Je Suis Tout

Standard

The world is once again reeling form a series of terrorist attacks: Ivory Coast, Turkey (both Ankara and Istanbul) and now Brussels. That doesn’t even count the numerous slaughters carried out in the half dozen countries that bear the brunt of these atrocities – Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq – which John Kerry, in typical American hyperbole, has called genocide.

Some have noted that the attacks in Europe generate headlines in North America while attacks elsewhere are barely covered. I guess it depends on which news sources you rely on. I don’t seek these things out but I certainly see them on the front pages of the papers I read and on the radio stations I listen to. I don’t regularly watch TV news so I can’t speak to that. Whether you see it in social media, I think, probably is a reflection of who is in your circle of contacts.

To the extent that we do focus more on Europe, there is undoubtedly a lot of factors at play. Racism may be involved: it has long been noted that the news seems to consider one American (or Canadian) death to be twenty times as important as the death of a foreigner. Anytime there is a plane crash, they always lead with the number of local citizens who died. This may be more a case of nativism – I expect in China, they report Chinese deaths ahead of anyone else.

It may be that we focus on Europe both because they are more like us – mostly, though hardly exclusively, white with shared cultures and languages – but also because they are close to us physically. Lots of North Americans have been to Europe; lots of us have friends and family there. You can’t say the same for Africa, the Middle East or even South America – though obviously it’s true for those of our citizens whose families came from there. I suspect – though I never want to find out – that a terrorist attack in Mexico would generate massive news coverage in the United States.

And another factor is surveillance. Europe and, to a lesser extent, North America, is rife with CTV cameras. They are everywhere and watching everything. Whether they actually are effective in stopping crime is an open question, but they are excellent at reporting it. So much of the footage on the Brussels attacks came from those cameras or from the ubiquitous cell phone cameras that almost everyone in the west now has available. And it is not simply the availability of those cameras; it is the ease with which we can upload those images and videos to hundreds of web-sites. In other countries – where governments actually block such uploads and others have limited connectivity – those images are not available.

No images, no panicked faces, no ready access to tears equals diminished coverage. As they say: if it bleeds, it leads. When we do get coverage of attacks elsewhere, the predominant image is of bleeding bodies.

There is a certain irony I suppose. Our fear leads to surveillance; our freedom leads to the ready dispersal of news – both contribute to the impression that we only care about our own. And maybe that impression is true but even if it is not, it is hurtful. So, for today, I will try to think of all the people, on all sides of every conflict, who have been and will be innocent victims of senseless war.

#jesuistout.

And that’s ten minutes.

Advertisements

Home Grown Terrorism

Standard

It is increasingly certain that  nearly all of the people involved in the Paris attacks were citizens of France or Belgium; only one may have entered as refugee — though he didn’t come from the refugee camps but directly from Syria through Greece. Or maybe not at all. There is logic to that. It is far easier to recruit disaffected young men and women in Europe or Canada or America than it is to plant them in camps in Turkey and Lebanon in the vague hope that they will somehow make their way into another country – while still retaining the indoctrination they received.

In fact home grown terrorism is and always has been the greatest threat to the safety of western citizens. Those who want to deny entrance to Syrian refugees are the same ones who refuse to do the hard work of preventing radicalization at home. They don’t want to practice ‘sociology’ when that is exactly what is needed.

To some extent of course they are willing to accuse Muslim citizens of harbouring potentially dangerous thoughts; they support greater surveillance of Islamic communities, as well as arbitrary arrest.

But at the same time they ignore the larger world around them. The majority of home-grown terrorists in the west have never been Muslim; they have been white men with a grudge against society. We could go back to Patty Hearst, millionaire heiress, kidnapped, indoctrinated and turned into a bank robber by the SLA or Tim McVeigh or David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, or all those men’s rights guys who gun down women who won’t have sex with them. Some of these homegrown terrorists act alone like Anders Breivik in Norway, who claimed to be a Christian defending his country from immigrants. Others cling to anarchist ideas – but act in groups – like the shooters at Columbine. Then there were the four Canadians from Halifax who planned to carry out a mass shooting, inspired by neo-Nazi and white supremacist philosophies.

I could go on but those who are open to these arguments already know the countless examples I could list; those who won’t be persuaded will refuse to acknowledge white terrorists – dismissing them as criminals or crazies. Which, of course, they all are. Just as crazy and criminal as those Daesh recruits in Europe. The same crazies and criminals that refugees are running away from.

But why stop there? Weren’t the people who firebombed a mosque in Peterborough terrorists? What about the thugs who attacked a Muslim woman trying to pick up her children from school. She and her children were born in Canada – but what about their attackers? Maybe they slipped over the border from Wisconsin.

Home grown terrorism. Here’s a question for you. If you’ve recently called for a halt to the refugee program in order to advance your political career (I’m looking at you Wall. You, too, Kenny) or merely expressed a fear of the ‘barbaric cultural practices’ of your neighbours and co-workers, ask yourself this: Do I know where my children were last night?

Because if you don’t, maybe they were out putting your words into action.

In the meantime, the rest of us have to figure out a better way to fight violence than with more violence and to stop reacting to terrorism by being terrorized.

And that’s ten minutes.

Paris, je t’aime

Standard

I have no desire to write about Paris but I have a need. Yesterday, I had something else in mind for today’s 10 minutes but it has all been swept aside by the tragic attack on the City of Lights.

I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting Paris four times in the last few years. I’ve travelled all over the twenty arrondissements and even out to the surrounding banlieus where most working people and immigrants live. The old city is remarkable but even the suburbs have a joie de vivre and sense of history.

Paris is a city designed to be free and open but now it will be shuttered and filled with troops and police. But that won’t last. Paris will reassert her character.

There is no real explanation for these attacks. Nothing will be changed by them, not really. Has New York fundamentally changed in the wake of 9/11? Not that I can see. Has London been transformed by the subway attacks? Did Boston become not Boston after the bombings at the marathon?

There is resilience to freedom that is not easily broken by those who do not understand it, who reject it. ISIL or whatever it is they call themselves this week or next month will never change the West; they will only antagonize it.

After all, ISIL can do no worse to western countries then they have done to themselves. Does anyone think that what happened yesterday was worse than the London Blitz?

I suppose it is easy enough, here in Ottawa, to say Keep Calm and Carry On, but really what else can one say? It will certainly do no good to turn our nation into a police state, to point accusing fingers at innocents, to round up the usual suspects. Okay, we may have to round up some usual and unusual suspects – the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. But we must not let vigilance cost us our freedoms. Otherwise what is it for?

There are those – even in the West – who will argue that we should expect such attacks. They will say that it is the price we pay for interfering in the business of the Middle East, the price we pay for oil. They are, I suppose, half right. The West has to take some culpability for what is happening – we haven’t been blameless and we haven’t always picked our friends wisely. Innocents have died in our attacks.

But never as targets. That takes a special kind of madness.

And we have a duty – set out in international law – to protect the innocent, to intervene when atrocities are done in the name of whatever. Our failure to do that duty led to the genocide in Rwanda. Monstrous behavior cannot go unchecked forever.

I wish I knew the answers. But mostly I am too sad to even think. Paris has been wounded but not slain. The work of cowards will continue; six months or a year from now, there will be another attack. Helpless citizens will die because these so-called warriors lack the courage or the ability to attack targets that are prepared for them. And they will cheer themselves on with cries of victory over the west.

But we will carry on. Because brotherhood, freedom and equality will shine through the dark.

Paris, je t’aime.

And that’s ten minutes.

Anniversary

Standard

It was one year ago today that I witnessed the shooting of Nathan Cirillo at the War Memorial in Ottawa. A lot has happened in the world and in Canada since that day. While I never thought the shooter was more than a mentally ill man with a gun who had used some ill-formed ideas of jihad – borrowed from the Internet and out of the depths of his own mind – to justify his actions to himself, his actions did spur a national examination around security and our collective attitudes towards our Muslim neighbours. A lot of it was hysterical; some of it was hateful.

For me, it took some months to fully regain my equilibrium. While I was committed not to let the event fundamentally change me – and it didn’t – there can be no doubt that it had its impact. I found returning to the Hill every day difficult but after a bit of time off and a lot of careful self-reflection, I honestly believe I have come through the other side both stronger and more committed to the causes of peace, order and good government. I was, I suppose, tempered by the experience.

There are ceremonies to mark Corporal Cirillo’s death going on in Ottawa today but I’m not there; I’m in Istanbul. This was a trip that we booked nearly nine months ago. In the interim the situation in Syria has deteriorated and, in Turkey itself, there has been considerable unrest – largely unrelated to events south of the Turkish border – and several terrorist attacks. A mere two weeks ago, a double bomb blast killed ninety people in Ankara. That’s a long way from Istanbul but in today’s world, is anywhere a long way from anywhere else?

I admit that these incidents created a certain amount of stress. My wife questioned whether we should go at all and, while I remained stoic, I certainly had my qualms. The anticipation that I normally feel for international travel was blunted.

Now that I’m here, of course, I could be anywhere. Istanbul is a beautiful and fascinating place and the people are like people everywhere – busy with their day to day lives and concerns. Everyone is friendly – even if the carpet sellers can be a bit aggressive – and most people seem to be enjoying their lives as best they can. Fear is no more in the air than it is everywhere. Unexposed to the daily media, I hardly sense it at all.

The recent Canadian election has been a cathartic experience for me and, I think, for many Canadians. While it was not a complete rejection of the security agenda of the Conservatives (that would have required an NDP majority) one immediately senses a pullback from the hysterical over-reaction of the previous government. The politics of division and fear seem to have been replaced with that of optimism and a determination to balance our freedoms with legitimate security concerns. The withdrawal of Canadian planes from the bombing raids in Syria was a good step; the significant revisions to Bill C-51 and to other Conservative legislation should remain a priority of the new government.

The world is a complex place and the idea that you can prepare for anything by hiding away from its complexity in a bunker may seem attractive but is ultimately futile. As a middle power, Canada has in the past played a useful role in brokering peace. Let’s hope we can do so again.

And that’s ten minutes.

Root Causes

Standard

A week tomorrow I’m heading for Turkey for a long anticipated vacation. So, you can imagine I wasn’t happy to hear that nearly 90 people were killed when bombs went off at a peace rally in Ankara. The fact I’m not going anywhere near the capital is hardly a consolation.

Still, I know that if I die in Turkey it is more likely because my hot air balloon crashed or I had a heart attack from too much Turkish Delight and too many flights of stairs. Neither is likely but both are more likely than being killed by a terrorist (if terrorists it was) even in a country with growing unrest.

So – unless my wife gets too nervous – I plan to go ahead with my visit. It is a beautiful country with a fascinating culture and, by all accounts, a very friendly populace. I won’t wander into any political demonstrations – it is not my business to do so – but other than that I will go about my business. I’ll be wary but I always am when visiting a place I don’t know. The best way to get mugged is to look like you don’t belong so I’ll try to look confidant and like an old hand.

The upsetting thing – apart for the sorrow I feel for those who were killed today – is that Turkey has long been a stalwart of secular democratic institutions. It is a multi-party system that was a democracy when other countries in the region, when other countries in Europe, were not. Now, it seems to have changed, though my Turkish friends say it is not quite changed as much as the western press seems to believe.

I have my suspicions as to what happened. The current president and former Prime Minister is a charismatic leader who wishes to break down the secular nature of the state and bring a greater influence of religion into government. He was recently rebuffed in elections but instead of cooperating with other parties, chose to call another election to try and get his way. Let’s hope he is rebuffed once again. The fact he is playing the fear card is eerily familiar to the Canadian election but as we see the consequences are greater.

This is not an attack on Islam; it is an attack on any inclusion of religion in the operation of government. I’m as concerned about the Republican desire to make America into a so-called “Christian” nation as I am with Turkey – or for that matter, parts of India where religious based parties dominate state governments.

Religion is a private matter even when conducted in public. Although I am an atheist and view church as a tremendous waste of time, energy and resources, if it works for you, feel free to practice it in the way you see fit. But keep it out of government. It always leads to chaos, discrimination and, yes, violence.

The greatest thing that may have happened in the evolution of British democracy was making the church explicitly subservient to the state. Religion is all well and good but it is always about dividing the believers from the non-believers. Only the state has room for everyone. Only the state can promote freedom and equality. As Canadians say: only good government brings peace and order.

And that’s ten minutes.

Arab Fall

Standard

Today I woke up to reports of gunfire near a popular tourist site in Istanbul (which I plan to visit in October) and more ancient artifacts destroyed by ISIL in Syria. A recent attack in Tunisia killed dozens and threats of violence keep the Middle East in a constant state of tension.

The Arab Spring of a mere four years ago appears to have turned to Arab Fall. Libya has exchanged the oppressive regime of Kaddafi with internecine warfare and economic collapse while Egypt has exchanged one dictator for another. Only in Tunisia has the new democratic government held on despite regular attacks from fundamentalists who wish to bring it down.

Syria of course never got past the first days of its Spring uprising. There, it soon became clear that those who would overthrow Assad were a mixed lot at best; some were undoubtedly progressive, some were worse than the regime they wanted to replace. ISIL, which may have got its start in Iraq, has rapidly expanded into much of Syria and has forced the west into an awkward position. Is the enemy of my enemy my friend? It is not apparently so.

Many felt that the initial movement was truly democratic and modern. It was, so the media told us, fuelled by the dissent of the young and the educated using the most modern of technology – cell phones and social media. But some have suggested that the leaders of the movement were CIA trained while others have argued that those behind the uprisings were motivated by Al Qaeda and while they may have used the tools of the West, they were decidedly against its purported values.

Western governments frankly don’t know how to react and so are reacting in a multitude of conflicting ways. They can’t even seem to agree on whom, if anyone, is to blame for the current crisis. Does it go back to the original colonial adventure that divided up this oil rich region after World War I – when British, French and to a lesser extent American interests split the area up into zones of interest? Much of what has happened since may be laid at the feet of various oil companies and their agents (witting or unwitting) in the foreign services of a dozen countries. Throw in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and various proxy wars between the USA and the USSR and it’s a wonder it is not worse.

The road ahead is not clear but it seems likely that the only solution lies not in the hands of western armies or interventions. The solutions to the Middle East lie in the hands of the people who live there. But finding those solutions will require strong principled governments on the ground. The recent nuclear deal with Iran – despite its critics – may help stabilize one of the key players and make it more inclined to influence its neighbours in a positive way. Now, if something can be done with the Saudis and an acceptable resolution found in Syria, it may be possible to address the root causes of violence: poverty, inequality, authoritarianism, the denial of rights and sectarian hatred.

But that’s ten minutes.

Beheading

Standard

The Queen of Hearts had a pretty simple solution to whatever was troubling her. “Off with her head!” would reverberate across Wonderland and the ax-men would stagger forward to do their duty. Fortunately the Queen was easily distracted and her terrible sentences were seldom if ever carried out. The determined beheaders of the Middle East are not so easily swayed.

They routinely drag out their prisoners to a public square and behead them while broadcasting the death on video. The numbers are on the rise with more executions planned every month.

I’m not talking about our terrorist enemy, ISIL. I’m talking about our terrorist friends, Saudi Arabia. They recently advertised for eight new executioners to keep up with the demand of the Royal Family and the state that springs, quite literally, from their loins. They don’t simply behead murderers or those convicted of treason. The list of victims is long and includes crimes — like apostasy — that have long been removed from criminal codes in western countries. The executioners also cut off the hands of thieves.

The Saudis are, of course, our closest allies in the Middle East — after Israel of course — as can be readily seen by the recent massive sale of arms by Canada to their government. Of course, our support pales beside that of the US government who have long been hand in hand — again quite literally — with the Saudi regime.

The reasons are quite clear. The Saudis have oil and, more importantly, represent one of the most stable countries in the region; they are the bulwark of pan-Arab movements, such that they exist and provide air bases for all sorts of American incursions into less friendly countries. This is the old ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ idea and there is no doubt that the Saudis qualify as friends on that basis as they dislike both the secular government of Syria and the religious fanatics of ISIL. (Their complex relationship with Israel is another matter) However, the Saudis have their own radicals in their midst. Osama Bin Laden and many other Al Qaeda leaders were of Saudi origin, the disaffected younger sons of third or fourth wives — provided with money and a kind of education but no reason to embrace the west or even the ruling Royal family.

We all know where that goes. But the Saudis are compliant and don’t create problems for the Western alliance — or at least so we are told. Recently they have even begun to use their substantial military to fight against… people in Yemen who may or may not be radicals but who do oppose Saudi interference in their affairs. Meanwhile, they seem to be half-hearted in opposing more immediate threats, counting on America and its allies to provide air support to seriously out-gunned and out-trained Iraqi and Kurdish militias.

The conflicts in the Middle East are largely due to the aftermath of 19th century colonialism and western interventions in the aftermath of World War I. The solutions don’t lie in western hands — but can the Saudis really be relied on to be the architects of a lasting solution?

After all, they can’t cut everyone’s head off.

But that’s ten minutes.