Sunday, June 29, 2008

Zimbabwe, Terrorism, and Mandela

Well, it's official. Robert Mugabe is now a bad guy.

If you follow the English press in a Western country, you might be saying "Well, duh." If you ONLY follow the English press in a Western country, your opinion does not count, because, as I have pointed out here on many occasions, they have a tremendously unrecognized propensity for lying.

Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, does not. While sound criticisms of some of his policies have been made, if there is one former head of state whose word I would take at face value, it would probably be Mandela's.

So when Mandela "failed" to publicly condemn Mugabe, it caused great consternation amongst the wise sages who pen weekly opinion columns. Still, in a speech before his 90th birthday celebrations in London, he called what was happening in Zimbabwe "a tragic failure of leadership." For some well-meaning white people who still feel they know better than Mandela, this is not enough. As usual, people still want Mandela to sing with the choir. When reporters asked him to do a solo against Castro, he declined. When Clinton asked him to sing a ditty against Libya, he refused. Mandela doesn't let other people decide who his enemies should be.

Mandela knows what he is doing. And if he says that Zimbabwe's situation represents a failure of leadership, then that's all that needs to be said.


Adding to Mandela's credibility is the fact that only last week did the U.S. Senate vote to remove Nelson Mandela's ANC party from its list of terrorist organizations. ANC members are now free to travel in the United States. Truly the courage of U.S. Senators is legendary. . .

The United States of America is not now, nor has it ever been, a champion of freedom.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Toronto Zero.

There are now two big "terror trials" that have captivated the imaginations of news editors in Canada. I wouldn't bet on either amounting to much more than that.

Both have been years in the making - Momin Khawaja has been in detention since 2004, while the not-quite-notorious "Toronto 18" were arrested in 2006.

The approach to the two cases has been markedly different. In the case of Khawaja, the RCMP dragged their feet before coming up with a charge, and were publicly and privately tight-lipped about what exactly evidence was. I had the opportunity to meet an RCMP member involved with the Khawaja file over a year after he was arrested, and when I asked them what they thought Khawaja had done, I was assured "We have evidence. I can't tell you, but there is something there." Fortunately, Khawaja is a citizen, so unlike the very unlucky Mohammed Harkat, he is allowed to defend himself against the accusations, even if he had to spend 4 years in prison first.

When the "Toronto 18" were arrested, I told some colleagues of mine that I presumed them to be innocent, and doubted the veracity of the police spokesmen. I was quickly rebuked for my naïveté, with a dear friend of mine telling me, in his characteristic way, that I was too willing to give the benefit of the doubt to "people that had an abnormally large amount of ammonium nitrate and precious few Chia-pets to fertilize."

Of course, the Toronto 18 have now fallen to the Toronto 11, which will in a few weeks become the Toronto 10. Apparently the Crown didn't think it could prosecute 7 of those dangerous fanatics, and so stayed the charges and loosed them back upon vulnerable, unsuspecting Toronto suburbs. If so many people hadn't been smeared as a result, the ridiculous implosion of the prosecution's case in the current trial would be a matter of pure comedy. What was billed as a terrorist-training camp with an elaborate cover-up is looking more and more like a Muslim boys' fat-camp with a concern for the environment.

There was no talk about attacking any Canadian targets, although there was some political discussion about oppression of Muslims in places such as Iraq, he said.

Muslims in privileged countries such as Canada were obliged to help out, Syed cited the leader as saying.

The video also shows participants in fatigues, with faces covered, sitting in a tent in a scene Syed said was designed to look like a "resistance video seen on the Internet."

They wanted to "look cool," he said.

The alleged leader also "wanted to imitate a covert operation" with a night-time hike that was like the X-Box game, "Ghost Recon," and participants hid behind trees and bushes without much success, Syed told the court.

"A drunk person caught them," he said.

Ammonium nitrate indeed. . . I don't know if we'll ever hear about the Toronto Zero, but if there are convictions, I don't expect them to be for anything more than petty crime and nuisance-making.

As Momin Khawaja's case unfolds, I am hearing the same things. Now that they have been forced to come out with it, the Crown is boasting about hundreds of e-mails and hours of wiretap, along with witnesses willing to swear on a stack of Qur'ans (actually, I have doubts about that bit) that Momin trained with Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, and was building remote detonators for a British terror plot.

Their case against him sounds very impressive. Even more impressive are tight security measures, including rooftop snipers, that reporters have been treated to outside the downtown Ottawa courthouse. The Toronto n = ? were treated to the same.

A redhead in a pink tube-top has aroused suspicion

The plot was allegedly to build remote detonators in Canada and ship them across the Atlantic for use in a massive bomb attack in Britain. Khawaja allegedly planned to use DFAIT's (where he was working) courier service to get them there. I am no security expert, but I see problems with this plan.

Then again, there is a reason why we don't try people based on media reports.

The prosecution sounds strong because they get to go first, and because putting snipers on rooftops gets you a lot of media coverage. In the end, though, if Khawaja is acquitted, such tasteless theatrics will only inure the public further to the innumerable antics of our "terrorism"-obsessed security establishment.

. . .If he is acquitted. I don't know that he will be. For now though, I am doing what everyone else ought to be, and presuming innocence.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Blowing Hard

100 posts! A milestone that is worth using as an opportunity for a little reflection on the project of being "The Proud Islamist."

**warning - this will be a bit of a ramble**

Not too long ago, a friend commented that she didn't understand many of the posts on this site. I'm not sure whether she was referring to the quality of my prose (which sometimes, I'll admit, makes more sense while being written than while being read) or whether they were referring to the issues and arguments I try to present, but I hope it was the latter. My response was that I don't always understand them either.

Reality is complicated. I am partially resigned to the fact that I am not going to be an authority on a great many things.

Pause for a moment to overcome your shock and disbelief.

Even if I could be an authority on everything, the fact remains that the intricacies of, say, fossil fuel distribution, or Somali politics cannot be accurately discussed in a 500-word post. Brevity is the soul of wit, but not always conducive to wisdom.

So what exactly compels this fellow, acting upon the presumtion that anyone in the world cares, to write up his opinions and post them on a blog?

I once was having a conversation with several Americans, some of whom were U.S. Marines, regarding 19th-Century U.S. history. The conversation somehow shifted to a discussion of US foreign policy. Given the audience, I naturally did my best to be tactful, but in the end I wound up asking my interlocutors if they thought it was possible that a U.S. President would send the country's troops to a war that he knew was not in the interests of average Americans. The reply?

"Listen, international politics is decided at the highest levels by experts and isn't for guys like you and me to decide."

Before I exploded, a wise person changed the subject.

Over the past 4 years I have had many opportunities to meet elected representatives, at the municipal, provincial, and federal level. My experiences have convinced me of one thing -
some of our leaders in Canada are STOOOOOPID. And we are the smarter bit of North America.

Being so doubleplus-unsmart isn't actually much of a handicap for them, though. As I've learned, being elected isn't so much about having a firm grip on reality and a solid grasp of policy - it's about being able to rapidly build relationships with large numbers of people, and to organize these people in such a way as to maximize their value to your cause.

Anyone who knows me will rightly deny that I have such a gift. Consequently, an outlet like this is a convenient place for me to vent my frustrations at those who display less than I do in the "knowledge and reason" department, but far more in the "power and influence" department.

The other motivation behind my writings here relates to the flooding of the Web, especially after 2001, with the increasingly popular writings of a number of distasteful characters. A lot of people are reading screes written by stupid, delusional, lying, delusional, clueless, sleazy, fearmongering, ultra-delusional, wannabe-journalists. The fact that our traditional media in Canada have been overrun by a few evil overlords is the injury to which all the preceding characters - and many more - are adding insult.

I may not be able to communicate perfect truth, but some falsehoods stand out plain as day.

So 100 posts ago, I decided that something had to be done. This probably isn't it. For now, though, it will have to suffice. By telling my version of the story, I discover the weaknesses in my own understanding of it. Even if no one hears me speaking in this quiet, imperfect voice, the Almighty will know that I tried. What will happen will happen, but what matters is where you chose to stand, and what your intentions were.

And so for that reason, I choose to remain The Proud Islamist.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

From the inside, it looks different

Last night CBC showed a docudrama, supposedly about the lives of the 9/11 hijackers and the CIA's sporadic attempts to monitor them. I didn't catch the title, and didn't watch more than 20 minutes of it. As a piece of TV, it wasn't awful, but it wasn't great either. The politically-loaded content aside, non-Muslim actors can never seem to get their Muslim characters right, unless they've grown up somewhere with a strong Muslim presence.

There's something about the way they stress their "Insha'allahs" and their "Alhamdulillahs" - translating only makes it sound goofier. The words are thrown in for the sake of authenticity, but to anyone who's ever used such expressions conversationally, it sounds so obviously forced, and blemishes whatever talent the actor might actually have. The fact that the "Islamic expressions" vary with language and culture is never captured in North American films very well either, which are still struggling to overcome their confusion between Arabs and Muslims.

I recall hearing an Egyptian (I think) author on the radio, talking about this problem in literature. She said something to the effect of "If you take the literal translation, it means something different. If you write 'Wa'nabi, pass me the spoon,' and translate it without knowing its cultural context, you get 'By the Holy Prophet, Pass me the spoon,' when really it should be 'Please pass me the spoon'."

This lack of mutual understanding leads to bigger problems. Take, for instance, the insistence of many Westerners, conservatives and liberals alike, that Islam needs to be "reformed." Professional warmonger Daniel Pipes recently penned an article in the conservative-zionist Jerusalem Post, offering his weighty opinion on a Turkish project to create a new compilation of Prophetic narrations. Quoth Pipes:

. . .Other observers are more skeptical. Hashim Hashimi, a former MP, for example, states that "There are established views on Islam and how it should be practiced that have been in place for 1400 years. And they aren't going to change any time soon." Even the head of the ministry, Ali Bardakoğlu, acknowledges that "we are not reforming Islam; we are reforming ourselves."

What to make of this initiative? Serious efforts to modernize Islam, which this appears to be, are most welcome. At the same time, one has to wonder about agendas when government intercedes in the subtle and even subversive domain of religious reform. . .

. . . By limiting its subject matter, the project might forward Islamism more than modernize Islam. True reform awaits true reformers – not Islamist functionaries but independent, modern individuals intent on aligning Islam with the best of modern mores.
To Pipes's sense of faux-expertise, Bardakoğlu's statement seems like a disappointment. "Aw, you mean you're not actually reforming Islam? Dang it, why won't these Muslims learn?"

This is because when many "Westerners" speak of Islam, they are speaking of something deeply, but subtly different from what Muslims mean when they speak of Islam. The European religious experience included the Reformation and Counter-Reformations of the Church, which opened new chapters in Christian theology and in the religious practices of Christians all over the continent.

A church though, is an organization that can be reformed. Islam is not, and that's where the confusion lies.

Islam, in the minds of Muslims, is not defined by what the Muslims do, and its definition is only hinted at in the scripture and secondary texts. Islam, in the end, is defined by God. This is why every religious opinion published by an Islamic scholar ends with the formulation "And Allah knows best" as a reminder of their own human uncertainty. The traditional schools of jurisprudence came to the understanding amongst themselves that contradiction between them had to be expected and accepted - they were only seeking what was praiseworthy in the sight of God; none of them could claim total certainty about the answer.

So how could the Turkish project ever claim to be "Reforming Islam" and maintain any credibility at all? All Muslims understand that Islam is what it is, not what you want it to become. What is recognized, however, is that Muslims must ponder what Islam is, and discard old ways of thinking that they may have thought were "Islamic" in favour of beliefs and practices that are more profoundly so.

With this understanding of Islam, the "reform" that is "required" (required by whom?) sounds like gibberish, if not cultural imperialism. What kind of arrogant pipsqueak would attempt such a monstrosity - to redefine sanctity and morality according to his own whims, or even those of "modernity." The credibility of such sentiments certainly isn't helped by Daniel "Let's Bomb the Muslims" Pipes.

Reform Islam? Astaghfirullah!

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remember: It's not apartheid, OK?

Jimmy Carter took a lot of flak for the title of his book. Profesional apologists for zionism argued that the application of the "apartheid" label was a manifestation of antisemitism, an unfair singling out of Israeli policies that were completely different from those of Israel's erstwhile ally, apartheid South Africa.

From The Independent, "Palestinians barred from Dead Sea beaches to 'appease Israeli settlers'."

'In the petition a senior Acri lawyer, Limor Yehuda, says: "We are dealing here with travel bans and entry prohibitions to public places in occupied territory which are tainted with discrimination and characteristic of colonial regimes. We have here prohibitions preventing the protected population of the occupied territory from using its own resources, while the very same resources are put at the disposal and enjoyment of the citizens of the occupying power. . . '

One of the reservists, Doron Karbel, testified t
hat as a "side note", the Jordan Valley Brigade Commander, Colonel Yigal Slovik, had said the reason for the checkpoint was that "when Jews and Palestinian vacationers were sitting on the beaches side by side it hurt the business of the surrounding yishuvim [Jewish communities]."

Mr Karbel added: "In a conversation I later had with the Brigade Commander, he told me that he could come up with or find a security justification if he needed to."'

It's not EXACTLY like South Africa. Just very, very similar.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008


Yesterday, Stephen Harper, the leader of the Bush Administration - Canadian Edition (TM), did something quintessentially Canadian. He apologized.

I don't mean that in a derisive way. It says a lot about this country that we can face up to our history and admit that we did wrong. We are a country so progressive that even the party of the wealthy white warmongering evangelical Christian male can still be cajoled into an apology (and cajoling there was). There are few places in the world where a similar situation exists. Imagine if Turkey were to apologize to the Kurds (or the Armenians for that matter), or if the "State of Israel" were to apologize to the Palestinians. It wouldn't solve the problem, but it would convince everyone that a solution was possible.

Still, an apology should only go so far. Listening to CBC yesterday, I couldn't help but wonder why so many First Nations leaders were gushing over the eloquence and sincerity of the apology. While there was dissent elsewhere, inside the House each representative from an indigenous group offered Harper sincere and heartfelt thanks for his apology.

I've long thought that Canada's indigenous peoples have suffered for being too nice, suffering relatively quietly, given the magnitude of the malice and injustice they have faced, and lashing out more at themselves than anyone else - the average suicide rate in indigenous communities is 6 times the national average. Yesterday seemed no exception.

Effectively, Harper said, "For kidnapping you as children and putting you in the care of sadists and sexual predators (although I hear some of them were nice)*, in a deliberate plot to wipe out your culture and languages, we're sorry."

I'm not sure what the right response is, but "thank you" doesn't really seem to me like it fits...

*"While some former students have spoken positively about their experiences at residential schools – these stories are far overshadowed by tragic accounts of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect of helpless children and their separation from powerless families and communities." - Stephen Harper

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Boot stomping

Looking through the statistics for this site would be an exercise in vanity if my list of visitors didn't prove that I am my own biggest fan. Nevertheless, something interesting stands out about the people who visit this site who are not me and are not people whose identities I know something about. A large number of people, in various countries all over the world, are stumbling across this site when doing a Google search for some variation of the phrase "imagine a boot stomping on a human face."

The search picks up this post from December where I used Orwell's ominous phrase (actually, a misappropriation of it, but never mind) to refer to a plan by the Pentagon for a database of biometric data on Iraqis which could then be used by soldiers to identify, kidnap, or execute people involved with the insurgency.

For the benefit of those of you searching for that brilliantly dark passage from 1984, and as a shameless way of getting more random hits, here it is, courtesy of "Mondo Politico."

'The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.' He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: 'How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?'

Winston thought. 'By making him suffer,' he said.

'Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always -- do not forget this, Winston -- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever.'

He paused as though he expected Winston to speak. Winston had tried to shrink back into the surface of the bed again. He could not say anything. His heart seemed to be frozen. O'Brien went on:

'And remember that it is for ever. The face will always be there to be stamped upon. The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again. Everything that you have undergone since you have been in our hands -- all that will continue, and worse. The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease. It will be a world of terror as much as a world of triumph. The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant: the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism. Goldstein and his heresies will live for ever. Every day, at every moment, they will be defeated, discredited, ridiculed, spat upon and yet they will always survive. This drama that I have played out with you during seven years will be played out over and over again generation after generation, always in subtler forms. Always we shall have the heretic here at our mercy, screaming with pain, broken up, contemptible -- and in the end utterly penitent, saved from himself, crawling to our feet of his own accord. That is the world that we are preparing, Winston. A world of victory after victory, triumph after triumph after triumph: an endless pressing, pressing, pressing upon the nerve of power. You are beginning, I can see, to realize what that world will be like. But in the end you will do more than understand it. You will accept it, welcome it, become part of it.'

The novel is brilliant because Orwell wasn't just writing about Nazis or Communists, but about the temptation of power. It is a terrifying read not because we fear Big Brother, but because we realize that he doesn't exist - there isn't some villain sitting in a big office commanding the Party to do his bidding. That would be almost comforting. The reason Orwell's dystopia is so frightening is because it sustains itself, causing every person to be cornered and trapped by fear and the lust for power - his own and everybody else's.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Well that didn't take long . . .

Despite extensive foreign support, Somalia's "transitional" government is once again being forced into a corner by the Islamic Courts Union, according to Shabelle Radio.

"The United Nations envoy to Somalia has urged an end to the fighting, and Qatar, the current President of the UN Security Council, has proposed a draft statement calling for an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of all international forces. Other nations, such as the US, Britain, France, and Russia, have objected to the statement, saying peace talks and agreement are necessary before troops can withdraw."

And what disrupted the last round of peace talks? Foreign troops.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

PSCs and NGOs

Here is an account of a forum held between humanitarian NGOs and Private Security Contractors, on the deepening relationships between the two, posted on the blog of the Lancet Student.

The author of the post had some interesting comments of his own:

". . .

The Blackwater incident in Nisoor Square is no isolated example. Anecdotal reports of the atrocities carried out by PSC employees and their fatal mistakes abound, to which I’ll add my own. In my last operational tour with the British Army in Iraq the first person killed was not at the hands of a British soldier or his enemy but was shot by a PSC operative spooked by a small group of unarmed protesters at the gates of the Coalition Provisional Authority. PSC employees have infamously posted footage of their wayward actions, firing on the move into civilian vehicles, on the internet.

From Tuesday’s discussion it was clear that not only are PSCs taking a role in providing security for humanitarian organisations they are also being paid to provide the aid work themselves. To take matters further they are also passing themselves off as charities to raise money for projects as a force protection measure for their own operations. Whilst those present on the occasion did not take issue with this I find it significantly disturbing.

When the ‘humanitarian’ money for services required goes out to tender, the PSCs will have a strong case to put. They will be able to deliver a service swiftly and efficiently in areas where NGOs cannot or will not operate and it is worth noting that these areas, including Iraq and Afghanistan are the areas where big international donors, the US, the UK and the EU desperately want the services delivered. What is more, they will do those without insisting on difficult clauses concerning their neutrality or impartiality. The Private Security Company is a smart re-branding of an age-old concept - they are mercenaries. They will deliver a service and they will kill people in doing so. . . "

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bloody Hands

A few days ago someone sent me an e-mail about the sins of the Iranian government. The text of it, forwarded from a well-known "progressive" Muslim activist read:

To all those who are fascinated by the so-called anti-imperialist nature of the Iranian regime, here is evidence of its cold-hearted brutal nature as it conducts public hangings of four young Baloch men in a city square inside Iranian Balochistan.
I won't link to the video here - if you are desperate to see something like that, it is on YouTube under the name "Baloch." The video, under 4 minutes long, shows 5 Balochi men standing with nooses around their necks, standing atop barrels and boxes behind a line of police cars parked at an intersection. Soldiers and policemen surround them, and large crowds can be heard in the background. Whatever they have been accused of, a section of the crowd either believes in their innocence, or is not ashamed of the crime.

As the men in charge are checking the ropes, the man in the middle, a well-built, middle-aged man with a beard, whose hands are tied behind his back, speaks to the crowd, who are being held at a distance by a line of soldiers and police. The men in charge do nothing to stop him. A few seconds pass and the camera, probably a cell phone, shakes around a bit. I have struggled with the most respectful but realistic way to describe what happens next, or whether to describe it at all. In the end, the men are killed.

I have said before here that I am not against the death penalty in principle, although the practical likelihood that it will be misapplied is a grave danger when a punishment is so irreversible. Not everyone killed, either officially or unofficially, by the Iranian government since 1979 may have been innocent, but if HRW, Amnesty International, and the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Centre, are to be believed, people have been killed who did not commit a heinous crime.

No one is claiming that the Iranian government is particularly saintly. Proponents of the revolution pointed to the Shah's awful human rights record as well, but its hard to say that the people who have been in charge since then have been objectively better; they may indeed be worse, and they have in the meantime associated some of the brutality with the name of Islam.

The problem in our world today, as it has been since the dawn of recorded history, is that lots of people with power are murderers. Because they don't hurt the people close to them, we don't label them as psychopaths, but their ability to abide and abet cruelty without remorse is nevertheless astounding. We live in a world where half of the heads of state seem to have blood on their hands, and the ones who don't all have friendly relationships with ones who do. It would be great if we could find a neat line to draw a line somewhere on the globe and say "Good leaders over here, bad leaders over there." That is not reality.

What to do, though, when one group of psychopaths attempts paint another as the common enemy? If the United States and her remaining allies are going embark on a crusade against Iran, then let's be clear that it has nothing to do with concern for "human rights." And if some of us are booing as the drums of war beat, it isn't because we're fans of Ayatollah Khamenei. When two psychopaths go to war, and in doing so, send a lot of comparatively innocent people to their deaths, there isn't going to be a good side and a bad side. There just might be, however, one that started it.

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