives. You put not having to pay your fucking taxes over the good governance of the city, and you’ve turned a blind eye to the antics of a crackhead and a thug because you think he cares about people like you.

He doesn’t. But you know what? No one else does either. You’ve gotten the leader you deserve. It’s up to the rest of us now to clean up the mess you’ve made.

There should be no pity for Rob Ford, or his ‘nation.’ Not while he is still actively besmirching our city. He has brought this upon himself. When he has left office, apologized for crippling our municipal government, and begun taking responsibility for his life, then we can begin to forgive. Then we can begin to find compassion.

But not yet. This fight isn’t over. In some ways it’s just getting started.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev, Rolling Stone, and false simplicity.

I was horrified by the Boston Marathon. As was the civilized world. Slaughtering innocent people is always wrong. Period. And Dzokhar Tsarnaev will justly rot in jail.

But the only way to defeat this kind of terrorism, as the British, French, Israelis, and other countries that have known real terror know, is to ignore it. To call around, make sure your friends are OK, and then go to the pub and get on with your day. And to talk about it rationally.

But America, and much more so Canada, are very new to this game. Our generation has never known war, with a very few atypical exceptions. Neither has our parents. Our grandparents remembered the last one, but even then it was something that was happening elsewhere. To other people.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev is not other people. He was an American, and people who deny that deny that the word has any meaning at all. He looks like someone you know. Someone you could have grown up with. Someone familiar.

That’s what horrifies America about him. That’s what shakes a certain type of person to their very core.

And to see him on the cover of Rolling Stone, beneath letters that have framed all the young idols of a generation, from John Lennon to Bob Marley to Deadmau5, is deeply, deeply unsettling.

But the fault doesn’t lie with Rolling Stone for being good journalists after all, or for capitalizing on it. The fault lies with the racism of the public narrative that Rolling Stone is challenging. We’re being confronted with the ugly truth that ideology doesn’t have borders anymore, and that good little white kids can be just as monstrous as brown ones.

There have been literally thousands of suicide bombers across the Middle East. The walls and floors of Gaza are covered with posters and flyers with the faces of martyrs on them. I’m willing to bet good money that he’s not the first terrorist to have gotten this treatment. He’s not even the first American, if you think back to Dillinger, Manson, hell, even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He is, however, the first American Muslim.

But there are people, and plenty of them, who will never be comfortable with that idea. There’s a deep, vicious streak of bigotry in America. The same people who think Trayvon Martin was just one of ‘those people’ don’t know what to do with Dzokhar Tsarnaev. He doesn’t really compute.

I emphatically don’t extend the blame for this bigotry to the people of Boston, who are justifiably upset at having their emotions played with like this. I know my emotional response would be different if it was my home town, and my friends in the firing line.

I don’t even really blame the bigots. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to believe easy narratives. It’s so much simpler to live in a black-and-white, Manichean world where the bad guys are always hideous orcs and the goodies invariably win the day. Everything takes on a kind of false clarity.

But the world isn’t that simple. People are good, and people are bad. Ideology, which we’ve pretended for twenty long, dull years of neo-liberalism is a spent force, never goes away, and it makes people kill.

It’s the same reason that the parents of the children killed at Utoya by Anders Behring Breivik were so relieved that the court found him sane. They didn’t want him to have that excuse. His Manifesto was rambling, it was thick-headed, it was barbaric, and it was hateful. It wasn’t lunatic. No matter what people tell themselves.

It’s the same reason it rankles with some people that Michael Adebolajo, who brutally hacked Drummer Rigby to death in the street outside Woolwich Barracks, is being given a civilian trial. Soldiers are somehow different. In foreign countries, they’re legitimate military targets. And i wonder what Michael Adebolajo genuinely thinks about his British passport.

People are not hateful. People are not evil. Ideologies are. There are good ones, and there are evil ones, yes. But to imagine that the choices between them will always be simple and obvious is a comforting delusion.

Lots of people

Canada should Boycott the Sochi Olympics.

The world will converge on the Black Sea resort of Sochi; site of Vladimir Putin’s summer residence, for the Winter Olympics in 2014. The spectacle will be tremendous, and the coverage breathless.

I won’t be watching. None of us should. We shouldn’t send a single team. Neither should any other civilized country.

Canada’s absence would be noted. By more than one nation. Indeed, many countries might feel that we’ve set an example. These are our games. The ones in which we stand a decent shot at a medal count that more than rivals that of China and the United States. We expect the hockey gold as our right, and our failure to achieve it triggers bursts of national soul searching like that which followed the 1998 Nagano Olympic loss.

We shouldn’t compete for it next year.

Because what is happening in Russia to the LGBT community is barbaric. It is twisted, it is evil, and we have seen it before. The IOC feels obliged to reassure gay athletes attending the games that they will be safe. Which is a pretty good indication that they won’t be.

When 50 members of Russia’s LGBT community attempted to celebrate pride this year, they were attacked in the street with rocks, and then carted away by police. I honestly don’t know if they’ve been seen since.

Gay tourists have been told, quite frankly, that they face criminal prosecution if they show any affection, have any meetings, or even so much as display a pride flag.

Let me put it this way. Bryan Burke’s son would never have played hockey again after that became public knowledge. He would have been openly hounded in the street, and probably arrested.

Not a single gay NHLer, and I suspect there are more than one even now, should attend this. They will not be safe. If they want a precedent, they should think of 1936, when the civilized world should probably have not sent teams to the Berlin olympics. If you think this is an exaggerated comparison, I remind you that it wasn’t for any German Jew, Gay, Gypsy, dissident, or other minority. They probably watched those Olympics. And most of them were dead before there was ever another games.

No, I don’t make that comparison lightly, and yes, I think that Vladimir Putin is that evil.

No one is safe while this is happening. No one is ever safe while this is happening. If you think you are, I assure you, they will come for you too in the end.

Russians love hockey. They live for it as much as we do. They’ll feel cheated if we’re not there to beat. Like they haven’t really won.

We can make a difference by doing this. We can be proud of our country.

In fact, there’s already a petition. Please sign it. It’s the right thing to do.

#IdleNoMore: A White Man’s Conversion

I was born and raised in Canada. I love it viscerally. I have travelled widely, but life would not be worth living if I could never go home.

It is a beautiful land. Few places on earth compare. And the incomparable beauty of the land is matched, by and large, by the spirit of the people who live in it. Kind-hearted, generous, fair minded and decent. We have our share of clowns and shits, just like any nation. But our instincts are good. We want to believe the best in human nature, and we’ve been brought up to aspire to it.

But that’s easy for me to say. I’m a WASP from Toronto; born into privilege and luxury, and the heart of the Canadian establishment. I try and excuse myself this through the fact of my rampant homosexuality, but the fact remains that by background and upbringing I am the quintessence of white.

And that whiteness has come with certain privileges. I grew up in a beautiful, upper-middle class part of North Toronto, attended elite private schools, and graduated from Oxford University not long ago; a place which, despite its best intentions to change, remains at bottom a proving ground for young members of the global establishment.

I have to face up to that. And writing this is, in part, an exercise in doing so. But while I’m perhaps an extreme example of white privilege, I don’t think I’m alone in needing to face up to the fact that my economic comfort and security comes from my background. I think a lot of us have a lot of hard truths to face, and a lot of serious thinking to do about the unique privilege of being Canadian.

A privilege for which we owe indigenous Canadians quite a lot.

Canada is the most perfectly realized colonial state in the world. Some may rankle at the use of the word, but it remains the accurate one. We are a settler colony of the former British Empire, whose founding, which we celebrated just the other day, dates from an uneasy accommodation of the interests of two different ethnic European groups; the French and the British. It was a celebrated bit of deal making, and it laid the groundwork for what was to come.

Our political instincts run to consensus and compromise. Indeed, those two things are necessary in order for us to get anything done in the system we’ve built. We have never succumbed to chauvinism, or denied our origins as a nation of migrants. We have kept the door open, and build a strong, multicultural community. And as a result, our immigrant society is peaceful, ordered, tranquil, and prosperous.

But it has never included aboriginal Canadians.

It’s patronizing to pretend otherwise. It’s our dirty little secret as a country. The thing we don’t often advertise, but the simple truth. The outright contempt for indigenous peoples that is rampant in the Conservative Party notwithstanding, the pious bleating of our two opposition political parties, which represent between them the decent majority of Canadians, can give a false impression of respect and deference for aboriginal peoples. and stunts like the appropriation of symbols like the Inukshuk for the Vancouver Olympic games, ridiculously inappropriate as it was, can give us the impression that we respect and value aboriginal culture. That we have atoned for the sins of our ancestors, and that our government essentially treats the indigenous population with dignity. The truth is rather different.

The truth is that, as Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox points out on the #IdleNoMore website, ‘for the most part, settlers simply have no clue, are not engaged in a relationship with Indigenous peoples, and assume that the government is following the rule of law and doing right by Indigenous peoples.’

The truth is that for most Canadians, the plight of aboriginal peoples in this country only becomes truly visible when they stand up and take action to shake us out of our indifference, like they did at Oka, or like they’re doing now with #IdleNoMore. Or when the mainstream media deigns to notice the plight of communities like Attawapiskat, and the scandalous deprivation that is their normal. And when they do intrude on our consciousness, the backlash of racism, contempt, and sanctimony that inevitably follows is as disheartening as it is insidious.

The truth is that Canada has a long way to go as a society before it can truly be said to include everyone who lives within its borders.

This is partly because of the fact that aboriginal Canadians make up a very small (albeit rapidly growing) portion of our national demographic. On the streets of our major cities you are unlikely to hear Cree, Ojibwe or Mohawk amid the babel of languages from every corner of the earth you can otherwise hear. Nor are our children likely to know their fellow indigenous Canadians in their classes and in their schools. I think few in urban, middle class Canadian life can claim that they have many native friends and neighbours in the big cities of Canada. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, as there are to any, but I doubt they are legion.

So I’m going to commit here to try and make myself an exception. I’m going to consciously make myself an ally of the First Nations, because we’re going to need more of them in the months and years ahead. Harper’s reign will continue at least until 2015. There is still room for him to do incalculable amounts of damage to our country. It is up to us to stand up to him.

This post represents my personal rejection of much of the conventional wisdom and easy complacency of Canadian life.

Indeed, when I first heard the words Idle No More, I thrilled a little. It was such a direct challenge. Such an inescapable truth.

We have been idle, as a nation. We’ve been bought with comfort and easy living. We acquiesce in the destruction of our environment, the emasculation of our social programs, and the assault on our very democratic heritage by the neo-conservative Harper Government because we’re very well sedated by the pleasures of a fully developed and peaceful capitalist society.

#IdleNoMore represents a challenge to that society. A clarion call to all of us to rise from our apathetic slumber and do something to protect the land we love from those who seek to rape it.

Native Canadians are challenging the rest of us to live up to our own best instincts. To change the way we think. To acknowledge that there are some truths older than capitalism; firmer foundations for society than endless resource extraction; better ways to live than mad, unthinking consumerism, and that we ignore them at our peril

As Martin Lukacs put it succintly in the eminent British newspaper The Guardian, ‘finally honouring Indigenous rights is not simply about paying off Canada’s enormous legal debt to First Nations: it is also our best chance to save entire territories from endless extraction and destruction. In no small way, the actions of Indigenous peoples – and the decision of Canadians to stand alongside them – will determine the fate of the planet.’

I for one, accept that challenge. I refuse to be passive any longer. I refuse to wait on larger forces to get their act together. And above all, I refuse to be complicit in the crimes of my government against the environment, against society, and against democracy. I am Idle No More. From this day, until my last day.

The Surreal Survival of Rob Ford

Can this really be happening?

Not the mayor smoking crack. I accept that. He clearly lacks even basic amounts of self-control, and would smoke whatever was put in front of his fat face if he knew it would earn him a vote. (It’s the second-to-last quote, but read them all. And know that this man still holds high public office.)

Not the insane international attention Toronto has been receiving. Insanity, crude farce, and spectacular governmental collapse are intrinsically interesting everywhere, and we shouldn’t be surprised that the world is smugly laughing behind their hands at us.

Not the fact that His Worship Rob Ford’s response to the circus he’s inflicted on all of us is some sort of wounded spite, as though we’re the ones responsible for this situation.

No, none of this fazes me. Let alone shocks me.

What shocks me is that we’re moving on from this. Without his resignation. Hell, screw his resignation. Without his immediate removal from office.

Admittedly, I’ve been watching this whole spectacle unfold from across the ocean in London. Which in some ways makes it a doubly surreal experience. (Total strangers, who have no reason on earth to know who the Mayor of Toronto is, laugh at me when I say I’m from Toronto, and ask me if I want some crack.)

But now inertia seems to have finally set in. The media attention has gradually drained away as nothing new emerges, and even the Toronto Star have been forced to move on to other things. The pundits, the public, and the world at large have gradually ceased to care.

And Rob Ford remains.

Toronto will linger on in a state of inertia and despair. And there’s not a damn thing we’ll be able to do about it until next year, when after he’s trounced in the election, I suspect that he’ll have to be physically dragged from his office.

Guess I’d better find some crack. It would appear to be a wonderfully effective way to kill my sense of shame.