Meanwhile in the Rest of the World…

earth bombTurkey’s President Erdogan just publicly endorsed the death penalty in front of a crowd of more than 1 million supporters. I wonder where Turkey’s moderates are cowering? Any chance of joining the EU is about to get nixed if Turkey decides to take this tremendous step backwards, and Turkey will join the ranks of dodgy two-bit banana “republics” where human rights are mixed in with manure to fertilize local fields.

The migrant crisis might resurface (did it ever really go away? It really was just swept under a Turkish rug and now someone is about to trip over that lump in the carpet), and moderate Turks might join the ranks of those trying to escape oppressive regimes. Turkey is on a dark precipice and I really hope that some sort of reason and rationality reign in the near future.

China is attempting (and successfully at that) to destabilize the South China Seas by deploying its air force to do maneuvers and patrols around the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal. Local countries are protesting to no avail, and really, those islands might as well belong to China at this point as they’ve not only cocked a leg and sprayed the post, but buried a bone at the base. Unless someone grows a set, there is no chance that China will back down on its expensive land reclamation projects in that hotly contested area.

The UN’s two-bit court ruling that China is in the wrong and that the Philippines are in the right over the disputed area is really just another unfortunate example of how ineffectual the UN really is. The UN only works best in third world countries, and not when dealing with first world countries with power, ego, and eyes towards a very different world order than the one we currently enjoy.

China then flexed another muscle, this time in the face of South Korea, chastising the South Korean President Park for joining the US’s THAAD anti-missile system as conspiring to strengthen the US presence in Asia against China. The THAAD system was really put in place to keep the North Koreans in check (again, these systems are only as good as the powers backing them are willing to initiate the systems), and yes, there is likely some truth to China’s accusation. Yet it’s not like the American presence in east Asia is new; the Americans have always been the schoolyard monitor in that playground. What is troubling is how China is really trying to reassert its imperial dominance in that region, and going about it like a schoolyard bully trying to own the playground. The question is whether the monitor is willing to actually enforce the schoolyard rules.

And then we have the US, with the focus of all eyes on the battle of faux pas, blunders, policies, hair styles/pieces, and wits (or lack thereof) between Trump and Clinton. It’s like a train wreck that you can’t take your eyes off of, because the collateral damage from that accident is going to be the political equivalent of the Lac Megantic tragedy. And as those two trains hurtle towards each other, rest of the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

trump_versus_clinton__marian_kamensky

 

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.

Silence after Bombing Troubling

PKK, Turkey, bombing, suicide bombing, Turkish soldiers, Kurdish militantsAfter noting my theory as to the Suruc attacks in a previous post, the latest and greatest in that saga is the alleged suicide bombing by the PKK of Turkish troops near the Iranian border. The BBC article noted that the Turkish military stated that “Two Turkish soldiers have been killed and 31 wounded in a suicide attack by Kurdish PKK militants.” The article goes on to state that “There has been no comment from the PKK so far. AFP news agency said it would be the first time the group was accused of deploying a suicide bomber during recent clashes.”

The silence from the PKK seems akin to the silence from ISIS after the Suruc bombing. I an increasingly wondering whether Turkey is behind all this, just to drum up hatred against the Kurds from within the country. Perhaps the hatred was starting to die off and they needed to rekindle nationalistic fervour against the Kurds. Either way, this incident seems to be dragging Turkey closer to a dangerous brink, methinks.

Turkey in the Straw

Turkey, Kurds, Kurdistan, PKKIt concerns me greatly that Turkey is firing on Kurdish positions. Rather than focusing the fight on ISIS, and exterminating that problem out of Middle East, Turkey seems to be using the excuse of Suruc to fire on ISIS and the PKK (the Kurdish militant group based in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, who had, for over three decades, attacked various Turkish institutions to try to force Turkey’s hand into creating an independent Kurdish state). Fair enough, the PKK have taken pot shots in Turkey in recent months, but using Suruc as a cover for trying to eradicate the PKK seems weak at best, and risky regardless.

Given that Turkey has provided all but the barest nods of support to Western allies, who are fighting ISIS, it initially seemed that the Suruc incident (if one can call the death of thirty-two Kurdish youth an ‘incident’) was designed to draw Turkey into the fray and to fight ISIS. I hazarded a guess that perhaps even the Kurds had sacrificed their own in an attempt to get Turkey on board with fighting ISIS. After all, ISIS has yet to claim responsibility for the Suruc bombing, which is rather out of character for the organization.

However, the spate of Turkish attacks on the Kurds has now led me to suspect that Turkish ISIS sympathizers have colluded with ISIS to orchestrate the attack, in an attempt to create a smokescreen reason to use military power against the PKK. Turkey could care less about ISIS, as long as ISIS keeps supplying them with oil, but it is the Kurds whom Turkey hates, especially in light of the international support that the Kurds now have as it is the Kurds who are the main boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq in the fight against ISIS. And offering up an air base to the US to use for air strikes is like offering a lukewarm cup of day-old coffee to your friend down the street because you can’t be bothered to make a fresh pot.

ISIS is happy as its main front line enemy is getting the proverbial kicked out of it by Turkish air strikes. A win-win for ISIS, who are more than willing to take the utilitarian route and sacrifice a few soldiers to the cause (after all, dying for the ISIS cause makes one a martyr).

What a shoddy smokescreen from Turkey! Bomb a Kurdish town, during a Kurdish rally. Proffer up a false sense of outrage over the atrocity and point fingers at ISIS. Token bomb ISIS positions. Bomb the crap out of the Kurds. Makes perfect sense.

Something smells foul (pun intended!), and I think it’s in the straw.

The question now is, however: how far will the Western allies support the Kurds over the Turks.

Trying to Coax a Turkey out of a Tree

I was reading about the Suruc bombing in Turkey this past Monday, which made me question whether the Islamic State actually did commit that act, as they haven’t leapt forward to claim responsibility, as is their usual trend. I half wonder if this wasn’t instigated by the Kurds in some twisted utilitarian rationale to try to drag Turkey into the fray and to obtain Turkey’s support for the fight against the Islamic State as Turkey has been very hesitant of showing any support for the West and Western allies.

Suruc bombingA twisted utilitarian strategy of sacrificing one’s own children for the so-called ‘greater’ cause?

Liberating Orthodox Religion?

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey.So Turkey’s ruling AKP party has again won the general election, albeit with a minority government. This is the same party that notoriously quashed with relative brutality a relatively peaceful protest in 2013 against the proposed conversion of Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park into some sort of urban development, a mall I believe. The protest was, arguably, a pivotal moment in the movement against the perceptibly authoritarian and pro-Islamic, non-secular AKP (Justice and Development Party….on a side note, I find it interesting how these right wing parties always seem to robe themselves in words like peace and justice and people’s party etc. etc. etc. but really are looking to suppress things like justice and freedom and the people).

At any rate, the BBC described the orthodox Turks, who voted the AKP in for yet another four years, as “a substantial power base, mainly of the more religious, conservative Turks, who feel liberated by the party and the president.”

I found the description rather ironic, as standing against liberty seems to be the one thing that all religious conservatives, regardless the religion, have in common. This sentiment puts me to mind of the beauty of our democratic system, which, on a fundamental level, provides the safety and security, and liberty, to practice religion pretty much to whatever degree the individual member of the democratic society sees fit, whether non at all atheism all the way to ultra-orthodoxy.

In a theocratic state – and you know where I’m going with this – there is no  such spectrum of religiosity as it is simply not permissible or, when it is, those who are not of the ruling religion suffer. Look at ISIS/ISIL: it’s their way or you’re dead. No highway even (and I would encourage you to have a read/watch this article on life in Mosul under ISIS:.

So Turkey’s religious conservatives should thank their lucky stars that the Ataturk turned Turkey into a modern secular state, enabling them to feel liberated. It’s the BBC words, but I think the sentiment rings true for the 41% of the population who voted for the AKP.Mustafa Kemal Ataturk democracy quote

 

A Cathartic Weekend: Thanksgiving in Brief

Turkey, de-boned, in a provocative position.

Turkey, de-boned, in a provocative position.

Thanksgiving finally came around,
And while my hand was stuffed up the bird’s cavity,
Cutting out the carcass,
Concentrating on placing the fillet knife,
Between bone and muscle,
Listening for that satisfying pop,
That indicated I’d torn a tendon
And disjointed the fowl,
I realized that I had a lot
For which to be thankful,
This past year.

The same time, last year,
I was engaged in a similar exercise,
But I had been 45 pounds heavier.
I’d bought an apartment,
But hadn’t lived in it yet,
And was experiencing
A traumatizing bathroom reno,
For a waterfall and rain shower,
And pretty glass shower doors.
I was dating some two bit Dutch guy
Whose idea of wine was two buck chuck.

Now, I’m almost as fit as I was twenty years ago,
(although it makes me feel old to say it that way),
Hiking up mountains, walking to work,
Running without running out of breath.
I’ve had to swap out an entire new wardrobe,
To accommodate the changes.
I turn heads.
I feel more in control, more confident,
More strut in my step.
(you Sexy Ol’ Thang)

That step now involves heels,
High heels, classy heels.
Classy clothes, staying in fashion,
Wearing things that fit, that show off, that look good.
It’s shallow, I know,
But it’s a good feeling.

I’ve met some great people this year,
And cemented some amazing friendships.
I’ve had two weddings,
That took me to Hawaii
And, each time, I made a new friend,
And had an amazing experience under that tropical sun.

I met a good man,
And thought it didn’t work out,
I wish him all the best,
As his friendship gave me confidence in my self,
(and in my self in high heels).

I have friends who care,
And who care deeply for my outcomes.
I have family who love,
And who support, without question.
How many people in this world can say the same?
I am lucky.

Yes, I have a lot for which to be thankful.
And, sometimes, it takes a weekend
Of marathon cooking for a Thanksgiving crowd,
To help you see all that good that pervades our lives.