Entries from November 2007

Catching The Cfl Spirit

David Frum November 24th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

“The war has not progressed altogether as we would have wished.”

With those words, the Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan in August, 1945. They also neatly describe this season’s performance by the Toronto Argonauts: a stunning come-from-behind surge culminating in an embarrassing collapse in the finals.

Last weekend, my sister Linda wrote in the National Post of her evolution from sports widow to Argo cheerleader. I’ve followed a similar path. She was led along the way by her husband, team co-owner Howard Sokolowski. I’ve been tugged by my son, Nathaniel.

Thursday was Thanksgiving Day in the United States. In Washington, where we live, the day was an especially beautiful and balmy one: Nearly 21 Celsius, fall colours, perfect weather for a turkey dinner followed by a long walk with the dogs up the banks of the scenic Potomac River.

But that’s not what I was doing. I spent much of the day at Washington Reagan National Airport, waiting for a plane to arrive from frozen Toronto to fly my son and me up to Toronto for the big game. Our flight, originally scheduled for 9 a.m., at last departed at nearly 2 p.m. As we circled over Pearson Airport, I looked out at the snow and ice and grumbled to Nathaniel, “Most people would make this trip in the opposite direction.” He ignored me. He’s used to doing that, on anything to do with competitive sports.

Almost all my life, I have hated watching sports. When I was young, my father had season tickets for the Argos at the old CNE stadium. He took me along, a father-son thing. I brought my book and read through the games.

God settled that account by giving me in my turn a son who will watch literally anything that involves a ball, a goal and a trophy. He draws the line at darts. His special love is baseball and the New York Yankees. When he was younger, he loved watching old World Series on DVD. “Doesn’t it bore you that you already know how the game turned out?” He explained, “No, that way I don’t have to worry the Yankees might lose.”

He will even watch soccer. On a family vacation to Mexico, we stayed at a resort without televisions in the room. Nathaniel discovered that the hotel staff had a big screen set up near the kitchen with satellite reception to watch some big playoff match. Off he wandered to join the crowd. Later he explained that he did not think soccer was much of a game–but it was better than nothing.

I’ve always been a huge disappointment to him in the sporting regard. I buy tickets and take him to games, but he senses my lack of enthusiasm. “Didn’t you ever like sports?” he once asked me. “I rowed crew in college. In high school I ran cross-country and studied fencing.” “Crew? Fencing?” he retorted with disgust. “That’s not nerdy.”

Then in 2004, Nathaniel’s beloved uncle became involved with the Argos–and CFL football joined the list of passions. After an interval of more than three decades, the Argos re-entered my life. And unlike my indulgent father, my son positively forbade me to bring books to the game.

I took him to the 2004 Grey Cup in Ottawa to watch the Argos’ last championship game.

Nathaniel has lived in Washington since he was three years old. He had never encountered anything quite as unearthly cold as a metal bench on a late November weekend on the Rideau. Then he opened his eyes really wide: In the middle of this moons-of-Mars cold, semi-nude fans were drinking huge casks of beer.

These CFL fans–well they were different from any kind of fans he had ever seen before. I took him once to a Canadiens game in Montreal. Those fans were expert and reverent. They began applauding a fine play almost at the first stroke, anticipating and understanding the move to follow. Nobody would describe CFL fans as “reverent.” Especially not the ones we saw at a restaurant on Thursday night wearing tie-dyed mullet hairdos and BC Lions jerseys as they put back an amazing depth of oddly coloured cocktails.

It’s a different kind of experience. And maybe it’s just nostalgia at work, but I have to admit: I sort of missed the old league. Your children lead you back to your own childhood. So thanks Nathaniel–and thanks Argos. Here’s to a great Grey Cup. And not to be a sore loser or anything, but isn’t there any way both non-Toronto teams could lose?

L’affaire Al-dura

David Frum November 17th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

I want to tell you about a forgery. The forgers intended to incite hatred against Jews and the state of Israel and to a great extent, they have succeeded. The forgery is a 55-second film clip that purports to show the shooting death of a 12-year-old boy at a Gaza crossroads after a Palestinian irregular attack on an Israeli blockhouse. The clip was broadcast on France’s TV 2 on Sept. 30, 2000, and narrated by one of France’s best known television journalists, Charles Enderlin.

The boy–his name given as Mohammad al-Dura–immediately became a global symbol of Israeli brutality, a Palestinian pieta. When a Palestinian mob ripped apart the bodies of two Israeli reservists in October, 2000, they did so to chants of “Revenge for the blood of al-Dura!” In the Islamic world, the shooting of al-Dura has become the archetypical Israeli atrocity, for which no reprisal can be too horrific. Al-Dura’s prone body appears in rock videos, in television sermons, even on an Egyptian postage stamp.

Yet evidence has been gathering for years that the al-Dura shooting was entirely staged.

¥ The 55-seconds are not a continuous sequence, but are made up of six distinct pieces, crudely spliced together.

¥ There is no shot of the boy actually being hit, nor is there any sign of blood. Nor does the father make any move toward his son.

¥ The crowd in the background cries out that the boy is dead before he falls over. Although the boy was supposed to have been hit in the stomach, his hands are shown covering his eyes.

¥ Video of the incident taken by other photographers shows passersby walking unconcernedly between the crouching al-Duras and the Israeli post from which the bullets were supposedly fired.

¥ Video taken by other photographers shows a cameraman crouching behind the man and boy.

¥ Although TV2 claims to have 27 minutes of raw footage of the shooting, it has persistently refused to make that footage available to the public. Even now, with the matter in litigation, TV2 has failed to provide the courts with the raw material from which its broadcast clip was assembled.

An American academic, Richard Landes, a professor of medieval history at Boston University, has worked for years to expose the fraud. He has collected his documentary evidence at the two sites: print material at TheAugeanStables.com and video critique at www.seconddraft.org. I urge you to visit his site and watch his evidence: it is, as the lawyers say, dispositive. Yet perhaps the most scathing critic of the Enderlin clip is Charles Enderlin himself.

Although Enderlin narrated and vouched for the Dura clip, he himself was nowhere near the action. He was in Ramallah that day, reporting from the West Bank. The sequence was produced by a freelance Palestinian cameraman, Talal Abu-Rahma.

In 2003, Landes persuaded Enderlin to show him some of the raw footage recorded by Abu-Rahma on the fatal day.

An Israeli cameraman working for France2 who was watching the film with me and Enderlin at the time, snickered at one point. When I asked him why, he said, “because it looks so fake.” To which Enderlin responded, “Oh, they do that all the time. It’s their cultural style. They exaggerate.”

But Rahma was not exaggerating. He knew exactly what he was doing. Accepting an award in Morocco in 2001 for his work, he told a reporter: “I went into journalism to carry on the fight for my people.” Perhaps out of sympathy, perhaps out of laziness, perhaps out of vanity, Enderlin has put his credibility at the service of Rahma’s forgery.

Last year, when a French media critic named Serge Karsenty publicly condemned the broadcast, Enderlin sued him for defamation. Enderlin won, in large part because French president Jacques Chirac directly intervened in the case to testify to Enderlin’s character.

The case was appealed, and last week the new proceedings opened in a Paris courtroom.

It is important to remember that Enderlin is the plaintiff here. It is Enderlin who is trying to use the courts to silence his critics. And behind Enderlin is France’s state broadcaster–and a former French president.

It is hard not to see parallels to another famous forgery case that also implicated much of the upper reaches of the French government–the Dreyfus Affair. Then too, much of the French government connived in an anti-Semitic forgery. Then too, the forgers used the law of defamation to try to silence their leading critic, Emile Zola.

Of course, some things have changed in the past century. Enderlin is himself Jewish.

You have to give contemporary anti-Semitism credit at least for this. It is an equal-opportunity employer, willing to employ people of all races and backgrounds to defame Jews and the Jewish state.

Remembering A Great War For Democracy

David Frum November 10th, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

It’s just one exhibit at the Canadian War Museum: an interactive display that allows you to punch in a name of a First World War soldier and see his enlistment papers. It does not sound very dramatic. Until you try it.

I entered the name of my wife’s grandfather, a veteran of the Western front. A short pause. . .and there it was, all in his own handwriting: Frederic Franklin Worthington. Address, nationality, next of kin, all inscribed in a young man’s vigorous script.

The date was April, 1916, almost two full years into the war, millions already dead. And this particular young man was not so very young: 26, more than old enough to know what he was getting himself into.

This particular young man survived that war and rose to become one of Canada’s most famous generals: “Worthy” Worthington, whose nickname my youngest daughter carries as one of her middle names, alongside that of my own great-grandmother, murdered in Poland by the Nazis.

The First World War seems remote to modern Canadians. Barely one Canadian in three can identify the event commemorated on Nov. 11. For those with better memories, the war is dwarfed by the more recent memories of 1939-45–or dismissed with a shrug as a meaningless slaughter.

But when you flip through page after page of handwritten commitments by the volunteers of 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918, you are confronted with a reality sharper than memory. Here in digitized reproductions of the original black ink is the ultimate individual declaration of commitment. Between 1914 and 1918, 600,000 Canadians–out of a total population of only seven million–served in the armed forces, most of them as volunteers. Some 67,000 died; more than 170,000 were wounded or maimed. By war’s end, the Canadian Corps had established itself as the most effective fighting force on the Western Front. Between August and November, 1918, Canadians would spearhead the series of battles that broke the German Army and won the war.

For the young men whose signatures are memorialized in Ottawa, the war was anything but meaningless. And they were right.

The Germany that invaded France in 1914 was not the deranged murder machine later built by the Nazis (although the German occupation of Belgium pioneered many of the brutal methods the Nazis would later use in Poland and Ukraine).

But a German victory in that first war would have done very nearly as much damage to democracy in Europe as a Germany victory in the second–and in that first war, the odds in favour of Germany stood much higher. Fully as much as the Second World War, the First deserves to be remembered as a great war for democracy, fought under conditions far more terrible.

Our free and democratic modern world is a gift paid for by the fearsome sacrifices of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. Yet our remembrance is dulled, consigned to one annual semi-holiday or a few specialized zones of commemoration.

We owe more, and let me offer a suggestion of what that “more” should be: We are rapidly approaching the centennial of the First World War. Let’s begin planning now for a commemoration equal to the stupendous scale of the war itself. A federal memorial commission should invite provinces, cities, towns, universities, schools, foundations and charities across Canada to propose commemorative events–one every day from Aug. 4, 2014 until Nov. 11, 2018. One a day because there can scarcely have been a day over those four-and-a-half years when a Canadian did not give his life for the sake and benefit of those living in freedom now.

If done right, a new generation of Canadians would be taught why so many Canadian schools and streets bear the name “Courcelette”–would be encouraged to pay their respects at the war graves of Flanders and Picardy–and would come to appreciate that there is more to Canadian military history than peacekeeping.

Canada is of course a very different country today than it was in 1914. And some are bashful to suggest that people whose families arrived more recently in Canada share a story with those whose families did the bleeding a century ago. But that is what it means to be a nation.

It is a cliche to say that a nation that has no past has no future. Cliches get to be cliches by being true. The work of remembrance is not only a duty to those who are gone. It is a duty to those who remain. Let’s use this looming series of anniversaries to rededicate Canadians to that work.

Losing The Battle Against Anti-americanism

David Frum November 3rd, 2007 at 12:00 am Comments Off

In the movie “Wag the Dog,” an embattled president hires a Hollywood producer to retrieve his image. The producer presents the president with a speech. Top aides read it over and pronounce it “corny.” The producer explodes in rage. “Corny? Corny? Of course itÕs corny!”

Nobody except extreme political junkies had ever heard of Karen Hughes back then. But soon all the world was to become familiar with the style of work anticipated by the authors of “Wag the Dog.” As one of the most trusted aides of George W. Bush, Hughes served in 2001-2003 White House communications director, and thus incidentally, my boss.

In 2005, Bush assigned Hughes responsibility for AmericaÕs public diplomacy – raising the countryÕs image in the world. Hughes resigned this week, to almost unanimously negative reviews.

Why did Karen Hughes so signally fail? Hint: It was not just her corniness. No, the real problem was a massive, central failure of strategy – a failure that now threatens the success of the entire Bush foreign policy.

As Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Hughes focused her attentions on the Middle East.

For this job, she was never a natural candidate. As one critic wrote soon after she started work in the spring of 2005:

“Let’s say some Muslim leader wanted to improve Americans’ image of Islam. It’s doubtful that he would send as his emissary a woman in a black chador who had spent no time in the United States, possessed no knowledge of our history or movies or pop music, and spoke no English beyond a heavily accented ÔGood morning.Õ”

But even had Hughes spoken fluent Arabic and spent years in the region, her project still would have disastrously failed. It was President Bush himself who explained why. According to him (in for example his speech to the UN in September 2006), Middle Eastern violence has its origins in Middle Eastern political, economic, and social failures of the Middle East. Thus President Bush at the UN in September 2006: “For decades, millions of men and women in the region have been trapped in oppression and hopelessness. And these conditions left a generation disillusioned, and made this region a breeding ground for extremism.”

If this analysis is correct, Middle Eastern extremism would not respond to a “talking cure.” It will abate only when political conditions in the region are changed. Which suggested that HughesÕ attempts to win over Middle Easterners by presenting the United States as a country that shared their values and respected their faith was doomed from the start.

And so it proved.

Hughes reacted by redefining her mission. Instead of representing the administration in the Middle East, Hughes began to see it as her job to represent the Middle East to the administration. She became an advocate for downplaying the democracy initiative and reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks.

But this too created a paradox. If only actions, not words, could change the Middle East, then the United States was going to need help – and allies. In which case, the greatest need for public diplomacy was not in the Middle East, where public diplomacy could accomplish nothing, but in Europe and East Asia, where it could accomplish much.

Yet here, Hughes sacrificed real opportunities in pursuit of her Middle Eastern mirage.

In February 2006, a year into HughesÕ tenure, erupted the Danish cartoon controversy. Denmark – a NATO ally that had committed troops to both Afghanistan and Iraq – faced a global campaign of abuse and aggression. HughesÕ State Department responed by denouncing … the Danes:

“These cartoons are indeed offensive to the beliefs of Muslims. We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable. We call for tolerance and respect for all communities and for their religious beliefs and practices.”

These words won America no friends in the Islamic world. But they cost the US some of its once closest supporters in Denmark.

One of the hardest things in diplomacy is to remember what it is you set out to do. All too often it happens that diplomats who set out to transform adversaries end up being transformed by their adversaries. That is the story of Karen Hughes – and it is her unhappy legacy.