Canada’s real terrorism problem

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This mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta, was spray-painted by xenophobic vandals. The town is home to an airbase from which CF-18 jet fighters recently departed en route to the war zone of Iraq. The people of Cold Lake have since banded together to clean up the graffiti while the police search for the perpetrators.

Oh, Canada. What’s happening to you?

You used to be such a nice place. Liberal. Socialist, even. And it worked out great for you while it lasted.

You used to be such a livable, lovable place. The country to the immediate south of us may have billed itself the Land of Opportunity, but when it came to real opportunities, we had them beat. Our social safety net ensured that no one got left too far behind by the ups and downs of the mixed economy.

Everyone who came here used to feel so welcome. We got immigrants from all over the world, and they helped make this the most diverse country on the planet. And the most multicultural. And the place where the most disparate people had a chance to coexist peacefully. From Vietnam War draft dodgers to Iraq War refugees, we’ve been enriched by the presence of people who were outcasts in their own lands. And the religious and ethnic clashes of the old country were left far behind, much to the relief and joy of all. Here, it didn’t matter who you were, what you were or where you came from; you were accepted. You were always at home.

And now I feel like a stranger in my own land, even though I was born here.

We seem to have caught terrorism-itis from south of the border. Everyone’s so paranoid now. Instead of waiting to learn what’s going on, we start jumping to false conclusions. The embarrassing truth leaks out too late every time.

Like this week. These past few days saw us “attacked” by two “terrorists” who, it turns out, were something else altogether. One was a paranoid schizophrenic; the other, a drug addict. But since both were Muslims, and chose to attack and kill soldiers of the Canadian army, with a confused mess of ISIL propaganda and madness roaring through their heads, they just automatically got labelled as terrorists. As if they had flown fully loaded passenger jets into the Peace Tower and the banking district of downtown Toronto on a suicide mission co-ordinated from a cave somewhere near the Pak-Afghan border.

The truth is stranger, and sadder, and nowhere near as dramatic as that.

In fact, the “terrorists” were not foreigners, as was initially reported/speculated. They were both native-born French-Canadians. And they both had mental problems that could easily have been treated. This tragedy was totally avoidable, and neither a war nor even changes to our nation’s security systems was necessary to avert it.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at who these guys were, and how they acted.

Martin Couture-Rouleau was a convert to Islam; he converted only last year. He was not an immigrant. He was not even remotely an Arab, or Muslim by birth. His religious conversion appears to have arisen out of a growing heap of personal problems. Apparently he made enough radical-sounding noises that the RCMP was investigating him, and his passport was revoked, preventing him from travelling to Turkey (and presumably, from there, to Syria to join ISIL forces). He was alienated from his family, and everyone who knew him was bewildered by the recent changes to his personality. He was divorced, and his ex-wife was apparently frightened enough of him to seek sole custody of their child. It was not Islam that had made him that way, though; it was his own schizophrenia. His “radicalization” was concurrent with the worsening of his illness. And his own imam struggled in vain to dissuade him from supporting ISIL or taking up battle — or terrorism — on their behalf.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was also not an immigrant, although his father was one (from Libya), and his mother a deputy chair at the federal immigration department. At school he was simply known as Mike Bibeau, the big, gregarious good-time guy voted most likely to succeed, especially with the ladies. But drug addiction shortly after his graduation from high school put an end to all that. He was known to police, but only as a petty criminal and drug abuser. His parents are long divorced, and bewildered as to what has become of him. Like Martin Couture-Rouleau, he was alienated from his family; his mother said she hadn’t seen him in five years. In that time, he had fled to BC, looking in vain to escape his addiction (which had shifted from marijuana and PCP usage to crack cocaine). He tried everything from religion to prison to cure himself. He wasn’t jailed long enough to keep him away from the dealers, and the imam of the mosque where he broke in at night to sleep on the floor locked him out. His religious fervor was a direct outgrowth of his efforts to replace one drug with another. At the time of his final desperate acts, he was homeless and so isolated from humanity that even at the Ottawa homeless shelter where he’d taken refuge, he was an outsider.

Neither man was connected to the other, nor to any known terrorist groups. Both were entirely isolated, and more so thanks to their respective mental conditions.

Meanwhile, our social safety net has eroded. Mental health services have faced severe cutbacks in all provinces. People who should have been hospitalized, as much for their own safety as anyone else’s, are instead left to roam the street, helpless and untreated. A few years ago, we were horrified by a beheading on a Greyhound bus; the killer, in that case, was a schizophrenic too, and should have been hospitalized. Not until he’d killed and partially eaten a complete stranger in the thick of a psychotic episode did he finally get the help he needed. If by “help” one means psychiatric incarceration, that is.

Six years after Vince Weiguang Li began his treatment, our mental health system has not improved a whit. It is still chronically starved of funding and professionals. The mental hospitals we so desperately need are still closed, with no new ones opened to replace them. The few still remaining have waiting lists a mile long. Those who can’t afford private counselling and rehab are shit out of luck.

And worse, we no longer have a federal long-gun registry. That’s right; a crime-fighting tool born out of a terrorist attack in Montréal was scrapped by the same wonderful Conservative party that’s also behind all the other rips in our social safety net! The police are thus officially hamstrung. Who knows if we’ll ever find out how Mike Bibeau, who was legally prohibited from owning firearms due to his criminal and drug record, managed to get his hands on the rifle that enabled him to kill Nathan Cirillo, who was standing guard at the federal War Memorial?

Yeah, tell me the Conservatives are not the real terrorists in all this. They’re using the hysteria surrounding these events, even now, to push their own very anti-Canadian agenda. And the sad part is, too many people are all too happy to LET them.

Of course, salient facts like that have escaped the major media, or the myriads of know-nothings who pontificate in the comments sections of their websites. Most of them seem quite convinced that if we only shut our doors tightly enough, ramped up the security high enough, and went to war in enough foreign countries to “bomb them back to the Stone Age” and “teach them a good lesson”, the “terrorist” problem would be best addressed. Never mind that neither of these guys was a foreigner, and that both in fact were born right here.

Or they’re all full of self-righteous Islamophobia, oblivious to the fact that in both cases, imams actually tried to deter these guys from taking the criminal turns they did. And oblivious, too, to the fact that Canadian Muslims are right on the same page with all the rest of us in condemning such attacks, and terrorism in general.

And above all, they’re oblivious to the role that a too-easy access to guns, and a too-hard access to mental health care, played in this whole goddamn mess. They simply cannot and will not see those connections, even though it doesn’t take a brilliant sociologist to draw them.

Oh yeah, and that’s another thing: We’re not supposed to commit sociology in times of terrorism, according to none other than Stephen Fucking Harper himself. Yes, that’s right…the tough-talking macho PM, who bravely, bravely hid in a broom closet while his underlings barricaded the door with spears made from flag poles!

But hey. At least the parliamentary Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, proved that his role is not merely ceremonial, even though his costume may be. Like René Jalbert many years before him, he was the one who engaged a confused, deranged gunman hellbent on wreaking terror. Unlike Jalbert, though, he couldn’t talk the shooter out of it; he ended up having to kill him. “Terrorist” crisis ended, either way.

And all this without recourse to war.

Now the PM’s security detail has modified its protocol so that they can enter the Commons chamber and protect him at all times. That’s fine; at least it doesn’t unduly curtail anyone’s civil liberties. Not so fine, however, is the legislation the government apparently passed on the same day as Martin Couture-Rouleau ran down Patrice Vincent in a fit of psychosis. We’re now facing intrusive, unconstitutional online surveillance under the pretext of “crime prevention”! Yay!

So, now you know. And if this is the last post you see from me, you’ll know why. I’ll have been arrested for committing the supreme terrorist act of daring to think un-conservatively and sociologically, and tying together all the things they don’t want us to understand are related. If you think Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau were crazy (and they were, alas), you ain’t seen nothin’ . My own country just totally outclassed them in the losing-one’s-shit department.

And since it’s already at war in Iraq, too, it’s also outdone them in terms of real terrorism.

German psychologists and the scientific case against prostitution

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An 18-year-old Bosnian Muslim war survivor recovering after abortion of a rape-induced pregnancy, September 1992. Photo: Nina Berman, Sipa Press.

Even as German politicians are coming under heavy pressure from the local pimp lobby to do away with all laws around prostitution, another group of voices is rising up to join the opposition to that very wealthy and powerful force. They are trauma therapists who have worked extensively with women and girls in the trade, and what they have seen in the course of their careers is enough to convince them that prostitution is not, and never will be, a normal job for the vast majority of those who do it:

“Prostitution is in no way a job like any other. It is degrading, torturous, exploitive. On the side of the prostituted, there is a lot of horror and disgust at play, which they have to repress in order to get through it at all.” So says Michaela Huber, psychologist and head of the German Society for Trauma and Dissociation.

“In this system of prostitution, women are systematically put down, used, and degraded into objects.” So says Lutz Besser, head of the Centre for Psychotraumatology and Trauma Therapy of Niedersachsen.

“Prostitution has its roots in the violence that is done to children. And society must not block out or whitewash this violence!” So demands Susanne Leutner, vice-president of the trauma-therapists’ association, EMDRIA.

Leading German trauma therapists speak out sharply for societal awareness and support the “Stop Sex-buying” initiative. The organization, a coalition of citizens and centres of expertise, demands that johns be punished, in line with the Swedish model: “It is our goal, not to criminalize the prostituted, but to turn the focus on the johns, whose demand creates the market. They are actually responsible for the fact that increasing numbers of young women from the poorest countries in the world are brought to Germany to work in prostitution here.” Because “The reality of women in prostitution is being glorified or trivialized and ignored — and the sexual exploitation of women in this manner is being normalized and cemented.”

This offensive position in the treatment of traumatized persons by specialized therapists is, to put it mildly, a sensation. Among the therapists who have joined the initiative is Prof. Günter Seidler, head of psychotraumatology at the University of Heidelberg and a pioneer of German trauma research. “There are already more than enough psychologically traumatized people. The mental wounds of prostitution are avoidable,” says Seidler, one of the first 90 signatories of the EMMA appeal to do away with prostitution.

“Prostitution is violence, not a profession!” charges Prof. Wolfgang U. Eckart, director of the Institute for History and Ethics in Medicine at Heidelberg, in the journal Trauma and Violence. He argues: “Little is free in prostitution on the whole, and nothing in mediated prostitution. Because the striking asymmetry of power and the potential for violence in the relationship between the mediator and the practitioner generates in this oldest form of the enslavement of women constitutionally dependent relationships, which almost automatically deliver all the façades and backgrounds for the practice of traumatizing acts of violence of every sort.”

Dr. Ingeborg Kraus is the initiator of the therapists’ protest. The trauma therapist from Karlsruhe has dealt with victims of war rape in Bosnia, and after her return to the German trauma clinics, she realized: “Even here, every other female patient has experienced sexual violence.” At some point, Kraus got fed up with the “constant task of patching them back together”. She vowed: “I want to work preventively as well!” For her, too, the fight against prostitution is part of that. “In my long years of psychotherapeutic experience, I have accompanied prostituted women and learned their backgrounds. It thus became clear that prostitution was, in all cases, the continuation of violent experiences in their biographies.”

Michaela Huber can only confirm that, from her own therapeutic experiences and those of “many, many colleagues.” “Who even gets the idea to sell their own body? The prerequisite for that is to be alienated from one’s own body.” She continues: “You have to picture it: One has to let oneself be penetrated, again and again. One has to have practiced it, or one can’t do it. One leaves behind just a shell that can still go through certain motions, certain gestures.”

This beaming-oneself-away — dissociation, in specialists’ jargon — is forcibly learned, early on, by victims of violence. Not coincidentally, studies show that the majority of women (and men) in prostitution have suffered sexual abuse or other traumatic violence, eg. neglect, as children.

Traumatologist Lutz Besser demands a rethink of the acceptance of prostitution. He fears that “we are in danger of sliding into an Ice Age of ethics. Morality is one part,” says Besser. “But ethics also poses the question: What happens to another person if I do something?” This question, however, is one the johns don’t ask. “The men who go to prostitutes don’t realize that most of the women in this trade are doing so under pressure and duress. A society that legitimates that, demands the stance that prostitution is the most normal thing in the world,” says the therapist. “And it is a scandal that we as a society don’t have a clearer position on this!”

In Berlin, politicians are currently seeking advice. Not only as to how prostitution should be legally regulated; they will also decide how our society stands in regard to it: Whether prostitution should continue to be “a job like any other” — or whether prostitution goes against human dignity and destroys human beings. The signatory therapists hope that the politicians don’t just consign even more traumatized people to them, but finally take the side of prevention.

Translation mine.

I have often seen prostitution referred to not only as the “oldest profession”, but also likened to several actual professions: nursing, for one; various medical and psychological therapies, for another. Often the excuse is trotted out that “sex workers” serve a clientele which is disabled, and thus unable to form normal sexual and romantic relationships — an excuse that, to my mind, demeans the disabled as well as those tasked with disposing of their sexual needs. I know a fair number of disabled men who have happy relationships, and so are not reliant on prostitution — far more of them than of those of the other sort! Then there are the quite-able-bodied men who go to prostitutes because the women in their lives are disabled and they just can’t seem to get it up for them — a strange “disability”, that. And on top of that, the vast majority of johns are not disabled in the least, whether physically, mentally or even socially. They’re just lazy when it comes to seeing women as people, or treating them as something other than conveniences that might cost a couple hundred dollars at most for the kind of sexual servicing that a “regular” woman or girl, being the “sexually repressed bitch” that she is, won’t provide.

Considering that my own sister, a registered massage therapist whose job emphatically does not include rubbing anyone’s genitalia, has worked in clinics that had panic buttons installed in case a client came in expecting a different kind of massage, I find all talk of prostitution-as-profession to be something rather worse than a dirty joke. The creeps who wander into massage therapy clinics expecting bawdy-house prostitution are a real and constant menace to public safety. So are those who expect sexual servicing from nurses, or from women doctors. Such things are not on the list of training requirements in any actual health-related profession, no matter how much those who talk of prostitution-as-profession would like to blur that distinction.

My sister went through four years of specialized training at a pricey massage-therapy school. She even had to dissect preserved human cadavers in anatomy class. Nurses, too, require college or university degrees these days in order to advance professionally and be hired by hospitals. Some take Ph.Ds in nursing science, putting them on a level with actual medical doctors, as far as education and training goes. As for medical doctors, it’s not unusual to see one with a long string of degrees after their name. B.A., B.Sc., M.A., M.Sc., M.D., Ph.D., etc. At a bare minimum, it takes six years to graduate as an M.D. in Canada: two years’ university at the bachelor level (preferably in the sciences), followed by four years’ med school. (Something similar, I imagine, pertains to dentists and eye specialists.) And none of that time is devoted to learning how to sexually service a “client”.

This is what is meant and generally understood by a “profession”: A long period of training in a specialty that requires extensive and in-depth knowledge. And one is graduated with a certificate that states that this person is qualified to work as a physician, surgeon, nurse, dentist, optometrist, etc. Or as an assistant to any of the above. Or, like my sister, a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT).

What professional training and certification does it take to work in prostitution?

As far as I know, there is no real certification process for prostituted persons at all. Maybe, if one works in a country where some health regulations are in place, you are required to get regular gynecological exams and be declared STD-free, but that’s about it. And even that is unusual. It seems to be the case mainly in Holland, where, as we now know, the liberal laws legalizing prostitution have come into question by local authorities seeing a surge in organized crime. If the current anti-trafficking laws are a joke to the mafia networks supplying girls to work in the “windows” (and they are), what must health regulations be? And how many euros a month does it cost to get fake HIV status certification for all the girls in one’s stable? If johns insist, as they so often do in Germany, upon “AO” sex — “alles ohne”, meaning “everything without [condoms]“, then how long can any girl in the trade reasonably expect to pass her HIV tests and obtain a clean bill of health? After all, being prostituted alone does not magically transmit the virus; it has to come from someone else. And that “someone else” is usually the buyer. (Or, if the prostitute is also an addict, from sharing needles with someone who is infected, as many street junkies do. And, in fact, a lot of prostitutes are junkies themselves; it’s one of their key coping strategies, as drug use facilitates mental dissociation.)

So much for certification. Now what about professional training?

Well, there’s where we start getting into some seriously murky territory. And that’s precisely the bailiwick of the trauma therapists mentioned in the EMMA article I linked and translated above. All of them have found that the only real prerequisite to working in the sex trade is previous experience, usually in childhood, of severe malign neglect and/or sexual abuse. And dire poverty in one’s immediate present. That’s it! Well, that, plus a round of rape if the girl is not already broken down enough to take whatever abuse is dished out to her. Gang rape is the only “professional training” that practitioners of the “oldest profession” receive in the trafficking networks. It takes, at most, just a couple of intensely traumatic days. There are no professional colleges, no formal training programs, no exams, no boards to certify that one is proficient in “sex work”.

Does that sound like a profession to you? For that matter, does it sound like the training you’d get for any other job? After all, the “oldest profession” is supposed to be a “job like any other”…

Even the most menial joe jobs out there entail longer training periods than that of a trafficked prostitute. At a fast-food joint, on average, it’s two weeks. And the training is far more humane. If scrubbing toilets by hand were paid at the same rates as prostitution, those in prostitution would jump at the chance to become toilet-scrubbers. At least a toilet won’t grab you by the neck and rape you, sodomize you, try to kill you, or just beat the shit out of you. A toilet won’t demand that you play the all-obliging “girlfriend” or fake an orgasm in order to satisfy it. And you don’t have to dissociate mentally in order to face the next toilet, either. You don’t need crack, meth or heroin to numb you in anticipation of yet another damn toilet.

I’m not surprised that there is so little pride in being of the “oldest profession”, outside of the usual highly vocal designated spokespersons for the “sex workers’ unions” (i.e., the pimp lobby) who still insist on pushing the “Happy Hooker” fairytale as somehow representative of the trade as a whole. Just as I’m not surprised that nine out of ten people in prostitution — predominantly women and girls, cisgendered or trans — have expressed the wish to get out again, as soon as they can. Who would not want to get out of a “profession” where one’s “job” entails so much dissociation, often through drugs, in order to escape the reality that one is being repeatedly sexually abused? And where the PTSD rates are comparable to those of women who have been raped in a war zone like Bosnia?

In fact, a lot of the rape victims of the Bosnian genocide were forced into prostitution. The only real difference between a “rape camp” and a brothel was that in the latter, money was changing hands. And, most shamefully, a large part of the “clientele” were the same UN troops charged with peacekeeping in the region. That just laid insult on top of injury for the Bosnian women and girls. Because if you couldn’t trust a UN peacekeeper to keep you safe from your tormentors — and indeed, if the peacekeepers were complicit in the abuses, as they were later shown to be, in Bosnia and Kosovo — whom could you trust at all?

The trauma therapists of Germany have worked with two groups of traumatized women: survivors of war rape in the Balkans, and survivors of prostitution at home. They have seen similar patterns at work in the lives of both. They can no longer dissociate from the disturbing reality that sexual abuse is not just an ugly episode from these women’s pasts, it is also an ongoing fact of their present. Flashbacks can strike at the most unexpected moments, leaving the victim incapacitated and vulnerable to even more abuse than she has already endured. They require drugs, often hard and dangerous street drugs, to numb out and dissociate again. The cycle becomes more vicious with every turn. And when all the coping strategies evolved during one’s time in the “life” stop working, that’s when they land in the psychiatric clinic, if they are lucky, to unpack it all for someone who will listen, care, and not judge them moralistically for what they have done in order to survive.

And when someone whose job it is to listen and care nonjudgmentally comes out in favor of abolition, you can be sure that this person’s conclusion is the product of long reflection upon what they have seen in their own profession. One can’t call them “repressed Victorian moralists”, as these therapists are the beneficiaries — and in some cases, pioneers — of the most modern psychotherapeutic and psychosexual training in the world. These are no buttoned-up church ladies and ignorant backwoods preachers of abstinence and procreation-only; these are urbane specialists with the highest educations, and the best training, that the highly reputable German university medical system has to offer. If they speak out against prostitution, and do so precisely on the basis of what they have learned from those in the thick of it — you can take their word to the bank. They have made the scientific case against a “profession” that has no real scientific basis whatsoever.

Now, I wonder if the politicians are also listening — caringly, and without judgment, as the therapists have learned to do.

Music for a Sunday: Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen!

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Why isn’t legalized prostitution safer?

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Ah yes. Pity the poor john who got the short end of that stick, eh? He came hoping to pay for the illusion that she was really into the “mutual pleasure” of his escapist fantasies, only to be left cockadroop by the hard realities of her life (complete with “biker boyfriend”!) Instead of “an hour or two” of (poorly) paid schtupping, he left frustrated, and she came away empty-handed. I guess it could have gone a lot worse, though. She could have been raped and/or killed, as well as robbed of whatever paltry few bucks she happened to have lying around. She is at the mercy of guys like him and the “biker boyfriend” — who, for all we know, could have been her pimp. Which is why I don’t feel so bad for this particular entitled — oh sorry, “hard-working” — specimen of manhood. Nor do I feel inclined to praise him for being “merciful” and just walking out without paying. He could have done to her what johns have done to prostitutes since time immemorial. And he could have gotten away with it, too.

And if anyone thinks that legalization of the “oldest profession” (oldest crappy joe job, more like it) would have made a positive difference to that poor woman, maybe you should read all about what’s happened in Germany since exactly that:

Again and again, defenders of legalized prostitution assert that prostitution serves a kind of “channeling” function for society; that all the presumably uncontrollable urges of men can be acted out there, and so women can be protected from rape. Aside from the fact that this attitude makes men into urge-driven idiots who, due to the gladly-invented concept of “blocked urges” then go on to commit crimes — who wants to live with such men, really? — this argument also most profoundly robs prostitutes themselves of dignity, making them into “dumpsters” for that which men cannot act out at home because, we all know, that in the eyes of prostitution-defenders, all wives are per se prudish and frigid and thus drive their husbands into the arms of prostitution. But how do prostitutes defend themselves from this “acting out” by men, which has always come with a potential threat of force? The sex-worker lobby claims that it’s part of the professionalism of prostitutes to recognize dangerous johns and prevent them from doing violence. Should this fail, the prostitute has acted unprofessionally — the man, with all his “blocked urges”, naturally is not at fault.

Since 1988, there have been 51 murders and attempted murders of prostitutes. These are only the incidents that abolitionists have so far been able to research. The list is by no means complete and will be expanded in future. In 1988, a dermatologist from Frankfurt committed one murder and three attempted murders on prostitutes. He was sentenced. In 1993, 16-year-old Mandy of Hamburg was brutally murdered; her killer was only arrested years later. The papers wrote of a “Murder in the Milieu” instead of the murder of a minor. In 1999, 20-year-old Sandy of Chemnitz was brutally mistreated and killed over debts. The list goes on and on, and shows that no type of prostitution is safe, whether on the street, or in a “lovemobile”, or in rental housing, or a bordello. Absolute protection from violent johns cannot exist.

The Wiki “Sex Industry Kills” has collected all known instances of murders, attempted murders, and crimes against prostitutes. It is a gallery of horrors. Murder and rape are among the “occupational hazards” of prostitution.

Prostitution is legal in Germany since 2002. Again and again it gets argued that only legalized prostitution makes it safer for those who practice it. We can see that the number of violent acts against prostitutes has actually increased — which is no wonder, because the number of prostituted persons has also increased. Woman as merchandise — since 2002, she is available everywhere, visible everywhere. Whoever ascribes “blocked urges” to men, must also now acknowledge that they can’t resist this “offer”, and also use force. The cynicism of the “blocked urges” and “channeling” arguments is profoundly inhumane — and also stems from the 19th century. It has nothing to do with “freedom” and “self-determination”; it turns prostitutes into a usable vessel, and men into idiots. The latest attempted murder, of a prostitute in Köln, was just a few weeks ago.

Since the fall of last year, as well, those who fight against prostitution are being blamed for violence against prostitutes — because they point out the risks of prostitution, some people get “ideas”, according to one forum. Again, here there is no responsibility for the doers of the deed; instead, it’s everyone else’s fault. It is in the interests of all those who defend prostitution to make johns out to be friendly customers. The reality shows that many of them are potential violent offenders.

How closely violence and prostitution are intertwined, we can see in reports on crimes against prostitutes. Media reports on the matter teach fear. The Stuttgarter Merkur newspaper wrote, of the murder of 31-year-old Alina Gruso, in 2009: “The motive is completely unknown. Could there be a relationship problem behind it? Because the murder doesn’t follow the usual way prostitutes become victims: No fight about unsatisfactory sexual services, nor over the payment. Even robbery is ruled out. And Alina had no enemies. What then could have driven the killer?” So robbery-murder is a commonly accepted form of violence against prostitutes, as well as rape, which many don’t even regard as a crime.

Countless other crimes took place in the same time frame against prostitutes throughout Germany. Rapes, arson, armed robberies. These crimes didn’t even merit a mention of the victims’ names in the media, for the most part. It’s just “a prostitute”, whereas the entire focus is on the offender. These are almost exclusively johns. Their motive is not just sexual violence, but also extortion and robbery. In January of 2008, three men attacked a woman in Wiesbaden, raped her, robbed her and threatened to come back again. When the woman, who worked in a rented flat, went to police, she was criticized by her colleagues; she had made “too big a deal out of it”. For these men, women who work as prostitutes are just objects that they can mistreat and rob as they please, even up to sadistic torture. In Fürth, a man subjected a prostitute to electric shocks, beat her with cables, stabbed her and eventually cut off one of her finger joints. The man managed to escape unnoticed, but was apprehended shortly thereafter, because there was a security camera in the bordello. In 2010, a john in Mainz-Marienborn raped a prostitute four times and recorded it on video — he wanted to film a successful home porno, and for that he needed “real panic” in the eyes of his victim.

Johns always get violent towards women because they aren’t happy with the “service” they get for their money. One unbelievable case is that of a 51-year-old Stuttgarter, who held a prostitute prisoner in his home and abused her because he was not satisfied with her service. He ordered his mother to call the police because he felt he was in the right. In 2012, a paramedic, a family man, raped a prostitute for hours until she lost consciousness, and threatened her with “real problems” if she went to police.

Even those who defend prostitution know how dangerous it is. Their “safety tips” speak volumes about what prostitution means for those who practice it:

– Women shouldn’t wear long earrings, because they could get ripped out. Also no scarves or necklaces, because these could get used to strangle them.

– No tight skirts or dresses, so they can run away more easily.

– They should carry whistles to call for help.

– Keep defensive weapons close at hand.

– There are also concrete tips: If a woman is being held by the back of the neck, she should kick him in the balls rather than try to pry his hands off.

These and other tips can be found here.

Prostitution kills, that much is clear. The above violent incidents are not “coincidences” or “exceptions”, they are the consequences of a kind of thinking and acting that turns women into merchandise that can be bought and used. Prostitution dehumanizes, and dehumanization is the first step to gruesomeness and violence. Men who attack prostitutes see themselves as customers who have a “right” to this stranger’s body and power over it, and in the event of an emergency, they can use force. A prostitute is a preferred victim for all those who want to grab a couple of euros — because who believes a prostitute? And to square the deal for the offenders, they rape the woman too — taking “for free” what would otherwise cost. Others use prostitutes for their perverse little games, duplicating the oh-so-beloved violent pornos with “real panic in the eyes”, or sadistically abuse them.

Prostitution doesn’t channel any drives, it doesn’t protect anyone from rape. It kills and opens opportunities for offenders to take out their perversions, their misogyny and their violent fantasies where they have the least to fear. Further legalization of prostitution would only lead to women and their lacking “professionalization strategies” being made even more responsible for any violence against them. Because if prostitution is to be a “job like any other”, then the dangers can’t be acknowledged. And above all, the focus cannot be turned on the johns, who must continue to be legal clients and not potential lawbreakers. Prostitution without violence doesn’t exist. Without the degradation of women into objects, sex-buying isn’t possible. This degradation contains dehumanization, and leads to violence, whether out of greed or “blocked urges”, in just one small step. The answer is to ban sex-buying. The day before yesterday, preferably.

Translation mine. Linkage as in original

So you can see that legalization hasn’t made prostitution safer in Germany. Prostitutes are still being attacked, robbed, raped and killed there. If anything, it’s become more common, because the number of prostitutes has shot up so dramatically since legalization.

And crimes against them have been given a gloss of bizarre legitimacy. The murder of a 16-year-old can be written off as a “murder in the milieu” because she was a prostitute; the fact that she was also a minor gets conveniently swept under the rug. If she were NOT prostituted, the story would have been reported so differently; the killer would have been made out to be a heinous, pederastic pervert who must be caught soon, before he does it again. But since she was turning tricks, who the hell cares that he’s a menace to public safety? Even if she WAS under-age, she was still one of Those Women. Nobody gives an under-age prostitute the consideration that would otherwise apply to girls of her tender years. Being prostituted is considered as conferring “agency”, and hence maturity. And if you don’t exercise your “agency” properly, you end up in a world of hurt. Or dead. And the killer might not ever be caught, because you were only a prostitute. Too bad for you!

But hey, that’s the way the “free market” of sex capitalism works, right? Personal Responsibility with a vengeance. Demand drives the market, not supply. Which is why all this “sex-positive” talk of “agency” just makes me laugh sardonically. In case you haven’t twigged to this yet, it’s obvious that prostitution has nothing to do with female sexuality at all. It’s not about what SHE wants, it’s all about what HE wants. If demand drives the market, then those who exercise demand exert control. And since supply doesn’t drive it, those who provide sex don’t actually control the terms of the transaction. No matter how hard the privileged few who run the “sex worker” lobby try to make out that they do. The old adage of paying the piper and calling the tune holds truest of all in prostitution. And if the “tune” isn’t sweet enough, then…well…

See, this is why I can’t buy into the libertarian-capitalist exception that so many of my peers here on the left seem all too happy to expound. It boggles my mind that anyone could be a socialist (and/or anarchist) and not see the contradiction here. How can you be in favor of workers seizing the means of production when you also think it should be perfectly legal for a man to buy a woman and get her to do “sex work” for whatever price he deems fitting — oh sorry, “whatever the market will bear”? How can you be all “no lords, no gods, no masters” on the one hand, and perfectly okay with a man lording it over a woman in such a crassly capitalistic way on the other? How can one talk of breaking the grip of the “Invisible Hand” while turning a blind eye to the death-grip it exerts on the necks of women? Does one need to identify as female in order to see this contradiction clearly?

And conversely: Does one need a penis in order to think there is no contradiction here? Boner, Boner, über alles?

Yeah, I guess that must be it. My ladybits and ladybrain are getting in the way of the complex slew of rationalizations needed to arrive at such preposterous conclusions. Again. Why else would I insist on taking my anarcho-socialism to its logical ends even in the murky area marked S-E-X? Since I don’t have the kind of little head that drains blood (and thinking capacity) away from the big one so efficiently, I just can’t wrap my big head around the way a guy’s little one just seems to take the whole thing over and turn him from a rational, intelligent human being into a sex-crazed rabid baboon.

Antifeminists constantly accuse radical women like me of “misandry”. And yet they fail to see that when they posit men as being led by their dicks, they’re committing a much more real and profound form of man-hating than anything, actual or imagined, that they could ever accuse us feminists of.

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I prefer to think of men as coming, like women, from Earth. None of that “Venus and Mars” shit for me. And I prefer to credit them with rationality and intelligence, like us, instead of just a crazy chemical stew of ill-defined and dangerous “urges”.

Above all, I insist that we be allowed to approach sex on an equal footing. Turning it into a pay-for-play transaction destroys the equilibrium, to say nothing of female desire. Money not only can’t buy love, it can’t even buy a half-hearted ladyboner.

But then again, who needs ladyboners when you’re only paying to get your own rocks off? And if you get off on the inequality of it all, why shouldn’t you be allowed to pay for it? After all, inequality is only to be expected when one sex/class is naturally superior, and the other naturally inferior. So goes the sex-capitalist line of reasoning.

And if that line of reasoning seems a bit too crass for you, hey, there’s always prude-shaming. It’s the go-to strategy of the modern “leftist” man who wants to have his capitalism and eat it, too. Or the “empowered” woman who hasn’t fully digested the concept of self-determination. Yeah sure, go ahead and call me “Victorian” because I take an abolitionist stance. Bluster your big head off about my so-called 19th-century morality if it makes you feel better. But here’s the kicker: If you believe that buying sex is the answer to rape and female poverty both, you’re the real Victorian. Because back in the 19th century, there was another mindset that ran parallel to that of enforced prudery for wives and virgins; namely, that of the Necessity of Prostitution. To keep the wives and virgins “safe” and “virtuous”, natch. How else were men supposed to “channel” all those “dangerous urges”? By taking them out on a certain class of women made conveniently available for the purpose.

And that class of women was denigrated and degraded not only in terms of the social discourse of the day, but in the eyes of their own clientele. They were thus easy targets for all kinds of male violence. Remember Jack the Ripper? His killing spree began and ended right at the zenith of Victorian England. During the height of a time of extreme prudery, in other words. And his victims were all street prostitutes from the down-at-heel London district of Whitechapel. “Jack”, whoever he was, was the quintessential Victorian man. He saw prostitutes as a class that was conveniently available for him to use…and abuse. Even to the death. He was smug in his taunting of the authorities, daring him to try to catch him. He was never brought to trial, at least not as the Ripper. For all anybody knew, he remained at large. And no doubt there was a certain smugness in the way the yellow press of the day reported on that, too: with overt sensationalism on the one hand, and a tacit “thank God it’s only them and not nice ladies” on the other. True, prostitution wasn’t legal…but it wasn’t abolished, either. The laws and mores of the day saw fit to ghettoize and exploit it instead of eradicating it. How do we know? Because they only criminalized the women, and not the men who bought, sold and used them. Remember, demand drives the market…and the Victorian authorities weren’t interested in dealing with the demand side. They often WERE the demand side. Why would they act against their own interests? That would have been not just taking prudery too far, but also doing capitalism wrong.

Early anarchists and socialists both opposed prostitution, recognizing it as part and parcel of the hypocrisy of the Victorian-capitalist bourgeois mindset, and their reasoning was not prudish. Read Emma Goldman if you don’t believe me. Or Alexandra Kollontai. And if you don’t have time for that, just remember: It’s not the sex that makes prostitution dirty. It’s the CAPITALISM, stupid!

Prostituted women in Germany are no longer criminalized, as they were in the “good old days” of Kaiser Wilhelm. But are they empowered? No! They still can’t count on the police to protect them. Because the johns have always been legal and legitimate, even when prostitution was not. The legal status of the women may have changed (ever so slightly!), but for the johns it’s the same as it ever was. Those guys could always “discreetly” take out their unsavory “urges” on a certain class of women. The fact that the women are now “legal” doesn’t change a thing, except to make sex capitalism more readily profitable for those running the show. Capitalism wins out over feminism. If the police are not allowed to bust bordello owners and shut the business down, they are also not allowed to arrest johns who don’t play by the official rules…at least not so long as those men are still on the premises. Because when a bordello charges a cheap flat rate for “unlimited sex”, why would they want the cops in there, banging down the doors? That’s bad for business. Makes it look like a House of Ill Repute, nicht wahr? And worse, it scares the johns into realizing that maybe “unlimited sex” has its limits, after all. What a boner-wilter!

Laws are inherently limiting, and that’s just what the sex-capitalists who run the prostitution and human-trafficking networks don’t want. Why else would they throw so much money behind their extensive lobbying efforts to remove all legal limits from prostitution in Germany — including the perfectly reasonable compromises like minimum ages, the right of police to inspect brothels, etc.?

They’re certainly not doing it to protect the women, or else we’d have seen not a single one murdered since prostitution was legalized there in 2002.

The “Invisible Men”: Germany’s woman-haters hide in plain sight

john-number-9.jpg

“John #9″ rates a woman he bought for 30 euros: “170 cm tall, long dark hair, early 20s, 5 pounds overweight (which actually doesn’t look so bad), and what a wonder, obviously a Carpathian girl. Wasn’t bad today though, I wanted fucking not conversation. And her German is surprisingly good. Big plus: She washes beforehand, so that’s fine for tongue-action lovers. Blows well, no teeth, no rubber, holds her own well in fucking, but no fingering. You can fiddle with her pussy or her rosette, but don’t put your fingers in! And don’t cum in her mouth, but what can you do? For spoiled clubgoers a zero, but for the street, not so bad.”

As you can see from the above, a fairly typical entry on a German sex-buyers’ forum, the “Invisible Men” are everywhere. Even in Germany, where sex-buying is fully legal, you can find these skulking cowards, taking advantage of the anonymity of the internets to dish on women they don’t really know and don’t care to know in anything other than the strictly biblical sense. Mira Sigel, writing for the anti-fascist feminist site “Die Störenfriedas” (a wonderfully punny name incorporating the female name Frieda with the German word for “peace-disturbers”), has the goods on them:

In the current debate on prostitution, everything revolves around women in prostitution. They are the ones who are fighting the battle over the legalization of prostitution. Johns only speak up, if at all, in the anonymity of the Internet. But the business of prostitution wouldn’t exist if there were no demand from the men’s side. So the debate should actually revolve far more around the men who go out to buy women. If we go by the number of 400,000 prostitutes in Germany (and this number is from the year 2002, so there is no doubt that it has risen in the meantime), then between 1.5 and 2 million men go to prostitutes every day, and so presumably every other man has been to a brothel at least once. Our brothers, husbands, friends and colleagues.

Studies show that the legalization of prostitution and the rise in its social acceptance lead to a rise in visits to prostitutes. In plain language: Where prostitution is legal and affordable, it will also be readily used.

What is the least clear about it is this: The men who go to prostitutes are not Richard Gere from Pretty Woman. Many of them regard the women they use with undisguised disdain. The basis for that, as Julie Bindel already established in the Guardian in 2010, is plain misogyny. A john she asked why he went to prostitues revealed to her that he did not want the prostitute to enjoy it in any way. Then he would feel that he had been cheated out of his money. Also, it didn’t much matter to the men whether the women were forced prostitutes or not. The important thing was that the “service” was right. Julie Bindel’s interviews were part of a study of some 700 johns. The men were also asked what would have to happen for them to no longer go to prostitutes. The answer was was simple: Were sex-buying illegal, and they had to deal with its consequences in their private lives, many of them would shy away from it.

Men go to prostitutes because they can use them. For them, these women are just objects that they can take out their drives on at whim. The fora in which they exchange views are called “Hurentest” (Whore Test) and “AO-Forum”. The men there candidly give their misogyny free rein. Some have photos of the women they have visited as their profile pictures. Semen-smeared faces and red, swollen genitalia are shown off like trophies. The men themselves, naturally, remain invisible. They talk about where they get what for their money. One of the most important subjects: Whether you can also go “AO” — that is, without a condom, and in how many holes. Women who are in pain or pull faces get bad ratings. Before one goes to a woman, the community gets asked if there is any info about her and her “service”. Racism and misogyny are shamelessly aired, and they show how often both these forms of discrimination come up together. There is talk of the “Turkish whore”, or the horny “Thai pussy”, or the “coal bucket” that got “speared”.

Studies show that there is no “typical” john. Men who go to prostitutes come in all ages and social strata. Most are looking for good-looking women who offer pretty much everything and don’t cost much — greed is also good in prostitution. In Germany, it’s socially unacceptable to buy non-organic meat and vegetables, clothes made in Asia, or eggs from battery farms. But in prostitution, it doesn’t matter a bit how poor and exploited the women are, or that they have sex for a Big Mac. The johns see it practically — not much money for “useful services”. For many, it’s important that the women show interest, kiss them, talk with them, and charm them. Obviously they don’t get that for free in real life, so they have to buy the feeling of being desired.

Melissa Farley has made an interesting study comparing sex-buyers and non-sex-buyers. It showed that men who look for prostitutes generally are more inclined to sexual assault, and have less empathy for prostitutes. So, those men who have the most to do with prostitute, are least likely to see the women in it as human beings. Or, to put it another way: Sex-buying brutalizes and intensifies misogyny — quite contrary to the claim that prostitution would save us from rape. Johns choose women according to age and ethnicity (“today I’m gonna treat myself to something Asian”) and travel specifically to other countries to make use of prostitution there. The women should say as little as possible about what’s being done to them; if they are too “engaged”, so it’s said in the fora, they’re just faking everything. Pleasure in sex is not allowed for the women. But if they are in a bad mood or even sad, the johns also rip them apart. 41 percent of johns questioned said that they had had sex at least once with a forced prostitute, and in both groups — johns and non-johns — 68 percent said that most women in prostitution were forced into it. Obviously that, as previously stated, doesn’t put sex-buyers off when it comes to abusing these women.

More and more often, the women also get taken along for private porn videos. For a little extra money, they then find themselves on websites like Tubegalore. The women thus become porn performers, and their videos will haunt the Net forever. There is no exit, and can be none for them under these circumstances.

The johns talk about when and whether a woman is ready for anal sex. Others say just shove it in without asking. Or take the condom off before you cum. It is the johns, whose demand determines the low German prices, whose demand for condomless sex raises the health risks for women. It is the johns whose demand for paid sex ensures that human trafficking is a more profitable business in Germany than drugs or guns. The men shamelessly ask where they can find under-age girls. They get answers right away — openly readable for anyone who visits the fora. The fact that what they have in mind is a crime under several existing laws doesn’t matter. Only the assurance that they won’t catch a disease. For that, there’s a johns’ health forum. What’s up with the women is not important. On the contrary: Their bodies are the subject of degrading exchanges, comments over too-small breasts and flabby butts. On the search for a “wild junkie-fuck”, women get picked up in front of shooting galleries. Their request for someone to buy them a bit of food gets laughed off.

Johns are men who find it acceptable to have sex with others who are not interested, and even in pain or grossed-out. They buy these people for themselves. So the argument that prostitutes only sell a service and not themselves falls flat. The john side clearly sees it differently: For 20, 40 or 100 euros, the woman in question belongs to them. Former Danish prostitute Tanja Rahm made that clear in her open letter to sex buyers:

“When you regularly tried to cross my boundaries by kissing me or sticking your finger in me or took the condom off — even when you knew perfectly well that that wasn’t allowed — you were testing my ability to defend myself. And you took advantage of it when I wasn’t being clear enough or too negligent. You took advantage of that in a sick way the next time you tried to test your own power, and how far you could go in crossing my boundaries. When I finally said no and made clear to you that you shouldn’t come back, when you didn’t accept my boundaries, then you restored your honor by putting me down in my role as a prostitute. You talked down to me, were coarse and threatening.”

The johns’ statements show that prostitution is a patriarchal institution, one of oppression for women, whose sole aim is to make bodies readily available to men. Since we live in capitalism, it is also set up according to capitalistic laws: Money and services and, quite according to the “Amazon principle”, ratings after the fact. The betrayed john is the one who didn’t get enough for his money. The prostitutes themselves, their life stories, their personalities, don’t come up in there at all. No one realizes that they are not merchandise to be delivered to a man, but persons with lives, feelings and perceptions. They travel all over Germany, get passed from house to house so that the men always have a fresh supply of women. They get mistreated, their boundaries continually crossed — and when that goes well, it even gets celebrated in the fora — that is, anal sex without consent or continuation despite whimpering and refusal. The man who goes further is a hero in this community. A rapist, a woman-abuser, quite legally. Because the law allows it. The same man then goes out and meets us, the unprostituted women, with all his judgments, with his victory-feeling in his head. Do we then wonder why rape is practically unpunished and sexual violence is on the march despite all our resistance? How can we believe that we live in a society of equal rights as long as men can legally buy this for 20 euros, in every city, every town, even every village — at the expenses of the women they use there?

Johns don’t care about the merchandise, the woman-product, that they buy. They aren’t paying into a health fund, they aren’t paying taxes, they don’t even care about condoms. They don’t even openly defend prostitution, but the bordello-owners send the women they make money from out in public to do it for them. Johns are customers — that’s what they want to teach us. But the reality is: Johns are woman-haters, woman-abusers. The only way to deter them is to make sex-buying illegal. For johns, women aren’t people, but the means to their satisfaction, and this attitude has become socially acceptable through the legalization of prostitution. Do we want to live in a society in which women are consequently dehumanized?

Translation mine. Linkage as in the original.

You can see here that prostitution in Germany really does deserve to be called sex capitalism. It is capitalistic in the grossest sense, and right down to the last detail. Even the bargain-basement rates for female flesh that literally does everything are no coincidence. Neither is the demand for child prostitution, which logically follows on the heels of its adult counterpart. Why pay 50-100 euros for a grown woman when you can get an under-age girl for half that or even less — and with her, the illicit thrill of being able to cross yet another human boundary? And why bother looking for women who will do it willingly and for free, when you can get girls who won’t — but you can buy the privilege of doing to them what no consenting adult would allow?

The idea that prostitution somehow protects women against rape is nonsense. If anything, it furthers the rape-culture mindset. Men who buy sex tend to think that “every woman has her price”, or that a “whore” is fair game for anything, and are infuriated when that turns out not to be the case. No small percentage of those will still illegally take what they can’t legally buy. The idea that a woman should be willing, and thus demanding of pleasure, is anathema to them. So, they reason, if they’re buying, they may as well get their money’s worth, and really abuse the shit out of her. Under those circumstances, unnegotiated sex acts are the rule, not the exception. Every boundary gets pushed and violated, right up to and including unprotected anal sex. The worst and most painful and dangerous acts are, not coincidentally, also the ones in greatest demand. And the johns on the Internet score them as “victories”. After all, you can’t get that from your average unprostituted woman…unless, of course, you rape her. But really, the only difference between the one and the other is that for the one, money changes hands. A very paltry amount of money. These guys may be willing to pay for the privilege of raping, but they’re cheap as shit and don’t want to pay a penny more than they think a woman is worth. And they don’t think any woman is worth much. No price is ever too low for these guys!

And just think: One out of every two German men has done at least some of this quite unhindered, at least once in his life, since 2002. That’s when sex-buying became legal and the mega-bordello boom began. And no wonder: This sort of thing is not limited to the mean streets of the big cities. You don’t have to travel far from home, if you are a German, to buy sex. Even small towns and villages are home to brothels. There is nothing in the law to forbid it, and local complaints often fall on deaf ears. The town is required to let them do business there if there is demand. And there IS demand. There is always demand. If it’s not from the locals, it’s from the tourists. Sex tourists are “good” for the local economy, especially in small towns! Only if the brothels are found in violation of the health code might they be shut down. (Might is the operative word here. Getting in to run a health inspection is often the hard part, since brothel owners, as I’ve said before, want the police out of the hookering game altogether, and are lobbying hard for just that, right now.)

One out of every two German men is a john. And by that token, very likely, an abuser. Would you marry that, knowing beforehand what you were getting? Would you want to live in a society where rape culture is so easily propagated…and so easily waved aside with a 100-euro bill? Would you want to risk your health and your life sleeping with a guy who regularly pushes for condomless sex with strangers who deal with others just like him, dozens of times a day? Given that there is no “john look”, that there is no one type of men who buys sex, how can you even tell the good guys from the bad? You can’t…and that’s what’s truly scary about all this.

And this, too, is what’s at stake here in Canada, right now. We don’t have mega-bordellos…YET. And I’d wager that few women, if any, would work in one voluntarily. Especially if they knew what’s going on in Germany. And if they were being expected to do more and more for less and less, as the women in the German bordellos must. The demand for paid sex greatly outstrips the supply of willing providers, and always has. And as the overall economy declines, as it is doing, demand for lower prices grows, and the voluntary supply shrinks even further. So human trafficking must pick up the slack, and there is a lot of it.

What does that mean in human terms? You can do the math.

Imagine half of all Canadian men turning out to be just like half of all their German brethren. Go on, I dare you. Take your ulcer pills and think it over. Imagine the Russian mafias, the Yakuza, the Triads, the Hell’s Angels, and Bog knows who all else taking over the local politics of YOUR town, and constantly trying to lure local girls in with totally legit advertising for “waitresses”, “bartenders”, “dancers”, and so on. Can you picture it? Because that’s what goes on in Germany…

And if you find yourself saying “Nein danke”, you can consider yourself in the same boat with half the human race, anywhere, at any time. Because the women of Germany, prostituted or not, want that the least of all.

And their voices are those being heard the least of all, too.

Festive Left Friday Blogging: The Internationale kills fascists at U of T

Wow. Amazing what one little song can do…especially when it’s sung by socialist students in the face of a bunch of whiny cowards, eh?

Comrades from the Revolutionary Student Movement, the Proletarian Feminist Front, and the Proletarian Revolutionary Action Committee confronted reactionary Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) as they gathered to spread their message of misogyny this past Tuesday at the University of Toronto.

MRAs, organized under the dubiously-named “Canadian Association For Equality” were completely unprepared for the opposition they must inevitably face. After facing the organized resistance of the comrades, who disrupted the meeting by shouting slogans, heckling, and singing “The Internationale”, the MRAs disbanded their meeting and attempted to relocate and reconvene. The comrades pursued them, again forcing an end to their event.

After dispersing entirely, the MRAs scattered like cockroaches and found a hidden corner of the campus in which to collectively lick their wounds. Laughably, they have even attempted to use this fact as evidence that their event was not shut down!

So, there you go. The Internationale, like Woody Guthrie’s famous guitar, really does kill fascists.

As for the MRAs, perhaps they’d like to ask the Mexicans if they can borrow THIS song as THEIR anthem:

Only…oops! It’s a song celebrating the defeat of Victoriano Huerta. The pot-smoking “cockroach” is believed to be either the debauched corrupto Huerta himself, or his beetle-black presidential car, which was famous for belching clouds of smoke and not running very well.

Guess those guys are gonna have to keep looking for a stirring tune of their own, eh?

It was 100 years ago today…

Canada’s part in World War I began at the same time as Britain’s: on August 4, 1914, when the latter declared war on Germany after what was considered an “insufficient” response by Germany to a British order not to violate Belgium’s neutrality by passing through it en route to France, against whom Germany had declared war just the previous day.

Contrary to Sir Robert Borden’s claims that it was a war “not for lust of conquest, not for greed of possessions”, it was very much a clash of imperial interests. One has only to look at how many of the key players in the whole ungodly mess were emperors, and how many of them had recently annexed territory that wasn’t theirs (Austria-Hungary), or were claiming to “defend” the same, with an eye to annexing it themselves (Romanov Russia). And one has only to look at how many key players lost their emperors around the war’s end to realize that imperialism-disguised-as-honor was a load of bullshit that the common folk of those lands were no longer buying.

And Canada? Well, we’re still wrestling with that one. We’re no longer “Children of Empire”, a phrase that fell out of fashion after the end of the second world war — a war made inevitable by the unsettled animosities of the first, and especially by the ruinous conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. But back then, according to official accounts, “our boys” were all gung-ho for king and (distant, overseas) country. There was the usual clichéd appeal to honor and glory on this side of the Atlantic, and Anglo-Canadian enlistees were quick to sign on. (Non-Anglo immigrants and their sons, not so much. Especially not those who happened to be German. Perhaps because theirs was a kind of third-class citizenship to begin with, and because on top of this bigotry, they faced a lot of persecution from snobby twits with English names, and so felt, with justification, that the glorious British imperial cause was not worth dying for? Oh, probably.)

And speaking of clichéd appeals, if you were to have a drinking game based on the use of the word “gallant” (often in conjunction with “little Serbia”) in news and propaganda of the day, you’d have died of alcohol poisoning. The British Empire actually couldn’t have cared less about “gallant little” Serbia back in 1908, when it was first annexed by Kaiser Franz Josef. It was just some barbarous little backwater in the Balkans, its annexation largely ignored for a full five years. And it quickly fell by the wayside in the clash of imperialists, aside from its usefulness as a propagandist’s talking point. After all, you couldn’t sell imperial wars as a “noble cause” if you didn’t have a gallant little thing to squabble over, now, could you?

When I was 18 and obsessively devouring Rilla of Ingleside, a sequel to the Anne of Green Gables books (Rilla being the youngest daughter of Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe), I was blown away by all the noble turns of phrase in the passages describing the war. Those phrases, I now know, were not actually the author’s own, but were simply passed along without analysis or criticism. Although L.M. Montgomery was supportive of the war effort in her capacity as a dutiful Presbyterian minister’s wife, she privately agonized and suffered many doubts. Knowing where those howlers come from might not lessen my enjoyment of the overall story (which is, after all, just that of a teenage girl at home, looking on in helpless frustration and fear as her brothers, school chums and boyfriend get caught up in all this imperial background noise), but it kills my willingness to believe that there was anything at all noble about the war. The hearts of the boys and young men who went, yes, they were noble. As were the hearts of the families, friends and girls they left behind. But the emperor-kings and the countries they squabbled over, with no regard whatsoever for the millions of lives their imperialism would cost? Ugh. The wartime saying “lions led by donkeys” is most applicable here.

And frankly, the sheer brutality of the trenches, the barbed wire, the machine guns and the gas-shells is the very opposite of nobility and gallantry, and the destroyer of both. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) got its first official mentions in those days, when it was known as “shell shock” — a bit of a misnomer, since there was a lot more than just shelling to demoralize and destroy the minds of soldiers and civilian casualties alike.

Propaganda initiatives also played a devastating role in the barbarity, ushering in the modern era of psychological warfare. One of the most ignoble of these was the White Feather campaign, in which the “manhood” of those reluctant to enlist and fight was impugned, and women were brainwashed (by a British admiral, no less) into doing the impugning. (The irony of a big, brave man of the elites sending women to do his warmongering work of calling frightened lower-class boys sissies should not be lost on anyone. Neither should that of upper-class suffragists being man-talked into abandoning their work of campaigning for the vote in order to promote a most undemocratic, sexist and classist imperial war!)

While World War I may have given Canada an opportunity to prove its collective mettle (especially at Vimy Ridge, where Canadians notably triumphed after British and French forces both failed), I tend now to regard it as an opportunity largely lost. This country could have gone the same way as Germany and Russia in throwing off the yoke of royalty and empire, and it still has not. And we have been dragged into every bloody mess our “commonwealth” overlords have made ever since. In that sense, the real fight hasn’t ended yet…even now, 100 years after the first time we got dragooned into one of Britain’s imperial disasters. Our democracy and institutions are poorer for it.

Where our collective mettle has done much more for us, it has tended to be in peacetime, at home, and with challenges to the human-rights abuses of our colonial elites. The patriation of our constitution in 1982, along with the attachment of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was the real marker of our coming of age. And yet our so-called government will not honor or even recognize it, preferring instead to point back to the myth of Vimy Ridge while trampling human rights here and now. We still have so much work to do on this front, and it won’t be glamorous. No bugles will call us to this battle from “sad shires”, only the increasingly atomized and isolated voices of the powerless. And I fear that they will not be heard.

I am bracing myself for a fresh onslaught of “patriotic” tripe about how we “came into our own” 100 years ago when we answered a distant foreign call to war in the affirmative, instead of standing up in opposition to it, like a country that has truly come of age. Once I used to believe the noble lie; no longer. And I’m not holding my breath for much in the way of serious analysis. If there is one thing that “noble” and “gallant” propaganda does very well, it is to drown out all criticism of empires and the twits who run them.

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Canada Day!

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Sorry about that pixelly bit. I don’t believe in censorship myself, but we’re polite up here. Too polite to walk around with our ‘nads hanging out our cutoffs, anyhow. Here, have a little tune:

Give it up for Stompin’ Tom Connors, who had a song for just about every little podunk town in this big ol’ land. Sadly missed.

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Brazilian women: beyond the media icons

Video in Portuguese (with Spanish subtitles — no English, sorry).

And if the first thing that came into your head when you read “Brazilian women” was a blond supermodel, or a pair of muscular buttocks wiggling in a teeny bikini, congratulations: You’ve been sucked in by a media bullshit campaign. Brazil’s TV stations are owned by just six families, and heavily invested in promoting (or rather, pimping) just ONE picture of Brazilian women: white, rich, with straight blond hair, tall and slim, heterosexual, usually surgically enhanced…and a constant, parsley-like sexual accessory to the menfolks. (In one scene, a businessman is seen talking away to another man at his desk while his bare foot is fondling the rump of a bikini-clad model lying on a lounge-chair next to him. Yes, really!)

But the “icon” of Brazilian womanhood is being challenged…by Brazilian women themselves. Black, brown, Asian and white, they’ve taken up the fight against this media campaign. The Slutwalk movement, which began here in Canada as a response to a Toronto cop who stupidly told women not to “dress like sluts” in order to avoid rape, has caught on big-time in South America, where women — over-sexualized in the media for decades, and in the minds of church and state for centuries — are now marching and chanting slogans like: “Beware, beware, beware, machista! Latin America is turning feminista!” Women are challenging not only their false image in the media, but capitalism itself…for, after all, that phoney image is there to sell things, by presenting an “aspirational” world that ignores reality, and poverty, completely. And when the media in one country — a land with a population in the hundred-millions — are owned by just six wealthy families, it’s glaringly obvious what the real problem is. And so is why women everywhere — in Canada as well as Brazil — are sick and tired of it.