Tag Archives: Refugees

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.

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

Whistleblowers under attack – RCMP launches investigation into Dept. of Citizenship leaks

In the past few weeks, there have been a handful of high-profile scandals based on leaks from within the Department of Citizenship and Immigration which have reflected poorly upon the Conservative Party. Yesterday, we found out that the RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the leaks.

Before I dig into how profoundly frightening that is, let’s take a look at the leaks in question.

Although it’s unclear which stories precisely the investigation is focussing on, two major investigative reports are likely candidates.

The first is a CBC story from September 23 which revealed that a new passport design system had led to at least 1,500 flawed passports being issued, and that political pressure led to that system’s implementation ahead of schedule:

Internal records from Citizenship and Immigration Canada reveal the processing program was rushed into operation on May 9, 2015, despite dire warnings from senior officials that it was not ready and could present new security risks.

One government source told CBC/Radio-Canada there are concerns that passports produced under the new system could wind up in the wrong hands.

The report was a major downer for the Conservatives, who have made making Canadians more safe a centrepiece of their campaign. They spent the day in damage-control mode. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, still reeling from his early-September embarrassment at the hands of Rosie Barton on Power and Politics, hid behind his spokesperson, who issued a vaguely worded statement insistently saying nothing much in particular. (‘”The Canadian passport is, and will remain, one of the most secure travel documents in the world,” said Nancy Caron in an emailed response. “CIC has been moving towards an increasingly integrated, modernized and centralized working environment across many of its business lines, including the passport program.”‘) Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson was also deployed to make reassuring noises without specifically commenting on the allegations. After weeks of being relentlessly attacked over their handling of the refugee crisis, the Conservative Party was no doubt frustrated to have to respond to yet another scandal on the immigration file.

Their frustration must have been compounded earlier this week when the refugee issue returned to the forefront of campaign coverage on the strength of a Globe and Mail article detailing interference by the Prime Minister’s Office into the refugee application process: 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

Ten thousand refugees? Twenty-five thousand? Why not half a million?

As the leaders of the major parties jostled this past week over the massive refugee crisis facing the world, each trying to spin things for his respective electoral advantage, there was a lot of bandying about of numbers.

Prime Minster Harper [sic] stood firmly by his plan to resettle ten thousand Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the next three years (but mostly ones who face religious persecution – a dog-whistle to his base that he’s gonna do his best to keep out teh Muslims), while continuing – nonsensically – to insist that the true solution to this crisis lies in dropping more bombs on Syria and Iraq for an indefinite amount of time.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, on the other hand, wants to accelerate the timetable for resettling refugees, offering to work with the government to bring in ten thousand by the end of this year, presumably with more to come in subsequent years.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, not wanting to be outdone, vowed to bring in twenty-five thousand refugees, although as far as I can tell, he hasn’t been willing to put a date to that figure. This year? Within four years? We just don’t know.

The common thread to all of these proposals is their timidity and sheer lack of imagination. 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

Solidarity Saturday: DIYism and refugees – because we can’t wait for governments to come around

In the aftermath of the international outrage over the drowning of three members of the Kurdi family, along with hundreds of fellow refugees seeking safety and an end to their own personal wars, a metric tonne of ink has been spilled on the question of whether our government is doing enough to address the massive international refugee crisis, particularly with respect to Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

While Prime Minister Harper insists that not only are we doing a lot for refugees, we’re punching way above our weight, so to speak, the facts indicate otherwise, pretty incontrovertibly. The NDP has called for Canada to accept ten thousand Syrian refugees by the end of this year, and Justin Trudeau, not wanting to be outdone ever, promptly piped up to pledge that a Liberal government would bring in 25 000.

Responses from governments across the West vary widely, from Hungary’s neo-Nazi Gestapo tactics to Germany’s (relative) generosity – Germany projects it will receive at least 800 000 asylum seekers this year alone. Germany’s position is, however, tainted by the EU’s response as a whole. When public concern over the refugee crisis flared up earlier this year in the aftermath of another boat sinking in the Mediterranean, this one carrying over 700 people, the EU’s official response, after a hurried conference of prime ministers and presidents, was to declare war on migrant boats:

The European Union is planning to take military action against refugee transport networks in the Mediterranean, according to leaked documents published by Wikileaks Monday.

“The documents lay out a military operation against cross-Mediterranean refugee transport networks and infrastructure,” Wikileaks said in a statement.

“It details plans to conduct military operations to destroy boats used for transporting migrants and refugees in Libyan territory, thereby preventing them from reaching Europe,” the whistle-blower website summarized.

In other words, the EU didn’t want to have to deal with ongoing controversies about their heartlessness towards refugees in the aftermath of repeated boat sinkings which were killing hundreds – so they figured they’d solve the problem by taking out the boats and avoiding the headlines altogether.

To say that this approach is lacking in compassion is a massive understatement. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Why “More War!” isn’t the solution to the refugee crisis

It’s a terrible sight to be sure – the image of a drowned toddler washed up face-down on a beach, something none of us ever wanted to see but which still, compellingly, must be seen, demands to be seen, and cannot be unseen.

Just last week, I found myself irate upon reading about the plight of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon, who was photographed selling pens on the street while his daughter slept on his shoulder. The photo was shared on Twitter by an Icelandic tourist, and within days, over $100 000 had been crowdsourced for the man, a single father of two who hoped to someday make it to Europe.

I was irate because, while surely this man and his children were deserving of compassion, the difference between his case and that of the other four million plus Syrian refugees is pretty much non-existent, whereas the difference in international reaction couldn’t be more stark. Whereas for years the vast majority of refugees have been demonized, their motives intensely scrutinized, their access to healthcare cut off, and their ability to find safe haven in the West heavily restricted, this one photogenic man was, for whatever reason, able to inspire sympathy in the hearts of the Twitterverse. Though I don’t for a second begrudge him and his family the help that they’ve received, I wondered to myself when we would be able to look at all refugees with this kind of compassion and generosity. If he deserved it – and surely he did! – then why didn’t all the others deserve it as well?

And then the tragedy of the Kurdi family blazed its ways into our news feeds and our headlines and, most irrevocably, our brains, our memories. Lord knows why this particular drowning was the one that went mainstream – because there have been a lot of drownings, that’s for sure, over 1800 in the first half of 2015 alone. But for whatever fickle reason of the news cycle, we’re talking about the refugee crisis now, and so now is the time to push the issue. So I’m going to devote all my posts for the next five days to the international refugee crisis.

Today being Fallacy Friday, I’d like to focus in particular on our Prime Minister’s reaction to the outrage over the drowning of Alan Kurdi, his brother Ghalib, and his mother Rehan.

There’s been a lot of politicking around this issue since the story broke a few days ago, and I’d like to deal with that all in detail in Sunday’s round-up of this week’s election news. For now, though, I want to take a close look at one particular thing that Stephen Harper has been saying repeatedly ever since his sycophantic yes-men went underground to ride out the media frenzy: that a key way Canada can help refugees is by continuing its war against the Islamic State.

For a typical example of that, here’s a four-and-a-half minute video from Harper’s daily news conference earlier today. The first two minutes consist of him distorting his government’s record on refugees, but the latter half of the clip is all about ISIS: Continue Reading

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