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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How genuine are Turkey’s and Saudi Arabia’s motives regarding ISIL?

While I am a supporter of the prime minister’s plan for Canada to join the U.S.-led international coalition against the Islamic State—commonly known as ISIL or ISIS—the irony of the mission is not lost on me.

I don’t know whether or not PM Stephen Harper’s plan to take us to war is simply a matter of crass politics and, at this point, I really do not care. I do, however, question the purity of motives of other members of the coalition because two nations in particular—Turkey and Saudi Arabia—have dubious agendas, or so it seems to me.

Turkey has joined the campaign against ISIL, without specifying what it will do. This should be good news for those Canadians who see ISIL as an evil scourge for Turkey is a NATO ally that shares the longest borders with Iraq and Syria and has the second largest army of all NATO members.

Common sense, however, dictates we question and assess Turkey’s motives. While Turkish officials have said they will assist in the fight, given Turkey’s past history of allowing the crossing of Islamist extremists into Syria, Kurds—our primary allies on the ground in Iraq and Syria—are understandably suspicious of its true intentions. Some say Turkey views the semi-autonomous Kurdish region on the Syrian side of its border as a greater threat than ISIL, and suspect that Turkey’s hidden agenda includes stemming the growing importance of Kurdish involvement in the coalition.

Turkey is, of course, loath to see Kurdish independence hopes—at home in Turkey, in Iraq or in Syria—encouraged in any way. This seems to be of overriding concern and will inform Turkey’s role in the anti-ISIL coalition, even to the point of impairing the coalition’s effectiveness in containing the ISIL threat.

This brings me to another coalition member with a similarly dubious agenda, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative brand of Islam, Wahhabi Islam, shares much with the purist Salafi ideology of ISIL. ISIL also shares the extreme anti-Shia sentiment so prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

Wahhabi Salafism is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and, under the guise of religious education, this oil-rich state has spent millions of dollars in public and private money to spread Wahhabi Salafism widely in the Middle East and across Western nations.

How ironic is it that the nation that is one of the main proponents of ultraconservative, purist Islam is a member of a military coalition that is intent on destroying the most zealous adherents of its religious ideology?

Let’s be thankful that Saudi Arabia is playing only a small part in the air campaign because, frankly, I’m not sure what side these Arabs are really on.

Politics—and war—do indeed make strange bedfellows.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals on wrong side of ISIL combat mission

Tuesday evening we will have a vote in our House of Commons on the Conservative government’s plan to join the U.S.-led international coalition in Iraq to contain or defeat—at the very least to degrade—the radical Islamic group known as ISIL, ISIS or simply IS.

Given that Conservatives hold a majority of the seats in the House and the government’s decision to make the vote a matter of confidence, the outcome is a forgone conclusion. It is, therefore, almost certain that Canada will join the United States, Britain, France, Australia and dozens of other nations, including five Arab allies—Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar—in airstrikes intended to stop ISIL from engaging in large-scale military movements or operating bases in the open.

The official opposition NDP is, of course, against any combat mission and especially one supported by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Dippers couch their opposition in noble sounding predictions of Canada being dragged into a lengthy quagmire and propose—along with the Liberals—a bigger humanitarian role for Canada to help refugees caught in the fighting.

“If the Americans couldn’t get the job done in a decade, we’re not going to get it done in six months,” Tom Mulcair reportedly told CTV. “We have to learn the lessons of the past.”

The danger of ignoring military expansionism by a resolute, fanatic foes is also a lesson of the past Canadians might well heed, but that bit of historical lesson-learning seems to have eluded Mr. Mulcair.

Earlier today, I heard the Liberal party critic John McCallum tell us on TV that Stephen Harper was so gung-ho on joining the U.S. in its second Iraq War, he cannot be trusted with this new military mission.

Left unsaid by Mr McCallum, of course, was Liberal party’s support—while in government—of several other overseas conflicts, including the Gulf War and the Afghan War. Yet, apparently, Canadians are still expected trust in the Grits’ current stand on how Canada should confront ISIL.

Furthermore, Canadians who believe Canada played no part whatsoever in the discredited Iraq War should read this Wikipedia article and learn more about Liberal party duplicity on the issue.

Moreover, nothing precludes Canada from providing humanitarian aid to the victims of ISIL while playing a direct military role within the large international coalition assembled by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, however, have made a political calculation that we should stay out of any combat role and leave the fighting to others—this despite the acknowledgement of the grave threat posed by ISIL.

Justin Trudeau’s position is not the majority one on this issue though. The latest polls suggest most Canadians consider ISIL to be a direct, serious threat to Canada. And, while Trudeau insists we stay out of the fight against ISIL and stick to our already-underway humanitarian efforts, those polls indicate majority support for joining the U.S.-led coalition in a combat mission against the Islamic militants.

I’m with the Conservatives on this one.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Scots say “No” to independence, so what now say the English?

In their Sep. 18 referendum, the Scots voted 55 per cent to 45 per cent against independence from the United Kingdom. This David Cameron, the British prime minister, said represented the “settled will” of the Scottish people that puts an end to the independence debate “for a generation.”

Well, perhaps this does officially end the independence debate in Scotland, but it will heat up the devolution debate in both Scotland and in England.

As part of the “No” campaign in Scotland, the three main Westminster parties made promises to devolve more powers to Holyrood (Scottish Parliament), and after Thursday’s “No” vote, Cameron was quick to say they would be “honoured in full,” with draft legislation ready in January.

Since the late 1990s, legislative powers have been transferred from the UK parliament in Westminster to a Scottish Parliament, a Northern Ireland Assembly and a Welsh Assembly creating devolved legislative bodies for those members of the Kingdom. This has, of course, begged the question: What of England?

Without a separate legislative body of its own, members of UK parliament from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales can vote on matters that affect only England. Is that really fair to the English?

It’s an old question. The underlying constitutional issue was raised by William Gladstone when, during a speech on the first Irish Home Rule bill in 1886, he said: “If Ireland is to have domestic legislation for Irish affairs they cannot come here for English or Scottish affairs.” [Wikipedia] There is even now a name for it: The West Lothian question.

David Cameron is reportedly under pressure from his own MPs who have warned that it is “inconceivable” that Scottish MPs would be able to continue voting on English affairs once tax-raising and other powers are passed to the Scottish Parliament.

A former cabinet minister, John Redwood, put it well when he said:

What we first of all need to ensure is that all these matters are settled in England by English MPs without the help and advice of their Scottish colleagues.

“We as the English Parliament must settle the English income tax rate. It would be quite inconceivable that Scottish MPs would vote on the income tax rate for England—that may be higher than the Scottish one—that they weren’t going to be paying.” [Source]

When I visited family in England in 2005, this was a question I heard discussed at the dinner table with a definite undertone suggesting the status quo could not stand indefinitely.

Now seems the right time for the English to have their fair share of devolution.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rob Ford’s illness only makes Toronto city council elections more bizarre

The campaign to elect the City of Toronto’s next mayor got even more bizarre as Rob Ford withdraws from the race because of ill-health.

Ford isn’t the most popular politician these days, but those who have wished he’d drop out of the race and leave the centre-right vote undivided are now wishing him a short hospital stay and speedy recovery. And I don’t believe either John Tory or Olivia Chow would have wanted to see Ford’s illness benefit their campaigns.

That having been said, the general wish by about 65 per cent of Toronto voters to be rid of Rob Ford and his antics once and for all will only be realized partially. After removing his name from the mayoral ballot, Ford promptly registered to run for city council in Ward 2, and the mayor’s brother, Doug Ford, has taken the mayor’s place in the mayoral contest.

Yes, folks, the same Doug Ford who had decided to give up municipal politics and had not registered to run in the Oct. 27 election.

According to media reports, Doug Ford had the third-worst council attendance this past term,  and he has missed over half the votes taken in 2014. This gives, I believe, a pretty good indication of his lack of commitment to local politics and supports his past comments that he is more interested in provincial office.

So does the circus that is Toronto city council threaten to dominate GTA politics for another four years? Well, polls suggest Rob Ford can win the Ward 2 seat and Doug Ford is shown to have 34 per cent support as mayor—good enough for second place ahead of Olivia Chow—according to a poll taken by Forum Research on Friday. So don’t bet on seeing the last of the Fords anytime soon.

Perish the thought.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Will Conservatives treat the ISIL symptom while letting the Islamic extremism disease fester and spread?

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a joint House of Commons committee that, combatting Islamic extremism represents the “greatest struggle of our generation.”

While I have a great deal of respect for John Baird, I have to say that these sorts of statements leave me cold. If he really believes in what he said, and if this is the official position of his government, why then is Canada not fully engaged in battling Islamic extremism from its source and root causes in Saudi Arabia through to the end results such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabab of Somalia, the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan and, of course, our old enemy, al-Qaida.

Logically, when the US declared war on illegal drugs it attacked the issue at its source—perhaps not as successfully as most would have wished. But, at least, the US approach of attacking growers and their drug factories in Columbia made good sense.

So, given that radical Islam has its home in Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi religious (Sunni Islam) movement, why do we treat that country as a friend and ally? And why do we officially ignore—and by doing so, condone—Saudi Arabia’s funding and its Wahhabi influence on Muslim mosques here in Canada?

A 2001 article in The Economist states that “the Saudi royal family has long exploited religion to bolster its standing,” which “has helped breed the very sort of religious extremism that inspired the terrorist attacks on America and is now threatening the kingdom's own stability.”

And have we forgotten that fifteen of the nineteen Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis?

You can talk about Islamic extremism representing the “greatest struggle of our generation” all you want for words are cheap—though mostly ineffectual.

What matters more, obviously, are actions. But our federal government is all about words and gestures with little substantive action to support its words.

I’ve little doubt the Conservatives will support, and even contribute to, direct action against ISIL. But I also believe its a safe bet that they’ll not try to root out Islamic extremism at its source. Rather, we’ll do what we always do: we’ll treat the symptoms and leave the disease to fester and spread.