The Niqab and the Canadian Election

The Niqab and the Canadian Election

by

Howard Adelman

Forgive me for jumping out of my series on the Iran nuclear issue. But the issue of the niqab on which the results of the Canadian election may turn, is too important, precisely because it is so unimportant. For non-Canadian readers let me provide the context.

The niqab is the veil worn by a very small minority of Muslim women in Canada. Zunera Ishaq became the unsought for central player when Stephen Harper refused to admit her into Canadian citizenship unless she removed her veil or niqab in the public ceremonial swearing of allegiance. Zunera’s niqab has a very wide slit; the forehead and upper cheekbones can be seen. Many of us have seen Saudi women at airports where the slit is extremely narrow and some where even the eyes are covered by a netting as in wearing a burka.

The political issue arose over whether, when a person applies to become a Canadian citizen, they will be permitted to wear the veil in the public part of the ceremony. Of course, this is not how the issue was raised as part of electoral politics. The situation was made out as if it is about women being “forced” to hide their faces when they wish to become Canadian citizens and whether a person who hid her identity in public could swear an oath of allegiance. Or, at least, this is how our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and his partners in the Conservative Party in Canada framed the issue.

The following are the facts:

  1. Two women in Canada since 2011 have refused to take off their niqabs in the public ceremony, not in private, as a condition of becoming citizens.
  2. There is no law in Canada prohibiting the wearing of a niqab at the public ceremony where the citizenship oath is taken.
  3. The government of Canada issued regulations banning the wearing of face veils when taking the oath of citizenship in the public ceremony.
  4. Zunera Ishaq, clearly no wilting rose, took the Government of Canada to court over the issue.
  5. She won her court case and, just recently, in the Federal Court of Appeal, won again.
  6. The courts have ruled that the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Zunera Ishaq from being forced to remove her veil during the public part of the ceremony and that she should be given the right to wear the veil in the public ceremony, become a citizen and be allowed to vote in the forthcoming election on 19 October.
  7. The latest ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal was on 18 September.
  8. The Government of Canada even lost the subsequent court case asking for a stay in allowing Zunera Ishaq her rights.
  9. Last Friday she exercised her rights, became a citizen and can vote in the elections on 19 October or in the advance poll.
  10. This is but one of a long series of cases where the current Government of Canada has sought through regulations to get around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the government has been thwarted at every turn by the Canadian courts.
  11. Note that, before participating in the public ceremony where the oath is taken, any applicant for citizenship must go through a number of steps to prove the applicant’s identity.
  12. Those steps include, in the name of the principle of political accommodation, that Zunera Ishaq remove her veil in private before a female official to establish her identity.
  13. The public ceremony is part of the ceremonial part of the occasion, one that if you ever attend is very moving for almost all participants.
  14.  The Conservatives, as part of the election campaign, promised to “rectify” the matter by introducing legislation within 100 days of taking office that will require those applying for citizenship to take off face coverings during the formal ceremony confirming citizenship.
  15. They promise to do this without first hearing from the Supreme Court of Canada whether such legislation would be legal under the Canadian Constitution and even though the party, if it wins the largest plurality of seats, will only be a minority government.
  16. The Conservative Party has also signalled that it even plans to introduce legislation banning any federal employee from wearing a niqab when serving the public.
  17. Further, Catherine Loubier, a spokeswoman for the Conservative Party, stated that the niqab issue was part of the Conservative “agenda” as a well-established principle of the party, and that the party has simply benefited from a “coincidence.”
  18. It appears that this may even be part of a future plan to allow a Conservative minority government to be defeated on such an issue and call an election to get a majority vote for the Conservative Party.
  19. The real issue is that Stephen Harper is the one really wearing a metaphorical niqab behind which he has been hiding to distract Canadians from really examining closely his mismanagement of the economy, his destruction of the “civil” dimension of the Canadian civil service and the myriad of other issues on which he has a deplorable record.
  20. In Canada, and in Quebec particular, the issue of wearing religiously identifying garments, particularly by civil servants serving the public, has become a contentious issue.
  21. In France, girls at school are banned from wearing a hijab, that is a headscarf, let alone a niqab. The Quebec Marois government which introduced the Charter on Quebec values and laws against the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols or garments was bent on banning the wearing of any ostentatious religious symbols by Quebec officials and others in particular situations; this was in the French tradition of religious secularism, laicité.
  22. The main opposition parties came out strongly against the Government position based, not on whether they liked or disliked women wearing the niqab, but on the basis of human rights and upholding Canadian law and the constitution.
  23. One possible result, as established by polls, is that support for the New Democratic Party in Quebec, where the party has most of their members of parliament and the vast majority of Quebec seats, has fallen precipitously; polls initially indicated that much of that shift favoured the Conservatives given the politics of fear and blanketing the airwaves with pictures of ominous happenings as a woman dawns a veil. More recent polls suggest a more significant shift to the Liberals. Since Justin Trudeau holds the same position on the niqab issue – namely that it is being used as a distraction and wearing it anywhere is a human right as interpreted by Canadian courts,
  24. The biggest irony of all is that a very feisty Zunera Ishaq donned the veil, not in the name of tradition, but in the name of her rights as a private person, in the name of the secular religion of Canada and against the advice and even pleas of family members.

One cannot but admire how Tom Mulcair as leader of the New Democratic Party has handled the issue as a matter of principle in spite of the political backlash against his and his party’s views. However, while praising his principles, one can also be disappointed in the way he handled the spin on the issue. He based his objections on two foundations – first on the rights of these Muslim women and the rule of law in Canada. Second, he attacked Harper for using such a politically miniscule issue to arouse ethnic and religious fears in Canada and a degree of hostility to Muslims that is beneath the surface. His principles may be admired, but his ability at political counter-attack, at counter-spin, may not be. In any case, he may have lost support in Quebec for a myriad of other reasons.

Naheed Nenshi, the Muslim mayor of Calgary and perhaps the most popular politician in Canada, offered a very spirited attack on the Conservative position. He did so, not because he is a member of any other political party to the best of my knowledge. He was just absolutely appalled by the position of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, Harper’s leading cabinet minister. Nenshi made the following points;

  1. He personally does not like the niqab and wishes people would not wear it.
  2. The wearing of the niqab may not be, for the women who wear it, a symbol of oppression and of masculine misogyny.
  3. The government’s position is contradictory, for in the name of supposedly protecting women against the oppression of their husbands, their families and their tradition, the government would adopt the position of oppression to tell women what they can wear in certain circumstances.
  4. The government has far more important issues to debate in an election than what two women in the last four years have chosen to wear at a public ceremony in which the oath of citizenship is sworn together with a larger group of applicants.
  5. Those issues include the disappearance of large numbers of aboriginal women, an issue on which the Government of Canada refuses to set up a Commission of Inquiry.

In spite of Nenshi’s intervention, and that of many others, including very articulate Muslim women who would never wear a niqab, polls initially indicated that a majority of Canadians, not just in Quebec, supported the Conservative Party position. Léger Marketing found 82 per cent were in support of the policy nationally, and 93 per cent in favour in Quebec.

I am not a political spin doctor. But I would have advised a slightly different approach than that of either Tom Mulcair or Naheed Neshi or Justin Trudeau for that matter. First, as Nenshi did, I would have indicated that I do not particularly like women wearing a niqab  – but because I enjoy seeing the beauty in a woman’s face. Secondly, even though tattooing has grown in popularity, I have a very much stronger distaste for people who adorn themselves with tattoos and have been an oppressive father who banned my children, while supported by me, from ever getting a tattoo. Nevertheless, I would never think of passing a law or regulation banning this form of ostentatious personal identification by a civil servant, a student or an individual seeking to become a citizen.

But a tattoo does not hide a person’s identity. In fact, it establishes it more clearly – ask the number of criminals who have been caught because they were identified by the specific tattoo they wore. True enough, but the criterion espoused by Harper was his personal distaste for the behaviour of women wearing a niqab, since objective evidence and fact establish unequivocally that it is not an identity issue. I once had a woman who wore a niqab to my class and never had any difficulty whatsoever in identifying her, in fact even less difficulty than identifying most of my students – I was very bad at that very important skill.

The basic point is that my personal distaste, whatever it is and however much anyone agrees or disagrees with it, should not be the basis for making Canadian law or regulations. Further, it is not only I who say so. The Courts of Canada have ruled on this issue over and over again. My position on tattoos may be very appealing, especially to a number of older people who are appalled at the increasing propensity of young people to wear tattoos. But when it comes to public space and civil discourse, it is none of my business.

Mulcair and Nenshi attacked Stephen Harper for introducing such a trivial issue in an election because it was being used as a wedge issue for those who feared the influx of Muslims into Canada. That may be the case, but a vast majority of Canadians support Harper’s position and I do not believe they are anti-Muslim. They are against the practice of women wearing niqabs. The political issue, as opposed to constitutional one, is to focus the debate, not on their personal taste, but on principles, the laws of Canada and the rights of women. But one can best, I believe, shift the focus of debate only once establishing an identity with those Canadians who are opposed to women wearing a niqab.

The courts can decide what is lawful and not lawful with respect to dictates of the government re requirements of dress or tattoos. My personal distaste is irrelevant. Rights are. Respect for differences is critical. What is most relevant is Stephen Harper’s and the Conservative Party’s effort on tramping on what I believe are prime Canadian values – tolerance, respect, not just acceptance, of others – and recognition that I should never make my personal tastes, whether for vanilla ice cream, diet colas or niqabs, a basis for making public policy.

Why did Harper adopt this position? He certainly used it to sew fear and division, but the incident really fell into his lap. It had long been Conservative public policy. Therefore, it is doubtful whether the debate over the wearing of niqabs at public rituals when swearing an Oath to the Queen was intended as a wedge issue, though it was certainly played up for that use.

The explanation however lies deeper. Stephen Harper is a classical small “l” liberal when it comes to the separation of religion from the public political sphere and from civil society. His prime enemy is not socialism or the nanny state, though these are lined up for extinction. His main enemy is the secular liberal religion of human rights. He is a traditional Conservative or classical liberal who believe that religious affiliation, beliefs and commitments belong to the private sphere. Harper is not a member of the secular religion of rights or humanitarianism. He deeply and sincerely believes in Machiavellianism as the guide to practice in the public sphere. Faith is a private matter. The public believes, especially Quebecers, that religion must be excluded from public life. Harper adds to that belief a conviction that the public realm is the sphere governed by power, not by faith, by manipulation rather than tolerance, reasonable accommodation and inclusion. Harper practices the politics of exclusion and works hard to divide the public polity to gain enough support, even if it is minority support, to defeat those who have faith in the liberal secular religion of rights.

he public sphere and especially political elections offer the arena where these secular religious wars are fought. Hopefully, Harper will lose this battle.

 

The Niqab and the Canadian Election

The Niqab and the Canadian Election

by

Howard Adelman

Forgive me for jumping out of my series on the Iran nuclear issue. But the issue of the niqab on which the results of the Canadian election may turn, is too important, precisely because it is so unimportant. For non-Canadian readers let me provide the context.

The niqab is the veil worn by a very small minority of Muslim women in Canada. Zunera Ishaq became the unsought for central player when the Stephen Harper refused to admit her into Canadian citizenship unless she removed her veil or niqab in the public ceremonial swearing of allegiance. Zunera’s niqab has a very wide slit; the forehead and upper cheekbones can be seen. Many of us have seen Saudi women at airports where the slit is extremely narrow and some where even the eyes are covered by a netting as in wearing a burka.

The political issue arose over whether, when a person applies to become a Canadian citizen, they will be permitted to wear the veil in the public part of the ceremony. Of course, this is not how the issue was raised as part of electoral politics. The situation was made out as if it is about women being “forced” to hide their faces when they wish to become Canadian citizens and whether a person who hid her identity in public could swear an oath of allegiance. Or, at least, this is how our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and his partners in the Conservative Party in Canada framed the issue.

The following are the facts:

  1. Two women in Canada since 2011 have refused to take off their niqabs in the public ceremony, not in private, as a condition of becoming citizens.
  2. There is no law in Canada prohibiting the wearing of a niqab at the public ceremony where the citizenship oath is taken.
  3. The government of Canada issued regulations banning the wearing of face veils when taking the oath of citizenship in the public ceremony.
  4. Zunera Ishaq, clearly no wilting rose, took the Government of Canada to court over the issue.
  5. She won her court case and, just recently, in the Federal Court of Appeal, won again.
  6. The courts have ruled that the Canada Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Zunera Ishaq from being forced to remove her veil during the public part of the ceremony and that she should be given the right to wear the veil in the public ceremony, become a citizen and be allowed to vote in the forthcoming election on 19 October.
  7. The latest ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal was on 18 September.
  8. The Government of Canada even lost the subsequent court case asking for a stay in allowing Zunera Ishaq her rights.
  9. Last Friday she exercised her rights, became a citizen and can vote in the elections on 19 October or in the advance poll.
  10. This is but one of a long series of cases where the current Government of Canada has sought through regulations to get around the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the government has been thwarted at every turn by the Canadian courts.
  11. Note that, before participating in the public ceremony where the oath is taken, any applicant for citizenship must go through a number of steps to prove the applicant’s identity.
  12. Those steps include, in the name of the principle of political accommodation, that Zunera Ishaq remove her veil in private before a female official to establish her identity.
  13. The public ceremony is part of the ceremonial part of the occasion, one that if you ever attend is very moving for almost all participants.
  14.  The Conservatives, as part of the election campaign, promised to “rectify” the matter by introducing legislation within 100 days of taking office that will require those applying for citizenship to take off face coverings during the formal ceremony confirming citizenship.
  15. They promise to do this without first hearing from the Supreme Court of Canada whether such legislation would be legal under the Canadian Constitution and even though the party, if it wins the largest plurality of seats, will only be a minority government.
  16. The Conservative Party has also signalled that it even plans to introduce legislation banning any federal employee from wearing a niqab when serving the public.
  17. Further, Catherine Loubier, a spokeswoman for the Conservative Party, stated that the niqab issue was part of the Conservative “agenda” as a well-established principle of the party, and that the party has simply benefited from a “coincidence.”
  18. It appears that this may even be part of a future plan to allow a Conservative minority government to be defeated on such an issue and call an election to get a majority vote for the Conservative Party.
  19. The real issue is that Stephen Harper is the one really wearing a metaphorical niqab behind which he has been hiding to distract Canadians from really examining closely his mismanagement of the economy, his destruction of the “civil” dimension of the Canadian civil service and the myriad of other issues on which he has a deplorable record.
  20. In Canada, and in Quebec particularly the issue of wearing religiously identifying garments, particularly by civil servants serving the public, has become a contentious issue.
  21. In France, girls at school are banned from wearing a hijab, that is a headscarf, let alone a niqab. The Quebec Marois government which introduced the Charter on Quebec values and laws against the wearing of “ostentatious” religious symbols or garments introduced laws banning the wearing of any ostentatious religious symbols by Quebec officials and others in particular situations; this was in the French tradition of religious secularism, laicité.
  22. The opposition parties came out strongly against the Government position based, not on whether they liked or disliked women wearing the niqab, but on the basis of human rights and upholding Canadian law and the constitution.
  23. One possible result, as established by polls, is that support for the New Democratic Party in Quebec, where the party has most of their members of parliament and the vast majority of Quebec seats, has fallen precipitously; polls initially indicated that much of that shift favoured the Conservatives given the politics of fear and blanketing the airwaves with pictures of ominous happenings as a woman dawns a veil. More recent polls suggest a more significant shift to the Liberals. Since Justin Trudeau holds the same position on the niqab issue – namely that it is being used as a distraction and wearing it anywhere is a human right as interpreted by Canadian courts,
  24. The biggest irony of all is that a very feisty Zunera Ishaq donned the veil, not in the name of tradition, but in the name of her rights as a private person, in the name of the secular religion of Canada and against the advice and even pleas of family members.

One cannot but admire how Tom Mulcair as leader of the New Democratic Party has handled the issue as a matter of principle in spite of the political backlash against his and his party’s views. However, while praising his principles, one can also be disappointed in the way he handled the spin on the issue. He based his objections on two foundations – first on the rights of these Muslim women and the rule of law in Canada. Second, he attacked Harper for using such a politically miniscule issue to arouse ethnic and religious fears in Canada and a degree of hostility to Muslims that is beneath the surface. His principles may be admired, but his ability at political counter-attack, at counter-spin, may not be. In any case, he may have lost support in Quebec for a myriad of other reasons.

Naheed Nenshi, the Muslim mayor of Calgary and perhaps the most popular politician in Canada, offered a very spirited attack on the Conservative position. He did so, not because he is a member of any other political party to the best of my knowledge. He was just absolutely appalled by the position of Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney, Harper’s leading cabinet minister. Nenshi made the following points;

  1. He personally does not like the niqab and wishes people would not wear it.
  2. The wearing of the niqab may not be, for the women who wear it, a symbol of oppression and of masculine misogyny.
  3. The government’s position is contradictory for, in the name of supposedly protecting women against the oppression of their husbands, their families and their tradition, the government would adopt the position of oppression to tell women what they can wear in certain circumstances.
  4. The government has far more important issues to debate in an election than what two women in the last four years have chosen to wear at a public ceremony in which the oath of citizenship is sworn together with a larger group of applicants.
  5. Those issues include the disappearance of large numbers of aboriginal women, an issue on which the Government of Canada refuses to set up a Commission of Inquiry.

In spite of Nenshi’s intervention, and that of many others, including very articulate Muslim women who would never wear a niqab, polls initially indicated that a majority of Canadians, not just in Quebec, supported the Conservative Party position. Léger Marketing found 82 per cent were in support of the policy nationally, and 93 per cent in favour in Quebec.

I am not a political spin doctor. But I would have advised a slightly different approach than that of either Tom Mulcair or Naheed Neshi or Justin Trudeau for that matter. First, as Nenshi did, I would have indicated that I do not particularly like women wearing a niqab  – but because I enjoy seeing the beauty in a woman’s face. Secondly, even though tattooing has grown in popularity, I have a very much stronger distaste for people who adorn themselves with tattoos and have been an oppressive father who banned my children, while supported by me, from ever getting a tattoo. Nevertheless, I would never think of passing a law or regulation banning this form of ostentatious personal identification by a civil servant, a student or an individual seeking to become a citizen.

But a tattoo does not hide a person’s identity. In fact, it establishes it more clearly – ask the number of criminals who have been caught because they were identified by the specific tattoo they wore. True enough, but the criterion espoused by Harper was his personal distaste for the behaviour of women wearing a niqab, since objective evidence and fact establish unequivocally that it is not an identity issue. I once had a woman who wore a niqab to my class and never had any difficulty whatsoever in identifying her, in fact even less difficulty than identifying most of my students – I was very bad at that very important skill.

The basic point is that my personal distaste, whatever it is and however much anyone agrees or disagrees with it, should not be the basis for making Canadian law or regulations. Further, it is not only I who say so. The Courts of Canada have ruled on this issue over and over again. My position on tattoos may be very appealing, especially to a number of older people who are appalled at the increasing propensity of young people to wear tattoos. But when it comes to public space and civil discourse, it is none of my business.

Mulcair and Nenshi attacked Stephen Harper for introducing such a trivial issue in an election because it was being used as a wedge issue for those who feared the influx of Muslims into Canada. That may be the case, but a vast majority of Canadians support Harper’s position and I do not believe they are anti-Muslim. They are against the practice of women wearing niqabs. The political issue, as opposed to constitutional one, is to focus the debate, not on their personal taste, but on principles, the laws of Canada and the rights of women. But one can best, I believe, shift the focus of debate only once establishing an identity with those Canadians who are opposed to women wearing a niqab.

The courts can decide what is lawful and not lawful with respect to dictates of the government re requirements of dress or tattoos. My personal distaste is irrelevant. Rights are. Respect for differences is critical. What is most relevant is Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s effort on tramping on what I believe are prime Canadian values – tolerance, respect, not just acceptance, of others – and recognition that I should never make my personal tastes, whether for vanilla ice cream, diet colas or niqabs, a basis for making public policy.

Why did Harper adopt this position? He certainly used it to sew fear and division, but the incident really fell into his lap. It had long been Conservative public policy. Therefore, it is doubtful whether the debate over the wearing of niqabs at public rituals when swearing an Oath to the Queen was intended as a wedge issue, though it was certainly played up for that use.

The explanation however lies deeper. Stephen Harper is a classical small “l” liberal when it comes to the separation of religion from the public political sphere and from civil society. His prime enemy is not socialism or the nanny state, though these are lined up for extinction. His main enemy is the secular liberal religion of human rights. He is a traditional Conservative or classical liberal who believe that religious affiliation, beliefs and commitments belong to the private sphere. Harper is not a member of the secular religion of rights or humanitarianism. He deeply and sincerely believes in Machiavellianism as the guide to practice in the public sphere. Faith is a private matter. The public believes, especially Quebecers, that religion must be excluded from public life. Harper adds to that belief a conviction that the public realm is the sphere governed by power, not by faith, by manipulation rather than tolerance and inclusion. Harper practices the politics of exclusion and works hard to divide the public polity to gain enough support, even if it is minority support, to defeat those who have faith in the liberal secular religion of rights.

The public sphere and especially political elections offer the arena where these secular religious wars are fought. Hopefully, Harper will lose this battle.

The Harper Government as Poor Economic Managers

The Harper Government as Poor Economic Managers

by

Howard Adelman

In Part II of this morning’s blog I want to continue the focus on Harper’s economic policies, but less from the perspective of macro-economics and more with a focus on specific economic policies. A reputation for good economic management is Harper’s strongest suit. That reputation is undeserved. This morning I will make my case by reference to his specific economic policies.

I already mentioned the issue of pensions. Harper has been a vocal critic of the Ontario government’s new pension plan, one that imitates in many ways the Quebec plan. He calls it a new tax, as if a tax were a disease. Yet in any economic measure, pension contributions are not a tax. They are forced savings, savings which can be invested in stocks and in bonds. Instead, Harper has proposed or delivered a series of induced savings.

One example was the increase in the tax free saving allowance (TFSA) to $10,000 from $5,500, even though there is a majority consensus among economists that this will only benefit the upper income group because the members of that group will be the only ones with enough discretionary income to put into savings accounts of this type. At the same time, the Canada Revenue Agency has demonstrated that one-fifth of Canadian taxpayers have already maxed out their TFSA. Upping the limit may have been justified; the increase in the annual contribution was not. The cost to the treasury will be enormous, but only the rich few will benefit. Increasing the annual amount of tax free savings not only benefits a small percentage of Canadians who are rich, but in the long run, according to the parliamentary budget office, the doubling of the TFSA will cut out $40 billion in revenue for both federal and provincial governments by the year 2080. Talk about taking benefits for the present generation and imposing a burden on future generations!

There is another whopper of an error – the introduction of income splitting. The Conservative Party allowed couples with minor children to split incomes up to $50,000 of income. Income splitting does both benefit and encourage spouses (overwhelmingly women) to stay home rather than go out to work while raising a family. So those who espouse traditional family values with the female member of the household staying home, benefit. Only 15% of the population, all upper income earners, show a gain. Two-earner families end up paying relatively more tax than one-earner families. Permitting income splitting encourages an increase in one-income families – certainly the better off where only one parent with a significant income will benefit. In fact, as the conservative think tank, the C.D. Howe Institute has shown, “The gains would be highly concentrated among high-income one-earner couples: 40 percent of total benefits would go to families with incomes above $125,000.” Since gains could reach $6,500 in federal tax savings and almost $6,000 in provincial tax revenues, the cost to the Treasury is huge, $2.7 billion in lost revenue at the federal level and $1.7 billion at the provincial level. The marginal effective tax rate for most lower-earning spouses would be raised significantly. In effect, the measure is a tax subsidy to those who leave the labour market, largely an educated and trained group that are needed in the economy.

Along the same line, the Conservatives have increased what used to be called the baby bonus and is now called the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB) just in time for the election instead of increasing the Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB). This, along with income splitting meant a $3 billion cost to the Canadian budget. Yet the CCTB has proven to be the better route to assist families with children.

What about the reduction of business taxes for small businesses from 11% to 9% gradually over the next four years in response to the lobbying of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB)? Harper had already reduced those taxes to 11% in 2008.  Canada has already one of the lowest business tax rates in the world with a large business tax of 15%. The incentive to decrease corporate taxes arose with globalization and the race to keep large businesses in one’s own country. Harper has provided $60 billion dollars in tax relief to corporate Canada. Yet there is little evidence that job creation increased in proportion to tax decreases. In fact, the rate of job creation has slowed. What was needed was tax incentives for companies that created new jobs.

Admittedly, most economic challenges – the drastic drop in oil prices in particular – have not been in control of the government. But the glut in oil was foreseeable as shale techniques expanded and the USA became self-sufficient in oil production, and as new sources of fossil fuels were discovered. Betting on the oil patch at this time was clearly a mistake.

Job growth has been the weakest under Harper compared to previous governments. Harper fumbled the negotiations for Canada to enter the Pacific free trade agreement. One way to increase jobs is to increase exports, particularly exports of professional services which constitute 70% of the economy and the source of 80% of the new jobs. Where are the incentives to encourage our architects and engineers, our accountants and statisticians, our graphic artists and our medical specialists to export their skills? Instead, the government crippled Statistics Canada which did sell its services abroad and used to be recognized as the best set of statistical services in the world.

The biggest effort the Harper made was to lower the sales tax from 15% to 13%, a very popular measure which the Liberals and NDP have promised not to touch even though shifting taxes from income to consumption is generally seen as beneficial provided lower income groups are protected so that their proportion in paying taxes is not harmed.  No one likes to raise such a visible tax, but since it was reduced, this can be viewed as the major reason the country has been in deficit since 2008.

The largest problem, however, has not been the relative harm versus good of all these individual measures. It is the absence of an economic vision and plan for Canada. If the accumulation of policies to tweak the economy, but really attract more votes, has failed to:

  • increase the rate of new job creation
  • benefit the underemployed young who no longer have the prospect of earning a middle class income and purchasing their own home
  • help the largest section of our growing youth population consisting of aboriginal youth but, instead, increases their disadvantages
  • even invest, or encourage investment, in the environment, one of the fastest sectors for growing the economy, if only for the economic benefits and in spite of the government’s continuing mindblindness to the issue of climate change;

then where are the hopes and dreams of young Canadians?

There are alternatives, admittedly none of them terribly inspiring. The Green Party’s is the weakest. Their advocacy of free higher education runs against the studies that show that the best investment in education is at the pre-school level and not the upper end. The NDP does have some interesting and less discriminatory programs to boost the safety social net and particularly child care programs. The Liberals are the only ones planning to increase taxes – on the rich – and its plan to build new infrastructure with a low deficit/GDP ratio is attractive. All the Tories offer is slow growth and poor prospects for creating new jobs.

The Harper Conservatives as good stewards of the economy! It is a joke.

Canada, Israel and Syrian Refugees

Yesterday I took a drive with one of my sons through Forest Hill Village, one of two older and very prosperous areas in the City of Toronto near downtown, generally characterized as upper middle class. In fact, many of its denizens are lower upper class. We were delivering flowers lest our orthodox friends be faced with allowing the flowers to die if we brought them once Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year Holiday, started. The predominant Halachic interpretation of Talmudic Law forbids such action on Rosh Hashanah lest the flowers not be in full bloom and the individual putting the flowers in the water be guilty of participating in “planting” on a day on which work was prohibited.

Forest Hill was awash in blue signs for the Conservative candidate. Though I do not live in Forest Hill, Forest Hill is part of St. Paul’s riding where I live. In the May 2011 election, Carolyn Bennett won the riding handily with 39.92% of the vote when the Liberals across Canada won only 18.91% of the vote and were decimated. Marnie MacDougall, the executive assistant to Conservative MP Mark Adler who represents the heavily Jewish riding of Thornhill, is running for the Conservatives in a riding in which Conservatives won 32.42% of the vote in the last election whereas the Conservatives across the country received 39.62% of the vote. (The NDP, even when it became the official opposition and won 30.62% of the vote across Canada, won only 22.63% of the vote in St. Paul’s.) Even though the NDP candidate this time is Noah Richler with a well-recognized name, the NDP is considered to have very little chance of winning in this riding, especially in an election where many left of centre voters are voting strategically and will vote for the party best able to oust Stephen Harper.

Though the riding has traditionally been Liberal, in the May 1979 election Ron Atkey defeated John Roberts for the Liberals and became the Conservative representative for St. Paul’s riding with 44.1% of the vote compared to 41.3% for the Conservatives. In the February 1980 elections, Roberts retook the riding with 45.3% compared to Atkey’s 39.5%. However, in the almost 10 months when the Conservatives were in power and when Ron was the representative, he was the Immigration Minister who led the charge to admit 50,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada by the end of 1980. (The Liberals, when they won subsequently, increased the intake of refugees to 60,000; in 1979, the Tories and the Liberals competed for which party was the best humanitarian.)

In the 2015 election, once again the Tories are in a position to win the riding even though the Tories are running at only 30% in support across the nation. The reasons are simple. St. Paul’s is a riding with a significant portion of Jews; however, that proportion is only about 14%. The majority of Jews during Harper’s rule have increasingly shifted to the Tories in line with their income, but primarily because of Harper’s unequivocal support for Israel and, more particularly, for the Netanyahu government. Even more Jews seem to have shifted to the Tories when voter shifts elsewhere have gone in the opposite direction across the country. The second major reason is that the NDP, which is the leading party in national polls to this date, is running a credible candidate with a name with national recognition who is not a token, but is running to win on a hoped for NDP tide. With little experience, we do not know how many of the voters in this riding will vote strategically. The shrinking of the riding boundary on its eastern border is not expected to effect the distribution of the vote significantly.

The litmus test for most Jews in casting their ballots, based on a small sample, seems to be Israel. Given their past experience, even though most Jews are sympathetic to refugees generally, the Jewish community has been very slow off the mark in its support for the Syrian refugees. Generally they are following the Tory message line. There is a security threat from these refugees, even though Canadian policy is directed at taking threatened minorities from the area, a code for large numbers of Christians. Whereas the Liberal Party and many leading figures are calling for the admission of tens of thousands of government-assisted Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 – Rick Hillier, a former head of the armed services, has called for the admission of 25,000 through a military airlift by the end of this year), the Tories, in contrast, are pledged to take in only 20,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees over four years.

When the numbers are broken down between Iraqis and Syrians, when government assisted refugees are disaggregated from the total Canada will be assisting, the number for 2016 is only 2,500 for 2016. Thus, even if Canada recalibrates and accelerates its intake, a Tory government is unlikely to bring in 5,000 Syrian government-assisted refugees next year.

Yet Jews continue to shift their support to the Conservatives. This is in spite of the fact that even Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition in Israel, has called on the Israeli government to do much more for the Syrian refugees. This is in spite of the fact that the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted an estimated 2,000 Syrians into hospitals in Israel, though they must return when they have recuperated. Israel has also set up a field hospital in the Golan Heights that treats many more Syrian refugees. Nevertheless, Netanyahu will not permit some Syrian refugees to settle even in the West Bank as called for by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and also in spite of the fact that many Syrian refugees are Druze, part of the 500,000 Druzim and their descendents made into internally displaced people by Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights in 1967.

With all these qualifications, Israel is still doing more than the current Canadian government. Harper promised to raise humanitarian aid to Syrian refugee camps to up to $100 million dollars to match charitable funds raised in Canada to improve the situation in the camps just when refugees are leaving the camps in droves heading for Europe and at the same time as the Canadian government promises to help Syrian minorities.

Harper insists that the focus should be, probably in order of priority, on:

  • fighting ISIS which now controls almost 50% of Syrian refugee territory
  • continue training Western-supported rebels against the Assad regime, – a platform on which the Liberals agree – even though they only control 5% of the territory, and many of them, though no nearly as extremist as ISIS, are still facing accusations of participating in the religious cleansing of Christians who traditionally were protected by Assad
  • emphasize giving humanitarian aid to the refugees in camps
  • select for intake into Canada persecuted minorities who have not been registered by UNHCR, and, therefore, not processed as refugees, who have taken refugee in urban slums throughout the Middle East

Harper has not provided the significant increase in Canadian visa officers necessary to put even this extremely modest support for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in practice. Even the right-wing anti-Muslim Dutch parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, has acceded to the call to admit more Syrian refugees into Europe on the proviso that they be required to sign an anti-Sharia declaration in which the pledge to give priority to Dutch law over Sharia law and that they both repudiate all passages in the Koran that mandate spreading the religion by the sword and for treating other religions as inferior.

Jews have shifted their support to Harper because he has been the strongest supporter of the Netanyahu regime internationally, even though that support is rhetorical only and has not been and will not be translatable into any deliverables on the world stage. Canadian influence on the rest of the world has shrunk considerably even as we worked mainly on the margins rather than on central issues such as the economy and defence. For we have joined the worst laggards and surrendered our leadership in the world in refugee policy and can no longer play the leadership role in gaveling talks on Palestinian refugees as we once did.

However, the fact that Canadian influence has been reduced to irrelevance on both the Israeli and the refugee issues, the fact is that Harper should be voted out of power on a myriad of issues, including, as samples, the following:

  • the decimation of the public service and the reduction of civil servants to servants of the Prime Minister and his policies rather than of the Canadian people with an independent capacity to influence public policy and ensure that any policy decisions made can be carried out with competence
  • the decimation of independent scientific research by scientists in the employ of the Canadian government
  • the elimination of Canada as the paradigm for training civil servants in the rest of the world on the compilation of relevant and important statistical data so that Statistics Canada has been reduced to a shadow of its former self
  • the reduction of support for aboriginal education of its youth from 78% of what the rest of the students in Canada receive to less than 72%, even though Stephen Harper offered a formal apology to our first nations for Canadian treatment of aboriginal peoples in the past
  • the failure of the Conservative government to balance its budget even once even when the economy was booming in the last few years
  • allowing Canada to slip into recession this year
  • poor support for veterans
  • the mess continued of the Liberal precedent of an inability to properly procure needed equipment for Canadian military forces
  • the introduction of Bill C-51 that may have included some measures to increase the security measures to protect Canadians, but in many areas unnecessarily included many provisions that threaten to infringe on Canadian rights and freedoms
  • the disrespect for the Supreme Court of Canada
  • the disrespect for Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and losing court case after court case as the government introduced policy after policy in blatant disregard of the provisions of the charter
  • the diminution of Canadian democracy as the Prime Minister aggregated more and more powers to the office of the Prime Minister and would introduce omnibus bills in parliament that significantly reduced the time available to explore and understand complex issues and ensure these issues received adequate consideration by Parliamentarians.

The list could go on and on. Yet Jews, who traditionally would be critical of Harper and may still be for many of the government’s failures, increasingly vote for Harper based on Harper’s rhetorical support for Israel. Even though that support is just for the Netanyahu government and not Israel per se, even though that support should be balanced against a host of other failures, more and more Canadian Jews seem to be shifting their support for Harper against trends the other way in Canada. This support will cost Israel and the Canadian Jewish community greatly if most Jews are perceived as virtually automatons who can be led like lemmings with just one tune on the flute of a Pied Piper.

It is sad.

Postponing the Nigerian Election – A Postscript

Postponing the Nigerian Election – A Postscript

by

Howard Adelman

The Nigerian conflict with Boko Haram has become a regional war. Two days ago, BH hijacked a bus in Cameroon near Koza, 18 km from the Nigerian border. BH kidnapped 20-30 Cameroonian civilians. At the same time, in a firefight between Cameroonian soldiers and BH, when militants attacked Kerawa, several BH fighters were killed and 10 Cameroon soldiers were injured. A third attack took place in the town of Kolofata.

Complementing the spread of the war to Chad and Cameroon, Benin and now Niger have joined the coalition to wipe out BH after Niger’s parliament unanimously approved sending troops to northern Nigeria, provoked in part when a BH suicide bomber heading towards a military base was shot dead by Niger soldiers after militants bombed Diffa, killing five, the third attack in four days. Little Niger alone massed three thousand soldiers in Diffa as part of the new initiative, though only a small part of those troops will enter Nigeria. A joint regional force of 8,700 troops has now been assembled to launch a direct assault against BH strongholds. As you will see, I suggest this as a partial explanation for the six-week postponement of Nigeria’s election. Military success will benefit Goodluck Jonathan, whose support has been declining according to some recent polls.

The day before yesterday morning, I had written that the Independent Electoral National Commission (INEC) and President Goodluck Jonathan were determined to go ahead with elections in Nigeria in spite of enormous pressures to postpone. The very same day, the same INEC announced that the scheduled 14 February elections in Nigeria will be postponed until 18 March. I had written that I had not expected this to happen.

The postponement was not illegal. Section 135 (3) of the 1999 Constitution, provides that if the federation is at war (my italics) in which the territory of Nigeria is physically involved, and, further if the President (my italics) considers that it is not practicable to hold elections, the National Assembly (my italics) may, by resolution, extend the period of four years mentioned in sub-section (2) of this section from time to time; but no such extension shall exceed a period of six months at any one time.

The grounds for postponement is war on Nigerian territory. The initiative to postpone must come from the President. The legislation to legalize the postponement must be passed by the National Assembly. Yet INEC made the announcement. On 14 May 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the three northeastern states on the grounds that, “These actions (of BH) amount to a declaration of war (my italics) and a deliberate attempt to undermine the authority of the Nigerian state and threaten its territorial integrity.” Clearly the precondition for declaring a state of war has existed for almost two years.

The Commission resisted pressure from many quarters that had arisen in January. The founding Pastor of a large Lagos evangelical Christian congregation, the Latter Rain Assembly, and former vice presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Tunde Bakare, had urged the federal government to postpone the election. For him, the terrorism in the northeastern states was not even a civil war but an “invasion and annexation of Nigerian territory by insurgents launching attacks from our borders and neighbouring countries.”

Secular human rights organizations had joined the chorus. But instead of appealing to the president and/or the National Assembly, Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) approached the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice to request a suspension of the February 14, 2015 general elections in Nigeria. The Executive Director, Frank Tiete, based the organization’s support for postponement on the early warning system that I had helped set up for ECOWAS that indicated that the situation was getting worse. The ECOWAS Protocol relating to the mechanism for conflict prevention, management, resolution, peace keeping and security permitted ECOWAS to “disseminate the report of the Threat Assessment of the Security Situation in Nigeria.” However, ECOWAS had no power to order a postponement of the Nigerian election. But, based on the deteriorating human rights situation in the three northeastern states, ECOWAS certainly had not only a right but a duty to publish its findings. ECOWAS could put pressure on the Nigerian government on the grounds that such a suspension was needed to protect and preserve a Nigerian citizen’s fundamental human right to life.

Based on security reports and on the actual situation on the ground, in January, prominent politicians had also been pressuring the president to postpone the election. Governor Bala Ngilari of Adamawa State in the third week of January joined the chorus pushing for a postponement of the elections. At the end of October 2014, Ngilari had issued the request to widespread derision after Mubi, the second largest metropolis in Adamawa, had been captured by BH. The Emir had been forced to flee. BH shot and wounded the son of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Lieutenant Colonel, when the army tried to recapture the town. The outcome: six Nigerian commanding officers were put under arrest for neglect of duty. The situation was dire then. It had grown much worse since.

Some parties went to court urging postponement. The anti-February 14 group threatened to boycott the election should their demands be ignored. A week ago, leaders of a wide variety of parties, which had previously pooh-poohed any postponement, now threatened to boycott the election if there was not a postponement. 16 out of 28 registered political parties and five presidential candidates joined the campaign to postpone the election. They did not call on the President but on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to seriously consider shifting the date of elections to March or April.

(Although the presidential candidate of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, opposed postponement, the parties favouring were: United Democratic Party (UDP), Citizen Peoples Party (CPP), Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN), Action Alliance (AA), Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC), Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Labour Party (LP), Mega Progressive Peoples Party (MPPP), United Party of Nigeria (UPN), Alliance for Democracy (AD), African Democratic Congress (ADC), Advanced Congress Of Democrats (ACD), Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP) Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN) and Independent Democrat (ID). The five presidential candidates who were present at a press conference in Abuja where the demand was made were Godson Okoye (UDP), Chief Sam Okoye (CPP), Prince C.O Allagoe (PPN), Tunde Anifowose (AA) and Ganiu Galadima (ACPN).)

Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser (NSA), now advocated postponement in view of the poor distribution of Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), the biometric registry and machine-readable permanent voter cards designed to curb fraud and duplicate registrations. (Some critics challenged the legality of the PVCs because they were not authorized by current legislation.) INEC would then have enough time to distribute the remaining PVCs so that more than 98% of registered voters would have collected their PVCs. At the time, 80% had been distributed and the expectation was that 90% would be distributed by the time of the election.

Further, the problem was not only the terrible security situation in the northeastern states, but the anticipation of violence following the election however it turned out. After all, 800 died in post-2011 election violence and there was enormous property destruction even though, relatively speaking, the 2011 election had been the best thus far. INEC created and co-chairs the “Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security” (ICCES), to ensure security before, during and immediately after the elections. Further, these efforts had been supplemented by a non-violence campaign, voter education, citizen monitoring NGOs, and the Abuja Accord among the political parties to desist from incendiary attacks, inflammatory speaches and violent acts, and to focus on issues. Various religious leaders, such as the Sultan of Sokoto and the Cardinal of Abuja, formed the Nigeria Inter-Faith Initiative for Peace to counteract religious divisions during elections.

Nevertheless, Rev. Bakare saw the postponement as only an interim measure to allow the country to create a grand coalition that could decisively counter the enemy. As he foresaw the results of the election, whomever won, “it is certain the country will erupt in crisis.” The president should “commit himself to building a non-partisan coalition comprised of major stakeholders and competent statesmen from each geo-political zone.” In fact, the controversy over the postponement issue itself had grown so heated that the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Suleiman Abba, ordered the Special Protection Unit (SPU) and Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) to be deployed around INEC officials and to guard election materials.

Commentators have blamed pressure from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), claiming the party fears losing the election to former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, urged that the election not be postponed. It did not help that, upon his visit to Nigeria, he only chose to speak to two presidential candidates. Talk about foreign political eminences interfering in domestic politics! Nevertheless, Buhari urged calm, insisting that the presidential elections now scheduled for 28 March and the state elections scheduled for 11 April must be sacrosanct. “Any act of violence can only complicate the security challenges in the country and provide further justification to those who would want to exploit every situation to frustrate the democratic process.” President Goodluck Jonathan committed himself to finishing his term of office on 29 May. Though, thus far, this had been a hotly contested election in a very close-fought contest, at least there had been no open hostility over the postponement decision by the two leading candidates.

Other foreign eminences than John Kerry had weighed in and may have influenced the decision. Dr. Princeton Nathan Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria (1986-1989) and former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (1996–1998), currently an Adjunct Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies with the Council on Foreign Relations, not only supported postponement by pointing to the fragility of the electoral process, the inadequate preparations for the election and the disruption caused by BH terrorism in the context of a Nigerian army enormously incapacitated by corruption, but also cited a much deeper structural flaw: “a breakdown of the informal consensus on power sharing between the Muslim north and the Christian south that had guided Nigerian politics for decades.” Falling oil prices did not help. The impact on the Nigerian economy will exacerbate the competition for political patronage. In spite of his membership on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy, Lyman urged postponement.

Six-weeks will not enable the deep corruption of Nigerian society and the weaknesses of democratic protections, even within political parties in selecting candidates, to be overcome or even significantly mitigated. The use of public resources by government officials and the allocation of public funds and services to favour ethnic and religious cohorts in extended patronage networks are bound to continue. So why postpone? No one disputes the enormity of the security and political challenges, but what is gained by a six- week postponement?

The very recent intervention of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which sent a special high-level delegation to report on the electoral process, also recommended postponement in January, pointing to the insecurity in the northeast and the lack of adequate election preparations with the consequence of enormous opportunities for fraud as well as contention and violence following the election. That pre-election assessment mission included Robert Lloyd (Blanche E. Seaver Professor of International Studies and Languages and Professor of International Relations at Pepperdine University), Gretchen Birkle (Regional Director, Africa International at the International Republican Institute), George Moose (a former ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs), Christopher Fomunyoh (Senior Associate for Africa and Regional Director at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs), Brigalia Bam (former chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa), Hon. Patrick Muyaya (MP, the Democratic Republic of Congo), Pauline Baker (former president of the Fund for Peace) and Michael Bratton (University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and African Studies at Michigan State University). Yet, despite the eminence of the delegation, John Kerry and Barack Obama chose to ignore their advice of their 20 January statement in Abuja.

Recognizing the increasing protections for democratic election processes in the four elections since the end of military rule in 1999, particularly the 2011 election, and conscious of the growing and often expressed determination of Nigerians to ensure that the election is peaceful and credible through all phases of the process, including during the campaign period, on election day and in the post-election period after the release of final election results, and in spite of the failure to create an Electoral Offences Commission as long recommended, the goals of the mission of eminent persons were to:

  • assess  the current political  and  electoral  environment in the lead-up to the 14 February presidential election;
  • assess preparations for the presidential election and offer recommendations to enhance citizen confidence in the process and mitigate violence; and
  • demonstrate international support for Nigeria’s democratization process.

A delay certainly will not solve the deeper political, structural and economic problems, but will, as Nigeria’s National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki pointed out, give time to resolve the short term administrative problems that could be catalysts of much more violence. Lyman went further and echoed Rev. Tunde Bakare’s call for a government of national unity to include representatives from business and religious groups as well as political leaders and raise the battle against Boko Haram above party politics, given widespread accusations of both complacency and complicity by each party against the other. The national unity government would then be able to deal with the issue of underdevelopment of the northeast that Lyman viewed as the deep cause of the insurgency. The government of national unity would also offer time to deal with the problems plaguing the security forces in Nigeria.

Fat chance of a government of national unity! (But recall that I was wrong in anticipating that the election would go ahead as planned.) Election postponement does not even have the support of the Obama administration let alone creating a consensus national unity government. Six weeks cannot deal with the enormous fall off in confidence in a fair electoral process. In 2011, 51% had confidence the elections would be fair; in 2014, that number had declined to 13% percent for the scheduled 2015 election. Lyman is well aware and articulated all the weaknesses of most governments of national unity but, nevertheless, saw this as the only option for the salvation of Nigeria. Aside from what I regard as this forlorn possibility, six more weeks may offer some time for administrative improvements in the election, but will also have a negative impact, giving more time for the fall in oil prices to have an effect. Hope for administrative improvement offers the sugar coating on deep pessimism.

These interim efforts would include developing a much better communication strategy and voter education strategy by INEC as election preparations proceed and many of the technical problems plaguing that process are ironed out. The interim period would be used to offer a concerted effort to ensure that PVCs are in the hands of as much as 98% of voters rather than the current expectation of 90%. But will the security forces be able to protect polling stations, especially in the northeastern states? And, given the legislation, there are no plans underway to re-enfranchise IDP voters who now constitute almost 20% of the 4.5 million registered voters in the three northeastern states (Adamawa 1.5, Borno 1.9 and Yobe 1.1 million). The key variable, however, will be the regional military initiative that will take the war into BH home ground.

It may also determine the outcome of the election.

Optimism, Hope, Pessimism and Cynicism

Optimism, Hope, Pessimism and Cynicism

by

Howard Adelman

This blog is dedicated to Rabbi Dow Marmur on his 80th birthday. May he have many more! It is a blog that hopes to throw some light on Dow’s worldview and on the concepts in the title. And it is a blog that italicizes Dow’s use of “hope” to highlight both his attachment to that attitude and to focus on his usage to allow us to understand the attitude he brings to issues.

First, a very brief introduction to Rabbi Dow Marmur for the few who do not know anything about him.

Rabbi Dow Marmur, Rabbi Emeritus at Holy Blossom Temple, was born in Poland in 1935 and spent the years of World War II in the Soviet Union before returning to Poland in 1946. Two years later, he emigrated to Sweden, where he went to school. In 1957, he moved to London, England to study for the rabbinate at the Leo Baeck College, from which he graduated in 1962. Before becoming Senior Rabbi of Holy Blossom in 1983, Rabbi Marmur served two congregations in Britain. He retired from his position of Senior Rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple in 2000.

A personal note. Though Rabbi Feinberg, the “Red” rabbi, who had been senior rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple when I was still a student, was a close associate of mine in both the peace and civil rights movements in the sixties, and although Rabbi Gunther Plaut, Dow Marmur’s predecessor as senior rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple and a very esteemed Torah scholar, was a friend and colleague in the refugee movement in the late seventies and early eighties (he officiated at my marriage to Nancy), I only joined Holy Blossom Temple after Rabbi Marmur became senior rabbi. It was not because he asked me or invited me to become a member. It was because I met him at a talk where I had offered some critical comments to the speaker. He approached me in the informal part of the evening to comment on my comments. We then quickly became friends and I started attending Holy Blossom to hear his sermons. Soon thereafter, my family joined Holy Blossom Temple.

I have read two of his books, but I did not join because I revered his scholarship or his thinking. Aside from his delightful and wry sense of humour that was always there in inter-personal contacts, but was usually bracketed when he mounted the pulpit, I joined because I loved the way his mind worked and how his attitude and approach to all issues infused his thoughts. The key part of that attitude was “hope” as the dialectical intermediary between optimism and pessimism and the bulwark he sustained against despair and cynicism. It is that dialectic that I want to analyze using the recent material on his twice or thrice weekly 500 or so word blogs on the approach to the Israeli elections.

His emails to which his blog is attached will often have a covering note: “I hope the attached makes sense.” The concept of “hope” permeates the blogs as well. Not only about himself, but about others with whom he does not identify. For example, he wrote of Arieh Deri, the leaders of Shas, that he showed little interest in defense and much more “in better conditions for the poor, many of whom he hopes will vote for him.” Based on that analysis, Dow hoped that Shas would join a Herzog-Livni coalition rather than one led by Netanyahu. He then generalized on that particular hope. “Is it too much to hope that the next government will in no way compromise on defense to assure Israel’s survival, yet at the same time pay more attention to the survival needs of its poor citizens?”

Dow expressed his intention to vote for Meretz, the party on the left in the political spectrum in Israel. Why? “To help make sure that Herzog doesn’t abandon all the social-democratic ideas that Labour once stood for, I intend to vote for Meretz, which is left of the Herzog-Livni Zionist Camp. If Herzog becomes prime minister, Meretz will almost certainly be part of his government. I hope that it’ll hold him to at least some of his lofty promises even after he’s elected.” He placed his hope not in a party of deeds and leadership, but in a party that would play the role of a superego to try to assure that social ideals are upheld. He then went on to express the following:

And I hope that he [Herzog] will be elected because I believe that a government under his leadership would have the means to do inter alia:

Herzog has the people to fill these and other positions. That’s why even a pessimist like me need not be without hope that Buji, not Bibi, will get in.

Dow supports one political party because he hopes it can serve as a superego. He, then, hopes for the victory of another political party because he believes it will not only defend social justice but provide leadership to move forward on the peace negotiations. But he defines himself as a pessimist, who always wants – needs? – to retain some hope. Hope is not his natural state. Pessimism is. However, hope is what keeps him afloat and from sinking into despair and cynicism. This is clear in the ending of another blog. “All we hapless bystanders can hope for is that the worst of these cynical predictions won’t materialize and that decency and common sense will win in the end. I continue to be in search for support for such.”

One blog he entitled, “TOO EARLY FOR OPTIMISM?” It ended with a question mark because he wanted to put his big toe into the water of optimism without taking his other foot off the hot but sand of pessimism. Hope propelled him to this precarious state, especially precarious since Dow is anything but an outdoorsman.

If hope for Dow mediates between pessimism and optimism, it need not necessarily do so. Hope for a cynic is merely an expression of instrumental planning and manipulation. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hopes to conquer America. As a first step he defied the president of the United States. Reports have it that Obama asked Netanyahu not to accept the invitation to address both houses of Congress…days before the elections in Israel – and thus refrain from openly challenging the president’s refusal to impose more sanctions on Iran in view of the possibility of an agreement about nuclear weapons.”

I always read Dow’s blogs. Sometimes I congratulate him. Other times I chastise him when I believe his thinking is confused. But either of these responses are rare; I generally simply appreciate his blogs in silence. However, the odd time I will engage in a more extensive exchange, though if I try to imitate Dow’s own subtle wry humour, I usually fall flat on my face.

What follows is one exchange beginning with my response to his blog followed by his response to my comments. I repeat it in full so the reader can grasp its full flavour.

ME:

“What is happening to you? With today’s blog you almost sounded optimistic. I am worried about you. Just in case you are shifting away from your generally healthy pessimism, here are a few questions about the elections for you to answer:

  1. Why should the fall-off in Bibi’s popularity benefit Herzog-Livni when the voters can shift to Naftali Bennett?
  2. This question is reinforced by the polls that show the Israeli electorate continues to shift right in spite of the social justice issues on which the Herzog-Livni team are campaigning. How do you read those polls?
  3. Even if the Herzog-Livni team are closing the gap and running neck and neck with Bibi and may even lead Bibi as Livni once did, won’t Bibi be in a better position to form a coalition?
  4. Given that Feiglin is off the Likud list and, in fact, for a right wing party, the Likud is looking surprisingly relatively moderate having tossed its [I should have written “most”] extremists overboard, so won’t that help Bibi?
  5. Even though the marriage on the left has rallied hope in all of us progressives about the possibility of returning to power, and even though the Herzog-Livni marriage seems reasonably strong, its big weakness is still the worry of the average Israeli voter, including those on the left, that neither will be a strong enough PM to deal with the security issues. After all, since Begin won, the left only wins when it is led by an IDF ex-commander. Does this not raise your pessimistic hackles?
  6. In the current Knesset, the following breakdown on the centre left is as follows:

Yesh Atid             19

Labour                  15

Hatnua                    6

Meretz                     6

Kadima                    2

Total                     48

If Avigdor Lieberman’s party is imploding, all his flirtation with the centre may be for naught, and the centre-left cannot count on him. Moshe Kahlon is an ex-Likudnik and more likely to make up with Bibi. Further, Lapid is falling in the polls and working like a dog to attack the centre-left, in particular, Herzog, so how will it be possible for him to be a minister in the Herzog-Livni camp? Is he now not more comfortable in a Bibi cabinet? The only positive news on that front is that Mofaz, who is a triple hitter with his security background, Middle Eastern origins and Likud credentials, has a safe position on the Herzog-Livni list.

Nevertheless, how do you add up the numbers to get a majority?”

I ended, “Dow, I just miss your pessimism”

Dow replied:

“Even pessimists have lapses. Here are some of the reasons for mine in answer to your points, one by one:

  1. Bennett’s base is in the settlements, but he’s not a popular character. He’s trying hard to shed the modern Orthodox-ultra nationalist image by trying to find outsider candidates, if possible women, but it’s not clear that they have sufficient popular appeal. And Bibi’s handlers direct his ire to Herzog-Livni, not to Bennett, even though not much love is lost between them.
  2. Yes, the Israeli electorate continues to shift right. Hence the Herzog-Livni alliance which isn’t exactly Labour. And that’s why Bibi goes out of his way to describe them as lefties. I’m not sure that the electorate believes it.
  3. The present rules are that the party with the most mandates is asked to form the government. Hence Bibi’s new initiative to change that if he’s re-elected. If Herzog-Livni get more votes than Bibi, they’re in.
  4. At least one extremist, Feiglin, is off the list, but others are still there and high up, e.g. Danon, Regev and Elkin.
  5. There’re signs, I believe, that social justice is a strong competitor to security, in view of the alarming poverty statistics (1.5 million?) and news about army waste of money, sexual abuse, etc. Bibi tries to tell us that only he is strong whereas Herzog and Livni are just nice, but in my less pessimistic moments I’m no longer persuaded that the public believes him. Last summer’s Gaza war shattered many illusions.
  6. Difficult to calculate numbers as yet. Please remember that Herzog-Livni would probably get the ultra-Orthodox into the government like in the old days. Their absence from the last government hasn’t liberated Israel from Orthodox domination. It’s not even certain that the army is very happy conscripting the ultras. There has even been talk of late of doing away with conscription in favour of a professional army.

Don’t panic, the pessimism will return, but as things look today, it seems marginally less warranted than on other days.”

And pessimism did return. What becomes clear is that the dialectic of hope mediating between optimism and pessimism are the ballast that keeps him from sinking into the cynicism and despair he attributes to both Netanyahu and the leaders of the Palestinian authority. Those sworn enemy leaders are not only united in their cynicism, but “sworn enemies can end up on the same side for seemingly mutually exclusive reasons.” Cynicism not only united them in their attitudes, but may make them de facto allies and partners.

Hope is minimal. Despair and pessimism are overriding. And the ratio has been determined by cynical political behaviour exacerbated by even more cynical commentary. To keep his spirits above water, Dow often adds levity, even telling an old joke again. “In the early days of Israel, when the country was in dire economic straits, it was suggested that the Jewish state should declare war against the United States. The Americans would win, of course, and thus be obliged to provide for Israel. That was the optimistic view. The pessimists said: “And what if Israel conquers America?”

To understand the dialectic between optimism and pessimism mediated by it helps to clarify the differences among the three terms.

Optimism is standing outside a tunnel and basking in the glorious sunlight. Hope is living in the tunnel and believing that one sees a glimmer of light in the distance. Pessimism is the recognition that the light seen at the end of the tunnel will turn brighter and brighter and reveal itself to be the headlight of an oncoming train. Cynicism is to be the driver of that train. Turned upside down, optimism is the belief that you are not and never will be in a tunnel, and that if you find yourself on a train track with a light coming towards you, you can step aside and then jump aboard the train. Hope is the belief that the light you imagine coming towards you on the track is really the rising sun, but, if it is not, you can jump out of the way in time. Pessimism is the belief that you are trapped in the tunnel and there is no escape from the oncoming train. In despair, you lie down on the tracks and the cynical engineer runs you over.

Alice Auma (Lakwena), leader of the Holy Spirit Movement in Northern Uganda in 1986, taught her followers to anoint and cover their bodies with shea nut oil that would protect them from bullets. Lakwena was NOT a healer, spirit medium and diviner; she was simply an optimist. Of course, sometimes an optimist, like Ronald Reagan, gets elected to be president of the United States and, supposedly, with one magic bullet, helps destroy the Soviet Union. At the same time, his inventive spirit leads to the creation of Iron Dome. Optimism is based on the illusion that, if you just work and try hard enough, not only is anything possible, but you can help deliver the best of all possible worlds. Of course, for those who are positivist boosters of optimism and not pessimists in characterizing it, optimism is simply the recognition of the possibilities that are present in a situation. Experience from the past and the present can be extrapolated to provide a better future. Optimism is founded on a deep faith the human ingenuity will always enable us to overcome our challenges and create a better future. Optimism allows a person to become captain of his or her future primarily because they feel good about themselves and the world.

Hope is a different matter altogether. As Vaclav Havel described it, hope “is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.” Though hope and optimism share an orientation towards the future, though both anticipate the possibility of improvement, hope is held in high esteem in spite of, not because of, the past, in the face of experience, not based on it. For one has hope despite a history of human horror. Hope does not ignore genocides and massive ethnic cleansing. Hope works for a better future in spite of the Shoah. Hope through tikkun olam, mending the world, is about righting the wrongs of the past and not simply seeing that past through rose-coloured glasses. If Reagan was a president of optimism, Obama is a president of hope, not simply because he wrote an autobiography called, The Audacity of Hope. Hope fights on in spite of human mindblindness, in spite of institutional obstinacy, in spite of ignorance and prejudice. Hope refuses to sink into deep grief and allow the obscenities that humans can perpetrate on one another to sink one into deep grief.

Hope insists on honesty. Hope is deeply heartfelt and is, in the end, not a rational result of experience, but ultimately rests on faith. How then is it that what might be regarded as a totally unrealistic vision of the world, a belief that we can stare directly at the sun and not only not go blind, but can see the future, how is it then that optimism, more often than not, brings about the more major changes in the future and radical leaps forward, while hope only seems to bring about incremental improvements, if it does that? However, as Vaclav Havel described it and to repeat, hope “is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, and orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.”

As Havel also wrote, “Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more propitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper the hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

Hope is based on outcomes we wish for. Optimism is based on outcomes we will. The latter requires confidence. The former requires stamina. Optimism depends on faith that good will triumph over evil. Hope depends on the longing that evil will not triumph over good. Both hope and optimism direct us to change the future for the better. However, without hope, despair takes over; most significantly, it can manipulate hope. In contrast, optimism and despair can easily form a partnership of opposites. But both optimism and hope refuse to surrender to a sense of helplessness, though those rooted in hope tend to be more passive and see themselves more as bystanders than activist optimists.

Pessimism is the inverse of optimism and is suffused with a sense of the primacy of the tragic. So a person like Dow Marmur, who is fundamentally infused with pessimism, faces the future with fear and trepidation that once more bad and even evil will prevail, but insists on walking towards the force of that gale of evil with a smile on his face. That is his hope, set in place to offset his fundamental pessimism, that celebrates the virtues and joys of the living, while fearing that the vices of a Darth Vader will prevail. Pessimism and hope both rest upon a tremendous love of life and delight in the grandeur and wonder of the world. But a pessimist always focuses on the one small black cloud in the sky than the vast stretch of blue or the billowy white clouds on the horizon.

The bogeyman of hope is despair — desperation, depression, despondency, and total disillusionment. Despair comes from Middle English despeiren, from Old French desperer, each in turn from Latin desperare, to be without hope, from de-, without, and sperare, to hope. It is the belief and feeling that there is no hope and that you are totally impotent to do anything to improve a threatening situation. To despair is to lose both hope and the confidence of the optimist. Optimism, however, is only able to counter despair by converting it into cynicism while hope fights off despair ironically, by choosing pessimism over despair. Pessimism becomes the bulwark against despair.

Let me end by stealing an analogy from Plato’s Republic, that of the divided line. Envision a vertical line divided into two unequal portions. Then envision each of these two unequal portions divided in turn using the same proportions as the first division. Though it is not explicitly mentioned in Book IV of The Republic where this analogy is offered, Plato required that all students in his academy be thoroughly versed in geometry before attending the academy. All the students would have known the relevant geometric laws, which I will represent here arithmetically. If a line is divided into two unequal proportions and those initial divisions are divided again by the same proportion, the two middle sections will always be of equal length.

Therefore, a line 18” tall would be divided in the following ratios, this time inverting the usual presentation by placing the largest section at the bottom rather than the top. The ratio of the initial division from top to bottom would be 6:12 and of the second division of those two parts in the same ratio would be 2:4:4:8. Instead of the two major divisions representing the metaphysics of the world, the intelligible (the larger section) versus the visible world (the smaller section), or the four sections representing different epistemological modes of grasping the world (opinion, observation, understanding and reason), or even each section representing corresponding characteristics of the soul, conceive of the line as representing different possible personal attitudes distinguished from top to bottom as follows:

Attitude                      Ratio

Optimism                    2

Hope                           4

Pessimism                   4

Despair                       8

The dialectic of hope and pessimism works as follows. Despair at the bottom exerts an enormous gravitational pull on everything above, pessimism directly, and hope mediated by pessimism which is used by hope to keep despair in abeyance. Optimism, on the other hand, is so removed from despair that it does not even recognize it in its transmuted form as cynicism. That is why cynicism and optimism can so often be found together as partners. Further, hope is always trying to keep the attractions and inducements of optimism also at bay, since in many ways, hope shares with optimism a similar orientation. But hope recognizes that if it is sucked into optimism’s rather than pessimism’s orbit, the risk is very high that it would be deluded and the result could be crashing down onto the cave floor and never being able to get up again. So an individual like Dow Marmur tries to keep hope and pessimism in balance, always walking a tight rope between the two.

That is Marmur’s underlying dialectic that underpins his blog.

Happy Birthday!

Israeli Elections Prediction – Actual

Likud Beiteinu (Netanyahu) 32 31
Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 14 18-19
Labour (Shelley Yachimovitch) 17 17
Shas (The Trio) 11 13
Habayit Heyehudi (Naftali Bennet) 14 12
Hatenu’ah (Tzipi Livni) 8 6-7
Meretz (Zahava Gal-On) 6 6-7
United Torah Judaism (The Duo) ? 6
I had not expected that Kadima would be totally wiped out and expected them to get 2 seats.

Right: Likud Beiteinu + Habayit Heyehudi (excluding Shas) 46
Left & Centre: Yesh Atid + Labour + Hatenu’ah (excluding Meretz) 39

Not bad for a total amateur and record as a lousy prophet. I, but along with virtually everyone else, had not predicted as many seats for Yesh Hatid. I was reasonably close on all the rest because I had not predicted the Haredi vote. If I had, I would have been too low. These preliminary results based on exit polls will shift somewhat as votes cast for parties that did not make it into the Knesset are redistributed.

And for now I will stick by my prediction of a Centre-Right + Centre-Left broad coalition without the Haredi parties led by Bibi since he has already hinted that this is his preference and he has already reached out to Lapid.

Likud Beiteinu (Netanyahu) 31
Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid) 19
Labour (Shelley Yachimovitch) 17
Hatenu’ah (Tzipi Livni) 7

Total 74

This contrasts with Channel 2’s predictions of a narrow right coalition with 61 seats that includes Shas and UTJ. I think it is incorrect because Bibi hates being in a straight jacket. http://cdn.timesofisrael.com/uploads/2013/01/channel2-bloc1.jpg