From Marois to Harper, niqab debate plays with xenophobic fire

The election is coming to an end. All the way, I resisted the urge to write about the niqab. Why? I didn’t want to create more controversy and stir the already ugly pot simmering in many people’s minds. But then, it became stronger than me. My brain isn’t as disciplined as my fingers so I found myself typing out thoughts about the niqab.
Who would have thought that “niqab” — a word not well known or used in the Muslim world — would find its way into political debates among party leaders and hundreds of articles in the North American context?! Even the U.S. and U.K. newspapers that covered the Canadian election did so from the perspective of the niqab.
For those who followed the Quebec election in 2013, Pauline Marois and her genius “strategists” (à la Lynton Crosby) introduced the Charter of Values disguised in noble arguments of secularism and gender equality, intended to ban wearing the hijab and the niqab in the public service. Now following the news during this federal election, I had the impression I was watching the same horror movie, this time in English.
The doors of bigotry and xenophobia seem to have been opened and very rare were those who stood up bravely and firmly trying to close them. It’s ironic that during Marois’ failed attempt at banning the niqab, English Canada looked at Quebec with superiority, insinuating that Quebecers were more uncomfortable with diversity and especially with the Muslim religion than the rest of Canadians.
Three years later, the rest of Canada found itself immersed in the same polarized debate à la George Bush: you’re either on the side of the niqabis (and thus you are oppressed, barbaric, misogynistic, archaic, anti-women, for Saudi-Arabia, for the Taliban, for the terrorists) or you side with us (and you are for security, for freedom, for women’s rights, for freedom, for gender equality, for universal human rights).
So Stephen Harper, following in the footsteps of Marois, started talking the niqab language. And all of a sudden, we discovered a “feminist” Stephen Harper who cared about women’s equality and who even set up a hotline for people to report barbaric practices, a.k.a., practices related to Islam.
When we were children, we were told that if we played with matches, we risked being burned. Has Stephen Harper heard this warning? Or maybe he is betting on being a superhero, a sort of inflammable one. He is playing with the fire of Islamophobia and simultaneously refuses to be blamed for it. Actually, he doesn’t even refuse: he ignores the consequences.
In this landscape filled with dangerous games, there is hope. Hope coming from women. These women don’t need men to talk on their behalf; for sure not the likes of Stephen Harper. A group of 538 women from various fields — political, academic, legal, religious, business — issued the statement “Respect Women” to denounce how the niqab issue was used in the election campaign. They stated:
“It troubles us that the current focus on the few instances of women wanting to wear a niqab during their citizenship ceremony has divided Canadians and stigmatized Muslim women. We are alarmed that this appears to have incited discrimination, and even violence, which undermines equality and respect for human rights and ignores the greater issues facing women in Canada.”
The group included prominent names like: the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Alexa McDonough, Sheila Copps, Maureen McTeer, the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, Marlys Edwardh, Dawn Memee Harvard, and hundreds of other women who joined their voices together. Their purpose wasn’t to defend the niqab. Their message was to refocus the debate:
“We are worried about the economic insecurity facing many women as we age in Canada. We are disturbed that women, on average, are not earning at the same level as their male colleagues. And we are troubled at the lack of investment in women’s empowerment and leadership across this great country. It is time to set aside the issue of the niqab and move to the issues that impact the daily lives of most women and girls in Canada.”
The journalists who were so eager to report on the niqab in the last few weeks were not as eager to report on the powerful voices of 538 women. Maybe this is not “hot” enough!

This column was previously published at

Toward a Two-Tier Society

When Bill C-36 — otherwise known as the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act — was first introduced in Parliament, many human rights advocates and legal experts opposed it. One of their main arguments was that Canada didn’t need a specific law to fight terrorism — that the Criminal Code was more than sufficient to allow law enforcement to bring charges against terrorists.

When Bill C-36 (later called the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2001) was first introduced in Parliament, many human rights advocates and legal experts opposed it. One of their main arguments was that Canada doesn’t need a special and specific anti-terrorism legislation; its criminal code is strong and detailed enough to allow law enforcement agencies to bring charges against terrorists.

Bill C-36 was adopted a few months after 9/11. Many thought that would be the exception because of that tragedy but today we can look back and safely say that it was only the beginning of a series of legislation specially tailored for suspected terrorists.

What Bill C-36 did to our legislative landscape isn’t “simply” the introduction of new additional invasive powers granted to intelligence and police forces but rather the fundamental idea that terrorism is a unique offence that should be fought with a fundamentally different set of tools. Basically, the new era post-9/11 allowed the creation of a new world with two parallel justice systems: one for the “usual” criminals and one for the terrorists.

When Canada fought gangs and organized crime mobs in the 90s, the police adapted their tactics to the nature of the “work” this sort of criminals were conducting. Obviously, the police techniques changed to allow more infiltration and more targeted surveillance but once the members were arrested and charged, it was still the same criminal code that applied to them and not any new law that was specifically adapted for gang members.

We do not claim that terrorism shouldn’t be opposed with adapted techniques. Indeed, it should be. But we believe the emphasis should be put on other levels: prevention, political, economical and social policies, and education. And once terror suspects are brought to justice, we believe that they should be judged according to the gravity of their actions and not whether they were labelled as criminals or as terrorists.

This parallel justice system doesn’t stop there. In 2014, the Conservative government came up with a new citizenship law, Bill C-24. Part of this bill became law in May 2015. The new law took us further down the road paved already by the first Anti-Terrorism Act : a road toward a two-tier system. The victim this time is citizenship.

Before Bill C-24, revocation of citizenship was limited to naturalized Canadians who acquired their citizenship by false representations. With the new legislation, dual citizens (naturalized citizens or citizens who were born in Canada but could claim citizenship in another country through one of their parents, notwithstanding that they may have no ties with that country) can have their citizenship stripped away from them if they commit terrorism, espionage or treason. However, if you are born in Canada and can’t be eligible for another citizenship (through marriage or through your parents or any other legitimate reason) then you can keep your citizenship, no matter the nature of the crime you committed.

The new grounds for revocation are broad and appear to be connected to the loyalty to Canada. However, as the Canadian Bar Association pointed out, it is not clear why the loyalty of dual nationals should be put into question more than that of other Canadians. And it is also not clear why our loyalty to Canada should determine our citizenship. Isn’t that another way to divide the society into the ones who seemingly loves Canada and thus do not speak out and the ones who seemingly hate Canada and criticize it. What is the fine line between criticism and hate? This is a slippery slope and we are on the top of it.

Finally, the new process of revoking citizenship doesn’t involve a judge (except in limited circumstances where the Minister decided to hold a hearing), making the system “cost and time efficient” according to the government. There is no accountability and no process to appeal the minister’s decision. Once again the government justified this new legislation by the threat of “Jihadi Terrorism”. And, once again, the end result is the creation of a two-tier system: one for “privileged” Canadians and another one for “supposed terrorists dual citizens.” including those who have been exonerated by a court but the government still consider as terrorists.

And to confirm the relevance of this new legislation, since last June, the government has sent notices of citizenship revocation to a few convicted terrorists.

One of these targeted individuals is Zakaria Amara, who was born in Jordan and has dual citizenship. He was convicted for his role in the Toronto 18 terrorism plot. In a tweet sent by Jason Kenney, the Defence Minister, after the news that Canada revoked the citizenship of Amara, Kenney mentioned that Amara hated Canada so much that he “forfeited his own citizenship” by plotting to murder hundreds of Canadians.

So the blame is not that this new citizenship act created two separate treatments for Canadians but it is the hate this person has for Canada that legitimizes stripping him of his Canadian citizenship. Kenney wouldn’t even use the words “revocation”, “exile” or “banishment”. He only used “forfeited”. As if Amara decided on his own to drop his Canadian citizenship.

This is clearly very ideological position that shouldn’t prevail in a democracy. Our love and hate for a country – our loyalty – cannot and should not determine the legitimacy of our citizenship. Amara didn’t like Canada and was ready to kill innocent people, and as a consequence he was punished with a life sentence of imprisonment. Why do we have to double the punishment and revoke his Canadian citizenship? Can’t he be rehabilitated? Can’t the hate he felt at some point in his life be replaced one day with compassion and understanding? Is sending him back to Jordan going to make us feel safer? Isn’t Canada part of a coalition to bomb the Islamic State and one of the arguments of this bombing is that we have to get rid of the terrorists over there so they don’t come to us. So how sending convicted terrorists to that region make us feel safer? And how is a country like Jordan to react at the prospect of receiving a convicted terrorist? Will they accept him or will he become stateless? Will he be tortured there as further punishment or as a way to try and get information on terrorist suspects or terrorist plots?

Terrorism is an ongoing threat, nationally and internationally. In using it as an excuse to keep us safe, the current Canadian government is creating a two-tier system of justice, a two-tier citizenship and a two-tier society. On the surface, the target is the bad terrorists who have no one to blame except themselves. But on a deeper level, it is all of us, as a divided and weakened society, who are losing the essence of our laws, of our citizenship and of our democracy.

A modified version of this article appeared on ipolitics.

History of migration has lessons for present-day refugee crisis

Of course, my plan this week was to write a column about the meanings of the announcement made by the RCMP to lay criminal charges against George Salloum, one of the torturers of my husband, Maher Arar.
Beyond the symbolism of this unprecedented action taken by the RCMP — to charge someone overseas who tortured and participated in the harming of a Canadian citizen — there is always something deeply personal about this.
Since 2002, after the arrest of my husband by U.S. authorities and his subsequent deportation to Syria, our lives as a family were so deeply affected by these tragic events; to know more than a decade later that the beginning of some accountability is happening is really encouraging. This is not about legal vengeance. This is about justice. Period.
And then in the middle of this personal turmoil came the moving story of little Aylan Kurdi and all the outrage it has caused around the world, and the ripple effects that reached our faraway shores.
It would have been selfish on my part to keep talking about myself while the whole world is watching one of the worst humanitarian crises unfolding in front of us. So I decided to speak about the refugee crisis. But I wanted to do it from a different.

I wanted to understand why these people are leaving their homes, their place of birth and walking thousands of kilometres on foot. Why are they risking their lives on small boats in a wild sea? Why are they giving away their meagre savings to greedy smugglers to go to Greece or to Hungary in order to finally arrive in Germany, their preferred destination? Don’t they know about austerity policies in Europe? Didn’t they watch, on their satellite TV, the ugly incidents of racism, discrimination and Islamophobia taking place in these locations, including those in Germany? What about Pegida? Aren’t they afraid of the neo-Nazi groups that attack Muslims residing in Germany? Why don’t they go to Saudi Arabia, the self-proclaimed “protector” of Islam and Muslims? Don’t they share language, religion and culture with the rich Arab monarchy?
Stephen Harper would probably answer my question by saying these people are running for their lives because of ISIS. Let’s bomb ISIS and things will be better, seems to be his motto. But this answer is no good for me. It is demagogic, over simplistic, and totally misleading.
And then I remembered the Crusades.
The first Crusades started to happen over a thousand years ago. A massive migration of people called the Franks, from German and British towns, took place. They travelled to Jerusalem, considered to be the heart of Christendom. The reasons for this migration were multiple and complex. The best known one was: religious. These armies of men, women and children walked, rode horses, sailed the Mediterranean sea from “European villages.” They were supposed to deliver Jerusalem from the “infidels” (it is somehow worth mentioning this same word used at that time to designate Muslims, is today being used by a group of Muslims to designate Christians or Jews).
The Pope and the kings of that time knew very well how to use religious rhetoric to convince the crowds and push them to take action. But beyond the religious discourse of delivering Jerusalem from the “infidels,” horrible economic and political contexts pushed these families to travel to the Middle East. What is called Europe now was struggling at that time from disease, famine, oppressive monarchs and indefinite wars that ravaged every village and town. Yes, Jerusalem meant a lot to the hordes of believers but economics meant much more. Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, Damascus… represented the land of opportunities. It represented the opulence of the Levant, the palaces, the harems and the exuberant food.
In other words, these people went to the Middle East for better opportunities.
This massive migration that happened one thousand years ago ended in horrible wars, in holy places being destroyed and lives lost and atrocities committed. But after the end of the Crusades, two fundamental things happened: many “Europeans” came to stay in the Middle East with many new communities emerging from their intermarriage and mixing with the indigenous people of those new lands.
The second is that the Europeans who decided or were forced to go back to Europe, brought, according to many historians, the seeds of the Renaissance to Europe. It is that same Renaissance that took Europe on the path to centuries of enlightenment, spreading the principles of justice, equality and freedom. These are solid pillars of today’s Europe.
So to all the voices who are opposing the coming of the refugees: labelling them terrorist threats, considering them job-stealers or welfare addicts — think twice about what you are saying. Remember what happened in the history of humanity. The refugees’ despair and their suffering will bring undoubtedly new challenges to the lands that welcome them but it will also likely bring enrichment and wealth. And who knows, maybe one day bring a reversal of the pendulum, and real justice in the Middle East.

This column has been published at


Harper’s recycled anti-terror rhetoric is getting tired

Obviously, the national security experts advising Prime Minister Stephen Harper are not doing a good job. They seem to be whispering new measures into his ears — from the outside these might look new, innovative and effective in fighting terrorism, but in reality when you get closer and on further examination, they’re nothing more than recycled old measures that already exist, hidden in the multiple layers of successive anti-terrorist laws that have been adopted since 9/11.

Of course that doesn’t necessarily make the Anti-terrorism Act 2015 (ATA 2015) look any better, but it makes the prime minister look redundant in his rhetoric and frankly, not very well advised.

Perhaps I am wrong in my quick judgment and it’s the communication staff suggesting these re-packaged anti-terrorist measures, to make them better suited for an election context, “punchier” and more dramatic. I don’t know.

So either national security experts or his communication staff advised Stephen Harper to declare that if re-elected, he would introduce a ban on travel to regions of the world controlled by terrorists.

My point here isn’t to prove how unconstitutional or how flawed this promised new measure is. As, indeed, I totally believe it is. The proposed measure not only restricts the mobility rights of individuals but also aligns Canada with dictatorships that stop their citizens from leaving their home countries to travel to destinations of their choice.

With this logic stretched a bit, are we going to soon expect a travel ban on popular “pedophile destinations” or a ban on “sex tourism destinations” or maybe even a ban on “wedding destinations” since travelling to Cuba or Mexico or Las Vegas to have your wedding might be considered by some as helping the economy of other countries while harming our own economy?

So now let’s go back to the first question: what makes this measure redundant?

Last January, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-51, now known as the Anti-terrorism Act 2015. This law enacted a new piece of legislation named the Secure Air Travel Act. This new legislation would allow the extension of the Canadian “no-fly” list, already established in 2007 under the Passenger Protect Program (PPP). In the PPP, Transport Canada shares information with air carriers about passengers — including name, date of birth, and gender — on the “Specified Person List.” This list is established by intelligence officers, police officers and senior bureaucrats who meet at regular periods and make their recommendations to the public safety minister. If the carriers find a passenger matching the list provided by Transport Canada, then they are bound by law to inform the transport minister, who might decide to issue an “emergency direction” — only if she thinks there is a threat to aviation or public safety. That is the old system.

With the ATA 2015 and under the new provision pertaining to travel, the same list will remain in effect, but it will include the name, date of birth, and gender of any person that the public safety minister:

“has reasonable ground to suspect will engage or attempt to engage in an act that would threaten transportation security or travel by air for the purpose of committing an act or omission that is an offence under certain sections of the Criminal Code, including participation in an activity of a terrorist group, facilitation of terrorist activity, or the commission of an offence for a terrorist group.”

With the new legislation you don’t need to pose a threat to the plane itself — you can be added to the list and thus prevented from travelling if there is reasonable ground to suspect that you are travelling to commit a terrorist act abroad.

But even without ATA 2015, such a measure of banning someone from travelling to areas controlled by terrorist groups already existed in Canada’s Criminal Code.

In 2011, Somali-Canadian Mohamed Hassan Hersi, designated in the media as a “terror tourist,” was arrested at the Toronto airport, prosecuted, and in 2014, sentenced for trying to leave Canada to join a militant group, al-Shabab, in Somalia. Despite all the lingering questions around the circumstances that led to Hersi’s decision to leave Canada, his possible entrapment and radicalization by an undercover police officer who befriended him, Hersi was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He is the first Canadian to be convicted of joining an overseas terrorist group. Hersi was not even charged under the amended Criminal Code of 2013 (the Combatting Terrorism Act or Bill S-7) — he was charged under the Anti-terrorism Act 2001. So that would prove we don’t need Bill S-7, Bill C-51 or even this new measure contemplated by Stephen Harper. Canadian judges already have all the necessary legal tools needed to prevent people from travelling to undesirable destinations.

In the Maclean’s leaders debate, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told Stephen Harper that whoever advised him that it’s constitutionally valid to stop appointing senators “needs to go back to law school.” Well, Harper is not a lawyer, but his national security adviser or communication staff should definitely follow her advice.

This article was published at

Rendition: Canada, Sweden and Denmark share the same barbaric practice

What factor is common to Canada, Sweden and Denmark? The snow, perhaps? The cold weather? The social programs? Or maybe smoked salmon?

How about rendition to torture? And how about cooperation with the intelligence authorities of countries which practice torture with total impunity? These may be some of the darkest common factors shared by the three countries, ones that not everyone is aware of.

In Canada, the cases of Maher Arar, Abdullah Al-Malki, Ahmed el-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin happened between 2002 and 2004.

These cases became publicly known and sparked a huge outcry. Two inquiries were ordered into their cases. But even if Maher Arar was cleared from terrorism suspicions by Justice O’Connor and awarded compensation, the recommendations made by Justice Iacobucci regarding compensation for the other three men have never been followed by the government. Canadians found out from both inquiries that these four Canadians, all Arab-Muslim citizens, were detained in Syria, and tortured by Syrian officials in the same facility known as the Palestinian Branch of Syrian Military Intelligence. What’s even more troubling is that both Canadian judges found that Canadian intelligence officers shared information about their own citizens with Syrian officials and didn’t hesitate in using this information, knowing that it was coming from the dungeons of one of the worst prisons run by the Assad regime.

A tragic pattern

In Denmark, the scenario of this tragic pattern is not any different. In the Al Jazeera documentary Outsourcing Torture, we learn that in the mid 2000s, three Muslim-Danish citizens had a similar fate to the one met by their Canadian counterparts. The only difference is the country of torture: Lebanon.

Ali Ibrahim is a taxi driver of Lebanese descent who had been living in Denmark with his family. In 2006, he was approached by PET, the Danish intelligence service, to become an informant. He refused and PET threatened to make his life miserable.

Hassan Jabbar is a cleric who came as a refugee from Iraq and was living in Denmark for years. He was repeatedly interrogated by the intelligence service for his work with charities in the mosque. And finally, the documentary presents us with the case of Abu Abdullah, who kept his identity secret, as he is still worried about what PET officers could do to him.

The pattern is simple and diabolic: meet with an intelligence officer, refuse to become an informant, arrest takes place in a country with a poor human rights record, torture, interrogation, imprisonment without charge and eventual release.

The three men were arrested during a family visit to Lebanon. Ali Ibrahim was arrested in 2006. Four gunmen arrested him on the streets of Tripoli in front of his wife and children.

He was interrogated by Lebanese intelligence for a week and then released. Immediately after his release, he tried to leave the country to go back to Denmark but was prevented from doing so at the airport. He was arrested and then released a few times. Each time he was transferred from one prison to another and each time he was tortured. He even stayed in the infamous Roumieh prison in the Block B section known as  the “Block of terror.” A UN report, released in 2014, documented the systematic use of torture in Roumieh prison.

All three men declared that they were interrogated and tortured by Lebanese officials and all of them were either explicitly told, or implicitly understood, that the Lebanese torturers were acting under the instructions of Danish intelligence officers.

Ali Ibrahim spent one year in solitary confinement and then two more years with other prisoners before he was able to go back to Denmark. He was suspected to have helped his brother, suspected of terrorist activities, by adding money to his phone card.

Hassan Jabbar was arrested in 2007 by Lebanese officials. In one of his interrogation sessions, the Lebanese interrogator told him “if you didn’t have a EU passport, we would have lynched you by now!” He was later released. No charges were laid against him.

Similarly, in 2010 Abu Abdullah was arrested in Beirut during a family visit. When he was leaving the country, he was stopped and transferred to a detention centre run by the Lebanese Ministry of Defence. He was held there for 21 days, interrogated and tortured by Lebanese officials. He couldn’t leave the country until he was cleared through Danish intelligence.

The pattern repeats

And how about Sweden?

The Swedish stories are as scary and troubling. Immediately after the events  of 9/11, Swedish officials decided to deport two Egyptians citizens who came to Sweden as asylum seekers: Mohammed al-Zari and Ahmed Agiza were handed to CIA operatives operating in Sweden who transferred them to Egypt. Both men were suspected by the Swedish and American governments of terrorist activities.

The Swedish government obtained diplomatic assurances from Egyptian authorities that the men wouldn’t be tortured or subjected to the death penalty and would be given fair trial. This assurance is equivalent to the one you get from a hungry lion to not eat a live rabbit.

Indeed both men ended up in prisons where they were tortured. al-Zari was released after two years without charges. Agiza was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a military tribunal and released in 2011.

It is only in 2004 that these two cases became known to the Swedish public. Human Rights Watch closely followed the cases in Egypt and in Sweden, and in 2008 both men were awarded compensation by Swedish authorities for the damages they endured. Both men were granted permanent residence permits by Sweden.

If the Canadian and Swedish victims of rendition received some sort of recognition for the suffering they received through this barbaric treatment, the Danish victims remain looking for answers to their cases. No inquiries or legal actions have been initiated yet. After many years, the victims live in fear under the shadow of what happened to them.

The globalization that many of us feared in previous years for destroying our local economies, the specificities of our local culture and education systems is alive and well in the “national security” field. The cases mentioned in this article represent clear evidence that countries known internationally as leaders in human rights and champions against torture are being caught up in this new web of globalization that outsources everything from manufacturing clothing to torture.

This column was initially published at

Wages of Rebellion: Calling for a peaceful revolution

Chris Hedges’ recent book is a passionate call for the “oppressed” of the Empire to revolt against the tyranny of surveillance, financial greed and propagandist journalism.

Oppression, tyranny, greed, propaganda — these are words that seem to come straight from a communist manifesto or anarchist pamphlet. But Hedges is neither the former nor the latter. Actually, in some of his previous writing, he referred to himself as a socialist.

His book, Wages of Rebellion, is a compilation of several stories about Americans, some of whom became household names: Mumia Abu-Jamal, the imprisoned Black revolutionary, Chelsea Manning, the imprisoned whistleblower, and other “normal” citizens like Avgi Tzenis, a survivor of Hurricane Sandy who saw her house badly damaged after the disaster and has since been living in poverty with no or little assistance from the U.S. government. All of these stories are handpicked with care and purpose, and make up the portrait of a new socially, financially and ethically unfair America formed over the last few decades.

Hedges’ main thesis is that as a society, we have reached the point of no return when a tiny group of political and financial interests is controlling the majority and “blindly serving their masters.” Meanwhile, the majority is kept under control with massive surveillance programs, through mass incarceration, without health care, and with a high rate of unemployment, rising level of debt and scrambling infrastructure. According to Hedges, only a peaceful revolution can change the tide and reestablish equality and peace.

Hedges is not a prophet. He doesn’t know when, how, or when this crawling revolution will happen, but he firmly believes that it will happen as it did in other countries and eras.

For this, Hedges brings in some historical examples: from the 1905 Argentine Revolution, the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, the 1911 Chinese Xinhai Revolution, to current ones like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. They were all unexpected, with a misleading facade of powerful governments but with decreasing government popularity and a strong desire for change.

But the type of revolution Hedges is calling for sometimes remains a bit vague for readers. Even though Hedges calls for a peaceful revolution, the line between peaceful resistance and armed struggle is sometimes blurred. Were there really peaceful revolutions with no blood and victims? Perhaps the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia? How about the Arab Spring that started peacefully and turned into bloody repression? How about the French Revolution? The Bolsheviks’?

Hedges quotes the work of Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. In 2008, the authors studied 100 years of violent and nonviolent resistance movements and found that nonviolent movements succeed twice as often as violent uprisings.

Hedges mentions the case of Edward Snowden and even goes on to visit Julian Assange in his forced imprisonment in the Ecuadorian embassy in the U.K. The fact that these two figures have been demonized in the West’s mainstream media seems to be indication for Hedges that they are rebellious figures fighting the hegemony of a media more and more aligned with the interests of political and financial elites.

The motives of Snowden and Manning may appear useless or self-destructive since one is in exile in Russia and the other has been in prison since he leaked sensitive files that the U.S. government never wanted the public to see. It is interesting to note that Snowden’s sacrifice, for one, didn’t go in vain: the new U.S. surveillance legislation, the USA Freedom Act, has been rewritten mainly as an answer to what Snowden disclosed to the public.

A crucial point of this new legislation is that it limited National Security Agency activities that were exposed by Snowden, and forced the government to stop its obvious spying on its citizens’ electronic communications.

The new legislation is not perfect. Instead of accessing the phone records of citizens directly, information is now stored in the hands of phone companies and the state will need a warrant to access them. In other words, the spying will continue, it is just the methods and scope that will change; but it is important to note that Snowden’s “peaceful act of rebellion” didn’t go in vain.

Civil liberties and privacy rights will always be fragile, and will always be in need of more activism, vigilance and acts of courage, but this small setback to the surveillance apparatus should be recognized and emphasized.

Last October, Chris Hedges was ordained a Presbyterian minister. After reading his book, I have no doubt that his faith played a tremendous role in shaping his ideas. In Wages of Rebellion, he declares: “There is nothing rational about rebellion. To rebel against insurmountable odds is an act of faith, without which the rebel is doomed.”

As a person of faith myself, I can’t say it better than this!

The legal vengeance case of Omar Khadr

A few years ago when some Canadian Muslim men, accused of terrorism, challenged the Canadian government through the courts to ask for their legal rights, voices within the intelligence community rose up and insinuated that these men were waging “judicial jihad.”
When the federal government appealed the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision to grant the release of Omar Khadr, another Canadian Muslim man who spent over ten years in Guantanamo prison for being a child soldier, none of these same voices would rise up and accuse the government of “judicial vengeance” — despite the fact that the Canadian government has been using taxpayers’ money to wage one legal battle after another to defend the indefensible: the torture and the indefinite detention of a Canadian citizen.
In one of its decisions concerning Omar Khadr, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Omar’s rights were violated by Canadian interrogation in Guantanamo. Still, this ruling didn’t make him welcome in Canada.
The Canadian government is using the fear of a former Guantanamo detainee and the untold story of Omar to please its Conservative base and to send its usual strong message of “law and order.” Omar Khadr became a weapon in the Conservatives’ hands to show how “serious” and how “committed” they can be in “cleaning” the Canadian landscape from “bad” guys like Omar.
But the Canadian courts aren’t hearing the same story this government has been repeating through its successive public safety ministers. Indeed, Omar Khadr has been described by his Canadian guard as a “model prisoner” and by one American guard as “salvageable” and “a good kid.” What will happen to public opinion if Omar Khadr tells his own version of his story?
Stephen Harper burned all his cards with respect to Omar’s case: terrorism, family record, criminality, U.S. military tribunals. Harper’s Conservatives called Omar a convicted dangerous criminal and a manipulative individual. They alleged that his release would threaten the bilateral relationship with the U.S. even though the U.S. stated that this won’t be the case. Actually, the Canadian judge who ordered his release declared that Omar would have a strong chance of success in U.S. courts, which have overturned similar cases. But the Canadian government continues its legal vendetta and now claims that by releasing Omar “abruptly,” it will set a legal precedent even when everyone knows that there are not thousands of cases similar to Omar’s.
A few days ago, Albertans punished Premier Jim Prentice, a former federal minister under Stephen Harper, by electing a majority NDP provincial government. If this political result had only one explanation, it would be that Canadians are looking for change. People are fed up with a government that has lost all of its cards, including the economic one.
Yesterday, an Alberta court rejected the federal appeal of Omar Khadr’s release. Alberta, the same province that elected Stephen Harper, rejected the vengeance that seems to have been motivating this government and its persistence in keeping Omar locked up by all means. You have to be really unconscious to have these two decisions come out and still think that nothing really happened.
The positive decision in the case of Omar Khadr seems to fit into this new environment of people wanting change, and refusing to be stuck in old battles and old thoughts. Stephen Harper and his government seem to be the only ones looking backward. They don’t realize the incoming tsunami could well wipe them out.
This article was published on on May 8 2015