Branch causes: I thought root causes was a wussy term for use only by leftists, but I was wrong. Condoleezza Rice and the U.S. have appropriated it. As usual, when terms get pilfered, it’s in order to distort them.

So the Secretary of State says the U.S. won’t act to stop the bloodshed in Lebanon until its root cause is addressed or we’ll be back at the “status quo ante” — and that root cause is Hezbollah. ‘Scuse me, but that’s a branch cause, possibly a twig. Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 when there was no Hezbollah, which arose in response to the occupation. So destroy Hezbollah for being the root cause and you’re back to a status quo ante in which — Israel attacks Lebanon.

Stinting: Official response to the death of Canadian Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener at a UN post in Lebanon was odd. There was no rush to praise his name, as there is for Canadians who fall in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister’s response was impersonal and formulaic: “This regrettable incident underscores the dangers . . . in all the roles they undertake . . . far from our shores.” He even seemed to blame the major, or the UN, for being there, asking “why [the post] remained manned.”

But many deaths in combat have an absurd, ignoble component. Our soldiers in Afghanistan commented just last week about the incongruity of dying by suicide bomb. A U.S. soldier in Iraq said, “Honestly, it just feels like we’re driving around waiting to get blown up.” The nobility in such situations consists in doing your duty, staying at your post, being brave, despite the pointlessness of your mission or the ineptitude of those who sent you on it. The major deserved better from his nation’s leader.

Perhaps the PM stinted in his praise due to an underlying policy issue: He wants to change Canada’s military stand to a more “robust,” warlike one, and saw this as a chance to make the point.

But I think there’s something else. I don’t think Stephen Harper likes Canada much, and is reluctant to take its part. You could see it in his words to a U.S. audience in 1997 that we are a “Northern European welfare state in the worst sense,” or his advice to Alberta in 2001 to build a firewall separating it from the rest of us. He asks God to bless Canada, as if we badly need it.

There are clearly countries he likes, such as the U.S. and Israel. He defends them as if he’s their leader, even when a few simple questions — about those Canadian deaths in Lebanon, for instance — would suffice. Maybe he’ll like Canada better when he’s made it more like them, which, of course, is a legitimate political goal.

Pakistani wedding 101: This was the subject of a lively, engaging e-mail sent by my friend, journalist Noor Javed, to the non-initiates invited to her wedding earlier this summer. I felt relief wash over me as I read Pakistani instead of Muslim. Since 9/11, our world has been incessantly reduced to Muslim and Western, them and us. I felt as if the continents and subcontinents were finally starting to reseparate.

The Muslim world is multifarious, and is hardly coherent as a world. Edward Said argued that the category was almost never invoked before the oil shock of 1974. It doesn’t even have to imply religiosity. Zinédine Zidane calls himself a non-practising Muslim. Would you know there was such a thing from the news?

Noor’s “primer” sounded fairly exotic: “I will finally show up . . . right before you start to wonder if you came to the right wedding. . . . It will be pretty chaotic for approx 20 minutes. . . . There is a lot of crying. Don’t worry, this is normal.”

But once you were there, it felt like any big ethnic family event: could’ve been Jewish, could’ve been Italian. The co-MCs wore Italy and France banners and cracked corny jokes about the World Cup. When Noor’s mother came around, she put out her hand for a firm shake and I think I twitched in surprise. Cancel one more groundless expectation.

It’s been hard not to be recruited, even unwillingly, into the tidy, menacing world of the clash of civs. The only people who’ve benefited have been blinkered zealots on both sides. I include Osama bin Laden and George Bush. Noor’s e-mail struck a counterblow for the rest of us.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.