It is time to bring Little Amira back to Canada

Last year, on February 19th, 2019, Prime Minister Trudeau, on the International Day against the use of child soldiers, declared the following:
“All children deserve a safe space to learn and grow. As part of our G7 Presidency last year, Canada and international partners announced a historic investment of $3.8 billion – the single largest investment of its kind – to support education for women and girls in crisis and conflict situations. Canada has also endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration to protect schools, teachers, and students during armed conflict.”

The words of Prime Minister Trudeau are crystal clear. Canada is serious and committed to protect, schools, teachers and students during armed conflict.

But what if the child is born to Canadian parents who allegedly went to fight in Syria? How if the parents went to fight with radical Islamic groups ( knowing that there are about 40 Canadians who went fighting with Kurdish militia. Their actions were met with somehow a sympathetic public opinion, as if some violence can be accepted depending on who is using it and who is receiving it)? And finally, what if the parents who fought with the wrong side, died and the children are left orphans? Would Prime Minister Trudeau be still committed to protect them?
Until now, the answer is a resounding no. At least for the troubling case of little Amira.

She is a five-year-old Canadian girl, whose Canadians parents went to fight in Syria, and she was born there. Unfortunately for little Amira, her parents and other siblings were killed ( was it during an air bombing by the Russian planes? The American planes or the Syrian regime), and sadly she was left alone in the Al-Hawl refugee camp in eastern Syria earlier. By 2019, the camp population was estimated to 74,000 people, mainly women and children, guarded by the US Kurdish forces.

So far, the Canadian government refused to repatriate little Amira so she can live with her uncles, cousins, grandparents and extended family in Canada. It didn’t want to provide her with travel documents so she can fly home.

There are about 900 children from western countries, including Canada in different refugee camps in Syria, run by the Kurdish forces. Even France who has 270 children from French nationals and in which the public opinion is adamantly against any sympathy towards French Muslims travelling abroad to fight, decided few weeks ago to repatriate 10 of the French children stranded in some of these camps.

These kids didn’t take the arms against anyone. They are not even close to the definition of child soldiers. Thus, they should be, at least benefit from the definition and treatment reserved for child soldiers. Because assuming they are child soldiers, through the actions of their Western parents, wouldn’t they be the “perfect” candidates to be included under the protection reserved for child soldiers?

Recently, the uncle of little Amira decided to go after the Canadian government and sue it because he considered that the Canadian government has been negligent in dealing with the case.

I personally think that this is the best thing to do. “Playing nice” is always interpreted by the government as a lack of means, or lack of determination… By going after the government, I think the family of little Amira is sending a clear message to the Canadian government and to the Canadian public that the right place for little Amira is Canada where her family loves her and wants her among them, despite the circumstance that led to the departing of her parents to Syria.

Despite the alleged acts her parents did or didn’t. She is only five. She needs to be loved, nurtured and most importantly start go to school.

Last week, we read in the news that CSIS, the Canadian intelligence agency has been lying to judges, using illegal methods to obtain warrants against Canadians who went fighting abroad. This is an explosive news. Not surprisingly, it was met with almost no shame by the government and a sort of indifference from the public opinion.

What if some or most of the information obtained about Canadians fighting in Syria is flawed, biased and even false?
Judge Gleeson, found that CSIS has engaged in illegal activities such as “provision of money” and “provision of personal property” to a person “known to be facilitating or carrying out terrorist activity.”

Judge Gleeson said that, in a case of a Canadian who went abroad to Syria, CSIS paid someone known to be facilitating or carrying out terrorism an amount totalling less than $25,000 over a few years.

Who is the guilty and who is the innocent? Relying on the “false” information gathered by CSIS through person who has been conducting terrorism themselves, has been misleading and damaging to the Canadian government and to Canadians. Judge Gleeson wasn’t outraged because of one isolated case. He talked about a “pattern” over years. Personally, I wouldn’t believe any information after hearing from a Canadian judge that CSIS lied on judges so why wouldn’t they lie on all the government and Canadians.

A public inquiry should be announced and getting to the bottom of this should be the right thing to do by Prime Minister Trudeau and his government.

Last May, sixteen independent human rights experts at the United Nations have called on Canada to repatriate little Amira and have described the repatriation of children as “a humanitarian and human rights imperative”.

The Canadian government should correct the wrong, fulfill its promise of protecting children in zone of conflicts and what is better today than bringing little Amira home.

A slightly modified version of this article was published at rabble.ca

Covid-19, secularism and hypocrisy

When Premier François Legault appeared on May 12 at his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic, accompanied by his health minister and director of public health, all three of them wearing a face mask, I almost fall out of my chair.

This was the same François Legault who brought last year the controversial Bill 21 that banned in Quebec public servants in positions of “authority” while on duty from wearing religious symbols, including the niqab, a religious face cover some Muslim women wear. It was the same François Legault who was adamant about the importance of protecting the secular values in face of the fear of what some view as the “Islamization” of Quebec society (Muslims represent only three per cent of the total population). Nevertheless, this same François Legault is now insisting on wearing a face mask and encouraging all Quebecers to follow his example when they go out in public spaces.

Of course, the face-covering Legault and his minister and top bureaucrat wore didn’t emanate from a religious requirement, but rather from a health-protection measure. However, when a Muslim woman decides to cover her face, it is automatically perceived as a degrading and submissive sign. Most of the time when face covering it is implicitly assumed that it is her husband, father or other male relative who forced her to do so.

But when Legault, a man, strongly recommends that his fellow Quebecers wear a mask (and may perhaps soon make it a requirement) this move is described as “good respiratory etiquette.” So if a Muslim woman who is wearing a hijab (hair covering) decides today in those circumstances to wear a face cover for religious reasons, a niqab, how can we in all honesty distinguish between “good respiratory etiquette” and what someone might call “religious etiquette”? What would make a face covering switch from a benign or even useful thing to a malign or degrading one? Would the meaning of the mask depend on the identity of the person wearing it, to make it either dangerous or harmless? Wouldn’t that be called racial profiling? Is a face covering worn by a white woman is commended as good etiquette and good citizenship, while the same face covering worn by a brown woman is automatically portrayed as misogynist and degrading?

The same question would be relevant if asked about a man wearing a face cover. For Legault, this is a sign of prevention from disease and civic duty, but for a Black or other racialized man wearing a face mask, it would be most likely portrayed as a sign of suspicion, danger and potential attack.

In France, from where most of the secular debate is imported to Quebec, the hypocrisy is so blatant these days.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy once declared: “Citizenship should be experienced with an uncovered face. There can be no other solution but a ban in all public places.”

However due to COVID-19, the tables have flipped. The French government recently made face masks mandatory. The fine for not wearing a mask on public transport is 135 euros, whereas, since 2011, the country’s law prohibiting Muslim women from wearing the niqab in public imposes a fine of 150 euros.

In the last decade, France, Denmark, Austria, Belgium and many other Europeans countries introduced legislation to ban the niqab. Those legal bans were preceded by toxic public debates that fueled Islamophobia, especially against Muslim women, despite the fact that the number of Muslim women in these Europeans countries is small and doesn’t justify the introduction and passing of these bills.

Even in Canada, in 2015, prime minister Stephan Harper ran a federal election campaign trying to polarize public opinion by creating a wedge issue around the case of Zunera Ishaq, a Muslim woman wearing the niqab that Harper at that time wanted to stop from taking her citizenship ceremony while wearing a face covering.

One argument claims that a niqab worn for religious reasons and a mask worn for health purposes are two totally different things. For some, the former is a symbol of women’s subjugation (some people went further, calling niqab wearers “bank robbers”) whereas the latter is intended for protecting individuals and assuring their safety — no questions asked about the security issues posed by a mask or the importance of liberal values.

Assuming this is true, how can we differentiate between the two? By looking at the person wearing them? Wouldn’t that be further evidence of racial profiling, suggesting the same object has two distinct meanings depending on who is wearing it?

Another argument would state that a niqab poses a threat for national security, whereas a health mask doesn’t. This is not true, since all women who wear a niqab agree to remove their niqab to show their face at airports, and for security reasons. There are no known incidents that indicate national security incidents happened with women wearing a niqab, but what will happen for people wearing face masks once the airports start operating again? Will the face masks be allowed? Why wouldn’t they be considered a national security threat?

This is another example of how the COVID-19 pandemic shows the hypocrisy of some politicians, and how a narrow and misleading definition of secularism was used against the rights and liberties of certain Muslim women in many democracies that most of the time pretended to be champions of freedom — except when it came to face coverings … Well, until face coverings became strongly recommended or mandatory!

This column was originally published at rabble.ca

COVID-19 an opportunity to build a low-emission economy

A few years ago, I went to Tunis, Tunisia, my hometown, for a short visit in the month of December. It had been almost 20 years since I visited in the winter. My visits were usually in the summer so my children could go to the beach and enjoy the warmth of the Mediterranean sun.

But with each visit, I found the summers becoming unbearably hotter. The last time I went during the summer, I had to keep the air-conditioning unit in each room working almost all day, and my children refused to leave the house, which defeated the purpose of the outdoor summer activities.

I grew up in Tunis and spent my first 20 years there. The temperatures frequently reach 40 C, and sometimes beyond, especially between mid-July and mid-August. Opening the windows at night might help, letting a light breeze refresh our sweating bodies. During the day, we keep our home darkened by the window shutters, and draw the curtains to create a cooling effect. We never had an air-conditioning system.

Over the years, those tricks became useless, as the temperatures rose higher and higher, and the rise came with a new phenomenon: the car pollution. From the early ’90s, an increasing number of cars filled the streets of the crowded city. Thus, creating a sense of suffocation and the near disappearance of breeze.

In 2013, there were 1.7 million registered vehicles in Tunisia. Compared to over 35 million registered vehicles for a population of 37 million in Canada, the number of registered vehicles relative to Tunisia’s 11.6 million population might seem low, but we are talking about a network of 19,418 kilometres of road in Tunisia (as of 2010) compared with a network of roads of over one million kilometers in Canada (as of 2008).

In 2016, Tunisia emitted CO2 emissions of 2.6 tonnes per capita. In 2014, Canada emitted 15.2 tonnes per capita.

Even if statistically speaking Tunisia is less polluting than Canada, the concentration of pollution in Tunisian cities combined with poverty, a weak public health-care system, crumbling infrastructure and dense urban areas make the population more at risk for pulmonary diseases.

The hotter the weather during the summer, the more air-conditioning units are installed in buildings, and of course, the more CO2 is released in the air. Combined with the increasing number of cars driving around the city, it creates a vicious cycle.

So, in order to avoid spending two or three weeks avoiding the sun and breathing artificially cool air filtered through air conditioning, I stopped going to Tunis in the summer. It made me sad.

I lost the comforting heat of the sun on my skin. I missed those breezy nights when we stayed up past midnight. I lost the incredible shades of the sky at dusk.

I also became angry at the cars that drove crazily in the narrow streets, and most of all I resented the policy makers who for decades instead of investing in more public transportation encouraged citizens to buy cars by relaxing the personal loans conditions and easing car-import restrictions.

But these policies are not random or unique to the transport sector: they took over all sectors. It is part of the disengagement of the state from the public sector and its replacement by neoliberal policies where citizens are made principally responsible for their health, education, transportation and jobs.

Today, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the “emperor has no clothes.” If this horrible crisis brought us something good, it showed us that a neoliberal economy is no longer an alternative, and the pollution that this economic model brought is not inevitable.

What is even more interesting are the results of a study that linked air pollution to coronavirus deaths. This study, despite its limitations, showed a storng correlation between the presence of the nitrogen dioxide and the number of deaths due to COVID-19.

This finding matches previous studies about links between the number of deaths caused by SARS in 2003 and air pollution.

In her iconic book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein, showed through the notable examples of Chile and Iraq how private corporations literally take advantage of economic and social chaos created by some natural disaster or social unrest to fill the void created by the orchestrated absence of the state. Neoliberal policies were sneakily introduced and became the norms during times of crisis. Private schools replaced the poorly funded public ones. Private corporations became the owners of long-term facilities for seniors.

The COVID-19 pandemic should be an opportunity to create a “reverse” shock doctrine. Already we have the evidence, day after day, that if it wasn’t for the measures introduced by the government to help the most vulnerable, the economy, the businesses, the research, the health sectors, the situation would be worse.

Instead of having a government playing the role of “saviour” for the last resort, why don’t we have policies where the public good is always sought after? Why don’t we accept once for all that the economic system adopted so far is wrong? Pollution kills us and a better alternative is possible.

This column was first published on rabble.ca

COVID-19 and the war on terror

The COVID-19 pandemic is still claiming lives around the world, sending many people to crowded hospitals and putting medical systems under unbearable strain. It is a scary, concerning and tragic situation.

However, with many of us confined at home, it is also a time to reflect on the fragility of the systems we live in, and perhaps learn from the mistakes and bad decisions that have been guiding many of the governments around the world, including Canada.

After the attacks of 9/11, the United States convinced its allies that the world is threatened by the presence of the terrorists, and urged them to join its “War on Terror.” On September 20, 2001, in a national address, then-president Georges W. Bush famously declared: “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make … Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” First came the attacks on Afghanistan and then followed the war in Iraq. The whole region never recovered from the military presence of the American troops and their allies.

Bush even incited Americans to “go shopping” and visit “Disneyworld.” In a very simplistic and false dichotomy, he wanted to summarize those attacks as an attack on the way of lives of Americans — an attack of “barbarism” on civilization, an attack of people who hated freedom on those who cherished it. Every intellectual or commentator who tried to situate those attacks in a more geopolitical and multilayered context linked to American politics and interference in the Middle East was criticized and attacked as unpatriotic (remember the backlash against Susan Sontag).

The majority complied and the U.S. Patriot Act was passed to give extraordinary powers to the state for policing, surveillance and imprisonment of the most vulnerable groups, like immigrants and Muslims. Very rare were the voices who opposed this onslaught on the civil liberties. The motto was ‘less liberties for more security.’

From a mocked and belittled president when he was first elected, Bush became a sort of national hero, a semi-divine figure who would lead his country’s people to war: “This battle will take time and resolve, but make no mistake about it, we will win.”

Today, eighteen years later, it is somehow ironic but worth noting that when the peace deal agreement between the U.S. government and the Taliban started to make its way through the media, COVID-19 was accelerating its mortal pace around the world, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. It was as if the implicit message to the U.S. government was that with one threat gone, a new one appeared.

In a report prepared by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, released last fall, we learned that the war on terror cost the U.S. economy US$6.4 trillion. 800,000 people died due to direct war violence, and several times as many died indirectly. Over 335,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting.

The figures for Canada are not easy to find. Nevertheless, the same report indicates that “Canada spent an estimated $18 billion on fighting and reconstruction in Afghanistan, but there is no comprehensive figure on other costs.”

Also, the same report notes:

“a Parliamentary Budget Office report estimated in 2015 that the cost of providing financial support to Afghanistan veterans would total $157 million by 2025, discounting (in part due to lack of data) health care, pharmaceuticals and rehabilitation services. Disability benefits to Canadian combat veterans for a single year of military operations were projected to cost $145.2 million over nine years.”

Canada was not as directly impacted by the attacks of 9/11. Among the 2973 victims, only 24 were Canadians. Of course, these are lost human lives and their families were devastated, but it wasn’t a direct terrorist attack that hit Canada. Despite this matter, the Canadian parliament hastily passed in 2001 the Antiterrorism Act that mainly and tragically affected the lives of Canada’s Muslim community (representing barely 3 per cent of the population). It affected their jobs, economic situations, travels, civil liberties, families, children and integration in the Canadian social fabric.

The Canadian government also joined the war on terror because of the pressure from the U.S. government and because the RCMP and Canadian intelligence institutions understood that their lack of cooperation with their American counterparts would put their existence and relevancy in jeopardy. In the last two decades, those institutions saw their budgets and powers increase. In 2008, and because the Canadian government didn’t want to reveal the cost of extra security measures introduced after 9/11, CBC found that $24 billion was spent by the federal government on security measures since 9/11. In 2008, the RCMP’s annual budget rose by close to $1 billion since 2001, and the budget of Canada’s intelligence agency, CSIS, nearly doubled.

Were those increase justified? Not as much as they were portrayed by some politicians. There was never any evidence that showed those additional funds helped secure the lives of Canadians. In Canada, terrorist risks, understood here as emanating from the Muslim community, were not particularly higher than in any other part of the world. In 2018, Public Safety Canada wrote in its annual assessment “the principal terrorist threat to Canada and Canadian interests continues to be that posed by individuals or groups who are inspired by violent ideologies and terrorist groups, such as Daesh or al-Qaida (AQ).”

Despite the increasing violence and the flourishing of white supremacist groups, those institutions are still frozen in the post-9/11 mentality, trying to milk the threats posed by the ‘usual suspects.’

Successive Liberal and Conservative governments accepted those increases in defence, surveillance and police budgets. But there was never an open public debate about the relevance of the Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan that cost at least $18 billion, the death of 158 soldiers and more than 1,800 wounded. It is still a taboo. The late Jack Layton, former leader of the New Democratic Party who courageously dared to suggest in 2006 in the House of Commons that Canada should negotiate with the Taliban was derided by other political parties as “Taliban Jack.”

False and misleading parallels were always drawn in the media and by politicians between the role of Canada in the liberation of Europe in the Second World War, and its implication in the war in Afghanistan. There was nothing in common between those two conflicts: the stakes were totally different. Unfortunately, the media and some politicians used the same rhetoric to justify a bad decision dictated by American politics and not by the interests of Canadians.

The war on terror in Canada and in the U.S. wasn’t financed through higher personal taxes or more contributions from business. Rather, it was funded through additional borrowing and higher debts and interests. Over the last decades, Canada’s public finances kept worsening and federal and provincial governments kept slashing health budgets, education and social programs. Everybody was asked to make sacrifices. They sold us an illusory sense of safety by looking always at the same misleading source of danger, terrorism, while ignoring other dangers.

Our participation in the war on terror gave us tunnel vision, where the threats were artificially maintained and inflated, while all other dangers were dismissed or diminished. Health budgets, education funding and support for infrastructure, social housing and scientific research were always the last of the priorities of our governments. Those services were the sacrificial lambs in order to participate in the war on terror.

Today, with the high spread of COVID-19 and the increasing number of fatalities, provincial governments wake up to a sad reality. The hospitals are in need of masks and ventilators; nurses and doctors are overworked; schools are not equipped with online resources that would have made it easier to keep children educated while schools are closed.

COVID-19 is revealing the naked priorities of our governments. When Trudeau announced money to help Canadians laid off because of the crisis, and to give a fiscal break to small businesses, he is not being nice and charitable. These are overdue measures that should have been taken decades ago. Perhaps the situation of Canadians today would have been less vulnerable, and our health systems would have been more prepared to face this pandemic.

If COVID-19 has any positive message, I see it as making us reassess our personal priorities and policies as a country. Maybe it is time to tell ourselves — without being accused of being a terrorist apologist, a socialist or just naive — that the war on terror was a bad decision, and that instead we should have invested those billions of dollars in health, education and the most vulnerable in our society.

This column was first published on rabble.ca

Justin Trudeau lectures others about human rights while forgetting issues at home

An old Arab proverb says “If a camel tries to look at its own hump, its neck might break.” Basically, looking at one’s own back (or own problems) might be painful, so instead many people decide to look away.

In his recent visit to African countries, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been trying to convince African leaders that Canada deserves their support. Observers note that African countries increasingly vote as a monolithic bloc in international bodies like the Francophonie, the United Nations and the Commonwealth — hence the importance of Canada seeking their support in its bid for a seat at the UN Security Council.

In a revised memo obtained through an access to information request by Global News, the Liberal government has adopted two objectives, among others, for its foreign policy in sub-Saharan Africa: promoting human rights and inclusive governance, and supporting poverty reduction.

So, it comes as no surprise that Trudeau, while touring African countries, emphasized these two particular issues. Meanwhile at home, Trudeau’s own record on these two objectives came to haunt him and perhaps damaged his carefully constructed image.

In Senegal, Trudeau boasted to journalists that he was “a great defender of human rights” (an insinuation that same-sex marriage is legalized in Canada whereas homosexuality is criminalized in Senegal).

In photo-ops, Trudeau was pictured at the House of Slaves on Gorée Island, a very emotionally and historically charged place where African slaves were shipped to America by European slave-merchants.

Similar places should be a strong reminder to Trudeau that slavery and colonialism were horrific acts of genocide, and that posing for photo-ops is obviously not enough.

While reminding Senegal President Macky Sall of the importance of human rights, Trudeau must have forgotten that in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia, the militarized RCMP raided and arrested land defenders for peacefully opposing the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline that would run through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.

On top of siding with corporate interests, the RCMP went even further by limiting and even threatening to arrest journalists who were trying to report on the situation. This is an affront to freedom and democracy in this country.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a surprise. The RCMP, since its inception has had a long history of oppression and violence against Indigenous communities and other marginalized groups. Indeed, the creation of the RCMP by prime minister John A. Macdonald was mainly to “control” the Western part of Canada, and that meant fighting Indigenous resistance and establishing full control over the economic resources of the newly established country.

In former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Bill C-51 (the Anti-terrorism Act), which was slightly amended by the current Liberal government, the activities of Indigenous and environmental activists were among many activities described as posing a threat to Canada’s national security.

In 2016, the RCMP tracked 89 indigenous groups that were considered threats for participating in protests.

This week, the Assembly of the First Nations (AFN) launched a class-action lawsuit against the federal government because, they said, Indigenous children “have been discriminated against by the government’s child welfare system.” The AFN argues the federal government’s actions increased Indigenous child poverty levels.

In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the government systemically discriminated against on-reserve First Nations children by providing inadequate services.

So far, the government has already spent upwards of $8 million in legal fees in its efforts to fight the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling, as documented by First Nations Child and Family Caring Society executive director Cindy Blackstock, who started the challenge years ago and has kept track of efforts by the government to fight the ruling.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to pay these sums to the First Nations children so they can have decent schools like other children in Canada?

In a tweet this week, Trudeau wrote: “Every child, no matter who they are or where they live deserves to enjoy their childhood.”

And what if the child is First Nations and living in Canada? Does this tweet apply to her? Or is it only when Trudeau comes to give lessons to other countries that we are champions?

Trudeau’s diplomatic charm operation has so far cost $2 million, and there is no guarantee that Canada will end up getting the Security Council seat. Canada might lose the seat to one if its competitors, Norway and Ireland, who are doing much better respectively in terms of foreign aid and siding with the Palestinian cause. These issues matter tremendously to African countries, but Trudeau has kept silent on them or has at least shown he isn’t ready to take a leading role on them.

This article was originally published in rabble.ca

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!

IMG_20190825_144243744_HDR.jpg

“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