You'd better believe that the old Pearsonian myths that have dominated Canadian foreign policy are dead now. Just consider today's announcement and ask yourself if this would have been contemplated even five years ago:
The Conservative government has come under fire from a wide range of critics condemning the recent appointment of a new Canadian ambassador to Iran as a cynical and potentially dangerous political move guaranteed to inflame tensions in the Middle East.
The Department of Foreign Affairs announced today that Fred Litwin, 51, an Ottawa-based music production company president with no previous foreign policy experience, will become Canada's envoy to the fundamentalist Islamic regime effective immediately.
Mr. Litwin is well-known in party circles for his blog, Gay and Right, in which he has expressed uncompromising support for both Israel and gay rights, and opposition to Iranian and Islamic political ambitions.
Mr. Litwin attracted media attention several months ago when he organized the showing of a controversial documentary film on Islamic terrorism, only to have it cancelled by theatre operators following protests from local activists. The film was later shown at the Ottawa public library.
An unusually broad collection of critics, ranging from peace activists to social conservatives, have come out against Mr. Litwin's appointment, calling the appointment of the openly gay Jewish music producer offensive and counterproductive.
"Appointing this man sends a signal that Canada disrespects the faith and sensibilities of the Iranian people and Muslims all over the world," said Canadian Islamic Congress President Dr. Mohammed Elmasry. "It is an act of aggression unworthy of Canada's role as a tolerant and peaceful nation, and we call on (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper to withdraw this appointment and apologize to the Islamic and Iranian communities."
Liberal foreign affairs critic Ujjal Dosanjh also condemned the appointment at a press conference in Ottawa as a shameful pre-election exercise in political posturing aimed at winning over votes from the Jewish community and socially progressive urban voters.
"This appointment has nothing to do with promoting peace in the Middle East and everything to do with promoting Stephen Harper at home," said Dosanjh. "It's cynicism of the worst kind--hiding the party's intolerance behind a token gay man."
Some commentators, however, have expressed support for Mr. Litwin's appointment, calling it a bold move that could actually raise Canada's reputation and influence in the strife-torn region.
"The Middle East is a land of symbolism, and what could be a more powerful symbol than sending a Jewish gay man to Iran?" said University of Western Ontario political science professor and Toronto Sun columnist Dr. Salim Mansur. "It demonstrates a resolve not to compromise in the face of (Iranian President) Ahmadinejad and the mullahs."
Relations between Canada and Iran have been strained over the past several years, following the death of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in a Tehran prison in 2003, and the arrest and subsequent release of Iranian-Canadian professor Dr. Ramin Jahanbegloo in 2006.
A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Ottawa called the appointment of Mr. Litwin "a matter of grave concern for both our countries" and said that the Iranian Foreign Ministry "would give careful consideration to its response."
Everybody is piling on about the appointment in the media--Gwynne Dyer, Eric Margolis, Neil MacDonald, Haroun Siddiqui, etc., etc.--and you can read a collection of selected commentary here.