politics

Canada’s Muslims: From detoxing radicalisation to citizenship

Published on Al Jazeera English on February 3rd, 2014
[http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/01/canada-muslimsfrom-detoxing-radi-20141309549990632.html]

On January 14, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) issued an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The letter urges the prime minister to disinvite Rabbi Daniel Korobkin as a member of the delegation accompanying him on his first trip to Israel.

NCCM’s Executive Director Ihsaan Ghardee pointed out that Korobkin introduced and praised Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer last September at a lecture sponsored by the Jewish Defense League (JDL). Both Geller and Spencer are part of Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), a hate-group according to the Anti Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In response to NCCM, the Harper’s Director of Communications Jason MacDdonald recently brushed aside the group’s recommendation with the following statement made on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office: “We will not take seriously criticism from an organisation with documented ties to a terrorist organisation such as Hamas.”

NCCM is now suing Harper for libel.

This exchange is just the latest episode in a battle that Canadian Muslims have fought since 9/11 – the battle to shape Canadian public opinion on issues related to Muslims and Islam.

The public opinion of fear

The tragedy of September 11, 2001 has induced an urge among many people in the West to ask questions about the ethical beliefs of Muslims. This urgent curiosity has created a vacuum within Western nations, waiting to be filled with answers. Canada is one such society, and Canadian Muslims have a vested interest in answering these questions correctly. Groups like NCCM have tried to ensure that the right answers fill these vacuums.

Unfortunately, it can be argued that the loudest and most prominent answers in Canada have not come from individuals or groups that represent the bulk of Canadian Muslims. This, according to numerous polls, has resulted in widespread Islamophobia.

Statistics Canada estimated in 2011 that around a million Muslims live within Canadian borders. The Muslim community’s relative youth, and therefore lack of cohesion, make it difficult, from a media and public relations standpoint, to project their voice – especially with regard to issues like terrorism, perhaps the biggest hot-button issue, post-9/11. After all, there are many other voices to contend with.

A primary example of this predicament is manifested by the Canadian public’s reaction to the so-called phenomena of radicalisation – the rather vague process through which well-functioning individuals become violent extremists. One incident aptly illustrates this kind of perception.

In 2006, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested 18 individuals in Mississauga, Ontario who were suspected of plotting bomb attacks on Parliament Hill and downtown Toronto. Only a handful ended up being convicted and imprisoned.

Subsequent to this event, a narrative of radicalisation and fear was strengthened in Canada, and continues to impact the Muslim community today. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) actual expenditures for fiscal year 2005-2006 was $356 million, which was $71 million more than the previous years. Prior to that, increases in CSIS’s budget since 9/11 hovered around $10 million.

One interesting piece of evidence of this prevailing narrative can be found in the rather short-lived fame of certain “de-radicalisation” or “detox” centres set up in the GTA since the 2006 arrests. Groups like the Al Sunnah Foundation offer to “detoxify” Muslims who are exhibiting signs of extremism. A 12-step “theological detoxification” programme is then applied to wash away the patients’ deadly ideologies.

Exactly what these signs of “radicalisation” are is still anyone’s guess, and the Al Sunnah Foundation, led by Ahmed Amiruddin, along with other like-minded groups have failed to secure government funding. Nevertheless, Amiruddin and figures like him, knowingly or unknowingly, have gained media attention and notoriety for their work, and have, in some ways, become unofficial spokespersons for the community.

Their talk of “deradicalisation”, along with Canadian law enforcement’s magnified focus on catching radicalised Muslims, have dominated the public sphere’s concerns about the Muslim community. The reality is that such a representation of Muslims in Canada is mediated by fear and bears little resemblance to reality.

Actual radicalisation occurs at a miniscule level within the community, and though an important concern, still poses a relatively small threat to the wider society. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted last year that there is no “mass phenomenon” of radicalisation in Canada.

Meanwhile, a truly representative voice within the Muslim community remains absent, and the public narrative about them continue to be influenced by those on the outside.

Omar Khadr and his fellow Canadians

Perhaps the most illustrative example of Canadian Muslims’ failure to shape public opinion is the tragic case of Omar Khadr.

Rightly described by Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire (one of the few Canadian voices to advocate for Khadr) as “the only child soldier prosecuted for war crimes”, Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was only 15 when he killed US combat medic Sgt First Class Christopher Speer with a grenade in 2002. He was then captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay almost immediately, and would have remained there indefinitely had he not signed a plea deal in 2010 that saw him plead guilty to five war crimes. He was eventually repatriatedback to Canada in September 2012, where he serves the rest of his sentence.

A nation-wide survey conducted in 2012 by Abacus Data, a polling and market research firm based in Ottawa, showed that 53 percent of Canadians saw Khadr as a security threat and shouldn’t be allowed back in Canada.

A large section of Canadian society viewed Khadr and his family as the worst example of Muslim extremism in the post-9/11 era, and chose to overlook the fact that by any standard, Khadr should be seen as a child soldier. In fact, Canada played a leading role in developing the international Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child in the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which came into effect in 2002.

It is important to note that this public relations debacle exists today partly because of the Muslim community’s own inaction. For instance, one of the few Canadian civil society groups that regularly advocated on behalf of Khadr was the Coalition for the Repatriation of Omar Khadr, a broad-based effort made up of mostly non-Muslim individuals.

Many Muslim activists were involved, but the bulk of Canadian Muslim community failed to project a loud enough voice with regard to this issue. Further evidence of this can be seen in the frustration from Khadr’s crusading Canadian lawyer at the time, Dennis Edney. “I have never met someone like Omar who has been so abused and so abandoned by those who should know better,” said Edney in a 2008 lecture held at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. “I keep looking for that Muslim voice, I’m tired of Muslims hiding.”

In the end, the repatriation of Omar Khadr was a result of the plea bargain Khadr took, combined with sustained international condemnation by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as limited domestic Canadian pressure.

A future of fear

The great Muslim Canadian public relations debacle has not gotten better in the era of Stephen Harper and his right-wing Conservative Party who rule the House of Commons.

As long as the Canadian Muslim community fails to influence and shape public opinion on the defining issues of the post-9/11 age, the narrative of fear and suspicion will continue to dominate their relationship with the rest of Canada.

Politicians like those from the Parti Quebecois (FR) will continue to exploit this climate by using the politics of fear, best exemplified by the Parti’s proposed “Quebec Charter of Values” bill, which seeks to forbid government employees from donning religious garb while working.

Groups like NCCM are trying to change the tide, but if larger organisations like the Islamic Society of North America-Canada (ISNA-Canada) don’t follow suit, the vast majority of Canadians will continue to ignore the problem.

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middle east, politics

On Robert Fisk

Published on: Embassy Magazine, January 24th, 2013
[http://www.embassynews.ca/opinion/2013/01/24/foreign-correspondent-fisk-talks-harpers-foreign-policy-and-the-arab-awakening/43154]

Veteran British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk criticized the Harper government’s policy on the Middle East at a public lecture Jan. 22 in Ottawa.

“I regard Mr. Harper as your personal problem, not mine,” said Fisk, who spoke to a packed auditorium of about 500 people at Carleton University. He was in Ottawa as part of a Canadian lecture tour hosted by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

Having spent more than 30 years covering the Middle East for The Times and The Independent newspapers of Britain, Fisk’s knowledge of the region commands respect. Although many across the political spectrum may take issue with some of his political views, few doubt the breadth of Fisk’s experience.

This, of course, makes his harsh words toward the Harper government even more powerful. Aside from characterizing the current government’s approach to foreign policy as something “straight out of the Bible,” Fisk also pointed out that the Canadian government lacks imagination and vision when it comes to the Middle East.

“You will find that Western nations in general, their leadership, continue to follow Washington,” he said, “and as long as Washington does whatever Israel wants, which it largely does, there isn’t going to be any change.”

Fisk was of course alluding to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, a problem that continues to plague the region, driving many of the afflicted toward anger and violence. To Fisk, this is the tragic, but prevalent nature of the relationship between the Western world and what it knows as the Middle East.

“The problem is that most of the dictatorships over the years in the region have been supported by us democrats,” he said. Because of this, when Western politicians like George Bush or even Barack Obama speak of “freedom” and “liberation,” the Arabs of Iraq and Palestine, among other places, have a very different perception of those terms than the rest of us.

Their vision of the “West” is an entity that delivers its form of “democracy,” no matter how principled and cogent in theory, through bullets and bombs. For Fisk, it is a bloody way to illustrate what is to him, and many others, an elemental truism: any form of democratic governance in the Arab world must arise indigenously.

The Arab Awakening

So among a largely tragic and self-admittedly “pessimistic” interpretation of events in the Middle East, Fisk views the Arab Awakening (his preferred term) as a “positive development.”

“The term Arab Awakening was the title of George Antonius’ great 1938 book,” Fisk said.

He pointed out that the book was written at a time when Palestine was crumbling out of Arab hands, largely thanks to British policy, or, as Fisk would have it, “British deception.” Britain’s inability to deliver on the promise of Arab sovereignty in return for Arab opposition to the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century reminds one that current trends in the Middle East are not without historical precedence.

Fisk noted that the Arab Awakening has less to do with technology and social media than anger and education.

“When I went to Egypt in the past three or four years, as I often have done over the past 36 years, I find a population that knows more about the outside world,” he said. “Not just through Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, but because they’ve travelled.”

Fisk also said that the conditions of higher education in places like Egypt, even under dictatorship, improved drastically. This, combined with a better sense of the outside world, he noted, created an inevitable cosmopolitanism that made it easier for those in the Arab world to have a collective vision. In other words, they began to realize that things did not have to be the way they were.

Though current developments in Egypt, Syria, and other post-revolt nations have not been encouraging, the relatively cynical Fisk said that Arabs still see the Arab Awakening as a generally happy signal. He’s not the only one with this mindset. But for someone who has witnessed large-scale carnage, from the Lebanese civil war to present-day Syria, hope for a brighter future is not easy to come by.

“I lost my crystal ball a long time ago,” he lamented.

Fisk’s criticisms of the Syrian opposition have drawn anger from those who would otherwise agree with him on most other things. He has been quick to stress the “jihadi” elements in the Syrian opposition, along with its chronic corruption and use of violence, while also pointing out that Bashar al-Assad may not fall as inevitably as most would expect. His writings on the matter have elicited accusations that he has fallen for the “conspiracy theories” promoted by pro-Assad circles: a charge that Fisk flatly denies.

Having been in Hama during Hafez al-Assad’s great bloodletting in February 1982, no one can deny that Fisk knows what the tyrannical dynasty of Syria is capable of. But in typical Fisk fashion, he reminded the audience that while Western powers support the at least partially “jihadi” opposition in Syria, France is leading an offensive against similar groups in Mali.

If nothing else, one can draw from Fisk’s vast experience and knowledge the tiring (but worthwhile) reminder that foreign policy has always had more to do with circumstance and convenience than with conviction.

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politics

Justin Trudeau, Palestine and the politics of right-wing smear campaigns

Published on: Rabble.ca, January 7th, 2012
[http://rabble.ca/news/2013/01/justin-trudeau-islamophobia-and-politics-right-wing-smear-campaigns]

Much was made last month about Justin Trudeau’s keynote appearance at one of North America’s largest Muslim conferences. The conference has been accused mostly by sectors of the Canadian right-wing of being an “Islamist” venture.

The Toronto-based Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference ended up accepting the withdrawal of one of its major sponsors, the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy Canada (IRFAN Canada), because the Canadian Revenue Agency concluded last April that the Mississauga-based organization funded “Hamas-linked” groups. IRFAN then had its charitable status stripped. The CRA’s allegations and conclusions are being challenged in court.

Of course, this is not the first time a bureaucracy under the Harper regime has sought to cripple an organization concerned with Palestinian human rights. The Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) and the ecumenical group KAIROS have all had parts of their operations hollowed out because of a willingness to highlight Palestinian suffering.

It’s all part of the Harper administration’s larger strategic plan to bring Canadian policy, both foreign and domestic, in sync with its Messianic and insular worldview, especially when it comes to the Middle East. But Muslims and Palestinians are not the only ones affected by this sprawling political arrangement.

Over 400 kilometres northeast of Toronto, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is in the fourth week of her defiant hunger strike. She’s protesting the Harper administration’s approach to ‘dealing with’ the worsening conditions on her reserve, and the concerted attack by the government on First Nations sovereignty, as embodied in official legislation (especially the omnibus Bill C-45).

Chief Spence’s protest can certainly be seen as a flashpoint within the broader Idle No More movement, perhaps one of the most promising and exciting national grassroots initiatives in the past ten years.

Indeed, the contemptuous attitude that the Harper administration displays toward the disenfranchised and underprivileged sectors of Canadian society has elicited much grassroots response from Canadian civil society. Idle No More can be seen as a major component of a series of grassroots reactions to the reactionary orientation of the Harper regime (from its handling of the G8/G20 protests to its slashing of refugee medical care).

One of the ways the government has struck back is by withdrawing federal money from NGOs that they don’t see eye-to-eye with. Groups that don’t receive large amounts of federal funding, like IRFAN Canada, are then put through the great smear machine of the Canadian right-wing, an informal but still somewhat coherent group of personalities.

Allegations that IRFAN Canada funded organizations under the control of Hamas are tenuous at best, especially when one looks closely at the Agency’s own documentation on the matter. The Harper government, of course, has trouble tagging what Israel does to the Gaza Strip with the same “terrorist” moniker they so enthusiastically give to Hamas.

Furthermore, the CRA’s actual proof for linking IRFAN Canada with Hamas is a case of very tenuous guilt-by-association. Of the 15 groups the humanitarian organization has given money to, each was designated as “terrorist” because (1) Israel finds it to be “unlawful,” (2) because it has personnel involved with Hamas as legislators, (3) because it’s a Hamas-governed bureaucracy, (4) because it publically “supports families of martyrs, resisters, and detainees” in the Territories, or (5) because it posted pro-Hamas videos online.

That’s the crux of the Agency’s beef with IRFAN Canada. Reasonable people can arrive at their own conclusions of whether these are good enough reasons to hollow out an organization that sponsors orphans in the embattled Gaza Strip, which has been under anillegal Israeli blockade since 2007.

Commentators like Tarek Fatah of Sun Media and others, viewed with a substantial dose of skepticism (if not downright contempt) by the larger Muslim community, have been largely successful in determining the borders of public debate when it come to issues concerning Muslim and Palestinian Canadians.

Almost the exact same script was followed when Citizenship and Immigration Canada, led by Jason Kenney, defunded CAF. Kenney’s main charge was CAF’s “anti-Semitism,” apparently a result of its willingness to point out the same Israeli crimes documented by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others. KAIROS was no different, and involved former Minister of International Co-operations Bev Oda’s decision to “veto” the collective opinion of her entire bureaucracy to fund the ecumenical group.

One can say what one wants about the intellectual integrity of the anti-Muslim right-wing, but the fact that they have a substantial amount financial and infrastructural support for their “work” (shoddy as it may be) is unquestionable. Post-9/11, their agenda and ideological convictions have meshed well with the Harper worldview. Many Canadians have felt their venom, including the Muslim and Indigenous populations, whose public images are currently shaped in many ways by the myths and stereotypes perpetuated by the right.

At times, it’s better to ignore the smear tactics in order to move on. However, it’s important to recognize the extent of the disruption caused by the Canadian right. Time and again, they’ve shown their ability to smear serious organizations doing good work.

Given this reality, Canadian Palestinians and Muslims could use their own Idle No More moment.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics

Nemesis in Egypt

Published on: The Canadian Charger, February 10th, 2011
[http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=781]

When Hosni Mubarak steps down from power in the near future, as I am sure he will, it will be a day that marks the beginning of a new era—one where no one can ever tell me again that serious political change is not possible. In fact, thanks to the determination of those in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, etc., that era has most likely already begun.

Regardless of all the obvious geopolitical implications, the current revolts in the Middle East lay waste to those in the Western world who believe political change is mostly a pipe dream. Those in Egypt, who understand the power of collective demonstration, put to death the craven belief that real change is only possible through the collaborating and backing of those in power.

The Egyptians get it. They are not afraid to use the language of class warfare. Those who showed up to form the mammoth crowds in Tahrir Square do not fear separating and antagonizing themselves vis a vis those who own the country. The rest of us, sitting at home, tolerating the cowardly presence of the Obamas, Harpers, Sarkozys, and Berlesconis, watch—green with envy—at the monumental fall of one of the Middle East’s most lasting dictators.

What will it take for those in the United States and Canada to leave behind their trepidation for a “Day of Rage?” When will we have realized that the Egyptians, always at the butt of some idiotic comment regarding the Muslim Brotherhood or fundamentalist Islam, just schooled the rest of us in a lesson on democracy? Embarassed, our leaders cannot escape the inevitability of looking stupid when they struggle to “balance” support for an oppressive regime along with lip-service for “democratic aspirations”. The fight is against tyranny, and the emperors have been stripped stark naked.

The Egyptian Interior Ministry reached deep into its sleeves and unleashed waves of paid thugs and prisoners to pose as “pro-Mubarak” demonstrators. Armed with live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, and knives, they killed hundreds of pro-democracy activists while injuring thousands more. The Mubarak establishment, in a last bid to stay in power, has attempted to transform a peaceful movement into a pulsating mob—and Tahrir Square into a war zone. They failed. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians returned the very next day to hold the “Day of Departure,” another major push to dismantle the Mubarak-centered Egyptian regime. The Egyptians remain steadfast to this very day.

The poor of Egypt, living on less than two dollars a day, have showed the rest of the world what it means to channel a radicalized existence into productive action. Their example and their martyrdom will undoubtedly usher in a new Middle East, one not so amiable towards the United States. And if the fruits of their labour eventually ripen into serious elections, those who achieve power may very well carry a substantial amount of Islamic colouring. Those of us in the West need to learn that the Egyptians do not see us the way we see ourselves. In their eyes, we are not harbingers of a proud democratic tradition. We have no legitimacy or authority to “guide” the decisions of those in the Middle East. No matter what regime replaces that of Mubarak’s, it will certainly embody the response to the chaos and suffering the West has brought upon the Middle East in the past decades. The more we ignore this fact, the more painful the backlash will be.

We in the West spoke to the Arab and Muslim world in the language of power and force. Now, they are speaking back. The secular Arab regimes, backed by the United States, have appeared before the people as the grandest of failures—accented especially by the impotence of the Palestinian Authority and their beloved “peace process”. I suspect that the rise of powerful Islamic forces will now take over, a transition that seems as inevitable as rain. True, unlike the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the Egyptian revolts are not led by clerical forces. There is no Ayatollah Khomeini as the figurehead. The Muslim Brotherhood, a late comer in the recent revolts, is forced to speak in the language of cosmopolitan and progressive aspirations. However, if free and fair elections do take place as a result of further upheaval in Egypt, it is hard to not see the Muslim Brotherhood claiming a large piece of the political pie. And why shouldn’t they—as the leading oppositional force in Egypt?

The anachronistic language of Pan-Arabism in the Nasserite hue (and the original Baathists) has become a farce. It has been co-opted by the corrupt and authoritarian secular regimes in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, etc. Communism allows little room for religion, and globalized capitalism in the corporate sense has only enriched the elite. Islam is, whether one likes it or not, the remaining element. The fatal courage of Hamas and Hezbollah is attractive not because they are religious, but because they embody serious aspirations for self-determination. People are attracted to them because they vow to fight back. Egyptians and the rest of the Arab/Muslim world are tired of being crushed under a mass of appealing rhetoric and failed policies.

The death of the Mubarak regime will most likely mean the withering away of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and, hopefully, the opening of the Rafah border—a crucial opening into the Gaza Strip currently under a brutal blockade by Israel. The United States, already compromised in the region, will lose further cooperation from the countries that once guaranteed its interests in the Middle East. The intelligence agencies of the region will most likely dampen their current relationship with the CIA. Israel will be left with no allies in the Middle East—and perhaps not in the rest of the world.

The Middle East, if things go the way of the protestors in Egypt (and I’m sure they will), will have achieved dignity and self determination without the help of those of us in the West. They demonstrated with flying colors that they can speak the language that we thought we spoke so well. Their actions render us mute. As we gaze at the sacrifice and determination of those in Egypt, we have to accept the ironic shame that the protestors now reflect at us. Compared to them, we are sheep. While they tirelessly and unabashedly shake the roots of a brutal regime, we settle for piecemeal change within a system headed by an administration that despises its own people.

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politics

Senate killing Bill C311 shameful

Published On: The Canadian Charger, November 24th, 2010
[http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=694]

On November 16th, 2010, by an unprecedented snap vote, the Canadian Senate struck down the Climate Change Accountability Act, otherwise known as Bill C311.

By a vote of 43-32, the bill was defeated in a Senate where many Liberal Senators were missing. The bill was not subjected to debate before the Conservatives called it into a surprise vote, which makes the occasion truly unprecedented.

What strikes most Canadians regarding this development is the fact that the Senate, an unelected body of legislators, was capable of striking down a bill that the elected House of Commons passed. This in itself speaks volumes about the specifics of the Canadian legislative system.

After sitting on Bill-311 for 193 days, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives used a tactic that Harper himself disapproved of in the past.

Now, just ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico (COP16), Canada has no regulations regarding greenhouse gas pollution. Worse still, many Canadian environmentalists and activists worked extremely hard to push Bill C-311 through the House of Common, only to have it undemocratically struck down.

This bill would have called for greenhouse gases to be cut 25% below 1990 levels by 2020, and to set a long-term target to bring emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

“This was one of the most undemocratic acts that we have ever seen in the Parliament of Canada,” NDP Leader Jack Layton said at a press conference Wednesday morning. Layton and his New Democratic Party were instrumental in the construction and defense of Bill C-311.

Bruce Hyer, a New Democrat representing Thunder Bay-Superior North was the one who introduced the bill in the first place.

“To take power that doesn’t rightfully belong to them to kill a bill that has been adopted by a majority of the House of Commons representing a majority of Canadians is as wrong as it gets when it comes to democracy in this country,” Layton continued. He attributed Harper’s decision as one that had in mind Harper’s friends in oil companies, not the Canadian people.

In fact, this is the second time that the NDP has seen a climate change bill killed in the Senate. In June 2008, the NDP pushed a similar bill through the House, only to have it killed due to the elections at the time. Furthermore, no Senate has killed a bill in such a fashion (without debate, by surprise, and against the will of the House) since before the Second World War.

Such unprecedented irresponsibility points to just how low environmental issues sit on the Tories’ priority list. Canada, a developed country, now heads to COP16 completely empty-handed.

Despite promises in the past to regulate emissions, the Conservative government, since coming to power, has not tabled one law regarding climate change. Instead, it has killed the only proposed mechanism by which the people of Canada could have gained some remnant of accountability from its government regarding environmental issues.

This uproar has also caused some to question Prime Minster Harper’s views on democracy. Having campaigned vigorously against unelected Senate killing of legislation pushed through an elected House, Harper did exactly that vis a vis Bill C-311. Many view this as an act of serious hypocrisy, and “morally wrong,” according to Layton.

Gerard Kennedy, the Liberal Party’s critic on the environment, also believes that the killing of Bill C-311 is not an accident, but planned by the Conservatives in order to free themselves heading into COP16.

As of now, after the resignation of Jim Prentice, the Conservative administration has only a part-time environment minister, no legislation on climate change, and no plan on how to regulate carbon emission heading to Cancun, Mexico.

Canada will perhaps be the only country with no idea regarding its plans on climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Shame.

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middle east, muslims, politics, war on terror

The Harper Administration and Israel – a Love Affair

Published at: Palestine Speaks, November 6th, 2010 (http://palestinespeaks.net/2010/11/the-harper-administration-and-israel-a-love-affair/)

Compared to the hegemon south of its borders, Canada has over the past few decades acquired a tamer, gentler reputation vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Today, whatever is left of that peace-loving, peace-keeping reputation is at best a minute glimpse into the past.

With Stephen Harper at the helm as Prime Minister, the Conservative Party of Canada has held together a minority government that has equaled the United States in its war-mongering rhetoric and posturing. Part-in-parcel with this radical shift in foreign policy has been the Harper administration’s blanket support for the state of Israel’s brutal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

No previous Canadian administration has shown as much loyalty and support to Israel as Harper’s, both rhetorically and policy-wise. In May 2009, Stephen Harper was awarded the Saul Hayes Award by the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). Ironically, the award is supposed to honour those who have demonstrated their commitment to human rights. It was the first time that the award went to an acting Prime Minster.

A year later, the Likud Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited Canada for the first time in eight years. “The ties between Israel and Canada have never been stronger,” Netanyahu stated confidently in his address, “You show that we are not alone.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg–signs that Israeli-Canadian relations are at a zenith. Beneath this layer of rhetorical friendship is a deeply destructive relationship that undermines the democratic values of Canada, while assisting in the moral degeneration of Israel. The truth is, in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), and the massacre on the Mavi Mamara (2010), Israel is being recognized more and more as a pariah state. As the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is gaining more and more traction, grassroots organizing for Palestinian rights is at an all-time high. The entire international community, with the exception of the United States, Canada, and a few island nations, now publically recognize that Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is absolutely unsustainable.

Unfortunately, it is at this critical juncture when Israel’s conduct toward its Palestinian counterparts is under severe international scrutiny that Canada has chosen to negate the international consensus in blind support of Israeli Apartheid. This blanket support for Israel ultimately amounts to a criminal complicity regarding Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian land, now entering its 44th year.  The extent to which the Harper administration has gone to support Israel is recognizable not only by its international counterparts, but also by its very own citizens. In fact, it is within Canada itself where Harper’s support for Israel has manifested itself in a number of totalitarian gestures. Jason Kenney, who assumed the role as Harper’s Minister of Immigration, Citizenship, and Multiculturalism, deserves a place of distinction in this.

As Minister, Jason Kenney has imposed some of the most stringent anti-immigration laws Canada has ever experienced. Deportations in Canada have gone up dramatically. Vis-à-vis Israel, Kenney has taken a hardline, supportive stance. Citing what he believes to be the “new Anti-Semitism,” Kenney believes that “the alliance of Western leftists and Islamic extremists is more dangerous than the old European form of Jew-hatred.” Again, one should note that such rhetorical support for Israel coincides with the severe international scrutiny that Israel is receiving.

While practically the entire world condemned Israeli conduct in the 2006 bombardment of Lebanon, as well as in Operation Cast Lead, Canada refused to blame and scapegoat Israel for what happened. For instance, referring to Hezbollah and Hamas as “cancers,” the Harper administration played the Islamist/Islamic-fundamentalist card on both counts and refused to ally with, virtually, the rest of the world in compliance with international law.

Accompanied with this rejectionist position on the international stage has been a series of gestures within Canada that essentially disenfranchised numerous Canadian NGOs advocating for Palestinian human rights. Chief among these organizations is the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF), and KAIROS, a Canadian, faith-based ecumenical organization. In both instances, the Harper administration abruptly discontinued federal funding based on slanderous accusations.

CAF has had a history of criticizing Israeli actions regarding the Palestinians, and has advocated for Palestinian rights publically since its inception. However, the de-funding imposed by the Harper administration (namely Jason Kenney’s Ministry of Immigration) affected exclusively the service arm of CAF, which has for eleven years provided new immigrants of Canada with ESL classes and job-search workshops. Minister Kenney labeled CAF as an “Anti-Semitic organization” with “ties to Hezbollah and Hamas.” He did not substantiate his statements with any hard evidence.

KAIROS went through a similar experience. Their usually-approved funding application was rejected by Minister of International Development Bev Oda, after the application sat on her desk for a full five months. Curiously, as the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) stated that the goals of KAIROS did not fit CIDA’s stated priorities, KAIROS had been evaluated positively by CIDA in the past–for 35 years, in fact.

On December 16th, 2009, Kenney spoke at the Global Forum to Counter Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem (wouldn’t it sound better to put in Jerusalem, at the beginig of the sentence) and made the following (very illuminating) statement:

“We have articulated and implemented a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism. What does this mean? It means that we eliminated the government funding relationship with organizations like for example, the Canadian Arab Federation, whose leadership apologized for terrorism or extremism, or who promote hatred, in particular anti- Semitism.

We have ended government contact with like-minded organizations like the Canadian Islamic Congress, whose President notoriously said that all Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for assassination. We have defunded organizations, most recently like KAIROS, who are taking a leadership role in the boycott. And we’re receiving a lot of criticism for these decisions. I can’t recall how many times I’ve been sued for some of the decisions that we have taken, but we believe that we’ve done these things for the right reasons and we stand by these decisions.”

Such slanderous, inaccurate, and unsubstantiated claims colour the Harper administration’s disgraceful attitude towards Palestinian rights and self-determination. CAF and KAIROS are by no means the only NGOs to go through defunding. Numerous other organizations have felt the pressure from above, including Canada’s most prominent human rights organization, Rights and Democracy, which went through a Harper-initiated purge with absolutely disastrous results. This was accompanied by Canada’s decision to boycott the 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, because of the conference’s “bias against the state of Israel,” and that Canada did not wish to “scapegoat the Jewish people.”

Furthermore, based on equally slanderous claims, Kenney banned former British MP George Galloway from speaking (and entering!) in Canada in March 2009. Claiming that Galloway was a proxy for Hamas, Kenney vaguely cited “national security concerns” as enough reason to ban Galloway. Tellingly, at the time, Galloway was putting together a convoy to deliver to Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip, which qualifies for an open-air prison after Israel stepped up its suffocating measures in 2007.

Just this week, Richard Mosley, a federal court judge, issued a decision that vindicated Galloway and his supporters. Ruling against Kenney, the decision exposed Kenney’s attack on basic free speech rights. In a 60-page decision, Justice Mosley stated that “the evidence is that the government wished to prevent Mr. Galloway from expounding his views on Canadian soil.” Again, the extent to which Canada has tried to appease Israel boggles the mind.

These are only a few examples of Canada’s recent turn towards Israel. The list is much longer. For Canadians who care about international law and the plight of Palestinians, this “bond” between Israel and Canada seems like a pathetic imitation of Israel’s relationship with the United States. In an attempt to remake Canada in the image of the Republican Party of the United States (it seems), the Harper administration has wantonly eliminated numerous democratic institutions, and damaged Canada’s reputation abroad. These policies continue to alienate the Palestinian people, further destroying Canada’s commitment to human rights around the world, while ignoring the chance of a just peace in the Middle East.

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middle east, muslims, politics, war on terror

Michael Ignatieff on Bill-94

I approached Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff this past weekend when his nation-wide bus tour landed him in Mississauga, Ontario’s annual MuslimFest festivities. After a rather warm reception, I asked the Liberal Party leader to “clear up the confusion” that has accumulated recently regarding his stance on Quebec’s proposed “niqab ban”, or Bill 94.

Ignatieff was reported by the Globe and Mail on March 26th, 2010 as to have backed the bill. Commenting on the matter at the Liberal Party’s 3-day “Canada at 150” conference, Ignatieff was quoted by the Globe as to have supposedly stated that the Quebeckers “have found a good balance.” That balance apparently referred to how “The Quebec government is trying to make sure that in civic and public places that freedom of religion is respected but at the same time on the other side citizens come forward and reveal themselves when they are demanding public service.”

This statement actually does make sense, but it was tough to see how banning the veil in Quebec would strike such a “balance”.

His answer to me this past weekend was similar, but lacked an endorsement. He was clear enough that he wanted to seek the “good-old Canadian compromise,” and that he thought Quebec would have to find its own way in achieving some common ground. When I followed up by asking whether he was misquoted in the Globe piece, he replied (with a slight hint of annoyance) with a brief “Yeah, I thought I was.” Fair enough.

I later spoke with Liberal MP (Parkdale-Highpark) Gerard Kennedy, and Omar Alghabra (former Liberal MP of Mississauga-Erindale) on the same issue. Both are against the proposed ban, and both concurred with Ignatieff’s statement.

[Addendum: I didn’t note this in the first version of this post, but in all fairness, Ignatieff did say explicitly, along with his statement on “balance”, that the state cannot/should-not dictate how women practice their faith and how they dress. Again, note the striking difference between these statements and the Globe piece. Both Kennedy and Alghabra concurred with this specific point as well.]

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The reason I, and many others, occasionally fixate on Ignatieff’s stance on particular political and cultural issues is because we want to know how viable he is as a potential alternative to Stephen Harper. Like most people I know, I am of the “anyone-but-Conservatives” camp, and think that the Liberals have the best chance of winning an up-coming election.

The Harper administration has had such a horrible effect on me (his immigration minister Jason Kenney being a primary reason) that I simply wish it political death as soon as possible (and by any means necessary/possible). This thrusts Ignatieff into unique significance for some of us at least. Will he turn out to be the more nuanced/just leader that is needed in order to mend the bleeding wounds torn by the current administration? What will he do for immigrants, for human rights, for the environment, etc.? These are the questions we have to ask, and this is why his conclusions about the niqab in Canada should be made as public as possible.

Those of us who value whatever progressive inclinations Canada possessed before the Harper nightmare, however we feel about Ignatieff, want to know whether or not he will make an effort to step away from the post-9/11 climate that has been dominated by American belligerence.

I won’t speculate on how a Liberal administration under Ignatieff will do. Anyone can rant. However, if anything needs to be said, it is the fact that the anti-Bill 94 campaign is necessary, and that political parties/administrations move based on the pressures they feel from their respective societies.

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