Tag Archives: ISIS

Fact-free arguments: how the case against refugees reveals widespread implicit racism

At this point, it’s a well-established and impartial fact that the attacks on Paris were committed by Europeans, and that not one of the attackers was a refugee.

In fact, the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to Europe (and the millions more in Turkey, Lebanon, and other Middle Eastern nations) left their homes largely because of type of indiscriminate and contemptible violence which was visited upon Parisians last Friday night had become intolerably (and dangerously) commonplace in their cities and towns [CW: graphic images].

These are plain and simple facts. And you won’t hear them referred to – or even acknowledged – by opponents of an increase in the number of refugees taken in by this country.

In fact, on the contrary, what you’ll hear is a lot of subtle (and some not-so-subtle) suggestions that the refugees and the terrorists are in some ways indistinguishable, and that to accept the former is to also accept the latter.

Some of this discussion is openly reprehensible. New Jersey Governor and struggling Presidential candidate Chris Christie’s desperate-for-a-headline statement that not even orphan refugees should be allowed into the United States is a stand-out of the genre, as is the increasingly-terrifying Donald Trump’s musing that Syrian refugees may be a terrorist Trojan horse, and that as President he would create a national database to register all American Muslims (a stand he has since backed away from).

Statements like these, and the hate-filled crimes that go along with them, are, as I said the other day, the easy shit to spot and condemn and call out.

But a lot of the time, the anti-refugee animus is a lot more subtle.

Consider, for instance, this lead paragraph in an Ottawa Citizen article from a few days back: Continue Reading

Thoughts on Paris: radicalization, overt vs subtle racism, war profiteering, and more

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened in Paris – and more specifically, what people have said about what happened in Paris on the Internet. Here’s a serious of disconnected and unfinished thoughts on the subject.
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In the popular Western imaginary, the figure of the jihadi is rife with internal contradictions. The jihadi is in some scenes a mindless automaton, thoughtlessly carrying out the orders of a far-away mastermind; in others, he (and they’re almost always hes) is driven by a fanatical medieval religiosity; in others still, he is the vision of purest evil, a miniature Hitler whose body count may be in the tens instead of the tens of millions but who is nonetheless a genocidal maniac.

Lost amidst all this frenzied fear and loathing is any real sense for why anybody might actually want to become a jihadi, why somebody might want to commit the kinds of hideous crimes we witnessed this week.

We now know with a fair amount of certainty that all of the men involved in the killings in Paris earlier this week were European nationals. All of them were born and raised in either France or Belgium; most were the children of immigrants. Some of them, like Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself (and nobody else) up with a suicide vest outside of a stadium, were up until a few years ago typical European young men, fanatical about nothing more serious than their favourite football teams. What makes these people turn to violent extremism?

Well, let’s start off with the obvious. Young Muslim men who feel accepted and valued in their communities, who have opportunities to live a good and fulfilling life, who are treated as equals by their peers and the institutions they interact with, who are free to pursue their religion and practice their culture, or not, as they please, who in effect are not stigmatized for being young Muslim men, are not exactly the type of people who are likely to run off and join ISIS.

I think we can all agree on that, right?

Well…what does that imply, then? Continue Reading

Militarism and the Paris attacks – why more war isn’t the answer

“An act of war”, thundered French President Francois Hollande. The nation would respond “ruthlessly” towards the “barbarians” who planned this “cowardly” attack.

These words have power.

The past few days I feel like I’ve been living in a strange time warp. All the worst aspects of the reaction to 9/11 are playing out again – the flag-waving hyperpatriotism, the muscular aggressive posturing, the xenophobic threats, the total erasure of historical causes, the incessant vapid useless questioning of “why to they hate us?” – only this time, we’ve got Facebook and Twitter to amplify the loudest and stupidest voices.

And, to be fair, to act as a corrective.

After the recent carnage in France, my social media feeds have been filled mostly with the exact kind of critically-minded anti-racist don’t-forget-about-all-the-Muslim-victims-of-Western-state-terrorism thoughts and feelings that I’ve had myself – so much so that the odd anti-refugee post that strays into the mix is immediately drowned out.

Honest to God, I live in a little progressive/radical bubble.

It’s a pretty comfortable bubble, but it’s insulating, and when it comes right down to it, I haven’t got much of a clue what’s going on outside of it.

And so it came as a big surprise to me when I found out earlier today that the only mosque in my hometown of Peterborough, Ontario was set on fire last night. The mosque is not five minutes away from where my parents live. Nobody was inside at the time, thank goodness, but just half an hour before the fire was started, around seventy people were apparently there celebrating the birth of a baby.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, really. Peterborough, lovely and progressive as it can seem, has a deep undercurrent of ugly racism running right through it – and in that sense, it’s a lot like most every Canadian city or town I’ve ever been in.

And really, when even people like the supposedly “socialist” Hollande deploy hateful vicious rhetoric, it shouldn’t be shocking that some fragile white folks feel incited to take some kind of grossly misled “revenge” against people who had literally nothing to do with what happened in Paris.

“Barbarians”, “cowards”, “we will be merciless”.

These words have power. Continue Reading

Top secret war: What’s going on with Canada’s military misadventure in Iraq and Syria?

Flying Canadian death machines over Iraq (Image credit: Canadian Forces Combat Camera/DND)

Since last October, Canada’s air force has been involved in a coalition of Western and Gulf Arab nations bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq and, later, in Syria. In addition, Canadian Special Forces have been deployed to Iraqi Kurdistan to train the Kurdish peshmerga, who are fighting IS on the ground.

Throughout the past year, media coverage of the conflict has been extremely sporadic and patchy. This is largely by necessity; the military has not exactly prioritized keeping the public informed, especially when it comes to scandalous and controversial events, like the lone Canadian death in the conflict, that of Andrew Dorion, who was killed in what has been described as a “friendly fire incident” this past March. Details of Dorion’s death have remained pretty fuzzy, and the Department of National Defence has so far refused to release a thorough report investigating the incident.

Similarly, DND has remained tight-lipped about ongoing rumours and reports of civilian casualties as a result of Canadian airstrikes. This past week, an investigation by CBC’s the fifth estate revealed that Canada and its coalition partners have been implicated in the deaths of up to six hundred civilians, including at least two airstrikes in which Canadian bombers were specifically involved.

The military brass had little to say on the incident, except that the mission’s commander was not even aware of an internal Pentagon investigation into one of the incidents. Canada continues to insist that our bombers have killed absolutely no civilians with the nearly five hundred bombs they’ve dropped on Syria and Iraq to date.

Given the military’s intransigence and the horrific on-the-ground conditions, it’s difficult for the press to dig much deeper into these allegations, or indeed to report concretely on the state of the conflict.

Of course, we know broadly speaking that Islamic State is still right where it was a year ago, and that airstrikes seem to have been largely ineffective. There’s been some speculation that the coalition of bombing nations isn’t actually all that enthusiastic about defeating IS, and is not bombing them as often or as vigorously as it would be if it were serious about this. (I looked at one specific example of that in my article “The ISIS racket“.) Continue Reading

C-51 keeps getting worse the more we learn about it

This is the inaugural post in a new series: National Security Sundays. Each week, I’ll be doing a deep dive into issues related to Canada’s surveillance agencies, law enforcement, or armed forces. Today, we’re taking a look at a story that what hot this spring but which hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves lately, the 1984-esque surveillance law C-51.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think I’ve managed to pinpoint the lowest level to which the Conservative Party stooped in the recent election campaign in their desperate attempts to drum up enough fear and terror and anti-Muslim hatred to squeak back into office.

There were, I’ll concede, a lot of candidates for the Lowest Low, from their anti-niqab hysteria to their “barbaric practices hotline” to their cold bureaucratic indifference to the plight of refugees. But, for me at least, the Conservatives hit rock bottom on September 24, when they announced that they were laying charges under the recently-passed C-51 against a Canadian man, Farah Mohamed Shirdon, who left Canada in early 2014 to fight for the Islamic State.

Shirdon, charged in absentia, couldn’t have been prosecuted without the vital provisions of the government’s glorious Combating Terrorism Act, crowed a boastful Jason Kenney in a press release so self-congratulatory and hubristic it has to be read to be believed. One key quote:

The video of this individual burning and shooting his Canadian passport to express his violent hatred for Canada shocked many Canadians – and demonstrates how those who engage in terrorism betray the bond of loyalty and allegiance with Canada.

This one sentence has the whole Conservative Party reelection strategy, encapsulated perfectly. It uses loaded buzzwords designed to create indignation, fear, and hatred, says “Canada” and “Canadians” far too many times, conflates symbolic gestures with meaningful action, and baldly asserts the widespread prevalence of opinions which are in actuality much more marginal. It sets up a glowing ideal of Canadian patriotism and then demonizes and Others anybody who fails to live up to it, attempting to create a sense of solidarity among all “decent” folks. It’s truly a disgusting masterwork of divisive rhetoric.

But that’s not what’s most egregious about the charges laid against Shirdon. The truly outrageous aspect of all this is that Shirdon was almost certainly dead when the RCMP announced the charges. Continue Reading

Why did the NDP lose so badly? Here’s a close look at some popular explanations

There really isn’t a good way to spin it. The NDP lost hard on Monday night.

When the election started in early August, they were leading in the polls and poised to form government for the first time in their long history. Eleven weeks later, their support had cratered; rather than building on their 2011 outing, their most successful ever, they instead lost more than half their caucus, including many of their most experienced and well-known members.

Instead of moving from Stornaway to 24 Sussex, Thomas Mulcair is now house-hunting at considerably less prestigious addresses, no doubt grateful to even still have his job after a relatively close race in his riding of Outremont.

That’s the kind of meagre consolation NDP stalwarts are offering each other these days. It could have been worse – at least Mulcair didn’t go full Ignatieff and lose his own seat!

There has been the digital equivalent of a ton of ink devoted to the question of What Happened To The NDP, and I wanted to take a close look at a few of the more popular explanations today. As we’ll see, most are at best incomplete and at worst completely unfounded.

The most easily discredited of these theories was quite prominent in the final month or so of the campaign: the notion that the NDP lost because their stance on the niqab was at odds with the majority of the electorate, especially in Quebec.

This one is transparently false. First of all, a close reading of the data shows that the party’s numbers were slipping several days before the issue shot to prominence in the first of the two French-language debates.  Continue Reading

This Week in Electionland: The press smells blood

If you read the political news recently, even a little bit, you’ll know that Stephen Harper had a bad week.

rabble went so far as to call it a “very bad, very ugly week“. Michael Harris at iPolitics dubbed it “the week that Stephen Harper lost the benefit of the doubt”. Maclean’s said it was the worst of the campaign for Harper and that the PM is now “seeking shelter” from the barrage of bad news. I’ll let Maclean’s sum up the damage:

The news of the week included a candidate who urinated in a stranger’s coffee mug, a candidate who impersonated a mentally disabled individual as part of a prank call, recent suggestions of turmoil within the leadership of the Conservative campaign and one anonymous Conservative’s subsequent assertion that someone was “obviously trying to f— us”, and, of course, the Syrian refugee crisis, a matter that, beyond serious questions of principle and policy, has had cabinet ministers complaining about media coverage (first, Chris Alexander’s unfortunate attempt to accuse the CBC of ignoring the issue, then, Jason Kenney’s admonition that the media was ignoring the government’s good work), campaign staff shielding another cabinet minister from reporters’ questions and a Conservative candidate’s spouse heckling a reporter’s attempt to enquire further of the Prime Minister. And before this week there had already been the trial of Mike Duffy—with its myriad of revelations and questions raised—and the official declaration of a recession.

Indeed, it really was one piece of bad news after another for the Conservative campaign this week – and the sharks in the press smelled blood.

It’s long been evident that the media elites in this country have it in for this Prime Minister. Hell, even the Sun called for his resignation at the height of the Duffy scandal in 2013. So it’s no surprise that they’re pouncing with all their might now, when they feel Harper is most vulnerable.

When I use the phrase “media elites” I feel a little bit like an Alex Jones-er, one of the Illuminati-obsessors, or even just a regular old Canadian Conservative supporter. It gives me a bit of an icky feeling.

But let’s be real here – our mainstream media in this country is dominated by a handful of extremely wealthy people who aren’t just in it for the chuckles. When, across the board, you see reporters and editorialists joining the pile-on and saying that Harper’s time has come, that he’s really fucked up this time, that the Conservative campaign is on a fast train to Nowheresville, then you gotta know that the big boys at the top are done with Steve-O.

Let’s take a look, shall we? Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: The NDP on Iraq, Syria, and the use of the Canadian military

This past week, Peter Mansbridge and the CBC news team decided to sit down in bizarre nature-esque locations across Canada to have frank unscripted one-on-one discussions with the intensely focus-group-prepped leaders of the three major parties.

Though nothing much of substance was said – especially in terms of things we haven’t heard before – the interviews at least served the function of drawing attention to a few things.

First of all, Mansbridge is a softie at giving interviews. When the leaders rattled off talking points that were often only tangentially related to his questions, he rarely pushed back, and when he did – like when he tried sooooo hard to get Mulcair to say “50 percent plus one” when he was inexplicably grilling him over the Clarity Act – it was on matters that didn’t really matter. A lot of Mansbridge’s questions were slo-pitched softballs – “Why do you want to be Prime Minister?” – and his infrequent attempts to be tough seemed pretty random. For instance, he didn’t raise the issue of Harper’s being an asshole and a tyrant when he was talking to the Prime Minister, but when interviewing Mulcair, he busted out some super-critical quotes from former NDP MP Bruce Hyer (now a Green) who said that Mulcair would be just as much of an asshole and a tyrant as Harper ever was, and what do you have to say about that, Mr Mulcair? He reminded me of Bob Cole during the sportscaster’s final years as the HNIC play-by-play guy – obviously past his best-before date, but still in there mumbling away because nobody had the heart to tell him he’d lost it and it was time to give somebody else a turn mangling Quebecois players’ names.

Uneven, unbalanced, and most damning of all, uninteresting, the CBC’s leader interviews are destined to go down in history as having practically no impact on anything ever. (Their final sit-down, with Elizabeth May, airs tonight. Look for a lot of patronizing condescension and non-sequiturs.)

The only other thing of note about them – and the only reason I bring them up – was the fact that, for one extra news cycle, folks were talking about the NDP’s position on our Glorious Non-Combat Operation in Iraq and Syria.

In case you haven’t heard, Mulcair & Co. favour an immediate and total withdrawal of all of our troops from Iraq and Syria, including the troops training Kurdish peshmerga forces. Here’s the relevant quotes from the interview; if you want to suffer through the whole thing, you can watch it here, with the ISIS discussion starting at about 25:30: Continue Reading

Whipping out our CF-18s

I live and work a few kilometres away from the site of the CNE in Toronto, and every Labour Day long weekend I’m forced to endure the travesty and disgrace which is the annual Air Show.

Now really, I’m quite lucky. The sound of the jet engines roaring sets my teeth grinding mostly because of an abiding hatred of stupid blind nationalistic militarism and war-mongering, a sort of innate despising loathing of the tools of war.

But I personally have never heard that same jet engine roar and feared for my life, or the life of my loved ones.

Which isn’t true for my neighbours. I live in one of the most diverse cities in the world – and amongst that diversity are refugees from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from Bosnia, from places where Canada’s air force, and the air forces of our allies, have rained down death from the sky.

That jet engine roar is, quite literally, the sound of impending death. Continue Reading

This week in Electionland – the refugee crisis is reduced to talking points

This week’s election news was solidly dominated by the refugee crisis, and specifically by each party striving to position itself as the one which actually gets what’s going on.

Which is all a little bit bizarre. While Germany has opened its borders to 800 000 refugees, while Turkey struggles to cope with the two million it has received, and while tiny Lebanon, with a population of a mere four million, has taken on a million or more, over here in Canada Justin Trudeau thinks he can outdo his rivals by pledging to bring in a mere twenty-five thousand. The small-mindedness of the proposals being put forward is staggering.

The Globe and Mail reminded us this week that we’ve done better before. In 1979, Joe Clark’s government moved to admit fifty thousand Vietnamese refugees in dire need of help.

Some details:

Decades before the current crisis, Canada airlifted 5,000 people from Kosovo in the late 1990s, 5,000 from Uganda in 1972, and 60,000 Vietnamese in 1979-80. From January, 2014, to late last month, Canada resettled 2,374 Syrian refugees.

Mike Molloy was the Canadian government official who oversaw the airlifting of the Vietnamese boat people and removed bureaucratic obstacles. “The motto out there was not ‘do the thing right,’ it was ‘do the right thing,’” the 71-year-old, who lives in Ottawa, said in an interview…

“The goal was initially to move 50,000 people in 18 months,” Mr. Molloy said. That became 60,000 in two years under Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1980. The government offered to match all private sponsorships, galvanizing the public. It was the formal launch of a system that involved communities in guaranteeing the care, shelter and early costs of refugees. That system has since brought in more than 200,000 refugees.

In the peak month, February, 1980, Canada resettled 6,200 Vietnamese, Mr. Molloy said. Canada flew 181 charter flights during a two-year period, each carrying anywhere from 200 people to more than 400.

Which is to say, Canada took in almost three times more Vietnamese refugees in February 1980 than it has Syrian refugees in the last twenty months. This despite the fact that there are more displaced people in the world today than at any time since the Second World War. Continue Reading

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