Selling Potash Corp, greed and market fundamentalism

By Dennis Gruending

The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan is poised for sale to the highest bidder, and shareholders, not to mention company executives, stand to stuff their pockets from a deal when and if it occurs. The company has spurned as inadequate an offer of $38.6-billion (U.S.) from an Australian-based giant called BHP Billiton and has also been in talks with other companies, including two from China. The great and tragic irony for the people of Saskatchewan is that in 1989 a provincial government sold Crown-owned PCS for $630 million, a minute fraction of what it may sell for now. It’s like selling your house and having the new owner flip it for 60 times the price. What has this to do with a blog called Pulpit and Politics? Let’s start with the morality of greed, market fundamentalism, and the common good.

I was a young journalist with a ringside seat in Saskatchewan in 1975 when a government led by Premier Allan Blakeney took over half of the potash industry. I later wrote a biography of Blakeney called Promises to Keep and the potash story is told in that book. Potash (potassium chloride) is used as a component in farm fertilizers, which are in growing demand, notably in China and India, countries that have enormous populations to feed. Saskatchewan has the largest potash deposits in the world.

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Christians fleeing Middle East, says William Dalrymple

By Dennis Gruending

I travelled with my family in India in 2008 and my most useful guide was the writing of a Scot named William Dalrymple. This past spring we travelled in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan and found that Dalrymple has done it again in his book From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium, which was first published in 1997. Dalrymple searched out and described Christian communities in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel (including the occupied West Bank), and Egypt. While the book is a bit dated, it remains a compelling and useful resource describing the disturbing reality that Christians are either being forced out or are leaving the countries that he profiles. The most accommodating nation in the region is Syria and even there Christians fear for their future.

Dalrymple says that the great flowering of Christianity in the Middle East began after the Roman emperor Constantine declared in the 4th century that Christianity would be the official religion of the empire. The golden age, embodied in the Byzantine Christianity, lasted for about 300 years, until the rise of Islam in the 7th century. During that time, Dalrymple writes, “the Levant was the heartland of Christianity and the centre of Christian civilization.” But he writes that Christianity is suffering “a devastating decline in the land of its birth.”

Dalrymple certainly is not anti-Muslim. He says that for centuries the predominantly Muslim countries of the Ottoman Empire practiced a far greater tolerance for Christians and Jews in their midst than Christian countries of Europe did for either Jews or Muslims. “Only in the 20th century has that tolerance been replaced by new hardening in Islamic attitudes,” Dalrymple says, adding that this is in great part due to a series of humiliations visited upon Muslim countries by the West. “Almost everywhere . . . the Christians are leaving,” he says.

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Banning the veil

By Dennis Gruending

France’s National Assembly recently approved a bill that would make it illegal to wear in public garments such as the niqab or burqa, which incorporate a full-face veil. Similar laws are in force or being contemplated in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Supporters of the legislation say that veils are a provocative symbol of Muslim fundamentalism that has no place in a secular country. They say as well that the veil is more of a cultural than a religious symbol and that it is not essential to Muslim worship. Those who would do away with the veil see themselves as liberating women from a certain oppressive interpretation of Islam. On the other hand, opponents of the legislation say that it is discriminatory against Muslims, that it offends religious liberty, and that it is not the business of the state to tell people how they should dress.

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Demographic winter and the religious right

By Dennis Gruending Recently I received an email message urging me to read and then pass it along if I want to save Western civilization. The subject line said: Joys of A Muslim Woman: A MUST READ. Actually, it was not about joy at all but was an alarmist rant against Muslims. It was also an example of a recent fetish about “demographic winter”, which has become a favourite preoccupation with the religious right in the United States and to some extent in Canada. The message that I received provides material drawn from an author named Nonie Darwish.  She is of Egyptian heritage and her father was a senior officer in the Egyptian army until the Israelis killed him in 1956. Nonie moved to the U.S. in 1978 and became an evangelical Christian. She has written several books and has become prominent on the right wing lecture circuit and media. She is also founder of a group called Arabs For Israel and director of another called Former Muslims United.

One of Darwish’s books is called Cruel and Unusual Punishment:The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. Her American publisher describes it as “a wake up call to the Western world.” The book blurb continues as follows: “Nonie Darwish presents an insider’s look at sharia and examines how radical Muslim laws are destroying the Western world from within . . . Heed this warning: sharia law is attempting to infiltrate Western culture and destroy democracy.” The viral message I received contained much the same admonition.

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People First and Toronto’s G20 summit

By Dennis Gruending

I spent two days in Toronto on June 26-27 during the G20 summit of world political leaders. I was doing communications-related work for a peaceful rally and march organized by labour and citizens’ groups (including some churches) on Saturday. It was a day that was to turn nasty late in the afternoon when a small group of people began to commit acts of vandalism. I took the photo shown here on Queen Street while upwards of 30 thousand people were marching peacefully in the rain. In the left corner of the frame, a young girl walks carrying an umbrella and behind her a man holds the hand of his female companion. In the centre is a banner that says people should come before profits and that public services essential to citizens must be protected. There are also people carrying flags identifying their unions – the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Service Employees International Union and others.

The People First rally began in the pouring rain at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s parliament building. A group of dark-clad police officers were ranged in front of the entrance. They treated any demonstrators who came near to them in a friendly but non-committal manner. The event’s sponsoring organizations included the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace and the Canadian Federation of Students. The march began after about 30 minutes of introductions and speeches. The route was to take about 90 minutes, although it was awhile before the crowd of thousands could file its way into the street.

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The Armageddon Factor and its critics

By Dennis Gruending

I wrote in a recent post about Marci McDonald’s book The Armageddon Factor, which traces the growing political influence of Canada’s religious right. McDonald has clearly struck a nerve – two bodyguards accompanied her at a recent Calgary event to promote her book. Reviews and interviews with her (and her critics) have been everywhere since the book was released in mid-May. On the week ending June 5th, The Armageddon Factor was ranked second on The Globe and Mail’s list of hardcover sales among Canadian titles. McDonald and her work have also been the object of close attention among reviewers, Op Ed writers and bloggers. Let’s look at some of the comments.

Charge from the right

The charge from the right was led by the National Post and featured some of its regular polemicists. They included the ubiquitous Ezra Levant, who in his subtle and gracious way described McDonald as a “bigot” against Christians, Jews and Sikhs. On his blog he called her a “Christian hater” and described her as  “bigoted, sloppy, error-prone, smug.” On his Twitter feed, Levant said this: “Watching Marci McDonald on TV. What a hateful bigot. If she spoke this way about Jews, she’d be run out of town as an anti-Semite.” Levant and some others throw this latter accusation around rather casually these days.

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Armageddon Factor traces religious right

By Dennis Gruending

I am just back from travelling for several weeks in the Middle East and that has disrupted my blog writing. I will write about that trip in weeks to come but I want now to talk about a book by veteran investigative reporter Marci McDonald about the religious right. McDonald’s book, The Armageddon Factor, has been four years in its gestation and had its origin in a long piece called Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons, which she wrote for The Walrus magazine in October 2006.

It’s high time that someone wrote such a book and in doing so MacDonald has performed a significant public service. Her thesis is that in recent years the religious right has moved, incrementally, from the margins to the centre of influence in Canadian political life, and has lent its best efforts to Stephen Harper and the Conservative government. Harper, in return, has courted a constituency of conservative Protestants, Catholics and Jews in an attempt to embed them in his political coalition.

I have written about this many times on this blog and elsewhere but never as comprehensively and systematically as McDonald has done in her book. She recounts how, upon her return to Canada in 2002 following some years in the United States, she was surprised to find how successfully the religious right had been in establishing itself in this country. This is a development that mainstream journalists in Canada have missed almost entirely. In the U.S., there has been a good deal of writing and discussion about the influence of the religious right, which hitched its political wagon to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s presidential campaign and has remained a bulwark of support for the Republicans ever since. Journalists have a responsibility to probe these connections but in Canada they have been either reluctant or not competent to do so. They may be content to believe those Canadian academics that say there is no discernible religious right in Canada. They are wrong. Any Liberal or NDP candidate for election will tell you that the religious right is usually adept at lending a hand to the Conservatives.

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Joe Gunn, public justice, Canadian churches

Note: Joe Gunn is executive director of Citizens for Public Justice, an Ottawa-based ecumenical group advocating for social justice. He has worked for churches and church organizations, mainly Catholics, in Canada and Latin …

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