Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with James Laxer

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Ten Questions with James Laxer

Award-winning author James Laxer has written twenty-one books, including Perils of Empire and Red Diaper Baby: A Boyhood in the Age of McCarthyism. His latest book, Mission of Folly: Canada and Afghanistan is published by Between The Lines. A former Toronto Star columnist, Laxer is a Professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto.

OB:

Tell us about your latest book, Mission of Folly: Canada and Afghanistan.

JL:

I wrote Mission of Folly: Canada and Afghanistan to try to provide an answer to the questions most Canadians have on their minds about our mission in Kandahar: why are we there; why does the war go on and on; why are Canada’s casualties so much higher than those of other NATO countries; and is this war really improving the lives of the people of that unfortunate country?

In the process of research and writing I discovered that the truth about each of these central questions is almost exactly the opposite of what we are being told about the war by the spokespersons for the Harper government.

Here are a few important elements of the story told in the book:

The government insists that the war is being fought under the rubric of a United Nations resolution and under the command of NATO. While technically true, the reality is that we’ve been in Afghanistan for over six years to support the world policy of the Bush administration.

The conflict in which we are participating is one long chapter in a terrible war that has been fought for control of Afghanistan for more than three decades. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to support its client regime there, Soviet forces destroyed towns and much of the countryside, driving millions of people from their homes. The American response to the invasion was to pour billions of dollars into the forces that opposed the Soviet backed regime - these forces were the Mujahideen, whose broad goal was to throw out the foreigners and construct a strictly Islamic society. Osama Bin Laden was on the American side in this bloody struggle and the Taliban emerged from the Mujahideen, bringing to Afghanistan a regime that would not allow women to work, removed girls from schools and forced women to wear the burka.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and Canada’s support for the invasion, following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had nothing to do with human rights violations of the Taliban regime. The invasion was an opening salvo in the War on Terror of the Bush administration and was followed in March 2003 by the invasion of Iraq.

While the war has been described as a NATO mission, eighty-five per cent of the casualties among NATO countries have been suffered by three countries, the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, and among these on a per capita basis, Canada with 83 killed has suffered the largest losses.

Although Pakistan is depicted as an ally in the war, the regions of Pakistan along the Afghan border have provided a sanctuary for the Taliban forces fighting our troops. This means the Canadians in Kandahar are constantly being hit by new recruits or refitted Taliban units that can slip back and forth across the border. Both the Pakistani government and the Karzai government in Afghanistan have been negotiating with the Taliban to reach a settlement. When that settlement is reached, it will not create an Afghanistan that is firmly on the road to democracy and a regime based on the rule of law and respect for the rights of women as the Harper government would have us believe.

Our government claims that much is being done to aid the people of Afghanistan. In fact, ninety per cent of Canada’s expenditures in Afghanistan are directed at fighting the war, not aiding the people.

The conclusion I reached is that Canada should end its military mission in Afghanistan, while continuing to aid that unfortunate country as best it can. I concluded as well that when the United States decides to end its military intervention in Iraq, it will not be long before the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan, leaving behind a country that continues to suffer as a consequence of the scars inflicted by invaders who come and go.

OB:

How did you research your book?

JL:

I researched this book by reading about the history of Afghanistan, not only the recent history, but the struggle over past centuries involving incursions into the country by imperial powers and resistance to those incursions. Sources on the Canadian mission, from its origins to its evolution, were of key importance. Parliamentary debates, books, periodicals and the use of the Access to Information Act all provided material. Also of considerable importance were books and articles about the global policies of the Bush administration.

OB:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote Mission of Folly?

JL:

I wanted to address this book to a broad general audience. Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan is not an issue for the experts alone, it is a vital issue for all Canadians.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JL:

Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries; Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman; and George Grant, Lament for a Nation.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

JL:

I am reading: Gerald Caplan, The Betrayal of Africa.

OB:

What was your first publication?

JL:

My first book was: The Energy Poker Game: The Politics of the Continental Resources Deal, and it was published by New Press in Toronto in 1970.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JL:

While I like writing in my office at home, I have to admit that what I truly love is to sit in a café, even a fairly noisy one, and to write on my little laptop, or to write longhand in an unlined Moleskine notebook.

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

JL:

Nothing has meant more to me than the creation by Canadian artist Joyce Wieland of a work called "The Water Quilt." Sixty-four small pillows are joined together with rope, each one of them with a wildflower from the Canadian Arctic embroidered on it. When you lift the pillows, you encounter the text of my book The Energy Poker Game.

OB:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

JL:

The best advice when writing is: Show us don’t tell us.

OB:

What is your next project?

JL:

I am currently writing a book titled Democracy for the Groundwork Series published by Groundwood Books.

Mission of Folly by James Laxer
"In this timely and important book, James Laxer investigates Canada’s dubious involvement in George Bush’s war in Afghanistan. Challenging the official narrative trumpeted by the media, Laxer shows how this war can truly be considered a mission of folly." — Linda McQuaig, journalist and author of
Holding the Bully’s Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire


Visit the Between The Lines website to read more about
Mission of Folly: Canada and Afghanistan by James Laxer.

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