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A Novel Cause

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Issue: 37 Section: Arts Geography: Quebec Montreal Topics: terrorism

June 5, 2006

A Novel Cause

"North of 9/11" is a book about war, racism, and hysteria - and the people who fight against them

by Macdonald Stainsby

The events themselves may be fictional, but the world of "North of 9/11" will be familiar to Montreal activists.. photo: The cover of "North of 9/11"
Something has been missing from the portrayal of the political landscape in North America. While there are plenty of statistics on the impacts of corporate globalization, war and racism, there are few stories about the people who risk injury, imprisonment and even their lives to fight against them in North America. Activist, academic, and now author David Bernans, attempts to address this omission with his new novel North of 9/11.

Set in Montréal, Québec, North of 9-11 describes the idealism and determination of many of the young would-be revolutionaries in the city. The novel revolves around the Murphy family: Sarah - the 19 year-old raging granddaughter –and her parents: a reactionary father who works in public relations for military contractors, and a liberal mother, sympathetic to her daughter's beliefs.

Bernans' main storyline involves a group of activists plotting direct action in response to the prevailing climate of panic and warmongering post September 11. The target of the action is chosen based on information that young Sarah Murphy gleans from her right-wing American father. The tense exchanges between activists help the reader understand the risks of and reasons for taking direct action.

The events themselves may be fictional, but the world in which they take place will be familiar to Montreal activists. Details of the Concordia University campus and student union will jump out at activists who spend their days there--the effect is less compelling however for readers who haven't taken part in Montréal political battles.

These descriptions do not detract from a story that moves smoothly from family dinners where daughter and father debate US imperialism, to debates between student activists and engineering students on the moral implications of a University hosting corporations that profit from war, to arguments between privileged white activists and their Arabic and Muslim counterparts about tactics post 9/11.

To the uninitiated, the true value of the story is the insight into the hearts and minds of young activists who have cut their teeth during the era of "anti-globalization." Along the way, the reader also learns about the personal motivations and internal conflicts of some of the other elements in the leftist landscape: of fence-sitters like her mother, of student radicals of 35 years earlier, and of members of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights. The story is punctuated with dialogue-driven history lessons about the US backed coup that overthrew democracy in Chile and the 1982 massacre of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children in Lebanon. Through Bernans' characters, we start to see the faces – and not just the fists - of those fighting for justice.

By bringing characters, people and movements to life, David Bernans has given readers an opportunity to understand why so many choose a life of struggle over a life of ease. In doing so, Bernans offers a valuable perspective. He also provides something far more important: hope - and perhaps a reason for the reader herself to join the struggle.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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