What History tells us about the Harper Government’s actions in Iraq

“For in a democracy, every citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, ‘hold office’; everyone of us is in a position of responsibility; and, in the final analysis, the kind of government we get depends upon how we fulfill those responsibilities. We, the people, are the boss, and we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve.”
• John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage


I strongly believe in the words of George Santayana: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.” These words were true in World War One, World War Two, Korea and Vietnam. When we deployed to Afghanistan, a few critics reminded the rest of us of the Political Entities which failed to implement their visions there. It was nice to hear that contrast because Governments and various political pundits told us a different story. They said we would be fine. Given that We, the West, had no expansionary tendencies like Tsarist Russia or Victorian Britain, we would be fine. Given that we were not going to copy the Russian experience of the 1970s, one which looked a lot like the American Experience in Vietnam, we would be fine. Flying in the face of History, Western Nations assumed that our experience would be different. However, it was not. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces engaged in combat from 2001 to 2011 and in a training mission from 2011 to 2014. We pay a price when we don’t remember and it is a price paid in pain, blood and treasure. The sad thing is that because Mr. Harper has failed to remember Canadian History, we are likely to pay the same price in Iraq.

A part of that History lies in the formation of Canada. For in 1864, the Province of Canada had to deal with the Fenian Threat. Fenians were Irishmen who felt that they could hold Canada hostage and essentially force the United Kingdom to give Ireland its independence in return for their colony. Or put differently, they want to use physical violence to implement a political agenda. Now given that many of them had fought in the American Civil War, this threat was just as real as the American Politicians that had advocated for the fulfillment of America’s “Manifest Destiny” to push the British and Spanish out of the Americas. It was this strand of Irish politics which led to the rebellions of 1798, 1848 and 1867, the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1868 and eventually to the modern IRA.

Our own history tells us that the use of military force, the restriction of free speech or the use of intelligence solutions did not solve the Fenian political problem. In order to end over 200 years of armed struggle against British Territories (Canada included), the British had to negotiate with the Irish Republican Army – the Inventor of Modern Urban Terrorist Tactics – twice: the first time in 1921 to establish the Irish Free State and a second time in 1998 to finalize the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement).

Yet with that being said, the idea of political suppression – instead of political conversation – is manifested throughout North American History. For instance, the Rt. Hon Stephen Harper could look towards the American Revolution. While the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Quebec Act of 1774 are acts which form Canada’s Constitutional Makeup and history; in the US they were a few of the acts that are now known as the “Intolerable Acts”. In American History, it was Acts like those which created an unbearable burden on the colonies. So much so, that they “pushed” the American People to revolt. Or as President John Adams, said in 1818: “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people.”

Consequently, History tells us that the present approach of the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper towards Islamic Terrorists will fail. For, as the British learned in Ireland, the only way to solve terrorism is through political tools or diplomatic action.

We know, for example, that Bill C-51 likely won’t work because we have evidence that increased surveillance powers don’t always work. To be clear, the Harper Bill is modeled on other legislative tools that exist in the UK, the US, Australia and much of Western Europe. We now know that in the case of the Charlie Hebdo assassinations, one of the perpetrators had already experienced a preventative arrest (Who are suspects in two violent French standoffs?, By Michael Martinez, Jethro Mullen and Josh Levs, CNN, Updated 5:46 PM ET, Sat January 10, 2015). While the terrorist in Australia – Man Haron Monis – had “a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability.” (Sydney hostage-taker called himself a cleric — and had a criminal record, By Ashley Fantz, Catherine E. Shoichet and Tim Hume, CNN, Updated 10:48 PM ET, Wed December 17, 2014) So, given that such laws exist today in Europe and Britain and they still don’t stop the dissemination of terrorist material, information or actions, one would argue why the Harper Government is bringing them here?

Additionally, let us note the series of serious missteps or mistakes that the Canadian Security Services has made without these new powers which had started to drive a wedge between the Federal Government and the Canadians that the Harper Government purports to protect. In 2009, Kirk Makin of the Globe & Mail noted that Justice Simon Noel questioned the credibility of Canada’s spy agency “when a Federal Court of Canada judge suggested that officials may have lied and intentionally concealed vital information for years in a case targeting terrorism suspect Mohamed Harkat.” (Reliability of secret source in terror case cast into doubt, Published by the Globe and Mail, May. 27 2009; Last updated Aug. 23 2012) Meanwhile on December 20, 2013, Colin Perkel, while reporting for The Canadian Press, wrote that Judge Richard Mosley found that the Canadian Securities Intelligence Service (CSIS) “withheld information from the courts when it applied for top-secret warrants to intercept the communications of Canadians abroad” (Canadian spy agency withheld information from court to get warrants, judge says” Written By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press; Published by Toronto Star on Fri Dec 20 2013)

But it does not end there. We should not forget that Maher Arar was detained in the US by American Officials and sent to Syria where he was tortured because the RCMP accused him of having links to terrorists and had sent his name to American Officials. We know that Canadian Officials were in the wrong because the Canadian Government paid Mr. Arar $10.5 Million Dollars and Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to Arar for Canada’s role in his suffering. The only irony here is that while Mr. Harper called Mr. Arar’s nightmare a “terrible ordeal”, he is bringing forth legislation which will create more situations where Canadians are falsely accused.

For in the report prepared by Justice O’Connor, it was noted that the “cases of each of the other three men – Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin – raise troubling questions about what role Canadian officials may have played in the events that befell them”. (By Audrey Macklin, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, From Cooperation, to Complicity, to Compensation: The War on Terror, Extraordinary Rendition, and the Cost of Torture, Published in the European Journal of Migration and Law 10 (2008) 11-30)

However, it does not end there. Abousfian Abdelrazik – a citizen of Canada – was prevented from returning to Canada by the Canadian Government because of the fear that Mr. Abdelrazik was a “terrorist”. Mr. Abdelrazik had to go to the Supreme Court of Canada to get home. If one needs to find proof of the overreach of the Government of Canada, one does not have to look hard to find it. These types of errors almost beg the question as to whether there is a second-class status for some Canadians and this is without the new powers listed in bill C-51. How are Canadians to have faith and trust in this Government when they are just as likely to detain an innocent man as they are to hold an actual terrorist? Consequently, I think that before the Federal Government provides new powers to CSIS – so that they can expand the no-fly list or lower the threshold for arrest – they have to have a better sense of what they are looking for; because in this zealous attempt to find Islamic Jihadists and by depriving the rights and liberties of Canadians – like the British in Ireland – they will likely lose the hearts and minds of Canadians.

We know that has already happened in France where similar legislation exists. The most recent example of this overreach came after the Charlie Hebdo murders/assassinations. The French Police did the unthinkable: they just started arresting people regardless of their connection to the horrible events. They detained an 8 year old and arrested a French comic who is at best controversial and at worst anti-semitic. (8-year-old detained by police for saying he supported Charlie Hebdo attackers, By: The Associated Press, Published on Thu Jan 29 2015; France arrests 54 for ‘defending terrorism’ after Charlie Hebdo attack, Jan. 14, 2015 8:17AM ET, http://america.aljazeera.com). Clearly increased legislation has not worked in other countries.

In saying all of this, Canada’s history with Terrorism provides a clearer and better solution for the problem at hand. At the beginning of this piece, I noted that new laws will not solve the Terrorism Dilemma we now face. In the 1970s, we faced a real terrorism threat of our own. Now called the October Crisis, we were reminded of a simple truth: Political Action and Mobilization will defeat Terrorism; where Policing, Military, Intelligence or the reduction of speech will not. For after the Quiet Revolution, when the Québécois were beginning to think about Sovereignty and Separation, two paths emerged: one of violence and one of peaceful political action. The FLQ and the PQ made arguments for a new and independent Quebec. We are lucky that René Lévesque – even though he was called a subversive or terrorist by some – sought a democratic approach. We are lucky in Canada that we allowed for the debate to occur. For inevitably, the Heart and Mind arguments provided by René Lévesque and the PQ won the day. When provided with options, people tend to take a democratic approach.

I would argue the same strategy – an inclusive democratic approach – would work in the West, Iraq and Syria today. If we look at Western Jihadists, most of them fall into clear distinct groups. As noted by many security officials and practitioners of Islam, Radical Islam is ‘like a gang’ (Hamilton Muslim community looking to understand the path to ISIS, by CBC Posted on Huffington Post, Updated: 11/25/2014 5:59 am EST). If that is true, we can deal with the problem. Whether it be through Canada’s National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) or various police forces, Canada has been dealing effectively with gangs for years. (Toronto says anti-gang programs should have core funding, by Staff Torstar News Service, Metronews.ca, Nov. 27, 2013). It will mean reaching out but that is a more effective use of resources than sending troops overseas or costly upgrades at home.

With that being said, the inclusion of various other groups overseas is just as important. Take Iraq, for instance. For years, the Sunni Minority – under Saddam Hussein – was in control. That minority got the benefits of power and often punished the Shia Majority and/or the Kurdish Community. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, a significant shift in power happened. The suppressed Shia and Kurdish Populations became powerful and then, in turn, suppressed the once powerful Sunni Minority. The American Invasion flipped the power dynamics but they did not add a democratic flair to the country. This was true even after the Sunni Community largely stopped fighting in their country’s civil war – known as the Anbar Awakening.

It has been widely reported that ISIS militants have befriended the Sunni Minority in Iraq and a part of the reason for that is simple: the Sunni Minority doesn’t feel like they are a part of the future of Iraq. (Iraq minority appeals to army, international community for help, The Associated Press, Posted by CBC.ca Last Updated: Aug 20, 2014 10:33 AM ET) As we learned in Canada, that type of disenfranchisement leads to violence. In other words, if peaceful political discussion, negotiation or debate cannot provide an answer, then people have been known to turn to violence. In Canada for example, because sovereigntists had a peaceful options, they turned away from the FLQ. In Iraq, the Anbar Awakening showed the same outcome is possible. Accordingly, pressuring the Iraqi Government into fully including the Sunni Minority will likely lead to the undercutting of ISIS support within the Sunni Community. With less support, ISIS will have to redefine its priorities.

In that same vein, to defeat ISIS, we would have to establish a Peace Making, Article 33 mission into Syria; for Syria has descended into chaos. ISIS militants, who were once ignored because they were fighting to bring down Bashar al-Assad, have become the real threat to the region. Sending in a UN Blue Helmet Mission to clean up Iraq and Syria may be the only way to have inclusive governing solutions. Only then will people be able to sit and talk. Military planners though, have been quoted as saying that the only way to create the necessary environment for this to happen is by providing 60,000 to 100,000 troops. Or put differently, the four war planes and 69 Canadian troops are not sufficient to do the job. Neither are the 100 to 200 British, 200 Australian and 1,500 American troops. Consequently, we know Harper’s plan will not work.

One can see that an objective view of History shows that military, paramilitary or intelligence agencies usually don’t solve terrorism. Only Political and Diplomatic Tools will work to defeat Terror Threats. Canadians learned this in the 1970s when we allowed Separatist Political Parties to exist and those same Political Parties overtook the argument from Terrorists. The English and Irish learned the same truth in the establishment of the Irish Free State and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. If we want to defeat ISIS, we need to push for greater freedom and not less freedom. For speech, as the Fenians knew, is hard to stop. Western Europe has not been able to stop analog or digital speech. Neither were regimes in Egypt, Libya, Syria and other countries effected by the Arab Spring. Our solutions should be based on a simple philosophy: we should be trying to win hearts and minds. Churchill used this strategy to keep the UK from falling apart during World War II. His radio speeches are still talked about. It is what we did to win the Cold War. The Beatles, the BBC and Radio Free Europe were much more effective than any gun or any weapon in bringing down the Iron Curtain. So why can’t ideas – and not weapons – be the way to defeat Islamists or Jihadists?

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