I am in a terrible mood right now because of the shooting in Quebec City.
I grew up thinking that things like this don’t happen in Canada. I grew up believing that Canada, and most Canadians, valued tolerance as a one of our key values. Of course, now that I am older and actually studied actual history, and I know that our history is one of normalized paranoia about the “other”, and exclusion from the mainstream. Canadians have spent the past two centuries freaking out over immigrants, whether it be Chinese, Greek, Eastern European Jews, etc. Now we’re just freaking out over Muslims, and people are seizing on the hate band wagon because it’s the easy thing to do.
Six men are dead, all fathers; children now have to grow up without their fathers because their fathers practiced a certain religion and came from foreign lands. This was a xenophobic attack, make no mistake; a racist attack, an act of intolerance. This was the long term result of years, more than a decade, of normalized bigotry. This is the culmination of hate blogs, far right wing “news” organizations, and the casual normalization of paranoid Islamophobia.
There, I said it. It’s a thing. It’s a thing we in Canada have allowed to fester and spread unchecked. We allowed the discourse to edge closer and closer to a form of extremism in itself, governments of the day using subtle dog-whistle anti-foreigner sentiments, and not so subtle dog-whistle anti-foreigner sentiments.
I could go on and on about how I saw this coming for years. I did see it coming. I knew that something like this would happen sooner or later.
Ezra Levant’s exploiting the deaths, making up blatant nonsense. I could go on about how this is kind of, in part, his fault, and the fault of all the hate-mongering thugs pretending journalism at Rebel “Media”.
I could go on about Michael Coren, the redeemed one, the guy who is suddenly progressive now that he’s had a change of heart. I could go on about how he paved the way for hardcore Islamophobic paranoia becoming normalized in Canada the past decade; how he can be sorry for his past as much as he wants to be, yet cannot ignore that he helped created this present and this future.
I wont though.
We all know who is ultimately responsible.
Those of us who recognize humanity in those who are “otherized” need to stand up and stand together now.
The multi-faceted war in Syria, apart from dividing much of the world, has specifically split the larger worldwide political left. It is difficult to make in-depth analysis on a conflict this complex and, with horrendous massacres committed by different actors across the ‘sides’, it is even harder to support a ‘side’ fully. There are numerous stances taken by Leftists worldwide, but support for President Assad from many Leftists, including anti-war activist elements, cannot be overlooked.
Why would anyone who considers themselves ‘left-wing’ support President Bashar al-Assad of Syria? What is it about this dictator that sets him aside from Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, or the monarchy of Saudi Arabia? Why would anyone who considers themselves socialist, or social democrat, give any support to a regime that was, at the time of the uprising, instigating massive neoliberal policies that led to exacerbated inequalities? Why would a left-winger support a regime that has western fascists fighting alongside it’s forces?
When it comes to Syria, the major reason why so many supposed Leftists support is because Assad is not a pro-American dictator. The Syrian conflict has revealed a grave hypocrisy. How strange it is when those who scoff at Israeli military representatives claiming that a bombed hospital or school in Gaza was being used by terrorists, accept without question when the Assad regime or Russia bomb the same kinds of facilities with the same kind of claims.
“Essentialist anti-imperialism is defined solely in relation to one’s own governmnet rather than the basis of a universal opposition to all forms of imperialism,” writes Joey Ayoub in a recent analysis.
One of the most common tropes when it comes to Syria and global, particularly Western, Leftist apologists for the Assad regime is the idea of this crisis being primarily the fault of the Obama Administration. Like all self-interested state powers involved in Syria, one can easily argue that the United States has a role in the current crisis, but to many of these apologists, the United States is entirely behind the conflict. Some even go as far as to say that the peaceful protest at the beginning of the crisis was entirely engineered by the United States. The conflict began in the town of Deraa where children (not CIA agents) were arrested and tortured for spray-painting anti-regime slogans. Protests began small, limited in their scope, calling for reform rather than a direct change in regime leadership. The response from the regime was violence.
The supposition that this was all orchestrated in Washington robs Syrians of their agency, exemplified by the words of author, Robin Yassin-Kassab:
“This habit of thought – whereby the real torments of far away people are dwarfed in significance and impact by the imaginary machinations of the only state that matters, the American one – is depressingly common…Strange and part-way racist, as if white people’s words enter the cosmic fabric so inevitably to determine brown people’s history for years to come. The writings, protests and battles of Syrians means nothing in comparison.”
Contrary to this line of thought, the United States, while having armed some of the Syrian rebels, has actually played a far smaller role overall. As much as some Leftists like to advance these theories, and asserting commonly without evidence that groups like ISIS (Daesh) operate at the direct behest of Washington and/or Tel Aviv, if one traces the actual American response to the Syrian crisis, one would find a tepid and overall hesitant response. In actuality this lack of a strong response led to a major rift between Obama and more eager officials within the administration.
It seems that to many Western Leftists, having seen the United States intervene disastrously in previous misaventures, it logically follows that the United States is the only power that can be blameworthy for any tragedy. A far more nuanced anaylsis is needed rather than a knee-jerk anti-imperialist trope.
“Our commanding officer told us there were armed conspirators and terrorists attacking civilians and burning Government buildings. We went into Telbisa on that day. We did not see any armed group. The protestors called for freedom. They carried olive branches and marched with children…We opened fire; I was there. We used machine guns and other weapons.”
For many analysists and activists at the beginning, the Arab Spring, the democracy movements that started in 2011 were a wonderful development worth supporting. People having lived under authoritarian governments, some of which had western backing, were now organizing en masse for a democratic system. My university, and the streets of my homecity, Toronto, Canada, were filled with solidarity demonstrations with the protestors. The old ways of U.S. Dominance and meddling in the Middle-East, and support for brutal dictatorships, seemed to be geniunely falling apart, and the Western Left seemed largely pleased with this. With the Tunisian and the Egyptian dictators resigning, and elections being called, things seemed to be turning for the better. For various people concerned generally with human rights, it was a sign that accountable governments might be formed instead of stagnant dictatorships. Then came Libya, where there was much criticism of the NATO intervention, making this situation a mixed bag for the global Left. There was also Bahrain and Yemen, the former having their revolution effectively crushed by Saudi Arabia with the blessings of the United States due to geopolitical strategy. By now the Arab Spring’s initial optimism had begun to fade.
Finally came Syria. People, many solidarity activists who had enthusiastically embraced the democratic movements, began to drop off. Some were oddly silent when the regime of President Bashar Assad responded to the initial peaceful protests with brutalityfarsurpassing anything that had occured elsewhere. I was surprised to find, as early as 2011, many Leftist activists in Canada and elsewhere openly supporting the regime. This was strange, witnessing those same voices who showed solidarity with protestors elsewhere, suddenly start parroting talking points from the dictatorship of Syria. Over time, when the conflict became militarized and an armed opposition appeared, I began to question responsibility for the Syrian crisis, and when news came that the U.S. supported the opposition, more voices from the Western Left came out to support Assad and demonize the opposition. What I had heard often at demonstrations and activist meetings was that the West was purposely destablizing Syria for imperialist objectives. It lined up neatly with the worldview of the Americans being responsible for conducting disastrous forced regime change in the Middle-East.
As much as American imperialism is responsible for many problems in the world and has led to many humanitarian catastrophes, this knee-jerk assumption that all problems derive from yankee imperialism is simply flawed analysis.
None of the state actors involved in Syria, be they the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia, or Iran, have the best interests of Syrians in mind, and yet, neither does the Assad regime. Assad’s refusal to step down is what started this conflict.
How can anyone on the Left of the political spectrum find any respectability with this cannibal who sacrifices lives to his pride?
“It was the Assad regime that decided to militarize the uprising, turning it into a bloody civil war. The Assad regime forced the crisis to a point of no return. Once the level of brutality escalated, many ordinary civilians felt that they were forced to take up arms in defense. I feel this is exactly what the Assad regime wanted all along: they would much rather deal with so-called terrorists in the battlefield than mass protests in the street. This kind of strategy is important for the Assad regime, not only internally but for international optics as well. It has allowed Assad to frame his brutal crackdown on the revolution as some sort of fight against terrorism, adopting the exact same language as the West’s so-called war on terror; the rationale is strikingly similar, actually.”
War Does Not End Terror, It Feeds It
Back in the early 2000’s, during the Bush Administration’s war on Iraq, I can recall seeing the above phrase on a poster in downtown Toronto. This was when I was beginning to inform myself politically, getting active in general left-wing politics and the anti-war movement in my homecity. It made sense. There are numerous factors that have led to the creation of widespread Islamic extremist organizations and their brutal methods, and one cannot overlook the ideology behind it emanating from places like Saudi Arabia, and yet many leftists in the West and elsewhere have come to the conclusion that the American-led ‘war on terror’ has contributed immensley to worldwide increases in global terrorism. While the factors that led to the ascension of advanced terrorist organizations is complex, many observers, including the political left, have largely blamed the consequences of war and occupation as a majorcatalyst for these developments.
At the start of the ‘war on terror’ launched after September 11, 2001 extremist jihadism was confined largely to the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with some groups in parts of eastern Africa. There were tactics that used terrorism elsewhere in political struggles, as there has been historically, but the reach of global jihadists was minimal before the ‘war on terror’ commenced. A striking example of this trend is the nucleas of the founding of Daesh (ISIS) in the U.S.-run prison of Abu Garaib in Iraq. Overall, the anti-war movements in the West and elsewhere were correct in their hypothesis that the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure would lead to worse terrorism and violence. There is no doubt that George W. Bush’s war and subsequent occupation led to this, and indeed led to the rise of the most vile and extreme jihadist groups.
And yet, there is another major factor in the rise of Daesh, one that much of the Western Left has largely ignored. Many leftists will continue to blame the West, the United States first, for the funding and support of rebels, as well as regional players like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, for the rise of ISIS and Al-Nusra in Syria. While there is truth to this, there is also more nuance. The actions of the regime of Bashar Assad, like the actions of Bush in Iraq, played an enormous role in the forming of these jihadi groups. The brutal response of the regime to the democracy movement, like the brutality of the Iraq War, has directly led to the conditions that such groupsthrive in.
Syriahadbeen a meetingplaceforradicaljihadistsduringtheearlytomid 2000s. At theheightoftheIraqoccupationthe Assad regimeallowed global jihadiststoenterSyria en masseandpass through the border into Iraqtofightthe American troopsstationedthere. As theyearspassed on andtheoccupationbeganto wind down, Assad eventuallystoppedturning a blind eyeandimprisonedhordesofthemwithinSyria’sborders. Early on duringtheprotests in 2011, Bashar Assad purposelyemptiedSyria’sprisons of Jihadi fighters, in parttofillwithlegitimaterevolutionaries. This move, releasingdangerousjihadisontothestreets, broughtcredencetothedichotomythattheregimehasusedforpropaganda purposes; theideathatthechoice in Syriaisstrictlybetween Assad orthe militant jihadis. Sadly, so manyleft-wingersaroundtheworldhavetakenthisbinaryviewseriously, fallingfortheregime’sline. In fact, contrarytowhatisbeingclaimedbytheregime, both Assad andRussiahavelargelyrefrainedfromtargetting ISISandhavebeen largelytargettingtheother rebel groups, manyofwhomarefighting ISIS on theground, instead.
What can the Left do?
A question often posed to those of us who reject the Assad regime’s line is; What is your solution? At times this question is met with outright accusations of ‘support for imperialism’, oftentimes by voices that whitewash the crimes of the Assad regime. The truth is, there simply are no easy answers. I, as a writer and a distant observer living in Canada, do not have the overall solution for the humanitarian horror taking place in Syria.
All I have is some suggestions on what can be done in solidarity.
For starters, anyone who considers themselves ‘left’ or progressive needs to stop echoing Assad regime talking points. Progressives should cease, for instance, sharing on social media and elsewhere articles on Syria from veryquestionablesources that shall not be specifically named here. The knee-jerk, reactionary assumption that because something is not Western media that it must automatically be accurate is highly problematic. There are agendas in the world that stem from elsewhere than the West, and uncritical acceptance of talking points emanating from another government is just as toxic to the pursuit of the truth as accepting Western mainstream media talking points.
Secondly, progressives and those who consider themselves ‘anti-war’ need to cease fetishizing the Assad regime, as has occurred in some circles around the world. Adding to this, some leftists have foolishly smeared grassroots humanitarian organizations that have emerged from the Syrian revolution, the Syrian Defense Network, better known as the White Helmets taking some of the strongest of these attacks. This nonsense needs to stop.
Finally, and it may largely be too late for this, progressives need to show legitimate solidarity towards Syrians in their struggle and revolution.
As Yassin Al Haj Saleh has stated: “I am afraid that it is too late for the Lefists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle…The problem is that their narrow anti-imperialist worldview only sees Obama, Putin, Holland, Edrogen, Khamenei, Qatar Emir Hamad, Saudi King Abdullah, Hassan Nasrallah, and Bashar al-Assad…We rank-and-file Syrians, refugees, women, students, intellectuals, human rights activists, political prisoners…do not exist.”
Is it too late then to show this solidarity? The lack of solidarity already shown has not gone unnoticed. There needs to be a much more rigorous and complex discussion among worldwide progressives and Leftists, more than there has been, analyses that goes beyond cliched anti-imperialist tropes. The erasure of Syrian agency, and lack of understanding of the Syrian context, is one of the gravest mistakes many on the Left have made, hopefully something that can be rectified in the future that may lead to a more legitimate mode of solidarity.
In the meantime, how much more humanity will be sacrificed at the altar of ideology?
We are now on Part 3, still trying to figure out what exactly “Canadian Values” are. As stated in the last part, I grew up thinking that “Canadian Values” were the values of tolerance and multiculturalism. This was a high ideal with which I forged my personal sense of “Canadianness” (is that a word?) So, is this true?
It’s a nice, warm, fuzzy inducing feeling, thinking about that. Personally I went through an uber-patriotic Canadian nationalist phase in the early 2000s. Much of it, and I now realize this, was in response to anti-Americanism during the W. Bush years. In the face of American militarism and lack of social safety nets, I cited the tolerant, pacifistic, pro-free healthcare policies of my home country. Today I wont get into the welfare state or the questionable “peacefulness” of Canada, keeping the focus on the “tolerance” angle. Was Canada always tolerant? The way I saw it, it was, this was a nation founded on immigration, successive waves of which made up the modern national mosaic, each group struggling but being welcomed by the Canadian government and people of the respective eras.
Later on I learned that this was largely a myth. While the idea of tolerance is a good idea, and something I’ve always felt was worth striving for, historically it simply does not add up when one takes a serious look at Canada’s history. Let’s start with our first Prime Minister:
“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.” – John A. MacDonald, 1879.
As we know, the first immigrants to the land that became Canada were the French and the English. I wont go into the crimes of colonialism here (which is ongoing to this day – and for the record, very intolerant by it’s very nature), instead focusing on the successive waves of immigration and the myth of Canada always welcoming with open arms the newcomers.
Remember when Canada used cheap labour to build the railway across the country? We took in huge amounts of Chinese immigrants, some from China itself, others from recent Chinese immigrants from California. Very tolerant eh? Except as soon as the Pacific Railway was completed the Canadian government introduced something called The Chinese Head Tax, passed in 1885. This was a large fee placed on Chinese immigrants to make sure they didn’t become too plentiful.
So, Canadian Values? Canadian tolerance is: “Thanks for helping to build the country, now get the hell out!”
But that was way back in the 1800’s right? Surely by the 20th century Canadians became more tolerant eh? Let’s go a bit East, out to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to a small community that was founded by black loyalists to the crown. It became known as Africville due to it’s demographic composition and was horribly neglected by the government. According to the wikipedia page:
“Throughout its history, Africville was confronted with isolation. The town never received proper roads, health services, water, street lamps or electricity. Residents protested to the city and called to water and treatment of sewage, to no avail, and the lack of these services had serious adverse health implications for residents. Contamination of the wells was so frequent that residents had to boil their water before using it for drinking or cooking.”
The place became an isolated ethnic enclave. Very tolerant?
How about good old Toronto the good? Toronto today is a bastion of multiculturalism. Surely it was always a hub of tolerance, no?
In 1918 Toronto witnessed an intense anti-Greek riot, on par with deadly pogroms taking place in Europe around the same time against Jews. Speaking of anti-Semitism, in 1932, in an era when Jews were excluded from summer clubs in Toronto, in Christie Pitts, there was an anti-Jewish riot put on by Canadian fascists.
These are just a few examples of Canada’s historical record not exemplifying the so-called tolerance we often assume is part of our history. It is pretty clear that both among the people of Canada and the government there is a clear pattern of exclusion, intolerance, and yes, white supremacy.
Perhaps Kellie Leitch is not being inaccurate when she talks of “Canadian Values” whilst being simultaneously intolerant.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly are “Canadian Values”. Where did these values come from? Were they inherited from the British, the French, or are they uniquely Canadian? What is it that people mean when they refer to such values? And when did these values begin? Was it at Confederation in 1897? Or did they evolve over time? Figuring out when and where these said values came from is difficult, especially when, since writing this series, I have yet to demonstrate what exactly these values consist of.
When I write in “Canadian values” in google.ca I see the first thing that comes up is this website: www.durhamimmigration.ca On the site, it lists Canadian values as:
Equality, Respect for Cultural Differences, Freedom, Peace, and Law and Order.
So much for respecting Cultural Differences eh? I guess the people behind this website believe that “Canadian Values” entails conservative Christian values.
Hmm…I am not a Christian, nor was I raised Christian. I identify as a Canadian? In these people’s views are my values not “Canadian values” then?
The remaining lists on the first page of googling “Canadian values” all show news articles and debates on Kellie Leitch. So that was what I found on my first search, two websites, one celebrating multiculturalism and diversity, the other one lamenting it. So how do we go forward in defining Canadian values?
Where to go from here?
Personally, growing up, I was generally raised with the former definition, the one Durham Immigration states, the idea of respect for differences, the idea of multiculturalism, diversity, and above all else ‘tolerance’. I was raised to believe that the strongest of and most Canadian of Canadian Values was Tolerance.
Part 3 of this series will focus on why it turns out this is wrong. Tune in soon!
Kellie Leitch, Member of Parliament for Simcoe-Gray, former Conservative caucus member, has been in the news a lot lately. During Stephen Harper’s government she was a big supporter of the proposed “Barbaric Cultural Practices” hotline, that idea that neighbours ought to keep an eye on each other, which many critics saw as dog-whistle code for THE MUSLIMS ARE COMING!
Like Donald Trump, when asked if her support comes from racist people, she plays the Trump card. “I’m not racist” she insists.
She simply wants to appeal to “mainstreet Canada“. Also when asked about her apparently racist supporters (y’know the ones harassing people because of their heritage?) she pulled another Trump card and dodged the question effectively, similar to how Trump feigned ignorance over his KKK endorsement(s).
Wink. Wink. Wink.
This is part 1 of a multiple part series on the bullshit that is the whole “Canadian Values” dog-whistle for exclusion. In this series I will be telling some of my own experiences growing up in a multicultural community. Tune in real soon!
Trump, a man accused of rape, multiple counts of sexual assault, a man who routinely demeans women, got more votes from white women than the potential first female president.
You know who didn’t vote for him? Black people. Latinos. Muslims.
It seems that attacking and demeaning women is less of a danger than a perceived threat against white supremacy.
And Trump is not an aberration. His win follows Tony Abbott’s, it follows Brexit and One Nation and the rise of far right parties in Europe. This is a global problem of white people believing their position of power is under threat.
All the talk about the suffering working class registering protest votes because their economic security is under threat is based on the idea that this economic security is something they earned and should not be denied. It’s not a sudden or modern phenomenon. This started before Columbus.
White Europeans spent hundreds of years fighting a global war of conquest against everyone who isn’t white. We may have lost a few battles here and there, but we pretty much won the war. We shaped the world into a cosy basket for ourselves and settled down into a snug, warm existence, comforted by the knowledge that what we had taken belonged to not-human humans. We spread out across the planet, and used land and resources to create a gigantic white middle class that were taught their place in the sun was their God-given right. The price was paid by non-white people and was therefore not our problem.
Now there’s too many of us, we gave too much of what we had taken to a few plutocrats, and now we’re angry that the world we claimed as ours is broken.
Like thwarted toddlers, we’d rather smash our favourite toy than share it.
Whiteness is the problem. Not other white people, not just the rednecks and bogans and denizens of the outer suburbs. All of us. Even the white people who take such pride in not being racists, in being so progressive, so intersectional, so woke.
We are the problem. We did this. We all benefit from white supremacy and we are therefore all responsible for the consequences.
All those angry white folk who voted for Trump, Abbott, Hanson and Brexit, thinking they’ve found their saviour, are on the wrong side of history. It’s too late to save the toy smashed to pieces by the conflicting demands of capitalism and over-population.
We are living through a revolution we can’t see with our ant’s-eye view, but global upheaval is well over the horizon now, the world is going to change beyond recognition. And it’s going to happen, as it always has to, with colossal destruction before we can start rebuilding.
Trump’s election is not the start of this process, it’s just a huge leap towards it.
I really did not expect this. I think I seriously need to have a bit more humility with my future political predictions. Of course, I was just following much of the media’s cues, which in turn got it so terribly wrong. Watching the election, by the time I saw the swing states were so close, with Trump leading in most, particularly with Ohio and Florida, I knew there was trouble.
I am still feeling some degree of disbelief and shock, so I wont go on too long about this, and I think most of what I have to say has already been said by now. Trump appealed, as we all know, to a largely disenfranchised demographic. His politics, his populism, speaks to people in a way the politics as usual approach just doesn’t. People, frustrated with the economic realities, people who are literally living paycheque to paycheque, for far worse, have largely been picked up by this populism. The thing is, this type of politics taps into that legit frustration, something the political Left has failed to do (except Bernie Sanders of course).
We are living in a polarized world, those of us in the Western world, those of us used to stability, economic and otherwise. The mushy middle, the centrist worldview represented by the Clintons et al, simply is not politically relevant anymore.
More than anything else I fear not Trump himself (I honestly, being a Torontonian, think his presidency may play out similarly to Rob Ford’s mayoralty in Toronto – he literally wont be able to actually do much of anything), I fear his supporters. Having an overt racist with anti-Semitic undertones ( yes, actual anti-Semitic undertones, his supporters are full of right-wing anti-Semites ), who is openly misogynist in his views is quite frightening. He only got so far with these views because of his supporters, who may not all be racist and sexist, but the movement that put him in place is full of those types, the far right, the ALT-right, which has shown itself to be a serious political movement. The kind of vindication having someone like this in power gives to these types is truly frightening and the time ahead will show more of this, I expect.
I theorize that there is a large likelihood that many of his hardcore supporters will turn (remember Scar from the Lion King and the Hyenas?). Trump, now as president elect, has already toned down his rhetoric on banning Muslims, while the wall that Mexico is to pay for is nearly physically impossible, so it is clear that his stated agenda during the initial Republican primaries is not going to happen. His supporters, some of them, will likely turn on him once this happens. We can always hope.
In the meantime, it is important, I feel to continue to do what we do, those of us on the Left, to deal with the long-term fallout. It’ll be a true test, for some us, to see how we can be allies with people who are dealing with serious hate directed their way as a long-term result of this. The hate crimes have already started in the U.S., and Canada is far from immune. It is so important to stay close to those with the same values (multiculturalism, pluralism, anti-misogyny aka feminism) and keep those values intact.
I would write more but I am still processing a lot of this. Much more to come, including more of a look at the rising fascist movements.