Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino once expressed the wish that if a million different people saw Pulp Fiction, they’d see a million different movies. I like that sort of thing: we can generate unique interpretations from the same source, depending on our own values and experiences. I feel that way about the idea of social justice. Almost everyone I know in the United Church defines their own personal mission, and that of the church, as one of promoting and fostering social justice around the world. But, just like the Pulp Fiction audience, everyone has their own idea of what that means, and those different ideas don’t always jive.
So, as should be done after watching any great film, I’m going to unpack my interpretation in the hope that it generates some good discussion.
Any advocate of social justice should accept two principles as basic tenets. The first is that human rights are universal. The second is that we live in one world, and we must show solidarity with the oppressed. Now here’s my problem: too many of my friends are uncompromising partisans of socially just causes only up to the point where they’re on the same side of an issue as American foreign policy.
Yes, this is about Afghanistan. No, it’s not an argument for supporting the military strategy in the region, which is certainly open to debate. This is a plea for the political left in Canada to walk and chew gum at the same time. Share your concerns over the larger strategic picture, but let’s declare this without reservation: the people in Afghanistan are fellow human beings, and their struggle against the reactionary political movement that ruled their country as a medieval religious fiefdom is our struggle, too.
Instead, every peace group I can think of is speaking the language of stability and a return to the status quo so Canada can extricate itself. Bringing our troops home is characterized as “anti-war,” a label that is only accurate if you define war by its content of Canadian soldiers. No serious analyst doubts that civil war would erupt if we left. Only right-wing politicians express horror at the thought of negotiating a political settlement with the radical theo-cracy. There is something wrong with this picture.
Progressive Canadians might ask themselves a few questions at this point: What exactly are the bargaining chips in these negotiations? What of the overwhelming majority of Afghans who, when polled, support the overthrow of the Taliban? By promoting negotiations, what are you signing away on behalf of the Afghan people that you wouldn’t accept for a moment in your own life?
I know things aren’t quite this straightforward; Afghanistan’s politics are notoriously inscrutable. But I’m frustrated. Just once, I’d liked to see a peace rally organized with the intention of raising money for books in Afghanistan, or declaring solidarity for the country’s nascent labour unions, independent media and women’s rights networks.
According to the United Nations, Afghanistan is the fifth least developed country in the world. When the Taliban was in power, Afghanistan lacked infrastructure, schools, health care and women in public life — all of which are now being developed. Afghanistan today represents one of the most compelling causes of social justice in the world. I’m proud that Canada is taking a leading role.
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