international affairs, middle east, muslims, politics

Justin Trudeau and the Reality of Political Impotence

Published by The Islamic Monthly on August 27th, 2014

When Justin Trudeau, the popular leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, entered Missisauga’s Verdi Hospitality Centre on the night of August 11th, several dozen protestors holding Palestinian flags had already gathered near the parking lot outside.

A tenuous ceasefire between the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, seemed to halt, for the moment, Israel’s latest incursion into Gaza, otherwise known as Operation Protective Edge. Over 1,800 Palestinians hadperished (among thousands injured) since the beginning of the operation, and Gaza continues to be subjected to an illegal Israeli blockade.

“We’re here to challenge and protest against Canada’s stance on the situation in Gaza,” said Raed Ayad, a protestor who also sits on the board of Palestine House, a local NGO representing the Palestinian-Canadian community.

Unfortunately for Trudeau, initial plans of celebrating Eid-al-fitr with the Muslims of Mississauga under more light-hearted circumstances had to change. Circumstances seemed to dictate a more politically charged event, and Trudeau was under some pressure to deliver.

Still, part of it was due to the Liberal Party’s own doing. About a week or so after Protective Edge took off last month, when dozens of Palestinian corpses (most of them civilians) were already piling up, Trudeau publicized his official view on the matter in a short press release:

The Liberal Party of Canada strongly condemns Hamas’ rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal and its rocket attacks on civilians.

“Israel should be commended for having accepted the ceasefire proposal, and demonstrating its commitment to peace. The Liberal Party of Canada, and many in the international community including the United States, the U.N. Security Council, and the Palestinian Authority, had urged a ceasefire that could have ended the tragic civilian loss of life in Gaza and the suffering of Israelis under terrorist attack.

“Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Hamas is a terrorist organization and must cease its rocket attacks immediately.”

There is no mention of Israel’s disproportionate use of violence, or the unlawful siege. The fact that a massive raid into the West Bank, which killed five Palestinians, prompted the initial rocket fire by Hamas also went unspecified. The statement seemed to place the fault of the entire invasion squarely on the shoulders of Hamas, which refused to agree to a ceasefire at the time, given Israel’s unwillingness to lift the blockade (among other circumstances).

“Trudeau hasn’t condemned any of Israel’s war crimes and it’s a shame on the Muslim community to celebrate Eid with him when ten kids were killed on the day of Eid,” Ayad said.

It’s safe to say that, like Ayad, a large segment of the Muslim community wanted an explanation from Trudeau. One Liberal organizer even said, with regret (though in confidence), that he’d “rather have no statement been made at all” than live with the short blurb that Trudeau’s people posted on his website.

In other words, tension was in the air. Trudeau’s dinner was going to have to be more than just a generic meet-and-greet. At the very least, his speech had to address the situation in Gaza—and perhaps his one-sided statement as well, if people asked.

“We want a clear-cut condemnation of Israel’s conduct from the political opposition in Canada,” said Joan MacNeil, Toronto coordinator for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), a Montreal-based NGO. “There’s been a lot of hand-wringing from the Liberals and all the candidates should know that people will be looking back on this issue when it’s time to vote next year.”

MacNeil was one of about 800 guests inside Verdi hall that night and works on Middle East policy for a living, so it can’t be said that she represents the average attendee, who probably isn’t as savvy on the Palestinian issue as she is.

Nonetheless, the average person observing the Muslim community could be forgiven for predicting that a crowd of concerned (perhaps even adversarial) Muslim attendees would show up to face down Trudeau and his hardcore supporters. The stage seemed set for a serious exchange to take place.

Trudeau is a central figure in Canadian politics at the moment, and, according to the polls, his party is gaining serious momentum in lieu of next year’s general election. If all goes wrong for the reigning Conservative Party (and for the New Democrats), the 42-year-old Trudeau may end up being Prime Minister in less than a year. This was a rare, golden opportunity for Muslims who attended the event to let him in on their woes and demands. Such a chance isn’t going to present itself again for some time.

That’s precisely why Trudeau’s night at Verdi deserves to be called a real embarrassment for the Muslim community.

To be completely clear, it wasn’t an embarrassment for Trudeau and the Liberals, who did what they had to do. They had put together a lavish setting, brought out a sizeable crowd, and set up an interactive encounter with “Justin.” Numerous Liberal candidates showed up, and, along with a general layout of the party’s agenda, were presented to the crowd.

The organizers even had Trudeau walk to each table to (in theory, anyway) speak to every attendee. But, alas, therein lay the rub.

Instead of taking the chance to field some tough questions, those in attendance transformed a relatively democratic setting into something quite comical.

Right after Trudeau’s speech, in which he specified the importance of a “Palestinian state” vis a vis Israel’s security, among other niceties, the audience decided to make a total fool of itself.

As Trudeau began to make his way to the first of many tables, a crowd of about two-dozen people instantly surrounded him. Many of them already had their smartphones on camera mode and were placing their faces next to Trudeau’s. That set the tone for all that followed. This human vortex around Trudeau soon grew into a mini mob. It eventually became impossible for anyone to try and penetrate these layers of human fencing around Trudeau, as this author tried to on three occasions, foolishly. When those who had had their fill finally took a seat, new well-wishers immediately rose up to take their place.

But, in keeping with the laws of physics, the number of people around Trudeau was inversely proportional to the length of each individual encounter. No prolonged question-answer period could have taken place amidst this truly chaotic spectacle. Anyone placed in the wrong spot at the wrong time could easily have been victimized between numerous tables and chairs. Even those sitting down and enjoying their meals weren’t safe from unguarded body parts doing battle for Trudeau “selfies;” buttocks were constantly hitting the heads of those trying to eat their food.

One lady shouted “Where’s the security?” as several bearded men almost got into it with one another as each jockeyed to shake Trudeau’s hand. Those responsible for the Liberal leader’s safety (and, presumably, the safety of everyone else), could only keep calm and mutter “don’t touch him” between elbows, body-checks, and other fanfare. In retrospect, how the night unfolded without half-a-dozen more fisticuffs/brawls is quite mysterious.

“It was unfortunate that many people didn’t remain in their seats as per the organizers instructions,” said Omar Alghabra, a former Liberal MP who’s running for the Mississauga Centre seat in next year’s election. “He [Trudeau] was supposed to visit all tables to engage in conversations with guests, but so many were impatient and didn’t allow others to have any form of meaningful conversations.”

And so it went on for several hours until Trudeau (Elvis?) shook his last hand and left the building. No doubt the entire event could be perceived as a giant commercial for the Liberal Party. Whatever lengthy, meaningful dialogue seemed to have taken place with other Liberal candidates and organizers after Trudeau left. As to the handful of folks who were lucky enough to get a word in with Trudeau himself, they were just that: a handful. It was a golden opportunity and, as far as the bulk of the attendees were concerned, the largely Muslim crowd let it slip through their fingers.

A serious democracy implies a public that’s genuinely interested in shaping public opinion and policy. This interest and awareness should, in theory, increase for whichever community if its people come to realize that they lack the ability to influence power and to improve their own interests.

The Muslims of Canada constitute one such community in the post-9/11 era. Those in power, including Trudeau, will only take the grievances and needs of certain groups seriously if prompted to do so. If Muslims trip over themselves to please politicians, they only guarantee their own political irrelevance.

Given what has happened to the Muslim community under Stephen Harper, in addition to the wreckage that is the Middle East, there’s no good reason why those who attended the dinner didn’t seize the opportunity to truly question Trudeau. Instead, their presence and conduct amounted to one of the more hilarious, and sad, showings of political servitude in recent memory.

This can’t be what the community needs. Muslims in Canada must place the worthiest of candidates in the seats of power, and to influence their political direction. There’s no way for that to happen if they don’t take their civic duties seriously.

[http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/justin-trudeau-and-the-reality-of-political-impotence/]

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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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middle east, politics

The Palestine Papers and the End of the “Peace Process”

Al Jazeera English, from January 23rd– 26th, 2011, released the details of over 1,700 leaked confidential documents regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. The manner in which AJE received this largest-ever leak is undisclosed. The documents include meeting minutes, memos, presentations, strategic papers, etc.  Dubbed “The Palestine Papers”, the documents are supposed to shed light on the following, as presented on the AJE website:

  • the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to concede illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, and to be “creative” about the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount;
  • the compromises the Palestinian Authority was prepared to make on refugees and the right of return;
  • details of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel;
  • and private exchanges between Palestinian and American negotiators in late 2009, when the Goldstone Report was being discussed at the United Nations.

AJE has perused through these documents, redacted overtly sensitive content, and will not be naming their sources.

Perhaps the most explosive of the revelations that have come out is the fact that, according to the leaked meeting minutes of a [pdf] trilateral meeting in 2008, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was willing to concede illegal settlements in Jerusalem to Israel. Saeb Erekat was the chief Palestinian negotiator at the time, and Ahmed Qurei was prime minister. The meeting also involved Tzipi Livni on the Israeli side, as well as then American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Erekat stated that the PA was willing to give up the illegally occupied Israeli settlements of French Hill, Ramat Alon, Ramat Shlomo, Gilo, and Talpiot, as well as the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s old city. Those areas contain around 120,000 Jewish settlers, and it seems that Erekat was willing to prolong the list. The proposed concession was unprecedented, given the deeply contentious nature of East Jerusalem.

The offered concessions were rejected by the Israeli side, mainly because the PA was not willing to give up other significantly sized settlements such as Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel.

Furthermore, in an [pdf] October 2009 meeting with the US Middle East Envoy headed by George Mitchell, Erekat proposed a geographical division of Jerusalem’s Old City, with control of the Jewish Quarter and “part of the Armenian Quarter” going to the Israelis. This would mean that Israeli would control a significant part of East Jerusalem. Furthermore, Erekat was willing to give control of the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) to oversight of an international committee:

Erekat: “It’s solved. You have the Clinton Parameters formula. For the Old City sovereignty for Palestine, except the Jewish quarter and part of the Armenian quarter … the Haram can be left to be discussed – there are creative ways, having a body or a committee, having undertakings for example not to dig [excavations under the Al Aqsa mosque]. The only thing I cannot do is convert to Zionism.”

Schwartz: To confirm to Sen. Mitchell, [this is] your private idea …

Erekat: This conversation is in my private capacity.

Schwartz: We’ve heard the idea from others. So you’re not the first to raise it.

Erekat: Others are not the chief negotiator of the PLO.

Saeb Erekat then went on to sum up nature of the PA’s propositions:

“Israelis want the two-state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians. What is in that paper gives them the biggest Yerushalaim [Jerusalem] in Jewish history, symbolic number of refugees return, demilitarised state…what more can I give?”

Given the highly charged emotions toward the Haram al-Sharif, it is utterly shocking for many to see that the PA, specifically Erekat, was willing to concede its status to non-Palestinian parties. It should not be forgotten that according to UN Resolution 242, the whole of East Jerusalem is to be the capital of a future Palestinian state. In other words, international law and the 1967 borders clearly show that the Haram al-Sharif is within the occupied Palestinian territories.

This is just a sliver of the huge trove of documents that Al Jazeera has publicized regarding the conflict. Key documents have been released subsequently in the last week or so, which have revealed equally explosive facts. The complete archive of documents can be found at the newly launched Al Jazeera Transparency Unit, which seems to be a Wikileaks-inspired web function that allows for the uploading of content by willing sources.

It is now clear that the Israelis have no legitimacy when they say that no Palestinian counterparts can be found in “negotiations for peace”. The Palestine Papers reveal clearly that the Palestinian Authority leadership is absolutely desperate for some sort of settlement, and will offer extreme concessions to achieve “peace”. In return, the PA repeatedly get their offers brushed aside by Israel, with very little objection from the United States.

In other words, the so called “Oslo peace process” needs an official funeral service. The Palestinian people will not accept anything less than a full state with recognition and execution regarding the right of return issue. Israel will not be venturing into that type of territory whatsoever. Furthermore, the United States simply cannot play the role of an honest broker, and will not allow a serious discussion on final status issues (refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements).

In short, given the present circumstances in the Middle East, it seems that the American hegemon is losing its footing in the region. The U.S. is mired in a serious quagmire in Afghanistan. Iraq, which is still suffering serious violence (although not at the 2006-2007 levels), will be deferring to Iran for the next few years at least. Iran, on the other hand, is now a regional superpower. Israel, for obvious reasons, is a liability to long-term U.S. goals in the region. Finally, the recent uprisings throughout the Middle East (especially in Tunisia and Egypt) threaten to oust decade-long U.S. supported puppet regimes.

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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, obama, politics, war on terror

Gideon Levy at UTM

Published on:
The Medium, September 27th, 2010 [http://mediumonline.ca/2010/09/27/gideon-levy-visits-utm/]

Around 250 to 300 people gathered at the University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) for a lecture by the award-winning Israeli journalist Gideon Levy on September 22nd, 2010. Primarily based on the content of his new book The Punishment of Gaza, the lecture consisted mainly of Levy’s lamentations regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, and his thoughts on how “the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” will play out in the future.

Writing for Israel’s most famous daily newspaper, Haaretz, since 1982, Levy coupled his critique of Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians with a pessimistic vision of the future. Having been on the receiving end of constant hate mail from his fellow Israelis for his consistent critique of Israeli policies, Levy stated rather assuredly that “there has never been an occupation where the occupier felt so good about himself, and there has never been an occupation where the occupier presented himself as a victim.”

Referring to Israel’s occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as the “real drama of Israel in its dark backyard,” Levy went on to condemn the “so-called peace process” as a sham. He criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not willing to do even the “minimum of the minimum” for peace, which is to freeze all settlement building/expansion in the OPT, in lieu of negotiations. Regarding the United States’ long-time patronage of Israel, Levy expressed “disappointment” with the policies of President Barack Obama, policies that did not deviate much from previous administrations. And while describing Hamas, the Islamic Movement party currently in control of the Gaza Strip (elected in 2006 and pushed out of the West Bank by rival party Fateh), as “not my cup of tea,” Levy felt that any successful, realistic, and meaningful negotiations would have to include the choice party of the Palestinians.

It has been such views that have made Gideon Levy a deeply unpopular figure in most of Israel, a country which he describes as “fiercely nationalistic.” Having himself served in the IDF in his youth, it was not until the late 1980s when Levy began to travel into the OPT, something that “most Israelis never do,” and something that has ever since shown him the brutality of Israel’s occupation. Levy believes that it is necessary to “tell the story” of those who live under Israeli occupation, a conviction that has forced him to live with “absolute exclusivity” within Israel.

During the Q&A session which followed the lecture, some audience members expressed that they wished Levy had talked more about possible solutions in terms of resolving this protracted occupation. It seems that their disappointment is related to the fact that even Levy himself sees no real way out, and no concrete solutions—at least not from within Israeli civil society.

“Writing is all I know in this life,” Levy stated in a post-event interview, “and we all must do what we feel is right and just.”

Pointing to the disbanding of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of South African apartheid as positive examples, Levy did not seem completely hopeless. He expressed genuine surprise and joy regarding what he described as “high enthusiasm” among Canadians in support of justice for the Palestinians.

The lecture was organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), and partially funded by the University of Toronto at Mississauga Student Union (UTMSU).

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Jumping the Gun on Operation Samosa

Published on:
Dissident Voice, September 7th, 2010 (http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/09/jumping-the-gun-on-operation-samosa/#more-21573)

On August 26th, 2010, Hiva Mohammad Alizadeh (30), Misbahuddin Ahmed (26), and Khurram Syed Sher (28) were arrested (and detained) in the culminating point of the RCMP’s Operation Samosa investigation. All three are charged with conspiring to facilitate terrorist activities in Canada, as well as aiding terror abroad.

A fourth individual by the name of Awso Peshdary was also arrested (and re-arrested after posting bail) on unrelated domestic abuse charges, has since been released on bail. Peshdary’s connection to the alleged plot is not clear. Trials for the three suspects have not started yet, no formal evidence has been presented, and no convictions have been confirmed. Yet, it seems that the Canadian media has already freaked out.

The Toronto Star published an editorial one day after the arrests that warned Canadians not to be “complacent about perils close at hand.” It then went on to quote the Tarek Fateh-founded Muslim Canadian Congress on how the “perverse ‘doctrine of jihad [which simply means struggle]’” still appeals to some Muslims (technically, the simple act of fasting during Ramadan can be said to be jihad). Once again, before the public has even grasped the gist of the situation, alarm bells are going off about Islamic extremism.

Before the courts have issued their judgments, the discourse has already focused on the seemingly exclusive and hermeneutic relationship between terrorism and Islam. Terror is discussed like the drug that Islam can’t seem to kick, no matter how hard it tries to. Canadians are immediately warned about the “home-grown” version of the dangerous symbiosis of “Islamic terrorism”. Like the Toronto Star editorial, which largely skips over the fact that due process has yet to occur, most corporate media do not seem to want to ask the all-important “why” question.

Once asked about the causes of “Muslims rage” in a PBS interview, American Shaykh Hamza Yusuf replied with the term “humiliation.” He was referring to the protracted experience of Western colonialism and foreign occupation in the Muslim and Arab world. When bomb plots and terror cells are supposedly foiled by law enforcement in Canada, the story is typically given the front page, but always without this crucial context. Factors like “humiliation” and “occupation” are an afterthought, since factoring in these political elements would require an examination of Canadian foreign policy. It’s far easier to isolate the case, sensationalize its parameters, and point to how utterly irrational some Muslims are (and will continue to be, so “beware!”).

The images are similar enough: brown skin, bushy beards, and that glossy if sinister look in the suspects’ eyes. The suspected always look so out of step with “regular Canadians.” But soon after Khurram Sher’s arrest, a YouTube clip of him as a contestant on Canadian Idol aired around the world. It seemed absurd, but the video indirectly revealed a familiar and even humorous side of a “potential terrorist”. It made Sher appear, however faintly, as someone one could actually relate to–a “regular Canadian”.

Michelle Shephard (who has done some fine work on child soldier Omar Khadr) of the Toronto Star referred to this paradox as terrorism’s “theatre of the absurd” in her article “The Danger of Dismissing the Absurd.” But she did not utilize this superficial inconsistency to illustrate that “Islamic terrorists,” however horrific, are nonetheless human beings. Instead, Shepherd warns us against terrorism’s “theatre of the absurd.” In other words, it may seem inconsistent for someone as scary, bearded, and suspected like Sher to appear jokingly on Canadian Idol, but such an inconsistency doesn’t rule out the fact that Sher may be guilty. We shouldn’t simply laugh off this case, Shephard seems to be saying because terrorism is still a serious problem and we don’t know much about its nature.

True enough: terrorism is serious—but it’s not an impossible enigma. Nor is it particular to our era—9/11 is not the beginning of terrorism. Prominent academics and writers who study political Islam such as Vali Nasr, Robert Pape, and Reza Aslan (amoung countless others) have all recognized the factors of humiliation and foreign invasions/occupations as a primary cause for “radicalization.” In order to “defang” these frustrated elements (thus ending “homegrown terror”), it is essential to give them an outlet to channel their anger. It means giving Muslim youth a chance to act upon their frustrations through the mechanisms of civil society. Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, having now been incorporated into their respective national political processes, do not use the same “radical” rhetoric and tactics as often as they used to. The same process can work for those who live in the West.

Instead, articles like Shephard’s reference psychologists and political scientists from academia like Michael King (a PhD candidate from McGill) who claim that “there seems to be a personality characteristic that predisposes people to radicalize—and that is sensation-seeking [my emphases].” So is the problem at least partly genetic or physiological?

“The daily drudgery of working in dead-end, low-paying jobs helped create an intellectually stunted environment, continued King. “Internet jihad videos became more exciting and their causes more urgent.” Thus, personal occupation and social surroundings must also play a part in “radicalization” as well. This may very well be a perfectly legitimate point. However, how many men out there are working dead-end jobs in “intellectually stunted” environments, and why haven’t they all conspired to blow something up? Is it because they are not Muslim? Or is it because they are not subjected to the experiences of humiliation (via military occupation) that so many Middle Eastern Muslims endure and witness?

Maybe it’s time to stop beating around the bush by referring to the demented psychology or “intellectually stunted” environments that are apparently inherent to potential terrorists. Maybe, just maybe, frustration can arise out of a feeling of impotence while witnessing the chaos and death unleashed by a foreign invasion. Maybe a Muslim in the West, when watching their “brothers and sisters” in Afghanistan, Baghdad, or Gaza disintegrate in war and occupation, is allowed to feel some anger. Surely, this anger doesn’t justify violence, but it certainly is sufficient in explaining why some may consider it.

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