Canadian Politicians Need To Stand Up Against Growing Xenophobia

The world is changing rapidly. We have witnessed the success of the Brexit campaign in the UK, and the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. There is a growing and frightening divide between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural, the educated and the less educated, journalists and the media. Amid this social and political turmoil, some political groups and social movements are emerging to exploit this climate of tension and fear and make political and financial gains out of it.

Canada has not been immune of this. During the 2015 federal election, Stephen Harper used the niqab ban issue to make political gains. Moreover, he used the Syrian refugees file to create a fear mongering rhetoric insinuating that behind every refugee hides a terrorist and vocabulary as “old-stock Canadians” and “barbaric cultural practices” were employed by Harper to appeal to some voters.

As despicable and opportunistic his campaign was, his party came second, 5.6 million Canadians voted for the Conservative party. It is not a negligible number if compared to the 6.9 millions who voted for the Liberal party of Prime Minister Trudeau.

After the election of Donald Trump in the U.S, I heard many people on social media and around me saying with relief that we are so lucky to be living in Canada. That is a fine statement but we should not take things for granted.

Few days ago, Chris Alexander — a former minister of immigration and citizenship in the Harper government and a candidate in the Conservative leadership race — was in a rally criticizing the carbon tax to be introduced in January by Rachel Notley, the premier of Alberta and the crowd started chanting “lock her up” in reference to the infamous saying of Donald Trump regarding his political adversary Hillary Clinton. Alexander was seen smiling along with the chant and didn’t even try to distance himself from the chanting by stopping them or leaving the event. If this is not a copycat from the U.S. politics of populism and misogyny, what else could it?

His colleague Kellie Leitch, another former cabinet minister in the Harper government, who introduced the barbaric practice hotline during the summer 2015 and briefly expressed some regrets before announcing her candidacy for the Conservative party leadership race, has since been surfing on the “Trump wave” by including an “Anti-Canadian value” as a screening for immigrants in a survey questionto her supporters. If this is not xenophobic, what else could it be?

In Quebec, tactics of xenophobia and Islamophobia have been used by some politicians and media outlets with total impunity and very little denunciation by political leaders and the main stream media. The mere impression to appear complacent with terrorism or with anything related to Islam seems to have paralyzed many of them.

François Legault, the leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, in a distorted attempt to distance himself from his political opponents published a political ad with the picture of woman wearing a chador (Islamic garment to cover all the body worn in Iran and Afghanistan by some women) and declaring that only his party wouldn’t allow teachers to wear a chador in schools. The ad is misleading, as there are no teachers wearing chador in Quebec.

Nevertheless, this ad is intended to appeal to the fear that some voters have regarding those religious symbols that invaded the popular culture (movies and books) after the Iranian revolution of 1979 and remained stuck in people’s imaginations even if today there is not a single request for a teacher to wear the chador in Quebec or Canada.

Recently, we learned from CBC that a xenophobic group, has been gaining membership and funds based on their fear of what they call “Islamic fundamentalism.”

This group attracts members who are concerned to see the province being invaded by sharia followers or Halal products consumers. It originated in some small village in Quebec, where most likely there are no Muslim immigration presence. The founders of this groups said that they are inspired by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National, a right-wing party in France.

Despite, the historical and socio-economical differences and origins of the immigration in France and Quebec, the fear seem to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean to find fertile ground in Quebec. How come these groups are not considered to be fuelling and propagating hate? When we have politicians hurrying to legislate and invest millions of dollars to combat terrorism and radicalization, and then, on the other side, silent or shy when it comes combating xenophobia and Islamophobia, there is clearly a double standard.

Politicians at the federal and provincial levels should be more courageous and bring legislation that would condemn these groups and actions. Otherwise, it will be too late and the “Trump wave” will sweep us here in Canada as well.

This article has been initially published at the Huffington Post Canada

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What to do with Economic Inequalities

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Studying economic inequalities seems to be the new “fashion” in the last couple of years among academics and researchers. It is undoubtedly that “Occupy Wall Street movement” and its European counterpart “le mouvements des Indignés” have something to do with it. Those social movements, to their credit, brought to the public space, new concepts like the “90%” versus the “10%” or even the “99%” versus the “1%”. They became the slogan of these movements.

Unfortunately, rare are of those studies or books that would call for a total rethinking and reshaping of the capitalist and neoliberal system. Instead, these studies on the inequalities would most of the time justify them and portray them as “inevitable” or even defend the “1%” by claiming that they are the one pushing the economy forward.

Of course, “The Capital in the Twenty First Century” by Thomas Picketty, in an unprecedented and thorough study about the rise of the economic inequalities in Western Europe and the US, rightly pointed to the cause of these inequalities: the accumulation of wealth with a tiny proportion within the society and hence he proposed a special tax on wealth, to better distribute the incomes.The principal message of Picketty is that the wealth in western countries reached high level that surpassed the growth rate of their economies and that cannot be justified by real productivity or growth (thus, the danger of financial crises). Despite this, the critics of Picketty quickly dismissed his crucial message and instead jumped to accuse him of being a “modern Karl Marx” in reference of the “Capital” book by Karl Marx. Some of these virulent critics went even to consider the work of Picketty as ideologically motivated and not at all based on economic assumptions.

Angus Deaton, a prominent economist from Princeton who received the Nobel Prize of Economics in 2015, published a book in 2013, named “The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequalities.”

Contrary to Picketty, Deaton’s intentions are not to identify the inequalities as one of the “main culprits” behind the poverty and lack of development of some countries. Rather, he blames the spread of diseases and health issues as the main reasons behind people economic fallout. He believes that the world populations were able to achieve some level of development because of the improvement of their medical accessibility: hospitals, medications, research…He refers to this as the “Great Escape”, the escape from diseases, from poverty, and thus from inequalities. Another factor that Deaton believes has improved people’s lives around the world is “globalization”.

For this, he gives the examples of countries like Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand and Botswana, who had an economic growth rate higher than 4% per year in the period between 1960 and 2010.

However this economic growth didn’t translate automatically into economic equalities between the countries and inside the same country.

Hence, in China a country with a high growth rate, and with an economy that would soon surpass the American’s, the average income in China remains 20% of the American’s.

Despite those flagrant inequalities, Deaton, thinks that it is the ingenuity and intelligence of people that would make them advance and lead them to win over poverty. Even if this progress will be met with increasing inequalities at some point.

Contrary to the book of Picketty, Deaton’s was well received by the neoliberal reviews. Even when Deaton exposed the financial debacles of Wall Street and how the government bailed out the financial institutions using the usual refrain of “Too big to fail”, he didn’t go anywhere further to put in question, the “accepted” and “justified” institutionalized greed underlying today’s neoliberalism.

Deaton continues to believe in globalization as an engine of development and explains the inequalities between countries and within countries as “mismanaged globalization”. But he doesn’t tell us how these inequalities can be kept in control without falling in social unrest. He doesn’t provide us with any concrete actions on how the health conditions of poor countries can break out of the circle of poverty specially knowing that inside those same countries government, corruption and lack of democratic institutions are all linked together.

Picketty book’s introduced a classical tool to defy inequalities: taxes. But, this was immediately, considered as a socialist measure. Deaton candidly admits in his book that “Equality policy required by democracy is still threatened by economic inequality”. Nevertheless, he remains mum on how to achieve and implement that much need “equality policy”.

 

 

 

Where is Home?

Great population movements have always marked humanity. Religious traditions are full of stories of people fleeing persecution, escaping diseases, running away from natural disasters. The biblical story of “Noah’s Ark” is probably one the first stories of both human and animal migration fleeing natural disaster, something we would call today the climate change consequences. Exodus, another biblical reference, tells us about the ancient migration of Jewish people fleeing political and racial persecution by the Egyptian Pharaoh to look for freedom in the land of Canaan.

Mohamed, Prophet of Islam, established the first Islamic city in Medina, far from his beloved native city: Mecca that persecuted him and his fellowers. The date of that migration marks the “hegire” calendar or Migration calendar also called the Islamic calendar.

In Canada, we live in a land of animal migration. In and out. From here to there. From there to here. Just think of the Monarchs, those beautiful majestic butterflies flying thousands of miles from Canada to Mexico, laying their eggs along their southern routes and later returning to their homeland. But in reality where is their homeland: Canada or Mexico? The species can’t survive without both. So home is a little bit “here” and a little bit “there” and vice versa…

Think also about the annual salmon run going against the current from the Pacific Ocean to spawn and later die in the rivers of the interior lands. Their offspring take the opposite route from the rivers to the cold and open water of the Pacific Ocean where they will grow and strive.

And how about Caribou migration where every year many thousand of animals migrate from the tree-line to the calving grounds of the remote Artic Tundra and then back again to the summer and autumn. These animal migration are today strong symbols of who we are as a country but why do we forget them when it comes to human beings?

These animal migration cycles came to be seen as natural phenomenon and part of the natural balance of our ecosystem. Many animals die in the process but the general population survive and get stronger and healthier because of it.

So why, when it comes to human migration, barriers are established, walls are built and military check points are strongly defined and enforced?

In the last years, the Mediterranean Sea has become to represent a hecatomb, a multifaith and multi racial graveyard of people dreaming of a better life. People fleeing wars, persecution, and poverty. People looking for a better future for their children: decent lives, a good education and most importantly peace.

But this is not what we are hearing in the media or by some populist politicians. These refugees, are depicted as economical, cultural, and identity threats. Very few countries had the political courage to accept them and let them integrate in their societies and help them fulfill their dreams. Instead the majority of European countries for instance, refused to accept more refugees. They purposely changed their laws to stop these big numbers of people arriving from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, African countries, at their shores. Not only this, but the refugees are today tracked through drones, their biometrics data taken and shared with police and government agencies. They became to be represented as a homogenous entity; they are portrayed as looking the same, eating the same, behaving the same. As if refugees is a sub human groups with less humanity and more problematic behaviours. This narrative is dangerous; it perfectly fit the narrative of division between “us” and” them”. It makes the “us” feel better in their own bubbles and it makes the refugees and newcomers look like the “barbaric herds” that can never be trusted to be part of the “us”.

But once again, who is “us” and who is the “them”? Aren’t we both “us” and “them”? Isn’t there a fluidity and resilience in our common humanity that makes us simultaneously the same and different? It is exactly this human characteristic that is being attempted to “erase” or overlooked within the refugees and that is after all despite all odds always present and that would finally brings us together.

This essay was first published at Six Degrees Citizen Space 2016 http://www.6degreesto.com/article/where-is-home/

Once again the bodies of Muslim women are used to justify wars

Lord Cromer, the British consul general of Egypt, who was the de facto ruler of that country between 1883 to 1907, wrote in his book, Modern Egypt:

“The position of women in Egypt, and Mohammedan countries generally, is … a fatal obstacle to the attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the Western civilisation … The obvious remedy would appear to be to educate women.”

Reading his words, one could easily mistake Lord Cromer for a “feminist” or a genuine defender of women’s rights. At that time, there was no Internet. So Lord Cromer couldn’t boast about his objective of saving Muslim women to his Facebook and Twitter followers. Nevertheless his ideas made their way into British politics, which made him a celebrated personality for some.

Any biographical book about the life of Lord Cromer would mention the infamous role he played in the anti-suffragette movement in Britain. Indeed, in 1908, after retiring from his duties in Egypt, Lord Cromer presided over the anti-suffragette Men’s Committee for Opposing Female Suffrage. The purpose of this committee was to fundraise against the suffragist movement, and to publicly campaign against women’s demands, including those in the British political system. Even though this committee successfully raised money for the cause, it was not able to gain public support as the suffragist campaign became more and more popular among British women.

This makes us wonder if Lord Cromer led a double life: a feminist in Egypt and an anti-women’s rights crusader in England.

In other words, it is easier to speak about other people’s rights and forget or even fight against the rights of your own people. Or maybe it was more rewarding politically to justify the colonization of Egypt by evoking the “backwardness” of Islam and the “poor status” of Muslim women while disregarding all the voices calling for women’s rights at home.

It must be noted that it is easier to convince an ignorant public with simplistic justifications for complex problems, leaving them with a nice feeling of superiority after helping the “oppressed.”

Ironically, the tactics of Lord Cromer are not obsolete in today’s politics. They are still being used by politicians of the likes of George W. Bush, who, in one of his justifications for the war in Afghanistan, evoked the sad fate of burqa-wearing Afghan women.

At that time, a majority of Americans cheered for his newly discovered feminist spirit. They applauded his efforts and believed that Afghan women would instantaneously remove their burqas the minute U.S. soldiers set foot in Afghanistan, and the little girls prevented by the Taliban from going to school would automatically be allowed to go to school after the military invasion.

Today, many NGOs are reporting that things didn’t change much in Afghanistan. The burqa is still present and many schools are still closed for girls. Literacy rates for women over the age of 15 is 12.6 per cent and only 6 per cent of girls go to secondary school.

And what happened to the concerns of Tony Blair, George and Laura Bush? They are gone with the last soldiers who left the Afghan soil! Meanwhile, in the U.S., George W. Bush fiercely opposed policies that promoted women’s rights. Among many anti-woman policieshe introduced, he unsuccessfully tried to shut the Labor Department women’s bureau offices which informed women about their workplace rights. Furthermore, he slashed library funding (and by the way, Laura Bush was a librarian).

But today, it seems that the bodies of Afghan women are no longer in demand. Instead, it is the bodies of some Iraqi women who represent the source of concerns for some politicians.

One of the politicians extremely worried about Iraqi women is Jason Kenney. And because it happens that he is the Minister of War (sorry for slip of the tongue — I mean Minister of Defence) it made his job a bit easier: he can save Muslim women by going to war (I mean defensive war).

And this is why he was so quick to tweet about the issue — to the point that in his rush he made an “innocent” mistake. The pictures he posted were not correct. They were not showing pictures of Muslim women but instead the dramatization of a religious ceremony conducted by Shia Muslims. But of course for Jason Kenney, this doesn’t really matter. Shia, Sunni, Muslim women — the point here is to save the bodies of these women from oppression.

Here in Canada, it was the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney that, in 2006, cut funds to the Status of Women Canada, and it is the same Jason Kenney who came up with a hand-tailored law to tell a woman what to wear and what not to wear at a citizenship ceremony. It was also the government of Stephen Harper in 2010 that didn’t want to provide international aid to family-planning programs that included abortions despite the criticism of this policy by political parties and feminist groups.

And while the “anti-women culture” of the niqab seems to be number ONE on Stephen Harper’s radar, a public inquiry into the more than 1,200 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada is not really high on this same radar.

So now the question is: can you identify the common trait between Lord Cromer and Stephen Harper and his Minister Kenney?

This blog originally published at rabble.ca

From 2001 to today: The never-ending War on Terror

On October 6, 2014, a U.S. judge decided to make information public about the horrific force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Guantanamo detainee.
The news didn’t make the headlines on CNN or Fox news. The treatment was not denounced over and over by every big or small Muslim organization, as they have done when it comes to the treatment of minorities and journalists by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In some media outlets, the news was portrayed as a victory for transparency and government accountability.
Only a handful of journalists have dared to write about the suffering of this detainee. Why was he arrested in the first place and why was he never charged with any offence? How can the U.S. justify his incarceration in the Guantanamo military prison for more than 10 years? Perhaps he is only more collateral damage to add to the War on Terror that the U.S. has been conducting, each time under a new name, but always with disastrous consequences. Perhaps he is another inevitable casualty. Soon, he will be forgotten, as have many other casualties in this infinite, despicable war.
For the U.S., Guantanamo is a prison of another era. Or, put differently: Guantanamo is a prison that was created for prisoners of the first “War on Terror.” Today, its presence bothers the Americans more than it helps them. Guantanamo became an obsolete tool in a yet another “War on Terror.”
Three successive Wars on Terror
From 2001 to 2014, the Americans waged three successive Wars on Terror.
The first War on Terror started in 2001 by George W. Bush, immediately after the events of 9/11. Then, the Americans were still testing the waters. First they used “methods” of conventional war. They sent troops on the ground. They captured prisoners of war; some were fighting with the Taliban, others with al-Qaeda and many others were innocents who turned out to be in the wrong place. Abu Wa’el Dhiab was one of them. The Americans tortured them and even invented a waterboarding technique to make prisoners speak; they force-fed prisoners who went on hunger strikes. They desecrated the Quran, they used dogs to scare some prisoners and even used female agents to sexually humiliate or “tempt” them. The U.S. and its allies considered these methods “legal” and “legitimate” as they were “cleaning” the world of Al-Qaeda terrorists. And of course, the majority of American people believed their politicians.
Between 2008 and 2012, the Americans got tired of George W. Bush. He became an embarrassment for the world and for the U.S., so they elected a new president. After all, the War on Terror conducted in Afghanistan and Iraq wasn’t as successful as the politicians and military wanted people to believe. The war was bringing home more bodies of soldiers killed overseas. The U.S. economy was suffering from an over-stretched war. This is where President Obama came into the picture. He promised to close the Guantanamo prison; he never did. He promised to get U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan; he did, but that is another story. He even stopped calling the “War on Terror” by its name.
But what the majority of people didn’t know is that Obama subtly started a second War on Terror. In his book, Jeremy Scahill calls it a “dirty war.” Instead of capturing prisoners and sending them to Guantanamo, where one day they could become a liability for the U.S. administration, Obama and his advisers came up with a new war, one that is invisible to the eyes of the common people. This lethal war was conducted behind the screens of remote controls in bunkers in the desert of Arizona, where military personnel can guide drones from the comfort of their chairs to kill “terrorists” and their supporters.
This war was conducted in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. U.S. officials even changed their way of counting the victims of their killing policy. Thus, “militant” became “all military-age males in a strike zone.”
So, if they kill a militant and his friends and family, the casualties are all counted as “militants” as long as they are adult and male. The reasoning here is so simple, it’s perhaps too simple: the friend of my enemy is my enemy.
For four years, the second War on Terror became almost invisible until the chaos created by the first one came to haunt the U.S. again. The “new Iraq” the U.S. wanted to create imploded in three main zones: the one controlled by the Shias, the one controlled by the Kurds, and the rest where Sunni militants, soldiers of the old Baathist regime, and marginalized groups merged together to take over what was left. Thus, ISIL was born.
At first, the actions of ISIL didn’t bother Obama much, and neither did the horrific killings conducted in Syria by dictator Bashar al-Assad on his own people. The U.S. “tolerated” them. In fact, they kept them both in balance.
Launching the third War on Terror
But when ISIL proclaimed itself a caliphate, and started beheading foreigners, the U.S. felt the need to wage its third War on Terror.
This time, it seems that there is no capturing of prisoners or killings with drones. The U.S. and its allies chose air bombings. In public opinion, this third war is described as a war against a ruthless group. Fine. But what the U.S. administration fails to tell Americans is why it doesn’t wage a war on Saudi Arabia, another barbaric state that kills and tortures with total impunity. Even stranger, Saudi Arabia is a major ally of this war against barbarism. As if there are degrees of barbarism: type 1 barbarism (a.k.a. classic barbarism) that is tolerated by the U.S., and type 2 barbarism (a.k.a. barbarism light), one that must be denounced and fought with vigour.
The third War on Terror isn’t really a war on ISIL or their barbaric methods to scare the West. It is a war to recapture of what is left from the old map of the Middle East after two disastrous Wars on Terror. This new war is a battle where the Americans are trying hard to reinforce their strategic positions in a Middle East torn between Shia and Sunni dominance.

This article was originally published in rabble.ca

Au revoir Pauline: Goodbye to Quebec’s time of division

As a francophone, a North African and a veil-wearing Muslim woman, I felt deeply concerned by the debate around the Charter of Values that created turmoil in la belle province since last fall. This debate suddenly died after the crushing defeat of Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois.
Moreover, as someone who first migrated to, then lived and studied in Quebec, I always had a special place in my heart for Montreal. I have emotional memories there. Somehow I left my heart there in one of its streets.
Last fall, I even started writing a regular column in French for the Huffington Post Quebec where I shared with readers my worries, my opinions, and even good advice that Pauline Marois chose to ignore…
The Charter of Values, or de la laïcité, was portrayed by Pauline Marois and her accomplices as a charter to fight women’s oppression and promote values of gender equality. Noble principles, indeed! The Charter was supposedly targeting the main religious symbols kirpan, yarmulke, the cross (depending on its size and place) and of course, the famous veil.
It wasn’t a very well-kept secret that the Charter was mainly targeting Muslim women who chose to wear the headscarf. Their increasing number in daycares, as educators, and in the public space in general, was apparently creating a malaise according to Bernard Drainville, the minister who initiated this charter.
So, in the name of gender equality, women wearing the veil were going to be fired from their jobs to preserve the secularism of society. What an irony!
Moreover, what Drainville kept as secret are the hundred of thousands of comments from individuals and organizations opposing the Charter as well as the legal advice he received about the Charter’s constitutionality. Maybe transparency and accountability weren’t as important for him as gender equality…

But beyond all the heated debates, and the false arguments used by Pauline Marois and her friends, two concerning phenomena became apparent:
– a social rift between mainstream society and ethnic groups.
– normalization of hateful comments directed towards Muslim women and Islam, not only on the Internet by also by some media commentators and, of course, by Janette Bertrand, the self-proclaimed head of the pro-Charter camp.
In the 2007 Quebec election, the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ), headed by Mario Dumont, a small political party at the time, won 41 seats in the National Assembly and against all odds became the official opposition, sending the Parti Québécois into third position.
The secret of that sudden victory? The ADQ played the political wedge card of identity. Not the veil as much as the sugar bush serving a halal menu or orthodox Jews asking that YMCA glass be covered as the poor men can’t support the view of almost naked women jogging on treadmills.
The ADQ didn’t go as far as bringing in a charter of values; they were testing the waters and it worked wonderfully. But only temporarily — and in the next election, the party was almost decimated.
After “printemps érable” and the student revolution against the Liberals and their tuition fee increase, Pauline Marois came in as the saviour of the Parti Québécois. Her strategists thought they could be smarter than the ADQ’s. They saw how lucrative the identity issue can be in terms of voting and they wanted to replicate it in order to make gains in the election. They didn’t take into consideration that the ADQ bitterly lost in their next election; they didn’t think that playing with fire can be a lot of fun until the fire catches their hands and clothes.
When I was a little girl, one of Lafontaine’s fables that impressed me was the one about the frog and the ox. The frog once saw the ox near a pond and wanted badly to become as big and as beautiful as him. So she started drinking the water until she exploded. This old French fable is taught to children and I am not sure if Pauline Marois — who claims to be a defender of French language and culture — read it.
Marois’s strategists thought that by raising the spectre of the “Muslim invasion” they would succeed as the Front National in France did. But Quebec isn’t France and North America isn’t Europe, a fact they seem to have forgotten.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali refugee, turned into an acclaimed politician in the Netherlands espousing the cause of the extremist right-wing. It worked so well for her. Old conservatives loved her, people who didn’t want the Muslim neighbourhood to grow in their backyards quietly approved her comments, and then one day her dangerous game exploded in her face as it was discovered that she lied with respect to her refugee claim. The same people who once were her friends end up stripping her of Dutch citizenship.
She didn’t learn her lesson though. She went to the United States and started touring the American universities, repeating her same hateful speeches. Some people listened to her but many ignored her. She even scornfully admitted in one of her books that North American society was not as receptive to her message as the Europeans were.
Did Pauline Marois and her candidates hear about Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Or was she only looking at her navel, to use a French expression?
One thing is sure: Quebecers punished Marois badly for being so arrogant. Today, the challenges for all Quebecers are tremendous: economic, social and cultural. Let’s hope that the time of division is behind us. I can only hope that Pauline Marois and her clique are just a bad dream. Au revoir, Pauline!