Not a Nice Day

After reading the developing story on the Nice car attack this early evening,  my heart sank another notch. This attack is a reminder that the global economic woes brought on by the Brexit pale in comparison to the sudden snuffing out of life along a parade route meant to celebrate liberty, fraternity,  and equality. The dichotomy between the two themes is stark: terrorism versus democracy.

At the tone of writing this blog,  the death toll is 80 people; it was 60 when I first heard of the attack. These attacks,  and the accompanying statistics, are starting to make our safe Western nooks sound like the sickeningly prosaic reality of a Middle Eastern or African country. Do the citizens of Lebanon or Kenya see the blip of our tragedies as another day in the West brought to them by their local newscast that they can then forget by the time the sports news comes on?

I am disheartened by the ease at which this attack took place: the use of a lorry to plow through a crowd. I am greatly concerned that other lone wolves (whom I think perpetrated this attack) will follow suit in other countries. Can you imagine if it had been a semi?

I take heart that a few heroic souls attempted to stop the truck. Heroes always surface at the zero hour,  as the proverbial goes down. Other stories will surface to help us see the good of people versus the evil of one individual.

I’m just sorry that it took 80+ people to die before the attacker was killed.

A Moral Obligation to Interfere

Brussels_immediate_3598858bIt was a Facebook post that first alerted me that something was amiss in the state of Belgium this morning. My friend had posted that she was ‘safe’, a feature Facebook now offers during a crisis event, so that friends and family know that an individual is okay.

Quelle horreur.

As a Catholic, I believe in a heaven and hell, and take consolation in the fact that those suicide bombers from this morning’s Brussel bombings have just woken up and realized that they aren’t in paradise, and that those aren’t virgins coming to welcome them. There is shock and mourning aplenty right now, and I won’t add to it as our world has shuddered in unison at yet another act of terrorism.

What struck me this morning, however, was a comment made by someone, that this incident was what They (meaning I think the West) gets for meddling in things they shouldn’t.

The comment made me ponder all day, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is in fact our moral obligation in the West to meddle in the business of other countries.

Firstly, Belgium is a bit participant in coalition activities targeting the Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. I say ‘bit’ with no disrespect meant to Belgium, but their contribution to the coalition was small, and I understand that they withdrew mid-2015. Today’s attacks in Brussels have the obvious link to the capture of Salah Abdeslam, one of the surviving Paris attackers, in Brussels, in March 18. (for an interesting and thought-provoking analysis of today’s attacks, please see this Guardian article)

Without meaning to sound trite, the attacks smack of the reaction of petulant teenagers, in the sense that one of their own was apprehended and now they had to retaliate to stick up for him. The whole thing reminded me of a group of boys who key a teacher’s car because one of their friends was put in detention, but on a much more serious level. The coordination seems like half a plan that was in the works but the planning and preparation process hadn’t been seen through entirely, with intent more important than effect. I’m sure more will come out in the days to come to clarify how the attacks were executed, regardless. Neither the analogy nor the proposal that the plan was not fully executed does not take away from over 30 dead or over 250 injured.

I’ll caveat that no amount of security will ever be able to thwart these kinds of attacks, and we should not become so paranoid as to rabbit hole into sentiments such as proposals to ban all Muslims from entering a country. These kinds of thoughts are for the paranoid and the irrational; surely we are sensible and rationale beings and should act appropriately, not react inappropriately.

No country deserves to be terrorized thus, and if it is because of some perceived ill that these malcontents decide to revenge themselves upon the West, it is all the more so our moral obligation to quash the roots of extremism to the best of our abilities. We are privileged in the West. Those of us born in Western countries won a birth lottery for a relatively easier life; those of use who immigrated to the West did so because we wanted to live in safer and more stable countries where opportunities are available. We are, by and far, educated with a high school education at a minimum, and many of us are lucky to have post-secondary education of some sort. There is social disparity, and there are socio-economic extremes within our respective countries, but, painting with a broad generalization, most of us have it ‘pretty good’.

With that privilege of democracy, and all the benefits that come with that system of government, comes the ability to help those who do not have that privilege, and/or who aspire towards it within their own countries. This ability is our responsibility. If there are countries that are so despotic or tyrannical and their populations so oppressed, where possible, we should be helping them in some form. I would equate this type of intervention akin to how we have a moral obligation to aid a child by contacting the appropriate authorities if we know the child is being abused. There are many people who do not make that call to the police or to family services, just as there are many people who observe a crime being committed and do nothing about it, not even placing a phone call while witnessing a public rape.

This bystander apathy (it’s someone else’s problem), I would argue, applies to that attitude of ‘we shouldn’t meddle in another country). President Obama tried to avoid meddling in Syria, and one could argue (and indeed many have) that this lack of clear policy on the Syrian civil war has in fact exacerbated the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. The president was following the will of the people who voted him into office: there was no appetite for another scenario like the Iraq invasion after September 11. But, as opposed to Iraq, where there was a flimsy reason to invade that country, there was excellent cause for concern in Syria.

AP_501781042631.0I believe that fundamentalism has always existed, and will always exist. We may point fingers on why it rises here or there, but fundamentalism will always find minds in which to take hold, and some sort of flimsy pseudo-rationale will be made to justify actions made by its believers. We see this in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism etc…If we did nothing at all and let the Middle East develop along with no intervention whatsoever, we’d be feeling the effects of that apathy regardless, whether in refugees, economic impacts, and the inevitable spilling over of wars across borders.

We have to care what happens in other parts of the world. Where we can, we have to try to rail against tyranny. I know it’s not a perfect world, nor a perfect perspective. We support the Saudis, which are arguably as a few notches shy of being as despotic as the Islamic State. But where we can, we should, and must, try to help democracy take root, whether that be through economic sanctions or through military intervention.

So no, Brussels did not deserve to be bombed, nor did Istanbul, nor Paris, nor Madrid, nor London, nor Damascus, nor Baghdad, nor Kabul….you get the point. And we should keep meddling, otherwise we’re just as bad as a group of people watching someone get raped and not doing anything about it.

On Keeping One’s Word

Kuwait. 7 November 2014 – A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Fighter jet in Kuwait is armed and ready for a combat mission over Iraq during Operation IMPACT. (Photo IS2014-7533-01 by Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND)To my fellow Canadians who wish that our government had kept our CF-18s bombing the Islamic State in the Middle East: Prime Minister Trudeau has kept true to his campaign promises:

We will immediately begin an open and transparent review process of existing defence capabilities, with the goal of delivering a more effective, better-equipped military.
To help regional and local partners prevent the spread of terrorism and radicalization, we will vastly increase the scope of training assistance missions.
We will end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq.
We will refocus Canada’s military contribution in the region on the training of local forces, while providing more humanitarian support and immediately welcoming 25,000 more refugees from Syria.
I wish we’d kept our CF-18s in the Middle East, but Prime Minister Trudeau had to keep his word, as he has done thus far on many of his campaign promises to date. I might not agree with the decision, but I do support and respect it. Plus, so we don’t appear complete freeloaders on the Allies’ backs, we are supporting Allied air strikes on the logistical and intelligence side of things (refueling and surveillance), and we have bolstered boots on the ground efforts to train Kurdish forces. The training component speaks to fulfilling the Liberal platform of increasing the “scope of training assistance missions,” and which I would take this particular detail to be.
Don’t knock the man for keeping his word and for managing to find a middle ground of sorts whereby which he can save face to this electorate and to key allies. Moreover, let’s bear in mind that the scope of the government’s mission in Iraq and Syria can always change, and is likely to change, which may mean a return of our air crews to the Middle East in one form or another.
Lastly, let’s hope that the Liberal promise of purchasing new fighter jets ties into this withdrawal, as the timing would be a perfect opportunity to see the procurement process through to a positive outcome of new fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force, training of crews for the new jets, and subsequent deployment into a revised or new combat mission. This sort of scenario might well take Canada into 2017, and the timeline for reviewing Canada’s commitment to fighting ISIS in the Middle East.
Food for thought.
PS: @JustinTrudeau : when will you be announcing the promised changes for Canada’s veterans?

Growing Policy Pains: A Hornets’ Nest

http://mackaycartoons.net/tag/isis/There has been a lot of talk in Canada recently about the government’s stance on the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East. The new Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised during its election campaign to withdraw Canada’s contribution – six CF-18 Hornet fighter jets – to the coalition’s war on Daesh. The ensuing hubbub has had the punditocracy up in arms (in stark contrast to Canada’s contribution to the coalition, some of the more right wing might argue) both in favour of Trudeau’s approach, and in damning it.

Whether I agree with Trudeau’s recent delivery of campaign promises or not (some I do, some I don’t), I have actually quite a bit of respect for his integrity in keeping to his campaign promises; for a politician to do so takes a lot of chutzpah and speaks volumes to how important their word is to them. Trudeau is in a bit of a political pickle with the issue of the CF-18s.

As I understand it, the right is clamoring that Canada needs to support its traditional allies, even in a token way (apparently 2.4% of coalition airstrikes are carried out by our CF-18s). Conservatives, et al, are also asking the very legitimate question of what the government’s policy on ISIS is. Right now, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of Defence, is doing a very glib job of airbrushing the lack of policy/direction on the subject matter at hand:

“There will be changes, there will definitely be enhancements in a substantial way. Some things will be noticeable to Canadians, and some things won’t be unless you’ve been in that environment.” (from CKNW AM980)

This statement reminds me a bit of the same kind of rhetoric presented by the weatherman: “It might rain tomorrow, it might be sunny. There many be periods of precipitation, interspaced with clear breaks. Look out for showers in the afternoon, and patches of sun.”

And of course, unless we’re privy to military matters, we won’t even know there has been anything done at all: “Some things will be noticeable to Canadians, and some things won’t be unless you’ve been in that environment.” (emphasis mine).

Such statements are evocative of the lovely ambiguity that has been dogging the Liberals on this issue. Additionally, let’s not forget that those Hornets are still actively participating in coalition air strikes (which in turn, does not support the opposition’s suggestion that Canada was snubbed for withdrawing air support…how can we be snubbed for not doing something that we’re still actually doing?), as per the previous government’s mandate, and will continue to do so at least until March. After all, nobody likes a premature pullout.

Conversely, supporters argue that policy shifts should be reasonable and measured, and not taken as knee-jerk reactions to the public whim (given that a majority of Canadians purportedly support continued airstrikes against the Islamic State). I strongly believe in measured and well-thought out responses to issues du jour, and do see validity in this line of reasoning for the silence from the government.

However, just from an optics perspective, the longer the public has to wait to hear on what Prime Minister Trudeau’s line will be on Canadian participation in the fight against the Islamic State, the louder the voices of antagonism from the right, that keep chirping for more direct military participation. And the public at this point, I think, is really just wanting to know what action Canada will take. I don’t think that people necessarily care whether airstrikes or training of opposition forces should take place, just that something by way of military support of coalition efforts takes place.

I’ll also add here that the Prime Minister is in a bit of a damned-if-he-does-and-damned-if-he-doesn’t position: if he keeps his word and discontinues air support, the right will have a field day stating that Canada is letting it’s coalition partners down. If Prime Minister Trudeau does continue air support, the right will have a field day stating that he’s not doing enough (though he would likely continue along former Prime Minister Harper’s direction in continuing to deploy the six CF-18s in the Middle East) and that he broke his word to the electorate.

Given that the Prime Minister has delivered on many of his campaign promises (on a quick note, when do we hear about Veterans?), I do believe that he will withdraw the CF-18s as his word is important to him. And given the canniness of the Minister of Defence, due to his significant service and vast experience in the Canadian Armed Forces, I think that a good compromise of training opposition forces and providing additional support to coalition partners (such as mid-air fueling of coalition fighter jets) will balance out to save face both at home and abroad.

Between a rock and a hard place, but sometimes that’s a good foundation to build a solid policy.

Punchline of a Bad Joke: Then Shia turns to him and says, “So Sunni”

Sunni versus Shia cartoonRemember the one about the rabbi and priest walking down a street? Well, those days are over. Move over Judaism versus Christianity, we’re getting into Shia (Shiite) versus Sunni territory now. The unfortunate thing is that the jokes haven’t been crafted yet, only the sad punchlines.

Courtesy of International Business TimesThe latest, Saudi Arabia’s (Sunni) execution of a Saudi Shia cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, on January 3, has lead to the condemnation of the execution by Iran (Shia), the subsequent storming and pillaging of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and the retaliatory suspension of diplomatic relations with Iran, by the Saudis.

Yemen Sunni Saudi versus Iran Shia proxy conflictThis ungraceful dance is being played out in various Islamic national theatres: Syria, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of course, how could I forget, in Saudi Arabia. It’s the Coke versus Pepsi rivalry with very serious human consequences.

All the prophesying pundits have cast the bones and come up with various predictions for 2016. Not one includes some sort of resolution, let alone peace, in the Mediterranean theatre. And let’s not fool ourselves any longer: it’s no longer a Middle Eastern regional issue but something that is, albeit, an unpleasant and unpolitically-correct truth to swallow, a religious issue.

I know, I know, most Muslims are not supportive of quashing down their brethren who might view Islam through a different lens, and I know that most targets of all these various violent actions are Muslims themselves. The fact that Muslims are targeting Muslims, whether through rhetoric or through a loaded gun, shows that we really have to start using a religious-cultural lens through which to view what’s happening around the Mediterranean basin.

Back to the Saudis and the Iranians. Given that so many of the issues of 2015 – the migrant/refugee crisis, increasing jihadism, the virulent rise of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Turkey versus Russia leg cocking, terrorist attacks in various countries around the world etc… – stem from the Syrian conflict, perhaps it’s time we not worry about getting the Syrian government and rebel groups to the negotiating table, but start higher up the pecking order, and work on getting the Iranians and Saudis to the table. Perhaps then some sort of resolution might trickle top down.

In the meantime, I’m going to start working on jokes.

Full text of Hilary Benn’s extraordinary speech in favour of Syria airstrikes – Spectator Blogs

I listened to this speech this morning, and Mr. Benn summarized every sentiment that I’ve had about continuing air strikes and military action against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in Syria and Iraq.

Hilary Benn is the shadow foreign secretary for the British Labour Party. There was a vote yesterday in the British Parliament seeking support for engaging in air strikes against ISIS in Syria – Britain has already been participating in air strikes against ISIS in Iraq. The Conservative government of David Cameron needed the support of at least part of Labour party in order for the military action to continue into Syria (the final numbers were as follows: Ayes 397: Conservatives 315, Labour 66. Nays 223: Conservatives 7, Labour 152).

I’ve had some excellent debates in the past few weeks on the issue of continued air strikes against ISIS in the Middle East, and have felt that we have a moral obligation to keep fighting against that evil entity. Benn put all those good arguments into a single, succinct, moving speech. It’s well worth a listen, or have a read of the text below.

______________________

 

Thank you very much Mr Speaker. Before I respond to the debate, I would like to say this directly to…

Source: Full text of Hilary Benn’s extraordinary speech in favour of Syria airstrikes – Spectator Blogs

An Analysis of Current Threats to the Security of Canada

Yemen, Houthi, President Hadi, Mansour Hadi, Shiite, Sunni, Wahhabism, Saudi ArabiaThe 2014 establishment of a so-called caliphate in the Middle East by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Syria (ISIL/ISIS) has greatly increased the incidence of terrorist activities aimed at disrupting global security, of which Canada is a part. An influx of foreign-born jihadist fighters has flowed into ISIL territory, creating a hive of terrorist activity that aims to install a extremist theocracy, based on a severe and restrictive interpretation of Sunni Islam. The foreign-born fighters – travelling extremists – stem from various Western, Middle Eastern, and north and central African countries.

Of particular concern to Canadian interests are, of course, those Canadians who have become radicalized, and then made some sort of leap of faith, if you will, into violent extremism. There are approximately 60-120 Canadian travelling extremists currently abroad and participating in a wide variety of jihadi-related activities, including fighting on ISIL’s behalf in Syria and Iraq, participating in Al-Qaida cells in northern and central Africa, and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The concern is two-fold: what those individuals are wreaking in the foreign state in which they are currently residing, and what they will do upon their return to Canada. Firstly, these individuals are tarnishing the name of Canada abroad, and it is up to Canadian security agencies to identify and follow the paths of these individuals in order to try to stop them from engaging in terrorist activities.

To this end, the Canadian government has established laws that make it a prosecutable offence to travel and to participate in terrorist activities, as well by coordinating the efforts security agencies such as CSIS, the RCMP, CBSA, CSE, FINTRAC et al… through the Building Resilience Against Terrorism strategy of 2012.

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AFP, Paris AttacksMore so than the recent Russian airline bombing, or the Beirut Shia bombing, the Paris Attacks of November 14, 2015, have given Western countries, Canada included, a sober reminder that these travelling extremists have a mandate to return to their home countries in order to create terror. ISIL’s policy has shifted from being domestic – that is to say, establishing a caliphate – to being global in outlook. They want to take the fight to our doorsteps.

Several of the French attackers were EU citizens who had fought in the Middle East with ISIL. It is not known whether they were brought together in the Middle East, or whether they had been put in touch with each other upon their return to Europe, and was their return to Europe mandated by ISIL leadership as the first of a new global policy of terror.

What does this mean for Canada? The act of terror in France is one that could be reproduced in Canada. Canada, as mentioned earlier, has approximately 60-120 travelling extremists abroad at the moment, and 80 who have returned to Canada after having been abroad. It is of vital importance that Canadian security agencies monitor the whereabouts and movements of those jihadists both in Canada and those abroad.

Given that the only way that ISIL seems to view non-believers is through an extremist lens – all non-believers should be killed – it would be naïve to assume that retracting any support to Canada’s allies in the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq would somehow negate the potential of a terrorist attack on Canadian soil. One must also remember that Canadians are particularly global themselves, and we are fortunate that there was no Canadian casualty in the Paris Attacks – there easily could have been.

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Black Sea Fleet in SebastopolI have noted earlier that it was the Paris Attacks that struck a particular chord in Western countries. Given that Russia is on the fringe in terms of Western diplomacy, both over its annexation of Crimea and support of rebel groups in Ukraine, and its support of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, Western sentiment was not particularly empathetic to the killing of the 224 people on the Russian aircraft on October 31, 2015. The incident was tragic, yes, but the heart strings were not pulled. People were more interested in finding out whether the incident was a bomb or a malfunction, than concerned with the loss of life (for more than the read of a headline at least).

As for the Beirut bombing of November 12, the Middle East, and all that it entails, is a distant annoyance. Beirut, that city that once was hailed as the Paris of the Middle East, has not been a tourist destination for decades. The country is notoriously unstable and its politicians prone to being assassinated. Unfortunately, Lebanon is just not bad enough to be on the radar, nor sympathetic enough for people to care. 43 people died in these attacks.

I will caveat that the above interpretation of the Russian airliner and Beirut bombings mean that I do not care for the tragic loss of life. I do care, and deeply. I am, however, trying to understand why the Paris Attacks resonated over the other two incidents.

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One thing to note in all this is the Russian variable. Russia’s backing of Assad has been interesting to say the least. On some level, what do you do if Assad were to be taken out of the equation? The moderates only constitute about 10% of the power in Syria right now, and you can’t rule a country with only 10% support. The power is essentially split between Assad and the extremist rebels (Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIL being the strongest). The Kurds have the only successful boots on the ground, and Turkey would like nothing more than to see the Kurds put in their place again. I remember reading an article about an underground blogger from Raqqa (ISIL’s stronghold) who noted the evils of ISIL and also expressed a rather strong negative emotion at the Kurds and Shias. There is no guarantee at all that a peace process would hold given the amount of hate that people seem to have for each other in that region.

Back to Russia. Their support of Assad has forced the Allies to come to terms with a reality that they initially rejected: Assad will have to be part of any peace process and transitional government. The recent Paris Attacks even brought France’s President Hollande to the Russian table looking for support in bombing the bejesus out of ISIL, something that the Americans are more cautious about committing to. And Hollande moved on the idea that Assad maybe can stay at the table a bit longer, something that a few months ago Hollande never would have entertained. This means that there is perhaps a better chance of peace for Syria, which means a reduction on possible threats to Canada, vicariously.

The Turkey-Russian confrontation may have thrown a bit of a wrench into the mix, and though NATO supports Turkey on paper, it is interesting to note that NATO is not condemning Russia either. I suspect that after some grand-standing for another week or two by both leaders, the whole issue will settle down and some meaningful conversation occur on how to move forward on the Syrian crisis, which is of course in Canadian security interest.

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The knee-jerk reaction of Western powers to the Paris Attacks has been to throw blame on the refugee crisis through which Europe is currently suffering. Many countries have moved to throw up further restrictions on refugee movements through the various entry points to the continent. One of the more positive outcomes of the Paris Attacks has been the renewed efforts by Western countries to try to find a solution to the Syrian civil war, and there has even been a softening of the stance against Assad as participating in any solution.

Alan Kurdi, Syrian refugees, refugee crisisBack to the refugees. Canada will be accepting 25,000 refugees by March of 2016. This is a laudable effort by Canadian government to help desperate people fleeing a horrendous situation. For those anti-refugee voices, I will remind that many of those refugees will be Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Mulsims. ISIL followers are Sunni. Not all Sunni’s are extremists. Security checks are being carried out by the UN and by Citizenship and Immigration Canada at the refugee camps in Lebanon from whence the 25,000 refugees are to come.

Pro-radical Poster North Vancouver Oct 2014The only possible issues I foresee with the Syrian refugees that Canada will be accepting are issues of integration if some of those individuals do not receive the support necessary to integrate into Canadian society. Some of the young men and women, if they have difficulty integrating into Canadian society, may become radicalized to a political or ideological objective, perhaps joining Hezbollah or whatever fringe party will likely be born of the fires of any Syrian peace process, but I do not believe that will necessarily mean that they would become jihadists.

shooting_CBCNo, the threat to the security of Canada remains in those Sunni Muslims who have become radicalized, who travel abroad to follow an extremist path and who participate in terrorist activities, and who return to Canada to propagate their twisted world views. Canada needs to remain focused on identifying these in-house threats.

An important tool in identifying threats to the security of Canada is social media, and more should be invested in monitoring social media feeds to identify those individuals who are in conversation with extremists, or even just following extremists on social media. Lone wolf attacks, like the ones that killed Patrice Warren and Nathan Cirillo in 2014, may still occur.

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Oddly enough, I think that the climate change conference in Paris may actually potentially stir an activist in Canada to become an environmental terrorist, in the Weibo Ludwig stream, for reasons that either Canada is not doing enough to stem climate change, or that Canada is implementing climate change action plans too slowly. We have several oil and gas pipeline projects proposed in BC: the Northern Gateway Pipeline (crude oil transported from Bruderheim, Alberta, to Kitimat, BC), the liquid natural gas (LNG) pipelines (terminating in Prince Rupert, Kitimat, and Squamish, respectively), and the expansion of the extant Trans Mountain pipeline (crude oil transported from Strathcona, Alberta, to Burnaby, BC). There is a potential for a terrorist incident of this critical infrastructure should the pipelines be given the green light by the federal government.

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Lastly, espionage. The world is focused on the Middle East and the terrorist threat emanating from that region. This is the perfect time for an interested foreign power to try to undermine any weaknesses in Canadian cyber security and get at our data. This data could be private or government, and it is valuable. Economic reasons propel much modern espionage, whether human or cyber based. Canada is a wealthy nation with much successful innovation in various sectors, and that innovation, and the information relative to, is worth billions of dollars to very interested parties. We should be particularly vigilant, when all eyes are focused on a particular topic, when public opinion is pressuring government for action, and government reacts with programs and policies that are more tactical than strategic. This is the time when our security will be tested. Cyber isn’t glamorous, and when we read that a worm has infected millions of computer, most of us just think passingly, glad that wasn’t me, and think nothing more. We forget how much of our own personal data is stored in our computers and in our online accounts. That amount of data multiplies exponentially for businesses and government, and data is oh so valuable.

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lady-justice1Threats to the security of Canada can take many shapes, from the obvious to the less so, and it is important for us to be vigilant, in whatever ways we can, and to take stock that there are many people out there, in that grand world, that envy Canada, that seek to directly and/or indirectly harm Canada, and that would like nothing more than to see Canada’s constitutional democracy compromised in some way.

#ParisAttacks

AFP, Paris AttacksWhen I first heard about the Paris attacks today, I was listening to the radio and the hourly news headlined with the attacks: 18 dead the report said, multiple attacks, explosions and shootings. When I arrived home for a late lunch, I tweeted out the BBC article on the attack: 120+ dead.

I feared the worst and that fear has, unfortunately, been realized.

My second thought was that France seems to be a more viable target for these extremists than any other country outside of the Middle East. What is it about France that draws these kinds of attacks? I’m not just thinking of the Charlie Hebdo attack earlier in January of this year, but the subsequent attacks:

JANUARY JUNE Lyon – a lone wolf attacker beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a gas plant;

AUGUST Oignies/Arras –  train attack foiled by passengers;

NOVEMBER Toulon – plot to attack France’s largest naval base foiled (and now I wonder whether the Toulon plot is potentially linked to these Paris attacks).

Is it because of the significant Muslim population (4.7 million, 7.5% of the French population – Pew Research Centre)? But then, Germany parallels France in these statistics. Is it because of some de facto internal socio-cultural practice stemming from France’s colonization of northern Africa? Is there resentment against old colonizers? Is it because many individuals amongst France’s minorities are not, or have not, integrated into French society and live in certain ghetto-ized arrondissements around Paris, and in ghettos in other major French cities?

It is easy in these kinds of moments to experience a knee jerk reaction to such atrocities and to wave the anti-migrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim banner, and brush all Muslims – and I would even add all people who are from the Middle East and look Muslim (as there are many non-Muslim refugees and migrants from the Middle East) – with the same brush of tarring and feathering. We cannot. I do believe that, on some level, that is exactly the kind of reaction that these kinds of ISIL/ISIS militants look to solicit from the West; a racial reaction would help the ISIL/ISIS propaganda machines justify any negative actions carried out on the West.

But that sentiment of Islamophobia is for a different time and place (for an good overview of Muslims in France, see Adam Taylor’s article from the Washington Post on the topic).

My question still remains: why France? Why not the United States, the more obvious target for a terror plot? Is it a simple matter of security, and that US intelligence and security are more robust than that of France? What is the disconnect in France that elicits these kinds of attacks? There will be more attacks, and I wonder whether these brazen attacks will inspire other cells in other countries to do something similar.

It’s funny, funny in a peculiar and frustrating kind of way: about a year ago, after the attack at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, someone plastered a pro Taliban, Alghaeda (Al Qaeda), Hamas, Bokuharam (Boko Haram), Hezbollah, Ekhvan Moslemin (Muslim Brotherhood), and ISIS poster all over my apartment complex. I notified the RCMP but was essentially told that this incident was irrelevant and meant nothing. In the light of these attacks in France, I do wonder whether more effort should be made in investigating these kinds of incidents, because who is to say that the perpetrators of today’s Paris attacks didn’t start out by plastering their arrondissement with similar posters?

Anyhow, why France?

Lest We Forget (and with thanks)

To date, to Canadians, to Commemorate:

Remembrance Day, poppy, Canada, veterans, peacekeeping, ISIS, ISIL, WWII, WWI, Korean War, Yugo, Yugoslavia, Somalia

The Great War, the War to End All Wars, the First World War, World War I: 1914-1918
17 Main Players, et al…

This War started out one foot at the end of the Napoleonic period, and ended with the other firmly striding into modernity.

Note there were three empires – British, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman – this was their last knell.

But it did not end all wars, and merely set the tone for the next.

The Second World War, World War II: 1939-1945
35 Main Players, of whom many asserted their nationhood on the world stage, out of the shadow of their parent empire.

It was during this War, in Poland, that one grandfather was killed by the Nazis, at the age of 24. The other grandfather fought with the Polish partisans, and watched his best friend’s head get blown off by a sniper.

No more empires, but an attempt at empire-building, thankfully waylaid.

Attempts at extermination.

Affirmations that humans can be superbly evil; affirmations that humans can also be sublimely good.

The Korean War: 1950-1953
The UN had its first command at this particular theatre. The UN, sprung whole out of the minds of war-weary leaders, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

The Koreas are still at war; North Korea put a cross on the old Armistice a few years back anyhow. Air raid sirens toll periodically throughout Seoul to remind diligent citizens to be on edge.

We sent out sons and daughters as UN Peacekeepers, to Kashimir (1948), Cyprus (1974 to date), Congo (various, 1960 to date), Somalia, Yugoslavia (1992-2003) and Somalia (1993), making them live the horrors of war without being able to keep the peace.

The UN Peacekeepers were honoured with a Nobel Peace Prize in 1988. Recognition, in the face of flying bullets, that can only be dodged, not returned.

Then there were the Iraq Wars, first (1990) and second (2003-2011), and then the Afghanistan War (2001-2014).
What does one say to something so recent. We always thought that our modern world was too civilized to have to deal with War, and, indeed, modern Wars seem far removed from our doorstep, here in Canada, in North America really.

We are not Europe, forced to deal with a wholly new kind of refugee crisis, one where the refugees are empowered by information and globalization.

And yet, I am so proud to support Canadian soldiers who are sent to deal with the kinds of people (can you call ISIS/ISIL that?) who think it perfectly acceptable to stone people, to hurl individuals from the roofs of multi-storey buildings, to decapitate persons, and to condone slavery. Somewhere, out in ISIL territory, some secret clan is gathering, trying to find out new ways of instilling fear and horror in the local populations and around the world.

I am glad that there are Canadians, and others, who are doing their damnedest, on our behalves, to stop the spread of such rabid fanaticism.

Lest we forgot the past, so that we can understand why we are doing what we are doing in the present, in our best effort to stave off potential horrors in the future.

And this it is that I say to all Canadian veterans, old and new, and to those Canadians still serving: thank you.

He should be sleeping, not just looking like it.

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It’s not just about the photo. It’s about rectifying the horrible crisis in the Middle East that is the root of people like Kurdi dying in an attempt to escape it.  And what about all those who are living half lives as refugees in camps or on some road to nowhere,  as long as it doesn’t lead them back to the hell that is their former home? I don’t have an answer and our leaders need to work on solutions for all those whom Kurdi now represents, who were,  before this photo,  mostly nameless mobs of migrants that people ignored as someone else’s problem.

That little boy is not a piece of human flotsam and we cannot turn our backs on what he now represents. We never should have turned our backs on that situation in the first place. The fault is as much ours in our complacency of absorbing such human tragedies as the norm of our world (“at least it’s not in my back yard so what do I care for a civil war in Syria? “) as it is of the people who meddled in Syrian affairs to the point that ISIS was able to grow into a terror-filled caliphate. What was the lesser of two evils there?

But that question does not bear any impact on Aylan Kurdi,  or his brother,  or his mother,  or the thousands that went to the same fate before Aylan: death by desperation. And that will never stand trial in the Hague.