Muslims, the #Metoo and the need for accountability

Two years ago, the world was swept by a huge tide. A tide that for some has pushed hard to liberate women’s voices and for some others it was a tide that sent some powerful men crumbling on the dark shore of the History.
Women started speaking out against powerful men. One of the first stories and if not the most important one, without diminishing all the other cases, was the Harvey Weinstein case.
He was a prominent Hollywood movie producer. Nobody dared to bring him down and yet one actress after another came publicly to tell their horrible encounters with the man, which predatory and dominant behaviour brought him to his door young attractive women where he abused of them.

Among all the cacophony of voices divided between people supporting the victims and other rather skeptical claiming that there are other motives behind these women’s claims (like monetary gains or publicity), another troubling case emerged and this time it concerned not a showbiz star, not an actor, not a politician but a Muslim scholar, Tariq Ramadan.

I remembered how shocked I was hearing the allegations made by some women, all of them Muslims, against him. These allegations were about rape, sexual violence, manipulation, sharing pornography content…

I read many of Tariq Ramadan books and listened to some of his lectures. I always found him articulate, smart and knowledgeable.
His insistence on the importance of Muslims’s need of contribution in the West feeling as full citizens like any other citizens from other faiths, made a lot of sense to me.

I have to admit that I found these allegations in total contradiction with what the personae of Tariq Ramadan projected in his public appearances.
Even though, I didn’t believed at all the conspiracy theories being circulated by some groups, mainly his supporters, that these women allegations were motivated and funded by the perpetual enemies of Mr. Ramadan: the French secularists and some intellectual staunch zionists, I felt somehow torn apart. Believe the women or Tariq Ramadan?
With the high islamophobia climate of French media and the surrounding political arena and with his subsequent arrest in France, I decided to stick to one simple truth: the due process.

So this is why, I wrote on this platform, a blogpost, trying to emphasize on the importance of due process and drawing similarities with another French case: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, which despite the gravity of the accusations against him received the right to due process.

But everything changed when Tariq Ramadan admitted that he had extra-conjugal affairs, first with the escort girl who accused him of rape and later with all his accusers.

The minute I read his own admission in the newspapers, after lengthy months of denying and lying, my opinion was made: this guy is a charlatan. He deceived his family, he deceived his friends, he deceived his supporters. He can’t deceive me anymore.

We are not talking about any man. Indeed, everyone of us, can make mistakes, tumble, fall down and still continue his/her path. But we are talking about a man who build his entire career ( yes it is in fact a career with money, fame, books…) on Islamic ethics and Muslim scholarship. His entire business is about Islam and how to be a good Muslim. So when he comes out publicly and speaks about forgiveness or about mistakes, it is like if he lost the core of his message and still pretend that he deserves a second chance.

As a community, the most urgent and crucial problem we have today is: accountability. We don’t understand what it is. Many Muslims mix accountability with forgiveness and kindness which is totally misleading and wrong.
In order to be a math professor, you need to know your mathematical proofs and theorems. In order to be an engineer, you need to know your mathematical models, measurements, materials density…If you don’t, then you fail and eventually you are fired. In order to be a Muslim scholar, you don’t need to be an angel but you need a minimum of decency. Obviously, Tariq Ramadan failed as a human being, which can happen, but he still wants to continue his career by preaching forgiveness and pushing for other unrelated platitudes.
This problem of using “forgiveness” when it suits us and forget about it when it doesn’t is really dangerous. This is called: hypocrisy. This is putting our own selfish interests and career plans on top of justice.

The message of forgiveness won’t have any meaning without applying justice, in its full meaning. In many Muslim countries ruled by a dictature, when the dictator dies, all of a sudden, people would start speaking about being a good Muslim and forgive him. When Saddam Hussein, after killing million of his own people, was about to be killed, he showed some signs of religiosity. Some Muslims around the world believed him. Some would say, “oh he repented, we should be forgiven”. I wonder if they would say the same thing if their own kid was killed or even imprisoned by him.
Where is the justice? Where is the accountability? Justice and accountability don’t mean we are unkind or revengeful. Justice and accountability are the first step toward a better world with less mistakes and less oppression.

For all these Muslim men who oppressed women, sexually abused them, raped them and then deny it or came later to speak about forgiveness, they are following on the footsteps of the political dictators in the Muslim countries. Forgiveness come after accountability, after the rights are given back to their owners, after justice has taking its course. Then only then, the victims can decide: forgive or not.

Something that stroke me about the story of Harvey Weinstein is
that his attorney recently declared “No matter happens at trial, [he] will pay the biggest price there is, because his life is ruined.”
For me, that means accountability. He might be declared “innocent” but at the end, he will pay for his horrible actions. Would Harvey Weinstein’s case serve as a lesson for Ramadan, who is still preaching for his fans and trying to rebuild a virginity that, by his own admission, was lost many years ago.

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Remembrance Day for the Rohingya Genocide

Last August 25, 2019, I was at the steps of Parliament Hill with human rights activists and several people gathered in solidarity with the fate and the terrible situation the Rohingya people are going through.
It is sad to keep bringing this topic about what this marginalized and oppressed community is going through and the total silence of the rest of the world.
Below is my speech from two years ago. Almost nothing has changed, except that more Rohingya are in refugees camps in Bangladesh and Canada has not done much to bring any Rohingya refugees to the country. Also, on a symbolic level, Aung San Suu Kyi was stripped of her Canadian honorary citizenship. More need to be done!

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“We are gathering this afternoon in solidarity with the horrible plight of the Rohingyas people from the Myanmar Rakhine region, who are being chased from their homes, burned, slaughtered and killed by the ultranationalist military forces of the Myanmar.
On Thursday, Amnesty International said that fresh satellite imagery, fire detection data, photographs and videos along with eyewitness accounts showed “an orchestrated campaign of systematic burnings” of the villages of the Rohingyas people.
This is what the Burmese military call “Clearance operation”. This is what the United Nation human rights chief calls “ethnic cleansing”.
And this is how a teacher in a Burmese village named Maung Nu who escaped and recounted her last hours in their homes and the long journey that followed ddescribed it this week, to the Washington Post:
“I can’t count how many…We were all watching what the military did. They slaughtered them one by one. And the blood flowed in the streets.”
And this is just one horrible story.
By now, there are about 400,000 Rohingyas, mainly women and children, almost a little bit than half of the entire population that lives in Myanmar, that fled their hometowns to the borders with the Bangladesh.
Despite the international condemnation, the Burmese military and their “new friend” the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, are not budging and are not stopping the massacre. Instead, they are calling this an internal issue and a national security matter. She even recently declared that the Burmese government is fighting “militant insurgency”. One can only wonder, who is fighting who?
The Rohingya, are considered to be among the world’s most persecuted people. They are denied the right to citizenship in Myanmar despite having lived there for generations, making them effectively stateless.
The Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu wrote a letter to Aung San Suu Kyi urged her to condemn the violence committed against the Rohingyas
“If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep”
Malala Yousefzai, the young Nobel Laureate urged Aung San Suu Kyi to
And even the Dalai Lama spoke and denounced what some are doing under the name of Buddha, he said:
“They should remember, Buddha, in such circumstances, would have definitely helped those poor Muslims. So, still I feel that (it’s) so very sad … so sad,”

It was overdue that our Prime Minister Trudeau spoke few days ago with Aung San Suu Kyi and shared his “deep concerns” about the massacre of the Rohingyas and other ethnic groups but obviously this is not enough. We need to do more.
So what can we do, as Canadians:

– We should sign petitions, one of them, is to ask Prime Minister Trudeau to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi from her honorary citizenship
– Send donations to humanitarian groups that help Rohingyas in Bangladesh
– Require from our government, that our Canadian Ambassador to Myanmar, Karen MacArthur, visit the afflicted Rohingya villages. Her presence will show the Myanmar government that Canadian people care and are closely watching the situation,
– Canada should send more humanitarian aid to Bangladesh so they can help all the refugee influx. The $2.55 millions in additional aid, the Canadian government just announced is so little and won’t be enough. Canada can do better.
And finally, Prime Minister Trudeau should be speaking to his American and Chinese counterpart and share his deep concern about the Rohingyas people. The US and China are the most powerful governments that would make the generals of Rangoon listen and stop the ethnic cleansing that being conducted these days on the Rohingyas.”

Credit: Pleas note that the picture above was graciously and generously taken by Zulf Khalfan/Aptword

Imagine Canada’s response if the B.C. murder suspects were Muslims

During the last two weeks of July, two young Canadian men kept people in Canada and around the world in a state of terror, holding their breath for what would be next. First, the pair went missing from their native town of Port Alberni, British Columbia. Then they were formally charged by the RCMP for the killing of a sessional lecturer in UBC’s botany department and became suspects in the killing of two tourists in northern B.C. Then they disappeared into the wilderness of northern Manitoba.

For weeks, the residents of the surrounding community in Gillam, Manitoba were scared. They kept their children inside. The entire population in the area was waiting for the RCMP to catch these fugitives and presumable killers. But they weren’t captured. It was as if they vanished. It was an embarrassing failure for the national police and military forces who used drones, special gear and satellite GPS in a failed attempt to track the two men. Their bodies were finally retrieved near the same search area. A report from the autopsy concluded that the pair died by suicide.

It is a sad and troubling story. First, it’s sad for the families and friends of the victims affected by this tragedy, as it seems very unlikely that they will learn the real motives of the killers. And it’s troubling because it is a story that’s happening more and more often in these days filled with hate, violence and misinformation.

I followed the story and found myself asking, what if these two young men had names with Arab or Islamic connotation? How would the media be reporting about the tragic case? Would they still publish nice mug shots of them? Would they call them “teenagers” and describe them as avid video game players (a way, in my opinion, to diminish the gravity of their acts), despite the fact that both of them were adults? How would the families of the accused be treated in the eyes of the public? And most importantly, how would police and law enforcement be reacting to these violent murders and the consequent escape of the perpetrators?

First and foremost, I believe that this tragic case showed that the RCMP and CSIS have no mechanism of surveillance when it comes to “lone wolves” with family names like McLeod or Schmegelsky, sympathizing with violent groups like neo-Nazis or holding a fascination with violence. Some reports mentioned at least that one of the men had a picture of himself in military attire holding Nazi paraphernalia and yet they were left alone, unbothered. No CSIS visits to their parents, no surprise visits to their workplaces. At least nothing of that sort that was reported in the media.

A few days ago, we learned from the news that several Muslim student leaders had been visited by CSIS and asked questions about their fellow Muslim students. In that news report, an RCMP spokesperson explained that the motive behind this obviously racially profiled act was “to build a relation of trust and educate them on different forms of criminality,” including “radicalization signs and behaviours.” When I was the national coordinator of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group in 2016, I got a phone call from a Muslim student leader. He explained that he had been harassed by CSIS agents who even approached him at his relative’s house where he was living. They wanted to ask questions probing what he knew about other Muslim students on campus.

Imagine today if CSIS agents had done the same thing with the two B.C. murder suspects. What if they visited the pair at the Port Alberni Walmart where they both worked and asked their coworkers what they knew about them? What video games did they play? What were their ideologies? Were they sympathizers of neo-Nazis groups? Did they have intentions of going on a killing rampage?

When the father of one of the suspects was interviewed by the TV program 60 Minutes, he unashamedly mentioned that he once offered his son a replica gun. He didn’t feel at all complicit in feeding his son’s fascination with guns and violence.

It is a known fact that in France when a Muslim man commits or is suspected of having committed a terrorist act his parents or siblings may be arrested, interrogated and in some cases even convicted. Here in Canada, the parents of Alexandre Bissonnette had the guts to publicly call on Prime Minister Trudeau to stop calling their son a terrorist, despite the fact that he has been convicted of killing six Muslim men in a place of worship.

Imagine for a second a Muslim parent saying the same thing to the media. Omar Khadr’s mother and his sisters both dared to publicly criticize Canadian society and explain the motives behind their decision to live in Afghanistan. They were vilified in public opinion and never forgiven. Khadr paid the price with 10 long years of incarceration in Guantanamo for being the son of his father and his mother, and being the brother of his sister.

It is not a secret among young Muslim men that going to play paintball can lead to a visit by CSIS agents and a profile as a suspected terrorist. A passion for martial arts by certain young men can also be seen as a “sign” of radicalization or sympathy for “jihad.”

Why as a society do we tolerate certain actions when it comes to spying on Muslims or other marginalized groups, but groups like neo-Nazis, white supremacists or incels get a free pass no matter how violent the acts they applaud and even commit, and no matter how violent the ideologies they espouse?

In 2015, when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a Canadian soldier at the National War Memorial, and despite an emotional public plea from his mother explaining how her son suffered from the divorce of his parents, drug addiction and mental health problems, no mosque accepted Zehaf-Bibeau’s body for burial. Everyone was scared that by giving a final service to the killer, they would be accused of “sympathizing with a terrorist.” He was buried in Libya.

Today, in the media, the community of Port Alberni is portrayed as being in solidarity with the families of the suspected killers and no media reports accused anyone there of sympathizing with the killers.

On the contrary, it is understood that this is a sign of a good, tight-knit community. And most of all, there is no word about who is giving the final service for these two young men suspected of terrible murders.

Until the racism and double standards of surveillance and law enforcement agencies are denounced by Canadians and until the media adopts the same scrutiny of “white” terrorism as they do of “brown” terrorism, we will not be a just and fair society. Our silence and complacency for some will send the wrong message to elements who will kill and spread terror and fear.

This article was originally published at rabble.ca

Never forget: Yes, there was a genocide. Why don’t we correct the wrong now?

In the 1950s, Frantz Fanon, the famous psychiatrist and philosopher from Martinique, reported on the French colonial administration officials discussing the Algerians and quoted them saying, “if we want to strike Algerian society in its structure, in its faculty of resistance, we first have to conquer its women, we have to look for them behind their veils, where they hide themselves and in their house where the men hide them.”

What Fanon reported was not a simple and harmless note between French bureaucrats, it was an entire structured policy that was implemented in the French-colonized land of Algeria since 1830. The policy that clearly targeted women, seen as the carriers of the Algerian culture, was accompanied on the ground by tanks and artillery targeting men. It was only in 1962, that Algeria gained its independence from France, after a long, brutal and violent war.

Last week, in Ottawa, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, submitted its long-awaited report. Years ago, already, in 2004, Amnesty International Canada called the disappeared and murdered Indigenous women, the “Stolen Sisters.”

In 2012, the RCMP reported the number of Indigenous women and girls who disappeared or were murdered as 1,182.

The new report speaks of thousands of women with a similar fate. Unfortunately, we will never know exactly how many. As if neither the lives nor the tragic deaths of these women and girls really mattered. Many other women were probably murdered and killed with no one reporting their disappearance, or worse, their disappearances were probably hidden.

The inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are “12 times more likely to be murdered or to go missing than members of any other demographic group in Canada and 16 times more likely to be slain or disappear than white women.”

Despite the cultural and geographic differences between Algerian women and Indigenous women, both groups were victims of brutal and ruthless colonialist administration. The French in the case of Algerian women, and the Canadian in the case of Indigenous women. Both were abused by police officers; both have seen their native languages banned from being taught at homes and in schools and both were targeted as they were seen as the heart of the Algerian and Indigenous family, respectively.

Under the pretext of liberating women from the oppression of their male relatives and pretending to welcome them into the world of civilization and legal rights, many Algerian women were forced to remove their veils. Their religion, Islam, was identified by the French colonialist institutions as the main source of their oppression and backwardness. Many Algerians grew up not learning Arabic, or being ashamed of speaking it.

In the case of Indigenous women, many who were fleeing domestic violence from some men in their communities (another product of colonialism and difficult economic factors) were taken advantage of by either police officers or on the road by white men who would sexually abuse them and then would kill them. Many Indigenous women would be described as “loose” or “drug addicts” or “submissive” so according to this highly biased and discriminating description, who would be bothered by their deaths anyway?

In the case of Algeria, up to today France has never admitted its war crimes in Algeria. The word genocide was never pronounced by any French politicians. The closest French politicians came was admitting to the killing and torture of Maurice Audin, a French communist who was supporting the fight for independence.

Today, Canada has a choice. It can continue to look away and praise itself as one of the best places in the world and quietly put the report on the shelf like it has in the past for all the previous reports (the Royal commission on Aboriginal peoples, and the public commission of inquiry into missing women in B.C. in 2012).

Or, it can decide to be courageous and brave and start decolonizing its institutions starting from stopping the abusive and racial profiling practices used by some local police forces, to overcoming the general apathy and complacency of the RCMP, to repealing the mother of all evil, the Indian Act.

Like any radical change, this decolonization process wouldn’t be easy or popular to adopt. Already, most of the major newspapers in Canada are, since the release of the report, aligning with editorial after editorial and opinion after opinion against the word “genocide” used in the report. Many have been acting offended and choosing to focus on the word genocide, while all the crucial issues discussed in the report have seemed already to be once again forgotten.

A feminist revolution in Canadian politics — or the same old boys’ club?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015 promising sunny ways (even though sunny ways had already been used by a previous prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in a different context, on different issues).

To the journalist who asked him, “Why a gender-balanced government?” Trudeau candidly replied, “Because it’s 2015.” That reply charmed the country and the world — from young feminist actress Emma Watson to U.S. feminist website Jezebel.

Many times over the last four years, Trudeau branded himself a feminist and a strong believer in the efforts of reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada. It is ironic to see today how these two self-described attributes have come back to haunt him and show us that state politics in Canada are still being done in the same old way as the sunny ways of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. In other words, the same opaque politics run by a small male elite. The presence of women and Indigenous people in the cabinet isn’t necessarily a badge of honour or a guarantee of a “feminist” policy. Neither is it a pass for the implementation of Truth and Reconciliation recommendations, especially when the real strings of power are still held and controlled behind the scenes by white male politicians and strategists.

Over the last three weeks, we have seen a confrontation between two visions of politics. One is made and run through a well-established political strategist from the old school. Think of Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s former adviser, who in a previous life was strategist and adviser to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, versus another type of politics slowly emerging from centuries of patriarchy and colonialism and struggling to see the light in the dark corridors of Ottawa.

I don’t want to put former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on a pedestal. She made decisions that I didn’t agree with and she didn’t show particular courage when dealing with some complex cases. For instance, in the case of Hassan Diab, the Canadian citizen unjustly extradited to France by Canada, despite credible revelations by a CBC investigation pointing to the role of justice department officials in his ordeal, she merely ordered a judiciary review rather than calling a public inquiry as demanded by many rights groups.

More recently, the justice department’s decision to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, doing the Trump administration’s dirty work, has put Canada in a bad position with China, politically and commercially. Wilson-Raybould shouldn’t have accepted the politically motivated demand from her U.S. counterpart, even if Trudeau repeated many times that the decision wasn’t political interference.

And when Wilson-Raybould tweeted that “Canada can and must do better” about the acquittal of Gerald Stanley, a white farmer accused of the murder of Colten Boushie, an Indigenous young man, a storm followed her public remark and many Canadians wrote to her, accusing her of being biased.

Maybe that incident taught her to keep quiet, but not for so long. The case of SNC-Lavalin seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Her reaction, beyond an obvious sense of being demoted and humiliated by a self-identified “feminist” prime minister, might have also been derived from a decision where personal political calculations coincided with a genuine sense of injustice because of the way she was treated as an Indigenous woman. But what made her resignation a feminist political act is the resignation of her colleague (“accused” by some of being her friend, as if friendship was a sin for women in politics), Jane Philpott, then minister of the treasury board. Philpott could have decided to stay. She had an excellent record as a minister. She was loved by her constituents. Her gesture was a purely feminist political move.

It is interesting to see how the self-branded slogan of “feminist prime minister” is coming back to bite Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership. And the two individuals gnawing at his feminist image are real feminists who decided that they cannot be idle any more.

In the U.S., many observers believe that change to the Trump administration is coming from women politicians. Not only they are culturally diverse, they are unapologetically progressive, forceful and radical.

I wonder if Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are the first crack from which a new wave of feminist politicians could emerge, one that would bring to politics what has been so far lacking: integrity and transparency and, yes — why not real friendship?

This article has been already published at rabble.ca

Kingston arrest shows terrorism charges are exclusively for Muslims

A few weeks ago, seven teenagers were taken into police custody after a lockdown at a high school in Milton, Ontario. One was released, and six others were arrested. No one was injured but a knife was recovered, as well as two weapons believed to be firearms.

This incident was reported by a few media outlets in Ontario. It isn’t clear whether the teens were charged or not. A simple search on the internet brings up dozens, if not more, of such incidents happening across Canada. Bombs threats, possession of weapons, and threats of violence, all the work of Canadian teenagers and all happening right here in Canada, probably near one of your neighbourhood high schools.

Despite the gravity of the acts, there were no RCMP press conferences, no terrorism charges laid against these teenagers, no security experts invited by the national media to analyze the phenomenon, and no politicians asking for an overhaul of the refugee screening program. The language spoken by these young perpetrators didn’t interest any commentators. And Opposition leader Andrew Scheer hasn’t asked any questions about the incident in Milton, and didn’t call for a tightening of firearms legislation, even knowing that his predecessor Stephen Harper dismantled the federal long-gun registry in 2012. No special aircraft was used for surveillance of these neighbourhoods and no FBI tips to the RCMP about any of these incidents were shared. Nothing like this happened. Basically, no one cares.

But when the protagonist of similar acts is a teenage boy, most likely of Muslim background, and came to Canada as a Syrian refugee, it is a whole different story. The RCMP is involved, the FBI — previously implicated in an operation that led to the killing of Aaron Driver, a young Muslim-Canadian who was a supporter of ISIS, in obscure circumstances — are now in the loop. A Pilatus PC-12 RCMP aircraft was surveying the teen’s Kingston neighbourhood for days before his arrest. A press conference was held by no less than the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team of the RCMP. Even financial monitoring agency FINTRAC, which has so far been inefficient in stopping major money laundering and gave anonymity to a Canadian bank found guilty of not respecting the rules, joined the efforts. And of course, Scheer was so worried that he asked for a re-examination of the screening process for refugees coming to Canada.

From this Kingston arrest, we learned that explosives were found in the teen’s house and that initially two young people were arrested. One young man was later released and not charged, even though he had been named by the media. The other person turned out to be a teenager and was subsequently charged.

According to the RCMP, explosives were found in the house; however, by his own admission, the RCMP superintendent told the media that “there was no specific target identified.” Nevertheless he was adamant in saying that “there was an attack planned.” Despite all these confusing statements, the teen was charged with “knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity,” and “counselling a person to deliver, place, discharge or detonate an explosive or other lethal device in a public place.”

This week, I was at a vigil on Parliament Hill to commemorate the killing of six Muslim men by a young Canadian man, Alexandre Bissonnette. Despite the planning of his heinous crime, and his clear intent to spread fear and terrorize Muslims in a place of worship, Bissonnette was never charged with terrorism. He was described as a bullied and troubled teenager, and as a “lone wolf,” but never as a terrorist.

The Crown psychiatrist for his case said Bissonnette “didn’t promote any type of ideology in carrying out actions” (understanding ideology as Islam).

In opposition, the recently arrested Kingston teenager, even though he was not charged with belonging to a terrorist group and thus would have been a good candidate for the qualification of “lone wolf,” was still charged with terrorism.

Today, I have not a single doubt in my mind that this teen is Muslim. Today, I have the deep conviction that terrorism legislation in Canada is made to indict Muslims and Muslims only.

During that vigil, there were Liberal politicians present. They all condemned Islamophobia and hate. And that is commendable.

Looking at the centennial flame, and thinking of the widows and orphans and victims with life-long injuries left behind by the actions of Bissonnette, I wondered in silence if any of those politicians ever thought that the same legislation their own party voted for is responsible for stirring the pot of Islamophobia.

When Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale candidly “urges people not to jump to conclusions based on early reports” and accuses Scheer of “talking as if he knows the outcome of a police investigation,” doesn’t he realize that these same mediatized arrests by his own law enforcement agencies, and their problematic collaboration with the FBI (found guilty of entrapment many times) are responsible for this climate of fear and the “jumping to conclusion” attitudes that he is denouncing? Couldn’t the case of the Kingston teen have been dealt with differently? He could have been charged on the basis of the Criminal Code, like in the other teenagers’ arrests across the country — teenagers, frequently found with weapons and firearms, and who no politicians, no security experts, no RCMP, no FBI, no national TV, are there to talk about and care about.

This article was originally published at rabble.ca

In 2019, Canada can act with courage in global affairs

I don’t believe in simple annual reviews. They aren’t very useful or relevant to people’s lives or countries’ politics. A year is a relatively short period of time when it comes to detecting patterns or deducing trends in human lives and politics. I believe that a longer period of time can be more useful in trying to establish observations and determine where we seem to be going.

Today I look back seven years ago, to 2011, and remember the beginning of the Arab Spring. It started in Tunisia, the country where I was born and the country for which I gave up any kind of hope for political change since I came to Canada in 1991. But what happened there in 2011 had a huge impact on international affairs — it impacted the entire Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Europe, the U.S. and even us, here in Canada.

The spark that started in a small poor town in the interior of Tunisia was ignited by huge economic and regional disparities, police brutality and corrupt government. Those are the prevalent ingredients in many countries of the region and they are, I believe, a fertile ground for social and political unrest.

In 2011, the entire region of the Middle East was swept by a wave of street protests, first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, and followed by Yemen, Bahrein, Libya and Syria. Unfortunately, only Tunisia was able to get out with some mitigated positive changes: a newly written constitution, a free press and free democratic elections, but challenges are still hanging over the country and the threat of economic turmoil and political collapse are real.

Similar protests on the streets of other countries calling for political change have miserably failed. Even worse, they were quashed in bloody repression and in the case of Syria and Yemen, swirled into tragic civil wars fuelled by sectarianism, geopolitical interests and international foes.

The initial legitimate calls and movements asking for dignity, better living conditions, and an end to police regimes and military dictatorships were generally first met with silence, then carelessness and later with the active participation of Western democracies and Russian intervention to crush these movements for change. Western countries and Russia may have different reasons to stop these changes, but they wanted the same results: the status quo. This element is crucial for Israel’s security in the region (an argument that always comes first in Western capitals) but also for Saudi Arabia’s sake (since it is providing lucrative arms deals to many Western countries). Silencing and destroying these calls to democracy was possible with Canada selling arms to Saudi Arabia and with Russian President Putin selling arms and lending colonels and commanders to defeat the Syrians rebels and save their friend, Bashar al-Assad, preserving his power in Damascus, and consequently, the Russian presence in the region.

The consequence of this military intervention was a flow of refugees crossing to Europe, the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS and the crushing of all hope for any genuine democratic change in the region.

Some countries, like Germany, accepted one million refugees but many others refused to do so; instead countries like Hungary and Italy established entire political platforms to prevent the acceptance of refugees.

In Canada, we aren’t immune to the impact of the wars in the Middle East, even if many Canadians are not aware of them. Alexandre Bissonnette, the young Quebecer who killed six Muslim men and seriously injured five others in the Quebec City mosque shooting, justified his gesture through fear of refugees coming to Canada.

In 2018, hate crimes soared across Canada, with Quebec recording the highest number. Xenophobic and Islamophobic groups like the Three Percenters have flourished in Canada, increasing their memberships and spreading false news targeting Muslims and refugees on social media. They have organized protests in Canadian cities to create a sense of urgency and incite the population to fear “others.”

In 2019, there will be a federal election in Canada. Already, populist MP and founder of the People’s Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier (who showed very poor judgement when it came to choosing a romantic partner, once dating a woman with ties to criminals while he was foreign affairs minister, and leaving highly secret documents with her), is now claiming that he wants to save Canada from all the immigrants who are undermining “Western civilization’s values.”

Since he was elected in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been shy about fighting Islamophobia. Even when one of his MPs introduced a motion to study Islamophobia, its causes and impacts, the Conservative Party of Canada waged a “holy war” against that initiative. Quickly, the move turned into a purely partisan issue and the report that came out afterward was weak, with almost no recommendations.

At an international level, the Trudeau government kept a similar line to its predecessor, the conservative government of Stephen Harper. Trudeau kept the Harper government’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, until recently, when he started looking for a way out — but not before the gruesome assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, most likely ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the debacle of the tweet from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, where she raised the fate of Saudi women activists and was immediately viciously attacked by Saudi government officials on Twitter and threatened with economic reprisals.

All these examples bring me to my initial point: our internal politics are not isolated from external politics, and vice versa.

I hope for this coming year, 2019, that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is courageous both at home and abroad — supporting democracy by finally cancelling the arms deal with Saudi Arabia, promoting peaceful resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict (instead of equating the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to anti-Semitism), and supporting the development and construction of Yemen. In this way, he can leave a real legacy as prime minister. Canada is a small player when it comes to international affairs but with the erratic behaviour of the U.S. president and America’s international decline, there is a vacuum that Canada can fill with ethical political decisions.

This article has been originally published at rabble.ca