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November 2010 Blog Archive

My archived blog articles for November 2010 are below. You can also click the respective links for my current blog articles, my featured blog articles, and my complete blog archives.

Truth, Casualties, and War
19 November 2010, 08h35 EST (GMT-5)

My YouTube Video
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My November 2010 television essay for The Agenda with Steve Paikin was broadcast by TVOntario yesterday evening. It is available via through my YouTube Channel and via podcast through iTunes, as well as directly above. My original text - which I edited during the broadcast - is below.

* * *

The Afghans have an expression, “You have the watches, but we have the time.”

It’s a phrase that reflects a long history of armies arriving in their land with vastly superior technology and resources, only to be worn down and worn out by remorseless resistance. The Afghans have rarely needed to outfight armies, just outlast them.

With the Canadian government now reconsidering its plans to withdraw from Afghanistan, we have a rare opportunity to rewrite history.

Unfortunately, our ability to successfully conclude the mission and effect an honourable departure is being prejudiced by an ignominious political retreat from the truth: the truth about why we went to Afghanistan in the first place and what we are actually trying to achieve there.

In the years since Canada deployed to Afghanistan, there has been a remarkable national amnesia about the genesis and the objectives of the mission, an amnesia that has been wilfully exploited by a spectrum of political parties, and abetted by a too-often credulous or indolent media.

This is a reassuring storyline that plays to our national self-perception as a beacon of civility in a cruel world – "Canada the Good" whose virtue on the international stage elevates us above the use sordid use of deadly force.

It is also complete and utter nonsense.

When the Taliban swept to power in 1996 on a wave of totalitarian fundamentalism, we did little other than issue statements.

When they imposed gender apartheid on the country and enforced it with public mutilations and executions, we used stronger language but still stayed put.

When they committed mass killings of Afghan civilians, we wrung our hands in impotent frustration.

We sent our armed forces to Afghanistan after, and only after, Al-Qaeda was given shelter by the Taliban to use the country as a base of operations for their assault on the World Trade Centre.

Let’s be clear: Canada went into Afghanistan to deny that country as a staging ground to those who had and would harm our allies and ourselves.

We went into Afghanistan to kill our enemies, before our enemies could kill more Canadians.

This is the ugly truth that comes with living in an often-ugly world, and we do ourselves no credit if we recoil into comforting fictions, as young Canadians barely out of adolescence return home in flag-draped coffins from a war we sent them to fight.

If we continue to allow the national debate over Afghanistan to be distorted by the blithe political myth that the Canadian Forces are there primarily as social workers rather than as warriors, then the mission will surely fail, because we will never come to a meaningful national consensus on whether we have achieved our objectives.

Successive governments have been reluctant to engage in an honest public debate about the mission. Why? Do Canadians prefer easy lies to hard truths? Do Canadians lack the courage to face difficult choices and come to principled decisions? I do not believe that Canadians are the fools or cowards that such politicians take us for.

Long after the Afghans coined their eastern expression, the west coined one of our own: “the first casualty of war is the truth”. If our mission in Afghanistan is to end as anything other than a bloody misadventure, we must recognise the truth as our ally and not our enemy, and govern ourselves accordingly.

For The Agenda with Steve Paikin, I’m Akaash Maharaj.

Sound, Fury, and the Judgement of History
06 November 2010, 19h45 EDT (GMT-5)

Just World International
Just World International
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The International Equestrian Federation (FEI) 2010 General Assembly has come to a close, and the delegates have dispersed from Taipei back to their home countries. A casual observer of the final day could easily make the mistake of believing that the sound and fury of the previous week signified nothing: in the end, the two most controversial questions besetting equestrian sport were answered with muted harmony.

In the presidential elections, the incumbent Haya Bint Al Hussein was re-elected in a landslide of epic proportions, winning 73% of the vote on the first ballot. The scale of her victory gives her an unambiguous mandate to press on with her institutional reforms, and an opportunity to effect a conciliation with those who did not support her. As for the new policy on the use of equine non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, it was adopted unanimously and without a word of discord, quietly ending one of the bitterest episodes the FEI has ever endured.

Immediately before the president formally ended proceedings, the FEI’s secretary general kindly called me to deliver the General Assembly’s anchor address on a subject close to my heart: our duty as leaders of the international equestrian community to serve the broader public good. My text is below.

I returned to Canada from Taiwan this evening, to act for our national team and federation the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, and to relive another round of jet lag and physical exhaustion from zigzagging back across the International Date Line.

Representing our country on the international stage is one of the greatest privileges to which any of us can aspire, and I hope the Canadian equestrian community will judge me to have been a worthy ambassador in Taipei.


* * *


President and Members of the Bureau, colleagues and friends

We are at the end of a long and stressful day, which closes a long and stressful week, and I know better than to stand too long between anyone and the bar. I will therefore offer you only a few personal words.

Although I am the Chief Executive Officer of Canada’s national federation, the Bureau has done me the honour of inviting me to also draw from my experiences as an equestrian athlete with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, about our shared capacity as national federations to harness our sport to drive global humanitarian efforts.

Throughout this week, we have been fortunate to receive presentations from Just World International, a charitable organisation that enables equestrian athletes to come to the aid of some of the world’s most vulnerable and destitute children. They have offered the FEI and national federations a series of options to join hands with them and become part of their mission.

I imagine that every one of us who has heard Jessica Newman speak has thought that it all sounds terribly worthy, but has also wondered whether such partnerships are really the business of sport organisations, or a reasonable use of our members’ scarce volunteer and professional resources, especially at a time of economic uncertainty.

I should like to make the case that social responsibility and public service are not simply appropriate paths for us, but part of our core responsibilities as national federations and as people of conscience, and I am very proud that Equine Canada has taken up Just World’s invitation.

In the soaring words of the Olympic Charter, the very purpose of all international sport competition is to foster "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" and "to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

But high words cast a long shadow over low deeds, and if these Olympian ideals are to have any meaning, they must inspire in us a conviction that when we design our federations and conduct our affairs, we do so always looking towards our ultimate calling: to serve and advance the human condition.

The connection with sport is obvious: the ethics of good sportsmanship are the cornerstone ideals of an honourable society: fair play; gallantry towards teammates and adversaries alike; equality of opportunity in the pursuit of excellence; humility in victory and grace in defeat. In many ways, the ideal of the level playing field is a metaphor for the universal yearning for a fair and meritocratic world.

But while all sports have an opportunity to serve the greater good, I believe that we as equestrians have a special calling and greater responsibility.

Others play at their sports: they may play football; they may play cricket; in Canada they certainly play hockey. But we – we are equestrians. Equestrianism defines us and what we are in a way that no mere game ever could.

We all know that ours is one of the few sports where men and women compete with and against one another on terms of absolute equality. Rarer still, it calls upon the decency and compassion of one partner to put the welfare of the other ahead of any question of personal ambition. For six thousand years, equestrianism has symbolised all that is most noble in the human spirit, and has been the source of the code – indeed of the very word – of chivalry.

Each of us in this room has been blessed by our peers with the privilege of serving as their chosen global governors for our sport.

As such, each of us is nothing, if not a living memorial to the generations of men and women who came before us. If we are to be deserving heirs and worthy stewards of this heritage, then our first responsibility is to build upon our inheritance.

In the European steppes, the first generation of horsepeople brought the horse into human society, and the world became a better place.

In Asia’s Indus Valley and in the Middle East’s Mesopotamia, drivers made the horse the engine of civilisation, and the world became a better place.

In Africa, Numidian cavalry ushered in the age of empires, and the world became a better place.

In the New World, countless equestrian volunteers risked and sometimes sacrificed their lives to spirit thousands of escaped slaves out of the United States and into Canada, out of bondage and into freedom, and the world became a better place.

In the fullness of time, when our age is brought to judgement, future generations of equestrians will inevitably ask of us, "With all the wealth you accumulated, with all the status you held, with all the power you wielded, what did you do to make the world a better place?"

I should put it to all of us, that if we are to hold our heads high before the judgment of history, we must be able to reply that ours was the generation of equestrians that heard our calling and embraced our responsibilities to our fellow human beings in a globalised world. That now was the time, and we were the people, who cemented the institutional relationship between equestrianism and humanitarianism.

Because if we do this, together, as national federations and as an international equestrian community, then we will be able to reply, that we too made the world a better place.

Shock and Awe in Taipei
04 November 2010, 09h00 CST (GMT+8)

FEI Webcasts
The 2010 FEI General Assembly in Taipei
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We are at the midway point of the International Equestrian Federation (Fédération équestre internationale, or FEI) General Assembly in Taipei, and the tension is palpable.

My colleagues and I from Canada’s delegation have been spared the most vexatious forms of politicking that have stalked the FEI’s presidential campaign. Our colleagues from South America have not been as fortunate, with whispers and shouts of coup and counter-coup putting an end to more than one friendship.

I have been involved in Canadian politics for many years, in local, provincial, national, and leadership campaigns. Despite that background, I have been taken aback by the brutality of many aspects of the FEI elections. Having glimpsed the underside of the organisation, I fear that very few people have risen in my regard.

The FEI is composed of ten regional groups. Canada belongs to Group IV, in the main, the English and French speaking New World countries.

Yesterday, the regional groups were given their annual audience with the FEI Bureau (which in Canada would be called a Board of Directors). Although the exercise is ostensibly meant to offer us an opportunity to present our collective views to the Bureau, it appears to be organised primarily to strike awe into our hearts.

The Bureau sits at the far end of a cavernous and largely empty conference hall, lined up along one side of a long conference table, on a dais physically elevated above the rest of this room. From this perch, they invite the regional groups to come forward in turn and sit before them at a second smaller table placed on lower ground. As a result, throughout the proceedings, the Bureau literally looks down on the regional groups, while the group representatives must look upwards under their gaze.

David O’Connor, president of the United States Equestrian Federation, chairs Group IV, and he delivered our group’s requests of the Bureau on the individual issues we had discussed the previous day. However, our group asked me to then address the Bureau on broader questions of how it had conducted itself over the past year, and how it had discharged the mandate we delegate to it.

As one might imagine from its magisterial settings, the Bureau is unaccustomed to being called to account by FEI member countries, and it is certainly unprepared to be spoken with in direct and candid terms. Nevertheless, our group believes strongly that for the good of our sport, we have a duty to tell the Bureau what it needs to know and not just what it would like to hear. To do otherwise would be to fail in our duty to them, to the FEI, and to the global equestrian community.

My address was in two parts.

Our first message concerned the processes used to set FEI policy on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), arguably the single most contentious issue facing equestrian sport today.

The matter is complex, but in essence, there were a series of catastrophic procedural and communications failures in the process employed by the Bureau at the 2009 Copenhagen General Assembly. Fortunately, the Bureau organised a subsequent Lausanne exercise that rescued the situation. Although we reached the correct destination, the journey was unnecessarily circuitous, divisive, and damaging. Our group’s message to the Bureau was that in the future, the Lausanne process must be the rule, and the Copenhagen process the exception.

My second message concerned the conduct of Bureau members as the NSAID issue unravelled.

The central pillar of the Bureau’s democratic accountability to the FEI is the principle of collective responsibility. While decisions are before them, Bureau members all have a responsibility to make themselves informed and active participants in debate, and to find the courage to offer dissent where they judge it to be warranted. Once a decision is taken, however, they all have no less of a responsibility to collectively stand by it, so long as they are Bureau members.

In the case of NSAIDs, after the FEI had taken its decision and after that decision had become a subject of international controversy, a number of Bureau members publicly dissociated themselves from the policy. This was – and is – wholly unacceptable. It was conduct that left the Bureau ethically impoverished and with damaged credibility.

Our group’s message was that if any of them had objections of procedure or of substance, the moment to speak up had been prior to the decision being taken, when that decision could have been shaped and changed, not afterwards, when all that could be achieved was to ascribe and evade blame.

Prior to the vote at the Copenhagen General Assembly, not a single Bureau member voiced any opposition to the NSAID Progressive List Motion on the floor. By biting their tongues at the moment of decision, they forfeited any right to publicly criticise the outcome.

I summarised our views bluntly: it is the duty of every national equestrian federation and every Bureau member to put up or to shut up.

The words of my address were undoubtedly difficult for them to hear. They were certainly no easier for me to utter. All the Bureau members are my colleagues, many of them are my friends, and I regret more than I can express that this matter may come between some of us. However, a friend fails in his duty if he remains silent as his friend wanders off the edge of a cliff; a national equestrian federation fails in its duty if it allows that friend to take the credibility of our sport with him.

The reaction from the Bureau was utter and total silence. Not a single person offered a comment or question before we left the room.

Later, the current FEI president told me over coffee that they had been in shock: “No one, and I mean no one, has ever spoken to us like that. But we badly needed to hear it, and I can tell you that every one of them is going to remember it forever. You made them listen. I just hope they act.”

The response since has been curious. Those who agreed have been speaking to me of little else. Those who disagreed have not said a word to me, though I am aware that they have said a great deal about me.

The next major chapter in the FEI saga will be tonight’s presidential candidates’ debate, which will be webcast in its entirety. I encourage anyone with an appetite for excitement to watch it.



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