rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Right-wing Rage Machine readies the Full Neil Young Treatment for Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu

Please support our coverage of democratic movements and become a monthly supporter of rabble.ca.

Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu presumably knew perfectly well when he made his now-famous comment about Alberta's Bitumen Sands yesterday that it doesn't much matter who you are, you’re bound to be the subject of hysterical ritual trashing if you dare to speak out in this province against the Sands' development.

Nor does it really matter how mild or strong your criticism is, or how nuanced or direct you happen to make it, the level and type of the vituperation you are subjected to will be pretty much the same.

Just the same, Bishop Tutu -- an Anglican who had already established his credentials for fearlessness in the fight against Apartheid, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee pointed out back in the day -- went ahead and was pretty strong in his commentary at a conference in Fort McMurray on bitumen mining and First Nations treaty rights.

"The fact that this filth is being created now, when the link between carbon emissions and global warming is so obvious, reflects negligence and greed," he now-famously said, although this is a little more nuanced than most headlines made it appear. "The oilsands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to safer climate."

Predictably, the hysterical pile-on started immediately in some of the darker corners of the Internet, and is now moving mainstream.

Alberta Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver, who is running from behind and therefore must have figured he needed to get there fustest with the mostest, was quickly quoted by what used to be the daily press complaining about the churchman’s remarks.

Nowadays, with concern about the effect on the planet’s climate by carbon emissions from Bitumen Sands mining in northern Alberta running high enough to attract criticism by prominent people, including musicians, filmmakers and religious leaders, "celebrity" has taken on the quality of a swear word here in the New West, as all Albertans have come to understand.

We call this the full Neil Young Treatment, and the implication is that if you're a celebrity -- no matter how you came by your renown -- you must not know what you're talking about, at least if you're saying bad things about bitumen.

So McIver was quick to trot down that well-worn path, sniffing that Bishop Tutu was part of a "parade of celebrities" who need, as the Calgary Herald put it, "to better educate themselves" about our bitumen. (The days when newspaper editors demanded their reporters educate themselves better about split infinitives are apparently long gone.)

Reports of McIver's first shot were quickly followed by a sycophantic Tweet by a former Stephen Harper and Christy Clark aide who happens to be his campaign manager calling them "Refreshing plain talk. Refreshing."

Not that McIver himself demonstrated a particularly deep understanding of the issue, emphasizing how neatly bitumen mining companies tidy up after themselves and failing to mention the debate about carbon emissions, which is where the controversy really lies.

But then, remarks like McIver's aren't really about dialogue, they're about seeing who can yell the loudest at anyone who raises their head in opposition to bitumen mining, plus getting the most headlines.

Worse is sure to come in the next few days, and perhaps even Prime Minister Harper will step in and assail the South African churchman once he finishes compiling his clippings from his jeremiad against Communism, which apparently ran to a length worthy of Fidel Castro.

Any Alberta politician who doesn't contribute to the ritual trashing of Bishop Tutu out here where Green has become the new Red, of course, risks a trashing of his or her own at the hands of all the usual suspects on both sides of the Legislature, in the mainstream media and its antisocial online counterpart.

So I was surprised that Tory candidate Thomas Lukaszuk showed admirable restraint and disagreed respectfully with Bishop Tutu, which is entirely to his credit.

What the brainiacs of Alberta’s petroelite and their pet politicians don't seem to get is that they're shooting themselves in both feet every time they assail another celebrity -- whether their target became one by plucking a guitar or by being, as President Barack Obama said of Bishop Tutu when he awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, "an unrelenting champion of justice and human dignity."

This may not matter to McIver, of course. He's just trying to get ahead out here and drum up some votes among the common clay of the new West.

But you'd think some of the others might wise up to the possibility that taking potshots at this particular messenger could actually amplify his message 'round the world.

Don't count on it, though.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.