Justin Trudeau on the World Stage – Refugees

Corporeality VI: Justin Trudeau on the World Stage – Refugees


Howard Adelman

I intended this morning to discuss the theoretical basis for the differences between Canada and the U.S., and, more particularly, between Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama as military decision-making. However, yesterday I had an opportunity to participate in a webinar on refugee resettlement in Europe that provided a unique opportunity to discuss Justin Trudeau’s initial exposure and effect on the international stage on refugee policy. A discussion of that webinar provides a great deal of excellent concrete material for the thesis that I am developing.

Yesterday Canada set a date for ending its role in bombing missions in Syria and Iraq – February 22. The withdrawal of military fighter jets has to be understood in terms of the Canadian refugee program and Trudeau’s efforts to resurrect the Canadian brand as a humanitarian in foreign affairs on the world stage. Canada is the leading country in private refugee sponsorship. There is an opportunity for Canada to serve as an exemplar to other states. We could leverage our own roll enormously if we managed to get more countries to emulate the Canadian program. But Trudeau’s role as a leader on the world stage on the refugee issue will be a much harder sell if he is seen as opting out of other international responsibilities to combat evil and those responsible for producing the refugee crisis in Syria in the first place. I will revisit Canada’s decision to withdraw the six Hornet fighters from bombing missions in Iraq and Syria in my subsequent comparisons of Trudeau versus Obama as decision-makers on military policy, but it is first necessary to show Canada’s role as a leader in refugee resettlement in the world.

The webinar was advertised to invited participants as “addressing the refugee crisis in Europe by using private sponsorship.” I was invited to participate – that is, listen in and send in questions if I wished. The formal title of the webinar was, “Scaling Up Resettlement: The Role of Private Sponsorship Programmes in Addressing the Refugee Crisis.” As part of the pre-information, the webinar was described as follows:

“As the European Union considers scaling up plans to resettle refugees from Turkey and other countries of first asylum to improve protection, as well as reduce pressures to travel illicitly, limit the power of criminal networks and develop more equitable responsibility sharing among EU Member States, the three speakers were asked to address the question of how private sponsorship programmes for refugees could possibly enhance outcomes and spread costs.” The program in Canada, as well as the one developed in Australia over the last two years, and the one initiated in 15 of the 16 German länder, were cited as precedents, but in the discussion, the clear and outstanding precedent was Canada’s program of  “private sponsorship that permits private individuals, groups, corporations, and other entities to sponsor individual refugees for resettlement and accept financial responsibility for them for a period of time.”

Panelists were expected to explore how these programs, if implemented or expanded in EU countries, might provide an additional safe and orderly channel for refugees to gain protection and become part of the broader response to the current refugee crisis.

Elizabeth Collett, Director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Europe and Senior Advisor to MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, chaired the session. Before opening the session to questions that had been sent in, we listened to presentations of about twelve minutes each from Judith Kumin, Madeline Garlick and Tim Finch.

In 1979, Judith Kumin was involved with Indochinese refugees as a UNHCR representative and later headed UNHCR’s Orderly Departure from Vietnam and, subsequently, the resettlement of Indochinese refugees out of Thailand. Like Madeline Garlick, she also served in former Yugoslavia as UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Belgrade. She has been a UNHCR Representative to a number of countries (Germany, Benelux, the EU), but particularly Canada where we got to know her and when she became intimately acquainted with her experience of the Canadian private sponsorship program at the time. She was widely acknowledged as an outstanding UNHCR representative. When she returned to UNHCR Headquarters, she directed Sadako Ogata’s public relations office. She concluded her career as UNHCR’s Director for Europe and authored UNHCR’s State of the World’s Refugees 2012. Judith has taught at Carleton University and currently teaches international human rights at the University of New Hampshire (Manchester) while researching the credibility of asylum claims lodged by unaccompanied children. She authored the December 2015 report:



Madeline Garlick complemented Judith Kumin’s presentation. Madeline is a refugee lawyer from Victoria, Australia who is currently a Guest Researcher and PhD candidate at the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands. She is also an International Migration Initiative (IMI) Fellow with the Open Society Foundations leading a project on the future of asylum in the European Union with Migration Policy Institute Europe. Previously, she had been Head of the Policy and Legal Support Unit in the Bureau for Europe of the Office of UNHCR from 2004-13 where she was responsible for liaison with the EU. Before that, she was on the UNHCR’s negotiating team on Cyprus and, before that, worked as the UNHCR representative on the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina. For purposes of brevity, I have consolidated the two presentations and filled in where necessary from Judith’s report.

The object of Judith’s report was to provide a possible additional option in the EU dealing with refugees “consistent with the European Union’s interests, values, and obligations through research on challenges and options on asylum to inform the development of evidence-based policies and laws.” That option is private sponsorship of which the best known and oldest model is that of Canada. Readers will be surprised at how little the Canadian example pioneered over 36 years ago has been taken up by other countries. So it was a surprise and disappointment that there were no Canadian experts on the panel, but that may have been because the target audience was European.

If resettlement is defined as the selection and transfer of refugees from a state of first asylum to a third state that has agreed to admit them (versus relocation as the redistribution of refugees from one EU country to another), then Judith defined private sponsorship as a form of refugee resettlement in which the primary (not exclusive) responsibility for support – financial, social and emotional – is provided for a limited period of time, usually one year, by the private sector. More precisely, only the financial guarantee of support is limited to one year, but, may be shorter if refugees become self-sustaining earlier. Further, support in many forms, including financial, may go beyond the one year guarantee period.

The following benefits of private sponsorship were presented by Judith and her fellow panelists:

  • offers a safe and orderly means for refugees to achieve protection
  • serves as an alternative to irregular movements via a safe, orderly and legal channel
  • is a way for the private sector to demonstrate commitment
  • offers an opportunity to harness the will of the community
  • facilitates integration, especially in the provision of social capital
  • permits burden sharing and a way for EU countries to resettle refugees (half do not, and, with a few notable exceptions, the rest resettle very few)
  • develops a constituency of public support for refugee intake
  • is a way of expanding resettlement at reduced costs to the government (I think this claimed benefit is specious since a) there are settlement costs to government for private sponsors and, under a program of additionality, these costs are also in addition, and b) since private sponsorship provides public support for the government itself sponsoring more refugees, this too adds to the cost.)
  • if the principle of additionality is used, private sponsorship counters the argument that this is a form of offloading (in practice, it actually allows the government intake to be larger than it might otherwise have been).

Judith also included as a benefit of private sponsorship that it facilitates family reunification, but, as her report notes, there is an overlap between the two. Further, the use of private sponsorship for family reunification can crowd out the possibility of refugees in greater need from being sponsored within the target set by the government.

The panelists suggested that private sponsorship could vary in the following ways:

  • Status granted to refugees (temporary or permanent resettlement, though UNHCR does not like defining temporary protection as resettlement)
  • Entitlements
  • Who is eligible to sponsor
  • Who is eligible to be sponsored
  • Nature of sponsor’s obligations
  • The safety network
  • Procedures
  • Question of additionality
  • Built-in upfront systems of evaluation.

Judith in her report stated that, “Refugee resettlement is usually seen as a state-led activity.  Governments decide how many resettlement places they will offer, select the refugees they will take in, arrange for travel and initial reception, and provide settlement support. Private sponsorship arrangements, meanwhile, shift the primary responsibility for assisting resettled refugees from government to private actors. Private sponsors accept financial responsibility for resettled refugees for a specified period of time and provide other forms of support. In exchange, they are permitted to identify the refugee (or refugees) they propose to resettle, although the final decision on admission n rests with the government.”

Though the report is otherwise excellent, in this case those familiar with the Canadian private sponsorship program will recognize the flaws in this paragraph. Even in private sponsorship, resettlement remains a state-led activity re numbers, selection, transportation, and initial reception; private sponsorship normally substitutes most areas of support and assistance in integration. Secondly, permitting private sponsors to name sponsored refugees was a deviation from standard private sponsors when over time private sponsors began to act as fronts for family reunification, a pattern that became dominant when  Kumin was UNHCR representative in Ottawa, though in New Zealand’s and Argentina’s small programs, it is the main purpose of private sponsorship.

Judith included as the second essential feature of private sponsorship the option of naming the sponsored refugee. In Canada, that is NOT an essential feature. Nor is it a trade-off in return for assuming the responsibility of private sponsorship. In the first huge wave of Indochinese refugee sponsorship in the 1979-80 period, sponsors rarely named refugees they wanted to sponsor and the possibility of doing so was neither an incentive nor a gift from the government in return for their assuming the financial responsibility. Kumin writes as if this is the main form of private sponsorship when it was the deviant form that became the main form for a period as a means of family reunification using private sponsors. Perhaps Judith was influenced by countries like Ireland and Switzerland which have only experimented with private sponsorship in this form.

Further, Judith in the follow-up discussion said that civil society had taken the lead in Canada in 1979 in the private sponsorship of the Indochinese refugees. She has obviously not read my books or published articles. The Canadian government worked months at promoting private sponsorship before it was taken up with enthusiasm by the private sector. Then the government responded to that demonstrated enthusiasm when it did emerge with increased numbers of government-sponsored refugees. There is no evidence that civil society took the lead, although newspapers tended to report that the government only acted because it was pushed to do so by the media and the private sector. This was nonsense! More importantly, this myth detracts from the need to emphasize the importance of government leadership.

Judith said in her presentation during the webinar that her report dealt with refugee private sponsorship on a practical level because “too little was known”. In fact, there is a plethora of research on the benefits and deficiencies, inputs and outcomes of private versus government sponsorship. To name but a few conclusions, government-sponsored refugees have more options of English (or French) for second language training and more immediate opportunities to upgrade their skills. Private sponsored refugees generally enter the job market at a higher level. On the other hand, privately-sponsored refugees generally enter the job market much more quickly, in part because the private sponsors have a strong incentive for the refugees to become self-sufficient and in part because the private sponsors offer a network of connections to facilitate entry into the job market. At the end of a number of years (seven if I recall from one study), the level of employment between the two groups tends to converge. One of the most interesting differences is that, when surveys are done after the refugees were in Canada for ten years, private sponsored-refugees had close friends who were Canadian-born. Few government- sponsored refugees did.

The third panelist was Tim Finch who is a novelist (The House of Journalists) and former director of communications for the British Refugee Council. He heads the migration division of the Institute for Policy Research and has been part of a team pushing the UK government to develop some pilot projects on refugee sponsorship. He continues to write op-eds on refugee issues. He discussed how the British private sponsorship was shaping up and focused on the 6 October 2015 speech of the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, to the Conservative Party Congress reprinted in full in, The Independent.


Finch claimed that although the UK had been a laggard in refugee resettlement in general and the use of private sponsorship in particular, May’s statement at the Conservative Conference opened the opportunity for the UK to leap into the vanguard. May promised that, “We’ll develop a community sponsorship scheme, like those in Canada and Australia, to allow individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugees directly.” Unfortunately, Finch, when he strayed from the UK focus, made some misleading statements – such as contrasting the British system, which automatically entitles the refugees to benefits, which the Canadian system does not. Finch was possibly confusing asylum claimants with resettled refugees; the latter are entitled to the same benefits as all Canadians.

All this was against a background of a decidedly anti-immigrant and anti-asylum earned reputation by the Conservative government. Finch claimed that UK leadership on refugee resettlement was coming from the top from a Home Secretary not known for generosity towards refugees. That is an understatement for a Home Secretary who would boast in her speech to the Conservative Conference that the UK had “granted asylum to more than 5,000 Syrians in Britain” since the start of the Syrian War. Pathetic! Absolutely pathetic! She should hide her head in shame rather than boasting of allowing entry of a paltry 1,000 Syrian refugees per year.

Now the UK government promises to take in “20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament,” that is 5,000 per year. It is just more Harperism – sheer tokenism and not offset by the UK’s generous contributions to overseas Syrian refugee aid. The ideology of the UK government is clear: “the best way of helping the most people is not by bringing relatively small numbers of refugees to this country, but by working with the vast numbers who remain in the region,” as if one offsets the need to undertake the other. Further, her statement clearly suggests that if a UK private sponsorship program is initiated, it will not follow the principle of additionality, but the principle of substitution, for the government insists that immigration is still too high even though the intake has been cut in half.

May insisted that, “wherever possible, I want to offer asylum and refuge to people in parts of the world affected by conflict and oppression, rather than to those who have made it to Britain.” She implied that there will be an offset of refugees taken in from abroad to the extent asylum claims are reduced.  This could be interpreted to mean, the more domestic asylum claims are brought under control, the more refugees that can be resettled from abroad. This is what Stephen Harper seemed to promise to Canadians. It just was not true.

Finch suggested that the private sponsorship proposal might have been a way of sugaring the pill for an otherwise hardline policy. My reading of her speech was that it was complementary to the hard line and offered only tokenism in the way of refugee resettlement. Finch, if he had studied the Canadian development, would not have suggested that this initiative offered a way forward and an opportunity for the private sector to co-design a system for private sponsorship. The Canadian system was designed by the government and has been refined and redesigned by the government, though in both cases there has been private sector influence. But influence does not make one a co-designer. Finch pointed out that when UK universities offered scholarships to refugees, none were taken up. As one of the other panelists noted, Canada has a long history of WUSC Canada sponsoring refugees to attend Canadian universities and colleges. The program works in good part because of a committed government partner.

One of the romantic fallacies is that, relative to the government, the private sector plays a leadership role in promoting resettlement. It certainly does so in the promotion of resettlement by the private sector. But not in making as distinct from influencing policy.  The private sector making refugee resettlement policy is a myth. Much of my experience, research and writing on refugee resettlement exposed that myth. But the narrative continues to grow. The reality is that there is little private sponsorship without strong government leadership. Look at the period under Stephen Harper when the legislation and policies were all in place, but the systems were eviscerated and sponsors were subjected to inordinate delays and overwhelmed with lengthy forms that were mostly returned because of small mistakes. So Finch’s interpretation that May was inviting Brits “to devise a system and we will consider” simply falls into the trap of delays and half, no one-tenth, half-hearted measures. For Finch to suggest that this would be a good way for sponsors to “have control over the system that emerges” is just a pipe dream.

Though the webinar promised that the speakers “will also delve into key questions and challenges that should be considered in implementation, including who would be eligible to sponsor refugees, what would sponsors’ responsibilities entail, who could be sponsored, and how would applicants be chosen, what entitlements and status might sponsored refugees get, and more political questions as to whether such initiatives merely represent a divestment of government responsibilities onto an overstretched volunteer sector, in fact, other than these categories being mentioned, they were barely touched upon.

There was one other reaction I had and I would be curious to know if anyone else who participated in the webinar had the same response. There was too much emphasis on gradually “scaling up,” on “managing expectations,” on avoiding the risks of disappointment” and the need to have processes in place for security clearances, selection, transportation, etc. The recent initiative of the Justin Trudeau government belies that. Even though, as I wrote above, the Canadian resettlement apparatus had been allowed to grow rusty and had been severely weakened in terms of human resources, Trudeau demonstrated that it was possible to gear up in very short order. Further, if the government keeps up to and responds to any increase in private sponsorship, there is no need to manage expectations. That is only needed when there is a government interest in limiting the intake by the private sector. So advice to “take time,” to carefully plan and prepare, easily becomes an excuse for a moving like a tortoise.

Tomorrow: Biblical and Mediaeval Theoretic Foundations for Military Policy

Divisible and Indivisible Political and Military Leadership

Corporeality VII: Divisible and Indivisible Political and Military Leadership


Howard Adelman

I begin with a summary of the political theory implicit in the Exodus story that I have related before, but this time from a slightly different angle. Joshua was the commander of the armed forces, the military commander. But he was not the Commander-in-Chief. Neither was Moses. The Commander-in-Chief was Aaron, the High Priest, who was responsible for upholding the fundamental laws of the nation and, therefore, ensuring that the use of force was in conformity with those laws. Ancient Israel, even before it became a state, was not a democracy; the responsibilities of legislating had not yet been assigned to a separate body. Israel as a nation of princes was an aspiration and not then a reality. A fourth function, interpreting and applying the laws, was assigned to a judiciary following the advice to Moses by the Midianite, Jethro.

The division of responsibilities can be represented as follows:

                                                Moses – political leader                                                                                                                          !       – responsible for receiving the law
Aaron —————————————————————Joshua
 responsible for upholding the constitution                                                                 military commander


Judiciary – responsible for applying and interpreting the law

However, when it came to the use of force outside the boundaries of the constitution, when it came to fighting an unjust war targeting civilians – whether this meant slaying the children of enemies or using force to ethnically cleanse the land of one’s determined foes – this was the responsibility of God. Joshua was only responsible for leading the Israelites into battle within the confines of just war principles.

But a major competing theory emerged rooted in the Latin classics. One of the great adventures of being an undergraduate at university is the opportunity to read the classics and, most of all, reading a book just published that would become a classic itself. In 1957, Ernst H. Kantorowicz published The King’s Two Bodies which he had written as a fellow of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies. In my recollection, I did not read the volume until 1960 or 1961. What an exciting read and a great moment of revelation! The following is a very compressed version omitting any semblance of relaying the diachronic development of the idea.

Mediaeval political thought differed from Hebraic classical political thought by putting forth the doctrine of consolidated military power and political and moral authority. It did so, not by a division of powers, but a consolidation of powers in one being who had an eternal non-corporeal power and a corporeal exercise of that power. In this mediaeval political theology, the king has a natural body that weeps and laughs, feels pain and demonstrates courage, and eventually suffers and dies. He also has a spiritual body inherited from the doctrine of the dual manifestation of Christ developed in the thirteenth century in which there was both an individual body (corpus personale) and the collective body (corpus mysticum) of Christ identified as Christ’s mystical half embodied in the church. “The new term corpus mysticum placed the Church as a body politic, or as a political and legal organism, on a level with the secular bodies politic which were then beginning to assert themselves as self-sufficient entities.”

The king, as a derivative of this conception, was also said to have a spiritual body which served as the symbol of the royal office and the right to rule versus the actual implementation of that rule which could be flawed. The king’s mystical body along with the divine right to rule endowed the king with a unique character: the king could do no wrong. Further, his successor was ordained to take over when he died. “The king is dead. Long live the king.”

The king was, at one and the same time, a corporeal mortal being and an embodiment of the spirit of the nation. In the latter sense, the king is sovereign and the expression of the body politic. In the above terms, the king was Moses and Aaron, Joshua and the judiciary rolled into a single person who had two complementary sides, a physical, imperfect and mortal self (a natural body), and a spiritual body that expressed the spirit of a nation. The latter was the body politic that could be neither seen nor heard, but through the office of the king could express its will and give direction to the polity, devise policy, manage the public weal and lead the polity into battle. The Church subsequently included the clerical bureaucracy itself as the “mystical body of Christ” and, in return, the Western polity became known as the Holy Roman Empire. The latter was the consecrated host; the former became “the corpractpus mysticum the head of which was Christ and whose limbs were the archbishops, bishops, etc.” Eventually as the notion of the nation re-emerged from its Hebraic roots with the Protestant Reformation, the populace, the people, the nation inherited the weakened remains of the corpus mysticum previously literally embodied in just the general body politic, the res publica. Citizens were now willing to die for the nation.

I do not have either the time or space to depict how the notion of indulgences developed in parallel as different expressions of that sense of sacrifice from the eighth to the fifteenth century, for I simply want to concentrate on two radically different notions of governance. Suffice to say that by the fifteenth century, the widespread business of printing indulgences had evolved from the twelfth century Indulgence of the Cross and was known by 1454 as the Gutenberg Indulgence (GI). After all, Gutenberg was not only an inventor of the printing press, but a very clever entrepreneur who knew how to make his own fortune off the lucrative “tax” practices of the Church. (He was not the first entrepreneur to make millions from the largesse of community coffers – Donald Trump’s father.) The GI was a piece of boilerplate that testified that the confessor was in a state of grace and would escape purgatory. Hence, the emergence of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment as the GI evolved in a new form, the publication of broadsheets. As greater and greater numbers of ordinary citizens could read, they became totally revolted at the corruption at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church at the time.

The United States of America emerged as a body politic on the cusp of the transition from the indivisible corporatist notion to the divisible notion of the body and, on the surface, represented the rejection of the indivisibility doctrine. Hence the conception of the division of powers! On the other hand, the United States emerged as a democratic monarchy, as a political state which elected its king who, in his persona represented the indivisibility of both the body politic and the leader who must represent the spirit of the people and defend that spirit from enemies both within and outside the body politic who would undermine and divide the nation.

What happens if the indivisible head of state charged with maintaining and enhancing the indivisibility of the body politic believes that his protection function is so important that it usurps any doctrine of civilian control? Think of General MacArthur versus President Harry Truman where the Commander challenges the Commander-in-Chief in the name of protecting the nation and its interests from its most formidable enemies. Military mutiny is one thing. Military dictatorship is another. For what if the Commander-in-Chief himself believes that it is his primary responsibility to protect the body politic from enemies within and without and requires the CIC to stretch his/her powers.  By locating the role of Commander-in-Chief and political leader in the one person, the U.S. was open to the development of a military dictatorship.

The founders were well aware of this danger and tried to imitate the monarchy of Britain as developed to that time by offsetting the role of the monarch as both the embodiment of the nation’s will, with the responsibilities of Commander-in-Chief, with offsetting powers assigned to the legislature, in the American case, Congress. Hence, the division of powers! The history of the United States of America could be written as a tale of these two conceptions, the indivisible powers of the leader offset by conception of divisible powers among different institutions. This is particularly true when the issue is not the obvious one of military dictatorship, of the Commander-in-Chief seizing all powers into his own office, but when the Commander-in-Chief is prone to adventurism, prone to offsetting his/her political restrictions in one area to another in which the controls on his initiatives are most ambiguous and most difficult to assess whether they are necessary for the defence of the state.

The constitutional vesting of the commander in chief power aims to establish a politico-military culture in which military coups become unthinkable, as they have been for the United States. But once the offices of civilian head of government and military commander in chief are fused (what I have called “fused dominion”), a complementary danger to military coups arises, namely that the leader will himself use the military to seize or abuse power or, just as importantly, launch military adventures. As I hope to show, the constitutional framers were acutely aware of these dangers, and in response they created a strongly separationist constitutional conception of the commander in chief. Justice Jackson got it right when he wrote in his famous Youngstown concurrence, ‘The purpose of lodging dual titles in one man was to insure that the civilian would control the military, not to enable the military to subordinate the presidential office.’ In brief, the basic theory behind civilian control of the military is to use a civilian commander in chief to check the military, and then set up civilian powers to check the commander in chief. Constraining military and constraining the civilian commander are two distinct problems, strophe and antistrophe, and together their solutions generate the political theory of the commander in chief authority. David Laban (2008) “On the Commander in Chief Power,” Southern California Law Review 81, 477-571.  scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1597&context=facpub


Tomorrow: Indivisibility and Divisibility within the U.S. Presidency

Corporeality V: Barack Obama and his Intimates

Corporeality V: Barack Obama and his Intimates


Howard Adelman

Michele was and remains the guardian of the first ring and she patrols it standing like a sentinel at a memorial at her full height of 5’ 11”. She does so with determination, a sense of control and purpose. She is not at the centre of the rings because for years she opposed Barack’s running for political office as a distraction from his responsibilities to his family and its well-being. But she never undercut his ambitions, just made sure that they interfered as little as possible with the area inside the first inner ring. It was not only her confidence and self-assured qualities, her loyalty and steadfastness in the face of challenges, but her wisdom as well as her intelligence that provided the badly needed anchor for Barack Obama. Her sense and confidence in the meaning and importance of a solid and secure family life that requires a sense of order and regularity has been critical. Everything one reads about their relationship almost suggests that Obama’s most brilliant decision ever was his choice of Michele Robinson, a child of a solid Southside Chicago Christian family with a Princeton education, as his wife.

The other person on the inner circle who is holding Michele’s hand to make the circle around Barack Obama is Valerie Jarrett (née Bowman), a lawyer, civil activist and business woman who served as co-chair of the Obama-Biden Transition Project when Obama was first elected. She is currently the Senior Advisor to the President and assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Her first contact was Michele and was introduced to Barack when he and Michele were engaged and Michele was hired to work for Valerie in the city of Chicago administration beginning in 1991. An African-American daughter of a U.S. doctor posted to Shiraz, Iran where she was born, Valerie is fluent in Farsi and French. She also has aboriginal, Scottish, French and Jewish genes.

In spite of establishment credentials as a member, vice-chair and chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago Medical Center from 1996 to 2009, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago, a Trustee of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, a board member and chair of the Chicago Stock Exchange, and a board director of the USG Corporation, she has been attacked as a communist or fellow traveller (her parents and grandparents were activists) by enemies of Barack Obama. She has also been criticized by her allies – Robert Gates, former defense secretary, objected to her presence at foreign security affairs meetings. As well, both David Axelrod (Axe to his friends) and Rahm Emanuel, at one time two of Barack’s closest advisers, had serious disagreements with Valerie. She is still there. They are not.

One might have thought that the communist charges being made against her would have died out with McCarthy, but no such luck. For example, as part of the charges against her father, a pathologist and geneticist, is the accusation that, “Bowman was also a member of the Association of Interns and Medical Students (AIMS), a group that, according to Bowman’s FBI file, engaged in unAmerican activities and “has long been a faithful follower of the Communist Party line.” I was not only a member, but the class representative of AIMS in the late fifties – every student in the class was a member – and I can assure everyone that the organization had nothing to do with any political party, and certainly not the Communist Party, and had no political agenda.

That is the silly part about Valerie Jarrett. The more interesting one relates to the conflicts she had with Obama’s advisors and aides. In every case, Valerie emerged as the winner. The New York Times once reported that, “If you want [Barack Obama] to do something, there are two people [he’s] not going to say no to: Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama.” [I think this probably is true, but when I tried to trace down the accuracy of this quote, I encountered one far right internet site after another and was unable to confirm given the time I was willing to invest, so it may be a construct to suggest that Obama has fallen into the clutches of a controlling witch.]  Obama did describe Valerie as family when, in July 2009, he told New York Times reporter Robert Draper, “I trust her completely.” She has variously been dubbed Barack’s spy, his chief sycophant, his consigliere and his night stalker.  The New Republic named her “The Obama Whisperer.”

So what went wrong between Valerie and David AxelrodhmOne insight comes from David Axelrod’s recently published memoir, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics. Axelrod is credited with getting Obama first elected in 2004 as a U.S. Senator after having lost in his run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000. After Axelrod ran Obama’s campaign for President in 2008, Axe was named a senior advisor in the White House responsible for tracking the impact of any impending decision of the political pulse of Americans. But he only lasted two years. He did not leave because he was eager to get back to Chicago. His memoir indicates that, after he left the White House in January 2011, he was not only depressed and wracked with self-doubt, but Obama cut him off, not even replying to his e-mails. As Axelrod says, “The silence stung.”

What went wrong? Valerie Jarrett! She was first added to the election strategy team in 2008 without discussing the choice with Axelrod and in spite of having no previous campaign experience. David “seethed in silence,” though clearly Valerie was needed as a conduit to Michele, for her perspective as an African-American and as a female in a team dominated by white men. But the problem was not just Jarrett. David Axelrod was critical of his successor, Jim Messina, who ran Obama’s 2012 campaign. Axelrod had fights even with his close friend, Rahm Emanuel, who came on board to run Obama’s office once Barack was first elected. But, given the psychological focus of this and the next blog, we have to turn to David Axelrod’s friend, Maureen Dowd, a star Pulitzer-winning columnist at The New York Times. “No one got under Barack’s skin more than Maureen.” Why? Because of her “penchant for delving into the psyches of her subjects.”

Axelrod did not fall out with Obama because he failed in his role as Obama’s political nostrils (see Richard Wolffe’s The Message: The Reselling of President Obama, nor because he had conflicts with other senior advisers – they all fought with one another – nor over policy choices. Valerie Jarrett is the key to explaining his departure. Valerie was a crucial psychological pillar for Barack Obama. Axelrod not only was not, but he upset the two pillars that protected the inner circle of Obama’s psychological reserve and stability – Maureen and Valerie. His friendship with Maureen Dowd (MoDo), the one person who pierced the skin of this elegant, cool, wholly and happily integrated but disciplined and distant persona, added to the problem, since the first duty of an adviser for Obama was fierce loyalty to the President and serving as a protector of his carefully constructed psyche, a role even assigned to those in the second circle, perhaps even more important than political smarts and public acumen they were required to demonstrate.

However, Axelrod’s most serious weakness had nothing to do with what he did or who he was, but how he became what he was. Like Obama, Axelrod’s beloved father divorced his mother and he too then felt abandoned. But his father subsequently committed suicide. Axe had been doubly abandoned. Further, he himself had been an absent father to his own epileptic daughter, something Obama was determined never to be. Whenever Obama was not on the road, he always had dinner with his family at 6:30 each evening. Though the Axe was wily, he was also personally insecure, shambling and indecisive, a condition Obama himself wallowed in for a short period after his first unsuccessful bid for a seat in the U.S. Congress in 2000. Axe represented Obama’s rejected psyche. Axe was Obama’s embodied but rejected physical doppelganger, the alter ego that Obama was determined not to be.

MoDo (Maureen Dowd) sensed that weakness in Obama’s psyche. That is really why she aroused the vitriol and enmity of a president usually so completely in control. David Axelrod, “the keeper of the flame for hope and change” revealed Obama’s vulnerability and had to be cast out of his coveted office into the political wilds and the cold winds of Chicago. Axelrod had created Obama as a successful candidate, perhaps because he saw so much of himself, even his aspirational self, in Obama. However, in doing so, David Axelrod had become the sacrificial lamb lest he undermine the strong and secure Obama persona Barack had created.

Then there was Rahm Emanuel, another trusted advisor, but a narcissistic tornado rather than cool, determined and disciplined crusader like Barack Obama. Rahm was not Barack’s alter ego, but a power centre in his own right. His instincts told him that Valerie Jarrett was his only real competitor in the White House. Before he agreed to join Obama’s team and run the White House presidential office, Rahm tried to get Obama to name Valerie Jarrett to the Senate seat Obama had just vacated. But Rahm did not succeed in sidelining Valerie. Nor in limiting her role. Emanuel could not even prevent her from having her own personal security detail. Rahm capitulated and took the position as head of the White House staff because the scent of power was so sweet and strong.

But a cold peace governed, disturbed only by Rahm’s temper tantrums, only occasionally with Valerie. But they were symptomatic and governed Rahm’s relationship with Valerie. But not for long. On Valerie’s advice, Obama personally upbraided Rahm for his terrible habit of screaming at subordinates. As a former White House official told the journalist, Noam Schreiber, “In the wild, they [Rahm and Valerie] would have been natural allies. In captivity, they became natural enemies.” After having served Obama’s immediate needs, Rahm ended up using the White House as a stepping stone for his own personal ambitions, returning eventually to Chicago to run and become its mayor.

The bottom line: whenever the second line of defence outside the inner circle threatens the first line in any way, eventually those outside threats are cast aside to be replaced by weaker and more malleable cyphers, like Jack Lew who was himself soon shifted to Treasury Secretary because he was an excellent manager but not a political pro, while Valerie and Barack pursued their program of sweet reasonableness in the face of a Republican Party that has lost its center of gravity altogether.

In addition to the psychological differences between Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau, there is also a corresponding radical set of differences in style and substance, even though both are generally congruent on their policy priorities and their view of the role of an activist government reinforced by a magnanimous corporate sector. Barack Obama, as The New Republic described him, is steeped in “boardroom liberalism,” valuing tolerance and diversity as principles and ideals. Justin experienced those values viscerally. Obama, in contrast, applied those values from on high to be dispensed by a Platonic version of a wise elite allied with corporate America. Hillary Clinton, whatever her rivalry with Obama, shares the same anti-populist approach, but without Obama’s ability to tap into the frustrations and insecurity of Americans. Both are very different than the ersatz populist Bernie Sanders, characterized by his desire to institutionalize magnanimity through tax policies. Sanders is recognized for his Herculean effort at mobilizing public opinion against the deeply entrenched interests and perks of corporate America. Barack and Hillary are not.

Hence, Obama readily abandoned a single payer health system in the name of realpolitik, abandoned the protection of those whose ownership of homes had sunk below sea level when his brilliant economic team was rescuing Wall Street and the slip American automobile manufacturers. Barack Obama was capable of making an off-the-cuff, that Bernie could not make. After bowling a feeble 37 after seven frames in his unsuccessful effort to connect with working-class Pennsylvania voters living in the rust belt of America with neither jobs nor prospects of jobs, Obama remarked of those voters that in their bitterness, they cling to their “guns or religion” to deal with their frustrations.

Tomorrow I will begin to explicate the frustrations he suffers in high office that go far beyond the fact that the Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Obama as Commander-in-Chief – Theoretical Background

Corporeality IV: Personality, the Body Politic – Obama and Trudeau

Corporeality IV: Personality, the Body Politic – Obama and Trudeau


Howard Adelman

I now return to an examination of Obama’s role as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the U.S., in particular, in the fight against ISIS. On the way, I have taken two side excursions. The first examined that role in the Torah at the time when the fundamental constitution was given to the Israelites. Commander-in-Chief was not vested in the political leader, Moses, but in the High Priest, his older brother Aaron, who was neither the Chief Justice nor a legislator, but the man charged with the responsibility for upholding the fundamental laws of the people.

The second side excursion detoured via Canada and depicted Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada, as not Commander-in-Chief, but as a political leader with a quasi-pacifist propensity, one who sees that his primary responsibility in protecting Canadians is by manning the first line of defense, ensuring that the virtues of Canadians as tolerant and just are upheld and witnessed. That does not mean disregarding the second line of defence, the need to take a war into the territory of a source of evil and threat to the way of life of one’s own nation and its allies. This second obligation need not be abrogated. I tried to show that Justin Trudeau, in the fight against ISIS, seems to have displayed precisely such a propensity, to minimize the responsibility for ensuring that the second line of defence is both well maintained and utilized when required.

In this and the next blog I concentrate on the latter excursion before I follow up with an examination of the structural differences between Canada and the United States in relationship to the role of Commander-in-Chief. An initial examination of the leadership of Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau suggests that both strongly favour peaceful and diplomatic means relative to the use of the military to resolve conflicts. Both operate primarily as prophets of hope rather than stoking the fires of fear and even panic in the population at large. But there are two fundamental differences. The first is the constitutional difference which I will concentrate on in a subsequent blog. The second is the psychological dimension which I will deal with in this and the next blog, even if only very superficially.

Jonathan Kay, who spent the latter part of 2013 as “a freelance editorial assistant on Justin Trudeau’s memoir, Common Ground (some would dub Kay as Trudeau’s ghostwriter), recently wrote an article in the magazine Walrus, which he currently edits, entitled, “The Justin Trudeau I Can’t Forget.”  In it he offered a pop psychological analysis of Justin as fundamentally “shaped by the emotional agony caused by his mother’s abandonment.” Like I am, Kay was critical of Trudeau’s comments about ISIS and the decision to withdraw the six CF-18 Hornet fighter craft from Iraq. Kay found Trudeau’s comments flippant, but, at the same time, simply reflective of the reflexive leftism of campus politics rather than attributing some responsibility to the shaping of his personality by his childhood experience. Yet Kay claimed that the latter lay at the core of Trudeau’s personality.

What remained in Kay’s memory from working with Justin, “are the stories from his childhood. It’s one thing for daddy to leave. That happens all the time, sadly. But when mommy walks out, that’s something very different. We are conditioned to think of a mother’s love as the one unshakable emotional pillar of a child’s life. When that pillar folds up and walks out the front door, how do you keep the roof from collapsing?” Further, the experience of abandonment by one’s mother was exacerbated and greatly exaggerated because it took place in the public limelight; Justin was subjected to the taunts of his fellow students about his mother’s “waywardness.” Justin could never leave behind the basic experience of “a childhood parched of mother’s milk” that left an inchoate urge from those around him to protect the man from further pain. I would add, there was also his own urge to relieve the pain of abandonment in others – hence the enormous personal and emotional involvement in the Syrian refugee crisis in such stark contrast with that of Barack Obama. This does not mean that Trudeau as a politician is not “light on his feet,” cannot take “a punch stoically” nor “devise stratagems under fire.”

Abandonment can leave one feeling betrayed and deserted, left with an anxiety state about separation and isolation. At its worst, it can instill in a child even a sense of rejection and alienation with deep fears for one’s personal security. The latter fears, sense of rejection and alienation seem totally absent in Obama as well as Trudeau. The question is why since children accepted by both their parents seem to be most likely to emerge as independent and emotionally stable adults. They have self-esteem and hold a positive worldview. In contrast, those who experience abandonment, all too frequently demonstrate that they continually feel rejected expressed in feelings of hostility and inadequacy resulting in instability. They generally possess a very negative view of the world.

Neither Trudeau nor Obama seem to possess a negative view of the world. Neither seems in the least unstable, but rather appear self-possessed and at ease with themselves and the world. They radiate no sense of hostility or inadequacy. However, Trudeau is energized by his contact, particularly emotional contact, with people. “His boyish, eager-to-please personality leads him to project publicly in a way that can seem intellectually unsophisticated.” “Seem” is the right word. For Justin Trudeau is very well read. But his wide reading combined with his hyperactivity for a time gave his speeches a stiff and fabricated air, the opposite of conveying a more relaxed and natural one. Unless he could pace! However, with practice even his stand-up speeches have become far less stilted allowing his personable style to emerge. For his very natural engagement on a very physical level with Canadians, just watch this excellent and delightful video of Justin Obama as a Bollywood dancer. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nqStHqdqODg

Though one cannot imagine Stephen Harper in such a role, neither can one imagine Barack Obama, even though Barack possesses the required smooth physicality on the basketball court, It is not because Obama lacked those skills, though they were not on display in a bowling alley in Pennsylvania when he only attained 37 points in seven frames and became a butt of humour for the working men of that state. It is just that, one cannot imagine Obama surrendering his stoical reserve to engage in such an expression of sheer joy. For Barack Obama is a cerebral boardroom liberal; Justin, with all his elite breeding, is a street liberal.

In contrast to Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama gets his strength from within, from a stoical reserve and a retreat into a much smaller world initially centred on his family. His empathy comes from his intellect, not his gut. Hence, his emotional attachment to the suffering in the world is sentimental rather than arising from a deep feeling for the other. (Cf. Richard Koestner, Carol Franz and Joel Weinberger (1999) “The family origins of empathic concern: a 26-year longitudinal study,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58: 709-717.)

When, in February 2014, Obama announced the program called “My Brother’s Keeper” to attempt to counteract the absence of fathers in the lives of many black males by focusing on education, reading, job training and mentoring, he admitted that he too always felt a hole left in his heart by his father’s abandonment. Why did Obama succeed while a great many black boys abandoned by their fathers struggle and too many of them fall by the wayside, drop out, and are either  unemployed or engage in socially unacceptable behaviour, including drugs and crime?

Scholarly research seems to have established that a father’s absence increases anti-social behavior, such as drug use, and reduces a child’s employment prospects (Cory Ellis, “Growing Up Withuout Father: The Effects on African-American Boys”). How did Obama escape? Did his mother, Ann Dunham, substitute for the absent father? She seems to have deliberately kept it a secret from Barack Obama that she maintained regular contact with his father so she did not seem interested let alone eager in ensuring Barack developed a relationship with his absent father. In Barack Obama’s biography, Dreams of My Father, he recognized the powerful force of that absence. He credits his ability to overcome this handicap by his deliberate construction of three different rings of intimacy around himself. Instead of empathy arising from natural contact with others, Obama constructed by himself and within himself in a deliberately formulated way a rational system for constructing and controlling intimacy and empathy.

Obama erected three imaginary rings around himself. Within his first ring, he was a loner. The first ring itself was wo-manned by his wife and closest political confidant and intimate friend of Michele, Valerie Jarrett. Obama became disabused of including his blood relatives following his visit to Kenya even between the first and second ring, even though he by and large felt very warm with most of that extended Kenyan family. Manning the second ring of protection around himself and between the second and third ring are to be found his intimate friends and close advisers. Outside the third ring can be found his associates, colleagues, other state leaders, and then the American public. But the most intimate person for Obama is his wife, Michele Obama, for who else would tolerate Barack Obama when he left his underwear in the kitchen.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Barack Obama and his Intimates

Welcoming Strangers and Ethnic Cleansing

Welcoming Strangers and Ethnic Cleansing: Parshat Mishpatim Exodus 21-27


Howard Adelman

What does the dictum to welcome the stranger have to do with ethnic cleansing?

Chapter 22:20 of Exodus reads: “And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Chapter 23:9 reads: “And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Rabbi Gunther Plaut used to remind me that the commandment mentioned most frequently in the Torah is the injunction to welcome the stranger. Rabbi Yael Splansky reminded us this past September, when our congregation initiated both a joint recollection with the Vietnamese community about the role Jews played in 1979 and subsequently in welcoming the Boat People to Canada, and when the congregation also launched its campaign to bring to Canada Syrian refugees, of Rabbi Plaut’s 221-page report on “Refugee Determination in Canada,” commissioned by the Government of Canada to propose changes to Canada’s refugee determination system. That Report began with a personal introduction:

“I was a refugee once, having fled from Hitler under whose rule I had lived for more than two years. I came to the New World exactly 50 years ago, after finishing law school in Germany and having been deprived of pursuing my chosen profession because I was a Jew. In a miniscule fashion my own life rehearses the story of my people who have been refugees all too often. I know the heart of the refugee, a person who desperately seeks for a place to stand, for the opportunity to be accepted as an equal amongst fellow humans….  I belong to the fortunate ones whose quest has been generously answered. My personal experience and my own religious tradition have moved me to put on Canada’s national agenda the larger issues that arise from a consideration of refugees and their problems.”

Rabbi Splansky went on to say that, “Every single member of our congregation has his and her own story of migration. None of our family lines is indigenous to Canada. Against the backdrop of Jewish history, we are relative newcomers to this good country. Therefore, we Jews easily identify with the asylum seeker, the migrant, the refugee who searches for a better life and a place to call home. No matter his religion, no matter her country of origin, the empathy comes easily to us.” Rabbi Splansky cited that week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo (the text study was dedicated in memory of three year old, Alan Kurdi, a refugee child from Syria found drowned on a beach in Turkey). Splansky reminded us that, “Moses instructs the people to share the land’s bounty with the vulnerable – the orphan and the widow as well as the foreigner, that is, ‘the stranger’,” and to do so joyfully.

At the same time, in this week’s Torah portion, the text promises to execute a few of the most vulnerable and to turn most of the inhabitants of the land into the vulnerable by forcing most off the land.

The text commands the Israelites to execute witches. You shall not allow a sorceress to live.” (22:17) This commandment alone can be cited as a major source of persecution of women from the Biblical period through the Salem witch trials to current uses of text to demean women, whether in Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

More significantly, for today’s purposes, to force out the inhabitants, the Torah portion for this week promises that God will send the tzir’ah [insects like hornets, but they blind and make the person whom they bite impotent; perhaps the word is prophetic and the Israeli IDF is about to acquire CF-18 Hornet fighter planes to do the job.] The tzir’ah will “drive out the Hivvites, the Canaanites and the Hittites,” but by a process of stealth and gradualism “little by little” until such time as the Israelites have increased and can occupy the land.” (23:27-30) Reading this does it not remind us of the settlers in Israel in the West Bank?

According to Joshua 14, it took six years to overcome the military might of the Canaanites “to subjugate their portion of land and remove the defeated people.” But of the twelve possible tribes of Canaanites – the Canaanites themselves, the Perizzites, Gittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Jebusites, Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hivites, Hittites and the tribe of Raphaim – why are only three mentioned here for ethnic cleansing? After all, Leviticus (18:25) said that the land vomited up its inhabitants. And Deuteronomy (7:1) mentions seven, not three, though not all twelve. The Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Gittites and the tribe of Rephaim are omitted.

The omission of the latter five and the inclusion of seven could be explained because the five did not occupy land promised to the Israelites. Perhaps only three are mentioned here because they were the fiercest and the strongest and were in possession of the most strategic portions of the land. But why were the Philistines not included as well as the Canaanites?  In any case, whatever the number and the group, ethnic cleansing is ordained. How does one reconcile that with empathy for the stranger?

Only, I believe, by distinguishing between enemies versus strangers. Enemies are those who would do you in if they have the chance. Strangers are Others who are no threat. But how do you distinguish the two? After all, in today’s world, some would target all Muslims for exclusion and not just Daesh or al-Qaeda. One burlesque madman would even exclude Mexicans. Are Israelis to define all Palestinians as their enemies, including their own citizens, or only those determined to drive Israel into the sea?

It seems there will always be a political debate about whether the definition of enemy, on ethnic, religious or ideological grounds, should be drawn widely, moderately or narrowly. Some would not target any group at all, even determined exterminators – unless they are a direct existential challenges to one’s own people. I, myself, believe that some – like Nazis and members of Daesh – need to be targeted, but the targeting should be narrow and neither made moderate to allow a margin of safety and certainly not drawn broadly. The latter results in McCarthyism and fear- mongering of the worst order.

So welcome the stranger. Be reasonably cautious but do not exaggerate a danger.

Corporeality IIIB: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Identity

Corporeality IIIB: Justin Trudeau and Canadian Identity


Howard Adelman

Yesterday I wrote about Justin Trudeau’s policies with respect to the war against Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. I tried to show that on the basis of strategic considerations alone, Canada’s plan not to renew the deployment of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft as part of the allied mission in Iraq and Syria, did not make rational sense. At the end I suggested that the account could not be left at the level simply of strategy, but the explanation lay deeper in Trudeau’s conception of the Canadian identity and the way, sometimes erroneously, that he envisions enhancing that identity.

The energy his government has put into resettling the Syrian refugees in Canada is a major expression of the view of the Liberal Party under Trudeau of Canadian identity. Though overwhelmingly cheered on, the initiative has not been without criticism, usually on security grounds rather than humanitarian ones. But some critiques have emerged that argue that we are importing a population which has values diametrically opposed to our own, particularly in the treatment of women. The following op-ed by the brilliant son of two very old (now sadly deceased) friends, David Frum, was published on 16 March 2015 in The National Post:

Trudeau now urges Canada to enable and assist those who define women as inferior — and who require women to wear special identifying badges of their inferiority. In his Toronto speech, Trudeau said: “one of the highest aims of Canadian political leadership is to protect and expand freedom for Canadians.” He is so determined to expand freedom, in fact, that he now proposes to expand it to include the freedom to treat women like chattels. This is not the freedom that Trudeau’s hero Wilfrid Laurier had in mind when he called freedom “Canada’s nationality.” The freedom Justin Trudeau defended in Toronto is the freedom Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee fought for: the freedom to dominate and subordinate.

Canada stands for human rights. Canada stands for freedom. Canada stands for gender equality. It is wrong, the argument goes, for Canada to bring in people who do not share those values. What the Justin Trudeau government is asserting by its initiative is that it is absolutely wrong to label a whole region and the people who live in it as discriminatory against women, let alone a whole religion. For the region contains many people. Yazidis and Chaldeans do not define women as chattels. Neither do most Muslims. Engaging in such labeling is un-Canadian and runs directly counter to Canadian values of tolerance and respect. Of course, among those refugees from Syria there will be some refugees who do not share in our values of gender equality which Canadian immigration officers will be unable to detect, especially given their focus on security issues. Trudeau trusts that Canadian values are so powerful and so winning that, even for those who do not share the Canadian values of gender equality, over one or perhaps two generations, given past history, and given Canada’s excellent multicultural and integration policies, even most of those will incorporate those values into their cultural praidentity, valuesctices.

The lesson about Canadian values encompassing respect for the Other goes even further. I will illustrate this by a story which I hope I have not written about before. When I was in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 1982 auditing the number of residents made homeless by the war, I was traveling around in a Red Cross vehicle. We came across a woman sobbing in the middle of the road. She was covered in blood and fresh blood was still seeping from her head wounds. The Red Cross vehicle stopped and bundled her into the back. A long interrogation and conversation proceeded in Arabic as her wounds were being treated.

Not understanding Arabic, I presumed that the woman was somehow a casualty of the war that had primarily moved up to the Beirut area. While the woman was being treated in the back, the Red Cross vehicle first drove to one location from which it received directions to another. We arrived at a home with posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the first supreme religious leader of Iran after the overthrow of the Shah, plastered all down one wall on the side. [As a total aside, and a bit of the good news coming out of Iran, his reform-minded grandson, who was initially vetoed by the Supreme Religious Council in Iran, has had his candidacy reinstated.]

No one explained to me why we were not at a hospital. I presumed we were at the home of a Hezbollah leader given the posters. I had to move over in the front seat and a gentleman joined us and chatted with the driver and with the woman and her attendant in the back as we drove to another village. There at a house we dropped off the woman and the man we had so recently picked up after a brief discussion with the Red Cross driver before we proceeded on our way. The driver then explained what had happened.

The woman had been beaten up by her husband. We had gone first to the home of the local religious leader who delegated one of his acolytes both to warn the husband never to repeat the beating of his wife and to live with the family for 30 days to protect the wife, to give daily lessons to the husband and to report back to the Imam on the treatment of the wife over a month. When I heard this I had to admit to myself that although I still regarded Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and as a religious organization that supported the doctrine of the superiority of males over females, when it comes to responding to domestic violence, the organization seemed to have a social system of protection of women light years ahead of our own.

The lesson: do not be complacent and simply dogmatically believe that your practices of instantiating gender equality are by definition not only the best, but had nothing to learn from other practices. Ironically, other practices, from sources one would least suspect, can be superior to your own.

I tell this story because two Canadian values complementary to gender equality are tolerance and respect. They are best taught by example. The intolerant comments of the writer critical of the Canadian Syrian refugee program above in defense of Canadian values, reveals him or herself to be subversive of those values. Further, the writer revealed profound ignorance as well as negative exaggerations about peoples and religion in insisting that the niqab is a “symbol of oppression: the garment’s purpose, after all, is to deprive women of their individuality; to render them invisible in public space.” The writer was. I believe, obviously thinking of the burka rather than the niqab. With respect to the niqab, in my own studies of the controversy in France over its being worn by Muslim girls in the French schools, I learned that it was worn for many different reasons – to protect privacy, as a style statement, as an identifier with one’s tradition, as a religious identifier, as a means of diverting the male gaze away from them, and by two school girls whose last name was Levy and who had a Jewish father and a Muslim mother, as a political statement of rebellion against the arbitrary edicts of the French government in its efforts to ban the wearing of the niqab.

One reproach to Justin Trudeau took place in the context of his comments on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trudeau said:

“On this day, we pay tribute to the memory of the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust. We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance… The Holocaust is a stark reminder of the dangers and risks of allowing hate, prejudice, and discrimination to spread unchallenged. It also reminds us that silence must never be an option when humanity is threatened… As we pause to educate ourselves and our families on the bitter lessons of the Holocaust, we also strengthen our resolve to work with domestic and international partners to continue defending human rights and condemning intolerance.”

Many took umbrage at the statement – not for what it said, but for what it left out. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is not Human Rights Day. Holocaust Day is specifically intended to commemorate the deliberate murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime during WWII. Yet there was not one mention of Jews in the speech. Instead, Trudeau said that, “We honour [all] those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime.” The day was reinterpreted as a day of remembrance for all victims of the Nazis.

Further, the statement took place just a few days after Stéphan Dion, our Foreign Minister, said that Canada, as a steadfast ally of and friend to Israel, “calls for all efforts to be made to reduce violence and incitement and to help build the conditions for a return to the negotiating table.” This was said in the context of the intifada of the knives. Though very occasionally Jewish extremists have killed innocent Palestinian civilians deliberately, those rare occurrences have been deplored by political authorities in Israel. In contrast, the now almost daily terrorist attacks against civilians by Palestinian extremists may be criticized as an inappropriate tactic by Mahmoud Abbas, but at the same time, the perpetrators are celebrated as heroes. Further, the various practices of the IDF as an occupying army of a civilian population antithetical to that occupation, such as demolishing a number of Palestinian homes “illegally” erected on land reserved for the IDF for military practice, may be deplored, but there is no equivalence whatsoever between the deliberate attempts of Palestinians to murder Israeli civilians and the unacceptable and deplorable practices of the Netanyahu government.

Since Justin Trudeau misspoke about the Holocaust in leaving out any reference to Jews that followed Stéphan Dion’s mistaken equation of Palestinian violence and Israeli political practices which may separately be worthy of extensive criticism, the government received a number of criticisms from various quarters, especially Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), but Fogel also noted that in each case the government issued an immediate apology and corrections. Dion made an explicit clarification which pointed at the exclusive responsibility for the intifada of the knives on Palestinians themselves and pointing to the ways in which they followed incitement by Palestinian leaders. Trudeau addressed the issue of the connection between the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.

There are two lessons here. The first arises from the pattern and propensity to make such mistakes. Secondly, there is the willingness to immediately apologize and correct the errors. The first is not just a case of being careless, thoughtless and insensitive. In Otherwise than Being, Emmanuel Levinas dedicated it, “To the memory of those who were closest among the six million assassinated by the Nazi Socialists, and the millions on millions of all confessions and all nations, victims of the same hatred of the other man, the same anti-Semitism” (my italics) Though Levinas did not make the same error of simply putting a generic face on the singularity of the Shoah by omitting that the Nazis targeted Jews most specifically, he also wanted to universalize the lesson to all cases of racist thought. This, I believe, is what lay behind Trudeau’s misstep. The error was not in the effort to draw universal lessons, but in the omission of reference to the specific victims from which the lesson was being drawn. This is also true of the erroneous equivalence – the tendency to universalize, to apply to all patterns of injustice, but at the expense of forging false equivalences.

The willingness to correct the errors, the way they were corrected and the speed with which the corrections were made speaks to the strengths of the Trudeau government value system and its willingness to amend whenever it gives way to sacrificing the particular and significant differences to convey a universal message. What has this got to do with the Canadian decision to not to renew the deployment of the CF-18 Hornet fighter planes in the Middle East? I know analogical reasoning is the weakest form of argument and in many quarters is unacceptable, but it is my belief that this young government has a proclivity in general to such errors. In its desire to enunciate and give witness to universal values, there is a propensity to get the particulars wrong.

The government should, and I believe it might, demonstrate that it recognizes that it cannot combat evil only with giving witness to universal values. It can, and, in my mind, should continue to insist that upholding those values is the best bulwark against creating conditions for homegrown terrorism to flourish and grow. THIS MUST BE THE FIRST PRIORITY OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE BATTLE AGAINST TERRORISM. It is well exemplified in Canadian policies to take in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. It is well exemplified in the unwillingness to target Islam as a religion because of the small number of terrorists that are spawned in part from that religion. But first priorities are not to the exclusion of other priorities down the line. The Canadian government must also engage with and combat that evil on the ground and in the air that is flourishing in the Middle East and even Africa.

What do I expect the government to do?

  1. Announce that it has not had enough time to reconsider its overall policies and plans for combatting Daesh (ISIS);
  2. Until it completes that reconsideration and review, it will extend the mission of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft for another six months;
  3. Nearing the two-thirds mark in that extension, the government will announce that, out of consideration for its responsibilities to the mission and its allies, out of consideration of the continuing threat posed by Daesh, the deployment of the six CF-18 Hornet fighter planes will be renewed for a further six months;
  4. That the government will enhance its contribution to the fight against evil in a number of ways, including going beyond a combat role and offering advice to the Iraqi government on how to implement multicultural practices that uphold the values of rights, respect for others and minorities and reinforcement of democratic institutions;
  5. That, in the meanwhile, Canada will continue to take in more refugees and to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve, thereby offering the most important lesson through witnessing in combating terrorism.

Will the Canadian government do what I expect? “Expect” is an equivocal term. On the one hand it means setting standards for a party to live up to. On the other hand, it is a prognostication for the future. I leave it to the reader to decide whether I mean the first or the second or possibly both.

With the help of Alex Zisman


Corporeality III: Trudeau and ISIS

Corporeality III: Trudeau and ISIS


Howard Adelman

Inspired by the failure of the international community to intervene in the Rwanda genocide in 1994, in the beginning of the twenty-first century, Canada was the major initiator of the doctrine: “The Responsibility to Protect” (R2P). The Liberal Party of Canada when Lloyd Axworthy was Foreign Minister under Prime Minister Jean Chretien had given birth to that doctrine that endorsed military intervention when a state failed to fulfil its responsibilities and war crimes, crimes against humanity, religious cleansing and even genocide were all rampant. We do not hear much about R2P anymore since it was endorsed by the United Nations unanimously just over ten years ago because R2P proved to be both hypocritical in its passage and inapplicable in practice. The doctrine presumed that sovereignty was not absolute but rather a delegated authority by the international community and could be breached by that same international community if a state failed in the primary duty if it was either unable or unwilling to protect its citizens from genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The passage was hypocritical because countries like China voted for R2P as long as it observed the principle of the absolute sovereignty of a state and military intervention was permissible only with the permission of that state. R2P was inapplicable because, when military intervention was most needed in failing states, powerful states suspected one another of practicing power politics and interfering in the domestic affairs of another state for their own political interests.

In the case of Iraq, was this not a perfect instance for the applicability of humanitarian intervention, especially since the government of Iraq had itself invited that intervention? In Syria and Iraq, minorities were under constant attack – the Yazidis and Chaldeans ae a few examples.  Further, the United Nations itself had endorsed such intervention in the fight against terrorism. On 19 September 2014, the UN Security Council, as it welcomed the newly-elected Iraqi government, did not simply endorse but urged international support for the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS (S/PRST/2014/20). This was followed up on 19 November 2014 with a statement of the President of the Security Council, endorsed with the full authority of the SC, that called for international cooperation in combating terrorism and the threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters, violent extremism, Al-Quaida and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). One year later on 20 November, the UNSC called on its member states “to take all necessary measures on the territory under the control of ISIS to prevent terrorist acts committed by ISIS and other Al-Quaida affiliates.”

The Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau had assumed office in Canada at the time that the last UN resolution was passed. Given its past and current policies of renewing Canada’s traditional record of engagement in the international sphere and with the United Nations, one might have expected that the Justin Trudeau government would step up its involvement in Iraq in the fight against Al-Quaida and ISIS. But that did not seem to be the case.

It was not as if Canada had been totally immune from attacks by Islamicist terrorists on Canadian soil or had not been used as a transit stop for terrorists heading for the U.S. On 14 December 1999, Ahmed Ressam had been arrested as a result of a very alert American customs guard when Ressam tried to enter the U.S. on the car ferry between Victoria and the U.S., a car that was packed with explosives intended for use in a plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve as part of the planned 2000 millennium attacks. In 2006, in Ontario, Canadian counter-terrorism forces rounded up 18 al-Quaida-inspired terrorists to attack and set off bombs at the CBC in Toronto and the parliament buildings in Ottawa with the intention of capturing and beheading the Canadian Prime Minister and other political leaders. In August 2010, Misbahuddin Ahmed was arrested and subsequently convicted for his involvement in facilitating terrorism. In 2013, Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser were arrested for their involvement in a plot to derail a Toronto-New York train. In July 2013 in British Columbia, John Stewart Nuttall and Amanda Korody were arrested for planning to plant pressure cooker bombs in the provincial legislature.

Canadians were not always lucky in avoiding actual terrorist acts. In a ramming attack, not uncommon in Israel but rare here, Martin Couture-Rouleau, a recent Muslim convert, struck two members of the Canadian Armed Forces and killed warrant officer Patrice Vincent. On 22 October 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, another recent convert to Islam, gunned down 24-year-old Corporal Nathan Cirillo standing guard at the War Memorial in front of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and might have done considerably more damage if he had not been killed within the building by the head of the Parliamentary Security Services.

These plans and actual attacks, for the most part, may just have been inspired by Al-Quaida and ISIS, but they alone provided sufficient motive for Canada to join the war against Daesh (ISIS) – which Canada did under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Just over a year ago, the Harper government agreed to participate actively in the war against Daesh and in March of 2015 reconfirmed that commitment for another year. The new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau had different plans. In his very first press conference, Trudeau announced the government’s intention of keeping its pledge to withdraw Canadian fighter jets from the battle against Al-Quaida and ISIS in Iraq. But he also pledged to stay in the battle, no longer directly, but by using Canadian forces to train Iraqi forces to do battle with Al-Quaida and ISIS.

But how does this square with the historical tradition of the Liberal Party in support of R2P, with Canada’s liberal tradition of involvement with UN sanctioned missions, with Canada’s own self- interest in defeating Al-Quaida and ISIS, and with a fourth source of legitimating Canadian direct military involvement, the call by President Hollande of France following the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November 2015 to participate in the war against Al-Quaida and ISIS? Under both the EU and NATO’s doctrine of mutual defence invoked when President Hollande declared war on ISIS. Canada under its treaty obligations was called upon to actively join the direct war effort against Daesh. Instead, Canada seemed to be opting out of the direct combat against Al-Quaida and ISIS.

“What we’re doing right now is working with our allies and coalition partners looking at how best Canada can continue to help militarily in substantive ways that offer real help in a way that is specifically lined up with our capacities as Canadians.” This, in various iterations, has been Trudeau’s explanation for plans to withdraw six Canadian fighter jets from the battle. In what sense has this been working with partners when it has been clear that Canada’s military partners do not endorse the withdrawal? Canada’s allies have not responded well to the Canadian government decision to withdraw the six fighter aircraft. When U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter in an effort to enhance member contributions summoned American allies – including Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK – Canada was conspicuously excluded. America responded in diplomatic-speak to queries about Canada’s non-invitation. “The United States and Canada are great friends and allies, and together with coalition partners, we will continue to work to degrade and destroy ISIL.” Three Republican congressmen initiated an investigation of Trudeau for supporting ISIL.

In what sense is the involvement of Canadian fighter jets out of line with Canadian capacities? Is active involvement in such a legitimate war not the best way for Canadian fighter pilots to gain experience in actual combat? Trudeau offered a threefold explanation. Canada should do what it does best. Other alternatives of involvement were better options in the war. Third, Trudeau had pledged to withdraw the fighters in the election campaign and was beholden to the Canadian electorate to carry out what he promised to do. “We do some things better than just about anyone else in the world and looking at our capacity to do that in smarter ways is exactly what Canadians asked me to do in the last election campaign.” It is part of a division of responsibilities and Canada should serve in a role in which it has a competitive advantage. It was an explanation he repeated many times, including statements made to a G20 summit in Turkey just after the Paris November massacres.

The third explanation of fulfilling promises made in an election is certainly valid, but did not the 13 November massacres in Paris change the equation? Did not President Hollande’s call for directly joining the war against ISIS demand an alteration in promises made? Why was it an either/or proposition – training Iraqi soldiers versus the use of fighter jets? Both might be appropriate. Finally, to declare that what Canada does better than anyone else is training foreign military forces seemed the height of conceit as well as blatantly false. Though Canada has Canadian soldiers offering tactical training on the ground – for example 250 in Ukraine – as well as offering financial support and training for strengthening democratic institutions, this hardly seems to be the main priority in Iraq and Syria. Even if the boast about Canadian unique capacities happened to be true, it is not as if Canadians can avoid involvement in combat. In December, Canadians training Kurdish Peshmerga forces were subject to a three-pronged attack by Daesh forces and the Canadian forces became actively involved in the two-day battle supported in the air by two Canadian hornets in addition to other allied aircraft. A ground involvement would not obviate participating in the air war, especially since the Canadian armed forces boast of the successes of its 13 missions in November and its 8 in December. Further, in the light of the casualties taken in the seemingly fruitless 8-year involvement in Afghanistan in the fight against the Taliban, Canadians seem more wary of having troops on the ground than in the air.

What about the other parts of Canada’s Operation IMPACT and the Canadian air contribution to the Middle East Stabilization Force (MESF) to halt and degrade Daesh in both Iraq and Syria? Canada boasts that as part of its participation, Daesh has lost the ability to operate freely in 20-25% of the populated areas in Iraq under its control. Daesh has lost a great deal of infrastructure and equipment. In addition to the six CF-18 Hornet fighters, Canada contributes a CC-150T Polaris refueller and two CP-140M Aurora surveillance aircraft.  Nothing has been said that I know of about withdrawing them. But how important would retaining them in the field be if the six Hornets are withdrawn?

It is not as if the Canadian air forces have been underused having, by the end of January, conducted over 2,000 sorties, about two-thirds by its fighter jets, one-sixth by the refueller and one-sixth by its surveillance aircraft. In addition to the air crews, what about the crews on the ground required to support the fliers – the liaison and planning personnel, the logistics people, those officers working in command and control, and the ground crews? The reality is that all Canadian troops overseas in the war against Daesh are combat troops in some sense.

One argument not used at all is the ineffectiveness of the campaign against Daesh and al-Quaida. That is for three reasons. Since Trudeau contends that Canada will continue to be involved in the train-and-assist mission, a revised policy on these lines would be incoherent. Secondly, such a rationale would prompt close examination of the mission and reveal how critical air support has been to the success of the train-and-assist mission. Third, the examination would reveal how successful the air mission has been in degrading and setting back ISIS. The last has a corollary harking back to R2P. The sooner the mission is completely successful, the sooner the people of Mosul and Fallujah will be free of the tyranny of ISIS and the practice of hoarding food for their fighters while the local population is left to starve.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland has stated:

  • The mission has forced the enemy in Iraq to give up terrain, ejecting Daesh from Beiji and its nearby oil refinery and from Ramadi where defense forces were deeply entrenched;
  • The train-and-assist mission has already succeeded in training 17,500 Iraqi troops, 2,000 police with another 3,000 soldiers and police in process;
  • The mission has trained the Iraqis in how to integrate infantry, armor, artillery, air power (my italics), engineers, etc. in coordinated attacks;
  • The Syrian Democratic Forces, including Syrian Kurds, Syrian Arabs and others “have made dramatic gains against the enemy in northern and eastern Syria, while the vetted Syrian opposition and other groups are holding the enemy back along what we call the Mara line in northwest Syria;”
  • None of the above would have been possible “without coalition air support.”

Discount some of these claims as embroidered. Nevertheless the mission has been and continues to be successful. Essentially, Justin Trudeau seems to believe that, motivated by fear, a response to terror with force only succeeds in inducing greater radicalization among Islam’s adherents. The angry extremists and terrorists are out there because of what we Westerners have done in the past. Trudeau has evidently not read, or, if he has, he disagrees with Joby Warrick’s description of the rise of ISIS in his book Black Flags. Daesh did not arise in response to George W. Bush’s terribly mistaken invasion of Iraq, but with the help of the Bush administration that enormously raised the profile of an obscure Jordanian street tough, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He learned that terror, the bloodier the better, was the best means of getting America to sell his message. Zarqawi offered the militant match to Donald Trump’s belief that the greater the quantity of insults shot off with a scatter gun, the more publicity, the higher your profile and the greater your chances of becoming President of the U.S. The jihadists just wanted to create a caliphate over the whole Middle East.

If the argument were left there, we would be stranded, for the arguments on the basis of tactics and strategies leave us bereft of any understanding. Trudeau appears to be left standing on quicksand. But that is fundamentally a decision not to comprehend his position. For in the end he is not arguing about the best tactics and strategies to combat and defeat ISIS, but about identity, Canada’s identity in a world of realpolitik. Canada is a peaceable kingdom with a very successful multicultural policy. What we do in foreign affairs and the defence of Canadian citizens must be carried out with this as the first premise. The use of military force must be a last resort and used only when diplomacy and working to improve government have crashed against a cement wall. Even then the use of military force will be very small.

That approach apparently would not even change as a result of an increase in homegrown terrorism. A successful attack would not change Canadian policy. Responding with a declaration of war is wrong for Trudeau. That is NOT how attacks at home or abroad should affect us – by stirring up our militancy and our paranoia and fear. In the case of the latter, reinforcing Canadian intelligence services would only mean reinforcing the surveillance of those intelligence services to ensure they do not abrogate our freedoms. This is the claim of the son of Pierre Trudeau who introduced the draconian War Measures Act against what was relatively a pinprick by the FLQ.

So how do we assess Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party’s position when placing military and strategic considerations within the context of identity politics? By examining some other miscues of the government unrelated to Daesh, Iraq or Syria we might gain some further insight.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Trudeau, the domestic body politic and defining the body politic of Canada

Corporeality II Daesh (ISIS or ISIL)

Corporeality II Daesh (ISIS or ISIL)


Howard Adelman

In my blog on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, I mentioned, but only mentioned, that Obama had cited that fighting Daesh (which he referred to as ISIL) and other terrorists is the top priority of his administration. “Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.” Since Daesh was and is not an existential threat to the American people, referring to the fight against Daesh as WWIII was a gross “over-the-top” exaggeration that inflated the threat of ISIS enormously. Nevertheless, “Both Al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.”

Further, he refused to conflate Daesh with Islam. “We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions. We just need to call them what they are  —  killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.” What strategy was he following to accomplish that goal? “For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons. We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.” Once again he repeated his plea to Congress to authorize the use of military force against ISIS.

There are a number of puzzles about the war on Daesh as the top foreign policy agenda item for the U.S. First, why was it his top priority? Why not John Kerry’s since the strategy involved creating a broad coalition? Why not the Secretary of Defence since this was also a military mission? Because, in the U.S. system of government, the U.S. President is also Commander-in-Chief. In the Torah, Aaron the High Priest was not only foreign minister but commander-in-chief of the Israelites’ defense forces, not Moses. In virtually all Western democracies, the Prime Minister is NOT the head of the armed forces.

But before I offer an account trying to explain that anomaly, let me clarify why, since Paris and San Bernardino, Daesh has become the outstanding military enemy of the U.S. I want to help understand the body politic of these jihadist terrorists. The answer in one sense is simple. Obama gave it himself in a speech this past December. The Daesh attacks “shook Americans’ confidence in the government’s ability to protect them from terror groups.” The Assad regime was demoted. So even though normally the enemy of my enemy is my friend, in this case, this is not true. For yesterday, when ISIS led three coordinated attacks using a car bomb aimed at a bus and two suicide bombers aimed at the rescue teams in the suburb of Sayeda Zeinab Southern Damascus (the site of Shi’ites’ holiest shrine) killing 35, mostly Hezbollah fighters in the bus that was transporting them (at a cost to Daesh of 25 of their own), the U.S. and her allies did not cheer.

Further, in Iraq, there is a huge dam located in territory captured back from Daesh and once again controlled by the Iraqi military only 18 km. from Mosul. The dam is fundamentally weak. Given the fighting, the weakness of the dam and the difficulty in repairing it under such circumstances, its bursting would send a wall of water down on Mosul, a Daesh stronghold, Iraqi’s with the help of Americans, however, are evaluating the weakness of the dam and helping to take restorative measures to ensure it does not collapse. America’s war is not with Muslims, not with ordinary Iraqi civilians, nor even with Hezbollah Shi’ite fighters allied with Assad when they are targets of Daesh terrorism. America’s war is with Daesh and its terrorist look-alikes.

Why is Daesh so formidable even though its bases and leaders have been attacked with over 10,000 air strikes, even though it is under retreat in Iraq because of America and its allies reinforcing the Iraqi and Kurdish armies, and even though it is in retreat in Syria because of Russian and Hezbollah reinforcing the Assad regime? After all, there is little evidence that Daesh is a cohesive terrorist network. In that sense, it is even weaker than al Qaeda was. The sensationalism and repetition of its terrorist attacks have been invaluable in recruiting. However,   Daesh does not follow the examples of African warlord rebel groups who recruit mainly through terror rather than ideology and indoctrination. Daesh does, however, retain its adherents through precisely the same system of terror when the recruits discover how totally disappointing, ruthless and un-Islamic Daesh really is. So it is not surprising that 15-year-old Younes Abaaoud, the partner of his much older brother Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian jihadist and mastermind of the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, though he vowed revenge for his brother’s death, also became the target of a Daesh hit squad when he admitted to colleagues that he thought the attacks had gone “too far.” Daesh is not powerful structurally, strategically or even ideologically, but it is vicious in its terrorist practices.

Daesh is powerful as the best advertising agent for Islamicist terror, but wants to keep its reliance on terror to keep its recruits in line secret. Daesh is also powerful because it plays on specific weaknesses of America’s allies, weaknesses which a leading Republican candidate for the presidency wants to replicate in the U.S. States like France attack the wearing of the hijab by girls in schools in defense of their secular religion of laicité for absolutely no valid political reason and, at the same time, populates its suburbs of Paris, the infamous banlieues like Saint Denis, with 25% unemployment among the Muslim youth, with its deteriorating school system and medical services, with foreigners. France is just terrible in its multicultural policies of integration. Britain is almost as bad as MI-5 tracks an estimated 3,000 homegrown jihadists, but the U.K.’s weakness are somewhat different.

The scholarly evidence overwhelmingly shows that states that provide religious security for all their citizens and that have healthy multicultural programs that offer minority youth the same educational and employment opportunities as the native born, do not provide anywhere near the ripe recruiting grounds as states that fail in their multicultural policies. As Patrick Aeberhard, the Parisian-born cardiologist and co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières, has said with respect to France, “We didn’t know how to integrate the Magréhbins, who were mostly northern Algerians, who were French, who should have blended right in.” The surprise is that, in spite of some of the virulent anti-Islam rhetoric, only 250 American Muslims have joined the Islamic State, according to a report by the House Homeland Security Committee; 68 of them have been indicted on charges of supporting Daesh according to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School.

For the evidence on the proposition that healthy multiculturalism is a formidable deterrent to jihadi terrorism, read the academic publications of the Terrorism Research Initiative under the direction of Alex Schmid or the special issue of Politics dealing with terrorism published by the School of Politics, Philosophy & International Studies at the University of Hull under the direction of Raphael Cohen-Almagor. The more Islamophobia in a country, the more fertile the ground is for the growth of Islamicist terror groups. Daesh feeds on Islamic alienation. In the U.S. since 9/11, right-wing extremists have murdered 48 people. Islamicist extremists in 26 deadly attacks have killed 31, including the 14 at San Bernardino. On 15 April 2013, the two bombs set off near the finish line of the Boston marathon wounded 250 people but only killed three.

I want to now go back to the theoretical discussions of French multiculturalism because they reveal a vision of the body politic in which the nation and state are one. Citizens must be assimilated, not just integrated. Since French political theory is so important in the principles underlying the American body politic, it is helpful to explore various aspects of that theory to understand not only Obama’s problem in dealing with terrorism and the French problem, but the body politic of contemporary jihadist terrorism.

Many French philosophers agree that the new immigrants have failed to assimilate into French culture, but instead of blaming French policies of assimilation (versus integration), blame the immigrants for both refusing to assimilate and selling a doctrine of multiculturalism intended to undermine the French state rather than enrich it. Well before the current Syrian refugee crisis, Pascal Bruckner, one of the new French philosophers, joined the right and argued that Western sentimentalism has permitted a mass invasion from Africa and the Middle East that threatened to destroy the foundations of French and Western civilization. (La Tyrannie de la pénitence (2006) The Tyranny of Guilt). He claimed that multiculturalism is a fraud and defended the unifying principles of reason and the Enlightenment and has been one of the rationalizers of the laws against public displays of religious symbols in France rather than the historical development of tolerance and pluralism.

Alan Finkielkraut is another of the new French philosophers. Though Jewish and a child of Holocaust survivors, he has attacked multiculturalism arguing that France has always been assimilationist and has never been multicultural (L’identité malhereuse (2013) The Unhappy Identity). Multiculturalism, he argued, was an Islamic plot deliberately promoted by Islam to subvert French ideas and culture. He argued that France was headed for a Franco-Creole-Mahghrebin civilization under the aegis of Islam. “France is voluptuously sinking in the undifferentiated.”

Other French philosophers such as Michel Onfray, take the same path through from a complementary perspective. Following the 13 November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, he withdrew his book, Penser l’Islam because he did not think his attack on Islam to show it celebrated violence and terrorism could have a rational discussion. Nevertheless, from the previews of the book and his other writings, it is clear that he did not assign any responsibility to France, except to its soft sentimental underside, but instead envisioned the deep roots of terrorism to reside in Islam itself.

In contrast, André Glucksmann, the French philosopher of my age who died just three days before the Daesh terror attacks on Paris on 13 November 2015 and who practiced a similar form of philosophical analysis as I do using a detailed analysis of current events to extrapolate and illustrate philosophic principles, wrote: the war of Islamicist terror is not a war of East against West for the prime and overwhelming number of deaths are those who belong to the Islamic faith. It is not that we agreed on most things – he supported the intervention led by George W. Bush. But he was often brilliantly insightful and besides, had a sense of wit I lack. It was André who wrote the terrific 2004 book, The Discourse of Hate and said that, “Maybe violent wickedness can be decapitated, but stupidity has too many heads.”

That is the problem with Daesh. It is not just violently wicked. It is also stupid so it is hard to discern any grand rational strategy in much of its terrorism other than its brilliance in using terror and the internet as recruiting tools and targeting oil production areas for initial conquest to ensure an inflow of money. Daesh is built on a politics of money and blood, spilling the blood of others indiscriminately and forging bonds of blood between and among its adherents and blood flowing in the streets from innocents everywhere. For Daesh, warfare has been reduced to its basest and core foundation stones.

There are two common themes in understanding the body politic of Daesh. First is the use of terror to forge men into blood brothers. It is no surprise that many of the jihadists were, in fact, blood brothers:

  • 19-year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev who perpetrated the terrorist attack at the Boston marathon by setting off bombs near the finish line
  • Abdelhamid Abaaoud and his younger 15-year-old brother Younes who organized the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris against the Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon cafés, the Stade de France during a German-French football match, and especially the Bataclan concert venue where 130 were killed
  • Chérif Kouachi and Said Kouachi who, on my 77th birthday, 7 January 2015, with assault rifles perpetrated the massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine killing 11 and wounding 11 others, and subsequently killed a French National Police Officer and five Jews in a Parisian kosher supermarket, but then, in the name of al Qaeda rather than Daesh, and the ostensible objective of defending Mohammed from blasphemy using gheerah or protective jealousy.

The contrast between the last two attacks is revealing. The Islam, and Kosher supermarket attackers were professionals who used military gestures, infantry tactics and fired and aimed execution-style single shots to the head. They also had a very specific motive – revenge against Jews and Charlie Hebdo for its controversial satiric pictures of Mohammed. In contrast, the November Paris attacks targeted ordinary Parisians carrying out typical and ordinary leisure activities. The shootings and killings were random with no specific targets at all. And that is where Daesh trumps al Qaeda as a terrorist “organization” – the objective is simply to sew fear whether in the battlefield or in the home turf of the allies against whom it is fighting And look at the response. Two million French citizens and foreigners marched in unison to uphold France’s principles of liberty, equality and fraternity after the Charlie Hebdo and supermarket attack. After the most violent terrorist attack since WWII this past November, Parisians cowered at home, with the encouragement of the government lest masses of French and foreigners become a new target. Prudence trumped public displays of patriotism.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, another French philosopher, has argued that this new wave of terrorism is built on Xerox copycat principles so that even the so-called third intifada of the knives and car rammings in Israel are not so much expressions of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation – though the resentment and frustrations are there – so much as just another expression of a worldwide jihad hysteria. (The Algemeiner, 21 October 2015) Palestinian leaders, particularly Hamas leaders, have encouraged and incited ordinary Palestinians to attack Jews, any Jews, Israeli or non-Israeli, civilian or military, young or old. Take to the streets and maim as many Jews as you can with as much pain as possible and spilling as much blood as possible. Then to hear Mahmoud Abbas call these acts “heroic” simply turns more and more Israelis and Jews off any peace process with the Palestinians. In fact, the resort to the knife in contrast to a Kalashnikov rifle can be seen as a throwback to classic Arab terrorism. Muhanad Alukabi, who stabbed and killed a victim in Beersheba (wounding 11 others) professed his allegiance to ISIS.

Daesh does not need to operate with a head. Certainly all its actions, its prideful displays and its heartlessness attest to that. For Daesh is a cult of blood, knitting its adherents together to constitute them as blood brothers, and aiming at the spilling of as much blood of the enemies as possible. If that is the real enemy, is an Islamic plot to foist multiculturalism on the French polity or the inadequate and incompetent application of multiculturalism to blame, an application which celebrates pluralism and integration rather than assimilation?

Emmanuel Levinas, France’s foremost post WWII thinker and a Jewish theologian as well, has also stood against the French intellectual tide denouncing multiculturalism in Philosophical Perspectives on the ‘War on Terrorism.’ For Levinas, ethics, the norms that govern conduct in society, are rooted in the experience of having to deal with the Other, with the Other’s alterity, whether Moses dealing with the Egyptians versus the Midianites, or Jethro dealing with the Egyptians and the Israelites. Ethics arise out of a face-to-face encounter with the Other as Other, and a demand to respect the opacity of that Otherness. This does not always mean extending hospitality to the Other and welcoming the stranger. For when the Other defines you as wholly Other, as an inferior Other, as a threatening Other, and, therefore as an Other that must be exterminated, then the Other that does so is an enemy. The Other is then not a stranger whom one does not know, but an Other who is all-too-familiar. The Other is not someone with whom one can dialogue and whom one should respect while acknowledging differences. There can be no dialogue with such an enemy. That enemy is owed no respect, only disdain, disgust and a militant defence.

So the problem is fourfold:

Daesh as a terrorist cult dedicated to randomly spilling blood.

Daesh as a terrorist organization that breeds loyalty, not by ideology, but by sharing blood so its warriors become blood brothers.

France is a state with a fundamental ideology that disdains multiculturalism.

France is a state that has misapplied the practices of multiculturalism.


With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Terrorism and the Application of Multiculturalism in Canada

Following: Obama: Caught between the Body Politic of France and Canada