HypocrISISy and the House of Saud – The Canadian Government’s Double Standard on Radical Islam

There is a group currently terrorizing large sections of the Middle East.

Using a radical interpretation of Islam as their pretext, they treat women and minorities horrifically. They are internationally renowned for their beheadings and public floggings of “heretics” and “witches”. The United Nations and major human rights organizations have accused them of war crimes and of violating international law. In their most recent offensive, hundreds of innocent civilians have died, and access to medical care has been cut off for millions.

They are the House of Saud, rulers of Saudi Arabia and one of Canada’s partners in the war against ISIS and the bombing campaign in Syria. And the Canadian government confirmed today that it is proceeding with a $15-billion sale of weaponry, notwithstanding the kingdom’s atrocious human rights record.

In fact, the government insists that it doesn’t need to justify the purchase to the public.

From the Globe:

The Department of Foreign Affairs argues it must keep deliberations secret regarding this deal – by far the largest export contract ever brokered by Ottawa – citing the need to protect the “commercial confidentiality” of General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, which makes the light armoured vehicles.

Ottawa maintains this despite the fact that Foreign Affairs, by its own stated rules, is required to screen requests to export military goods to countries “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.” Among other things, it must obtain assurances “there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.” [my emphasis]

When it comes to persistently violating the human rights of its citizens, few countries can rival Saudi Arabia. Indeed, its record of human rights violations is well-known, although few Western nations are willing to call it out on the virtual enslavement of its women or its incredibly harsh treatment of dissidents. Human Rights Watch summed up the situation in this commentary from shortly after the recent death of Saudi King Abdullah:

These reforms [on women’s issues], however, did not address the key underlying issues entrenching discrimination against women, such as the male guardianship system, under which ministerial policies and practices forbid women from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son. Despite Abdullah’s rhetorical support in 2005 for the idea of women driving, at his death they remain forbidden from getting behind the wheel, and authorities arrested women who dared challenge the driving ban…

Under Abdullah’s watch, authorities rounded up scores of peaceful dissidents and human rights activists who dared to criticize the government, subjecting them to unfair trials before Saudi Arabia’s terrorism court on vague charges such as “sowing discord” and “breaking allegiance with the ruler.” Some have received unthinkably harsh punishments, including the human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, who was sentencedto 15 years in prison for peacefully criticizing the government’s human rights record in newspaper interviews and on Twitter. Another is Fadhil al-Manasif, who is serving a 14-year sentence largely for helping journalists cover 2011 protests by Saudi Shia citizens. Others, including reformists Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, are serving 10 and 11 year sentences on similar charges.

Perhaps the most dramatic case of repression involves the liberal blogger Raif Badawi, whom security officers publicly flogged on January 9 as part of a judicial sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for setting up a liberal website and allegedly insulting religious authorities.

The Kingdom is also accused of using cluster bombs in its bombing campaign against Yemen. The munitions are banned by international treaty, and HRW is alleging that Saudi Arabia has violated international law and is complicit in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including over one hundred children. (The Canadian government has resisted calls from advocates and allies to call out its coalition partner on the issue.)

Now, the Department of Foreign Affairs’ guidelines on this issue are, in my opinion, overly narrow, as they only require the government to consider whether goods provided will be used against a country’s own civilian population. But these are the guidelines we have, not the guidelines we deserve. Is the Harper government following them?

Hardly. It’s no great surprise at this point, but the government is twisting the facts around to fit the policy they want to pursue. From the Globe:

As an example of how light armoured vehicles (LAVs) might enable human-rights abuses, rights activists allege it was Canadian-made fighting vehicles that Saudi Arabia sent into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell a democratic uprising. Asked if it believes the Saudis used made-in-Canada LAVs when they went into Bahrain, the Canadian government doesn’t deny this happened. It only says it doesn’t believe the vehicles were used to beat back protests.

“Saudi Arabia’s support to Bahrain during the violent upheavals in 2011 was under the auspices of the GCC Peninsula Shield” force, said Ms. Mills, referring to a regional military defence pact. “To the best of the government of Canada’s knowledge, Saudi troops were stationed to protect key buildings and infrastructure and did not engage in suppression of peaceful protests.”

Let’s contrast this, shall we say, generous interpretation of the Kingdom’s behaviour and motivations with the government’s reaction to the recent detaining of ten individuals at a Montreal airport on suspicions they were planning to travel to Syria and fight with ISIS.

The ten were rounded up by an RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, or INSET, which sees the Mounties combine forces with the Canadian Border Services Agency, CSIS, and other law enforcement agencies. I’ve written about the INSET team before here, and in that case found that it drastically exaggerated the actual threat level, all the while pleading for more funding.

This time, Stephen Harper came through, announcing two days later an extra $150-million for the Mounties.

Speaking on the incident, he denounced those who attempted to join ISIS:

“We have a country that is unparalleled in terms of its freedom, its democracy, its openness and its tolerance,” the prime minister told reporters after making his announcement.

“And there is no legitimate reason of any kind in this country for someone to become a violent jihadist or a terrorist or to join any kind of group that is involved or advocates that kind of activity.”

(You wouldn’t know it from that bold denunciation, but the ten who were rounded up were all released without charge, after INSET had its burst of publicity and justification for increased funding.)

Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, speaking to the Senate yesterday, also attempted to capitalize on the incident:

“I am convinced more than ever that this bill [Bill C-51] is much needed,” said Blaney, referencing the recent arrest of 10 Quebec teens allegedly leaving the country to join jihadists abroad…

“We will be able to shut down websites because, why, because we are talking of radicalization,” he said of the bill’s powers.

Blaney said he is also going to look into “pre-criminalization,” in order to prevent individuals from further falling into terrorism.

So, in other words:

The government is so concerned about the threat of radicalization that it’s literally going to make it illegal for people to learn about radical Islam on the Internet. It’s going to give itself sweeping new police and surveillance powers to fight this looming menace. It’s going to “pre-criminalize” certain unspecified behaviours which might possibly indicate that an individual is at risk of “falling into terrorism” – all in the name of defending Canada’s “freedom, its democracy, its openness and its tolerance.”

And at the same time, it’s going to sell $15-billion worth of weaponry to the House of Saud, a regime which relies on a radical interpretation of Islam to justify its rule and its ill-treatment of its people, a regime which is notorious for its beheadings and floggings of “infidels” and “witches” and dissidents, a regime which has killed hundreds of civilians this year alone with internationally banned munitions. And it’s going to insist that this is totally in accordance with our values as well.

If that’s not hypocrISISy, I don’t know what is.

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