Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Israel-Palestine? My personal story

I have been asked a number of times over the past ten or so years I have been focusing on the Israel-Palestine conflict why I chose that situation on the other side of the world to be my passion. It’s a question I sometimes get from those who are genuinely interested and also one many advocates for justice for Palestine get from apologists for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. Those apologists want to know why people like me “only focus on the bad things Israel does” or why we hold Israel “to a higher standard” than other countries. They implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) use that observation to accuse us of being anti-Semitic. Of course that doesn’t happen, at least for me, with people who actually know us because people who genuinely know us and care about us have more respect for us than that. It’s simply a rhetorical political tactic used to discredit anything we say. But we don’t have to take that.

We have good reasons for focusing on Israel-Palestine (putting aside that most of us are extremely active on many other issues). I’m going to focus most of this post on my personal story that led to me being passionate about justice for Palestine. After I’m done my story, I’ll conclude by offering a bit of a broader explanation about why it’s necessary for people who have values of peace, fairness, and justice to focus on Israel-Palestine specifically and to not apologize for it and to not get defensive against the apologists described above. So here it goes with my story.

My interest in Israel-Palestine traces back to my roots in the Pentecostal (charismatic, evangelical) Church I grew up in. When I was very young (I’m guessing 6 years old) my family became one of a handful of families that broke off from the Church of God we were attending at the time in Lloydminster where I grew up to start up a new church affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC). It is one of Canada’s most socially conservative denominations. Its members were (are?) the base of opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. It is also a denomination that tends to have a strong focus on “end times” when they believe Jesus will return to save the believers and condemn the unbelievers to an eternity of punishment. Those are a couple of the highlights of the denomination anyway. My purpose here is to give you the general idea of it rather than to provide a full picture of it. The details of any denomination are far more complicated and often nuanced than that, but that’s generally what the situation was when I was a teenager and a young adult in one PAOC church in Lloydminster.

Politics was not usually taught explicitly from the pulpit at this church, or at least the focus of the preachers’ messages were typically not very political (I’m aware that everything is arguably political in some way, but I think you get my drift).  Most of the more political issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, and a dislike for liberals and encouragement of conservatism were mentioned on the side, though not irregularly. I recall a specific moment leading up to the 2004 US Presidential election when the Senior Pastor had just returned from meeting like-minded preachers in Texas and passed on the message that if John Kerry was elected instead of re-electing President Bush that it would set the country back decades. I also remember hearing from the pulpit that Israel “miraculously” won a war for its very existence against all odds, and that not only did it survive, but by God’s grace it subdued its enemies in a mere six days. I was appalled at the time by the comment about the Presidential election (I was already quite politically progressive despite my limited political knowledge), however, I took the Israel comment at face value. I didn’t know anything about modern-day Israel.

I did already have a passion for international affairs. Growing up my parents had taught me and my three siblings that we were lucky to have food every day because there were people in other places who aren’t as fortunate. As token as that lesson seems to many people today, I think my parents instilling that in me was actually a big part of me getting interested in working towards a more socially just world. The first issue I remember getting involved in was the genocide in Darfur, in western Sudan. It seemed so simple. There was one group of people who held power who were destroying another group of people who had next to nothing. No one I knew was standing up for the Sudanese government or the militias they supported who were trying to eliminate the people of Darfur. It was clear that the Canadian and American governments didn’t care enough to do much about the violence, so the solution from North America seemed like it needed to start with convincing politicians that the people they represent actually care about it. I wrote up and printed stacks of my own “Darfur 101” factsheet that I would give out to people at shows my band played. A friend of mine donated a “Save Darfur” banner to my band that I would put up at our merchandise tables.

You know those memories where all you can remember is a vivid image from a moment that had a big effect on you? I have one of those from March 19, 2003. I remember the room I was in and the angle I was looking at the TV from and the exact position of every person in the room I was in. I remember the dark city on the television and the massive blasts that lit up the sky. It was Baghdad, Iraq, and the US military was beginning its destruction of the country. I hadn’t followed the lead-up to it closely. I remember it coming out of nowhere for me. I had no idea why the US would be bombing Iraq. It seemed like it had something to do with the attacks on September 11, 2001, but Canada had already helped the US invade Afghanistan for that. It was after March 19, 2003, that I decided I had a lot of learning to do. I needed to understand what was going on. Countries don’t just get bombed for nothing. Innocent people were dying, and I didn’t know why.

I went to the local public library and picked up the newest book I could find on Iraq. It was a book I now own called “Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm” by Dilip Hiro. It was amazingly motivating one small book could be. I don’t know that Hiro’s book is actually radical in any way. I think the most radical thing in it for me was just the history of the US in Iraq. Not only was there no moral reason for the US attack/invasion of Iraq in 2003, but the US had a long history of oppressing the Iraqi people. I knew they had attacked Iraq before, but I didn’t know how much suffering they had caused the civilian population of Iraq. Those people clearly did not deserve any of it. And if the story behind Iraq was so different than the general impression I had before, what else was I missing out on about what was going on in the world?

I began to do more research on Iraq. I found information online about a new documentary that was coming out by a guy named Michael Moore (I had no clue who he was) about US involvement in the Middle East and the September 11th attacks on the US. It didn’t seem like the theatre in Lloydminster would be playing it, but that summer (it would have been 2004) I was playing bass guitar in a worship band at a Pentecostal Bible camp called Living Waters near Prince Albert, SK. When the camp was over, all of us in the band traveled to Prince Albert and went to the movie theatre. Everyone else had a Hollywood movie they wanted to see (I don’t remember what it was); I was extremely excited to see what was probably one of the first political documentaries I had ever seen. I happily went off to Fahrenheit 9/11 by myself.

Not long after I returned to Lloydminster I visited the local bookstore in the Lloyd Mall to see what else I could find about Iraq and US involvement in the Middle East. Their selection was quite limited, but I found a small book called “Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order” by a guy named Noam Chomsky (again, I had no clue who the guy was at the time). It took me a lot longer to get through than I thought it would. Despite it being a small book, it was a dense read for me. There were far too many things I didn’t understand. But I powered through it anyway and picked up some of the things he was saying. It was certainly clear that I could learn a lot from this guy. I looked online and found audio files of interviews he had given with various media outlets. I had recently picked up a part-time second job delivering pizza to pay for my band’s studio recordings and cross-country tours, so I had lots of time to listen to these sorts of things while I was driving around the city.

The recording that I clearly remember was probably about an hour long, and I probably listened through it 8 or 10 times that year. It was an interview Noam Chomsky did with Evan Solomon (who I had also never heard of) on CBC. I think the interview was from 2002 because the first section of it was about the American-led invasion of Afghanistan, but Iraq was not yet a topic of urgent discussion. It was the Afghanistan content that had me interested in the interview. If the situation in Iraq was so different than I had previously thought, maybe the invasion of Afghanistan, which my own country participated in, wasn’t as justified as it seemed to be.

That interview had a profound impact on me. Not only did I find out the invasion of Afghanistan was fraught with questionable intentions and a history of American disregard for Afghani lives, but the second half of the interview was all about American involvement in Israel-Palestine. It was a part of the world I had heard bits about in church (mainly about the miracle of Israel’s existence), but I really knew next to nothing about it. Chomsky talked in the interview about the terrible things Israel was doing to the Palestinian people with the support of President Bush and President Clinton before him. Even though it seemed to me like the Democrats in the US were the “good guys” it appeared that both American parties supported the terrible things the Israeli government was doing to the Palestinian people. I realized I didn’t know anything about Israel’s history and how it got to where it was. I had a lot of learning to do.

I actually found it quite difficult to find a single source that would give me the “101” about what was going on in Israel-Palestine. I wanted something coming from a perspective of social justice, because that’s what I was interested in. However, I had no idea how to find anything like that. I found a website for an upcoming documentary film being produced by a couple of Americans. It was called “Occupation 101”, and it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. I pre-ordered a copy. When it arrived, I think I watched it a few times. I couldn’t believe it. Israel wasn’t the ancient country I thought it was. It was actually created in 1948. And its conflict with the Palestinian people didn’t go back thousands of years like I thought. It was maybe 100 years old. So maybe the problems there weren’t as unsolvable as people were making it seem. Noam Chomsky seemed to think it was worth speaking out about. And everything I was learning seemed to be facts that my church’s pastor either didn’t know, didn’t understand, or didn’t want to acknowledge (I’m still not sure I know which of those it was).

Occupation 101 was so good and the situation in Israel-Palestine was so appalling that I ordered three more DVD copies of the film to lend out to any friend who was even remotely interested (the whole film is now available to stream on YouTube for anyone interested). I began to read more and more books and article and watch more documentaries about Israel-Palestine.

I decided I was going to move to Edmonton in 2008. It seemed like the next logical step for my career as a songwriter and musician, and the guitarist I was playing with at the time was going to be studying guitar at Grant MacEwan College (now University). And if he was going to be in classes all day, what was I going to do? It seemed like a perfect opportunity to do some learning on the side. I enrolled at the University of Alberta for the Bachelor of Arts program with a Major in Political Science and a Minor in Middle Eastern and African Studies. That eventually became a Double Major in Religious Studies and Middle Eastern and African Studies, which I finished in 2013.

Sorry if that was extremely long. It was easy to write, and I thought it would make the most sense and be the most relatable if I told it step by step, from my initial complete ignorance to basically where I am now. I still don’t think I’ve completely answered the “Why Israel-Palestine?” question, but now that you have the background story, the explanation seems simple.

The Israel-Palestine conflict was one that my environment had misled me about in a way that didn’t happen with any other conflict. With Darfur no one was telling me the Darfuris deserved what they were getting or that it was a miracle Sudan still existed. North American governments weren’t supporting what the Sudanese government was doing to them. In Israel, it was different. Innocent Palestinians were being oppressed and killed, and not only did North American governments lack the political will to solve it, but in many ways they were supporting the oppression. And there was a significant part of the Canadian public, particularly my own church, who were staunchly siding with the group doing the oppressing and killing. And even among those who didn’t support it, it seemed like the general feeling was hopelessness. At its least extreme it was that we just shouldn’t worry about it because it will always be that way, and at its most extreme it was that someone should just bomb that entire area of the world because it was the only way fighting would stop. I didn’t (and couldn’t) accept any of those views, and I felt like all of this misinformation and support for oppression and injustice was so close to home that I could do something about it.

And that’s why I’m so passionate about justice and peace in Israel-Palestine. So many North Americans are so backwards when it comes to understanding the problems there, and North American governments are supporting the oppression and the killing. For me, it seems to be the most extreme case of that in Canada. There are political problems in many other places, but none in my view where it is so acceptable to support the powerful who are oppressing the weak. We have so far to go. I do feel like society is gradually shifting, but it can never happen quickly enough. If Israel-Palestine is ever going to have a just and peaceful settlement to the conflict there, it will require the efforts of everyone who holds values of peace, fairness, and justice to stand up together to say enough is enough. One day, this conflict will end, and I want to be part of the solution.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Blogger's Dilemma

I've had a couple of struggles with keeping this blog going. One is that I don't blog often enough. I guess I rationalize by thinking that if my professors in university had made writing papers optional, I would likely not have written any. Reading for me is the opposite. When I was in university, I was always anticipating finishing my mandatory class readings so I would have time to read other things off my bookshelf at home (often on similar topics I was studying for my degree anyway).

The second struggle I have with blogging, and the one I wanted to write briefly about tonight, is blogging on a consistent topic. I realize the irony of this given that my blog is not typically focused on the nature of blogging, but I wanted to approach the topic with the goal of changing my approach to blogging going forward. A a person working in the field of political communications, I know that any kind of organization or publication is more likely to be successful if potential readers can anticipate the sorts of subject matter they will cover. If someone finds my blog and reads something about the Middle East that leads them to want to read more of what I have to say on the topic, they would likely be disappointed if they came back to this site and I was writing about what the Edmonton Oilers hockey team needs to do to become a contender for an NHL playoff stop (a key part of the answer for me would be trading defenseman Jeff Petry - see how I snuck that in?).

What makes the single-topic rule into a dilemma for me (and likely many others) is that people are multi-dimensional. Most people have something to say on multiple topics, some of them with little relation to each other. On this blog, my posts over the past few years have had some diversity - I've posted about Middle East politics (through the lens of Israeli domestic politics, American politics, and Canadian politics), post-secondary education policy in Canada's province of Alberta, Christianity's relationship to progressive political movements, my views on leadership candidates for Canada's political party known as the NDP, and a number of other things before that. In addition to those topics, I have a personal interest in many other things (I've mentioned professional hockey already).

If I write about anything I feel like on any given day, I'm not likely to become a "go to" place for anyone wanting to read on a specific topic. Indeed, the only thing this blog would be a "go to" place for would be knowing my opinion on everything, which while it might be interesting to a few people, is not really what I'm hoping to get across to people anyway. I think my Facebook profile, and to a lesser extent my Twitter profile, already provide that sort of "here's what's on my mind right now" for people who are interested in that. So what I'm saying with this blog is that I'm going to shift this blog to focus on a single topic, broadly defined.

My last four blog posts have been about issues in Middle East politics, specifically Israel-Palestine. Prior to that time, thanks to this site's built in analytics tools, those viewing my blog were primarily Canadians. Since those posts in the summer about the Middle East, my readership has actually become much more global (in terms of pageviews over the past month, Canada actually ranks 6th). 
And while I would never choose my topics solely on a "market approach" as it were, I believe I have more insights to offer into the politics of Israel-Palestine and how that conflict fits into the world than any other topic. Indeed, it was the focus of my personal studies for a couple of years prior to my starting university in 2008, was the primary focus of my studies at the University of Alberta from 2008 until 2012, and continues to be a topic I regularly read about and comment on.

So with that, I want to announce that going forward I will aim to keep this blog focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict (and possibly other parts of the Middle East when it's timely), again broadly defined. I do want to continue to explore how this topic relates to things like Canadian politics, Christianity and religion more broadly, and any other approach to it that I feel I have insights into. I'm also going to explore ideas of a different name for the blog that would reflect this change. I'm thinking something like "Middle East Maple Leaf" (thoughts? other ideas?). So stay tuned for that. Lastly, I'm actually going to attempt to write on this blog more often. I've said that before and it hasn't happened consistently, so I won't make any promises other than that I will try my best.

I hope if you're reading this that you'll continue to come back and share my blog with your friends. I'm looking forward to entering a new era of blogging!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Israel-Palestine conflict will go on forever - until it doesn't

I was shocked to read an article published three days ago in the Globe & Mail by Gerald Caplan claiming the Israel-Palestine conflict will never end (find it here). This is the same man who wrote in the same newspaper a mere seven days earlier about the need for Thomas Mulcair and the NDP to "show more courage" when it comes to criticizing Israel's actions (here). One might wonder what the purpose of the first article was given the second article’s conclusion. Apparently over the span of that week, he has now determined that nothing can be done to stop what is going on in Israel-Palestine.

His self-contradictions aside, Caplan does a poor job of defending his claim, sticking to his own subjective interpretations of the situation. What is most surprising, in my view, is that usually those arguing that the Israel-Palestine conflict will go on forever argue that it has been happening from the beginning of time. You know – the Jews and Arabs have always been fighting and will continue fighting until the world ends. But Caplan doesn't make that argument. He, like most informed observers, pegs the beginning as 1947 when Israel was founded (some informed observers will go back as far as the beginnings of the Zionist movement in the 1860s), which makes it even more surprising to me that he can write that the conflict will never end. He then has the gall to conclude that, "This is the future and it cannot be otherwise." Surely Caplan is intelligent enough to know that such grand predictions about the future of the world are always doomed to fail. The first lesson anyone should learn in the history of the world is that the current state of affairs at any given time usually feels like it will go on forever - until it doesn’t. The possible examples to show that are endless and literally fill our history books.

Further, it's incredible that Caplan does not mention once the American support for the Israeli occupation, both political and financial. Nor does he mention that public opinion has significantly shifted in the United States, and indeed around the world, against Israel's occupation. But apparently that has nothing to do with resolving the conflict. That view flies in the face of the opinions of many, many people far more credible than Caplan when it comes to Israel-Palestine. That also doesn’t seem to matter to Caplan. It’s not even worth addressing.

If Caplan is so convinced nothing can be done, it's a wonder he takes the time to write about it at all. The truth is that resolving any conflict is possible. Indeed, the only rule of global history that stands the test of time is that nothing lasts forever. What is significant about articles like Caplan’s is that it becomes more difficult to solve the big global issues like Israel-Palestine when people write drivel like this about how nothing can be done.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Are Hamas and Israel's ruling Likud party that different?

As a follow-up to my blog yesterday regarding Hamas's role in the current violence in Gaza, I wanted to share some additional thoughts. The text below was again written as a response to another person's comment, this time a comment on my recent blog post (made on Facebook, not on this blog site). The criticism in a nutshell was that Hamas has a genocidal policy towards Jews in its charter, or at least Jews living in historic Palestine (present day Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories), but that Israel's governing party Likud's charter refusing a Palestinian state is simply calling for a one-state solution to the conflict where everyone lives together, evidence of which can be seen by the Palestinians living in Israel proper today. The author of this comment's main stated goal was rejecting the equivalence I made between Hamas and Likud based on their party charters. The following was my response:

Hamas is not an admirable organization. Far from it. But looking at language in documents, even when they say reprehensible things, can only get you so far. I reached the conclusions I did in the blog post because I am much more concerned by actions, which are much less ambiguous than debating the language in a party's charter, the relevance of that document, the comparisons of the language in the document to public statements made by leadership, etc. It is an extremely important fact that Israel has the 4th-most powerful military in the world, because they have used it very effectively. It is worth noting that Israel's founding in 1948 was accompanied by an ethnic cleansing campaign. No, they did not drive out all of the Palestinians from what is now Israel, but they did drive out 750,000 of them and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages. There are many more examples of Israel going on the offensive to kill Palestinians over the years, but fast-forward to the present one. Israel has killed more than 1600 in about 3 weeks, the large majority of which were civilians (and I believe it's about 1/3 that were children). That includes the bombing of 4 kids playing soccer on a wide-open beach (the video of it is hard to watch but shows how easy to see that no credible excuse could be made for it), the destruction of Gaza's only power plant, the deliberate bombardment of hospitals (we know it was deliberate because Israel announced it was going to attack; it gave no justification, however), and as of today, the bombing of civilians shelters in two UN schools. I hope that you can unequivocally condemn all of those things. They are clearly all actions of the Israeli military/government not wanting the Palestinians to survive (not just Hamas, but also civilians). Likewise, I unequivocally condemn Hamas's killing of civilians by firing rockets into Israel. The number of Israeli civilians killed so far in the recent violence is three. Hamas is clearly responsible for those deaths, and they are not excusable. But likewise, Israel is responsible for hundreds of civilians deaths. So in what way are Hamas and the Israeli government different? The main difference is that one has bigger guns. I have trouble seeing any difference beyond that.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What about Hamas?

A friend of mine recently sent me a message on Facebook asking me to cut through the PR efforts of Israel and Hamas, as well as the wide swatch of approaches and blame-games happening in the media from various angles. I wrote him quite a long response starting from square one and thought I would share it with everyone. I hope this helps some people understand, at least from my angle, why Hamas is doing what it's doing in the current conflict.

I also want to preface it by addressing the common catch-all, debate-ending argument that Hamas simply wants to "wipe Israel off the map" or pursue global domination. It is true that the Hamas's charter opposes the existence of an Israeli state. What people who tell you this almost always leave out is that Likud's charter (Likud is the Israeli political party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) opposes the existence of a Palestinian state. It states, "The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river." I've had debates at length on this issue, but the fact that both parties essentially say the same thing about each other largely neutralizes the criticism, in my view (other than to say that both are equally bad).

Lastly, I would ask that anyone responding to these thoughts not take any small part of this post and run with it. I know that can be easy to do on matters like this. If something I'm saying seems unjust to you, please ask me to clarify the point. I assure you that what I would like to see in Israel-Palestine (and indeed for all humanity) is for everyone involved to be able to leave in peace and with dignity.

Without further adieu, here's my take on Hamas in the context of the current violence in Gaza (remember, this was written as a personal message to a friend, so I'm just going to paste the relevant section of the message):
Yes, Hamas does lots of stupid and terrible things. In the immediate term, they should stop firing rockets. However, they're in a predicament where it's not clear what they should really do. If they stop firing rockets, Israeli may stop bombing them. That would be good for all of the people living in Gaza. The tough part is that the Israeli and Egyptian governments have a blockade on all of Gaza's borders, meaning few things (including people) are allowed to go in or out. That includes the sea border, where even fishermen get fired upon if they go too far offshore. Gazan students who receive academic scholarships to come to North America are not even permitted to leave. As a result of the blockade, the unemployment rate is obscenely high. Most of the people who live in Gaza are there as refugees (now with new generations born) who lost everything when they were displaced in the wars of 1948 and 1967. By all international laws, they have a right to return to their homes but have been denied that for years. In most cases, the Israeli government either demolished their homes long ago or allowed Jewish settlers from other countries to move into them to becomes Israelis. On top of these circumstances, Israel has the 4th most powerful military in the world. It is in a position with a ton of leverage. If they wanted to make peace and follow international laws, they could do that and eliminate any justifications Hamas is using to continue launching rockets.
The broader issue of the Israel-Palestine conflict is land inside Palestine that the Israeli government has claimed as its own and has encouraged Jewish settlers from other countries to move into. It recognizes the Jews in those settlements as Israeli, even though they don't live in Israel. "Settlement" is actually a bit of a misleading word to refer to these areas because some of them are actually getting to be quite large cities. When Breanna and I visited there on our honeymoon a few years ago, we saw many of them all over the Palestinian territory of the West Bank as we drove from city to city. Those areas of Palestine are considered Jewish-only and are guarded by the Israeli military (again, this is inside Palestinian territory). These settlements are connected to each other and to Israel itself by Jewish-only roads. Israel has also built walls around many of these settlements, and the walls are often built to confiscate more land in Palestinian territory. A huge swath of the land Israel has taken inside the West Bank is very fertile farm land along the west bank (that's where the name comes from) of the Jordan River. We drove through that area, and it's full of crops of all kinds - a stark contrast to the dry desert in many other parts of the country.
Anyway, I could go on, but my point is that there are huge outstanding issues that the Israeli government doesn't even want to debate. And even putting aside how unjust all of these things are, they give groups like Hamas a reason to keep firing rockets. Maybe they would keep firing anyway if Israel moved its settlers off Palestinian land, ended the blockade on Gaza, and allowed refugees to return to their homes (or at least compensated them). It's difficult to say. But if Israel followed these basic international laws, they would be speaking from much firmer ground when they condemn Hamas for firing rockets.
My final point would be that there are many Israelis, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who regularly speak out against what their government does to Palestinians. If you Google groups like Peace Now, B'tselem, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, or Breaking the Silence, you will find that they are saying many of the same things I've said above.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Obama or Bush? Doesn't make a difference for Israel-Palestine

It's been a while yet again, but I felt I needed to post a few words about Israel-Palestine, since it's in the news again, and as always for unfortunate reasons.

American President Barack Obama had a letter published in one of Israel's two major newspapers, Haaretz, about the need for peace in Israel-Palestine. The newspaper hosted a "Peace Conference" today and had a number of articles written specifically for that topic (they can be found here).

It's incredible that such a letter can be written without any mention of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, including not a word about Israeli settlements in the West Bank or the Israeli blockade of Gaza's land and sea borders. And although Obama states that "any Palestinian government must uphold these long-standing principles: a commitment to non-violence, adherence to past agreements, and the recognition of Israel", he makes no such call for any Israeli government to reciprocate on any of those things to Palestine. The same letter could have been written by George W. Bush at any time during his presidency, once again showing that neither American political party is truly in favour of peace or justice in Israel-Palestine.

Those are my brief thoughts now. I've been thinking a lot about this issue in relation to Canada's political parties and will likely write a longer piece about that soon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 11 Book Recommendations for the New Year

I haven’t posted on this blog in forever, yet again. I’ll call it a New Year’s resolution to blog more often, but as you know, many resolutions, including possibly this one, are never followed through on. Since reading is something I like to do and something I think is valuable for the common good, I've decided at this year-end to post 11 book recommendations (it was going to be 10, but I needed room for one more) for the New Year, with a sentence or two to explain why each book is worth reading. I have listed only books I’ve had a chance to read from cover to cover. These books were not all published in the past year, and some are quite a bit older than that. These are also not necessarily my favourite books of all time, though a number of them would probably make that list. Here goes (in no particular order):

1. "The Political Mind" by George Lakoff

A great read by an American neurologist on how language choice can be used to give voters/citizens a positive impression of progressive political policies. An extremely useful read to anyone involved in politics. HIGHLY recommended.

2. "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart Ehrman

Recounts the history of the making of the Christian New Testament and thoroughly lays out why the books included in it cannot rationally be taken as inerrant.

3. "The Great War for Civilisation" by Robert Fisk

A gigantic book recounting his decades of reporting for British media outlets throughout the Middle East, as well as the background context to the events he covered. Pretty much gives you a history of the entire Middle East for the past 100 year when all is said and done.

4. "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

This is the only fiction book on my list, since I haven’t been reading many. This one is a classic and a very quick read. Sit down with it for a day or two and take it in.

5. “Deadly Spin” by Wendell Potter

This book doubles as a tip guide for political communications and a history of health care in the United States. Potter was a top communications executive for private health care giant CIGNA until he left to become one of the country’s most prominent supporters of single payer universal public health care. He’ll likely be touring across Canada in the spring, so read it before he comes!

6. “Moral Minority” by David Swartz

This is an intriguing history of the many branches of progressive Christianity in the United States and how they came to be overshadowed by the “religious right” beginning with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 electoral victory. It’s a great reminder that Christianity wasn’t always a very public part of politics, and even after it became so, it was far from inevitable that conservatives would be the ones to capitalize on it the most.

7. “On Six Continents” by James Bartleman

These are the memoirs of one of Canada’s longest-serving diplomats, who worked in countries around the world. It’s not a very ideological read of any sort but is highly entertaining and engaging for the many stories he tells to show what it was like to spend a life in Canada’s foreign service.

8. “Memoirs” by Pierre Trudeau

The nature of the book is obvious by its title. It’s a quick and easy read and recounts his incredible life both before and after becoming Prime Minister of Canada. It’s a timely reminder of who he was while many or comparing him to his son, Justin. Hint: the two have very little in common on their resumes.

9. “Grant Notley” by Howard Leeson

This book is the closest I’ve found to a history of Alberta’s NDP. It’s very well-written. It recounts the life of a former Alberta NDP leader who was highly respected by politicians and Albertans of all stripes before he tragically lost his life in 1984.

10. “Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics” by Warren Kinsella

Despite his constant treatment of the Liberals and the NDP as essentially having the same values, a lot can be learned from this book about high-level political campaigning (media, messaging, images, etc – ie. not “ground campaigns”). Most of the book recounts Kinsella’s experiences as one of the federal Liberal Party’s top strategists during the Chretien years.

11. "Christianity and the Social Crisis" by Walter Rauschenbusch

The author of this book was one of the founders of the Social Gospel movement in the United States in the early 1900s. It was a huge influence on many progressive political leaders in North America, including J. S. Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas, and Martin Luther King Jr. It's a must-read for those wanting to understand the roots of modern progressive Christianity.


There are many others books that could have been on this list. Feel free to offer me suggestions on what I should read next (though I currently have no shortage on that list). Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think if you get a chance to read some of these.

Best wishes for the New Year!