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Thursday, 20 July 2017 08:27

Suffer the Children of Islamic State

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

If there is one searing image of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe it is that of the orphanages of Romania. The regime of President Nicolae Ceausescu outlawed both contraception and abortion.  As a consequence, thousands of women left babies that were either unwanted or those that they could not care for at state institutions.  These institutions were understaffed and underfunded. 

When the wall fell  (Ceausescu and his wife were executed on Christmas Day 1989) the world got a look at these orphanages and what it saw was beyond shocking.  Children were often tied to cribs, rocking back and forth in repetitive ways that spoke of a lack of human contact.  Food was insufficient and the care devoted to life’s most vulnerable was largely absent.  A global effort to help these kids ensued and while some undoubtedly ended up okay, thanks probably to the amazing resilience of the human body and mind, many did not and never recovered from their tragic start in life.

We are now faced with a similar situation in Iraq and Syria now that the parody of a state that called itself one – Islamic State – is sinking fast.  Thousands of ‘fighters’ have died at the hands of airstrikes, in battle and in the flames of suicide attacks.  Tens of thousands of civilians in cities like Mosul, taken by IS and ruled with an iron fist, have also died.  And then there are the children.

One of the most striking aspects of the social Frankenstein that was IS was their effort to create an actual self-sustaining society.Unlike other jihads (Somalia, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya…), IS went out of its way to create an image of a normal, functioning state.  Men were encouraged to leave their homes in the West and elsewhere to take up arms to ‘defend Islam’.  Women were encouraged to come and marry those men and help create future generations of IS ‘Islamic Utopia’.  Out of that arrangement came children, naturally, including young boys IS called the ‘lion cubs of the Caliphate’ (the men were the ‘lions’). 

Some of these children were urged (coerced?) to take part in truly heinous acts of violence such as executions and many more were present at public beheadings.  There was even one case of an Australian jihadi who posted a picture of his son, who appears to be between 8 - 10, holding a severed head.  Truly disturbing.

To me all of this is a no-brainer.  These children deserve our help.

Now that IS is all but defeated as a functioning group, what do we do with these children?  We know that war is hell in all cases and that children suffer disproportionately when exposed to death and brutality.  In some cases kids in Iraq were kidnapped by IS and either raped or forced to do terrible things. 

There is already one case of a Yazidi mom in Winnipeg who has learned that her 12-year old son is still alive: she wants him back with her.

To me all of this is a no-brainer. These children deserve our help. Professionals with seasoned experience in dealing with the trauma of war need to be found and persuaded to assist in this regard.  It won’t be easy: just as in the case of Romania, some children will be scarred for life.

We can both hate the barbarity that is IS and feel for the children that are its product. These young people are not at fault and we should do whatever we can to provide them with the best chances to achieve a normal life.  If anything positive can come out of the enormous tragedy that was Islamic State maybe this is it. 

Phil Gurski worked in the Canadian intelligence community for more than 30 years.  His latest book, The Lesser Jihads, will be published on September 15.

Commentary By: Omer Aziz in Toronto 

News that Omar Khadr would receive an official apology from the Canadian government along with a $10.5 million settlement of his civil suit elicited the predictable outcry from the Canadian media. Journalists and commentators questioned the wisdom of the decision and the amount of the settlement, and the narrative that has now taken form is of a convicted terrorist winning a taxpayer-funded lottery at the behest of a naïve prime minister.

The press has not simply questioned the wisdom of the apology and settlement—it has ignored or obscured the relevant facts that made an apology and settlement necessary in the first place. Opinion writers and pundits seem entirely uninterested in what, exactly, Khadr endured during his detention at Guantanamo Bay, and who he became afterwards.

Omar Khadr was fifteen years old in July 2002 when he allegedly threw a grenade at U.S. soldiers, killing Sgt. Christopher Speer. I say “allegedly threw” because the precise facts of what took place that day in the firefight have never been conclusively established: From 2002 to 2008, the official U.S. government story was that Khadr was the sole survivor in the compound after it had been bombarded and shot at—by inference, only Khadr could have thrown the grenade. In 2008, however, a report from the only witness to the firefight was inadvertently released to reporters. In it, the witness claimed that there were two men in the compound. The official government theory was weakened further when it was revealed that Lt. Col. Randy Watt, who had led the American battalion, wrote a report after the firefight describing how the grenade-thrower had been killed in battle. The report was later “updated” to state that the grenade-thrower was shot, not killed.

In normal circumstances, the factual inaccuracies would have been resolved at trial, except that the military commissions under which Khadr was tried were ridden with procedural and prosecutorial errors and deceptions. Khadr was interrogated without his lawyers present, and in the initial phase of the tribunal, could not even see the evidence against him. This was by design. The Bush administration had deliberately created a legal black hole: They argued that prisoners could be held in Guantanamo indefinitely, without charges, without the right to contest their detention, without even the right to know why they were there. The United States Supreme Court eventually found the first military commissions of the Bush administration to be in violation of the Geneva Conventions. As Muneer Ahmad, Omar Khadr’s first lawyer and now a professor at Yale Law School, wrote in 2008:

“The [U.S] government had sought to remove Omar and the other prisoners from the ambit of law, and in doing so, from the world. They chose Guantanamo because it was remote, then cloaked it in darkness, refusing to disclose the names or identities of those there, refusing access to the outside world. Legal erasure enabled physical erasure.”

Of the 780 detainees held in Guantanamo since 2001, 731 were  eventually released without charges—often after a decade of incarceration.

The Canadian press has forgotten all of this, or perhaps they remember it but do not think it relevant. What about torture? At fifteen, Khadr was taken to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where a bag was placed over his head. He was ordered to stand for hours. Dogs leapt at his chest.

At Guantanamo, and still a teenager, Khadr urinated on himself. The guards poured pine oil on him and dragged the shackled boy through his own piss, using him as a human mop. Khadr was sixteen when Canadian security officials interviewed him at Guantanamo, and then illegally turned over the intelligence to the Pentagon. “Promise me you’ll protect me from the Americans,” the boy said to the representatives of his government. And then he showed them his scars. He cried for his mother. He was beaten, choked, deprived of light, deprived of sleep, forced into harmful stress positions. Guantanamo guards threatened to deport him to Arab countries like Syria where, they claimed, he would be raped by other men. All of this was done to a Canadian teenager, with the Canadian government’s full support.

Under duress, Khadr eventually pled guilty. He agreed to the facts as presented by the Military Commission because he and his lawyers concluded that fighting an unjust system without due process or adequate protections for the accused was an unwinnable battle. Khadr can therefore be called a “convicted terrorist,” but not asking how that “conviction” came about is irresponsible at best, unethical at worst.

So this was the context of the $10.5 million settlement: A child soldier who allegedly threw a grenade at U.S. forces (or didn’t), who was held for thirteen years in an offshore detention center, who was repeatedly abused and tortured with his government’s assistance, whose Charter rights were violated, whose entire youth was spent in chains. Khadr asked for an apology and restitution. He has been treated as though none of this happened, as though he was just a spoiled child who should feel lucky he’s still not in gitmo. The press seems to think that reparations for Khadr’s maltreatment are a bonus that he does not deserve. But this is not about bonuses or windfalls. It is about this country’s past sins, and the moral necessity of acknowledging and atoning for those sins. That’s what enlightened, self-professed democracies do.

The saga of Omar Khadr, however, has never been about law or even policy. It’s been about how we see the crimes of people who do not look like us, and are therefore treated as conditional citizens. Radio host Charles Adler said Khadr was “technically a Canadian”—as if citizenship was subject to technical whims. Margaret Wente opined that “If there is a victim here, people feel, it’s not Mr. Khadr.” John Ivison wrote that “Khadr’s reputation is now tinged with the grubbiness of what many will consider unjust gain.” Who are the “people” and the “many” that Wente and Ivison are ventriloquizing here? They are the Canadian public, who along with the press, do not yet have the moral imagination to countenance that maybe—just maybe—Khadr was also a victim here.

A basic empathy gap has always existed between Canada and Khadr. The minute the label “terrorist” is slapped onto someone—regardless of their age, their circumstances, or even the facts—we begin thinking with the blood. We rush to violate our most sacred principles at the first whiff of anger. Our memories of others’ crimes are always long and detailed, while our own faults are extinguished with the legitimizing elixir of moral superiority. It might feel good to denounce Omar Khadr. It might be cathartic to condemn him as a confessed terrorist. But the rights of citizenship are not abrogated because a citizen has committed a crime. They are not abrogated because the government thinks you have no place in society. Those rights exist to protect all of us, especially the vulnerable.

Omar Khadr spent much of his youth being abused in an unlawful penal colony. He could have come out of this harrowing experience a bitter and spiteful man, hateful of the country who supported his torturers, and vindictive towards the citizens who applauded that decision. Instead, Khadr has conducted himself with the utmost dignity. “My past,” he recently said, “I’m not excusing it. I’m not denying it. We all do things we wish we could change. All I can do right now is focus on the present and do my best to become a productive member of society, a good person, a good human being . . . I want to finish my nursing program. I want to work as a nurse somewhere it’s needed. I want to be able to use my languages and my ability as a nurse to relieve people from pain.” 

After everything that’s happened to him, Khadr is prepared to accept the ills of his past. Perhaps Canada might do the same for its own recent history. 

Republished in partnership with The Walrus.

Monday, 17 July 2017 23:15

We Need more Pride as Canadians

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Commentary by: Mike Stackhouse in Yorkton, Saskatchewan

Celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday should be cause for celebration, but every single media article that cropped up on my social media feed last week had something to do with how racist we are, how intolerant we are, and how much more we need to improve in order to be a welcoming country that we can be proud of. You know, by the time I was done reading all the articles I had to ask myself, “Why do immigrants even want to come to such a shameful, disgusting country like Canada?” I think we can all say we don’t like associating with people who, needlessly, put themselves down. Well, that’s what we do as a collective group in Canada. It seems that if you are of European descent, you need to feel shame and embarrassment to be Canadian and your citizenship is less valuable than someone else’s. 

Not to my surprise, even Justin Trudeau got in on the act. In an interview, he said he wished he was an immigrant because people who have lived here since birth don’t appreciate being Canadian. So, add unpatriotic to the list of bad things about Canadian people. What I’d like to have happen for Trudeau is that we should fly him first class to Syria and then drop him in the middle of a war torn city and wish him all the best as he begins his journey to Canada. I’m betting within his first day, he will take back that desire to be an immigrant. 

Trudeau also delivered a passionate speech on Canada Day, where he rattled off all the names of the provinces and territories. The only problem is that he forgot Alberta. It’s an honest mistake, Trudeau apologists have been telling me all week. I get it. I mean we have 10 provinces and 3 territories. How can anyone, let alone a Prime Minister, be expected to recall them all? It’s tough! You try it! I bet you forget Ontario. 

On America’s birthday, the Canadian government felt that would be the right time to announce they would be giving Omar Khadr $10.5 million as compensation for… well… Depends on your opinion on this whole matter. I feel they are using some legalese to allow Khadr to profit from crime, which is illegal, actually. But the bleeding hearts will tell you he was tortured as a teenager, his rights were violated, and we should pay him an obscene amount of money to make it better. I don’t think he’s owed a penny for killing a decorated US soldier. Khadr was 15. I have a 15 year old son. He doesn’t need me to teach him anything with regards to knowing whether or not killing another human being is a good or bad thing. We are so stupid in this country. I just find it incredible that we have native communities with no drinking water and we can’t afford to rectify that situation, yet we can just write a cheque for $10.5 million to Khadr and put it in his hands instantly. I’d like to know how we arrived at $10.5 million as opposed to $1 million. Or $100 000. Or $1. This doesn’t pass the sniff test to me at all. Canada is so far in debt we will never see the light at the end of the tunnel in any of our lifetimes. So, ‘sorry’ and ‘hey, we’d give you $10 million if we had the dough, but we don’t; have a nice life’ would work for me. 

Now for the real rub on this. There is a hearing in Ontario on Wednesday to see if the American soldiers’ families involved in the Khadr incident can go after his Canadian money. Why was the government in a hurry to get this deal finished and completed before Wednesday? Khadr owes the American families $134 million, so he really should turn over all $10.5 million to them. Yet, it appears to me that there has been some corrupt legal work done behind the scenes where the Canadian government has done Khadr a favor so that, just in case he loses Wednesday’s hearing, the $10.5 million can’t be touched by the Americans because it was given to Khadr before the hearing and any money he gets before that hearing would be off limits. Sneaky. Dirty. Wrong. And, if Khadr has turned into a ‘good guy’ why isn’t he, voluntarily, giving some (or all) of this payment to the Americans who it has been determined he owes? 

This is as underhanded as it gets. Forget the whole ‘giving millions to a terrorist’ argument. There are left wing whackos out there who will say he wasn’t a terrorist at all, but rather a ‘child soldier’ who was clueless as to what he was doing. I’m just not that gullible. I also feel that when it comes to war, there are no rules. So if you want to waterboard or deprive sleep to a 15 year old terrorist in order to get crucial information, you do it. I recognize a lot of you won’t share that opinion and that’s fine. But forget all this. The seedy method of rushing this before Wednesday’s hearing can’t be argued by anyone. It’s Canada siding with Khadr and against the United States and our feelings on that decision need to be made clear when we vote in 2019.

Republished with permission.

Saturday, 08 July 2017 00:36

Canada Should not be Compensating Khadr

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Well, the inevitable has happened. We all knew it was coming. Canada’s most famous ‘child soldier’, Omar Khadr, is about to receive an apology and a compensation package from the Canadian government – i.e. the Canadian tax payer – ” for abuses he suffered while detained in the U.S. military prison for captured and suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”

Cue the outrage.

There is so much to say on this case, far more than is reasonable to expect in a blog post, but I will try to distil what I think is important. Firstly and by far most importantly, Omar Khadr was captured on a battlefield while fighting, and trying very hard to kill, Allied forces in Afghanistan while in the employ of a recognised terrorist group.  Full stop. He was fighting with a terrorist group that wants nothing more to re-impose its hateful, intolerant, pre-Medieval aberration of Islam on fellow Afghans and kill a lot of people in the process. Ergo, he was a terrorist.

We cannot continue to offer knee-jerked apologies to everyone who ‘palled around’ with terrorists or engaged in terrorist activity and then suffered as a result.

We can argue forever whether Mr. Khadr was a willing member of the Taliban or coerced into joining by his deceased father’s warped sense of Islam. He may very well have had no choice, having been raised in a family sympathetic to Al Qaeda – by the way, Al Qaeda is another recognised terrorist group. But to call him a child soldier is an insult to all the real child soldiers who are ripped from the bosom of their families (and in many cases forced to kill or witness the slaughter of their parents and siblings)  in conflicts around the world. No, Omar Khadr was not a child soldier: he was a (perhaps unwilling?) member of at least one group that the Canadian government has listed as a terrorist organisation.

Secondly, did Canada or Canadians send Mr. Khadr to Guantanamo?  No, we did not, the Americans did. If anyone is to pay compensation, and I am not saying that such is warranted, it is Uncle Sam not taxpayers from Moose Jaw. We did not run Guantanamo, we did not subject Mr. Khadr to whatever treatment he suffered.  We owe him nothing to ‘make up’ for what happened to him.

Thirdly, did Canadian officials (read: CSIS) act improperly when they were invited to question Mr. Khadr in Guantanamo?  No, they did not.  They were doing the very job we ask them to do, investigate terrorist threats to this country and keep us safe. Mr.Khadr was the son of a man well known to our spies for his terrorist links.  He may have been privy to information about others he met in Afghanistan who could have posed a threat to all of us back here in Canada. CSIS would have been remiss, and professionally negligent in my view, if they had not run down every possible intelligence lead and elected not to talk to Mr. Khadr, even if it meant going to Cuba.

I have written it before and I will repeat it here.  I do not know if Mr. Khadr is a reformed man.  I do not know if he regrets what he did, the ideology he subscribed to, or the associations he made.  Only he knows that. I do wish him well on his continued journey to ‘normalcy’ but Canada did not make Mr. Khadr a terrorist.  He did that himself, with the help of his family.  That, in the end, is something we must not forget.

The payment of compensation to Canadians who claim to have suffered ill treatment at the hands of other nations at our behest has become a mini-industry. We are doling out millions to people for reasons that are not always clear, at least not to me. This has to stop. We cannot continue to offer knee-jerked apologies to everyone who ‘palled around’ with terrorists or engaged in terrorist activity and then suffered as a result.  And we should not offer money to those who were mistreated by other nations: those responsible for the ill-treatment should pay.

I am not a slippery slope argument fan but I do fear that if we don’t nip this trend in the bud we will see many more cases along these lines. What is next: someone sues CSIS because of a routine interview after which they felt ‘stressed’? Do we want CSIS to do its job or not?

I repeat, this merry-go round of apologies and money has to stop.

Phil Gurski spent more than 30 years in the Canadian intelligence community.  His latest book "The Lesser Jihads" is available for pre-order on Amazon. 

Thursday, 06 July 2017 09:42

Let’s Shout these Far-right Losers Down

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Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

As I have stated on many occasions, the threat to Canada from Islamist extremist groups represents by far the single greatest priority for our security services – CSIS, the RCMP and provincial and municipal police forces. 

We have seen around a dozen plots, both foiled and successful, since 9/11, the most recent one being the attack at a Canadian Tire in Scarborough on June 3.  Thankfully, even in the cases where people subscribing to hateful and loathsome interpretations of Islam were able to set in motion their terrorist intent, few have died. 

To date, only Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (October 20, 2014) and Warrant Officer Nathan Cirillo (October 22, 2014) – RIP gentlemen – have lost their lives in terrorist attacks. Three terrorists have also been killed by law enforcement so far in Canada (Martin Couture-Rouleau, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Aaron Driver).

At the same time we cannot ignore other manifestations of the terrorist threat.  For instance, we have been witnessing a worrying spike in demonstrations and antagonism by self-styled ‘patriot’ groups (is it just me or does this sound very American?).  A few examples will help illustrate my point:

On July 1, a group of people belonging to the Quebec groups La Meute (French for ‘the pack’) and Storm Alliance showed up at the Vermont-Quebec border to protest the entry of asylum seekers into Canada.

Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) has warned that the ‘Sons of Odin’ are not afraid to use violence and may engage in ‘anti-immigrant vigilantism‘.

Five serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces participated in a Proud Boys crashing of a First Nations protest at the Edward Cornwallis statue in Halifax. Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance is not impressed.

And these are just three samples of late. In addition a Vice.com article recently provided a useful overview of anti-Islamic groups in this country.  The reading is not comforting.  So what’s up?

Ignorance and hate, that’s what’s up. 

These groups hide behind some self-styled notions of patriotism and nationalism in their claims that they are protecting Canada from a litany of ills: Muslims, illegal immigrants, uppity First Nations… They often shroud themselves in our flag as if they are somehow the only ones that ‘get’ what it means to be Canadian. 

They usually show up wearing black, looking all fascist-like and give off strong signs that they are willing to resort to violence to make whatever point they are trying to make. Some appear to be channeling some inner Norse god fetish (Sons of Odin).

What level of threat they truly pose is unclear. La Meute claims on its Facebook page that it has more than 8,000 members: the ‘World Coalition Against Islam (WCAI)’ claims 12,000.  While these numbers are astonishing it is unclear what a ‘member’ means. 

I am not saying that we should ignore these people, but I am not sure what effort needs to be leveraged to monitor them to keep their potentially violent acts in check. We need more data and more analysis on what this is all about.

In any event I suspect that neither CSIS nor the RCMP have spare resources to adequately carry out national security investigations against these people to determine just how dangerous they are. The Islamist extremist threat is still using up the lion’s share of officers as it should. Maybe both agencies need a boost in personnel to deal with this new menace.

One thing is certain: we Canadians have a role to play. We need to shout these losers down.

Just as the vast, vast majority of Canadian Muslims regularly denounce acts of terrorism committed in the name of Islam, so must all Canadians say loudly and unreservedly that these folk do not represent anything but hate. They are not devoted to our ‘protection’. Their activities are neither welcome nor tolerated. We must express our rejection of their bile, as counter demonstrators did in Calgary.

Hate is hate, irrespective of motive, and we have a duty to say we will not stand by and allow it to fester.

Phil Gurski spent more than 30 years in the Canadian intelligence community.  His latest book "The Lesser Jihads" is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017 08:59

Embers of Sikh Extremism

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Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Parliament Hill in Ottawa is one of those treasures found only in liberal democracies.  Anyone can show up and lobby, protest, shout his lungs out or carry a placard peacefully and silently, no matter what the cause.  It is also a great place to watch the fireworks on Canada Day as long as enjoying the sights and sounds with 50,000 strangers does not bother you.

Sometimes, the ‘Hill’ is the site of demonstrations by groups that are not entirely acceptable.  At times, even listed terrorist entities have marched back and forth: a good example was the 2009 mass turnout by Tamil Canadians over the civil war in Sri Lanka at which Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) flags were seen. The LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation in this country.

On June 11, approximately 200 Sikhs gathered on Parliament Hill to commemorate the anniversary of the 1984 attack by Indian forces on the Sikhs’ holiest site, the Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib.  Demonstrators chanted ‘Long live Khalistan’ and demanded that India allow a referendum on the creation of an independent Sikh state in the Punjab.

Khalistan is of course their word for this homeland and the 1984 siege led to the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182 which killed 329 people off the coast of Ireland: the bomb was placed on the aircraft by Canadian Sikh extremists and was the single largest terrorist attack in history prior to 9/11.

It is important to distinguish the desire for a national homeland from the desire to obtain that homeland through violence or terrorism.

We don’t hear a lot about Sikh extremism these days, which could lead some to believe that it is no longer an issue.  It is fairly certain that Sikh extremist activity is at a nadir, the recent protest in Ottawa notwithstanding.  As I have written before, however, it would be a mistake to assume that the movement is dead.

India for one does not think it is. During an April visit to his native Punjab province, Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was accused by a high-ranking Indian official of being a ‘Khalistani’.  That official, Amarinder Singh, said there were other ‘Khalistanis’  in the Trudeau cabinet and that he would refuse to meet with any of them.

This gets complicated as Minister Sajjan’s father was a senior official in the World Sikh Organisation the purpose of which was the pursuit of an independent Sikh state. It is not as if the Minister has not had enough problems of late, ranging from his exaggerated claim to have been the mastermind of a 2006 Canadian military operation in Afghanistan (codenamed "Medusa") to what he knew or didn’t know about the transfer of Afghan detainees to local authorities.

It is important to distinguish the desire for a national homeland from the desire to obtain that homeland through violence or terrorism.  I know of no link between the Minister and banned terrorist organisations and, as a Sikh, he has every right to favour independence for his people through peaceful means.

There may very well be vestiges of Sikh extremism in Canada: the long-awaited "Khalistan" never materialised and no doubt some are not willing to allow the political process to unfold gradually. Yet, we also have to take into consideration the nature of the current Indian government.  Whatever you think of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, you cannot deny he has ushered in a wave of xenophobic and hateful Hindu nationalism that has been responsible for some very violent acts in India. 

It would not surprise me if some of these extremists were a little oversensitive to any whiff of Sikh independence. 

We must be vigilant in Canada to the possibility that we harbour individuals willing to create a "Khalistan" at all costs.  But we must be equally vigilant in subjecting accusations in this direction to careful scrutiny.

Phil Gurski is a 30-year intelligence veteran and the author of the forthcoming The Lesser Jihads: Bringing Islamist extremism to the world. 

Thursday, 08 June 2017 01:47

What to do About Afghanistan?

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Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

I have come to know the journalist Michael Petrou over the past few years.  He would sometimes call me to seek my views on terrorism when he was with Macleans magazine and I relied heavily on his book ‘Renegades’ – the story of Canadians in the Spanish Civil War – for a section of my second book on Western foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq.  I happen to think he is a great writer and a solid scholar.

In a recent piece of analysis on the CBC Web site Michael noted that Afghanistan is ‘teetering on the edge of a dark abyss’ and that Canada, which lost 158 soldiers in its decade-long post 9/11 deployment, ‘should join its closest allies and return to Afghanistan.’  He argues that much progress has been made in Afghanistan since 2001 (infant mortality, a fledgling democracy, female school attendance) but that true advancement will be measured over decades.  For his part, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to be leaning towards a peacekeeping mission in West Africa (possibly Mali) although even there the government is waffling.

And so the question remains: should Canada recommit to Afghanistan?  Great question with no easy answer, especially in the context of the bombing in Kabul on May 31 that killed over 150. I will play the classic Canadian card and straddle the fence (joke: why did the Canadian cross the road? A: to get to the middle), providing views to supporting both a yes and a no response.  It is not that I am normally wishy-washy: it’s just that there are solid arguments on both sides.

Afghanistan needs  the help of the international community and that community must respond.

I fully believe that we cannot abandon Afghanistan. We tried that once – after the ragtag mujahedin kicked Soviet ass (with oodles of outside help it must be added) – and look where that got us.  Warlordism, brutality and the arrival of the Taliban, which in turn played genial Afghan hosts to Al Qaeda.  Afghanistan became a de facto failed state (it is hard to describe the Taliban regime as a ‘state’) and we know that failed states are prime real estate for terrorist groups (Somalia, northern Nigeria, Iraq, Yemen, etc.).  If we don’t want to see the rise of yet another terrorist organisation on the scale of AQ we might want to keep our presence there robust.

Besides, don’t the Afghan people deserve a normal life? Given that the Afghan government appears incapable of providing the conditions for one shouldn’t we offer, on humanitarian grounds if nothing else?  We will still run into the problem of Western ways clashing with Afghan culture but surely there are universal principles we can help maintain.

On the other hand, Afghanistan is not known as the ‘graveyard of empires’ for nothing.  Many have tried to tame and control the country and none have succeeded.  In addition there is the problem of how long. We were there for more than ten years and while, as Michael points out, some progress has been made the place is still a mess and may be getting worse. Will we need to establish an open-ended mission? How much will it cost?  Are Canadians willing to accept more casualties in a country far away and little understood?  Is the Canadian military equipped (materiel and human resource-wise) to continue multiple tours for our men and women in uniform?  What is the end game?  How do we measure our success?  What is our exit strategy?  Does anyone have an answer to these?  Carleton University’s Steve Saideman has an interesting blog on lessons learned the first time around.

I fear that this conundrum falls into the ‘damned if we do and damned if we don’t category’.  We cannot turn our backs on Afghanistan even if we seek to measure it solely through the lens of national interests and security. Afghanistan needs  the help of the international community and that community must respond.

And yet those questions are still there.  Furthermore why Afghanistan and not Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic?  Aren’t they as worthy?

Canada may be taking its time with this decision, and that may be frustrating to some, but a sober second thought is indeed required in this instance. If we are both to honour the deaths of those 158 soldiers and prevent 158 more we need to think this through.

Phil Gurski is a 30-year intelligence veteran and the author of the forthcoming The Lesser Jihads: Bringing Islamist extremism to the world. 

Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa

Here we go again.  I have lost track of how many articles I have read over the last few days, all written in an accusatory tone that when you distill comes down to a very simple claim: British intelligence should have known that Salman Abedi was a terrorist and should have stopped him before he acted. Here is one such article.

The premise goes like this. MI5 was aware of Mr. Abedi’s extremist ideology. Concerned Muslims called authorities on several occasions to register their fears. The government did not act and hence 22 people, including many teen and tween girls, are dead.  Hence the government blew it and we have yet another example of ‘intelligence failure’. 

What is surprising, at least to me (even if I am biased) is that few if any of those casting the stone of blame have any background in intelligence or terrorism. Think about that for a moment. By analogy, political scientists should blame doctors for losing patients and soccer moms decry generals for losing wars. Make sense? I didn’t think so.

I have long complained that much of the commentary on what to do about terrorism is written or spoken by people with little firsthand or frontline experience on the subject, so I won’t repeat that here. What I will do, however, is attempt to provide an accurate picture of what really happens on the ground and put that into the context of the U.K. 

At any given time, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are engaged in a number of investigations (for our purposes we will limit the discussion to terrorism cases). These investigations are driven by what they know and a need to learn quickly what they don’t in order to assess risk. Not all cases are equally important and not every subject poses a serious threat, but you don’t know the answer to either problem until you carry out the investigation. 

There is no model or paradigm to tell you where to focus your efforts because of the high degree of variability and idiosyncrasy. 

So no, Manchester was not an ‘intelligence failure’.  It was a tragedy and a horrible act of terrorism.

On top of this, these organisations have finite resources and are unlikely to get substantially more soon (the heyday of the post 9/11 period where money and staff were limitless are long gone). In this light, you have to make decisions on the fly. Most of your decisions are good ones as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of terrorist plots are thwarted (well above 95% I would guess).  Some are not; attacks are carried out and people die or are injured. 

So here is a simple way to explain Manchester. Mr. Abedi was ‘known’to MI5 (the U.K. equivalent of CSIS). That puts him among anywhere between 3,000 and 23,000 similar people (I have seen a wide range of estimates in open source). 

'Known’ does not necessarily mean ‘investigated’. MI5 has approximately 4,000 staff. That figure is a total number: not all 4,000 are investigators/intelligence officers (I would be surprised if the percentage of those running cases topped 1,000).  It takes anywhere from 20 - 40 people to investigate/follow one subject of interest.  Do the math. 

Even at the low end of radicalised people, you need between 60 and 120,000 officers to investigate them all. MI5, one of the best, if not the best, domestic security services in the world, is hard pressed to carry out 40 investigations at a given time.  Remember that terrorists do not always advertise their intent and that risk assessment models are tools, some better than others, not predictors. 

That, dear New Canadian Media readers. is the reality. Intelligence services like MI5 are going flat out 24/7, 365 days a year to keep U.K. citizens safe in a very challenging environment.  And as for those tips from the community – a great thing by the way – in 2016, the U.K. Channel program, a government counter-terrorism strategy, received almost 4,000 referrals.  Do the math there too please.  These numbers speak to a serious problem in U.K. society, one that goes way beyond MI5.

So, no, Manchester was not an ‘intelligence failure’.  It was a tragedy and a horrible act of terrorism. It was not MI5’s fault. It was not the U.K. government’s fault or the fault of British foreign policy.  It was not the community’s fault.  It was not Islam’s fault.  It was Mr.Abedi’s fault (plus those who aided, radicalised or inspired him).

We need to stop pointing fingers in the aftermath of attacks.  And the peanut gallery really needs to do one of two things: a) become more knowledgeable about terrorism and the challenge of preventing it, or b) shut the hell up.  The choice is yours.  Choose wisely. 

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

 

Commentary by Aleem Ali in Brisbane, Australia

A few career changes ago, I managed a branding and design agency. Our primary task was to help our clients communicate their organisation, product or service. We worked to create a strong brand so that people would choose our client’s company or service over and above their many competitors.

Since I ran that agency 15 years ago, much has changed in the world. But some things still hold true, and many issues have grown in scale. Talk to retailers, tour operators and educational institutions. Talk to employers. They will tell you that competition is only increasing, not diminishing. And the competition is now global, not local.

Last year, not long after the launch of Welcoming Cities, I received a phone call from the CEO of a Regional Business Council. They outlined their challenge as follows: “We have a large infrastructure project in our community. When the project is complete, we know that we won’t be able to attract enough people domestically to fill all the jobs. So, we need both a national and international solution. But we are struggling to attract people. There is a perception of our community that we are not welcoming. Because of this perception, Australian residents and migrants don’t want to move here, live here, or work here. We need to change that perception. We don’t just want to be a welcoming city; we NEED to be a welcoming city.”

Our international reputation of a fair go, cheering for the underdog, and boundless plains to share no longer seem to ring true.

This story, or at least the sentiment behind it, seems to be a growing challenge.

I recently met with Local Government employees of a major capital city. Their focus is on increasing social cohesion and economic participation in their region. They’re concerned by political sentiment and what they perceive to be regressive policies and divisive rhetoric. One of the people in the meeting commented that “Brand ‘Australia’ is damaged. There’s no evidence this will improve anytime soon. We need to do something about it.”

Brand Australia needs some serious help

The compelling and disconcerting truth of this statement struck me. Brand Australia needs some serious help. Our international reputation of a fair go, cheering for the underdog, and boundless plains to share no longer seem to ring true. The growing perception is that we demonise people fleeing torture and trauma, are intolerant of diverse cultures, and newcomers risk vilification. Brand Australia is now associated with a fair go for some, but not all.

Tourists, international students, and skilled migrants are vital contributors to our prosperity as a nation. And when it comes to the choice of coming to Australia, or not; perception is everything. If brand Australia ceases to be open, welcoming and generous, then the damage will not only be to our reputation but also the ongoing success of our nation.

The time to address that damage is now. It’s time to refuse small-minded, divisive politics. It’s time to stop waiting for politicians to cast a vision of a generous, welcoming and inclusive Australia and to grow this work ourselves. It’s time to lead. It’s time for community groups, small businesses, educational institutions, peak bodies and corporations to come together. It’s time to welcome newcomers to our shores and ensure that everyone can take part in social, economic and civic life.

It’s time to be deliberate, strategic and collaborative. To put policies and practices in place that value our First People’s, long-term residents and new arrivals. It’s time to rescue brand Australia. More than a branding exercise, this is a renewed commitment to an inclusive, multicultural Australia. 

Awarded and recognized for his contribution to the community, Aleem Ali has spent the past 20 years seeding and mentoring the development of various programs. Aleem is currently the National Manager at Welcoming Cities, in addition to lead roles with For the Common Good, and FOUND

Sunday, 07 May 2017 12:58

The Unintended Consequences of Hate

Written by

Commentary by Hasan Zillur Rahim in San Jose

The pickup truck was following her. Dr. Sarah felt nervous but tried to convince herself it was just her imagination. He couldn’t possible know she was a Muslim, particularly since she was not wearing the optional hijab, the traditional Islamic head-cover to indicate modesty.

She pulled into the parking lot and got out of her car. The pickup slowed. As she crossed the street to get to her office, the driver, a middle-aged white man, rolled down the window and screamed at her: “Go back home!”

The heat of the man’s hate felt as if it were burning a hole in the back of her head. She ran to the safety of her hospital.

Dr. Sarah was born in Chicago to Muslim parents. After receiving a doctorate in psychology, she began working at a hospital in Silicon Valley in the pain management department as a psychologist, a job in which she has flourished for over a decade. When she reported the incident to her concerned supervisor, she advised her not to drive alone for a few weeks.

Trump has indeed loosened the shackles of bigotry among his supporters, emboldening them to threaten those who don’t look like them.

A week earlier, an engineer of Asian background, an American citizen, was confronted in the parking lot of a grocery store in San Jose by a driver who screamed: “Go back to where you came from.”

For many residents, the sprouting of bigotry in what is the heart of Silicon Valley, with a diversity of culture, religion and ethnicity rare in the world, is shocking.

“Before, I used to call my friends and relatives in India to ask if they were okay,” said Assemblyman Ash Kalra during a rally organized in response to the growing climate of fear following the election. “Now they call me to inquire if I am safe in Trump’s America!”

Trump has indeed loosened the shackles of bigotry among his supporters, emboldening them to threaten those who don’t look like them, and to hurl insults like, “Go back to where you came from!”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported harassment and threats targeting Muslim women and children in Minnesota, North Carolina, New York and California in just the past two weeks alone.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 867 hate incidents in the ten days after Trump’s win in November. The advocacy group South Asians Leading Together (SAALT) put out a report in January that documented 207 hate incidents targeting South Asians, Muslims and Middle Easterners in 2016. The report noted the climate resembled the months following the 9/11 attacks, and attributed the spike in hate to campaign rhetoric during the 2016 race. 

Here in San Jose, police documeted four cases of crimes targeting Muslims in 2016. There were no cases prior in the years going back to 2011. Experts say the numbers are misleading, and that because victms are often reluctant to come forward, due to cultural or linguistic barriers, or because they are scared, the figures could be higher. 

One of those cases involved the Evergreen Islamic Center, where a letter was received just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday that read, in part: “There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump. He is going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And he’s going to start with you Muslims.” The letter went on to make reference to Nazi Germany, saying Trump would “do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”

Still, despite the rising tide of Islamophobia, something remarkable began to happen among members of the local Muslim community in the days and weeks following Trump’s win. Having learned in the aftermath of 9/11 that a culture of shame and silence only promoted the politics of fear, area Muslims instead started forging bonds with community residents at a grass-roots level. 

Several members of Evergreen (myself included) joined “Indivisible East San Jose,” one of nearly 6,000 ‘Indivisible’ groups that sprang up across the nation as a response and resistance to Trump’s presidency.

Meeting once every month, members knock on doors in San Jose’s depressed areas, informing undocumented workers, for example, of their rights if ICE shows up and the availability of free legal help. A few families in dire straits have been escorted to sanctuaries in synagogues and churches.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Evergreen teamed up with local Christians and Jews as members of “Abrahamic Alliance” at a church to prepare meals for the homeless. For most, this was their first experience with a soup kitchen. Many were shocked to find that in one of the most prosperous areas in the world, there were people for whom a decent meal and a bed to sleep on are luxuries often beyond reach.

As remarkable is the growing outreach and solidarity extended to area Muslims from other immigrant communities. There have been several marches staged to commemorate the Japanese internment and to draw connections between that dark period in U.S. history and its echo against Muslims in Trump’s time. Meetings were held with Internment survivors who spoke of the importance of resistance.

Then there are the acts of individual kindness. 

“Just think about it,” said Peggy, who drove an hour from the city of Santa Cruz with several friends in a show of solidarity with Evergreen following the recent threats. “Would we have even met if it were not for Trump? No! This is the silver lining in the dark cloud that hangs over our nation now.”

For local Muslims, the bridges now being formed in the era of Trump are a case of serendipity, the unintended but cathartic consequences of hate.

Hasan Zillur Rahim wrote this story with support from New America Media’s Tracking Hate Fellowship program. Rahim is a professor of mathematics at San Jose City College and the Outreach Director of the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose. 

Republished in partnership with New America Media.

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