The Gunboats of Diplomacy

I’m not one to cling to a dead horse, so I’m reluctant to revisit the problem with censorship in this country.  However, I think somebody has got to clear up a gross misunderstanding that is affecting the debate.  Last week, the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council banned Dire Straits’ song “Money for Nothing” from the public airwaves.  It is now illegal to broadcast this song in Canada.  Also, last week, Library and Archives Canada cancelled a screening of Raphael Shore’s film about Iran’s nuclear program, called Iranium.  Instantaneously, the “lefties are ruining the country” club connected the dots and knee-jerked themselves into a frenzy.   According to them, these two events had triggered the end of the world — the crack of doom was clearly visible, liberty was dead and Jack Layton was going to rule the Earth as Satan’s evilest minion.   Folks, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, shut up.  These two events are totally unrelated, and your yipping and whining is muddying the water for real people who want to fix this stuff.  Here’s what’s really going on.

“Money for Nothing” was banned because somebody in the Loud and Proud crowd got bored one afternoon and decided to be outraged, 25 years after the fact.  (The song is a quarter of a century old and Dire Straits hasn’t even been a band for over 15 years.)  The bureaucrats at CBSC probably got tired of all the phone calls and e-mails and decided, “Okay, let’s just ban the damn thing so we can get some peace and quiet around here.”  Everybody was duly shocked — again — at how much power Politically Correct has in Canada.  However, nobody was willing to stand up to these bullies, and the world kept spinning.  Library and Archives Canada’s decision to cancel the screening of Iranium is seriously different.  Let me explain.

In the good old days people, with boats and guns (mostly Europeans) ran the world, and they told the people without boats and guns (everybody else) just exactly how they wanted things done.  This was called “gunboat diplomacy” and in case you were sleeping in Mr. McClellan’s history class, here’s how it worked.  Country A would anchor a gunboat in the harbour of Country B.  A minor diplomat would tell the local potentate to do as he was told or else the boat in the harbour was going to open fire, and keep shooting until everybody came around to Country A’s point of view.  King Whoever, of Country B, really didn’t have much choice in the matter because he didn’t have any boats or guns, so he usually agreed to whatever Country A wanted.

Flash forward 200 years, and gunboat diplomacy has never really gone away.  It’s just changed slightly.  These days, Country A says something like “I don’t want to see any more Moslem cartoons.”  They back up their demands with threats of riots, murder and suicide bombings.  Country B doesn’t want to see murder and mayhem on their streets, so they quietly agree.  They make up some crap about diversity and inclusion to save face, but in the end, they do as they’re told.  One of the most famous cases of 21st century “gunboat diplomacy” was when the TV show South Park was going to depict Mohammed in an upcoming episode.  They received several hundred e-mails saying — in no uncertain terms — that was not a good idea.   The creators of the show decided it was safer to pick on Tom Cruise’s religion than Osama Bin Laden’s and they changed the episode.  Diplomacy works.

Now let’s move over to the situation at Library and Archives Canada.  They were scheduled to show the film Iranium, a documentary about Iran’s nuclear program.  The Iranian government disagreed with the tenor of the movie and their embassy sent a letter to the Library, requested the screening be cancelled.  Immediately afterwards, according to spokesperson Pauline Portelance, the federal institution began receiving e-mails and phone calls from “members of the public” who threatened to protest, and when these threats became “serious” and a couple of suspicious packages showed up at the door, Library and Archives Canada decided it had some “security concerns” (where have we heard that before?) and did, indeed, cancel the screening.  Call it what you will, but it looks to me like Country A made its point.

That would have been the end of it except for Jim.  I don’t know anything about Jim except he strikes me as an ordinary guy.  He’s from New Westminster, he has a dog and apparently he doesn’t like to get pushed around.  In another life, Jim is Heritage Minister James Moore in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, and he used his political power wisely and ordered Library & Archives Canada to show the film.  He told them to address the security concerns but show the film.  He is adamant that the film must be shown.  I don’t think he’s ever seen it; I don’t think he even cares what’s in it.  But he understands that it’s time to quit kowtowing to threats of violence and do the right thing.

Finally to clear up any misunderstanding, these are two completely different situations, with two completely different results.  One is a perfect example of Canada’s ongoing inability to act like adults; whereas, the other is Country A trying to tell Country B what to do.  So, for all those people who want to sit on their hands and moan around playing “Ain’t it awful,” do something about it or go listen to Dire Straits on YouTube.  Me?  I’m going to party with folks like Jim.

5 thoughts on “The Gunboats of Diplomacy

  1. Agree with a lot of what you said, but there’s also plenty of “gunboat diplomacy” coming from right-leaning governments and censorship of ideas from the Stephen Harper Government as well (note his “lovely” relationship with the media and what he’s willing to share with the public). All of it depends on whose point of view they want to promote or supress. If they want to promote it, they’re all for “free speech” and use this as their battle cry. If they want to supress it, suddenly there’s security concerns. This shit comes from all sides, I’m afraid…NOT, NOT a “left” or “right” issue. A human political issue in general.

  2. Hey wdfyfe,

    I like the cut of your jib (to borrow another mariner’s coloquialism)! You’re bang on – nobody will notice freedom of expression has been eroded until it is gone. I’m tired of the obnoxious and politically correct few complaining and managing to get an entire bureaucracy to do back-flips to appease some perceived insult or because they disagree with what might be said.

    Andrew Neil

  3. Most of the time, when people jump on the bandwagon, they really don’t know the issues that prompted they to start their leap in the first place. Today, I read the story on the showing of the film “Iranium” and the Library and Archives cancelling it because of “security concerns” For all the people who are jumping on any bandwagon, and I don’t care what the issues are, get all the facts before you take the leap.

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