Canada’s military intervention in Afghanistan and its relationship with the media was brought up at the second annual “Paix Quebec Peace” conference held on Feb. 4. Speakers debated the war’s merit spanning geopolitical, political and moral factors of Canada’s six-year involvement.
Hosted by Canadian Centres for Teaching Peace (CCTP), its goal was to organize provincial conferences to bring together peace educators, activists and citizens interested in learning and exchanging ideas to develop a “national strategy for peace.”
The over-arching theme of discussion for panelists was “Being the Change: Can Canadians be Leaders for Peace?” Roughly 500 people attended the event, held at the Montreal Biosphere.
Taking up the issue of Canada’s role in the war in Afghanistan, Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair of the NDP voiced his opposition to Canada’s combat role.
Focusing on the Manley Report, a recent study on Canada’s future in Afghanistan headed by former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, Mulcair said its recommendation to bring 1,000 more NATO troops to Southern Afghanistan to help Canadian Forces does not resolve the moral dilemma of Canada’s military involvement.
“The war is still not justified,” he said. “What is the role of peace in the world? The next step is that people start to question the development of conflicts: is it the only way out?”
He also said that governments have strayed away from their responsibilities to protect, and he believes that it is necessary to protect people and exercise restraint for a common good. The NDP is proposing as part of its election platform a Ministry for Peace, according to Mulcair.
The event “Peace, Power, and the Press: Reinforcing or Deconstructing Mainstream Power Structures?” gave rise to a heated debate between Centre de ressources sur la non-violence representative Normand Beaudet and Montreal Gazette Afghanistan correspondent Alison Lampert.
Beaudet believes that the war is a simple case of opportunism, with the West pursuing economic interests in the region – chiefly resources – whereas Lampert believes that the conflict is much more complex than Canadians understand.
Lampert’s ideas reflected the findings of the Manley Report which, on the issue of public opinion in Canada towards the war, concluded that Canadians are ill-informed.
Recently back from Afghanistan, Lampert asked the audience: “Who is the enemy of the Afghan people?” Some in the audience responded: “The Afghan people.” Lampert then asked: “Who is the enemy of NATO countries?” Mixed answers came from the audience. She went on to stress her point: the problem is that the average Canadian reader cannot come up with full answers to these questions and it indicated the failure of alternative and mainstream media as well as of the Canadian government.
She said that although local Afghans take issue with foreign powers intervening in their country, “they do not name Canada, they name Pakistan. It’s more complicated war than a lot of people understand.”
She also referred to a bleak finding which reflects the limitations of Canadian reporters only stationed in the south region of Afghanistan, in Kandahar.
“Readers might know that opium is growing in Afghanistan, but you might not know that the number of opium-free provinces has doubled,” she said, referring to a 2007 UN survey on drug production in the war-torn country.
Beaudet said the war could be reduced to one simple factor: oil. He said that the enemy of the United States is Iran, the third or fourth oil producing power in the world.
“The three countries of strong economic development are Russia, China and India, where economic activity will develop in the coming years, and the West is in the middle ground between these growing powers, also taking advantage of the richness of the Caspian Sea. So if the West wants to compete with these three nations, the war in Afghanistan is the option.”
Beaudet said that the truth can be seen from a distance. “There is no need to be in Afghanistan to understand what the war is for or what the strategy of Iran is,” he said. “If we understand where Afghanistan is geographically, there is no doubt.”
Ophelie Lechat, an economics and political science student at the Université de Montréal said that while the beginning of the debate was calm enough, with every participant explaining what they thought was the media’s place in furthering ideas about peace, the end was somewhat chaotic.
“The atmosphere of the debate was changed, and showed why it’s important to screen panelists carefully, lest they go off on a tangent in a fit of passion. Overall, a lot of time was wasted on one issue -the reasons behind the war [in Afghanistan], and the mainstream media’s hiding of the ‘true reasons’ and so the debate didn’t address the true question: how can the media help teach peace?”
For more information about the event, visit www.paixquebecpeace.ca