Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa
Have you been following the tortuous twists and turns surrounding the brutal torture, killing and apparent dismemberment of Saudi journalist and critic Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2? Can you make sense of all the claims and counterclaims? Do you know who ‘did’ the deed? If you answer yes to all these questions, please step to the head of the class.
Here is what we do know. Mr. Khashoggi visited the consulate to get some paperwork done for his upcoming marriage to Hatice Cengiz, who waited for her beloved outside. He never exited. The Saudis claimed, in chronological order that he a) left the consulate (somehow avoiding his fiancee), b) they do not know where he is, c) he was killed following a fight at the consulate, d) ‘rogue elements’ were behind the killing and e) no one senior back in Riyadh knew about or ordered the assassination. Well, it turns out that a), b), probably c), d) and now e) are all falsehoods.
The Washington Post reported that the CIA on Friday had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul last month, contradicting the Saudi government’s claims that he was not involved in the killing, according to people familiar with the matter. This is important as intelligence agencies do not normally issue such statements publicly, as this can expose sources and/or methods and that is a no-no in the intelligence world. We can debate for ever why they did this – are there ‘rogue elements’ in the CIA? – but in the end it is significant and is one more confirmation of what many have been saying for weeks anyway, i.e. that the orders to kill Mr. Khashoggi came from the very top. For its part, the European Union has asked the Saudis to ‘shed clarity’ on what happened.
So that’s that then, right? Case closed. Not so fast. The Saudis shockingly (not) have denied the CIA assessment and President Trump has equally shockingly (not)said he has not made his mind up yet, since he was personally told by his Saudi cronies that MBS was not involved, preferring to wait a few days for his administration to issue a ‘full report’. Saudi-friendly media have also written that the US has yet to reach a ‘final conclusion’.
What to make of all this? Well, for one the continued Saudi denials and obfuscations can safely be ignored. The Kingdom has tied itself into so many knots through its repeated lies that no sane person would give what it says now any credence. Saudi Arabia may still be seen as an important international player thanks to oil, but on this issue it must be seen as an unreliable partner.
Now on to Trump. That he has not embraced the CIA report is of course a surprise to no one. He openly mocked the FBI reporting on Russian collusion in the 2016 elections and that too is not unexpected. This most unpresidential of presidents cannot get past his own interests and ego and does not accept any criticism over anything he does. He has invested a lot in Saudi Arabia – and especially MBS – having made the Kingdom his first foreign visit after becoming president (can anyone forget that truly bizarre photo of him and the Saudi King putting their hands on that metal globe??) and cannot seem to let go or admit any error of any kind. That his son-in-law Jared Kushner is also beholden to the Saudis is not helping as The Donald seems to have made an amateur his front man on Middle East issues.
Whether or not Saudi Arabia, and more importantly MBS, are ever truly taken to task over the death of Mr. Khashoggi remains to be seen. The Kingdom is, after all, a very influential player and has been playing the US in particular for decades. For the rest of us who are not smitten with the desert princes there are very real and very crucial questions on whether Saudi Arabia should be seen as an ally on any number of fronts (‘war on terror’, what to do about Iran, etc.). The truth is that the Saudis are not, and never have been, a reliable friend and we need to see beyond the purely surface ‘reforms’ that MBS has graciously introduced (allowing women to drive, cracking down on some clerics etc.).
No, the Saudis are not the friend of the West or of anyone else for that matter. They hew to their own agenda and interests. In addition, their hateful version of Islam is the key to understanding much of modern Islamist extremism, even if they too have been hit with attacks (poetic justice?).
It is time to call the Saudis what they are: pick your own phrase as long as it does not imply they are on our side.
Phil Gurski is Director, Security and Intelligence at TheSecDev Group. He served for over 30 years as a strategic intelligence analyst specialising in radicalization, and homegrown Islamist extremism with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment(CSE), Public Safety Canada and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). He is a member of New Canadian Media.
By: Susan Korah in Ottawa
Three labour experts have highlighted the critical need for radical changes in government policies and programs that are out of step with the current realities of most Canadians’ work lives.
They were speaking at a panel discussion on “In Search of the Next Gig: A Snapshot of Precarious Work in Canada Today” in Ottawa on January 25, hosted by Policy Options Magazine, a digital publication of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP). Moderating the panel was Jennifer Ditchburn, editor of Policy Options, and former journalist with the Canadian Press (CP).
“If we are to walk the walk that matches our talk about how inclusive we are in Canada, those who create our labour policies and programs should take a close look at the precarious work situation that most Canadians are caught in, and design their policies accordingly,” commented Sunil Johal, one of the three panelists. Johal is policy director at the Mowat Centre, an independent public policy think-tank, associated with the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance.
The other two panelists were Francis Fong, Chief Economist with the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPAC) and Wendy Vuyk, regional coordinator of the Eastern Ontario Region at the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation.
“Most policies and programs intended to support Canadian job seekers are tied to conventional ideas of employment and were designed for the 1950s when there was a 9 to 5, lifelong job for the wage earner in a typical family,” he said.
Fong, Johal and Vuyk analyzed the changes that have sent the labour market into a tailspin, leaving employees with few options other than what all three, as well as Ditchburn termed “precarious work,” – short term jobs with no stability, few or no benefits, and no prospects of leading to a lifelong career path.
A major cause of the erosion of stable jobs and the growth of precarious employment was the decline of the manufacturing sector in the 1990s and early 2000s and the growth of the high-tech sector, the panelists explained.
Fong pointed out that even research on this topic is lagging behind the times. He emphasised that in order to capture the nuances of this new workforce reality, researchers need a clear definition of the term “non-standard work”, an umbrella term for all kinds of precarious work.
He said that the lack of consensus on a definition of precarious work poses a serious challenge for researchers, whose work underpins policy decisions.
“We need a formal definition of precarious work because precarious work will define our future,” he said.
He added that no single government agency is collecting all the relevant data, although Statistics Canada has been tracking it since the 1990s, a period which saw the rapid rise of this phenomenon.
The problem is further complicated, he said, by the need for the involvement of so many sectors --labour, immigration, the provincial and federal governments, as well as the private sector.
Stagnant wages, declining unionization
Highlighting another major problem, Johal discussed the disconnect between Canada’s overall economic growth and workers’ wages.
“While the economy continues to grow, wages have become stagnant,” he said, adding the costs of food, housing, childcare and other necessities have also gone up.
Johal also referred to the decline of unionization, which added to worker’s problems.
“Workers have nobody to represent them and speak about their issues,” he said.
He said the most vulnerable were the 30 percent of workers who were in precarious jobs because they had no other option, as opposed to the 70 per cent who did this type of work by choice.
“We need to focus on that 30 percent and to refresh our social policies and programs to address their needs,” he said.
Preparing for the future world of work: An optimistic outlook
Vuyk’s presentation focused on preparing for the future, given the changing economic landscape which she termed the “fourth industrial revolution.”
“Sixty-five percent of today’s elementary school children will work in jobs that don’t exist today,” she predicted.
Nevertheless, she presented an optimistic outlook, saying that although jobs will be lost, others will be created by new inventions.
She emphasized the need to train young people to become entrepreneurs and to think about their careers as a business.
She called on educators to emphasize soft skills such as communication, financial literacy, cross-cultural sensitivity, flexibility and adaptability.
She said it was important for also parents and guidance counsellors to understand that university is not the only key to gainful employment.
She advised parents to give their children as many life-broadening experiences as possible, including travel.
“We have to create a culture of lifelong learning,” she concluded.
Susan Korah is an editor and freelance writer who has worked with a number of publications while continuing to manage her personal travel blog. This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series.
By: Beatrice Britneff in Ottawa, ON
Canada’s oldest media union is renewing calls on the federal government to intervene and help the country’s struggling news media outlets, after Postmedia Network Inc. and Torstar Corp. announced today they will collectively shutter more than 30 community and daily newspapers and eliminate 291 jobs.
In response to the closures – which came about through a publication swap between the two companies – CWA Canada is urging the Liberal government to inject more money into local news coverage; to “beef up” the federal Competition Act “to prevent concentration of ownership” in the news industry; and to allow non-profit news organizations to qualify as charities so they can be supported by philanthropic funding.
In a statement, the union – which represents approximately 6,000 media workers cross Canada – called the Postmedia-Torstar deal a “deathblow to local newspaper coverage.”
“It’s a dark day for local journalism and for local democracy,” Martin O’Hanlon, president of CWA Canada, wrote in a statement. “This means fewer journalists reporting on the stories that matter to communities – and leaves almost no one to hold local politicians and powerful interests to account in many places.”
Last year, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly conducted consultations on how to revamp Canada’s cultural policies and strategies. During that time, many groups suggested a variety of lifelines the government could throw to ailing media outlets – particularly newspapers, which are struggling with steep declines in print circulation and advertising revenues.
In a major speech in September outlining Canada’s revamped cultural strategies, Joly said the government does not intend to to provide that level of assistance to the news industry. Joly said the government will not “bail out industry models that are no longer viable” but will instead support “innovation, experimentation and transition to digital.”
The minister said Monday afternoon she is “sorry” to hear about the Postmedia and Torstar closures and that the government “values the importance of journalism.” When asked whether the Postmedia-Torstar deal has caused her to rethink her largely hands-off approach to the news industry’s fate, Joly reiterated that the government is “looking to support local media while they transition to the internet.”
But Pierre Nantel, the NDP’s culture and heritage critic, argued the government is not doing that.
“It’s absolutely terrible… (Minister Joly) has been asked by so many stakeholders, so many interveners… she didn’t pay attention at all, and this is what you get,” Nantel said. “You get job losses and you get a voice diversity situation that’s going to be lacking.”
Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, who serves as the Tories’ Canadian heritage critic, called the Postmedia-Torstar deal “disappointing” but contrary to Nantel, argued that the government has no place in giving newspapers a leg up. He said he also does not support philanthropic financing of journalism because he believes “journalism has to be truly independent.”
The closures announced today – many of which are effective immediately – will largely affect communities in eastern and southern Ontario.
Through the deal, Postmedia acquired 22 local newspapers and two Metro dailies from two Torstar subsidiaries. Postmedia said in a press release it plans to close all of those publications, except the Exeter Times-Advocate and the Exeter Weekender, by mid-January. The local papers that Postmedia will fold include Metro Ottawa, Metro Winnipeg, Belleville News, Kingston Heritage, St. Mary’s Journal-Argus as well as a number of Ottawa-area publications.
Meanwhile, Torstar acquired a total of 17 publications from Postmedia: seven daily Ontario newspapers, eight community newspapers and free dailies 24Hours Toronto and 24Hours Vancouver. The two dailies and the eight community papers are being shut down immediately, as well as three of the daily newspapers – the Barrie Examiner, Orillia Packet & Times andNorthumberland Today.
Torstar will continue to operate and publish the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review, Welland Tribune and Peterborough Examiner.
Four free dailies and 32 daily and community papers are being shuttered in total. The Postmedia closures will result in 244 layoffs, while Torstar’s will eliminate 47 full-time and part-time employees.
Postmedia and Torstar both claim the papers they are folding are located in communities that are served by other publications.
“We were not creating any news deserts,” Bob Hepburn, the Toronto Star’s director of community relations and communications, said of Torstar’s 13 closures. “(The communities affected) will continue to be served by Metroland publications.”
In a company statement, Torstar’s President and CEO John Boynton said the deal will allow the company to “operate more efficiently through increased geographic synergies in a number of our primary regions.”
Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey acknowledged in his company’s press release that closures involve letting go of “many dedicated newspaper people.”
“However, the continuing costs of producing dozens of small community newspapers in these regions in the face of significantly declining advertising revenues means that most of these operations no longer have viable business models,” Godfrey wrote.
Postmedia and Torstar said their deal is “effectively a non-cash transaction” as the publications exchanged have “approximately similar fair values.” Their statements also noted the exchange is “not subject to the merger notification provisions of the Competition Act” and no regulatory clearance from the Competition Bureau was required.
In an email to iPolitics Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Competition Bureau said the Bureau is aware of the Postmedia-Torstar transaction and will be “undertaking a review” of the deal.
“While I cannot speak to the specifics of a Bureau review for reasons of confidentiality, under the Competition Act transactions of all sizes and in all sectors of the economy are subject to review by the Commissioner of Competition to determine whether they will likely result in a substantial lessening or prevention of competition in any market in Canada,” Jayme Albert, senior communications advisor, wrote in an email – adding that the commissioner has up to one year after a transaction has taken place to challenge it in the Competition Tribunal.
Here is a list of the publications Postmedia acquired from Torstar and has decided to close:
Here is a list of the publications Torstar acquired from Postmedia and has decided to close:
Republished under arrangement with iPolitics.
Commentary by: Fred Maroun in Ottawa
Quebec recently passed a law banning face coverings for people delivering or receiving public services, which has re-ignited the debate across Canada on banning the burqa and niqab.
Some people, such as Idil Issa, have accused Quebec’s politicians of going after Muslims because they are a minority and an easy target. Knowledge of Quebec history and culture, however, contradicts that accusation.
Quebec’s strong liberal values
Quebec is by far the most progressive province in Canada. Its two main parties are centrist (the Liberal Party of Quebec) and centre left (the Bloc Quebecois) whereas all other provinces have strong conservative parties. Quebec’s support for same-sex marriage is at 78%, possibly a world record. Quebec is a striving multicultural and diverse society.
Quebec was the only Canadian province to undergo a revolution (albeit a non-violent one, aptly named the Quiet Revolution) against religious and political conservatism.
There is a problem when women live in a society as liberal as Quebec and yet feel the need to comply with some of the most conservative and patriarchal religious rules ever invented. The fact that many Quebecers recognize this as a problem is not a symptom of intolerance.
When Quebec’s new law is discussed, the discussion invariably drifts towards the face covering of some Muslim women due to a version of Islam that is highly sexist and regressive, commonly referred to as Islamism. The concern of citizens is clearly not face coverings in the abstract but the religious radicalism that it implies.
I grew up in Lebanon at a time when Muslims were already the majority, and yet I never saw a woman with her face covered in public, even in Muslim neighborhoods. Several members of my family grew up in Egypt and make the same observation. With the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, however, the niqab and the burqa are now often seen in the streets of Cairo.
Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, wrote, “[I] never saw a niqab when I was growing up in Karachi, Pakistan. […] But in the 25 years I have called Canada home, I have seen a steady rise of Muslim women being strangled in the pernicious black tent that is passed off to naïve and guilt-ridden white, mainstream Canadians as an essential Islamic practice”.
Islamism is the opposite of social liberalism. Whereas liberalism aims to achieve for women equal rights and opportunities, Islamism considers women inferior and expects them to be subservient. The infiltration of Islamist values into Canadian society can only send chills into the backs of liberals.
A political hot potato
There are however no easy answers to fighting Islamism in Canada since we also value freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and personal choice. A ban on face coverings can be seen as a patriarchal imposition on women who may in theory choose to cover their faces. And if a husband prevents his wife from leaving the house with her face uncovered, a ban may transform her house into a jail.
Politicians try to avoid complex issues, and the growth of Islamism in liberal societies is undoubtedly a complex issue. Quebec politicians deserve credit for at least trying. Federal politicians refuse to even talk about it.
During the Conservative leadership campaign, Kellie Leitch attempted to bring forward a proposal to defend Canadian values by asking some tough questions of potential immigrants, but she faced strong opposition even within her party. After Andrew Scheer won the leadership, he left Leitch out of his shadow cabinet and gave another former candidate, Lisa Raitt, the position of deputy leader even though Leitch received almost twice as many votes as Raitt on the first ballot.
The federal Liberal Party and the NDP stay even farther away than their conservative counterparts from fighting Islamism. Almost all Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs), all NDP MPs, and a small number of Conservative MPs passed a vague motion condemning “Islamophobia” without defining its meaning, which could be interpreted as an attempt to muzzle legitimate criticism of Islamism.
Demagogues could fill the void
While I never saw burqas and niqabs in Lebanon, I see them now in Ottawa, far too often. Such occurrences are frequent reminders to Canadians that the issue of Islamism is not a faraway problem but a local one.
Canada has no leading politician resembling Donald Trump at the moment, but neither did the U.S. until two years ago. Then Trump barged into the political scene and raised issues that Americans were concerned about, such as Islamic terrorism, issues that other politicians were afraid to discuss.
There are likely more significant reasons why Trump was elected, but his willingness to be politically incorrect was undoubtedly one of the attributes that attracted voters to him. We see such a phenomenon occurring in parts of Europe as well, such as Germany where the extreme right has significantly weakened Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dominance.
Politicians must find the courage to ask the politically incorrect questions, even when they do not have all the answers, so that intelligent solutions can emerge. If competent politicians ignore the challenge, demagogues may take advantage of the vacuum and propose ill-conceived populist ideas, which is the last thing we need.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He regularly blogs for The Times of Israel.
Commentary by: Paul Adams in Ottawa
Jagmeet Singh does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons. So when the new NDP leader comes to visit, he’ll have to sit up in the Leader of the Opposition’s Gallery and gaze down on the body he wishes someday to join.
If all the MPs are there that day, Singh may notice that there are already five turbaned Sikh men with seats. In 2015, 47 so-called “visible minority” MPs were elected along with 10 Indigenous people, very nearly mirroring their relative shares of the Canadian population.
If Singh then swings his eyes to the north end of the Commons chamber to the gallery above the Speaker’s Chair — to the Press Gallery, that is — he may notice something different. So far as I am aware, there has never been a turbaned man working as a reporter for a major news organization, so he won’t see any of those.
No one keeps racial statistics on the Press Gallery the way they do for the House of Commons, but when I looked through the membership list the other day, I was able to identify only one visible minority reporter working for one of the big legacy media outlets – a reporter at CTV. None at the Globe, none at the Star, none at CBC-TV. And no Indigenous people either.
This may overstate the case a little bit. Since I was a reporter on the Hill in the 1990s, there has been an influx of young reporters of colour. They tend to be concentrated in online and specialist publications such as HuffPost Canada, the Hill Times, the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) and some ethnic and foreign news outlets. The so-called Mainstream Media — not so much.
The House of Commons is today much more representative of the face of modern Canada than is the Press Gallery. Most of us can name a few visible minority and Indigenous politicians. Try coming up with more than one or two political journalists of colour.
When Singh was chosen as NDP leader, there were two streams of news coverage, both echoing (in a small way) the reaction to Barack Obama’s breakthrough in 2008. The first was a self-congratulatory celebration of the nation’s inclusivity. The second involved an obsessive concern with the man’s race and ethnicity.
One interview that got a lot of attention was Terry Milewski’s welcome-to-Ottawa interview with Singh on CBC’s Power and Politics. Milewski has never suffered fools gladly and operates on the premise that all politicians are fools until proven otherwise. (Stephen Harper was never able to establish this to Milewski’s satisfaction, so far as I could see.)
Apparently Singh, or his office, had — with stunning naiveté — asked to see the questions in advance. Milewski delightedly tweeted out that fact before Singh backed down. Advantage: Milewski.
A lot of the reaction to Milewski’s interview turned around a “gotcha” section at the end of the interview in which Milewski doggedly asked Singh to denounce posters of Talwinder Singh Parmar, which appear in some Sikh-Canadian institutions. Parmar was a Sikh nationalist who was — it has been well-established — the mastermind behind the Air India bombing in which 329 people were killed, most of them Canadian, many of them of Indian extraction.
For many viewers not steeped in the issue, it must have been a baffling exchange. But few reporters in Canada have covered the Air India bombing and its aftermath more thoroughly than Milewski — and Jagmeet Singh has been deeply engaged in Sikh politics. It may have been a ‘gotcha’ question, but it got Singh, who dodged and weaved but would not be caught denouncing Canada’s worst-ever mass murderer.
Singh is really going to have to do better than this if he wants to lead a national party with any success.
What concerned me about the Milewski interview was not this exchange, but what came before it. Except for the first question — which was about how Singh would manage without a Commons seat — every single query directly or indirectly invoked race, religion or ethnicity.
There were questions about refugees, religious symbols, Singh’s “acceptability” in Quebec — all coming before the Parmar exchange. Nothing on Singh’s interesting views on addressing precarious work among the young. Nothing on his controversial views on decriminalizing possession of drugs like cocaine and heroin. No “open-ended” questions that would allow Singh to lay out his own agenda.
Earlier that same day, another CBC journalist had posted a tweet that appeared to confuse Singh with another turbaned Sikh — federal economic development minister Navdeep Bains. If I were among the one-in-five people living in Canada who are visible minority, I might be tempted to wonder whether journalists who see a politician of colour see anything but the colour.
When we look south of the border — or across the Atlantic — it’s easy for Canadians to think of racism as a foreign problem. And I agree that we seem (for the moment) unusually blessed.
But take a look at some of the just-released data from Canadian Press’s important “Populism Project” – a survey from EKOS research. According to EKOS’ massive survey, 37 per cent of Canadians think too many immigrants are visible minority. Among respondents who are themselves visible minority, 43 per cent said they had “personally seen or experienced a clear incident of racism” over the past month. Remarkably, 26 per cent of other Canadians said the same.
While a plurality of Canadians don’t think there been much change in the level of racism in Canada, 33 per cent think racism is becoming more common, compared with 20 per cent who think it is becoming less common.
I am not suggesting for a moment that Sikh politicians should only be interviewed by Sikh journalists, or that Indigenous politicians (like the Manitoba NDP’s new leader Wab Kinew) should only be interviewed by Indigenous journalists. It’s a fundamental tenet of journalism that good reporters strive to understand the world around them, and strive particularly hard to understand those most different from them.
But a more diverse press corps would have two effects: one for journalists, the other for consumers of journalism.
For journalists, having people of various backgrounds in the newsrooms means being exposed to different sensibilities and story ideas in editorial meetings, over coffee, and in the thousands of chats that occur among colleagues in newsrooms every day as they try to figure out their angles. They also get to know individuals different from themselves in their full complexity — without reducing them to their most visible characteristics.
In the late 1980s, I did a story related to HIV/AIDS for the CBC. I had lived in New York at the height of the crisis a few years earlier and thought I was reasonably well informed. But after my story aired, a young producer — who was gay — came and spoke to me about some of the language I had used. He made me a better journalist by helping me see some things I had overlooked.
We are all limited to some degree by our backgrounds. Journalism is a lifelong process of educating ourselves away from those limitations.
For news consumers, diverse newsrooms are both a substantive and a symbolic indication that the news business is serious about exploring our world, which includes people like ourselves and people who are quite different. It’s not just about comforting visible minorities through representation. It’s also about the rest of us not just seeing them, but trying to understand them.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. This piece was republished under arrangement with iPolitics.
Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa
Three cheers for Saudi Arabia! The conservative Kingdom has ruled that women can now drive and no longer need to be accompanied by a mahram (essentially a male guardian) when they are in a car. Many are celebrating this decision although some conservative killjoys have accused the government of ‘bending the rules of Sharia’. Some have joked that the country has finally joined the 20th century.
That quip is actually more accurate than might appear at first reading. In many ways – socially, religiously, ideologically – Saudi is stuck not in the 20th century but in the 18th century, and, truth be told, in the seventh century. The 18th century is a reference to the pact made between the up and coming Al Saud family and a bunch of ultra-conservative clerics headed by Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab whereby the Al Sauds took care of people’s economic and political well-being while the ‘Wahhabis’ looked after their souls.
By that, I mean, they imposed an austere, joyless interpretation of Islam that they claimed was void of what they saw as all the alterations and aberrations that had entered into the faith since the time of the Prophet Muhammad in the early to mid-600’s. Wahhabi Islam is rejected by the vast majority of the world’s Muslims and would have remained an insignificant blip on the international stage had it not been for the 1970's oil crisis and the gazillions of dollars that flowed into Saudi coffers, only to be redirected worldwide in the spread – through mosques and schools – of this hateful and intolerant version of Islam.
There really is no other way to look at Saudi Islam and it is undeniable that the vitriol inherent in Wahhabism is directly responsible for a huge part of the ideology that became Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
So what are the Saudis doing about all this? After all, the Kingdom has suffered from jihadi attacks itself and one would think that the regime does not want or like to be tainted with any association with a violent bunch of terrorists. It is an open debate, though, whether Saudi Arabia really cares what outsiders think in light of its massive wealth and still rather closed society. Here the news is both good and bad.
On the good side, the government has been cracking down on ‘preachers of hate’ and dismantling their ability to spread their message. Many have also been arrested and Saudi security forces have successfully foiled many terrorist plots. The ‘reform’ programme – and I use the term loosely – of King Salman and, probably more importantly, his son and second-in-line for the throne Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is ambitious in scope and must be seen as a move in the right direction. Whether it actually achieves much and how the Wahhabi clerics react to it will bear watching.
The decision to allow women to drive should be seen through this prism.
On the other hand, Wahhabi influence is still growing in places like South Asia and Southeast Asia, as clerics continue to influence the locals, including children in madrassas and pesantren (what they call madrassas in Indonesia). Saudi economic weight is clearly playing a role here as the Kingdom can offer education and religious instruction to countries where there simply isn’t enough room in the budget to do so.
Saudi Arabia is also incontrovertibly involved in massive human rights violations in Yemen, where it has been mired for years in a civil war that it tries to paint as a necessary struggle to prevent Iranian (read: Shia) infiltration into the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf kingdom is trying to quash attempts to have independent, neutral observers carry out investigations in Yemen to determine the scale of suffering and point fingers at those responsible for it.
Speaking of the Shia, Saudi police and the military continue to mount ‘counter terrorism’ operations in the country’s Shia-dominant eastern provinces. While there certainly are violent extremists in the region, a lot of the violence is state-imposed and driven by the Wahhabi belief that the only good Shiite is a dead one.
It is thus a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to Saudi Arabia and terrorism. The Kingdom talks the talk and is involved in some worthwhile national, regional (not Yemen) and international counter-terrorism initiatives. But, as long as Wahhabi Islam is the dominant form of Islam practised in the country and spread through Saudi ‘benevolence’ worldwide, that nation must be seen as both part of the solution and a big part of the problem.
What then do we in the West do? The unfortunate answer, for the time being, is ‘not much’. We cannot ignore Saudi Arabia, we cannot tell it what to do, we cannot isolate it and we cannot pretend that it is not behind the contagion of hateful Islamic teachings. In other words, we are damned if we do nothing and damned if we do something (if anyone has a better idea please e-mail me).
Last week, I was a guest lecturer in a graduate course on terrorism offered by my friend Thomas Juneau at the University of Ottawa. The class was discussing the nature of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the consensus seemed to be that Washington has no choice but to guarantee the Kingdom’s existence and remain a close ally because all the alternatives are worse (if Saudi Arabia decides to move closer to Russia or China, going in an even more radical direction, etc.).
That is what has been termed Sophie’s Choice – where either decision is unbearable. And that is seldom a good place to find oneself.
Phil Gurski has worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). His latest book The Lesser Jihads is now available online and in bookstores.
Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa
There is no question that fear sells. The latest Stephen King film about an evil clown – It – grossed over $120 million in its first three days after all.
We are odd in that we both fear fear and we are entertained by it – go figure.
But fear is not always helpful, unless you are running away from a grizzly or swimming away from a shark. It is particularly counter-productive when it leads you to stop doing things you normally do. Things like going to a restaurant or to a movie (perhaps to see It) or on a vacation. And the one thing that seems to be causing many people to alter their normal lives is the fear of terrorism.
In some ways this is, of course, understandable since there is not a day that goes by where we do not see or read about some act of violent extremism somewhere in the world. These acts seem to resonate even more when they take place in ‘our world’ – i.e. Western Europe, North America or Australia – than when they occur in Africa, the Middle East or Asia (fact: the vast majority of attacks and casualties occur in the latter three rather than the former).
The images of bloody corpses and mangled limbs sends shivers to those who witness them, in person or via social media. We become afraid of terrorists and terrorism and we begin to believe that we will become the next victims unless we stay away from where the terrorists are.
This is problematic as terrorism can occur ANYWHERE. A very short list of recent attacks underscores the ubiquity of terrorism: an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, a pedestrian mall in Barcelona, a London Tube train on a busy morning commute, in front of Notre Dame in Paris, a market stall in Kabul. And I could go on.
Yet, paradoxically, the chance of an act of terrorism in any one place at any given time is infinitely small (it is obviously higher in Baghdad and Mogadishu than in New York or Melbourne, but even then it is rare-ish).
What is unhelpful is to panic and cancel EVERYTHING because you are convinced you will die in a suicide bombing if you stay the course. A few examples are illustrative of an irrational succumbing to the fear of terrorism:
How is any of this a good thing? Why in the world would a school board in Edmonton cancel a trip to Paris after the November 2015 attacks when Paris the day after was probably the safest city on the planet in large part due to the increased presence of armed soldiers? Fear and ignorance, that’s why (and probably parents’ demands, which were born out of fear).
Giving in so easily to fear does many things. It rewards terrorist groups that aim to make us afraid and over-inflates their pathetic importance. It has serious implications for many parts of the economy both at home and abroad. And it undoubtedly makes us more jittery the next time a terrorist attack occurs which makes us react with fear more quickly.
I am not advocating rushing off to Kandahar on vacation tomorrow, but if we value our societies and our freedoms we need to live. Living means going out, seeing friends, visiting exotic lands and learning from each others’ cultures and histories. And we cannot do that by barricading ourselves in our duct-taped basements.
I think the right reaction is that of the Brits. They are famous for their ‘stiff upper lip’, a way of sneering at danger and uncertainty and forging ahead. That is exactly what a lot of people did in the wake of last Friday’s Tube attack (quote of the day: “I won’t stop taking the Tube because of some idiot”). They also didn’t waver during the decades of IRA bombings. I believe there is a lesson in that for all of us.
Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting. His latest book The Lesser Jihads is now available for purchase.
By: Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
Immigration lawyers in Canada are warning about risks caused by the spread of misinformation as the Trump administration rolls back a U.S. government program that shielded illegal immigrants brought to the United States as minors from deportation.
U.S. President Donald Trump formally announced on Tuesday the end of an Obama-era program that protected almost a million young people brought illegally into the country by their parents and granted them renewable two-year work permits, which will now begin to expire in early 2018.
While immigration lawyers said many clients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — widely known as “dreamers” — could be prime candidates for legal immigration to Canada, the challenge will be in making sure those looking to move are not getting faulty information about Canada’s immigration rules from unscrupulous immigration advisers or false reports. That’s what happened with thousands of Haitians earlier this summer when Trump threatened to rescind a program that lets those displaced by the earthquake in Haiti seven years ago live temporarily in the United States.
“These people are North American trained or brought up, so they have the skills to quickly adapt to the Canadian labour market or integrate into the post-secondary schooling system so there may in fact be some options for them,” said Betsy Kane, one of Canada’s top immigration lawyers and a partner at Capelle Kane.
“The only issue is if they are going to get misinformation from people trying to capitalize on their vulnerability and get sucked into a situation like the Haitians did, relying on potentially false information that would lure them into coming to make the wrong type of application to Canada.”
Roughly 7,000 asylum seekers, most of them Haitians from the U.S., have crossed into Canada since July. Some critics have accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not doing enough to prevent the surge; some have even accused him of being partly to blame for it.
A January tweet in which critics said the prime minister implied that Canada would welcome just about anyone — legal migrant or not — has increasingly come under fire, prompting the government into damage control mode in recent months.
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
Two weeks ago, Trudeau walked that welcome back in a series of tweets cautioning that while Canada is an open and diverse society, it also has immigration laws that must be obeyed.
Liberal MP and Whip Pablo Rodriguez also announced Wednesday he is heading to Los Angeles on Friday on a mission similar to that of MP Emmanuel Dubourg last month.
Following a surge of illegal Haitian migrants over the summer, the government sent Dubourg — who is himself of Haitian origin — to Miami to speak with Haitian community leaders and try to counter the flow of misinformation about how Canada’s immigration system works.
The government’s goal was to get a message across loud and clear: Not every refugee claim in Canada succeeds.
Now, Rodriguez is set to carry that same message to the other side of the country in a bid to stem a new wave of Mexican and Central American asylum seekers who are expected to be next to try and make the move north. Those people are in limbo now because of the possible end of temporary protected status for nearly 350,000 Salvadorans and Hondurans in the U.S. — a change that is unrelated to the rescinding of the DACA program but is similar in terms of how those affected might be influenced by misinformation.
Kane said the effort so far to counter the spread of bad information has been committed and social-media focused, which is exactly where it needs to be.
“I think it might be a more sophisticated group that’s not going to rely on WhatsApp or an internal rumours or community rumours as opposed to doing their research,” she said. “These are young people, they’re internet-savvy, and perhaps they’re going to spend a little more time getting the correct information, especially with all the social media that’s out there, because they’re all on social media. They’re young people, so that’s where they’re looking for information and CIC has been targeting social media.”
Many of those living in the U.S. under the DACA program are highly-educated and have skills that would make them prime applicants for the Express Entry system, Canada’s immigration scheme for skilled workers.
The question is whether those who want to use that route, or other legal options like applying for international student visas, will even be able to do so given the system overload caused by the influx of Haitians.
“The system is now overwhelmed,” said Julie Taub, an Ottawa immigration lawyer and former member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. “It’s having an impact on the other applications and it’s creating a lot of resentment for those who are immigrating to Canada legitimately through the proper channels and for those who are legitimate refugee claimants.”
For now, Taub said, those Americans who may face deportation without DACA will be looking for the best way to wait for a reinstatement of the protection — and she expects Trump’s move to rescind the program eventually will be overturned.
“It’s beyond reason that he has taken this measure,” she said. “It’s ludicrous and I think it will be overturned.”
By arrangement with ipolitics.ca.
Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa
Before this piece goes any further I need to spell out that I am not a big fan of the use of force unless absolutely necessary (and when necessary it is best to use it wisely, while still protecting the lives of the force wielders). Clearly it is required in some situations, but if public perception is that it is being applied too quickly or too harshly things go awry.
That is why police officers are often (rightly or wrongly) convicted in the court of public opinion when some amateur video suggests they have overstepped their authority and shot someone. It is also probably why the anti-fascist/extreme RW/neo-Nazi Antifa may be losing its clear advantage over repugnant skinheads: it seems to resort to the same violence it is protesting against.
In some situations it is easy to understand why a group decides to use violence even if it is hard to provide outright ‘support’.
A case where this appears to be true is unfolding in Myanmar (Burma), a southeast nation still emerging from decades of military rule under what everyone thought would be the wise leadership of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Well, things have turned out a little differently.
Not only has Ms. Suu Kyi been described as autocratic, she has not decried a clear human rights violation in her own country – the army’s campaign of rape, killing and destruction in the northwest corner (Rakhine state), an area where the Rohingya live.
The Rohingya are a Muslim people who probably arrived in Myanmar from neighbouring Bangladesh centuries ago. The state, however, sees them as usurpers and johnny-come-latelys and wants them to return to Bangladesh. It refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an official ethnic group which seriously undermines their representation and rights.
To make things worse, a Buddhist monk some have called Myanmar’s Osama bin Laden, Ashin Wirathu, leads an Islamophobic group called Ma Ba Tha and has inspired Burmese (the dominant ethnic group) attacks on unarmed villagers. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have tried to flee both west to Bangladesh (more recently) or southwards on flimsy boats where they have landed (if they don’t drown) in Thailand and Malaysia, only to be enslaved at times.
In response to the one-sided violence, a group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) has arisen and has carried out attacks against Myanmar soldiers. Ms. Suu Kyi has called them ‘terrorists’ and there are allegations that foreign jihadis have joined the group (perhaps because they also call themselves Harakah al-Yaqin – Arabic for ‘the Faith Movement’, which is a little odd since no one in Rakhine speaks Arabic that I know of).
This development was eminently predictable since no outside body, including the UN, seemed capable of doing anything to lessen the violence against the Rohingya. What is very worrying is the possibility that the conflict will draw in foreign jihadis (if it hasn’t already), perhaps some leaving the Islamic State in Iraq/Syria. We saw an outflow from Afghanistan post Soviet withdrawal to Bosnia in the early 1990s and could witness similar movements in a host of wars including Myanmar.
The possibility that Myanmar may become a new jihadi battleground, as well as two dozen other cases, is covered in my soon to be released third book The Lesser Jihads.
Is the ARSA a terrorist group as Myanmar claims? I have no idea and I am the last person to support terrorism. The problem is that we have no idea about the ‘ideology’ the ARSA espouses and, to date, they have only targeted the military. The militants say they just want the killing to stop and self-determination for the Rohingya. We will wait and see how this pans out.
So while I would prefer a peaceful resolution to the situation in Rakhine, the violent surge by the ARSA is easily comprehended. The Rohingya do not stand a chance against the army and extremist Buddhists (should this not be an oxymoron?).
If Myanmar does not change its approach or the international community does not step up, we will see more killing, perhaps worse. The time for another kind of ‘action’ is now.
Phil Gurski has worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). His latest book The Lesser Jihads is available now for pre-order on Amazon.
Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa
Sometimes, small things point to large changes.
During my short visit last week to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of that country’s leading political scientists to talk about terrorism and PVE – i.e. Preventing Violent Extremism, the newest iteration of CVE – Countering Violent Extremism.
We had a wide-ranging chat in his book-lined office and I also learned that he had studied at Carleton University in Ottawa just before I became a sessional instructor in linguistics at that institution. Small world indeed. Our conversation was very illuminating, especially when it came to the topic of a shift in Islamic influence in Bangladesh.
So, what was that ‘small thing’? You may see this as insignificant, but I think it speaks volumes. There is apparently a tendency in Bangladesh these days to replace the everyday phrase ‘khoda hafez’ (literally ‘may God protect you’ but colloquially used to mean ‘goodbye’) with ‘allah hafez’.
The difference, of course, is the substitution of the Arabic word for God (‘Allah’) for the Persian one (‘khoda’).
This tiny shift is nothing less than a sign of the invasion of conservative, intolerant Sunni Islam into the former East Pakistan (more on that later).
Bangladeshi Islam has traditionally been Sunni of the Hanafi school with an important influence from Sufi interpretations of the faith. The growing dominance of Salafi Sunnism is fairly recent and worrisome. Several terrorist attacks and assassinations have been attributed to Salafi jihadists in the past few years.
The victims have come from communities which the Salafis see as enemies (in truth, a very long list): Sufis, Shia, non-Muslims (Hindus, Christians), gays… Perhaps the most serious attack – in what has been called Bangladesh’s ‘9/11’ – was the July 1, 2016 massacre of non-Muslims at a cafe in Dhaka, an operation masterminded by a Canadian terrorist from Windsor, Ontario.
The uptick in violence has many Banglas worried. Everyone with whom I spoke – government agencies, the UN, academics – are all concerned about where this violence is headed.
And, it is not only among the Salafi jihadis that violence is being promoted. Political parties too are jumping on the bandwagon. It does not help that power in the country has been seesawing over the past decade between two female-led parties that routinely gang up on the other once in office. The current government, led by the Awami League, has also given in to some outrageous ideas by radical Islamists, such as a demand to remove a statue of Lady Justice from the grounds of the Supreme Court. This ‘dalliance’ with extremists is not helpful.
The apparent sanction of violence in the name of religion threatens to lead to more deaths.
Bangladesh faces a difficult decision in the run up to national elections next year. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can continue to do deals with the Salafis in order to court their support, but this will only cause more hardship and maintain the transformation of tolerant Bangladeshi Islam to intolerant Salafism.
At the same time, the regime has to confront the serious Islamist extremist (i.e. terrorist) threat, but must do so while keeping human rights in mind. The elite Rapid Action Battalion, a counter terrorism body, has been criticised by some rights groups for extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
Bangladesh was born in a bloody civil war in 1971 when the former East Pakistan split from what we now call Pakistan. The powers that be in Islamabad were not too happy with the independence desires of the eastern half of a country – geographically separated by India in between – and engaged in a slaughter whose victims are estimated at anywhere from 300,000 to three million people.
In fact, trials of those responsible for the massacre are still being held these days. It would be truly tragic if another wave of violence is on the horizon.
But back to that change in ‘goodbye’. Salafis hate the Shia more than any other group and believe that the only good Shia is a dead one. Their intolerance has even extended to rejecting a Bangla phrase that contains a Farsi (Persian) word (recall that most Persians are Shia Muslims) for an Arabic one (NB linguistically this makes little sense: Bangla and Farsi are related Indo-European languages whereas Arabic is a non-related Semitic language).
This may sound silly and trivial, but sometimes we do have to pay attention to the small things in life.
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.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit