Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Olympic Ceasefire a Nice, But Unfeasible, Idea

Taliban would stand to gain from spoiling Canada's Olympic party

As much as they are said to be a symbol of peace, the Olympics have actually had an uneasy relationship with war for much of the past century.

In 1936, the Summer Olympics were held in Berlin. At the time it was widely known that Nazi Germany was preparing for war. In 1980, the Soviet Union hosted the Summer Games while attempting to stamp out an Islamic uprising in Afghanistan. In 2002, Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics while the United States was already fighting in Afghanistan, and preparing to invade Iraq.

In 1972, terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Summer Olympics in Munich. In 1996, the Atlanta games were marred by a bomb explosion that killed two people in Centennial Olympic Park.

Yet despite this uncomfortable relationship with various forms of armed conflict, the Olympic Ceasefire has become something of an Olympic tradition.

The organizers of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics seem to have embraced this particular notion, as an Olympic ceasfire resolution is set to be presented before the United Nations.

Certainly, nobody expects Canadian soldiers to lay down their arms so Taliban insurgents can have their way with them. But this is one time when Canada actually may be better off following the example of former US President George W Bush, who refused to seriously entertain the notion of an Olympic ceasefire in 2002.

In fact, Canadians can expect the Taliban to redouble their efforts to harm NATO soldiers (and Canadians in particular) during the 2010 Olympics, just as they did during the recent Afghan elections.

To cast a dark cloud over the Olympics would be nothing short of a propaganda triumph for the Taliban.

Some may recall the story of Mehboba Ahdyar, the Afghan sprinter who was scheduled to participate in the Beijing games. Despite the numerous social obstacles she had to overcome in order to compete in the Olympics -- obstacles not limited to the Taliban alone -- Ahdyar promised to be a powerful symbol of the progress being made in Afghanistan on issues such as women's rights.

Even though the Afghan Parliament frequently kowtows to the regressive attitudes of many Afghans -- various outrageous pieces of legislation have threatened to legalize rape within marriage, among other atrocities -- Ahdyar was already a symbol of how far Afghan women had come since the removal of the Taliban from power, as she had participated in and won several competitions in Afghanistan. Such competitions were entirely unheard of under the Taliban, who forbade women from participating in athletic competition.

Ahdyar's story, however, took a disappointing turn when she fled to Norway to seek asylum.

Ahdyar's story failed to turn out to be the feel-good tale about the advancement of women's rights in Afghanistan that it could have been. However, it continues to teach lessons about precisely how regressive the Taliban truly is, and why it cannot be allowed to re-assume power in Afghanistan.

Having already marred one Olympic story with death threats and intimidation, the Taliban will certainly be eager to seize the opportunity to further marr an event that stands for everything they stand against.

But as powerful as the symbolism of killing a mass of Canadian soldiers during the Vancouver Olympics could be for the Taliban, continuing to fight the Taliban in the name of democratic freedom and human rights would be a much, much stronger symbol for Canadians.

That alone makes the idea of an Olympic ceasefire a little absurd. As nice as the idea is, one simply doesn't extent courtesies to an enemy that they know the enemy will not return.

"Basically, I think it's ridiculous - if there were any sense of self-respect or realism, [Defence Minister Peter MacKay] would say, 'Don't be absurd,'" says University of Calgary Political Scientist Barry Cooper. "It's the sort of thing that only a bureaucrat would think was meaningful."

It's a nice enough idea in practice. But Canada stands to gain too much by continuing to fight the Taliban during the Olympics, and stands to lose too much by relenting.

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