Best books 2010, Harperland:The Politics of Control

By Dennis Gruending

[This brief piece was published in the November 22 edition of The Hill Times newspaper in Ottawa. The paper asked a number of us to choose a political book that we liked in 2010].

Journalism is commonly called history on …

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Harper extends Afghan war without parliament

By Dennis Gruending

Is anyone really surprised that, after years of solemnly promising Canadian troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan in 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has abruptly shifted course and is now saying Canada will stay an extra three years until 2014? It’s a cynical measure that puts me in mind of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, a book written in 2003 by American comedian (now Senator) Al Franken about George W. Bush and his cronies. Harper and Peter MacKay, his lame duck defence minister, are clearly not people to be believed. Who is to say that as 2014 approaches they don’t conspire with NATO member politicians and generals to move the Afghan goal posts yet again?

Harper says that he is not extending the war. Canadian soldiers will remain “inside the wire” and act as trainers for Afghan troops rather than as combatants. Why should we believe him? American generals and politicians in the Vietnam War maintained for years that their troops were acting as trainers and not as combatants. Of course, that proved to be a lie. The role played by Canadian soldiers will be ambivalent by definition. There is already talk that such training could well evolve into battlefield “mentoring,” which means leading Afghan troops in combat. And what about the joint task force commandos known as JTF2? They have been operating clandestinely in Afghanistan since late 2001 without any public oversight by Parliament. What will they be doing until 2014 and possibly after that date?

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Mark Juergensmeyer on global rebellion and religion

By Dennis Gruending

The American sociologist and professor of religious studies, Mark Juergensmeyer is known and respected for his investigations into global religion. His latest contribution is a book called Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State, from Christian Militias to al Queda. Juergensmeyer believes that the contemporary world is experiencing what he calls a “religious rebellion” and by studying it he hopes to offer proposals that will lead to an accommodation between radical religion and the secular world.

This matters to us in Canada where we cherish our reputation as a peaceable kingdom and the vast majority of religious adherents live out their faith in peace. But there are no tranquil islands in an increasingly globalized world of ubiquitous jet travel and secured Internet chat rooms. It is in Canada that radical Sikhs built and placed the bomb on an Air India jet that exploded over the Atlantic in 1985. That ugly act killed 329 people, including 280 Canadian citizens, mostly of Indian birth or descent. It was the largest mass murder in Canadian history. Mohammad Momin Khawaja of Ottawa has been convicted of participating in a terrorist scheme being planned in Great Britain to build a remote-control device that could trigger bombs. In Brampton, Ontario 11 members of the so-called Toronto 18 have pleaded guilty and been sentenced for plotting, incompetently as it turns out, to mount attacks on Parliament, military bases and nuclear stations. We are not immune to religious extremism, much of it now based, at least in part, on the war that Canada and other Western countries have been waging for nine years in Afghanistan.

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Pulpit and Politics wins in 2010 Canadian Blog Awards

By Dennis Gruending

My Pulpit and Politics blog placed second in the Politics category of the 2010 Canadian Blog Awards. Winners are based entirely on the number of votes they receive from readers, so thanks to everyone who took the time to cast a ballot. You can find the …

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Pulpit and Politics a finalist in 2010 Canadian Blog Awards

My Pulpit and Politics blog remains in the running for a 2010 Canadian Blog Award in the Politics category. All ballots in this second and final round of voting must be cast by 12 Noon on Tuesday, October 26th. If you enjoy reading …

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Pulpit and Politics nominated for 2010 Canadian Blog Award

The competition for Canadian Blog Awards is on for 2010 and Pulpit and Politics is one of 16 blogs to be nominated in the Politics category. This is a good-natured affair and there is no monetary prize — just …

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Truth to Power — The Journalism of a Benedictine Monk

By Dennis Gruending

I return to Saskatchewan every summer to visit friends and relatives and usually I drop in at St. Peter’s Abbey near Humboldt. I attended boarding school there in the 1960s and I retain a respect and fondness for the Benedictine monks. I spent several hours on my 2008 visit with Father Andrew Britz, the former editor of the Prairie Messenger, a newspaper published by the monks since 1904. Andrew, ill with Parkinson’s disease, asked if I would work with him to compile an anthology of his best writing during a long tenure as editor between 1983 and 2004. Our collaboration has resulted in a book called Truth to Power: The Journalism of a Benedictine Monk, which has been released by Kingsley Publishing of Calgary.

The book delves into debates and issues that have raged in Canadian church and society for the past twenty-five years: birth control, abortion, euthanasia, priestly celibacy, ordination of women, the church’s treatment of homosexuals, fundamentalism, ecumenism, sexual abuse, economic injustice, environmental abuse, and militarism. Andrew was, and remains, deeply committed to his church but he was fearless in speaking truth to popes and prime ministers, capitalists and clerics. His efforts were often not appreciated by those in power, not to mention some of his more traditional readers. There were discreet and at times public complaints about him to his abbot but Andrew’s monastic community protected him and allowed him to speak courageously. He called the church to a new age in the service of humanity.

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Gideon Levy says Israel demonizes Palestinians to justify occupation

By Dennis Gruending

Gideon Levy was once an army recruit and an aide to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres but he is now a veteran journalist who writes for Haaretz, Israeli’s oldest daily newspaper. He said that he feels compelled to tell his fellow Israelis a story they don’t like to hear about their country’s brutal occupation in the occupied territories of the West Bank and in Gaza. “I was brought up as a typical Israeli,” he says, “but in the late 1980s I started to travel to a place a half hour from my home, a trip that most Israelis never make. I started to go into the occupied territories, our own dark backyard.”

Levy spoke recently in an Ottawa university auditorium while on a seven-city Canadian tour to promote his most recent book, The Punishment of Gaza. A group called Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East sponsored the event. Levy said he was surprised that about 300 people attended his talk. “In Tel Aviv not this many people would show up to hear me,” he said.

What follows here are quotes from Levy’s half hour address, which he delivered entirely without notes:

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