What North America Needs Is Cultural Interchange, Not Militarisation, Says HCSW’s Owen Ford (Part 1)

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Zeinab Merai, Sada al-Mashrek

The son of a geography professor at McMaster University, social-justice advocate Owen Ford is gravely concerned about global affairs and where the world is heading today.

The Ontarian, whose principal career is landscape painting and who’s also engaged in the film industry, has been to numerous countries in Central America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. Ford says he’s “always had a passion for other cultures, partly because he finds “that our culture has problems with itself.”

The Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War’s executive-board member tells Sada al-Mashrek that what the West needs is cultural interchange, not militarisation and propagandist narratives.


“Travel’s excellent to see your own culture in a different life”

Owen Ford says his interest in the non-Western world began after he’d seen enough of the Western world and had an understanding of it. “Travel is an excellent way, not only to learn about other cultures, but to see your own culture in a different life,” believes he.  

Visiting places like Turkey, Poland and Guatemala, he would spend 6 months painting the countryside. “I would get to meet some of the local people and learn a bit of the local language and anthropology. Other cultures are perhaps my greatest fascination. I suppose the one thing that I observed was that people in some of the poorest – not desperately poor – countries in the world are the happiest… And I saw that society I come from is a very high-stressed one, and this is not the only way of living,” believes Ford.   

The humanist says he’s stopped “making art for a while, and it’s time to start that again, but actually part of the reason I stopped was to focus a little bit more on political work and so forth.” He adds that his mission with the HCSW has “opened a lot of doors” for him and given him “an introduction to the activist community in North America, which is very interesting.”

The liberal advocate says, though, that his mission isn’t easy; he gets opposed by some “political friends who would have issues with my belonging to this group, they would call it a Stalinist or things like that, but to be honest, I’m not interested in such theoretical questions. I like the fact that this groups organises, manifests demonstrations and gets things done… It’s been a very fruitful relationship so far.”


“Cultural decline alongside media distortion”

As war continues and despite the climate emergency, more lands are being burnt and more fuel is being consumed by military vehicles and aircraft. The US has even been looting Syria’s grains on top of the shortage of grains instigated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. International organisations have sounded alarm over hunger that has befallen many nations and is expected to befall others if things remain unchanged.    

Ford sees this tells “the path we’re on is dark. That requires some profound changes in our society, and I don’t see our society making those efforts. It takes a lot of thinking about this subject, but it makes me impatient and curious to find other societies that are perhaps being more pro-active or more successful in their dealing with reality because it seems to me that we’re on a path right now that leaves us no future. This will end in a sort of social collapse sometime in the next decades.”

HCSW’s Ford recounts the words of former French commando rifleman and author Adrien Bocquet, who after returning from Ukraine has made “some quite alarming reports, and the first thing he said was that the situation that he saw in Ukraine was completely different from the picture presented by the Western media.” ("J’ai vu des crimes abominables commis par Azov." De retour d'Ukraine, Adrien Bocquet raconte - YouTube)

In parallel, observer Ford recalls his travel to Syria in 2011, warning mainstream media is doing a very good job at twisting facts. “I had never been there, and I was very curious to see things from the eyes of a painter, but the political situation there was interesting at the time. It was just before things got very bad. I would read the New York Times or other Western media while sitting on the ground in Damascus, and between what I was reading and what I could see with my own eyes the distance was so absurd. Being there on the ground in Syria, I could see just how extreme the distortion was, and this was very alarming, and so it changed my whole way of looking. Absolutely, I cannot trust our media to do an honest job reporting an incident if there’s some sort of political interest there,” Ford states.

His observation meets that of American lawyer and journalist Daniel Kovalik’s, who has, in an earlier interview, recounted being in Syria for filmmaking and witnessing several realities that were utterly different from Western media’s narratives. (https://www.sadaalmashrek.ca/ar/English/content/31a45246-e07f-4e45-9b2e-7def07249f7a)

And just on June 2nd, independent Canadian-American rights activist and freelance journalist Eva Karene Bartlett, who is known for reporting from war/conflict zones like Syria and Palestine and most recently Ukraine, criticised CBC’s propagandist work, tweeting: “Instead of doing a report on the fact that Ukraine has me on a kill list for my journalism, Canadian state-funded CBC seems to be gearing up to do a smear on my participation on a tribunal on Ukraine's war crimes.”


“A patriarchal society”

Ford agrees there’s a correlation between the militarisation culture, the excessive use of guns in the US and Canada, the heavy armament of police (including RCMP that’s dispatched on Indigenous lands), plus the supremacist foreign policy of both countries.

Concerning the Uvalde, Texas school shooting, the Ontarian social-justice advocate highlights the fact that there are “some Western and non-Western countries in the world where there are a lot of guns, for instance, Syria, or Switzerland, but that they don’t have this problem. That’s a cultural problem because if you have the same availability of guns, but people don’t use them, that says that something is going on with the culture. And then partly in the West, we’re living in patriarchy, so it’s about male power, which is supported by violence. And this is how you get into the police and have all these institutions.” Ford slams “how the state has the ultimate control of violence to maintain social order, which is problematic.”

“One thing I’ve been very conscious of in the last twenty or thirty years is what we call the militarisation of police, how the police have changed in a much more aggressive and militaristic way and are getting more funding,” warns Ford. “For instance, when I lived in Europe, sometimes I would go to demonstrations; I would see the fighting between the police and the demonstrators, who would sometimes push the police back or the other way around. But here in North America, every time I see this, it’s always many police officers, and they always win. They absolutely dominate, and the people here somehow accept this,” Ford delineates.

He now cautions that this is “quite unpleasant; our culture talks about how free we are, but you’ve got these really frightening people with lethal weapons walking around the streets. How free can you be? Now we see how easy it is for them to use these weapons, so people don’t feel safe. The Black Lives Matter movement in the US is about this – the constant violence against the minorities by the agents of the state. And then of course you’ve got the culture itself, which makes a fetish of violence, and the idea of a gun as a sort of a problem-solving device, which it isn’t.”

Ford recalls an online user’s suggestion as to showing the video of the bleeding children to people to make them see the reality and take action to end the violence. “But the system we live in is very, very careful to hide the actual consequences of this violence from the people here. For instance, the wars in Iraq and Syria, we never see the reality of what happens to the people there, and that’s terrible; it’s the only way they can continue this violence,” warns the concerned anti-war activist.  

“If you have foreign wars, eventually, sooner or later, absolutely, the violence in the other wars will come back to your home. A lot of the violence we see in America is from army veterans, who’ve been in these wars, and it’s damaged their minds… The consequences of these wars are mapped onto the domestic scenes,” states the critic, adding, “Growing up, I became aware of such things as patriarchy and the connections to this. This idea is a false construction of male or what a man is, and a man is supposed to be this dangerous, nasty, violent person. Anyway, I think it’s a very bad archetype for people to study.”

Ford’s views again align with those of author Daniel Kovalik, who has earlier stated to Sada al-Mashrek that “the US and the West try to claim that they’re the guardians of Western civilisation. In fact, they are the threat to Western and Eastern civilisation… In Syria, they destroyed ancient and Roman architecture, and they supported people that destroy these things… Israel is trying to deny that Palestinians had a history, were there and had their cities before Israel was there. We see this complete destruction of human history that the West is waging. It is a neolistic force that has to be resisted…”

Likewise, a 2015 joint statement by a number of Canadian archaeologists and museum directors denounced the “directed and intentional destruction of cultural heritage and heritage sites within Iraq and Syria… Their destruction is an attempt to erase the complex and intertwined history of our collective human experience… The extent of the damage to Iraq and Syria’s heritage will only be truly understood once the region stabilises.” (Joint Statement on Cultural Destruction in Iraq and Syria | Canadian Archaeological Association / Association canadienne d'archéologie (canadianarchaeology.com))

Ironically, seven years after the statement now, neither that region nor others have stabilised. God only knows when humanity will be ready to defeat the darkness that has come upon the globe.   


Thanks for taking the time to read this part. Please keep an eye out for part 2. You can find Owen Ford on Twitter: @OwenDLFord   and me: @Zeinab_Merai

Photo: Courtesy of Owen Ford