Yeah, whatever: I consider nationalism a positive force that has often been manipulated by the usual manipulators into bad effects. (The main example of nationalism as a bad thing, Nazism, wasn’t nationalist at all. It was a racist ideology and inherently anti-national.) Historically, nationalism in its many forms drew people together, helped them overcome pettier differences and united them in common projects. It reminded them of their social, inclusive nature.

When it had a negative thrust, that was usually about standing up for their dignity against exploiters or rulers, as in the national liberation movements of the 20th century. When the power of such a force becomes clear, the usual manipulators, in and out of politics, try to channel it to their own advantage. They say things like, “I hear Canadian nationalism is getting big, how can we use it to win the next election?” I put that in quotes because someone really said it. The history of nationalism occurs on these two levels: the relatively genuine base, and its exploitation.

That goes for both Canadian and Quebec nationalism. Each expresses a largely positive, spontaneous sentiment. They can coexist, sometimes in the same person. There could be various acceptable constitutional outcomes, including separate countries, if that occurred with mutual respect, like an amicable divorce. When there has been demonization by either side, it has come mainly from those in power, for the sake of their own special interests. I include Pierre Trudeau.

In this light, the motion presented by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on “Québécois” being a “nation” is benign. It amounts to nothing practically and is verbally meaningless, but it pulls back from the overt meddling and posturing of recent Canadian history. Maybe a moment for direct political intervention will one day arise. But for now, it lets all the party players off the hook and punts the discussion back to the popular level, where it does best. It’s the equivalent of saying: Yeah, whatever.

Get ready for Iran: Can someone explain to me what is sinister and outrageous about Iran trying to “interfere” with events in Iraq, or Syria doing so in Lebanon? They have borders and history with those countries. That’s what nations do in their own backyards.

Isn’t a better question: What are the U.S. and Britain doing there, far from home, where they don’t even speak the language? How does what’s normal become the issue and what’s bizarre become the norm? A Globe headline said Iran’s invitation of Iraq and Syria to a summit was “viewed as effort to undermine U.S. influence in region.” That’s like the U.S. and Canada trying to undermine South Africa’s influence, after a South African invasion of the Niagara Peninsula. Why wouldn’t they?

What if Syria was behind this week’s assassination of Lebanese politician Pierre Gemayel, something even journalists critical of Syria seem to doubt? Didn’t the U.S. support Israel’s attack on Lebanon this summer, adding mightily to the current political unravelling? At this point, it’s not about interfering, it’s about who has more claim to interfere.

CNN ominously reported that Iran’s purpose was to diminish U.S. influence in the region. Maybe it’s time to revisit the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which told European powers to stay out of the Western Hemisphere since it was the United States’ bailiwick. The U.S. wasn’t asked by Latin American countries to take that stance, it did so because the military or political presence of Europeans was seen as “dangerous to our peace and safety.” Note that there was no bilge back then about the “responsibility to protect.” It hung on sheer self-interest in the ‘hood.

Can’t you sort of hear Iran or Syria, or any regional power in the world, using the same phrase? Don’t take your eye off this ball, and don’t expect recent U.S. election results to matter. U.S. voters clearly meant to reject military involvement over there. But leading Democrats, like presidential possibilities Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh, or onetime antiwar candidate Howard Dean, are onside for attacking Iran. No Iranian is going to swipe their Monroe Doctrine.


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.