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NGOs, Invasions and the News

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Issue: 45 Section: Accounts Geography: Quebec Topics: media

May 12, 2007

NGOs, Invasions and the News

Part two of an interview with veteran reporter Jooneed Khan

by Dru Oja Jay

Photo: Rob Maguire

Jooneed Khan has worked as a foreign correspondent and foreignaffairs writer for La Presse for 35 years. This, part two of a threepart interview, picks up where part one left off; Khan had just described an incident in which a report from Iraq had been rewritten "and the language had been changed completely, to the point that it was saying the opposite of what I was trying to say."

Jooneed Khan: To me that is a very good example of the kind of changes that are taking place. In thirty years of journalism, it has never happened to me, and it seems to me that there is more and more convergence, that there is a kind of uniform thinking in the west and it's also due to the fact that Quebec, over the past 25 years, has native bourgeousie. Which I don't think it had, in all manner of speaking, before '75 with the coming to power of the Parti Quebecois, and the use of the state apparatus to promote the emergence of a new class of cadres, and facilitating the accumulation of capital in private hands. Now, you actually have private fortunes in Quebec.

A good example is the story of the Expos--in a way the Quebecois are very American, they like to do things that the Americans do. Montrealers wanted a major-league baseball team, but that costs a lot of money. There was no way for a Quebecois family to have their own franchise as they do in all the American cities. So it was Charles Bronfman who actually bought the franchise--with the Bronfman fortune, which they made in bootlegging during the Prohibition. I think it cost him about $20 million. Twenty years later, he decided to get rid of the franchise. By then, it was worth $100 million. Even at that time, there were no private Quebecois fortunes to take it over. So the franchise was kept in Montreal by a combination of the Quebec Pension Plan, the trade unions, the city of Montreal, I think even the Quebec government--that is how they got the money to buy the franchise from the Bronfmans and to keep it here.

All that's to say that you didn't have private wealth in the same concentration as you did among English Canadians--you know, Westmount, the McConnells, old money, some based on the slave trade, sugar from the Caribbean, exporting to Europe... but now, you can talk about the Peladeau family of the Quebecor empire, you can talk about Jean Coutu, you can talk about Bombardier, and SNC-Lavalin. These are major players now in the Quebec economy.

So there is a community of interests now between this new bourgeoisie and the old English-Canadian fortunes. And if you're talking in terms of globalization, of mergers worldwide, there is the same approach.

The Dominion: So do you think that the result is that Quebec has lost its edge in terms of its critique of Canadian foreign policy through the emergence of this new wealth? Whereas with World War I, there was a very clear-cut difference between Quebec and English Canada?

Even in World War II. They've lost it, up to a point. I think Quebec still has a very deep reserve of social solidarity, and has a better feel for the Third World. But--now you do also have this other player in Quebec society.

Would you say, then, that the emergence of the Quebec NGOs in Haiti was sort of the comingout party for Quebec elite in terms of being a player in American-led foreign policy and la Francophonie, where you have what is very much an imperialist line being implemented by nominally grassroots groups in Quebec?

I think you're right. There has been this drift towards a dominant attitude. NGOs--obviously, the whole concept of civil society and all that--has been by and large co-opted by political and economic power. One of the major exercises of cooptation has been these workshops organized by the federal government, bringing mining companies and NGOs together to try to elaborate some kind of common approach.

By their very nature, NGOs that are deeply committed to social issue, ecological issues, justice and fairness must be at loggerheads with mining companies. So when the lamb and the lion begin to sit at the same table, it may be a very beautiful metaphor for reconciliation, but given the inequalities and injustice that exist, it's something unnatural. NGOs have been co-opted also through subsidiesfederalgovernment financing. So this drift has, I think, worsened over the past ten to fifteen years.

As a journalist, have you experienced or heard about any resistance to this trend, or a grassroots view that this trend is actually happening?

That, to me, has been the sad thing, that I have not witnessed any resistance-- the post-Cold War years, for me, have been years of ideological and moral drift. For example, the Rwandan Patriotic Front's [RPF] invasion of Rwanda from Uganda in October of 1990 went uncondemned. At the very time that apartheid was being dismantled in South Africa, you had what was basically an attempt to restore a form of apartheid in Rwanda. You had the minority and the majority. The majority had run the country, with many mistakes and errors and even crimes, but it was majority rule. And here was the minority that had grown up in exile, took up arms with US and British support, and invaded the country. Nobody condemned it.

I don't think anyone even knows about the invasion.

Because the media did not raise a hue and cry. That's the main reason. Had it been the other way around, where our interests were threatened, there would have been no end to negative reporting on that issue.

It all led to 1994, with the genocide, and the genocide became then the big story, because it legitimized the conquest of power back in 1990. And all the NGOs went along with that. There was no questioning it. I just mentioned in a story that in '89 a major member of the Tutsi community, who was very close to the army at that time, would come from Ottawa to see me every week, to try to win me over to the cause of the invasion. He would say "we are getting ready, we are going in, in a month we'll take over Kigali," and all that.

I remember telling him that it would be an incredible mistake to do that, to take up arms, invade the country and plunge the country into civil war. That the RPF would bear responsibility to its history for inflicting war on the country when they had just had elections.

There was a whole wave of democratization all over Africa. In the Congo, under Mobutu, the opposition had called a national conference, and they were discussing all the new ideas of how to go about updating their system and introducing more democracy. I said [to the Tutsi advocate], I don't think you have justification for armed struggle. I think [President Juvénal] Habyarimana is opening up in Kigali. Maybe he's lying, but he's being forced by the UN to show at least that he is becoming more democratic. You should go, set up an office in Kigali, begin political activities. If you are repressed, then you can call Africans, Rwandans and the world community as witnesses, and make your case. But without even trying out a political plan, to take up arms and invade a country, I thought it was the wrong thing.

And Canada was silent about the invasion?

Canada was silent initially, and then Canada joined the RPF bandwagon with the US, with the Europeans and the British. I know for a fact that Rights and Democracy also helped with RPF propaganda. Suddenly, overnight, there was a whole slew of reports coming out, denouncing the human rights abuses of the Habyarimana government. Nothing was written on what the RPF was doing. They were conquering territories in the north, coming towards Kigali, and there were massacres and all that. Never reported. Human Rights Watch played the same game.

I have always been very critical of the role of Rights and Democracy, although it was Ed Broadbent in those days. In fact, I have made the point--we were talking about this ideological and moral drift--that a lot of it was due to the fact that when the Soviet empire crumbled, it was seen as a victory for the right, for conservatives, for Reagan, for Thatcher, and don't forget that Mulroney was in power, and it was seen as a setback for the left--even for the Western left, for social democrats. And what Mulroney did was he set up Rights and Democracy and picked Ed Broadbent as director. It's interesting how the Western left--because I found that the same thing happened with Bernard Kouchner, who was a founder of Medecins sans Frontieres and became health minister under Chirac--all these Western lefties became the servants of the new victorious right. They became the moral fig leaf to press the rightwing agenda. And human rights became a tool for conservative governments of the West.

I always say it jokingly, but I think there's a grain of truth in it--the only more dangerous for the Third World than the Western right is the Western left.

Or the western human rights groups.

No, but the left bodies in the west are convinced that they can do a better job of managing the world than the right wing can. They have this version of the white man's burden. When you have people like Kouchner--he's the one who developed this concept of humanitarian intervention, which later on Canada took up with the Liberal Party, the Responsibility to Protect...

Developed by Lloyd Axworthy and Michael Ignatieff.

But Ed Broadbent was still the director of Rights and Democracy. He had invited Kouchner and he invited me to a roundtable discussion. And there was Kouchner and he was sitting and talking about how there are failed states all over Africa and we have to go and protect the people from their own governments and all that. So when everyone had spoken, I said, ‘If I may, I am a visible minority of one around the table, I would like to say that all the speeches of Mr. Kouchner are meaningless if Mr. Kouchner does not look at himself in the mirror, and look at his own responsibility in the so-called failed states in Africa.’ I said, ‘At the time when we are speaking, Mobutu is vacationing in his villa in the south of France. Mobutu's soldiers have shot a French diplomat through the embassy window in Kinshasa, this happened while you were talking. And all of this talk about human rights, it's just a pretext for recolonization. If you really want to help, we, as members of NATO, should put pressure on Turkey to stop persecuting the Kurds. We get all worked up about what Saddam did to Iraq's Kurds, but we never talk about what the Turks are doing to their Kurds.’ So I said that this kind of double talk has no credibility.

Other than that situation, have you seen any occasion where that kind of critique was brought to people--whether in the NDP or the Liberals--who are advocating for so-called humanitarian intervention?

No. No, I haven't seen that critique. In terms of what I told you, in fact, I think that the debate has yet to happen.

Can you see signs that it will happen?

I think it will.

Where will it come from?

But when and where, I don't know. I think that you guys are starting something which I consider very promising and very seminal in Canadian political debate. What I appreciate in your approach is that you don't come at it from a Marxist-Leninist point of view, or a Trotskyist point of view, or an Anarchist point of view. There are small groups--in Europe, particularly--that have attacked official diplomacy and foreign policy, and have done it for a long time, but they have been too confined on the politics.

But I think that there is now another phenonemon which might help to open up the debate, and that is the fast-approaching limits of Western power within the global context. It seems to me that we're going very fast to the point where we’re going to realize--and I think we've started realizing--that Western power has reached a wall and is now beginning to shrink. The west can still annihilate the world over and over many times, but economic power? Undoubtedly. The OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development], which groups all the major capitalist economies in the world, has a developmentassistance comittee, which is made up of 22 member countries. These are more or less the same countries you find in NATO, which is the military arm of globalization. And the OECD is the economic arm of globalization.

As opposed to the IMF [International Monetary Fund] or the WTO [World Trade Organization]?

The IMF and the WTO are the sort of global structures that have been put in place to integrate on Western terms. But the driving force is really the major capitalist countries of the OECD. Don't get fooled by the fact that countries like Mexico and Turkey are also OECD members; they don't really count.

The OECD recognizes that over the past 25 years, the western share of the world's population has been constantly decreasing. The Western share in the global economy has also been decreasing, with the emergence of China, Russia, India, Brazil. So I think that there is already a recognition there.

The last Davos Forum in February 2006 was centred on this issue, the emergence of China and India. That was the constant objection. There was an AP journalist who did a very interesting report, saying that wherever you go at Davos this year, you see the slogan "saving the world." Practically everywhere, this is the catch phrase. But then he said that when he attended the discussions--because in Davos, all the discussions are around banquets and dinner parties and this sort of thing--you realize that what they really mean is "saving the West."

So there is a recognition. And I think that it is reaching home more and more with the disaster in Iraq. Look at the Baker-Hamilton Commission report, which Maureen Dowd of the New York Times has called the council of elders, trying to tell the President that the world is not going the way that he wants it to go. In fact, he is taking the country and the world to disaster.

There are the limits of Israeli military power in Lebanon, which was shown this summer. I would even say, have been shown in Gaza. One soldier was captured there [in Gaza] in June. We are in December and Israel has not been able to set the soldier free. And Gaza is hardly bigger than Kanahwake, with 1.5 million people stuffed into it.

But I think that the greatest change to come is probably going to come sooner than we think. Because of the growing realization of the West losing ground, and the instinct of the ruling classes has been to kind of set up a wall around the West--a defensive wall. New immigration rules, new antiterrorism rules, new pass laws--which is a phrase I'm borrowing from apartheid South Africa--meaning new identity papers to cross borders, et cetera. And the creation of a sort of laager mentality, which the South Africans had, which was kind of "it's time to circle the wagons."

But it seems to me at the same time that there are healthy signs of cause for open debate about these issues. The Baker-Hamilton Commission I think leads the way, as far as US political debate is concerned.

There is a sense that we have sort of come out of a kind of intense reaction to 9/11, that we're starting to see the terms of debate emerge in a different way...

Exactly. After that, we went into Afghanistan, we went into Iraq, we were going to reshape the Middle East. The rest of the world had in fact been shunted by us--when I say us, I mean the West over the East. I know that Canada refused to go into Iraq, which I think is all to our credit. But by and large, Western interests thought we were going to go and make mincemeat of [Saddam's regime] and we were going to be welcomed with open arms. It's not what happened, and now the rest of the world is sitting back and watching us, watching the US sink in the Iraqi quagmire.


When I say I did not see the kind of critique from the NGOs during the 90s, over Rwanda, or Haiti--but even the manipulating of Yugoslavia. Here we are, we are the ones talking of federalism, we are proposing federalism as a model for Iraq. And there was federalism, which we tore apart in a bloody way, because NATO had to go in and flex its muscles, and now it’s doing the same in Afghanistan.

I think that primal instinct of recourse to force and war is still very much present and a great danger, that the right wing and the neo-conservatives are there already doing. The Baker-Hamilton report has been savaged by the neo-cons and the Israeli lobby, as you know.

But they seem to be on the decline.

They seem to be, but as they say, il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l'ours, avant de le tuer. The recourse to force, pressing on the button of patriotism, is very deeply ingrained. The whole history of Western influence and dominance for the last five centuries brings us back to this deep belief that the West is right and the use of force is legitimate.

You were talking about journalists. I feel very often when I go to Third World countries, I am very uncomfortable with fellow Western journalists, either from Canada or from the US, or any of those places. It's because they tend to look at the Third World in the same way as their predecessors looked at Nazi Germany: as an enemy that cannot do anything right. That all the moral right is on our side, and therefore we have every legitimate right to go and tell them what to do.

You find this prevalent among Western journalists from Canada, or the West in general?

The West in general.

But no different from Canada?

By and large no different. I remember in Mozambique, I was there with-- I tend to avoid-- I very much like to work with fellow journalists from here. But in those situations, when I'm trying to explain a reality which is complex, from the underdog's point of view, and then I'm faced with these people who have this overdog self-righteousness. It's not easy.

It seems to me that the Second World War has become, ideologically, something of a trap for the West. We tend to apply the categories of the Second World War to anybody we don't like in today's world. If there's somebody we don't like, we call him the "new Hitler" or the "new Nazis." And look how genocide has become a popular catchword for Western diplomacy. "Darfur is a genocide." "In Rwanda, our guys were victims of genocide." Where are the genocides that we have encouraged or abetted? These don't exist. It's selective, but it's also demagogic. It seems to me that for the West, for the ruling elites to maintain their grip in this context where Western power is being rolled back would be the new call to a sort of Third World War. It has been tried with the War on Terror, because the concept itself is undefinable. But there has been the "axis of evil"--that hasn't worked, because we have a deal with North Korea. Now Baker-Hamilton is telling us we must also deal with Iran and Syria. But I don't think that those that are behind this conflict are going to give up easily.

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Rwanda and RPF propaganda

I am at the completion stage of a PhD on the role of the international community in Rwanda 1990-1994.
I was impressed with the views expressed by Jooneed Khan in his interview with Dru Oja Jay. Western support for the RPF's war was at the root of the mass slaughter that erupted in April 1994.

I would very much like to know about the early contact that Janood had with a RPF representative prior to the 1990 invasion of Rwanda.

If you could put me in touch by e-mail I would be very grateful.

Barrie Collins


It is refreshing to see a journalist who can see the woods through the trees. You are correct re the RPF being the cause of what happened in Rwanda. But behind them were the Americans and the British and-the Canadians whose role was worse then even the Belgians. General Dallaire helped to assassinate President Habyarimana and I think that there is evidence that he had a role in the murder of Prime Minister Agathe. There is no doubt that the Canadian govt was deeply involved in the assassination of Habyarimana (ask them about Operation Torch and Operation Boomerang). However, to keep referring to the "genocide" when all the evidence at the Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal establishes that if there was a genocide it was by the RPF against the Hutus not the other way round is to keep priming the pump of disinformation.

The war for Rwanda was the first phase of the greater war for the Congo. And a letter my legal team recently discovered from Kagame dated August 94 talking about the plan for Zaire speaks volumes about what the war in Rwanda was really all about.

Canada has a disgusting role in all this from Chretien on down to Louise Arbour. But keep up the good work.

Christopher Black
Lead Counsel
Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal

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