Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Biggest Threat to Canada?

Source: CBC News: Harper Says 'Islamicism' Biggest Threat to Canada

Alright, enough of a break and time to get this blog back up to 100%...Hopefully.

Now, I contemplated a lot of topics to discuss for this post.

I considered the fact that Saskatchewan's Green Party leader has resigned and advocated voters to stand behind the NDP in Regina...

I considered the fact that Federal Agricultural Minister Garry Ritz has basically said that the government will ignore any vote from farmers on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board, and unilaterally move to dismantle parts of it, even if farmers vote to keep the system as is...

I considered the fact that the Federal Conservatives have asked Elections Canada to probe into allegations that the NDP broke electoral financing laws by having a convention which seemed to have events sponsored by unions... (Though let's face it, the Conservatives preaching electoral financing ethics is like a lion preaching vegetarianism.)

I considered the idea that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien has jumped on board the NDP-Liberal merger talks, and believes that a merger will happen one day between the two parties...

However, I found myself aghast when seeing the CBC news headline above and figured that it would be a good issue to discuss in detail. In an exclusive interview with the CBC, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has suggested that Islamicism is the biggest threat to Canada.

Now, this is a complex issue. I'm going to spend some time picking apart the real issue versus the 'scare tactics' that Harper is using to push his party's controversial crime bills.

Firstly, let's explore the idea of 'Islamicism'.

In our world, we seem to exercise the idea of tolerance and acceptance. Religion is one of those sticky widget issues where these ideas are really put to the test. In Western Culture, we seem to have a no-nonsense zone for religion.

This is clearly seen with Christianity. In Western Culture, speaking out about problems with Christianity are likely to get you tarred and feathered in the arena of public opinion. As such, at times, it seems as if you cannot speak out against Christianity. That faith supersedes public debate.

However, this is not true for other religions. Islam, happens to be one of those religions which is seemingly okay to attack in public debate.

Now, whether this stems from a lack of understanding about the nature of Islam...Or from some form of deep seeded racism, I cannot fully say. Nor would I want to presume why we can openly attack one form of religion, but cannot say a bad word about any other.

Granted, this situation is reversed in some Islamic nations; where Christianity is attacked openly, and no unkind words can be said about Islam. So, all of us are guilty of attacking the other side on this issue.

But, let's try and clear some of this up. Now, I'll admit, I've never read the Koran. I have picked it up once or twice and read a few passages, but I've not read the whole text. So, I could be incorrect in my assumptions about Islam. If so, I do hope that someone with more familiarity will let me know if I've made any mistakes.

Now, my understanding of Islam is that it is actually a very peaceful religion. That the Koran preaches peace and tolerance, much in the same way that the Bible does.

However, there are problems when extremism gets involved.

Much like the Bible, a few verses in the Koran are open to interpretation. As such, some people read the Koran and see a book of peace...While others read it and see justification to attack those who do not believe the words contained within.

But this is not a problem that is solely found with Islam.

Christianity is just as guilty as misinterpretation justifying extremism. From a historical perspective, you have events like the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. From a more recent perspective, you have individuals who shoot abortion doctors.

Or even more recent, the shootings which occurred in Norway. According to the BBC, Anders Behring Breivik self identified as a Christian Fundamentalist and far right wing conservative. Part of the reason Breivik did what he did stemmed from a hatred towards Islam, Muslims, and the influence of the left in his country.

Yet, in all of the media, Breivik was never once identified as a 'Christian Terrorist'. Think for a moment, if he had been a Muslim, would the media have been quick to label him as an 'Islamic Terrorist'?

Now, I know some of you are going to give me grief for mentioning Mr. Breivik, but allow me to attempt to explain. Breivik did something based on his own twisted views of his beliefs. He believed that he was doing the right thing and that he was justified from his beliefs to do what he did.

Islamic terrorists share the same viewpoint. They believe that they are justified by their interpretation of the Koran, and use their religion as a defense to undertake horrific actions.

We don't judge Christianity by the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, so why do we judge Islam by the actions of those that kill in its name?

Here is where we come to the root of the problem: Extremism is extremism, regardless of what other beliefs you hold. When someone takes their beliefs to the extreme, bad results are likely to occur.

It is not Islam that is the problem, nor is Christianity, but it is extremism in any form.

When someone believes that they can justify any action through any belief, it becomes a problem. And that is the real problem that is facing the world today. It is not just ISLAMIC extremism, but ALL extremism.

Look again, to the United States. Particularly look at their political system at the moment. The USA is becoming polarized to a state we've never really seen before. Those on the far-right are organizing and becoming a powerful voice within the Republican Party, and have hijacked it from any chance of moderation.

Again, extremism.

Now, some of you might say this is completely different, but is it really? Look at the attack on US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Ms. Giffords was targeted by an unstable individual with extreme views of their own. Furthermore, it doesn't help that Ms. Giffords was one of several Democratic politicians 'targeted' by crosshairs as districts to take back by Tea Party darling, Sarah Palin.

As such, is it really such a stretch to believe that such iconography could have easily contributed to an unstable and extreme individual targeting the congresswoman?

What I am attempting to say, is that extremism is the biggest threat to the world and to Canada, not 'Islamicism.'

Granted, there seems to be times when the world has seen the actions of extremist Muslims more than those of peaceful faith. But, how often does the Iman who preaches tolerance and community involvement end up on the news; especially when compared to the extremist who attacks and kills people in the name of religion.

The truth of the matter is that we don't often hear of the good works done by moderate Muslims, and are bombarded by the actions of extremists.

Now I think I've sufficiently stated the case that 'Islamicism' is a misnomer and it is extremism, of any form, that we need to fear and do something about. With that out of the way, we can discuss why our illustrious Prime Minister felt the need to declare 'Islamicism' as the greatest threat facing Canada.

At the heart of the debate is Harper's desire to bring back two anti-terrorism clauses that were first brought forward by the Chretien Liberals in the wake of 9/11.

The first allowed police to arrest suspects without a warrant and hold them for three days without placing a single charge. The only requirement to provide such an arrest would be the belief that the individual had committed, or was planning to commit, an act of terrorism.

The second allowed a judge to force a witness into testifying about past associations with suspected terror groups, or any other group really, and any plots by those groups under penalty of jail time.

It is worth noting that these clauses expired, after the opposition parties refused to renew them in 2007, without them ever being implemented. Essentially, Canada had these clauses and never saw them used within the course of six years...Yet Harper believes they're essential to Canadian security and need to be brought back immediately.

The problem with these clauses is the ambiguity. Terrorism is VERY hard to define, even after a course in International Terrorism I can't define terrorism to a single sentence, which makes implementing these laws incredibly difficult. After all, what would count as an act of terrorism?

Would attending a peaceful rally that lead to arrests be terrorism?

Would belonging to a group that advocated social change and used protests, rallies, and other forms of social disobedience be considered terrorism?

Most people would say that terrorism involves the implicit act of violence against civilians for the advancement of political goals. But terrorism is not that clear cut. If it were, could we still charge those who attempted violence but failed to obtain it? The failed shoe-bomber, for example. He had plotted an 'act of terrorism' but failed to succeed or cause any violence.

As such, this seems to preclude committing an act of violence as terrorism. Yet, we still call him a terrorist.

Now, you may say, 'Scott, you're just arguing semantics.' And it's true, I am perhaps spending too much time looking at the definition. But if we give a government that kind of authority, it should be clear what they can and cannot call terrorism. If we give blanket authority, its only a matter of time until that authority is abused.

After all, look at the Harper Government's response to protests at the G8/G20 summit. How many people were arrested and detained in substandard holding areas? How many were detained without charge? How many people, who did nothing but stand in the crowd, were detained simply for being there?

Questions like those should weigh on the mind, and cannot afford to be overlooked. If Harper wants to give authority to the police to battle terrorism, that authority must be clearly defined. As it stands now, it is not.

In closing, Prime Minister Harper is mistaken when he says that Islamicism is the biggest threat facing Canada. Rather, this is simply an 'eye-catching', 'fear mongering' headline that will catch major attention for his anti-terrorism bills. Furthermore, with the anniversary of 9/11 only days away, it serves as a powerful reminder of the harm that extremism can do.

Yet, as mentioned, Harper is quick to point the finger only at Islamic extremism; while ignoring extremists that exist outside of Islam. This type of hypocrisy is staggering, and simply unbecoming of what we should have in a national leader.

As such, I feel the only thing I can do is reinforce the idea that extremism in all forms is the problem. Only when we stamp out extremism, in all forms, will we truly create a safe and functioning society. We're too quick to condemn one side, while ignoring the fact that the same problems exist in structures that we belong to.

I suppose there's nothing left to say, except for this quote, which more or less sums up the problems with only focusing on Islamic extremism:

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
-Matthew 7:5 (NIV)

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