If you are like me, you spent the past week looking forward to the end of the Toronto G20 summit, hopeful you could ignore it entirely; and if you are very much like me, you further hoped the event would pass without cause for comment.
Just so, most of it did pass without comment. Very little appears to have been written about the discussions themselves, which involved the usual stuff: growth, reductions of deficits and of taxes on capital, increased taxation of consumption, promotion of trade liberalization. The very things forever recommended by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the agencies under whose auspices the G20 briefing documents were drafted. Now the “premier forum for international economic cooperation,” the G20 summit is a technical affair, not nearly as exciting as, say, burning police cars.
There is a patch of Canadian society which boasts the agitprop cliché that Canada is a police state. This idea is an instance of intellectual laziness, leveling the world’s moral terrain to make easier for the discontented their ascent to the heights of indignation. The Left, in Europe and North America, is now populated by “moral equivalentists” – folks who opposed the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that there is no difference between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein. They have read enough Noam Chomsky to know that Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger were wicked, and that U.S. foreign policy has been responsible for enormous human suffering around the world. So it has. The unfortunate legacy of Chomsky’s brilliant, original, and useful writings on, for example, East Timor, is a generation of half-educated rabble-rousers who will side with anything that is “against” the United States of America. Well, that simplifies things: The Saddamists are against America, so let’s be for that. The 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings were attacks on Capitalism and American arrogance, so of course let’s sympathise with the attackers.
This kind of reasoning — if that’s even what it is — evidently relishes the destruction and taints a good measure of the political spectrum, from liberal democrat to anarchist. But consider: the time is not far off when the U.S. won’t even be the leading player in global politics, particularly in Africa, Southeast and Central Asia. That dubious honour will go, and is already going, to China. As for the idea that violent jihadism is a response to U.S. foreign policy, I’ll only suggest that this narcissistic idea misses the point. What we are seeing today in Central Asia and the Middle East is the continuation of a civil war in the Islamic world which predates American foreign policy and which has nothing to do with it whatsoever. One is better served on this topic by an understanding of the history and demise of the Ottoman Empire than by, say, a working knowledge of the Marshall Plan. (Better yet would be both.) This may seem a straying from the topic, but it is not. The people who see no difference, or at the least claim to see no difference, between the Taliban and Starbucks, are the same who constitute the flame-and-truncheon photo-ops. So let’s be clear: Canada is not a police state, and intellectual rigour demands of us a higher standard of analysis and more careful use of language.
It is however disheartening and discouraging, don’t you find, to witness the state playing dress-up, flirting momentarily with the trappings of dictatorship? I expect it’s been pointed out to you that the G20 summit was mostly a peaceful event, and indeed that is the case. Yet it could well have been otherwise. A great deal has been said and written of the Black Bloc tactics, with particular attention to the menace of their head-to-toe black clothing. A strategy of deliberate intimidation, it perfectly mirrors the contemporary riot squad, who have adopted precisely the same look. Why on earth are governments, and in this case the Canadian Government, needlessly cultivating such a vulgar dialectic? – and in the heart of Canada’s most densely populated city? What stupidity, and what vain recklessness, to roll the dice on the public’s safety in this manner. Perhaps the next time (and there will be a next time, maybe in your city) the peaceful bits will be the anomaly. If that is the case, the Government won’t even have the benefit of our doubt. They must know, as those familiar with mass human behaviour know, that in a moment things can go terribly wrong. And when they do, the inquiries and assignments of blame will be of no use to the victims.
Nothing asserted to this point has considered the value of these meetings and the conduct of the police. Even if one assumes that the G20 summits are of great utility, and that the police have over the past week behaved in an excellent manner (and these are far from settled assertions), the brick-headed folly informing this past weekend is, I hope, apparent. For it is unnecessary, irresponsible, reckless, and grossly wasteful of Canada to abet these periodic episodes of impromptu mass political theatre. Bullets were dodged this weekend, and fortunately, this time, that is a metaphor.