Some days, people in the Third World can be forgiven for being unimpressed with the rest of us.
Take the pro-democracy protests continuing to sweep the Middle East, for example. The way a few are going on, you’d think westerners were on the front lines in Tahrir Square in Cairo, battling the forces of repression themselves.
Instead of watching it, you know, from the comfort of their living room. On a big flat-screen.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s certainly been nice this winter for those of us in the West to trumpet the (apparent) advance of democracy in Egypt and across the Arab world. It’s felt good. On social media, in the mainstream media, commentators in North America and Europe have been jubilant.
But quite a few folks have been energetically patting themselves on the back, too. And some western politicians and opinion leaders have suggested that Egyptians, Libyans and others emulate our fine example.
When Hosni Mubarak fled, a friend and I were in a cab in New York City, listening to the U.S. president on the radio. “The United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt,” said Barack Obama.
Our driver, of Arab descent, actually laughed out loud.
It’s hard to blame him. Who, exactly, have we been “friend and partner” to? Weren’t we all resolutely in favour of Mubarak — the bulwark against Islamist extremism and all that — until the moment when, um, we weren’t? Weren’t we, democracy’s champions, championing an anti-democratic thug for three decades?
The Libyan people must marvel at our situational ethics, too. They’re a bit busy, at the moment. But I know enough about Libya — I wrote a little-noticed book about the country a few years ago — to know Libyans have long memories.
As they collect the bodies of hundreds of Libyan women and children who have been murdered by Moammar Gadhafi’s “security forces” in the past few days — as they risk their lives to call for change — what do the Libyan people think about us? It’s not an abstract question.
For instance: In December 2004, then PM Paul Martin made the spectacularly foolish decision to travel to Libya and heap praise on Gadhafi. (In fairness to Martin, lots of other leaders did likewise that year.) I opposed the junket in the pages of another newspaper, but nobody else seemed to care.
I was appalled that a Canadian prime minister was willing to break bread with a homicidal maniac. A dictator, an anti-Semite, a human rights abuser, a funder of terrorism — Gadhafi was all of those things.
But there was our PM, grinning for photos, hanging out with Gadhafi in a bedouin tent in the desert.
This won’t soon be forgotten by the Libyan people, I thought.
Too harsh? Then let me conclude with a little story about a long-ago trip to Miami. I hung out there with Gus Garcia, a senior Dade County Democratic Party boss.
One night, Gus and his Spanish-speaking wife took me to a Cuban restaurant.
I asked him what he and his fellow Cuban expats thought about Canadians, who so often holiday in Cuba. Gus pointed at his wife’s leg. At a long, red scar.
“See that?” he said. “We call that her Canadian scar. She and her sister have blond hair, so they’d go onto beaches for Canadian tourists. Though she is Cuban, she is not allowed on the tourist beaches in Cuba.
“One day, the police chased after my wife and sister-in-law with clubs and guns to get them off the Canadians’ beach. She fell on some rocks and got that scar.”
He paused. “When democracy comes to Cuba — and it will — we will remember where Canada stood.
“It wasn’t with us.”
Kinsella is a lawyer, blogs at warrenkinsella.com and will appear regularly on Sun News Network