Commands to Inoculate Against Dowsers and Firebrands

Tzav. Leviticus 6:1−8:36 – Commands to Inoculate Against Dowsers and Firebrands


Howard Adelman

[This blog written on 24 March but left incomplete and not sent out.]

God called.  God says to Moses. But Moses is to command Aaron. This portion begins with God telling Moses what he should do and Moses, not only carrying out “the request,” but issuing it as a command to Aaron. Moses was the Political Commander and he was instructed to “command” (tzav) Aaron and his sons. Even to the High Priest, God delivered His commands indirectly through a prophet rather than directly through a religious authority. On the other hand, the prophet had to deliver through an established institution. However, though indirect, there is the sense that there can be no dilly-dallying and no omissions. Commands must be carried out, both strictly and promptly.

Terrorists have once again released explosives in an airport and in a subway train, this time in Brussels. [This was initially written two days after the terrorist attack on Brussels on 22 March.] It is urgent that the authorities get their act together in sharing intelligence and improving coordination to arrest, but, more insistently, prevent future terror attacks. Repetitive routines are not just about preserving past rituals, but about protection and prevention. We are not just dealing with routines empty of meaning. These are institutions to be inculcated with repetition and precision. Why “command”? Just include an instruction booklet with the various parts and contents of the mishkan. But the instructions are not merely technical; they are holy. The five priestly sacrifices (burnt, meal, sin, guilt and free offerings), defining how meat is to be consumed, as well as the procedures and rituals for the ordination of priests, have deep implications, but I will only take time to unpack the first, the ritual of the burnt offering.

In the burnt offering, what must be done is not to take care of yourself and your loved ones. For the offering left only ashes. The importance of action could not be related to the self-interest of the priests. In the current reigning economic and, by extension, political orthodoxy, the core issue is always, “What’s in it for me?” But there is nothing in it for Aaron and his sons. For among Jews, the highest commandments were reserved for what you do for others when there is no gain for yourself. The dictum is not, “Behave, and certainly not believe, so that you too may be saved.” Further, this is not about their or our calling, what we are chosen and destined to do, but about what we must do in imitation of the duties that the priests were commanded to perform. It is about sacrifice, about Vayikra, “drawing closer to the Lord.”

The first command:

This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. 3 The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. 4 He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. 5 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. 6 A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. (Leviticus 2-6)

These are the bare facts without interpretation:

  • A living creature is killed, burnt and turned into ashes
  • The cremation takes place overnight even though the slaughtered animal is placed on the altar in the morning
  • The fire which consumes the flesh is an eternal, perpetual flame (versus the immortality of flesh), kept burning, not simply by wood, but by the fat of the sacrifice
  • The priest wears linen
  • The priest removes the ashes from the altar and places them beside the altar
  • The priest changes clothes
  • The ashes are then removed from beside the altar, taken out of the tabernacle and put in a clean place

What are we to make of this?  Some of the elements are obvious – the eternal flame of God versus the mortality of the flesh – but also that the eternal flame only keeps burning if it is fed by wood gathered by humans and supplemented by the fat of a mammal. You cannot outsource the feeding of your personal and embodied self. That is our highest and most sacred duty – not just for pleasure (the apple of desire is just so sweet), not just for self-preservation (the potato, symbolic of power and control), not just so that we can appear attractive to others (flowers and aesthetics), and not even for ensuring our health and freedom from

pain (plants as treatments and for relief from pain). The priests (and, by extension, ourselves) perform the burnt offering when there is nothing in it for ourselves, but what we do is entirely for the Other. And the symbol of the Eternal Other is the flame, for man, as the food journalist, Michael Pollan, has written, eats not primarily for his/her health and well-being, but for pleasure, for sociability, for establishing identity and power relationships. (See his 2006 volume, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, which my son, the farmer, contends has transformed his life and his beliefs. Too bad Michael Pollan is so rabidly anti-scientific.)

But why wear linen for a very dirty part of the job, collecting and moving ashes from the altar to beside the altar? And why change when moving the ashes away from the altar? The clothing consists of a linen coat, breeches, belt and mitre, usually interpreted as white and symbolic of purity, for the angel of God is clothed in linen. Because the extraction and weaving of linen is such an expensive and labour-intensive process, we now associate the material with refinement and high style, with quality and expensive attire. But linen is strong and durable. In the Middle Ages, linen was used to make shields (the Etruscans wore armour made of flax and the sails of the Roman fleet were made of flax) and, until very recently, the paper used to make our paper money consisted of 25% linen. By volume and weight, linen is not only much stronger than the core wood of the flax plant from which the linen fibres are separated by retting and scutching, but the longest and finest linen fibres are stronger than steel.

What characterizes linen most of all is its archival integrity, particularly when the slubs, the random small knots in the linen fabric, are not removed. Although in the finest linen fabrics, the slubs are removed, in the authentic and strongest linen, the irregular and discordant slubs that take away from perfectly smooth and refined linen remain. The beauty of linen is not in a wrinkle-free ironed look, but in a material that looks and feels and appears to be part of everyday life. Unlike wool or even cotton, moths cannot attack and weaken the fibre. Neither can water. In fact, unlike other textiles, linen is even stronger when wet and wet linen is not clammy like wet cotton; linen sluffs off water easily. But, most of all, linen resists dirt and stains. There is no better fabric, other than perhaps a rubber apron, to wear in a religious slaughter house or when collecting and setting aside the ashes of a burnt offering, especially since linen is such a cool fabric.

So it is better to think of linen in terms of integrity rather than purity. Though the Hebrew priests wore linen in imitation of the Egyptian priests, it is the combination of functionality with authenticity that is crucial to the wearing that material. But what has all of this to do with the burnt offering? What has all of this to do with the meaning and mores of our contemporary society? Think of God as fire by night (when the burnt offering was consumed by the flames) and cloud by day (water suspended in air), all in pursuit of land by nomads, by hunters and gatherers, for a civilization of settlement.

What are the respective roles of the divine and the human? Let us think of humans that try to make themselves into gods, that presume to take on the role of leadership as firebrands appealing to the rhetoric of strength through sacrifice or, a very different type, anarchists who advocate puffy and cloudy revolution against solidity and routine, against institutions and rituals. We have had illustrations of both types of populists in human history, including the history of the last century. Let me eschew initially the firebrands, especially the better known ones like Hitler and Mussolini, and begin with the amorphous varieties of clouds that throw such a damper on order and good government such as the hippies of the sixties and the preachers of Marxist liberation theology.

I begin by asking why Jews are forbidden to interweave wool and linen. “Thou shalt not wear a mingled garment of wool and linen together.” (Deuteronomy 22:11) Certain mixtures, shaatnez, are forbidden. Josephus, a critic of these priestly rituals, argued that the dictum was to preserve the distinction between the separation of the priestly and the ordinary classes, but that ancient Marxist class explanation never made sense to me since it would have been easier just to forbid ordinary humans from wearing linen. It is the mixture that is forbidden. Further, even in ancient times, the wife of a noble was clothed in fine linen and dressed her bed with the finest linens. (Proverbs 31:22) The point of an establishment is not exclusion but inclusion, not separation from but service for, not to presume superiority but to stand as a bulwark against the inferior. When we mix wool and linen, muddled thinking and disorganization with an elevated institution, we not only get aesthetic shlock, but a dangerous source for undermining the institutions and practices necessary to maintain society.

Rebels against standing institutions can succeed when a country’s institutions reveal extreme fatigue and failure in many of its areas and functions. When inherited practices and customs break down, a vacuum is created to be filled by arsonists and/or mystifiers and mystics – the latter lovers of ambiguity and disorganization. The former arsonists are firebrands; the latter are false prophets who claim to be rainmakers. These dowsers or water-witches promise to imitate Moses and allow water to spring out of rocks and sandy soil using political “divining” rods backed up by pseudoscience. In addition to being dysfunctional, existing political institutions demonstrate an inability to resist the attacks of firebrands and mismanaging mischief makers. The former set out deliberately to destroy existing institutions; the latter do so inadvertently by letting mold and rot seep further into the structures of continuity.

Let me illustrate by first discussing the anti-politics of the cloudy types, the dowsers, and then that of the firebrands, both of which would usurp God’s exclusive role, both of which are determined to tear down inherited traditions and institutions. Dowsers are far less dangerous than firebrands. The dowsers claim to get their power by being in sync with the vibes of the earth. They believe in physical bodies and its instruments, divining rods of all kinds that enable humans to talk with the Earth. When you begin accepting that your physical body can, and is now, absorbing energies from the Earth, then you begin to speak the language of dowsers. At your basic dowsing level, you have “felt”– or been signaled by – the flowing water inside the Earth.

Let me begin with a former Salesian Catholic priest who was a dowser. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was initially held in such high esteem because he stood out as a purist in opposition to the corrupt and powerful in Haiti under the Duvalier regime of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc”. He was first democratically elected President of Haiti in 1990 with 67% of the votes in an honest election and served until 1991 when he was ousted by a coup d’état, reversed in 1994 by US pressure, the threat of force in Operation Uphold Democracy and reinforced by UNSC Res. 940 on 31 July. Aristide took office for a second time in 1994 when he formally left the church and served until 1996 as President of Haiti, and then was re-elected and served from 2001 to 2004 when he was once again ousted in a second coup.

Aristide first earned fame in Haiti as a crusading parish priest for liberation theology when in 1985 he gave a rabble-rousing Easter Week sermon delivered at the Cathedral of Port-au-Prince urging Haitians to reject the regime in the name of righteousness and love, the signature words of a dowser engaged in promoting revolution on behalf of the people so “they would not go hungry.” As if we can feed ourselves on justice and love! Serving the other entails first ensuring that each human is entitled to survive and, against the priestly order, self-survival ranks higher than service to the Other. In 1988, Aristide was forced into hiding for defending the dispossessed and preaching participatory democracy when “vigilantes” attacked his church, burning it to the ground and killing 13 and wounding 77 parishioners with machine guns and machetes as the military and police stood by and refused to intervene.

When Aristide was first elected as President, he was the leader of the Front National pour le Changement et la Démocratie (National Front for Change and Democracy, FNCD). In his second election, he had broken with the FCND, finding its earth-based emphasis on survival alone as inadequate. He founded the Organisation Politique Lavalas, the Struggling People’s Organization (OPL) which demanded a much more radical flood torrent (lavalas in Creole). A revolution cannot be founded on a reference to needs alone but requires that the existing powers be swept away by the turbulent waters underneath that hunger for survival. Revolution, though not resorting to fire, required water as well as earth.

When elected for the second time, the Aristide regime made enormous advances is education (increasing schools, school attendance and access), health (training of doctors with the help of Cuba, reductions in communicable diseases, access), social welfare (public housing, doubling the minimum wage) and counteracting private sources of military power, such as the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. However, whatever social and economic advances were made, Aristide never managed to bring institutional stability to Haiti even as he advanced democracy and the protection of human rights. This is the failure of dowsers – they are unable to ensure stability and continuity, including their own.

There are many other cases of dowsers achieving political power – in Latin America alone, Lucio Gutiérrez in Ecuador and Fernando Lugo in Paraguay – but I have to move on to discuss the threats from firebrands as well.

Instead of finally working to wash away the structures of corruption and the control of the instruments of coercion, firebrands and revolutionary strongmen come to power initially by literally setting fire to opponents and their institutions. Instead of promoting both populism and the constitution, populism means deconstructing and sweeping away any elements of constitutional protection. Essentially, any institutions that stand in the way of their absolute power must be eliminated or mangled beyond recognition, and set aside just as the High Priests of the ancient Hebrews set aside the ashes from the burnt offering. Firebrands usurp the role of the priests to emphasize humans in service to the Other in favour of power for themselves.

Lenin was a firebrand as were Mussolini and Hitler. Sticking to our own hemisphere, Fidel Castro stands out. More recently, so do Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Like the dowsers, they bring about important and valuable reforms, but at far greater cost to human liberty than the dowsers. Further, and more importantly, they have considerably more staying power. All are anti-constitutionalists who end up resting power in the hands of individuals rather than institutions and adding more and more power to the individual leader. They gain power by systematically weakening and attacking any opposition instead of recognizing the crucial role that an opposition plays in a democracy. They attack the rule of law, in particular the judiciary and its independence, as well as institutionalized democracy through an electoral process which they systematically subvert. Finally, they turn their guns on a free press to enable their continuation in office to be secured. They work to suborn the media to their own powers, thereby securing their continuation in office.

I do not believe I need to go on. Firebrands are too familiar. We need institutions in place to protect us from firebrands, but from dowsers as well, for dictatorial democracy in the name of the people and participatory power in their name as well, are inimical to lasting stability combined with fairness and justice. Currently, that role is served by constitutional representative democracy in opposition to populism. In the ancient world, high priests and oracles performed that function. By referencing and ritualizing the repetitive reading of the “burnt offering,” we provide one source of immunity against dowsers and firebrands.

With the help of Alex Zisman


Weaponizing Refugees Part II

Corporealism XIX: Body Politics in the Middle East

Weaponizing Refugees Part II


Howard Adelman

Yesterday I set forth General Breedlove’s thesis that Russia deliberately instigated the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe to destabilize the EU and weaken its resolve in countering Russia’s expansionist aims.

What are the facts? First, as of about six months ago (September 2015), approximately 4 million refugees were produced by Syria in addition to another 7-8 million internally displaced, about half the population in the country. This was before the significant. Russian intervention that began at the end of September last year. Can the main cause of the displacement of about half a million more Syrians since September, and expectations that in 2016 we will see even more Syrians flooding Europe than the record number of about one million seen in 2015, be traced to that Russian intervention? And even if it can be, can that result be connected to a deliberate attempt by Russia to use the refugees to destabilize Europe?

There is a correlation between military attacks and displacement. In March of 2012 when we witnessed the first really large waves of refugees since the civil war began a year earlier, 2,000 fled to Lebanon after the attacks on Homs. Up to 20,000 arrived in Turkey and, in anticipation of tens of thousands more, Turkey built refugee camps in Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep and Sanlurfa. Already 80,000 had arrived in Jordan. With the April 2012 offensive by the Syrian army before the first of many UN-sponsored peace plans went into effect, 25,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Turkey in just over a week. The total number of refugees in Jordan increased by a whopping 50,000, from 80,000 to 130,000.

The refugees then were mostly women and children as the younger men mostly stayed behind as volunteers to fight Assad. As the numbers mounted by ten thousand a month, by August we recorded the first refugees getting on boats to reach the EU. Between August and December, the number of refugees quadrupled so the numbers were beginning to approach a million.

Russia was nowhere in the picture then, other than as a contractual supplier of weapons to the Syrian government. Russia’s exports of arms to Syria – roughly 1.5 billion dollars per year, including MI-25 helicopter gunships, the Buk-M2 air defense system, Yak-130 jet trainers – represented 10% of Russia’s military export trade. Amnesty International charged Russia with being complicit in crimes against humanity. Does anyone believe Assad had forced a million people into exile to undercut the unity of the EU?

In 2013, 2,000-3,000 refugees left Syria every day so that, by the end of the year, there were a million more refugees escaping violence and chaos, searching for shelter, food, water and medical supplies. Double that number simply went to other safer parts of the country, at the time, relatively untouched by the war. America, not Russia, began its meagre military contribution to the Syrian rebels. During that year, almost 5,000 refugees crossed to Italy.

Sweden offered 8,000 Syrian refugees permanent residence and family reunification for asylum seekers. However, the EU and state governments largely ignored warnings that such moves would both create a pull factor and lead to the creation of smuggling operations by organized criminal units. As is typical in countries of first asylum, each in turn developed compassion fatigue and tensions arise in each of the countries as the intake was not matched by any even modest orderly departure and resettlement programs by the West or even in any reasonable sharing of the humanitarian burden.

At the very same time, in September of 2013, Russia in a diplomatic initiative, perhaps more to prevent an American air intervention than for any humanitarian considerations, initiated the diplomatic move to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. At the same time, The New York Times published Vladimir Putin’s op-ed (12 September 2013) urging the U.S. not to intervene unilaterally in Syria and to seek a negotiated settlement. Russia argued all along that any effort to promote domestic reforms in foreign states based on ideological preferences (whether communist or liberal revolution) usually resulted in disaster rather than progress.

But the crisis only grew as a million more refugees were produced in 2014, now coming primarily from areas captured by ISIS, which suddenly emerged as a potent force in mid-year. Can anyone rationally claim that Russia was really the invisible hand behind the rise of ISIS? The number of Syrian refugees totalled about three million.

During 2015, another million refugees fled largely to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Turkey opened its exit gates and, by the end of the summer, over 303,000 asylum seekers had flooded Europe; almost 90,000 arrived in Germany alone. By the end of the year, the number of refugees reached 4 million and at least one million had fled to Europe, most after the Russians intervened at the end of September. Did Russia intervene to instigate a greater flight to Europe with the purpose of undermining the EU? Or did the milquetoast support of the rebels by the West over the previous few years influence the rapid exodus over the last two years? Did Western weak support reach an apex when 60 U.S. trained Free Syrian army fighters entered Syria from Jordan and were quickly decimated by the al-Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nusra Front?.

Compare that to the robust intervention by the Russians, approved unanimously by the Federation Council (Russia’s equivalent to the American Senate) – 12 Su-25 ground attack aircraft, 12 Su-24 interdictor aircraft, 6 Sukhoi Su-34 bombers, 4 Su-30 combat aircraft, 15 attack and rescue helicopters, surface-to-air antiaircraft systems, BM-30 missile launchers, surveillance drones, 6 T-90 tanks, 15 large pieces of artillery, 35 armoured personnel carriers and an initial instalment of boots on the ground in the form of 200 marines, all serving to help revive Assad’s prospects. That alone made many Syrians give up on the idea of ever returning home. The lesson: if you are going to intervene militarily, don’t simply stick a pinkie in the cauldron.

If Russia all along had a secret plan to destabilize Europe by producing millions of refugees, why did it lead the world in efforts to end the Syrian civil war in 2012 and put pressure on Assad to agree to reform the constitution and the electoral process?  Why in April 2012 did Russia agree to a UN draft resolution to provide UN observers to monitor the cease-fire with Assad agreeing to return his troops and heavy artillery to their bases? Russia’s bottom line throughout the war was that Assad had to stay in power, presumably under a reformed system, otherwise a vacuum would be created for an extremist Islamist takeover of Syria, an outcome absolutely antithetical to Russian interests.

Since there is no evidence whatsoever of Russia intending to produce more refugees or intending that those refugees head for Europe, or even envisioning that 1 million refugees among a population of 350,000,000 could break the back of Europe, why would anyone even entertain a hypothesis of the “weaponization of refugees” when there are much easier explanations, all much more compatible with the facts? Unless the charge is really not intended to explain the movement but distract attention away from the West’s role. With the exception of Sweden and Germany, there is virtually no significant evidence of Western states engaging in any responsible large scale burden sharing.

Without widespread political leadership championing a humanitarian approach, again with German Chancellor Angela Merkel being the exception to show most leaders up, there is no one to combat the usual widespread populist insecurities that accompany wide scale immigration into a country, especially when it is uncontrolled migration. So right- wing parties thrive and states, beginning with the right-wing government in Hungary, close their gates to refugees. The backlash was in full swing. That cannot be blamed on Russia, even though Russia played a significant role in perpetuating the war and exacerbating the fears.

At the end of February 2016, there were almost 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon, 630,000 in Jordan, a quarter million in Iraq and absolutely zero in any of the Gulf Arab states. It cost Turkey alone $8 billion a year in humanitarian assistance, with only 60% of that amount promised to be offered for distribution among all the first asylum countries in 2016. As ruthless and self-serving as Russia has been throughout the crisis, while offering zero opportunities for resettlement (though some Circassians managed to get back to their original homes almost a century earlier in the Caucasus), how is it possible to ascribe the blame for this crisis to a deliberate plan of Russia? Frankly, it is a preposterous thesis!

Given the extensive bombing, strafing and counter-attacks by the newly-equipped Assad forces on the ground and air strikes from the sky, it should be no surprise that an additional half a million refugees were the result. But was that the prime goal of the bombing? Was the increased record flows from Turkey into Europe, at a pace exceeding even last year’s, a result of this increased intensity in the fighting? Or had the refugees concluded that the civil war had been lost, a by-product of a conviction that Assad, with Russian backing, would not fall, and that territory controlled by the “moderate rebels” now would be re-captured? This belief was reinforced when the Americans would not even introduce a no-fly zone to protect the moderate rebels. Besides civilians getting out of the way of the battle, most had finally lost all hope of a succession by a more liberal regime. The rise of ISIS had not helped, but in various interviews it has not been hard to detect that the refugees had given up on Syria as their home and that they merely wanted to live somewhere else in relative peace and security.

Yet the “weaponization of forced migrants” thesis has received some high level support. Senator John McCain, a former Republican candidate for president in the U.S., has adopted Greenhill’s position. He claimed that President Vladimir Putin “wants to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project.” That Russia wants to expand its presence and influence in the Middle East is, I believe, incontrovertible. That Russia rejoiced at the disarray currently in Europe over a humanitarian approach to the Syrian refugees is likely. But that Russia intended precisely such a result, that long preceded its own large ramped-up involvement almost six months ago, is barely credible even when endorsed by an American air force general charged with the responsibility for the military defence of Europe. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoĝlu joined the chorus. Russia is “behaving like a terrorist organization and forcing civilians to flee” by carrying out air strikes “without any discrimination between civilians and soldiers, or children and the elderly.”

Fabrice Balanche, from the University of Lyon, argued that Russia’s and Assad’s forces have together devised a “conscious strategy of ethnic cleansing” against Sunni Arab tribes and other groups who oppose the Syrian regime. Sunnis have been a specific target of the Assad regime. In what has been by and large a sectarian conflict between the ruling minority Alawites, a Shiite offshoot supported by Iran, and the Sunni majority, the exile of one group or the other, depending on who was winning, was to be expected. But why have so many other minorities fled, minorities that had not been persecuted by the Assad regime, but, in fact, often enjoyed the protection of that regime? Why have Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis and other Christians, Druze, Ismailis, Palestinians and Mandaeans fled, and Circassians even returned to the North Caucasus of Russia? Were Assad and his Russian backers simply indifferent to producing refugees since they seemed to readily attack and bomb even hospitals? Balanche argues that hospitals have been deliberately targeted to force people to move.

I cannot believe that scholars, political and military leaders have bought into such a flimsy thesis! But, after all, the leading Republican candidates for president in the U.S. have spouted such extreme nonsense as to make Breedlove’s claim even seem sensible. Senator Cruz, the only remaining candidate who has even a slight chance of beating Trump in the race for a majority of delegates for the Republican Convention, at the end of last year tabled the Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act barring any refugees coming from countries where territories are controlled by terrorists, Ted Cruz claims that 77% of the refugees “pouring into Europe right now” are young males. 63% are, not 77%. Further, single males frequently precede their families to mitigate risk and prepare a place for resettlement.

Donald Trump (17 November 2015) is far more outlandish, blaming not Russia but the Obama administration for planning to take in 100,000 to 250,0000 Syrian refugees (instead of the meagre 10,000 approved for 2016, though Trump’s imagined number would be a more responsible figure) and deliberately resettling Syrian refugees in states with Republican governors so as not to destabilize Democratic-governed states and to destabilize Republican ones, as well, presumably, to produce a constituency that will vote for the Democrats. Facts: 31 of 50 states have Republican governors and they have received two-thirds of a tiny number of just under 2,000 refugees, 41 refugees on average for Republican states compared to 36 for Democratic states. All refugees were distributed among states by NGOs, not political bodies. The intake of refugees is often a tribute to the generosity of small town America with no political role in the decision whatsoever.

Such are the extremes that the projection of illusionary and phantasmagorical intentions can reach.


With the help of Alex Zisman

Weaponizing Refugees Part I

Corporealism XIX: Body Politics in the Middle East

Weaponizing Refugees Part I


Howard Adelman

Today’s blog deals with “the weaponization of refugees.” This is an aside, but is relevant to the point I want to make about Canadian defence and foreign policy and the recent radical shift in Canadian policy where Canada has deliberately accepted a challenge to resettle a significant number of Syrian refugees to help play a part in easing the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.

In that context and in the context of my writings on the Middle East, I received an e-mail from a CBC researcher/journalist asking if I was available to go on the Current, CBC’s morning current affairs show, on Thursday to discuss General Phillip Breedlove’s contention that the West had to develop a coherent policy about the “weaponization of refugees.” Breedlove is NATO’s top commander in Europe. I was not available because of a prior commitment which I could not change. This blog, hopefully, will serve somewhat as a substitute.

The phrase “weaponization of refugees.” has three different meanings. One interpretation of that phrase is about Daesh sending trained fifth columnists hidden among the refugees flooding into Europe (the returnee problem) as well as recruiting from alienated believers in Islam from among the dispirited refugees as well, presumably, from alienated Islamic youth raised in Europe. A second meaning refers to the militarization of refugees in camps which are used for raids on the country from which they fled.  The camps are used for many purposes, including R&R for militants, before launching another attack. Armed refugee camps usually de-stabilize the country in which they are located as well continue violence along the border of the country from which they fled. Sarah Kenyon Lischer produced an excellent report for the Mellon Foundation on militarized refugee populations using the refugees from former Yugoslavia as a case study.

However, there is another meaning – the use of coerced migration itself  to sow discord among other countries aside from the countries of first asylum. Philip Breedlove issued a warning in his oral testimony before the U.S. Armed Services Senate Committee last week (1 March 2016) claiming that Russia and Syria were using the pressure of massive numbers of refugees to disrupt the West, sow discord and division in Europe and weaken the Western alliance. NATO’s 28 member military defence alliance of Western nations. Given his status, Breedlove’s claim must be granted an initial credence. So his claim cannot be easily discounted as that of a crackpot.

The claim was made in his oral presentation and was not part of his written submission. I believe the written contentions are unassailable. In that written submission, he took up the issue of the first meaning of the “weaponization of refugees”, the seeding of terrorists from the refugee population flooding Europe and the recruitment of new members from susceptible youth. Breedlove pointed to three dangers. First, the threat of recruitment. “There is a concern that criminals, terrorists, foreign fighters and other extremist organizations will recruit from the primarily Muslim populations arriving in Europe, potentially increasing the threat of terrorist attacks.” Second, there is the threat from the backlash. “[L]ocal nationalists opposed to a large-scale influx of foreigners could become increasingly violent, building on the small number of attacks against migrant and refugee housing observed to date.”

Third, there are native-born and/or raised Islamicist extremists who volunteered to serve in Syria and have returned with military experience, training and enhanced ideological beliefs. “Foreign terrorist fighters remain a key concern for EUCOM and our foreign partners. Over 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria to enlist with Islamist terrorist groups, including at least 4,500 Westerners. Terrorist groups such as ISIL and Syria’s al-Nusra Front (ANF) remain committed to recruiting foreigners, especially Westerners, to participate in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The ability of many of these Europe-originated foreign fighters to return to Europe or the U.S. makes them ideal candidates to conduct or inspire future terrorist attacks.”

However, a main thrust of his oral presentation focused on the third meaning of the “weaponization of refugees.” What were his arguments? At its core, it is simple. Russia in alliance with Syria is deliberately forcing Syrians into becoming refugees. The two countries are doing this with only one single purpose in mind – not to get rid of supporters of the opposition to the Syrian regime, not simply to expunge other minorities at odds with the Alawite-dominated regime, but to weaken Europe, to send massive and continuous waves of refugees fleeing westward. In their desperation for security, for safely, for shelter, for food, for medical treatment, refugees will overwhelm European structures and undermine the European resolve to resist Russia’s geopolitical aims in Eastern Europe, specifically the Donetsk region of the Ukraine and Moldova, as well as in the Middle East. Putin has once again made Russia a power broker in the Middle East. The flow of refugees has been a prime weapon of choice, hence, “the weaponization of refugees.”

The barrel bombs raining down on Syrian cities and towns where the opposition gained some strength is not just intended to degrade that opposition, but to produce a massive exodus. That exodus has a much larger political goal. “These indiscriminate weapons used by both Bashar al-Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces – I can’t find any other reason for them other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem.” As if the use of barrel bombs has only been a recent development in Syria.

According to Breedlove, Russia entered the Syrian theatre with enormous resources this past year, in the fifth year of the Syrian War, not just to buck-up the Assad regime, nor just to secure its naval position in the Mediterranean and its base in Tartus, Syria. (Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, however, on 26 June 2013 had once announced that the base was superfluous to Russian needs and no longer served any strategic military role for Russia.) Refugees flooded Turkey, not just to humiliate Turkey, an old adversary, but to suck in Turkey as an instrument of Russian policy to open the gates between Turkey and the EU in both revenge for the EU’s hard stance against Russia over the Ukraine issue, but also as a long term policy to fundamentally break the back of Europe by setting its path towards unity in a number of areas into reverse gear.

Breedlove went even further. “Russia,” he said, “poses a long term existential [my italics] threat to the United States.” Existential threat!!! One listens to Breedlove’s words and cannot help but think of Abraham Lincoln’s oft quoted famous first public speech at the Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, called, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” I quote at some length, even if only to read such inspiring rhetoric. Lincoln said:

We [the American People] find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

America has never been really challenged by an existential threat, a threat to its continued existence as a state, by any external power, even in the surprise attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbour. The threat, whether in the approaching civil war in the mid-nineteenth century, in the rise of McCarthyism and dealing with the communist threat after WWII, and currently in the fear generated by extremist Islamicist terrorists, has never been existential. America’s greatest threats have always come from within.

Breedlove’s claim, though always presented in the most calm and considerate manner, is so hyperbolic that it is hard to offer a dispassionate and detached consideration of his claim that:

  1. Russia and Assad are deliberately producing a mass outflow of refugees;
  2. The sole and overtly intentional objective is to sow discord in Europe;
  3. Weakening Europe in this way poses an existential threat to the S.

“Russia is eager to exert unquestioned influence over its neighbouring states in its buffer zone… so has used military force to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, Georgia and others, like Moldova.” True enough. Further, Russia exceeded any indication of the extent of its intervention in Syria when Russia indicated that it was only bringing in a few men and some material. Again, true enough, verifying the first rule of war is deception.

The phrase “weaponization of refugees” or “weaponization of mass migration” did not originate with Breedlove, but with Kelly Greenhill, an Associate Professor at Tufts University and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He wrote a book called, Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion and Foreign Policy. It is no accident that “weapons of mass migration” resonates so well with “weapons of mass destruction.” For the former is viewed as a developed twenty-first century exacerbation and inflation of a technique the author dates back to WWII and that has been used almost sixty times in the aftermath of that world war.

Essentially, Greenhill argues that engineered forced migration is a strategic tool used by governments to extract concessions from other governments. Turkey when it opened its gates to allow Syrian refugees to flee westward may not have used forced or coerced migration, but it did use induced migration to extract $3.3 billion in refugee aid from the EU as well as a promise by the EU to develop an organized and coordinated resettlement program for some of those refugees.

But was this instrumentalization of migration the Syrian intent? Was this the Russian intent? And was it used, not primarily for blackmail to help out an ostensible partner with a serious domestic problem of crisis proportions, but as a tool of foreign policy to weaken and even undermine an alliance that is viewed as a threat? Was it a primary goal for either party? And to what extent is it a threat to the EU and, by extension, to North America?

Tomorrow: The Response


With the help of Alex Zisman

Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

Corporealism XVIII: Body Politics in the Middle East

Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?


Howard Adelman

If I have characterized Daesh with reasonable accuracy, how should the West best fight this menace? Daesh is ensconced in eastern Syria and in western Iraq separated from the Turkish and Iranian borders by Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq controlled by Iraqi Kurds and its Peshmerga forces. Daesh also has a presence in an oil rich small area of Libya. Daesh first captured Rojava after the Syrian army retreated in 2012. The great victory was the capture of Mosul that allowed ISIL to declare a caliphate established in the summer 2014.  This key victory included the defeat of the Iraqi army which literally turned tail.

Since then, ISIS has suffered setback after setback and the number of militants identified with its cause and fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria is now estimated to have fallen from 31,500 to 25,000 altogether. (“The latest assessment about the number of fighters who are fighting on behalf of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria – based on an earlier assessment – was up to 31,500 fighters in that region of the world.  There’s a new assessment from our intelligence community that indicates that that number is now up to about 25,000 fighters.”  U.S. White House Press Secretary John Earnest 2 February 2016)

The key force that has limited the expansion of Daesh and that has itself expanded to fill the vacuum has been that of the Kurds of Northern Iraq and Syria who have won back Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit. Within Iraq, the Kurds now control disputed Kirkuk completely. In northern Syria, the Kurds much more than ISIS are being attacked by Turkish jets.

ISIS has been pushed back. The question is not its defeat but when and how and what part Canada and other countries in the West should play in its defeat. For the dilemma is a matter of “boots on the ground.” The West has relied on the Kurds with 120,000 experienced, battle-trained and determined fighters, largely equipped by the U.S. The other force countering Daesh has been a reconstituted Iraqi army, also trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies. In the meanwhile, Russia and Iran are supporting Assad and his re-equipped army with Russian air support. Those forces have captured large swaths of territory from the American-supported Syrian rebels who lacked any air support or significant amounts of updated equipment.

In this multi-faceted war with multiple sides with some parties on the same side really engaged in supporting opposite strategies on the ground – the Turks and the Americans. The point is that the defeat of Daesh must be seen within a much larger context. The thirty million Kurds have been seeking an independent state since the end of World War I where, in the divvying up of the Middle East among the Great Powers, they were left divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and to a small extent, Iran. They now have de facto independence in northern Iraq and in parts of Syria. They are also the major boots on the ground responsible for the pushback of Daesh. But what is in it for them to combat Daesh in Mosul? It is not a Kurdish city. So the Allies are buying time to retrain and strengthen the Iraqi army. But a strengthened Iraqi army to the south of the Kurds endangers their quasi-independence. So if ISIL totally loses, they are likely to lose the strategic advantage they enjoy currently.

The other major concern is Turkey, which views the rise of the Kurds as the greatest threat they face, not Daesh. Turkey is involved in widescale bombing of Turkish Kurdish territories as well as Kurdish-controlled area in Syria under the guise of the war against ISIL. This is the paradox. The boots on the ground best able to defeat Daesh supplied by the Kurds and those supported by the Turks respectively, each for very opposite reasons, has no reason to destroy Daesh. At the same time, the Kurds in Syria have consistently ignored Turkey’s threats – such as when Turkey insisted that the red line of the Euphrates was not to be crossed by Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria. The Kurds, like the Russians subsequently, ignored Erdoğan’s bluster, even when they were attacked by Turkish jets. In fact, in the battle over the Menagh airbase, the Syrian Kurds defeated the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has been a proxy on the ground for Turkey.

The problem is not the defeat of Daesh, but the political order that the allies want to emerge out of the wreck in Iraq and now the even much worse wreck in Syria. In Iraq, the Kurds are at their peak now. If the allies build up the Iraqi army now to defeat ISIL, then what will almost certainly follow eventually will be a war between the central government in Iraq and the Kurds. And the Kurds fear being abandoned once again by the West after they have done the main dirty work in stopping and pushing back Daesh.

If the Iraq situation were not complicated enough, the issue of the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds exponentially increases the problem. When the revolution in Syria broke out in 2011, Turkey envisioned extending its influence southward. But Turkey has been thwarted at every turn – the rise of the Kurds in power in key parts of Syria along half of the border between Turkey and Syria, the increasing weakness of the rebels against Assad, the Russian support for Assad that has brought the two powers close to war with Turkey effectively now breaching Turkish air space almost with impunity.

More on the Kurds. They are not natural allies of the West; they have been allies of convenience. Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), may have been in jail since 1999, but he not only remains the titular head of the PKK in Turkey but the de facto head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) based in Rojava, Syria and in Kobani, Syria where the Kurds delivered a resounding defeat to Daesh. The Kurds even captured Tal Abyad on the Turkish border and sent chills up the spine of President Erdoğan. Turkey may be an ally of the U.S. and a member of NATO, but the Kurdish boots on the ground fighting ISIS, whatever their skills, courage and determination, have been helped enormously by American air cover, the very air cover the Canadian CF-18s have now backed away from providing. Further, the main spotters have not been the aircraft that Canada and other coalition partners have left in the air – they mainly confirm reports from the ground that come virtually exclusively from the Kurds who then mop up after the fighter jets have destroyed the identified targets.

The Tories have been dead right. The air strikes against ISIS have been highly effective. It is estimated that in the battle for Kobani, air strikes, leaving aside injuries inflicted, killed over 10% of ISIL militants on the ground in the months of fighting for Kobani. But that does not mean that Canada should continue participating in the air strikes. Or, for that matter, even advising and training troops on the ground. It depends on what Canada envisions as the outcome it favours and whether there is a realistic prospect of bringing about its preferred outcome.

The key factor is the de facto new quasi alliance between Russia and the U.S., two world powers that seem to once again dividing up the Middle East as spheres of influence by either side. Will the cease fire they have organized bring peace to Syria and on what terms? Shades of the end of WWI and WWII! The situation will become even more destablized when, as I anticipate, Turkey implodes under all the competing pressures and the series of failures in Turkish foreign policy under Erdoğan, matched by even greater political and economic crises at home. Kurdistan, with its apparent stability, is also seething underneath in a general context of a recession instigated in good part by the dramatic decline in oil prices compounded by corruption and nepotism.

I could go on. But my purpose here is not to lay out a political-economic and military analysis of that part of the Middle East, but merely to point to three main themes:

  1. The defeat of Daesh is not the main problem – that will come; it is just a matter of when, where and how.
  2. The defeat is not a matter of destroying an insurgency in a battle for hearts and minds, but destroying the army of a quasi-state.
  3. The main problem is regional stability; right now it is a balagan, in Hebrew, an absolute and total mess.

Begin with the immediate problem, the coming battle over Mosul and even perhaps Raqqa, the presumptive capital of the Caliphate. It is no secret that the coalition forces will be attacking Mosul, likely in the spring and certainly by summer. Will Daesh stand and fight to the last man and woman? Hardly likely. They have not done so thus far. And their sending out signals that they will is but the first rule of warfare – deceive your enemies. When claiming that you will stand to the last militant, plan a careful retreat, first of the political leadership and then of the military leadership, and finally, whatever militants can be saved while leaving enough to sacrifice as many civilians as possible in Mosul. Evidently, the political leadership has already relocated to Libya in anticipation of the next defeat. For the second rule of warfare is, when you know you have a significantly inferior force, evade direct conflict with the enemy.

Whatever Daesh suffers on the moral front, they clearly understand the basic laws for conducting war. The fact that they are ethically challenged is not only revealed in their cutting off of heads and the severe repression they practice about dress and social behaviour, but also in the moral deterioration already underway as the leadership deserts and the militants resort to corruption and smuggling civilians out of Mosul for US$500 a person. Daesh will leave behind sleeper cells to work behind enemy lines. For they realize they are at the mercy of fighter jets in the air and have to avoid open battles lest their backs be broken by the jet-fueled falcons and hawks patrolling the skies that will break their backs if they appear openly. Hence the rapid decline in missions and the ability of the coalition to release Canada from its commitment to supply six CF-18s.

In the battle against Mosul, the coalition partners have much to learn from the Israeli battles in Gaza with roughly the same population. However, the coalition has one major advantage. It can conduct a pincer movement as Kagame did in 1994 in Rwanda and allow the enemy to escape. I am convinced the allies will follow this pattern otherwise the costs to civilian lives in Mosul will be too high. A third law of warfare is that the best victories are based on building a golden bridge to allow your enemy to retreat. When they cross that bridge, attack them from the air on the other side.

The problem, to repeat once again, will not be to defeat ISIS in battle, but to win the war. And I have not read anywhere what a victory at that level will look like.  Further, unless victory in the war is envisaged, the battle may be won, but the losses will be much greater as has been the pattern in so many American wars from Vietnam on. The key problem is not victory in the battle over Mosul, but victory in the war in the Middle East. And the wars fought there, whether under a Democratic or a Republican commander-in-chief, have been disastrous because battles are being fought, not wars.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Israelis, it may be impossible to fight a real war because of diplomatic and other considerations. But that does not seem to be the case with the Americans. Except they no longer recognize what war they are fighting and what they are fighting for. Stopping ISIL is the least of their worries. The problem is that the lack of clear direction from the Obama administration is certainly far better than the mass hysteria, currently being whipped up by the Republican Party front runner. And it is not just The Donald that is the problem. He is just the loudest barker by far in the current American political circus on the Republican side. After all, it was overwhelmingly Republican state governors who announced that they would not permit Muslim Syrian refugees to enter their states. It was these Governors who initially completely ignored the laws of the United States and the Constitution.

I wrote on Friday that a core of politics is not inflaming emotions and passions. On shabat, on the day dedicated to peace, the real purpose of fighting any war has been determined. Further, the precedent must be set for skill, understanding and judgment to rule the roost. Instead, all three appear to be totally invisible on the Republican side and just barely on the horizon in the case of the current American administration in spite of its enormous efforts to reign in the war hawks.

So the coalition lacks strong and wise leadership that allows us to discern the overall goals and strategy. The U.S. was correct to release Canada from its responsibilities to continue contributing CF-18s from the war in Iraq and Syria because those jets were, in fact, no longer what was really needed. But why train Iraqi soldiers unless we want Kurdistan in Iraq eventually to be significantly reduced in size and even eliminated, and, if the course as set continues to be followed, eventually ending the dream of an independent Kurdistan. The chance to redeem just one of the major errors from WWI will be lost.

Should Canada back the Kurds, not just opportunistically as the Americans currently appear to be doing, but long term? I do not know. I am, however, convinced that unless we answer that key question, we cannot have a judicious and intelligent foreign policy in the area backed up by the limited military forces we are able to contribute. What about Turkey? Should we continue backing our formal ally Turkey which, under Erdoğan has been practicing a vicious anti-democratic policy over the last few years and one even far more dictated by a combination of whim and hysteria than even the U.S. Republicans are promising.

ISIS may be a much bigger threat than either al-Nusra and al-Qaeda because it is driven by a war strategy and not an insurgency, and it has brought sabotage and not just terror to the home fronts of its enemies. So ISIS as an organization needs to be extinguished. But let us not exaggerate the threat as U.S. Air Force General Phillip M. Breedlove, the supreme allied commander in Europe who dubbed ISIS an existential threat. The real threat is that America may be in the process of blowing up whatever degree of sobriety there is left in America and setting off a really-out-of-control wildfire. Do not light matches at home on shabat if your eventual goal is peace.

On the other hand, ISIL terrorists are not just out-of-control testosterone driven thrill-seeking teenagers. Their average age is 26. They are dedicated and sober, even if truly psychopathic martyrs for their cause. But the West in warfare can take advantage of that wish to die a martyr by making it convenient for them, without sacrificing a sense of security and swaths of civilians in exchange. They have largely been nihilistic mass killers alienated from institutions of order and cool rational judgment who use Islam as justification for their heated madness and cold compassion.

What about the NDP’s proposals to concentrate on cutting off the financing of ISIS and acquiring more intelligence on the movements of volunteers for ISIS? The latter is declining anyway. On gathering intelligence overseas, Canada lacks and in-depth capacity. As for cutting off financing that has already been underway led by the Americans and Canada is a bit player in that game.

What about the push to increase humanitarian and development aid even further? The reality is that Canada under the Liberals by ratio to population already contributes roughly the highest amount in both categories compared to the $5.1 billion in total dollars committed by the U.S. to emergency aid, the $3.3 billion EU, $3.6 billion from Germany, $1.75 billlion from the U.K., etc. As my opening paragraph indicated, the replenishment of fighters has largely been effectively staunched and ISIL which is no longer able to replenish its losses. I think these NDP suggestions look more like panic in search of a policy and a strategy, though the NDP is the only party calling for a consistent policy within an overall plan.

The real larger issue is how to contain the enormous ambitions of Iran and Russia, which has already checked Turkey. Obama has been counting on diplomacy since he is unwilling to contribute more American troops on the ground to the fight. In the meanwhile, Assad’s forces, reinforced by Iranians and Hezbollah volunteers and resupplied by Russia and provided air cover by the Russian air force, has been able to recover control of a great deal of territory and even totally encircle Aleppo, which had been under the control of America’s Syrian allies according to a study by the Institute for the Study of War in its 5 February Report. In addition, the military pressure on Kuweires Airbase has been relieved and the threat along the Mediterranean coast to the Russian fleet has virtually been eliminated, at great cost to the Turkish strategic aim of bringing down the Assad regime. Russia has emerged as a “hero” against Turkish military intervention in Iraq. Thus, Turkey’s ambitions in Iraq have been set back considerably.

The Russians and their allies conducted a very strategic operation to suck the rebels and other militants from urban areas into the open and to destroy them there, indicating that the rebels were more committed to saving civilian lives at the cost of strategic advantage, especially in comparison to Daesh. The biggest winners over the past year have been Assad, the Russians and the Iranians, though the losses on the ground for both the Iranians (143 officers alone from the rank of captain up) and their cannon fodder from Hezbollah volunteers has been huge in addition to the huge cost in dollars, which Iran could ill afford at this time, estimated at $6-12 billion per year, after having lost $450-500 billion since the sanctions took effect and while costs rise for its support of the Houthis in Yemen as Saudi Arabia directly supports the other side.

In my estimation, the current “peace” efforts offer an opportunity for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to recuperate and regroup from the recent strenuous efforts and unrestrained attacks on civilian populations, a justifiable concern that handicaps the West in the type of warfare being fought in Syria. There is clearly no comparable effort by the Western coalition to counter the Syrian-Iranian-Russian partnership and that coalition, not Daesh, has been the major victor over the last year of the war. The peace talks look to me more like a front to confer de facto victory to Assad and his backers.

So where does this put the various parties in the Canadian parliament, ignoring the separatist party in this assessment. The Tories appear to want to fight last year’s battles. The NDP seems determined to be irrelevant. And the Liberal policy may be the most delusionary since this is not a war for hearts and minds, but a typical power play by regional and international actors. If this assessment is anywhere near correct, how does it affect the development of an overall Canadian defence strategy and our deployment of troops in the Middle East? In the next blog, I will deal with the need for a revitalized defence policy and intervention policy for Syria and Iraq. Clearly it will be a sketch only since I have merely provided a caricature of what has been going on in Iraq and Syria rather than a detailed area by area analysis of this multi-sided competition for power and control in the region.


With the help of Alex Zisman

The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – Defining the Enemy

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

D. The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – Defining the Enemy


Howard Adelman

Sūn Zǐ, a 6th century BCE, Chinese general and author of The Art of War, wrote, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” The Greek philosophical motto from Socrates was, “Know thyself!” The complementary practical motto may be equally or even more important. “Know thine enemy.”

Characterizing ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant) or Daesh as evil incarnate and adding to it adverbs and adjectives like vicious, as the Conservatives, Liberals and, on occasion, the NDP even did, may be accurate bit it is not much help in understanding ISIS. It may help rally the forces on one’s own side, by representing the target in absolute moral language, but limiting oneself to condemnatory language does not help us develop the skills of defeating an enemy in war. By using verbs like extinguish, exterminate, eradicate, we forget that the object of all war is the defeat of the enemy not elimination. Cockroaches and termites need to be exterminated. Enemies need to be degraded and decimated as a fighting force. War is a noble enterprise. Genocide, even of a horrific enemy, is not. In my next blog, I will focus on the art of war, on the means of defeating ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. In today’s blog, I will characterize the enemy and not simply brand ISIS with colourful moral language.

It is not as if there is any shortage of scholarship on Daesh or on terrorism more generally. There is, in fact, a plethora of material. As one example, Peter Bergen, Courtney Schuster and David Sterman wrote, “ISIS in the West: The New Faces of Extremism,” for the think tank, New America (November 2015), a long essay or study of home-grown Islamic extremists who have gone off to join ISIS and whose return may pose a hidden danger to the U.S., Canada and the West more generally. David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt wrote a journalist piece called, “ISIS’ Grip on Libyan City [Surt] Gives it a Fallback Option” (28 November 2015). That essay describes the strategy and many of the tactics used by Daesh. More generally, there is the journal of an old friend, Alex Schmid (if you are reading this, I recall very fondly staying in your house in Holland). Alex edits, Perspectives on Terrorism put out by the Terrorism Research Initiative in Vienna, which he directs. The journal has published a number of issues filled with excellent analyses of different aspects of terrorism. His edited 2011 volume, The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research is a “must read” and, while terrorism is neither a legal term in international law nor a scientific classification, Alex brought together a number of depictions arrived at through examining the various uses of the term in academic literature. They are quoted in the edited volume in twelve points. I offer a pitted version.

Terrorism is primarily political in its motivation and its societal repercussions as a fear-generating coercive tactic either 1) by individual perpetrators, small groups or diffuse transnational networks to resist the real or alleged illegal use of state power, or 2) by repressive states and its spies and proxies to carry out illegal state repression. [States may practice terrorism, but states are not terrorists.] Terrorism is “a conspiratorial practice of calculated, demonstrative, direct violent action without legal or moral restraints” aimed at larger audiences and leaders utilizing shocking  brutality and  lack of discrimination,  carried out for dramatic or symbolic quality in total disregard of both the rules of warfare and of punishment. Terrorism targets mainly civilians and non-combatants for propagandistic and psychological effects on various audiences and conflict parties, assisted by the media, to instil fear, dread, panic or anxiety through threat-based communication processes to demoralize, fracture or even destroy constituencies. Terrorist tactics do not constitute war, though such acts are part of irregular warfare, but are single-phase, dual, triple or a series of acts of lethal violence – bombings, armed assaults, hijacking, disappearances, kidnapping, secret detention, torture and murder and other forms of hostage-taking for coercive bargaining. Terrorism sews insecurity and is intended to terrorize, intimidate, antagonize, disorientate, destabilize, coerce, compel, demoralize or provoke a target population and, thereby, manipulate the political process.

On 24 May 2014, a man wearing a dark baseball cap and carrying several bags walked into the Jewish Museum of Belgium in the centre of Brussels. It was 10 minutes to four. The man pulled out an AK-47 and started shooting. Ninety seconds later, three museum visitors were dead; a fourth, critically injured in the attack, would later die of his wounds. The shooter managed to escape on foot and was captured six days later, after a nationwide manhunt. He was revealed to be Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national who had traveled to Syria and served as a jailer for the Islamic State. When arrested, he was carrying a bag containing a Kalashnikov, a .38, cameras, a gas mask, and about 330 rounds of ammunition. Nemmouche, we now know, wasn’t working alone. He was part of a network run by his friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian who had traveled to Syria and became an ISIS “Emir of War” in the Deir es-Zor governate. Like Nemmouche, Abaaoud, too, returned to Europe with the intention of pursuing jihad. His efforts were more successful than his disciple’s, leaving 130 people dead in a series of attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. (Liel Leibovitz, Tablet 1 December 2015)

My friend, Raphael Cohen-Almagor, an Israeli academic now based in Britain, sent me a note promoting his own work on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I extract from it.  “More violence. More blood. No leadership. On November 22, 2015, Hadar Buchris, 21, was murdered. She was the 22nd victim in this wave of terror attacks that has swept Israel during the past two months. 192 other people were injured in the stabbings, shootings, and car runovers of innocent bystanders. More hatred. Polarization. The radicals are dictating the agenda. Sad.”

Violence targeting civilians characterizes both acts of terror. But there is a difference. The latter, though stimulated and encouraged by a general atmosphere and positive reinforcement from the society from which the terrorist emerged, is really a random act by a random perpetrator against a random target. The former is an agent of a political entity known as ISIS or ISIL which occupies a swath of territory in Syria and Iraq as well as a segment of a splintered Libya. The first attack was subversion behind enemy lines. The second attack above took place in the heart of the land of battle for a century, the former Mandate of Palestine. Nenmouche was an Emir of War. The murderer of Hadar was a volunteer martyr without any command and control operation. To call them both terrorists defines the act taken not the agent behind the act. For the agents are radically different in the two cases.

My purpose here is to characterize ISIS more than the form of terrorism it practices. Yet ISIS is defined precisely by the way it uses terrorism, so it is incumbent to characterize the type of warfare being conducted by ISIS. In both of the above examples, the terrorists were driven by a cause that included the destruction of an enemy. In both cases, there is an asymmetry in power between the two sides, the terrorists coming from a much weaker side. The unique characteristic of ISIS is that it engages in conventional warfare rather than just asymmetrical warfare. But, like all terrorists, whether engaged in individual acts of terror, insurgency or regular warfare, the power of initiative belongs to the terrorists. Those fighting terrorism are by and large in a reactive role, certainly initially. Since in the debates, the warfare practiced by ISIS was referred to as an insurgency, it may be helpful to distinguish between the type of warfare practiced by Dsesh in contrast to an insurgency.

  1. Insurgency Warfare is revolutionary and looks towards a radically changed future. Daesh warfare is not just counter-revolutionary, it is reactionary and harks back to a past, in this case that of the Caliphate in which all Muslims were under a singular Muslim leader answerable only to Allah so the association with Islam is built into the terrorism.
  2. Insurgent warfare is clandestine; Daesh warfare depends also on wide publicity.
  3. Insurgent warfare depends on winning the support of the civilian population, hence the need for a hearts and minds campaign; Daesh warfare, on the other hand, simply wants to win command and control of the population; fear, rather than serving as a supplement, becomes the prime means of expressing its authority.
  4. Insurgent warfare depends on propaganda and an educational program to indoctrinate the local population into a new set of values, beliefs and practices; Daesh warfare appeals to a “pure” version of existing traditional values, beliefs and practices.
  5. Insurgent warfare demonizes those who hold existing political, military and economic power; Daesh warfare demonizes all other groups, not just those in power, such as Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Chaldeans, and readily attempts to exterminate these alleged “non-believers.”
  6. Insurgent warfare operates by surreptitiously infiltrating the local population; Daesh warfare, though it may also do the latter, operates, not like traditional armies attacking and destroying the centres of political and military power of those defined as the enemy, but by attacking often disparate sources of economic power in territories it seeks to conquer, creating in the process few if any good options to destroy ISIS without destroying a good part of the civilian population and the economic assets, oil terminals and transportation routes, being held hostage.
  7. The prime targets for insurgency warfare are chosen to expand control of territory from a base and extending from there the control of more territory; the prime targets of Daesh hybrid warfare are centres of natural resources – primarily oil – which, when it captures such resources, sells the oil on the black market to fund its military operations.
  8. Insurgent warfare to succeed usually requires a patron, whether near at hand or distant – Russia for China, the USSR for Cuba – while Daesh warfare prides itself on self-sufficiency.
  9. Insurgent warfare relies on youth, but ISIS, though it recruits many teenagers, has a more mature human resource base whose average age is 26 years among males, many of middle class backgrounds with post-secondary education as well as, and unusually, many women, especially in the underground overseas.
  10. Insurgent warfare, while flouting the importance of its ideology, really depends on the weakness of the existing regime, its corruption, its internal divisions and its inherent contradictions; Daesh hybrid warfare depends more on the extension of the above so that a vacuum in the centre seems more relevant than just the traditional weaknesses, particularly when the centre of power favours one previously repressed group (the Shiites in Iraq) and the insurrection favours a previously powerful group now relegated to the margins so that the politics of resentment becomes preeminent.
  11. In insurgent warfare, intelligence primarily focuses on the militant strategies and tactics being used by the insurgent group; in Daesh warfare, intelligence primarily focuses on the supply of arms, recruits, the sale of oil and the location of its leaders and infrastructure.
  12. Defeated leaders in insurgency warfare are often executed for crimes against the people after a preemptory military trial; Daesh captives are beheaded and literally the heads are “posted” as an integral element of the politics of fear.
  13. Insurgency warfare relies on traditional propaganda based on the print media; the internet and social media are integral elements of the propaganda campaign of ISIS and subsequent propaganda campaign after a victory attack suppresses entertainment and substitutes messages that extol the organization, Allah and then the Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  14. When suffering defeats in their home bases, Daesh militants shift their focus to attacking the home ground of the enemy militants – Paris this past November in revenge for France increasing its aerial attacks in Syria and Libya, and a Russian airliner taking off from the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport in Egypt in response to stepped-up Russian bombing raids in Syria.
  15. When pressed and territory is recaptured, instead of increasing its calls for recruits, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the ISIS spokesman, calls for Muslims to stay home and launch attacks from there “in any manner or way.” (e.g. Michael Zehef-Bibeau, a recent convert who killed a Canadian solder at the Cenotaph on Parliament Hill.)

Given this characterization of the enemy, assuming it bears a resemblance to reality, in the next blog I will explore the strategy and tactics necessary to combat Daesh.


With the help of Alex Zisman


Next Blog: Strategy.and Tactics for Confronting ISIS

C. Confronting ISIS – Opposition Party Critiques

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

C. Opposition Party Critiques


Howard Adelman

Though the exchanges over differences between the Liberals and the Tories over the withdrawal of the CF-18s were more heated, they also lacked much substance because the differences were tactical more than strategic. In contrast, the differences between the Liberals and the NDP loomed larger because they are strategic differences and they help to make the picture both sides took that much clearer. But first we begin with the similarities. Like the Tories, the NDP agreed with and supported a number of the Liberal initiatives:

  • the increase in humanitarian aid, but based on three fundamental principles: neutrality, independence, and impartiality incompatible with an intervention mission
  • welcoming refugees into Canada
  • enhancing diplomatic engagement
  • engaging in the interdiction of both arms and funds as the critical factors in eliminating the threat and scourge of ISIS
  • make sure that Canada is the kind of country where everyone feels welcome, thereby ensuring that no Canadians would ever consider joining ISIL
  • robust intelligence capabilities
  • robust training and advising, but not in combat zones
  • a radical separation of humanitarian assistance and the military mission lest humanitarian workers be put in harm’s way
  • development aid, specifically for the Iraqi government’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts in regions liberated from Daesh

However, the NDP

  • accused the Liberals of reneging on their election promise that they would end the Conservative government’s mission
  • does not want military engagement; does not want the Liberals to follow the Conservatives in asking Parliament to approve the deployment of Canadian troops in active conflict zones while defining the mission as a non-combat one; “We in the New Democratic Party believe that this is entirely appropriate, as there are few other decisions that governments make that could be more important than placing Canadian troops in harm’s way. Yet, public debate seems to have veered into a narrow cul-de-sac over this question of whether or not this is in fact a combat mission.” The Liberals have muddied their own promise to draw “a clearer line between combat and non combat.”
  • In addition to the withdrawal of the CF-18s, opposes Canada remaining (“fully”???) part of the allied bombing mission with Canada continuing to contribute two Aurora surveillance planes, a refuelling plane and now, in addition, four helicopters to fly missions over Iraq and, with the surveillance aircraft, help paint targets on the ground for the allied bombing missions
  • “Canada could be providing a leadership role in cutting off the funding, the arms, and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS.” (Randall Garrison, Esquimalt–Saanich-Sooke), particularly the $1 million to $3 million a day in oil being sold by ISIS on the world market
  • In a multilateral military mission, Canada should only participate if it has the mandate of the United Nations
  • wants figures on the proportion of trainers, now tripled, who would be in the front lines and under what guidelines
  • wants the training to include human rights and international law components
  • wants projections of the casualty count
  • wants weapons provided to Kurdish forces tracked and their use monitored
  • wants Canada to sign the Arms Trade Treaty
  • wants an exit strategy lest Canadian men and women in the Armed Forces are interminably put in harm’s way
  • wants criteria to determine whether the approach taken is the correct and want measures to assess the results
  • wants an overall review of defence policy in general without waiting two years to arrive at one
  • domestically, wants Canada to develop a strong campaign of counter-extremist messaging based possibly on the model of Regroupement interculturel de Drummondville, but the Liberals reiterated that, while developing a de-radicalization in Canada, the primary focus would be overseas on preventing the recruitment of foreign fighters, who may be Canadian, and enhanced capabilities and measures to counter those recruitment efforts; the Liberals focus more on fighting radicalization in that region to stifle the terrorist group’s perverse and diabolical propaganda so that nobody else thinks they will go to heaven by murdering their fellow human beings.

The NDP made it clear that they did not support the withdrawal of the fighter jets or oppose the deployment of the other aircraft or additional advisers and trainers on the ground because the NDP doubted the capabilities or willingness to fight or stand in harm’s ways, as required, in the service of Canada and world peace, nor even the characterization by the Canadian Armed Forces of the mission as a hybrid one, somewhere between traditional combat and non-combat missions, but opposed misleading Canadians and calling it a non-combat mission. The NDP hammered away at the supposed record in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, and queried in what way what Canada is doing in Iraq differs very much from what Canada did in Afghanistan. The NDP kept stressing the absence of clear goals and boundaries for this “combat” operation, even though Canada was in an advisory role in such battles, and, like the Tories, but for very different reasons, reminded Canadians of this past December when Canadian Armed Forces personnel became engaged in a firefight with Daesh forces.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (the Conservative representative from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) repeated the point that, “the families of soldiers well remember the 2002 friendly fire incident when U.S. jets fired on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, killing four of them.” Of course, she used the point for the opposite rationale, to justify keeping the CF-18s in Iraq and Syria. “Our CF-18s would have known they were Canadian boots on the ground, and now we are back to relying on other countries for air cover.” She also asked whether the Liberal government was introducing anti-armour in the ground equipment to make up for the absence of the CF-18s. In another example of, what proved to be, bad questioning, Dan Albas, the Conservative member from Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, suggested that since the Liberals were now deploying four Griffon helicopters to medically evacuate people, was that not an admission that more casualties could be expected because the CF-18s had been withdrawn?

These are two of many examples of the Tories asking questions where the questioner was not prepared for an answer that would undercut rather than advance their position. As I pointed out in the last blog, this happened when the Tories insisted on blaming ISIS for genocide, only to have the Liberals endorse that description of ISIS. The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, replied to the first query above that the anti-armour capability should have been provided before the Liberal government was elected. Further, “in inclement weather, the air strikes cannot take place. If there is a threat that can only be taken care of by anti-armour capability, we need a portable system to do so, and that system is not in our inventory any more.”


It is not as if the Tories could not ask questions that could elicit gaps in the Liberal policy. For example, Mr. Todd Doherty, the Tory member from Cariboo-Prince George, insisted that, “If we are putting our forces in the line of fire, we want to ensure that they have every tool to be effective and ensure that they come home safety,” and asked, “Does the hon. member not believe that we should be making sure that our forces should have access to all tools to ensure they come home safely?”

Similarly, when Tom Kmiec, the Conservative member from Calgary Shepard, cited the names and numbers of all the ISIS commanders killed by Canadian air strikes, Sajjan replied, “that is exactly what has happened. The air strikes were effective and targeted, but the enemy also learns from our lessons. I remember when I was serving, I had a rule. When we were in some intense combat, we could never use a strategy twice because the enemy would always learn from it. When we looked at the analysis with our military commanders, we looked at where the mission was at, where the evolution of the enemy was at. When I asked the ground force commander, General Clark, what he needed, the first thing he said to me was ‘intelligence’. The enemy is getting smarter because of our effectiveness in the past. We need to increase our intelligence capability. Why our Canadian intelligence capability? It is effective. Why do we need to increase our training capacity? This is what is needed on the ground. This is to defeat ISIS. It can only happen with troops on the ground. It cannot be done from the air.”

So many times the Tories asked questions and only fell into traps. As well, Tories often tried to score points with irrelevancies – the 1990s role of peacekeepers was catastrophic for Canada, especially in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were killed because our soldiers were powerless to intervene. In addition to being irrelevant, the point was factually incorrect on a number of points

    1. Other than the Commander (Roméo Dallaire) and a communications unit, very few of the peacekeepers in Rwanda were Canadians
    2. The 800,000 were not killed because Canadian soldiers were “powerless to intervene” but because UN and powerful states like the U.S. would not authorize intervention.

The Liberals notably, on a much more macro level, attacked the Conservatives for losing Canada’s reputation internationally because they distanced Canada from responsible international engagement, avoided many international talks (e.g. climate change), for being forced to step out of the running for a position on the United Nations Security Council, all emphasizing the Liberal primary goal of rebranding.

The Conservatives not only attacked the Liberals for withdrawing the fighter jets and for adopting a liberal brand with a stress on the use of diplomacy internationally, but insisted that these moves were totally out of synch with Canadian opinion polls even though the Liberals won the election with a clear majority.

  • an Angus Reid poll  of February 2016 indicating that 63% of Canadians want Canada to continue bombing ISIL targets at the current rate or to increase the number of bombing missions conducted against ISIL
  • 47% believe that withdrawing our CF-18s will harm Canada’s reputation abroad
  • only 18% of Canadians polled thought that pulling our jets from the fight would have a positive effect on our international reputation
  • two out of five people, 37%, believe that Canada should continue with the current number of bombing missions against ISIL; one-quarter, 26%, believe that .the number of missions should be increased
  • 64% believe that the threat ISIL poses has increased
  • half of those people (about 30%) believe that the threat has increased significantly
  • 33% believe that Canada should increase its involvement in the fight against ISIL.

The Tories also indirectly criticized the refugee resettlement program and stressed the humanitarian aid for the refugees in the camps (Pierre Paul-Hus, member form Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles), as if the Liberals did not announce an even larger humanitarian program. Further, the Tories characterized the withdrawal of the CF-18s as a retreat rather than acknowledging an increased presence on the ground. The rebranding became the main target of the Tories who kept insisting, implausibly, that the Liberals had made a decision “not to deploy our military” (Rona Ambrose), a gross distortion. A number of valid criticisms for keeping the CF-18s in the war were missed in a continuing effort to make political points instead of analyzing and criticizing in depth the Liberal shift in policy.

The substantive Conservative Position entailed:

  • keeping the jets in theatre on the grounds that they were needed for cover for 75 troops on the ground and, if tripled, need more cover
  • even if Canada only carried out 2.5% of the strikes, Canada was one of the five countries that were bombing targets effectively
  • By withdrawing the CF-18s, Canadian troops on the ground will be relying on allies to do the heavy lifting.

The problem is, as the NDP pointed out, Canada was not cutting its military and abandoning its allies. Further, no one asked to substantiate the Liberal claim that

  • sufficient air cover exists with interoperability and communication with the ground whatever the source of the troops
  • deployment in Afghanistan did not have air cover
  • the battle requires far more robust engagement, but by a different contribution
  • the coalition has significant capability to maintain the gains the jets have achieved.

Further, the Tory claim that the policy had alienated Canada’s allies seems to have been refuted by a number of American military experts. Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (the American mission), said that, “everybody likes to focus on the air strikes, right, because we get good videos out of it and it’s interesting because things blow up—but don’t forget a pillar of this operation, a pillar of this operation, is to train local ground forces. That is a key and critical part.” James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander said, “Now I understand you’re going to shift from doing training, which is… perhaps the most important of all. So I applaud the fact that our Canadian military and NATO colleagues will be working on the training mission with the Iraqi security forces, potentially with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north because we don’t want to send 100,000 troops or 150,000 troops like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Did the Tories not have any authoritative sources to back their claim that America resents the Canadian shift?

What most surprised me about the debate, other than the even greater ineptitude than I imagined of the vast majority of Tory politicians who spoke, and other than the by-and-large enormous civility of the debate, was the number of parliamentarians who served in the Armed Forces or in overseas missions. They may not outnumber the lawyers, but there were a large number, more that I, for one, ever expected. I have not undertaken a count for the current parliament, but I am convinced from reading Hansard that the total numbers would approach that of the last parliament where 1 in 13 had military experience, “over 50 having served either in the regular forces or in reservist organizations, representing military service in a variety of operational theatres including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland.


Tomorrow: D. Defining the Enemy


With the help of Alex Zisman

Indivisibility and Divisibility within the U.S. Presidency

Corporeality IX: Indivisibility and Divisibility within the U.S. Presidency


Howard Adelman

Tomorrow, President’s Day, is on Monday, the 15th of February this year. George Washington’s birthday is on the 22nd of February. In fact, the holiday, for almost fifty years has been celebrated on the third Thursday of February to accommodate a public enamored with long weekends and retail outlets in love with scheduling great sales on such days. This year, President’s Day falls only two days after Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on the 13th of February. Anticipating such a fluctuation when the holiday was set for the third Monday in February, the day was renamed President’s Day from Washington’s birthday to celebrate both presidents. In reality, the day is now widely understood as celebrating the Office of the President and all its occupants rather than just one or two presidents.

President’s Day is now more akin to Victoria Day except that, in Canada, the day that used to be celebrated just as Queen Victoria’s birthday is now celebrated as the birthday of the current monarch as well, even though Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday falls on 21 April. The shift of one celebration to honouring the Office (U.S.) to the practice in Canada of celebrating the current monarch is telling. In Canada, the monarch is supposed to be a symbol of unity, but has become the symbol of Canada’s political fault line. The day that was once known in Quebec as Fête de la Reine became unofficially Fête de Dollard after the Quiet Revolution in the sixties and in 2003 officially became National Patriot’s Day. Our focus, however, is the United States presidency and the Canadian example will be used only as a foil.

So it is appropriate at this time to write about the nature of the office of the U.S. President and its current occupant. It is not as if all the occupants are worthy of celebration. I cite just one example, George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor in that high office. He ranks among the worst presidents in American history. Hence, the understanding is that President’s Day honours the high office much more than all its occupants. In contrast, there are no celebrations of the birthdays of any Prime Minister of Canada or the office. One of the essential features of the American presidential office, as distinct from the Canadian Prime Minister’s office, is that the person who is president is both the political leader of the U.S.A. as well as Commander-in-Chief of the American armed forces. Two positions are embodied in one person. In America, we find the dilemma of the elected king’s two opposite functions. The issue in the U.S. throughout its history has been whether those two powers are separable or inseparable in the one person, and, if separable, which part rules the other. If it is the civilian part, how is control over the military role exercised or, surprisingly since unanticipated, a coup of the military by civilians prevented?

The George W. Bush presidency can correctly be viewed as the embodiment of the doctrine both of the indivisibility of the office of the U.S. President and the infallibility of the actions performed by that office when it comes to military matters when indivisibility becomes the order of the day. The President can do no wrong. Ironically, this doctrine was enunciated at a time when George W. Bush delegated all his Commander-in-Chief responsibilities to a small coterie of officials around him. He never engaged in any substantive discussions of military policy himself. Robert Blackwill, for example, who was the coordinator for strategic planning for Iraq in the National Security Council in 2004, was never asked anything about Iraq even as he traveled with Bush daily in the 2004 elections. The exclusive focus was re-election. Further, as everyone who has written on the subject acknowledges, advisory meetings of top officials were exercises in silent hostility – whether between Richard Armitage and Doug Feith or Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. There were presentations but no substantive exchanges or discussions about policy decisions, thereby allowing Dick Cheney to determine policy by his control of the President. Condoleezza Rice tried but failed to facilitate such debates. George W. Bush was a Commander-in-Chief, but without the dignity such an office should have as he dithered and shook his legs up and down under the table in recognition that he was involved in discussions over and above his mental capacities.

Dick Cheney is usually viewed as the Rasputin influencing, exercising and, most importantly, defending that doctrine of presidential power. Not for George W. Bush, but for himself. George W. Bush is often, and, I believe, correctly seen as Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist dummy for Dick Cheney, Bush’s Edgar Bergen when it comes to foreign affairs. After all, George W. Bush consulted with only two officials before deciding o go to war in Iraq. Neither Dick Cheney nor Donald Rumsfeld were military officers, but policy advisers determined to use the military for their own political purposes. This was a case of the civilians seizing absolute control of the military for strictly political purposes.

David Graham in an article in The Atlantic (5 November 2015) reinforces this interpretation based on his interview with former President George H.W. Bush in anticipation of the latter’s forthcoming biography, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. The elder 91-year-old former President, George H.W. Bush, criticized the dominating Dick Cheney and the arrogant Ronald Rumsfeld for entrapping his son in initiating a foolish war for their own nefarious purposes. He referred to Cheney as, “Just iron-ass. His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East,” to advance their own imperial agenda.

Cheney’s belief in the untrammelled power of the Commander-in-Chief went back to his days as George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defence. In the 1990 lead-up to the first Gulf War, President Bush overruled Cheney’s advice that the administration should go to war without Senate approval, not because the approval was in doubt, but because Cheney was committed to the doctrine of the indivisible and absolute power in matters of war of the Commander-in-Chief. Bush père criticized his son for being a patsy in the hands of those two manipulators. Over time, but too late, Bush-son became disenchanted, first with Rumsfeld and then even with Cheney. After the Republicans were whipped badly in the 2006 elections, Bush fired Rumsfeld. He also gradually became sceptical of the advice he was receiving from his Rasputin.

The exercise of supreme and unchallenged authority, ostensibly by the President, but, in reality, by Cheney, extended into legal matters as well as military ones. The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps (the JAGs) operates a court system dealing with civil litigation, tort claims, labour law, the application of just war principles and international law, but Cheney was primarily concerned with suborning the Judge Advocates, the licensed attorneys representing military service personnel. The dictates of civilian lawyers in the Defense Department, who are political appointees more than individuals with high standards of professionalism, were to determine what JAGs could or could not do. This was another area in which there was an effort to make the rulings of the Commander-in-Chief unaccountable to the rule of law.  But the most heinous example was the rules for interrogating captured alleged terrorists and not permitting them to have independent counsel.

Obama’s presidency can be viewed as the embodiment of the doctrine both of the divisibility of the office of the U.S. President and the fallibility of the actions performed by that office.

The American Constitution insists that the highest military authority belongs to the highest civilian authority; the President is the First Admiral, the First Chief-of-Staff and Commander of the Air Force. David Luban called this “fused dominion” characteristic not only of the American presidential system, but of warlords and military dictators, ancient hero-rulers and feudal Western kings. In the fusion, could the Commander-in-Chief suborn the civilian head of state or would the civilian head of state ensure that the military remained subordinate to civilian rule as the writers of the Constitution intended? If he did the latter, could he interpret that principle of domestic rule over the military from a supervisory role and ensuring military actions were governed by civilian-set goals? Or could and would he, in effect, engage in a military coup, not of the military over civilian office, but of civilians over military professionals by seizing absolute control over the military unaccountable to any other political institution?

In Jay Bybee’s torture memo, under the George W. Bush administration, the indivisibility of the office is cited to justify the presidential exercise of untrammeled power in the area of security matters. “The Framers understood the Clause as investing the President with the fullest range of power understood at the time of the ratification of the Constitution as belonging to the military commander.” What I call the indivisibility of the highest office, David Luvan calls the interpretation, as forged by the Bush administration, the consolidationist theory as distinct from separationist doctrine. The consolidationist view is summarized in the briefing of the Justice Department Lawyer to Congress, “The President Is Always Right,” what I call the indivisibility doctrine is upheld. In this interpretation of Article 2 of the Constitution, in the global war on terror, Congress cannot second guess the President. The President is entitled to use any form of interrogation for enemy combatants deemed appropriate without Congressional oversight.

So Abu Ghraib is not just about the rights of enemy combatants in captivity; the issue goes to the very heart of the meaning of the American Constitution. In the consolidationist view, courts that generally oversee the protection of such rights must also defer to the Presidency because courts lack the requisite competence of the Commander-in-Chief and cannot and should not tie the hands of the President, even by applying a criterion forbidding “cruel and unusual punishment.” More expansively, that doctrine invades limitations on the courts even in domestic matters, for the doctrine includes an absence of geographical limits to its application since global terrorists can be found within America itself. (Cf. Padilla v. Bush) In this interpretation of the battlefield, the military, not the judiciary, determine the status of the individual as an enemy combatant. In other words, using the indivisibility principle, qua Commander-in-Chief, the powers of the President in military matters were unlimited.

Barack Obama, a former Professor of Constitutional Law, opposed the indivisibility principle for interpreting the powers of the President. Though both powers were consolidated in a single person, the doctrine of separation of powers still applied and the responsibilities of a President as the highest civilian authority in the land entailed that civilian responsibilities, and responsibilities to the democratic polity, overrode any of his military responsibilities. Though I certainly support Obama’s interpretation, it is not as a legal scholar, but as a philosopher. However, my interest here is not even defending the divisibility and separation of powers doctrine, as much as indicating that this is an issue in contention in the United States because historically the Americans copied British developments at the time where the king was both head of government and Commander-in-Chief. It would trap Obama in a paradox from which he could not escape. (Read tomorrow’s blog.) In Canada, where the system was forged a hundred years later, the divisibility of military and civilian power became the dominant conception without any equivocation.

No matter which position one takes in the United States, given the consolidation of powers in the same office, there will always be an inherent debate on the “broad substantive war powers” conferred on the President, a virtually non-exiting debate in Canada. Why in the U.S. does Barack Obama personally decide who will be the target of drone assassinations? Is this an exercise in machismo? If it were, then Obama would be directly undercutting his belief in the divisibility of powers and the subordination of military to civilian authority in the Office of the President. From my review of the literature, I am convinced that Obama does it, not to usurp the skills and prowess of the military in selecting targets, but because of the danger of the military exceeding their areas of competence and using their resources to eliminate political leaders with serious political consequences internationally. The separation of military and civilian decisions even extends to the battlefield and the requisite just war norm that civilians are not to be targeted intentionally and only may be unintentionally killed in proportion to the importance of the military target. However, as another unintended consequence, such a premise relies on making the CIA another branch of the military.

When it is unequivocal that a Canadian Prime Minister is not the Commander-in-Chief, the rule of civilian authority over military power is unambiguous. But when the two functions reside in the same one body, even when the President wants to reinforce the principle of the divisibility of powers and the supremacy of civilian over military rule, he is trapped by his responsibilities and has to stay up late deciding whether it is appropriate to target this person or that person with a drone strike. He becomes the number one assassin on the world stage. It is almost as if an American who becomes President cannot avoid becoming an imperial President to some degree.


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

Terrorism and its Crucible

Terrorism and its Crucible


Howard Adelman

Last evening at a dinner party at our house, I told a friend, one of our guests, about my propensity to call each of my sons by another son’s name. It is a standing joke in the family. Often when addressing one of my four sons, I will go through all of my other sons’ names before I get to the correct one. I do not call my sons by my daughters names, or vice versa, at least I do not think I do. That is some relief. Since I have four sons, you can imagine how exasperating it is for them to have their father go through three other names before I get to their own. The only relieving factor to suffering from my malady over the years is that they know they are not being slighted since I do it to all of them indiscriminately.

In Friday’s missive, that propensity slipped into my blog. But instead of calling Joseph – I originally typed Jacob, but caught myself right away – by one of the names of his brothers, I referred to Joseph by his father’s name, Jacob. I did it eight or ten times, so it was not simply one slip. Any reader, I believe, could tell that I meant Joseph when I typed in Jacob, but my bad habit could be very disconcerting. My apologies. Today, I will write about something generic, so that error is unlikely to occur. I will write about terrorism generally in which I profess to be calling what I believe is terrorism by its correct name even if many readers may believe I am calling it by the wrong name or simply naming what is perpetrated by others as if we sometimes practice the same activity.

About two months ago, CIJA (19 October 2015 – organized a conference-call across Canada to discuss the then current state of terrorist attacks in Israel. I blogged about that discussion. Subsequently, about two weeks ago, as we entered the third month of the Stabbing Intifada, I wrote a blog about the Palestinian terrorism that continues to assault Israelis directly every day. ( Since then, that terrorism has insinuated itself in Paris (13 November 2015) and then in San Bernadino in California (11 December 2015). In response to the latter, Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination in the United States, has called for the temporary banning of the entry of all Muslims into the United States, at least, “Until we can figure this whole thing out.”

Quite aside from the hysteria, the discrimination, the outright insult to loyal Americans who happen to be Muslim, Trump gives no indication that he understands the first thing about terrorism and that he is playing on the same fears that the terrorists do. Or perhaps he does know and he is just a cynic quite willing to play the populist card in a current feeding frenzy on Muslims and terrorism. Canada is not immune to that fear-mongering. Thankfully, the new government, now in a leadership position across Canada, is taking Canadians in the opposite direction by welcoming into Canada thousands of Syrian refugees, many of whom will be Muslim.

I know readers will expect me to start an article on terrorism with a discussion of IS, ISIS or ISIL, but which I will subsequently refer to as Da’esh, and not because I do not know the name of the terrorist organization or, God forbid, that I am treating the organization as if it were one of my sons. Da’esh is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State – al-Dawla al Ismlamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. The word sounds like a similar word in Arabic that means one who sews discord. Its root meaning suggests a sense of injustice and connotes anger and resentment, By using Da’esh, the identity of the organization can be established without accepting its grandiloquent claim to rule Syria and Lebanon or even aspire to be recognized as a state let alone a caliphate.

The expectation of starting with Da’esh is reasonable. Currently, Da’esh is the most extreme, the most ruthless, the best organized and the richest terrorist network on the planet. But if I start with Da’esh, I fear I may be misunderstood. For the identification of a terrorist organization with a specific religion or race or ethnic identity is merely the camouflage for that terrorism. Further, as I will try to show when I write about Da’esh, the attack on Paris was a sign that it is headed towards defeat and dissolution, though I expect it will rise again like a phoenix and morph into a new form.

So I will start with a group of terrorists that one might not immediately associate with terrorism. I am not talking about the priests in the Roman Catholic Church who preyed on their young charges by the thousand. Nor am I talking about the British authorities that arranged to forcefully separate at least 130,000 children from their mothers in Britain and ship them off to the colonies, especially Australia, where they were promised a better and healthier life, but were scarred again and again by the brutal treatment meted out to them so that the pain of those additional scars could hide the original separation they experienced, but never succeeded in doing so. Nor am I talking about the terror inflicted on the tens of thousands of aboriginal children in Canada who were torn from the arms of their parents and sent to the residential “schools” in Canada so they could be indoctrinated to giving up their so-called “savage” ways.

The Canadian government practiced a very cruel form of savagery, all in the name of a so-called higher good, but called it education when it bore the most flimsy resemblance to that activity.  The recent Canadian report on the terror – and mark my words, it was terror practiced on those tens of thousands of children – afflicted that group for generations to follow.  On 11 June 2008, the Canadian government formally apologized for that systematic terror, but never named what it had done directly. For what was done was far worse than the re-education camps to which the Chinese and Vietnamese governments sent its own citizens. These were children, after all. Just read a few of the pages of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) ( which should be made compulsory reading and study in all the schools in Canada. Or read Dr John Milloy’s book, A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1979 to 1986. Yes, 1986!

So when I am writing about terrorism, do not believe for a minute that I am simply writing about the savagery inflicted on innocents by fanatics abroad. We have our own history of practicing terrorism. Though the priests and the British bureaucrats and the Canadian authorities practiced a form of terrorism, they were not overtly organized as a terrorist group. They did not brand or think that what they were doing was a form of practicing terrorism. But it was, as I shall eventually try to demonstrate. Instead, I will write about terrorism perpetrated by self-described terrorists, but initially not Da’esh, for it is best to introduce the subject through what you recognize as terrorism.

Muhiyidin d’Baha’s father is a Muslim and his mother is a Ba’hái. D’Baha is a campaigner against racism in the American South, He was one of the organizers of Black Lives Matter in Charleston. He describes the racism practiced in the South before the Civil Rights movement as follows: “That was Charleston. That was accommodating white feeling and white superiority,” That was racism in the guise of respectability politics as distinct from the crude violence of the Klu Klux Klan. “It was, ‘Yes massa. Can I have another?’ But, at the same time, it was spiritual fortitude forged in a crucible of terrorism” as far as the Blacks were concerned who were victims of this racism and terrorism, (Cf. David Remnick (2015) “Blood at the Root: In the Aftermath of the Emanuel Nine,” (2015) The New Yorker, 28 September, 33) If we want to understand terrorism, we must first understand both it and the crucible in which it is formed.

For those who have been so overloaded with terrorist incidents that those heinous acts begin to merge together, let me remind readers about the Emanuel Nine. On 17 June 2015 in the evening, Dylann Roof, a twenty-one-year-old ninth grade dropout, entered Mother Emanuel Church, one of the oldest Black Churches in the American South. He was white. The parishioners and the minister were all Black. Roof entered through a side door carrying a 45 Glock semi-automatic. He rested in a pew until he gathered his resolve as the parishioners were all praying with their eyes closed. He drew the pistol and started firing at point blank range, including at parishioners who had fallen to the floor. Nine members of the congregation, including Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, lay dead.

When one of the parishioners only a few minutes from taking his last breath asked Roof why he was doing this, Roof replied, “Y’all are raping our women and taking over the country.” Does it sound like a Trump supporter raging currently against Muslims? Earlier on the website, “The Last Rhodesian,” he had typed in, “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” If the incident was not so terrible and so tragic, one could laugh at the thought that Roof believed he was operating in the real world. He was killing upright Americans who would end up praying for his redemption and salvation. They were as far from rapists as anyone could find.

Charleston was the seat of the Confederacy. Charleston was a prime location where Blacks were murdered and butchered. Charleston was the city in which, in the aftermath of Root’s slaughter in Mother Emanuel Church, the state finally voted to take down the statue of John C. Calhoun, the racist leader and originator of the doctrine of states’ rights and nullification. The statue of Calhoun was finally dismantled from its prominent position in Marion Park in front of the State legislature. Calhoun was a very ambitious politician from the South who unsuccessfully sought the presidency several times and retired back to a seat in the Senate representing South Carolina. He went from being Vice-President to earn far greater renown as the author of the doctrine of states’ rights and the principle of nullification. He promoted it as law until the Compromise of 1850. Calhoun argued that states had the right to nullify federal laws and secede from the Union if the federal government attempted to enforce laws unacceptable to the states. This set the legal and political grounds for the Civil War.

What is the difference between the genteel racism of many of the Whites in the South (and in the rest of America, or Canada for that matter, in relationship to aboriginal peoples) from the resort to terrorism of Dylann Root? Dylann Root not only regarded Blacks as Other, not only regarded Blacks as wholly Other, not only regarded Blacks as inferior, not only regarded Blacks as a threat to Whites, but thought that Blacks had to be exterminated to protect and enhance America as a White Nation. Genteel racists may regard Blacks or Aboriginals or Muslims or Palestinians or Jews as Other, even as wholly Other, even as Inferior, but do not usually regard them as a threat to the supremacy of Whites, or whomever, let alone demand their extermination. The Whites may be very strong racists, but they are not generally terrorists as we recognize the use of the term, though I regard what they practice as a form of terrorism.

Even those who believe those Others deserve to be exterminated are not terrorists as long as they are not the perpetrators of that terrorism. For example, members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas who believe that the end is near, that the destruction of the Twin Towers and America’s casualties in the Iraq War were the result of American profligacy, more specifically, America’s toleration for homosexuality, are not terrorists in the usual sense. The members of that church were well known for their picketing all over the United States, particularly for one very offensive sign they carried: “DEATH PENALTY FOR FAGS,” referencing a particular passage in Leviticus. “If a man lies with a male, as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)

Homosexuals were not their only targets. The members of the church believed that all countries would unite in a war against Israel, that Israel would be destroyed and that only 144,000 Jews who repented their killing of Christ would be spared. But the Westboro Church never once attempted to advance that destruction. That was God’s responsibility. They were full of hate, but they were not terrorists per se.

Terrorism takes place when one individual or a group takes on the responsibility and engages in active murder against another group regarded both as inferior and as a threat that is so great that the Other or that Other’s culture must be exterminated. Its most extreme form is genocide. It does not matter whether the action is undertaken by a lone wolf, such as Roof, or an organization such as Da’esh. It does not matter whether the murder is committed in the name of Christianity and the name of Whiteness or whether it is committed in the name of a group that sees itself as the leader of an evangelical and fundamentalist Islam against other Muslims it regards as apostates, against Christians and Jews, against Communist Chinese or Hindu Indians. It does not matter if it is committed in the name of protecting a saving remnant, even if that saving remnant consists of Jews. The initial focus may be on the “imperialist oppressors” and their lackeys or those dedicated to making Islam supreme. However, if the result of those beliefs ends in action to attempt or commit murder, then what you have is terrorism.

If the terrorists are well organized, if the terrorists are so well organized that they control their own source of wealth – Da’esh controls oil wells in Iraq and Libya – if the terrorist group is so well organized as to commit six virtually simultaneous acts of terror and end up killing 129 people in Paris, if the group uses terrorism as a publicity tool both to intimidate those who fall within their control and their ostensible military enemies, if they believe not only in the inherent superiority of who they are, but believe that everyone else must bow down to them and serve them even if, at the very least, they are permitted to live on sufferance, if they use terror as a recruiting tool, then you have a far more dangerous and formidable terrorist threat than the lone wolves who commit acts of terror in Israel or in the United States.

If that terrorist group has an ideology that convinces its believers of their eventual success, that convinces its followers that dying for the cause is heroic, if that group believes that it is entitled, even commanded, to kill Others, if that group believes not only that it is superior to Others, but that it is the duty of its adherents to exterminate those others and/or the culture or religion that raises and shapes them, then you have an example of extreme terrorism.

Terrorism simply is the logical end of a certain way of thinking. Wahabism in Saudi Arabia may be much politer than the words of Donald Trump. However, the Saudis lack any global political and military agenda. They keep their sense of superiority hidden under immaculate and flowing robes. If a large number of Palestinians refuse to pick up weapons to attack Israelis, many, even possibly most, greet those who do as heroes and martyrs. In such cases, we do not find terrorists or even ones who abet terrorism with their fiery rhetoric. We find polite members of society who abet the logical development of terrorism as an outgrowth of a temporary interim position that will culminate in due course in extremism. It does not matter whether the believers are Muslim, Christian or Jewish. They are abetters of terrorism. Those minor and major precursors of terrorism bear some responsibility for its development, and certainly more responsibility than those who are bystanders; they watch, and will not, or do not interfere, or they interfere with too little too late.

As Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, told Al-Monitor, “Israeli teams have been terrorized multiple times.” As the columnist, Pinar Tremblay, noted, during the singing of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, Turkish fans threw water bottles, coins and other objects at the women’s national basketball team. The Greek-Turkish soccer match began with a minute of silence to honor the victims of the Da’esh terror attack in Paris on 13 November. The fans interrupted with boos, whistles and chants of “Allahu akbar” (God is great) and “Martyrs don’t die.” Erdogan did not criticize or even comment on this behaviour.

Insulting shouts and putting up posters advertising hatred does not constitute terrorism. A silent response to that misbehaviour does not constitute terrorism. But these are all part of the crucible breeding terrorism, for they indicate one group treating another in an inhumane and inconsiderate way. Primo Levi described the Nazi who wiped his greasy hands on Levi’s clothes as if Levi was not a man. If Nazis, or anyone, peer at you as through the glass of an aquarium looking from one world as spectators on a scene of animal behaviour, even one not regarded as terrible, then that degrading behaviour ploughs and fertilizes the soil of terrorism. If Donald Trump wants to register all American Muslims, if Donald Trump regards Mexicans as aliens who need to be excluded from entry into the U.S., then Donald Trump is on the side of terrorism and not engaged in a battle against the phenomenon.

The way to fight terrorism is with resolve and determination, sometimes quiet and dignified resolve as has been the case of the members of that Black Church in Charleston.  Sometimes it is through conversations with extremists. But sometimes it requires fighting back with all the tools of the legal system and the use of police and military forces when necessary. When Jewish terrorists set fire to a Jewish-Arab school in Jerusalem, the three perpetrators were captured, charged and sentenced a week or so ago to three years in prison. We must not only fight against terrorism from the enemy side, but against terrorism and its precursors within our own ranks. A three year sentence is laughable. The perpetrators will be out in a little over a year, released on parole. What message does that send to the Palestinian authorities and public that receives its own terrorists with high honours? This form of breeding terrorism is not much better than the breeding grounds for Palestinian terrorism.

If we do not fight the terrorism or its breeding ground within our own communities with all the vigour, with all the energy at our disposal, then we risk becoming precursors of an opposing terrorism. Precursors may not be terrorists, but without them, there would be no terrorism. We best undercut terrorism by the respect we give to the Other, even when that Other is a terrorist who we are trying to kill. Then we not only have to recognize them, but respect them for their skills and dedication as we try to arrest them or, preferably interrupt them before that can act on their murderous mission. Even as we seek to kill or “neutralize” them, we must remember that they are humans and that our own societies have similar propensities.

We must not surrender to those propensities even as we confront alien terrorists.

Omar Alghabra: a Muslim Mole?

Omar Alghabra: a Muslim Mole?


Howard Adelman

As a follow-up to yesterday’s blog that dealt largely with Omar Alghabra’s alleged promotion of sharia law, after I sent out my blog and went to my electronic reading, I came across this story in Haaretz headlined:

Government Opposes Appointment of Women as Sharia Judges to Avoid Setting Precedent for Rabbinic Courts

Sharia law is recognized in Israel. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked supported the legislation because she wanted to be on the side of progress even though she is a member of the right-wing Home Party. However, the government as a whole opposed the legislation due to concerns from ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition. In other words, the Israeli government not only recognizes sharia law, but entrenches its most conservative propensities in order to cater to the ultra-orthodox Jews who support the government.

In this context, the accusations against Omar Alghabra concerning sharia law prove to be even more of a tempest in a teapot without even being able to find any tea leaves. What about the Canadian Arab Federation which Omar Alghabra once headed?  The charge is that Alghabra, when he was president of the Canadian Arab Federation in 2004, denounced one of Canada’s newspaper chains for using the term “terrorist” to describe violent Muslim groups like the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. After all, is the organization not just the military wing of Arafat’s Fatah organization? On the other hand, that is precisely how it is designated – a terrorist organization – by Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

On this issue, there appears to be some grounds for concern. When Omar Alghabra was first nominated for Mississauga-Erindale (he subsequently won), in his nomination victory speech on 1 December in the Coptic Christian Centre of the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasias in Mississauga, he purportedly said, “This is a victory for Islam! Islam won! Islam won… Islamic power is extending into Canadian politics.” At least, this is what he was said to have said by a Coptic Christian who was there, a report that was quickly and widely circulated by the Canadian Coalition for Democracies. David Ragheb, a member of the congregation, reported the speech. Victor Fouad complained to Paul Martin, then the Liberal Party leader, and, when he did not reply, sent the following out to readers of his blog. “Attached is a proven plan to invade the democracy in Canada and to convert it to somewhat NAZI attitude by the MUSLIMS. Please do something before Mr. Martin sells it all to them.” He accused the Liberal Party candidate of using “expansionist Islamic rhetoric.”

Sheref El Sabawy, a network engineer and Coptic Christian who endorsed Omar to the Coptic Christian community, at the time said, “this was a big warning for us that we could be second class citizens (if Alghabra is elected). He has an agenda.” There is supposed to be a video recording of the occasion, but I have been unable to track it down. So I cannot confirm whether Alghabra make the remark or not. However, one of the strongest critics and proponents of limiting the entry of fundamentalist religious Muslims to Canada tracked the quote and found that it was accurate, but that it was shouted from the podium by a supporter of Omar Alghabra, Khalid Usman, not Omar himself.

Alghabra unequivocally denied that he made the remark. The allegations are “not true,” he said. They are false and inaccurate. “I didn’t say a thing about Muslims or Islam in my acceptance speech… The whole thing is untrue.” Former Mississauga-Erindale MP Carolyn Parrish, who was at the meeting, confirmed Alghabra’s statement of denial. “I honestly can’t say I heard Omar say that.” However, Alghabra also insisted that Khalid  Usman did not make the remark.

Further, if he did say what has been reported as having been said, there are a number of issues. First, why would he make such a statement in a Coptic Christian Church? Celebrating the participation of Canadian citizens of the Islamic faith in Canadian politics is one thing. Celebrating that participation as an expression and advancement of Islamic power is another. And saying that in a Christian Church is not merely insensitive; it is stupid. And what is the source of the report that a number in the audience responded with shouts of, “Allah Akbar”? (God is great.) I assume that a few people may have responded that way, but the audience? In a Coptic Church?

What makes the charge more auspicious are claims about Alghabra’s performance when he was President of the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) from 2004-2005. The CAF, established in 1967, was your typical ethnic national umbrella organization, originally embracing 40 Arab-Canadian organizations, and serving to liaise between Arabs and the three levels of government, the media and other civil society organizations. CAF served as a representative of Arabs on Canada’s Ethnocultural Council. It was akin to the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Chinese Canadian National Council. More recently, but, as we shall see, only after the presidency of Omar Alghabra, CAF ran into a conflict with the Harper government. Harper refused to meet with the CAF after he became Prime Minister. The CAF had been receiving money for English language instruction and newcomer orientation. On 19 March 2009, Jason Kenney, then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, suspended CAF’s federal funding for those programs and threatened to suspend $180,000 of federal funding that went to support CAF’s job search program.

Why did Kenney take such action? Because the then president of CAF, Khaled Mouammar, quoted Norman Finkelstein depicting Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2008-09 as the actions of “professional whores of war.”  More significantly, Kenney accused CAF of not being a charity, but a spokesman for radical Islam since the president called both Hamas and Hezbollah “legitimate organizations,” whereas they had been labelled as terrorist organizations by the Canadian government. In contrast, CAF urged the government to “remove Hezbollah and Hamas from the list of banned organizations,” arguing both parties were legitimately elected. Recall that as soon as Harper became Prime Minister in 2006, he cut aid to Palestinians in Gaza when they elected Hamas. Harper also ran into conflict with the CAF on a number of other issues, including CAF’s criticism of the Harper government’s refusal to attend the Durban II World Conference, which both the Harper government and the Jewish community claimed was fostering anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism.

There are several issues at stake. Should the GoC be funding advocacy organizations, let alone radical advocacy organizations, to perform social services? In the Jewish community, the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society performs social services, whereas the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) currently serves as the Jewish lobby. But there is a deeper issue within CAF that makes the organization more problematic. CAF is deeply divided between those who argue for an incrementalist and integrationist approach in representing Muslim and Arab interests. In 2004, the opposition within CAF accused the proponents of such a strategy of being Uncle Toms. Those critics advocated a more confrontational and anti-assimilationist position.

Three presidents of the CAF, John Asfour (1997-2002), Raja Khouri (2002-2004) and Omar Alghabra (2004-2005) represented the first approach. Khaled Mouammar (2006-2010) set CAF on a new path representing the second approach. This is interesting since Mouammar was a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board for eleven years prior to 2005 where he earned a reputation for automatically accepting all Arab and Muslim refugee claimants. More ironic still, Mouammar is a Christian, not a Muslim. But he is unequivocally anti-Israel and, perhaps, anti-Semitic. Further, from his writings and comments, he seems to believe that, like CIJA, CAF should make transnational issues a primary concern of CAF and recognize the structural links between Canadian foreign policy and Canada’s alleged racist treatment of Arabs and Muslims.

Some observers (Wafa Hasan, Cultural Studies, McMaster) defend such an approach as the only way to combat Canada’s alleged structural racism and its defence of institutional power and Canadian “values.” This power position of the establishment in Canada is the real cause of Arab and Muslim-Canadian alienation. In other words, Canadians who uphold human rights and tolerance, pluralism and civil discourse, do so only to oppress disaffected and alienated minorities and retain institutional power by existing dominant Canadian groups. Given CAF’s new approach, contemporaneous with the installation of the Harper government in 2006, a confrontation developed between CAF and the government that came to a head in 2009. The government once gave over a million dollars to CAF, but has since cut back on most and perhaps all of those funds.

Omar Alghabra stood on the other side opposed to Khaled Mouammar. For him, a focus on foreign affairs discredits CAF and presents Arabs as single-issue and narrow-minded and biased. Positions must be taken because they have both a universal appeal and a universal application. He argued that Arab-Canadians are typically discredited when they focus on the political events in a region outside of Canada. But how is this possible if, in 2004, as President of CAF, he denounced the Toronto Star for depicting the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades as a terrorist organization? Did he really write a letter to the Toronto Police Chief on behalf of CAF denouncing his trip to Israel?

With respect to denouncing the Toronto Star, a paper for which he often wrote opinion pieces, for depicting the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades as a terrorist organization, what, in fact, happened, as far as I can understand by going back and reading newspaper archives from 2004, is that someone else made the remark and blamed Alghabra. When the Second Intifada was in full swing, Mohamed Elmasry, a Professor of Engineering and a widely published scholar, but also a spokesperson for the Canadian Islamic Congress, was the source of the remark. Although Elmasry supports a two-state solution as the only realistic possibility, he nevertheless is a rabid anti-Zionist (and possible anti-Semite, even though he denounces graffiti attacks on Canadian synagogues) and calls Israel an apartheid state.

However, the real controversial remark took place on the Michael Coren show. (19 October 2004)

COREN: Anyone over the age of 18 in Israel is a valid target.

ELMASRY: Anybody above 18 is a part of the Israeli army…

COREN: So everyone in Israel and anyone and everyone in Israel, irrespective of gender, over the age of 18 is a valid target?

ELMASRY: Yes, I would say.

Elamasry argued for the legitimacy of targeting all Israelis over 18 by any means, and insisted that such acts did not constitute terrorism. Any form of violence, he insisted, was justified in attacking Israelis. Omar Alghabra started defending Elmasry on behalf of CAF. However, in response to criticism, and after watching the full tape of Elmasry’s remarks on Michael Coren’s show, he immediately withdrew that support. “We commented on [Mohamed Elmasry] and took a position without watching the whole tape.” As a result, Alghabra admitted that CAF “had egg on its face.”

On the second issue, the controversy over the Toronto Police Chief’s visit to Israel that broke out at the end August 2005, the Chief said he was going to Israel to see how Israelis handled terrorism. Though the Police Commission Board defended the Police Chief’s right to visit Israel, Alghabra, as well as many others, were critical. There was no indication that this criticism meant Alghabra was critical of Israel, though, from his general disposition, he seemed to be very sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and critical of Israel. In fact, Alghabra takes a stronger position than Abbas himself, certainly over the settling of borders. He goes further and claims that Resolution 242 demands Israel’s withdrawal from all the territories captured in 1967. (The resolution leaves out the definite article and refers only to territories.) But that position and his criticism of the Police Chief’s trip were perfectly appropriate for him to make, whether I or any reader agrees or disagrees with his position on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute or the Police Chief taking the trip.

What was totally inappropriate – and incorrect – was his insistence in the Jewish Tribune, where he interpreted that Resolution 242 required Israel to totally withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, was that this Liberal Party policy. The actual Liberal Party policy says no such thing, but insists that, in implementing a two-state solution, a safe, secure and democratic Israel must exist in peace beside a viable, secure and democratic Palestinian state. The Liberal Party’s position on Israel’s right to self-defence and on Hamas are far less equivocal. “Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Hamas is a terrorist organization and must cease its rocket attacks immediately.”

As for mourning Arafat, another complaint cast against Omar Alghabra, that should have been a good sign. For though Arafat had indeed been a terrorist, as had Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, Arafat had accepted the principle of a two-state solution and had won a Nobel Prize, as had Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres (2004). After meeting Arafat twice and having become convinced that his worst failing was that he was both a poor micromanager and a flake, I nevertheless would not have expected any Arab community leader not to mourn Arafat’s passing.

What about Alghabra’s opposition to no fly lists? It just happens to be the position of most human rights organizations. After all, it is not as if putting someone on a list is subject to a court review that allows someone to question such an action. Rather, it is a punishing move by an unknown bureaucrat whose action the victim has no right or means to challenge. There is neither due process nor fairness. And once on such a list, it is almost impossible to get off. The argument is not against such lists, but against the absence of protections and processing in making a list. In September 2014, a Muslim Canadian Haligonian, Mohammed Yaffa, protested to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal about the extended security checks to which he was subjected numerous times suspecting his inclusion on Canada’s secretive no-fly or guarded-fly list. Canada’s information commissioner, Suzanne Legault, took Ottawa to court over its secrecy. I have not read the results of either appeal. But if Legault was entitled to complain, certainly Alghabra was.

What about when these critics who cited Alghabra for telling Al Jazeera, “On the issue of Iran, Trudeau has clearly stated that he is for engagement.” But Barack Obama believes strongly in engagement. So even did Ronald Reagan in negotiating with the USSR. Engagement does not mean naïve acceptance of the other as if everything is normal. Non-engagement means ignoring contact; it means isolating Cuba. No matter how much I personally distrusted Castro, non-engagement is not the answer, but part of the problem.

On my many blogs on the Iran nuclear negotiations, I have advocated for engagement. This does not mean that I do not believe that Iran, other that Da’esh and al Qaeda, is the meanest agent in the Middle East turmoil. In fact, I argued that the nuclear deal would permit Iran to be even meaner and, therefore, more dangerous on the non-nuclear front. Nevertheless, I believe engagement is better than non-engagement in most situations, and certainly in this one. So this is a criticism that stems from ideology rather than discovering something peculiar and out-of-bounds specific to Alghabra.

So where does this leave us in the charge that Justin Trudeau has a Senior Policy Adviser who defends terrorism and has a deep hatred of Israel? If the latter, it has to be very deep because, though he is clearly sympathetic to Palestinians, there is no indication that he is anti-Israel. But is he a closet Islamist crusader? I just don’t know. He could be an incrementalist on behalf of Islam, secretly moving into a position of political authority. I have no evidence to exonerate him from such a charge. But I have plenty of evidence to insist that he be taken as innocent until solid evidence is offered to come to such a conclusion.

The evidence that I have found in testing the charges made against Omar Alghabra suggest that the accusers are more akin to Donald Trump than reputable critics. When I investigate their sources, often the charge and the source have only a tangential resemblance. And sometimes I come up with nothing at all, such as the reference to a paper by Tahir Gora in April 2014. What I do find is accusers who live in their own bubble and cite one another as authoritative sources for what they write instead of obeying the first and most fundamental guideline of investigations into the truth – what have you done to disconfirm what you believe?

So what is the source for the claim that in 2002, Mr Alghabra stated that he did not believe that Hamas (Muslim Brotherhood proxy group) or Islamic Jihad were terrorist groups? Alghabra may have made such a claim. But the proof text offered: an article by Ezra Levant in The Toronto Sun (“Courting the Extremist Vote, 22 August 2014). Try a Google or a Google Scholar search – Alghabra Hamas 2002. What you get is a series of articles or references in which these accusers cite one another as authoritative sources. Elmasry certainly argued for legitimating Hezbollah and Hamas. But thus far I have not been able to uncover evidence that this was Alghabra’s position. On the other hand, Alghabra evidently wrote a letter to Peter MacKay when he was Foreign Minister urging him not to cut funds to the Hamas-Palestinian Authority. I have not been able to read the letter. From the controversy over the issue and what I did read, Alghabra had urged that Canada not cut funds to the PA if Hamas joined the government.

There are other statements attributed to Omar Alghabra. “More than over a million Palestinians have been killed, millions of them have made refugees, and millions of them are in the concentration camps.” As one who has written a great deal on Palestinian refugees, the statement is blatantly false. But Omar Alghabra did not make it. The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada did. Whether Alghabra cited it or referred to it, I have not been able to find out.

There are other matters of real concern. Alghabra defended the Goldstone Report, one in which Goldstone later renounced the very conclusion that Alghabra defended. I have written a great deal on the Goldstone Report and have been very critical of it. Alghabra defended the Goldstone Report and asserted that there was “no accountability for Israel’s war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.” The lack of accountability, he insisted, has reached a crisis point. (6 October 2009) But this legitimate criticism of positions that Alghabra has actually taken was, for some reason, omitted from Ezra Levant’s critiques.

My conclusion is that these writers and critics (Levant, TSEC Network, etc.) of Alghabra to which I referred have little respect for the norms of good scholarship or even good journalism as currently practiced. If I had more time to conduct truly thorough searches and came up with the same results, I might conclude that they, like Trump, distort or deform the truth for the purpose of making a point. As for the readers who sent me the charges, I am pleased if my writing may make you less sanguine about the alleged truth “discovered” in the writings of fear-mongers.