Tag Archives: Islamophobia

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

Update on the ongoing Nuttall-Korody trial

Image description: A courtroom sketch of Amanda Korody and John Nuttall (Felicity Don/The Canadian Press)

As regular readers of The Alfalfafield will know, I’ve been closely following the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody, two now-convicted terrorists who contend that they were entrapped into a plot by their handlers in the RCMP.

The pair were poor ex-heroin addicts living on welfare who had recently converted to Islam when Nuttall encountered an undercover CSIS agent provocateur at his local mosque. Alarmed at the agent’s extreme behaviour, Nuttall reported him to the authorities – ironically, to CSIS itself. It’s unclear how this initial contact with law enforcement metastasized into a massive undercover RCMP operation, but Nuttall’s attorney, Marilyn Sandford insists that the two agencies cooperated, as they are empowered to do under the RCMP’s INSET program.

Unfortunately, no court can compel CSIS to turn over any documentation it may have on the matter, and Sandford suggests that CSIS may have deliberately avoided sharing anything in writing with the Mounties in order to avoid the court disclosure process.

Regardless, Nuttall and his partner soon found themselves entangled in an elaborate plot. Upon meeting somebody who presented himself as a jihadist, Nuttall boastfully claimed that he was plotting a terrorist attack. The only problem for the Mounties was that he was entirely incapable of formulating or executing any kind of feasible plan.

His early schemes involved building a missile and launching it at Seattle (which he mistakenly believed was a mere thirty kilometres away from Vancouver) and hijacking a nuclear submarine. As far as I’ve been able to figure from the media reporting on the trial, neither Nuttall nor Korody had invested any time or effort into pursuing any kind of plot prior to their being contacted by undercover RCMP officers.

Indeed, even after their handler (and an ever-growing web of extras) got them to agree to engage in a plot, he found it extremely difficult to even get them to put down the bong, turn off their video games, and leave their dingy basement apartment. 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

Does it really matter who wins the election tomorrow?

This was the week that the campaign jumped the shark.

I’ve almost started a few posts with that line, but I had a funny feeling I’d need it for later. It’s like when I’m asked to rate your pain on a scale from one to ten; no matter how badly it hurts, I’m saving my “ten” in case it gets worse.

I’m glad I waited, because good god what a weird final week it’s been. Let’s just take a minute, for instance, and appreciate the fact that Rob friggin’ Ford and his bully brother Doug actually just hosted a Conservative Party rally for Stephen Harper. Ok? Letting that sink in?

The party of law and order, the party that literally just this week was publishing shady ads in Chinese and Punjabi warning people that Justin Trudeau was going to peddle pot to your kids and flood your neighbourhood with junkies, the party whose leader recently made the absurd statement that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco, on one of the very last days of a campaign in which it’s fighting for its life, basically held the #elxn42 iteration of Ford Fest, with recovering alcoholic/crack addict, racist, and alleged extortionist Rob Ford in attendance despite allegations from his former chief of staff that he was a habitual drunk driver while mayor emerging earlier that day, and complete with a barn-burner of a crowd-warmer speech by failed mayoral candidate and former big-time hash dealer Doug Ford, a man who has publicly expressed interest – during this very election campaign! – in taking Stephen Harper’s job if the Cons should happen to lose.

I mean, at a certain point, words fail. “Absurd” doesn’t really cut it, does it?

It must speak to the desperation within the Harper camp. They’re obviously hoping that some of that Ford Nation magic will rub off on their campaign, which is questionable logic to me. How many hardcore Ford fanatics were thinking of not voting Conservative?

At this point, Harper’s trying every trick he can think of to cling to power. This week, the Cons called in all their favours with Postmedia and the Thompson family to secure across-the-board endorsements from virtually every major daily in the country, including the single most absurd endorsement of all time, in which the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives while calling for Stephen Harper’s resignation.

Following up on the furor over the seemingly bought-and-paid-for endorsements, today people in cities across Canada woke up to newspapers wrapped in full-page ads in the style of Elections Canada notices proclaiming that “Voting Liberal will cost you“: Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: TPP fails to make an impact, is still important anyway

Last week I typed my weekly summary of the election news amid the ongoing TPP negotiations, and rumours were flying that a deal was imminently going to be announced, or, alternatively, that talks were irrevocably breaking down.

As it turned out, neither rumour was true. It wasn’t until mid-morning the next day that exhausted negotiators and trade ministers trumpeted the successful conclusion of the secretive deal.

The focus of my piece last week was the parties’ and media’s divided focus between issues of substance, like the TPP, and race-baiting sideshows like the niqab debate. It’s unfortunate but true that race-baiting sells more newspapers, drives more traffic, and quite likely mobilizes more voters than does in-depth discussions of trade policy, and so it was no surprise to see the initial fanfare surrounding the TPP’s completion quickly give way to yet more discussion of the niqab, with the Prime Minister telling the CBC’s Rosemary Barton that the Conservative Party is looking into proposing a ban on public servants wearing niqabs. The statement came in an interview which purportedly focussed on the economy and the TPP’s passage, and yet Harper’s off-hand comment dominated a few news cycles and provoked even more hysteria and outrage.

And so while Thomas Mulcair still insistently points out his party’s nominal opposition to the deal (about which more later), and while Harper frequently mentions it as a major accomplishment, the TPP’s impact on the campaign so far seems to have been negligible. It’s been largely absent from the leading headlines of the day, and if its passage impacted anybody’s poll numbers, it did so in such a minor way as to be unnoticeable.

Since then, we’ve learned relatively little about the actual terms of the agreement – but the little we’ve learned has been dispiriting. Wikileaks managed to get its hands on what appears to be the final version of the chapter on intellectual property, which is every bit as horrendous as critics had feared. OpenMedia described it in almost apocalyptic terms:

Internet freedom group OpenMedia warns that the leak confirms Internet advocates greatest fears, including: new provisions that would induce Internet Service Providers to block websites without a court ruling, 20-year copyright term extensions, and new criminal penalties for the circumvention of digital locks. Reacting to the leak, OpenMedia’s Digital Rights Specialist Meghan Sali had this to say:

“Canadians are going to see their democratically-created laws over-written in favour of laws that benefit giant, U.S. media conglomerates and censor the Internet,” Sali said. “And while the government has been busy trying to convince Canadians of the so-called benefits of this pact, they’ve silently traded away our digital future behind closed doors.”

Meanwhile, the costs to Canadian businesses embedded in the deal are still shrouded in mystery, although a couple of preemptive bailouts of major industries don’t bode particularly well for the country’s economic prospects under this new economic order. Prime Minister Harper promised an unconditional bailout of the dairy industry in a shameless attempt to buy the votes of farmers; they’re guaranteed to be compensated for losses of any kind, not just losses resulting from the implementation of this sick excuse for a trade deal. This bailout is certain to be embraced by many dairy farmers, given the massive collapse in Canadians’ consumption of milk over the past two decades. What Harper’s dairy bailout accomplishes, aside from political damage control, is essentially a massive subsidization of an increasingly unpopular industry – one which has a surprising amount of political clout, as animal rights activist and farmer Yan Roberts points out: Continue Reading

The inadequacy of “strategic” voting

It’s one of the most unpredictable aspects of this election, something which may confound all the pollsters and deliver a grossly counterintuitive result come October 20th. The intense and well-deserved animus that people of most political persuasions feel towards Stephen Harper has led to the most massive strategic voting campaign in Canadian history, with multiple organizations working with tens of thousands of people at the riding level to try to tweak the results and deny the Conservative Party victory in close races.

Although the concept of an “Anybody but Conservative” campaign is nothing new – IIRC, we had one of them last year right here in Ontario – the dynamic of this year’s organized Vote-Against effort is complicated by the unique balance of power between the federal parties.

In the past, these strategic voting campaigns have been quite straightforward: Conservative Leader Richie Q. McUnionbuster, known for his outrageously anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-minority, etc., views, produced intense repulsion and loathing amongst comparatively decent folks, who then rallied behind Liberal Leader Quentin “Smiley” Goodenoff, known for his moderately anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-minority, etc., views, on the grounds that he was the Only Way To Stop The Conservatives. Anybody who desired a more progressive government was told to Fall In Line, and Not This Time, because we Have To Stop The Conservatives.

This time around, of course, the NDP are serious contenders – though not so much as they were just a few weeks ago – the whole situation is all of a sudden much more complicated. Behind whom should relatively decent anti-Harper voters rally? The situation was somewhat more straightforward in the spring and early summer, with the NDP riding high in the polls and the Liberals lingering in a distant third place. Many political commentators – myself included – assumed that the NDP would simply take the place of the Liberals in the equation, right down to the strained middle-of-the-road something-for-everybody policies that have characterized past Liberal campaigns. But with all three parties within striking distance of each other, there is no one single standard-bearer for the ABC crowd.

And not coming to some kind of decision is potentially dicey. Canadian political history is positively littered with examples of elections in which the Liberals and NDP split the vote and allowed the Conservatives to win – the most notorious (and relevant) example of which is likely the 1988 election, fought principally over the issue of free trade. Both the Liberals and the NDP were vociferously opposed to the recently negotiated Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States, with Liberal John Turner vowing to literally rip the agreement to pieces if elected. And Canadian voters broadly endorsed their anti-free trade agenda – the two parties combined netted around 55% of the popular vote. However, our retrograde British parliamentary system being what it is, Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives won a commanding majority and went ahead with the FTA, which later evolved into NAFTA, and which, if Harper is reelected, will quite likely be replaced by the TPP.

More recently, of course, we have the example of the 2011 election, in which the Harper Conservatives won a majority government by the slimmest of margins. If a mere six thousand people had voted differently in a few dozen ridings, the balance of power would have lain with the opposition, but instead we’ve all stuck been on the Omnibus to Ruin for the past four years. Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: The TPP and the niqab fight for centre stage

As we enter the final two weeks of the longest election campaign in living memory, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on a stunning contrast.

For the past four days, negotiators from the twelve nations participating in the super-secretive Trans Pacific Partnership have been feverishly bargaining in Atlanta, Georgia, straining to get a deal done. As The Alfalfafield goes to the presses for the day, the rumours are that a deal is close, but we’ve heard these rumours before many times. (For those readers who aren’t up to speed on the TPP, here’s my summary from back in July, as well as more coverage from The Alfalfafield on the subject.)

The plain truth of the matter is that until every detail is worked out, everything could fall apart – and that’s my abiding hope. However, the steady drumbeat of upbeat rumours and selective leaks from insiders suggests that the principal negotiators want to at least create the impression of progress. The Japanese trade minister has apparently made it clear that he’s leaving Atlanta tonight for a long-scheduled meeting in Turkey tomorrow, so there’s a sense of now-or-never-ness to the whole affair. It’s preposterous that trade ministers who have in many cases gone several nights without sleep are being pressured to make concessions that will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people and swell the profits of major international corporations on the basis of a man’s need to catch his flight on time, but such is the reality of the TPP. When you take a step back and look at it, the whole process is damned illogical.

After months of being a softly-simmering back burner story, over the past few weeks the TPP has stepped into the spotlight of Canadian news. But as I wrote earlier this week, the media’s focus has been narrowly focussed on the two under-negotiation issues of changes to Canada’s system of supply management in dairy farming and restrictions on the sourcing of auto parts, with precious little mention of the deeply problematic aspects of the agreement which have been public knowledge for quite some time: Continue Reading

“#PeopleLikeNenshi”, “old stock Canadians”, and plausibly deniable racism

In 1963, George Wallace, Governor of Alabama and dark-horse Presidential candidate, made his position on one of the major political issues of the day crystal-clear, saying, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

You could get away with that kind of thing back then – equating integration with tyranny and explicitly embracing a violently racist policy.

These days, a politician who openly expressed this kind of view would be unable to command much mainstream support. Even Wallace was unable to ever expand his political base out of the American South. But racist politicians haven’t disappeared; they’ve just learned how to make plausibly-deniable racist statements.

The Harper Conservatives’ 2015 campaign has been a master-class in subtly coded racism. And though we who follow these stories closely may think their sneakily derogatory statements aren’t gaining traction, it’s easy to be in a bit of a social media bubble on this issue. If you’re reading this, you’re probably relatively young, and you’re probably living in a city, and you’re therefore probably not considered a likely Conservative voter. When Conservative candidates say these are-they-or-aren’t-they-being-racist kind of things, they’re not talking to you.

To take the most recent example, currently trending on Twitter: Earlier this week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi did an interview with the slimy Evan Solomon on the ongoing niqab furor. (ICYMI, here’s my post from last week on the issue.) Nenshi, in typically blunt fashion, didn’t hold back on the question of Conservative dog-whistle statements. On the question of the niqab, he said, “This is unbelievably dangerous stuff. It’s not fun anymore. And you know, I spoke with a group of – I spoke with a group of mayors and councillors from all over Alberta last week, and in my speech, with all these people from small-town Alberta, I stood up and I said this is disgusting and it’s time for us to say stop it. It’s time for us to say this is enough.”

He also spoke of the danger of trying to politicize the niqab, saying that the message that it sends to Muslim youth is that they will never be truly accepted as Canadians, at exactly the same time that they are being targeted by “deradicalization” campaigns that aim to convince them of the exact opposite. And speaking on the tenuous nature of multiculturalism, he even got kinda poetic: Continue Reading

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