international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

ISIS: Prime Minister Harper’s top political bogeyman of the day

Published by the CBC on April 7th, 2015

Canada is ready to extend its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) into Syria, carrying on a war that’ll cost about half-a-billion taxpayer dollars by early next year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is following up on his promise that Canada won’t “stand on the sidelines” when it comes to the fight against Muslim extremism.

This kind of rhetoric has helped make ISIS into Canada’s top political bogeyman as the Tory administration insists on adopting tough security measures at home as Canadian Forces fight the bad guys abroad.

The public language in support of this two-front “war on terror” has given rise to a new kind of militarism in Canada. It’s characterized by a political rhetoric that galvanizes support for itself not only by pointing to a foreign enemy, but also by emphasizing the need to root out the enemy’s ideological supporters on Canadian soil.

This latter emphasis has, at the hands of the Tories, become a way to depict dissent against government policy as support for Muslim terrorism.

Support for terrorism

Take the debate around Bill C-51 (the “Anti-terrorism Act”), the Conservative’s proposal on how to fight domestic terrorism. The bill is making its way through the legislative process with limited debate and examination, despite containing provisions that will, according to a chorus of critics, forever change the landscape of Canadian national security. Its supporters emphasize the imminent nature of an ill-defined terrorism threat, keeping in mind that security issues will likely occupy the minds of voters in the upcoming fall election.

This process is now essentially an exploitation of the current climate of fear engendered primarily by images of ISIS’s bloody exploits, combined with memories of recent, high-profile incidents of violent extremism in cities like OttawaSydney, and Paris. It is a convergence of the foreign and domestic policy agendas in a way that casts “Muslim terror” as the enemy, often without bothering to differentiate between Islam’s peaceful followers and those who have been radicalized.

This monolithic representation is calculated to yield political results. A recent poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute shows that 44 per cent of participating Canadians hold a “negative” view of Muslims. This kind of public opinion should give confidence to those who want to use unsubstantiated accusations and assertions to malign Muslims for political gain.

No niqab

Harper’s hardline stance against allowing Muslim women to wear the face-veil (niqab) during citizenship ceremonies is just one case-in-point. Without acknowledging that the niqab isn’t even a universally accepted concept within Islam, the prime minister said in the House of Commons last month that the practice is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”

He didn’t bother to clarify which culture he had in mind, leaving it up to the public imagination to decide what he was implying. Days later, Tory MP Larry Miller had to publicly apologize after he told women who wear the niqab to “stay the hell where you came from” on a radio show.

Still more ridiculous is Defence Minister Jason Kenney’s decision to use International Women’s Day to tweet what he claimed are photographs of women being led off in chains by ISIS.

It was later revealed that the photos had nothing to do with ISIS, and were actually depictions of Shia Muslims commemorating the death of the Prophet’s family in a ceremony.

 Muddying the Waters

This kind of political messaging and decision-making helps to confuse the already-unclear public representation of Canadian Muslims and their beliefs. Nonetheless, it’s the kind of confusion that allows those within the Muslim community who question the government’s security policies to be easily antagonized.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) got a taste of this during last month’s borderline-farcical parliamentary hearings on Bill C-51, when executive director Ihsaan Gardee had to reply to Conservative MP Diane Ablonczy’s question of whether his group supports terrorism.

Ablonczy was referring to an unsubstantiated rumour, but she succeeded in turning the nature and focus of the discussion away from Bill C-51’s more problematic provisions. Instead, Muslims like Gardee are forced to defend against a process that seeks to represent their community in a way that places them within the ideological orbit of groups like ISIS.

Political language that demonizes an entire segment of the domestic population is helping to reinforce the Tories’ pro-war rhetoric against ISIS, and vice-versa. These parallel narratives have increasingly given rise to the most recent form of Canadian militarism, a jingoistic aggression that uses racial bullying at home to bolster support for questionable foreign interventions.

Photo credit: The niqab has become a political wedge issue in Canada/CC

[http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/isis-prime-minister-harper-s-top-political-bogeyman-of-the-day-1.3023753]

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middle east, muslims, politics

Canada’s foreign policy: Business before human rights

Published on March 18th, 2014 by Al Jazeera English

The latest arms deal between Canada and Saudi Arabia exposes the ideological hypocrisy that underpins the Canadian Conservative Party’s present foreign and trade policy.

The Ontario-based General Dynamics Land Systems (a subsidiary of the Virginia-based aerospace and defence company, General Dynamics) outbid Germany and France to win a US$10m deal to export military hardware to Saudi Arabia, with a poor human rights record.

edfast

The deal is the largest of its kind in Canadian history, and was announced by Trade Minister Ed Fast this past February. Fast portrayed the deal as a triumph of effective diplomacy that will generate thousands of jobs for Canadians. The agreement is also meant to fulfil Canada’s “Global Markets Action Plan,” which aims to extract commercial and economic benefits from Canada’s international relationships. Concerns with respect to Saudi Arabia’s human rights have largely gone unaddressed by Canadian Tory officials.

Toronto Star editorial from February notes that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government “rarely shrinks from bemoaning the state of the world”. This is especially accurate with regards to the administration’s stances vis-a-vis the Middle East. Yet when it comes to doing business, Prime Minister Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird, among others, have time and time again demonstrated a willingness to suspend their artificial affinity to principle.

Money comes first

As Canadian writer and journalist Derrick O’Keefe notes, for all the Conservatives’ talk about free market ideology, “the Saudi deal confirms that the Conservatives […] do believe in industrial strategy and government intervention in the economy – at least when military hardware and arms, or bitumen, are involved.”

Both the Canadians and the Saudis refuse to reveal the specifics of the deal, but GLDS is famous for manufacturing the LAV III armoured vehicles used by Canada in Afghanistan, as well as the Stryker armoured vehicles used by the United States. US$10m can buy hundreds of such vehicles.

The deal was announced shortly after Postmedia News, a prominent Canadian wire service, reported that the Tories have planned to help the Canadian arms industry through “hard times” by looking for more international buyers of Canadian military equipment.

It’s long been revealed that Saudi Arabia’s forces have previously used military hardware from General Dynamics to crush dissent in the Gulf region. In March 2011, Saudi forces rolled into Bahrain with armoured vehicles made by General Dynamics to help suppress a growing protest movement. Inspired by the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere, the mostly peaceful protests were violently crushed.

The Harper government didn’t say much, and maintained its silence even when it was revealed that a Canadian citizen, Naser al-Raas, was tortured for over 30 days for taking part in the protests. Raas was finally assisted by Canadian consular services and released, but still seeks justice for the inhumane treatment he received.

When FM Baird visited Bahrain around two years later in April 2013, he made sure not to publically denounce what happened in 2011. So for all of the Harper regime’s rhetoric on its clear and principled stance regarding international human rights, the record shows that for Canada, business and money come first.

The exercise of silence

Of course, the Harper administration’s human rights hypocrisy doesn’t start or end with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Similar to Human Rights Watch’s recent (though in keeping with a long and unfortunate tradition) denunciation of Saudi Arabia in its 2014 report, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reportedEgypt as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to report from/in.

A military regime, the current Egyptian government has essentially put freedom of the press on trial. The primary manifestation of this chilling development is the arrest and detention of 20 Al Jazeera journalists who have been branded enemies of the Egyptian state. According to state prosecutors, the journalistsattempted “to weaken the state’s status, harming the national interest of the country, disturbing public security, instilling fear among the people, causing damage to the public interest.”

Among the detained and charged is Canadian citizen Mohamed Fahmy, who, along with his colleagues, was captured late last December. Since then, he has suffered through solitary confinement and was only recently dumped into a lower security prison. Of course, Fahmy and his colleagues have pleaded not guilty to the Egyptian state’s charges.

So what does Harper and his party colleagues have to say about all this? On his first trip to Israel, Harper congratulated Egypt’s “return to stability” under the auspices of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has become de facto ruler of Egypt.

Editorials and op-eds from across the political spectrum in Canada have called for more action on the part of Harper’s government. The Australian government has advocated for the release of its citizen, Peter Greste (though some saynot enough), also an Al Jazeera journalist. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called for the “prompt release” of all those captured.

Even President Barack Obama has put out a statementcondemning Egypt’s abysmal devolution into journalist purgatory. And yet, so far, the Harper administration has shown itself capable only of mere platitudes regarding “consular services.”

Lecturing the world

It’s important to note, then, that just like every other governing political party or administration, Harper and his Conservatives operate with an ideological agenda in mind when it comes to foreign policy. This means that their selective condemnation of human rights abuses around the world is done on a strategic basis (or so they seem to think).

Sure, Baird had no problem condemning the blasts that killed four people in Beirut this past January. Harper also had no trouble expressing his disapproval of the bombings in Iraq that killed 37 people last Christmas. All this is well and good, but observers inside and outside of Canada would do well to treat the Harper administration’s self-proclaimed commitment to clear-cut and “principled foreign policy” with a substantial dose of scepticism.

There’s truly no shortage of speechifying by high-level Tory officials when it comes to proclaiming how principled the Conservative administration is with regards to human rights issues. Baird has, by now, lectured the rest of the world on the matter several times.

But his speeches, in front of the United Nations to “defend” the state of Israel, provide the best window for those who care to look, beyond the rhetoric, at Canada’s true stance on human rights.

It’s not a secret that numerous human rights organisations have condemned Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, both inside and outside of Israel. But for reasons of ideology and politics, Harper and his Conservatives, much like those who came before them, don’t really care.

 

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politics

Opposition Mounts as Harper Guts Census

Published on:
http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=526

A census is a tool used by a country’s government and major businesses to respectively tailor services and products to the corresponding population. In Canada, a democratic state, the census holds utmost importance in that regard as a vital communiqué between the people and their elected officials. Taken every five years, it is, as noted by Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “The mother ship of all surveys.”

Given the weight of such a public survey, it wasn’t surprising that many veterans in the Canadian “statistics community” were baffled by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to no longer make the census a mandatory obligation, but a voluntary one. The head of Statistics Canada (Stats-Can), Munir Sheikh,  arguably the country’s top statistician, has resigned over the matter, and rebuked the Harper administration in a highly publicized letter, stating that a voluntary census won’t work. The statistics that a voluntary census yields will be the consequences of “self-selection”, making it incomparable with previously collected statistics. The same goes for Ivan Fellegi, Sheikh’s predecessor, who also rebuked the Tory decision.

“Others upset include: the Federation of Canadian Municipalities; Atlantic Provinces Economics Council; City of Toronto; Canadian Association for Business Economics; Canadian Economics Association; Canadian Association of University Teachers; Canadian Institute of Planners; Canadian Council of Social Development; even the National Statistical Council (that acts in a consultative capacity for StatsCan),” according to Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star.

The official reason for the decision to make the census voluntary came from Industry Minister Tony Clement, who calls the census “coercive and intrusive.” Another stated reason was to “protect the privacy of Canadians.” However, Harper has had a difficult relationship with Stats-Can since in the past, gutting or changing several other smaller surveys, including the The annual Workplace and Employee Survey, The Survey of Financial Security, and The annual Survey of Household Spending. These were all political decisions, congruent with the Harper administration’s apparent habit of secrecy and obfuscation.

Moreover, ever since Stephen Harper came to power, Stats-Can employees have privately confessed that the agency had shifted in focus, “away from social issues and towards more economic subjects,” reports the Globe and Mail. This certainly points to a more coercive way of managing information by the Tory establishment, who are tilting the methodology of Stats-Can’s data-analysis, thus changing its analytical objectives altogether.

The decision to basically gut the census is just another extension of how the Harper government likes to fiddle with the machinery of government, tailoring its dynamics to fit a “Tory mindset”, so to speak. The Harper administration has gutted numerous NGOs, prorogued parliament (twice), and  spent $1 billio- plus on the G8/G20 summits,  among other deeds. Eliminating a key pillar of Canadian democracy almost seems to make sense when seen in context, and hardly surprising.

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