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Posted Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Canada, the good guys? No more.
Carolynne Wheeler, 25/07/06 at 5:21 AM EDT
It's not as easy as it once was to be a Canadian abroad.
There was a time when being a Canadian would instantly bring smiles to the faces of whoever you were speaking to, whether you were travelling in Western Europe or in the Middle East. We were the peacemakers, the good guys.
In recent months though, as Canadian troops have grown more involved in Afghanistan and our foreign policy has become more aligned with that of the United States, our happy maple-leaf passport is not always as welcome as it once was. And if you happen to be a holder of that passport, often those you meet want to let their feelings known, immediately and passionately, whether they're positive or negative -- as if you personally are responsible for every foreign policy decision of the last decade or so.
Take one conversation with an Israeli military analyst, a former intelligence officer who spoke with me at length about Israel's intentions in Lebanon. As the interview wound down, he insisted on keeping me on the phone for a while longer, thanking me profusely for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's strong stances this week, telling me how much the Israeli public appreciated such sentiments from such a "steadfast ally" at such a difficult time.
Then, there was a meeting yesterday with a Fatah legislator by the name of Abdullah Abdullah on negotiations in Gaza. There, an Israeli soldier is still being held captive, Qassam rockets are still being fired into Israel, and, night after night, airstrikes and artillery barrages by the Israeli military are shaking houses, and killing and injuring civilians, along with the militants they're trying to hit.
Mr. Abdullah spent nearly 20 years in Canada as the PLO's representative there, and was later the Palestinian ambassador to Greece. When he first learned I was from Canada, his face broke into a broad smile and he gave me a high-five. His children are Canadian citizens and his daughter, he says proudly, is a doctor there. By his account, during his days in Ottawa, he used to eat pizza with the family of now-Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, whom he described as wonderful people.
But then his face grew sober, and he began to grill me on why Canada is moving away from its traditional mediator role in the Middle East, and he told me how disappointed he is.
"It's cowardice," he said, throwing up his hands.
We're good, we're bad, we're on the side of right, we're siding with the enemy -- just about every journalist working abroad hears the debate now.
And in this complicated part of the world, I still haven't figured out what my response is supposed to be -- to any of them.