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Monday, December 7, 2015

Radical Islam: Pernicious ideologies like noxious weeds must be rooted out—not just cut back or contained

President Barack Obama offered little in the way of new ideas to fight Islamic terrorism when he made his near-historic television address to the American people last night. It was not so much a speech of platitudes—though it was that to some extent—but it just seemed underwhelming and seemed to be received as such even from some of his admirers. 

What would I have liked the president to say, you may ask.

Well, for a start, I would have liked him to refer to attackers like the ones in Paris and San Bernardino as, at least, being inspired by Islamists, radical Islam, Islamic terrorism, terrorism in the name of Islam, or some similar term or phrase and not simply as “terrorists.”

I think most rational people understand that terrorism in all its forms is a horrible scourge on civilized societies. But surely we need to be more specific in our terminology if we want to eradicate this particularly virulent form of terrorism, which seems to be the sort most often used against Western democracies in recent years.

But most importantly, I would also have liked President Obama to have been more forthright in identifying the source of the poisonous ideology that masquerades as religious teaching and which seems to be at the root of much of the inspiration for these attacks. That source—the very root of it, that is—is not as the president implies, ISIS, aka ISIL and Daesh. They are merely the most recent exporters and inspirers of the crimes committed in the name of the ideology.

Daesh did not invent or even significantly advance the ideology in any way. Its roots go back into eighteenth-century Saudi Arabia. There it germinated and took root and grew into a branch of Sunni Islam. Wahhabism is an especially orthodox and puritanical movement, which has flourished in places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar as an extremist pseudo-Sunni movement, often referred to as Salafi. In more recent times, Wahhabism has spread to Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, including the multicultural Western democracies.

Pernicious ideologies are like noxious weeds, they must be rooted out—not just cut back or contained—or they will spring back, and grow even more virulent than before.

Do not be fooled into believing that only a tiny percentage of those professing to be Muslims practice some sort of Wahhabi-like fundamentalist Islam, which qualifies as Salafi. Tens of millions of Muslims are Islamic fundamentalist and the number seems to be increasing. They can be found in Arab states like the aforementioned Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq and, increasingly, in Syria. They are also the tenacious Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are also in Russia, in North Africa and in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad.

Fortunately, only a few of these turn to terrorism to impose their religious views on the rest of us. But, until the ideology is discredited and made to be unacceptable in any form in the civilized world, if not entirely eradicated, we in the West will have to face an enemy like none who have threatened us before.

But let me be very clear: the threat is not from the overwhelming majority of the million or so Canadian Muslims who are our neighbours, friends and members of our families, for they are as peace-loving and fair-minded as any other Canadians. These “real” Muslims abhor the attacks by Islamist terrorists as much as I do, or as much as most readers do.

They are most often twice the victims of such terrorist acts: after being victimized directly—i.e., being killed—their fellow Muslims are further victimized by the backlash from an increasing number of non-Muslim Canadians. And there is no point telling them to go home, for Canada is their home and they are as stuck with their victimizers as the rest of us are.

We know who the enemy are and the real source of their twisted ideology. And so does President Obama—or so he should. So what I really wanted to hear from him is when he will lead the world against this threat in a fundamental way so as to stop it at the source.

A great start would be to sanction Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Daesh. Freeze their Western investments and bank accounts; stop buying their oil and selling them military hardware; restrict travel of their citizens to Western destinations; suspend landing rights for their airplanes; and list them officially as terrorist organizations along with any mosque, school or other organization that accepts financing from them. Then go in and clean out Daesh from Iraq and Syria. That would be a start.

They’d be some short-term pain no doubt. But we’d be better off and we’d have a safer world in the longer-term.

If only we had leaders with the will to do any of this, eh?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Nannygate: An important principle, which is far more important than the cost to taxpayers of two nannies

Many, mainly Liberal party supporters, claim the “nannygate” controversy is a lot of fuss about nothing. But is that a fair assessment? Didn’t this prime minister go on record several times as saying specifically he did not need financial help with the care of his children?

Didn’t he also specifically tell Canadians that Stephen Harper, as the then prime minister, also did not require government assistance? So what has changed? If, as he said the Harper family did not need government assistance when they occupied the official residence, why then does the Trudeau family?

Let’s be clear: this has nothing to do with the appropriateness of the incumbent prime minister employing a nanny at taxpayer’s expense. That is quite acceptable. We should not stoop to such stinginess for it is unbecoming of us as a nation. Other taxpayer-funded household help is also acceptable, or should be in my opinion.

But Prime Minister Trudeau sought to gain a political advantage by claiming he and the then prime minister did not need taxpayer-funded childcare and, therefore, should not not be receiving it now. He even boasted that he planned to contribute to charity any amount he did receive from a proposed government program. There is an important principle at stake here, which is far more important than the cost to taxpayers of two nannies.

PM Trudeau’s reversal of position on his family’s need for taxpayer-funded childcare sets a horrible example of the cynical nature of political promises and assertions. It suggests his is a party of entitlement in which cheap bravado masquerades as thoughtful political rhetoric.

It is time to do the right thing, Prime Minister.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

We natives of “The True North strong and free” should open our hearts and doors to more Syrian refugees

My heart goes out to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have been forced to flee their country with little more than their lives and the clothes on their backs, and sometimes not even that. Accordingly, I support our government’s Syrian refugee resettlement plan a hundred per cent.

Weeks after the Oct. 19 election, Prime Minister Trudeau insisted he’d bring in 25,000 refugees by Dec. 31 even though experts told us such a plan was not advisable. Now that there is no need for adolescent one-upmanship, however, and while there is an abundance of political capital available to the new Liberal government, cynical politicians like Immigration Minister John McCallum can claim the Grits always intended to “get it done right” and ignore the fact his party had made a promise almost everyone knew they could not keep if, in fact, they intended to do it right.

The disingenuousness of the Liberals notwithstanding, helping 25,000 refugees is the right thing to do. At least, that the way I see it. In fact, I’d like to see Canada admit ten times that number of Syrian refugees, spread over an appropriate timeframe, say 18 to 24 months, and with the appropriate amount screening to weed out potential decease carriers and security risks.

According to Government of Canada’s Facts and figures 2014 – Immigration overview: Permanent residents, in 2014, Canada allowed 260,404 immigrants into the country and had similar numbers enter for over a decade before that. If necessary, why not cut that number by half for two years and replace those potential immigrants with Syrian refugees? They, after all, are in desperate need of a new home. Sweden, a country with less than a third of our population is expected to take in 190,000 refugees this year. We are a country of immigrants and need to step up and do more.

According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, Syria hosted approximately 1,852,300 refugees and asylum seekers—this in a country with a population of under 20 million. Most had come from Iraq (1,300,000), but others came from Palestine (543,400) and Somalia (5,200). Now it is time for us to help the Syrians.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Russia: the enemy of our enemy is not our friend

While I am quite sure the average Russian is as honest, straightforward and fun-loving as the average Canadian, I’m as sure that Russia, as a nation, is not a friend of Canada. Nor do I believe Russia is a friend of any of the Western democracies, or any other democracy, if it comes to that.

Russia seems far more likely to find “friends” among those nations who are distinguished by one-man or one-party rule and a less than stellar human rights record, i.e., China, Iran, Cuba, Syria, etc.

It would be a grave mistake, therefore, for nations such as the United States and France to seek a formal alliance with Russia against their common foe, Daesh, the Islamic State terrorist group.

Russian leaders will shake your right hand while picking your pocket with their left. Duplicity is a treasured trait of those who run that country. To them, a Square Deal is for dupes and weaklings and nothing they’d ever enter into willingly.

Russia’s dealings vis-à-vis the Ukraine should be all we need to warn us that nation cannot be trusted to respect the territorial integrity of other countries. Russia’s official complicity in their athlete doping scandal should tell us enough about the depths to which that nation has sunk when it comes to trustworthiness, and the heights to which state corruptness has risen there.

Russia is involved in the conflict in Syria to help the despot Bashar Hafez al-Assad stay in power, thus guaranteeing it will continue to maintain a naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea. To keep al-Assad in power Russia has carried out attacks against the various forces who threaten the Syrian president’s regime, including those considered by the West to be moderate Syrian rebel groups.

Yes, Daesh may also be their enemy—Russia has problems of its own with radical Islamists—and be targeted by Russian warplanes, but other anti-Assad groups like the Free Syrian Army and Turkmen, who live in northern Syria, have had to face the brunt of the Russian air raids. On Friday, ostensibly in response to Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane, Russia launched major air attacks across northern Syria against non-Daesh rebel groups backed by Turkey.

Russia has chosen to be the major military adversary of the Western democracies, if not their outright enemy. This was a choice made by its leaders, not one forced on them by the U.S. or by NATO or by any other nation or group.

In September, the U.K.’s RAF jets were scrambled for the seventh time in 2015 to intercept Russian long-range nuclear bombers near the U.K. border. This sort of thing is a regular occurrence near Canada’s borders. In Europe also, Moscow frequently sends military flights over or near the borders of the Baltic States, forcing NATO members to step up air support in the region. More than just an inconvenience, these flights are a danger to civilian planes because the Russians regularly refuse to identify themselves.

Russia is not a nation with which any democracy should want to align itself, regardless of the temporariness of the association or the justness of the common cause. Seek to have cordial, peaceful relations with them, yes, but maintain a discrete distance at all times, at least, until there is a regime change and a discarding of its bully-boy attitude.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Evidence-based decision-making if necessary, but not necessarily evidence-based decision-making

For some years now, we have heard that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s edition of the Liberal Party of Canada favours evidence-based decision-making. Early evidence, however, warns us he intends to apply this principle selectively, if at all.

Take for example the election promise that the LPC would bring in 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees by December 31, 2015. Bravado? One-upmanship? Cynical electioneering? Only the Grits know for sure. What we do know was the promise could not have been based on evidence. At least, not on expert evidence.

The vote was hardly counted and most of the mainstream media were still giddy with joy  over the LPC’s victory when experts began to council caution. The December 31 date would not give enough time to do things right, they warned. Don’t worry, we were told. The Grits would keep their promise.

When Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and others asked for a more prudent timeframe, Justin Trudeau’s apologists—and especially Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne—virtually called them racists and bigots.

The new Liberal plan is for only 15,000 refugees to be government-sponsored, with the other 10,000 sponsored privately. Furthermore, only 10,000 refugees will come in before the end of December, and the remainder will be in Canada by the end of February. This still leaves 10,000 government-sponsored refugees to be accounted for. These, according to government sources will be brought to Canada before the end of 2016.

All told, the new plan is a far cry from the Liberals’ election promise. Perhaps PM Trudeau believed he needed to deceive voters so he could leave the other leaders—whose promises were far more realistic—“in the dust,” to use his words.

Other examples can be found of the Grits—despite proclaiming their fondness for evidence-based decision-making—showing they prefer evidence that supports their preconceived policies and official positions on issues.

A recent Andrew Coyne article in the National Post reminds us of the Liberal government’s proposed deficits that are to fight the recession we are supposed to be in, when we are really not in a recession at all. Or how about taxing the “rich” more so as to fight “growing inequality,” when the share of income going to the top one per cent has actually been falling for a decade. Then there’s the whole LPC-created myth about Canada’s stagnating middle-class incomes when, if fact, Canadian middle-class incomes have been rising steadily for two decades. PM Trudeau and his people must be watching too much U.S.-based television.

The general tone in Ottawa might very well have changed for the better, but substance? Well, not so much so.