Right-wing Rage Machine readies the Full Neil Young Treatment for Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Posted on June 01, 2014, 3:03 am
7 mins

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu will now be subjected to the full Neil Young Treatment for speaking out against overdevelopment of Alberta’s Bitumen Sands. (CBC Photo.) Below: Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver; Mr. Young, back in the days when Albertans were still allowed to love him.

Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu presumably knew perfectly well when he made his now-famous comment about Alberta’s Bitumen Sands yesterday that it doesn’t much matter who you are, you’re bound to be the subject of hysterical ritual trashing if you dare to speak out in this province against the Sands’ development.

Nor does it really matter how mild or strong your criticism is, or how nuanced or direct you happen to make it, the level and type of the vituperation you are subjected to will be pretty much the same.

Just the same, Bishop Tutu – an Anglican who had already established his credentials for fearlessness in the fight against Apartheid, as the Norwegian Nobel Committee pointed out back in the day – went ahead and was pretty strong in his commentary at a conference in Fort McMurray on bitumen mining and First Nations treaty rights.

“The fact that this filth is being created now, when the link between carbon emissions and global warming is so obvious, reflects negligence and greed,” he now-famously said, although this is a little more nuanced than most headlines made it appear. “The oilsands are emblematic of an era of high carbon and high-risk fuels that must end if we are committed to safer climate.”

Predictably, the hysterical pile-on started immediately in some of the darker corners of the Internet, and is now moving mainstream.

Alberta Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver, who is running from behind and therefore must have figured he needed to get there fustest with the mostest, was quickly quoted by what used to be the daily press complaining about the churchman’s remarks.

Nowadays, with concern about the effect on the planet’s climate by carbon emissions from Bitumen Sands mining in northern Alberta running high enough to attract criticism by prominent people, including musicians, filmmakers and religious leaders, “celebrity” has taken on the quality of a swear word here in the New West, as all Albertans have come to understand.

We call this the full Neil Young Treatment, and the implication is that if you’re a celebrity – no matter how you came by your renown – you must not know what you’re talking about, at least if you’re saying bad things about bitumen.

So Mr. McIver was quick to trot down that well-worn path, sniffing that Bishop Tutu was part of a “parade of celebrities” who need, as the Calgary Herald put it, “to better educate themselves” about our bitumen. (The days when newspaper editors demanded their reporters educate themselves better about split infinitives are apparently long gone.)

Reports of Mr. McIver’s first shot were quickly followed by a sycophantic Tweet by a former Stephen Harper and Christy Clark aide who happens to be his campaign manager calling them “Refreshing plain talk. Refreshing.”

Not that Mr. McIver himself demonstrated a particularly deep understanding of the issue, emphasizing how neatly bitumen mining companies tidy up after themselves and failing to mention the debate about carbon emissions, which is where the controversy really lies.

But then, remarks like Mr. McIver’s aren’t really about dialogue, they’re about seeing who can yell the loudest at anyone who raises their head in opposition to bitumen mining, plus getting the most headlines.

Worse is sure to come in the next few days, and perhaps even Prime Minister Harper will step in and assail the South African churchman once he finishes compiling his clippings from his jeremiad against Communism, which apparently ran to a length worthy of Fidel Castro.

Any Alberta politician who doesn’t contribute to the ritual trashing of Bishop Tutu out here where Green has become the new Red, of course, risks a trashing of his or her own at the hands of all the usual suspects on both sides of the Legislature, in the mainstream media and its antisocial online counterpart.

So I was surprised that Tory candidate Thomas Lukaszuk showed admirable restraint and disagreed respectfully with Bishop Tutu, which is entirely to his credit.

What the brainiacs of Alberta’s petroelite and their pet politicians don’t seem to get is that they’re shooting themselves in both feet every time they assail another celebrity – whether their target became one by plucking a guitar or by being, as President Barack Obama said of Bishop Tutu when he awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “an unrelenting champion of justice and human dignity.”

This may not matter to Mr. McIver, of course. He’s just trying to get ahead out here and drum up some votes among the common clay of the new West.

But you’d think some of the others might wise up to the possibility that taking potshots at this particular messenger could actually amplify his message ’round the world.

Don’t count on it, though.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

8 Comments to: Right-wing Rage Machine readies the Full Neil Young Treatment for Archbishop Desmond Tutu

  1. Filostrato

    June 1st, 2014

    Good for Desmond Tutu. He’s gone up against tougher foes than the Tar Sands proponents. Their mewling wouldn’t bother him much. As Mr. Climenhaga has stated, what he said was actually a little more nuanced than the headlines reported. I went looking for a quote to listen to – always a delight to listen to Tutu’s voice – to get the real gist of the whole thing.

    As for Harper and the anti-Commie diatribe, someone should tell him that Russia hasn’t been Communist for quite a number of years now, even in name, and wasn’t even remotely Communist in spirit for decades before that. The communal welfare of the people went by the board a long time ago.

    When the cost of increasingly frequent natural disasters in Canada and around the world going through the roof, the continued expansion of the tar sands without support and expansion of alternative energy sources looks delusional at best.

  2. Athabascan

    June 1st, 2014

    The irony of course is that McIver is a celebrity of sorts who has no formal education, and therefore is in need of education. I guess it takes one to know one.

  3. Cynthia Joan Morrison

    June 2nd, 2014

    It’s against Harpers religion to believe in science .

  4. Bytowner

    June 3rd, 2014

    Noticed Michael Den Tandt at the Ottawa Citizen and Ezra Levant over at Quebecor-Sun Media joining the anti-Tutu chorus yesterday and today respectively.


    As noted above, Tutu has endured and survived worse than this. And he was right to speak then, as now.

  5. Honestly

    June 7th, 2014

    Why don’t you get a celebrity scientist to make your case then? Because Neil degras Tyson will confirm that climate change is occurring but they can’t tell you that the oil sands are having a significant impact on it. Now who is afraid of science? We’ll meaning rock stars and clergymen should look to coal as the depository for their noble concern and associated rhetoric. not the oilsands. It’s a faux cause.


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