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Memeing away foreign policy alternatives: weekly news roundup

The vast majority of this week's rabble roundup revolves around the Trudeau government's failure to deliver on many of its progressive promises -- and the hollowness of those promises in the first place. 

Nowhere is the impact of the Trudeau government's hypocrisy and empty rhetoric more obvious, more quantifiable, than in our diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the Canadian government's relationship with the Kingdom is such a perfect distillation of the Liberals' modus operandi that it's been elevated to the level of a meme.

You know the cliche. The meme's caption is something like: "Using complex calculations, Justin Trudeau explains how he can be a feminist and a pacifist while selling $15 billion in weapons to a dictatorship that beheads LGBTQ people and oppresses women." But the memes and online fun don't stop there. This month, after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Global Affairs Canada issued tweets criticizing Saudi Arabia's imprisonment of Samar Badawi, a human rights activist and blogger Raif Badawi's sister, the Kingdom kicked out the Canadian ambassador, accused Canada of meddling in internal affairs, and withdrew their own ambassador. Then, a verified Saudi account tweeted a meme involving an Air Canada plane flying into the CN Tower, and a bevy of trolls edited the country's Wikipedia page to express concern for Canada's genocide and support for Quebec independence. Cue the lols.

On the face of it, trolling and humour that exposes Trudeau's support for state violence and more generally, the Liberals' thinning progressive veneer at home and abroad, is strategic. But there's something insidious about these memes and the increasingly mainstream narrative about the Trudeau government's doublespeak. Elevating anything to the level of obvious truth runs the risk of obfuscating policy alternatives and downplaying the level of energy that goes into devising and implementing these alternatives. It's easy to critique, but critiques without solutions create vacuums where anything goes. Just because folks recognize the status quo isn't working, doesn't mean they're clear on what will. 

Online consensus around Trudeau's broken promises isn't all bad, it's an important first step. But viral content and online entertainment tend not to focus on the sheer amount of energy required of a participatory democracy, one where civil society plays an active role in crafting policy and holding power to account. (Of course, our democracy isn't participatory, nor is it proportional, but that's a story for another day.) We all know that Justin Trudeau's claims to human rights and feminism are more of a PR exercise than a policy commitment. 

But do we agree on the alternatives? All it takes is a quick survey of various op-ed sections in Canada's mainstream media to recognize that while critiquing Trudeau is in vogue, rarely are all his critics -- even the self-proclaimed progressive ones -- on the same page.

And what's more, we know that Trudeau's government is actually invested in suppressing alternatives and calls to collective action. Just read Ole Hendrickson on why Trudeau's government is appealing the recent Ontario Superior Court decision allowing charities to engage in political activity.  

When it comes to wading into stories like the Saudi Arabia one, we don't cut corners at rabble. We see a world where principles of human rights extend into policy design and implementation, where alignment between intent and impact matters. 

Read our staff's suggestions for ways to build on the opportunity afforded by Canada's unfolding diplomatic schism with Saudi Arabia. Read Yves Engler on the history of Canada's involvement in the global arms trade and the war in Yemen. And read the rest of this newsletter for more reasons and suggestions on why challenging Trudeau requires more than just memes. 

In other rabble news

What do we teach while the world is burning? How should education adapt to the realities of climate change? What responsibility do educators bear when it comes to challenging consumer culture? How can educators subvert the commodification of education itself? Perhaps the answer has something to do with fostering curiosity, imagination, and alternatives. Read Lizanne Foster's back-to-school meditations on climate change, and read David Suzuki on why climate apocalypse isn't inevitable -- but how mainstream media wants you to think it is. 

Over 1.7 million Canadians live in inadequate or unaffordable housing, and nearly a quarter million Canadians will experience homelessness this year. But simply declaring that housing is a human right isn't enough to make Canada's housing crisis disappear. Justin Trudeau has promised to unveil a national housing strategy this fall, but if the Liberals defer to a market-based, private sector system that relies on a patchwork of charities as a backup for the most vulnerable, his strategy will fall short. Read Duncan Cameron on why the human right to housing requires a robust social safety net, and read Nima Maleki for sociological context on the erosion of such social safety nets.

Sophia Reuss is rabble.ca's Assistant Editor. 

Image: Fred/Flickr

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