Friday, 15 September 2017 23:42

Wake Up Democracy!

Commentary By: Avi Benlolo in Toronto

Today is International Day of Democracy. Yet, the western world seems to have lost hope of the very fundamentals we are supposed to hold dear to our hearts – freedom, equality, respect and peace building. Democracies are far from perfect and disparities within exist and must be addressed to alleviate hardship and continued inequality. However, Gross Domestic Product, mortality and literacy rates are amongst the highest in the world among leading nation states which practice democracy. Third-world developing nations struggle with persistent war, poverty, disparity, environmental degradation and inequity. It’s no wonder that democracies like Canada enjoy an inflow of migrants who hope to live in a nation which respects the UN Declaration for Human Rights, unlike the majority of the UN General Assembly.

Still, democracies have become far too forgiving or compromising. While we preach gender equality, we look the other way as non-democracies practice gender apartheid and withhold women's rights, for example. We say we want to promote "women and girls' leadership and participation in political, social and peace-building processes" which would be essential to building democracies worldwide, but we timidly look the other way. We provide military equipment as Canada has to Saudi Arabia and promote trade with nations that discriminate against others, and in many cases are spreading the seeds of hate and intolerance worldwide. 

For all of its good deeds in assisting the developing world with billions of dollars of investment aid in order to further democracy, the west is targeted relentlessly by terrorists who use the very freedom of movement and assembly to harm innocent people. Today, on International Day of Democracy, European cities have been placed on high alert as a result of a number of incidents, including a bomb in the London subway which injured 22 people; a hammer attack in Lyon that critically injured two women by a man running down the street yelling "Allahu Akhbar"; a knifeman stopped by police in Birmingham and a highway closed in Malmo after explosives were found in a car.

Yet our democracy is failing to curb the attack on the west, on our institutions and our citizens. We have seen a slow and steady degradation of our way of life since 9/11 with increasing spate of terrorism and relentless usage of rights like 'free speech' to sow hate and discord. In many ways, Jewish communities across Europe have been like the so-called canaries in the coal mine – having been the initial recipients of most terror attacks. Now it has spread to society at large. 

In Canada, while we speak about equity, anti-racism, tolerance and peace building, our hate crime laws fail to be enforced giving way to more hate crime. We learned this week that in Quebec, the Crown Attorney dropped charges against two imams who were captured on video preaching hatred and violence against Jews at a Montreal mosque. In Toronto, a Muslim community calls for the elimination of Jews each year at its annual "Al Quds" protest at Queen’s Park while violence promoting antisemitic pamphlet circulates the province, with little reaction from authorities. Graffiti stating "Hitler was Right" is spray painted on bridges without condemnation from our premier or leading public figures.  

If we are going to celebrate democracy and its fundamentals, we must learn to protect and defend our values and ideals. If democracies celebrate tolerance, they cannot and should not tolerate those who are intolerant of others. They must stand up to hate, enforce hate crime and hate speech laws and place our very values and ideals – like women's rights, justice and equality – first and foremost. Otherwise, I fear that if we are not passionate about our exceptional democratic system, hope for humanity might be lost.

Avi Benlolo is a Canadian human rights activist, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, the Canadian branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Published in Politics

by Binoy Kampark in Melbourne 

At the psychological heart of every liberal is a milk soft tendency to succumb to the authoritarian personality, a feeling that, just around the corner, resistance will fold.  Before such authority, adoration and bruising follow in menacing union.

“Action is consolatory.  It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.” -Joseph Conrad, Nostromo (1904).

As US President Bill Clinton fumbled his way, fly-down, through the Oval office of the 1990s, his popularity ratings would soar with the next insidious missile strike on a place in Sudan or Afghanistan, places few US citizens would have been able to find on the map.  What mattered was that impotence before official inquiries was not to be replicated by the man behind the trigger, even if it did entail the slaughter of a few anonymous coloureds of Islamic faith.

The Trump Phenomenon

President Donald Trump presents this problem in an even more profoundly obscene way.  Impulsive, spontaneous, trigger happy at the end of a conversation, the boy man imperial figure is capable of doing anything that will change the game at a moment’s notice.  Those interested in examining such behaviour best dust off their copies of Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars to make sense of it all. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When you kill innocent children, innocent babies – babies! – little babies… that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line, many, many lines. -Donald Trump[/quote]

The entertainment fetishized complex of suffering, the reality show of dead and dying children, becomes the centre point for supposedly sensible policy. Ever long in having the ear of the intelligence community in Washington, David Ignatius dares find moral suasion in the act of firing 59 cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase. 

“Even for a president who advertised his coldblooded pragmatism, the moral dimensions of leadership find a way of penetrating the Oval Office.  In the case of President Trump, the emotional distance seems to have been shattered by simple, indelible images of suffering children in Idlib, Syria.” - David Ignatius

Liberal Support

As Joan Walsh explains in The Nation, individuals such as Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s News Day (“I think Donald Trump became president of the United Sates” with the strikes); or MSNBC’s Nicholas Kristof (Trump “did the right thing”) signal that dire, toxic embrace that confuses power with purpose. From seeing Trump previously as an incompetent, unable buffoon unfit for the White House, he bloomed in the field of conflict.

We have seen such instinctive support before, notably from those within progressive circles.  The liberal establishment, be it the human rights defender Michael Ignatieff or the late polemicist Christopher Hitchens, both strutted the line that weapons could be used to advance humanitarian and liberal agendas even as they destabilised and amputated a nation state.

Ignatieff took his point of departure as the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States, admitting that backing the mission that took the United States on an ideological crusade into Iraq in 2003 involved keeping company with those he did not like because they were “right on the issue.”

“As long as there was as much as a 1 percent chance that rogue states would transfer chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to suicide bombers, Britain and the United States knew where their interests lay, and they did not lie in deferring to the reluctance of their allies at the United Nations.”

Such an observation has all the ingredients that have since been replicated by Trump: a castigation of the international community, a general scolding of the UN system as barrier to firm action against atrocity, and the sense of catastrophe in the absence of such action.

Unity Against Terroristic Ideologies

As he was scribbling in March 2003 with Iraq smouldering, Ignatieff would say that he wished for a world with stable rules, and limitations on the use of force.  But he also made it clear that supporting the invasion “entails a commitment to rebuild that order on new foundations.”

Hitchens was similarly converted in the carnage of the collapsing Twin Towers of New York, embracing the thesis against incongruously named Islamofascism, and seeing any means to counter it, even those forces not so inclined towards it (Saddam Hussein was far more secular in his terrorising approach) as conflated enemies requiring extinction. 

So convinced was he by the case that any attempt to suggest he had erred in joining the powerful was dismissed as ill-informed claptrap.  “We were never, if we are honest with ourselves, ‘lied into war’.” -Christopher Hitchens

In other instances, Hitchens was positively bloodthirsty, exulting in the infliction of those deserving of death. These villains, he wrote in 2002, would receive “those steel pellets”; they would “go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else… They’ll be dead, in other words.”

Such symptoms of automatic support for the beast of purpose are typical of the seductive allure of muscular power, which is, by its very nature, anti-intellectual and consoling.  Intellectuals and members of the professional classes, while feeling repulsed by such fronts, often swoon to its application. They would love to be riding the storm of ill-thought in sadistic bliss, but prefer idyllic shelter whilst daddy does his bit for the patria.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Published in Commentary
Saturday, 04 February 2017 19:10

Risking War with Iran Over Nothing

Commentary by William O. Beeman

THE Trump administration appears to be renewing the possibility of violent confrontation with Iran using a questionable pretext — Iran’s testing of conventional missiles. 

No one in the U.S. government or the press seems to understand that Iranian ballistic missiles do not fall under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA (the "Iran Deal"). The JCPOA has nothing at all to do with conventional weapons, only nuclear technology. 

The current controversy over Iran's missile testing has entirely to do with interpretations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (20 July 2015), which endorsed the JCPOA after it had been ratified. 

UNSC Resolution 2231 stated flatly that ALL of the previously existing UN sanctions against Iran were terminated, viz. 

"(a) The provisions of resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015) shall be terminated" (p. 3 of the full document)

The current objections to Iran's missile testing has to do with a clause in Resolution 2231 that "calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,” until eight years after the implementation of the deal.

This clause can’t be found on the UNSC web page announcing the agreement to the press. 

It is buried on page 99 of the 104 page actual Resolution 2231 document with annexes.

The agreement does NOT prohibit Iran from developing conventional weapons or missiles at all. It also only "calls upon" Iran to not develop technology capable of carrying such nuclear weapons. It does not flat-out prohibit even this development. 

The language "calls upon" was deliberate because the other P5+1 signatories to the JCPOA (Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) would not endorse a stronger "prohibition." Moreover, the provision written this way provides no prescription for punishment if the provision is violated--which Iran claims has not happened. This means that there cannot be any UN imposed sanctions on Iran without an additional resolution. 

It is notable that, according to experts, Iran never had, nor has today a nuclear weapons program, so there are no nuclear weapons that could be mounted on such missiles. 

Anything the United States does in retaliation is in fact a response NOT to the JCPOA, to which the US is a signatory, but rather to some perceived violation of this UN Resolution. The United States in doing this is essentially engaging in a remarkable activity--cherry picking the violations of UN Resolutions that it likes and ignoring violations of UN Resolutions that it doesn't like, and deciding to act entirely independently of the UN, meting out its own free-boot punishment. Once again, the United States is singling out and targeting Iran on highly questionable grounds without any real authority. 

The tiny issue on which the US objection rests is whether the Iranian missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Iran says: no! The United States (and Israel) say "maybe," because they can't know for sure whether this is the case. In the latest missile test, the missile blew up, so no one can say one way or the other. 

This is splitting hairs in the most egregious way. The Trump administration continues the tradition of the hawks in Congress to do anything and everything to antagonize Iran. In this regard Iran's leaders have been remarkably calm. Hawkish legislators in the United States would like to completely eliminate Iran's conventional weapons AND its overall missile program. Iran has all kinds of reasons for wanting to maintain this technology including satellite launchings.

Today the Trump administration's sanctions proved to be wimpy at best, targeting “multiple entities and individuals involved in procuring technology and/or materials to support Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well as for acting for or on behalf of, or providing support to, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force." Since there were already existing sanctions against such individuals, this amounts to virtually no "punishment" at all. However, President Trump's insistence that "nothing has been taken off the table" ominously suggests some kind of military action. 

Iran responded with something much more symbolically effective, reportedly barring the U.S. wrestling team from competition in the Freestyle World Cup Competition on February 16-17. 

It is dismaying that the Trump administration would risk violent action over such a small matter, but hatred of Iran in U.S. Government circles is so ubiquitous, rationality seems never to prevail, and as can be seen, provides Iran with the opportunity to retaliate in ways that can provide much more effective press.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has conducted research in Iran for over 40 years. His most recent forthcoming book is Understanding Iran from Ancient Times to the Islamic Republic. This commentary is republished with permission from New America Media.

Published in Commentary

by Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Canada’s use of both government and private sponsors to help Syrian refugees resettle is a model that should be exported around the world, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said Monday.

Canada was the first of what’s still only a handful of states which allow private groups to take on the costs and obligations associated with refugee resettlement and it’s an approach that ought to be tried elsewhere as the flow of displaced people from the Syrian civil war and other conflicts continues, Filippo Grandi said.

“It adds more places for resettlement, but it also contributes to create this sense in civil society that it is a positive thing to do,” Grandi said of the private sponsorship program in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Committed to the idea of refugees

He spoke ahead of a day of meetings with senior government officials, including Immigration Minister John McCallum, who will be a keynote speaker at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ summit on the Syrian crisis in Geneva next week.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Grandi is asking states to take in about 10 per cent of the estimated 4.2 million people who’ve become refugees from the Syrian civil war.[/quote]

Grandi is asking states to take in about 10 per cent of the estimated 4.2 million people who’ve become refugees from the Syrian civil war.

The Liberal government had committed to taking in 25,000 government-assisted refugees by the end of this year and have about 8,000 more to go towards that goal. But they have not set a firm number for how many Syrians they will admit through the private system. The total refugee settlement target for this year — from all countries — is 44,800.

McCallum had previously said Canada could absorb between 35,000 and 50,000 Syrians, but wouldn’t say Monday whether those numbers will resurface in his speech next week.

“You won’t hear a number from me today,” he said. “As our behaviour suggests, we are committed to the idea of refugees.”

McCallum said he agrees the private sponsor program is worth looking at for other countries, noting it would help take some of the pressure off European states teeming with asylum-seekers. Canada is already working with Brazil to set up a program there.

Leadership creates solidarity, not fear

Under the Liberal program to resettle 25,000 Syrians by the end of last month, about 8,976 were privately sponsored and a further 2,225 were sponsored by a program that blends private and government support.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada has a leadership role to play in encouraging other countries to increase their resettlement efforts.[/quote]

The private sponsorship program largely began with the intake of refugees from Vietnam in 1979. In order to admit more people, the government committed to matching numbers sponsored by private groups, mostly churches. By the end of 1980, Canada had accepted 60,000 refugees.

Studies suggest long-term outcomes for privately sponsored refugees are often better than government-assisted ones, in part because of the strong community support. But there are also demographic differences.

Early analysis of Syrians who have arrived in Canada show, for example, that 70 per cent of government-assisted refugees don’t speak English or French, compared to only 37 per cent of the privately sponsored.

Grandi said Canada has a leadership role to play in encouraging other countries to increase their resettlement efforts, as it was mostly leadership that set the tone in Canada for such a swift response to the Syrian crisis last fall.

Leadership created not fear, but solidarity, he said.

“This is what I am saying to European leaders,” he said.

“It is true that some people are afraid here as well, but as everywhere you have people that are supportive and people that are more timid in this and I think leaders should utilize the good forces to create a positive environment. This was done here, there is no doubt.”

Republished in partnership with 

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 28 January 2016 17:19

Dion: Canada Will Lift Sanctions on Iran

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion told the House of Commons Tuesday that Canada will follow calls from the United Nations to reverse its unilateral sanctions on Iran in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

“We will do it in a speedy fashion but we will do it effectively,” Dion told reporters in a scrum after referencing the move during question period. “I would say that the approach of the previous government was ideological and irrational.”

Conservatives still not on board

Over its nine years in power, the former Conservative government levelled sanctions on Iran, broke off diplomatic ties and listed the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinehjad called for Israel to be wiped off the map during his tenure and the country has been accused of using its support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to wage a proxy conflict against Israeli interests and stability.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper branded himself as a staunch ally of Israel and his party’s now-opposition members continued that fight on Monday, criticizing the government for not condemning strongly enough tit-for-tat violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, has been billed as a relative moderate in terms of his approach to normalizing relations with the West.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Iran continues to be a state sponsor of terrorism, it continues to deny the very existence of Israel.”[/quote]

Last year he and international partners led by U.S. negotiators reached agreement on a nuclear accord aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for the gradual lifting of economic sanctions.

Independent investigators announced last week that they had verified Iranian compliance with the initial stage of the accord and as a result, the United States and other countries announced they would begin lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Despite that, Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement criticized the government for its decision to lift sanctions.

“Iran continues to be a state sponsor of terrorism, it continues to deny the very existence of Israel,” he said. “Canada should act in concert with allies to go slow on this approach and to those who say, ‘well, we might miss a business opportunity or two,’ I have every confidence in Canadian business that they can find other places in the world to do business.”

Engaging Iran makes economic sense

Iran’s population of 80 million, many of whom are educated and seeking opportunities in business and high-tech industries, has many billing it as a veritable gold mine for businesses able to get an early toe in the door as its economy opens.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[W]e’d be crazy not to move with the international community to reengage with [Iran] economically.”[/quote]

Rouhani is currently in Europe, the first Iranian president to visit in more than 15 years, and the speculation is that he will sign or kickstart business deals while there.

“Since the Iranians appear to be complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement, we’d be crazy not to move with the international community to reengage with them economically,” said Dave Perry, senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

The projected growth in Iran’s economy also has the potential to shift the dynamics in the Middle East as the Shiite country becomes more prominent and asserts itself as a counterweight to its rival, Sunni Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s elite Quds force is already operating in Iraq as part of the fight against ISIS militants and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said it’s crucial that Canada be able to engage with all parties as part of its fight to eliminate the group.

“We need to take a much broader view of the world,” Sajjan said. “We need all countries to take part in making sure that we start looking at conflict and trying to stabilize certain areas. If we do not have a voice with other nations, we're not going to be able to have those difficult discussions and resolutions in the places where we keep sending our men and women into harms way for.”

No clear timelines in place yet

Dion says the Conservative party’s suggestions that Canada maintain the former government’s policies on freezing out Iran even as allies drop sanctions and engage with the country would put Canada out of sync with the rest of the world, saying that Canada needs to be “back at the table where Iran is.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It’s not clear when the sanctions will be lifted or specifically which ones could remain in place.[/quote]

It’s not clear when the sanctions will be lifted or specifically which ones could remain in place.

The nuclear accord outlines a gradual lifting of sanctions and each stage of progression will see more and more of the sanctions lifted — while non-compliance with the accord will see them slapped back in place.

The Liberal government has touted a renewed focus on diplomacy as a cornerstone of its foreign policy, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and ministers trying to shape the idea that “Canada is back.”

“We think that when you have a disagreement with the regime, you don’t pull out – you work harder to see that there will be improvement,” Dion said.

In that vein, Trudeau promised during the 2015 campaign to restore diplomatic relations with Iran and re-open Canada’s embassy in Tehran if elected.

Dion did not comment on when Canada will re-open its embassy.

Re-published in partnership with

Published in Politics

Commentary by Anita Bromberg in Toronto 

Sixty-seven years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 50 years after the adoption of the two Covenants, which along with the Declaration became known as the International Bill of Human Rights, the struggle for human rights at home and abroad continues. 

It is a struggle that Canadians have been at the forefront of since World War II. Canadian John Peters Humphrey, first Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights, was central to the drafting of the Declaration. 

The underlying principle of the Declaration – that human beings are all born free and equal in dignity and rights – is reflected in section 15(1) of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, will kick off an international yearlong campaign spearheaded by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office: Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][E]ven in Canada we continue to struggle with realizing the full promises of these fundamental freedoms.[/quote]

The campaign will focus on the four freedoms at the core of the Declaration – freedom from fear, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom from want. We do not have to dig deep into media reports to see that even in Canada we continue to struggle with realizing the full promises of these fundamental freedoms. 

Impacts of fear 

When then American President Roosevelt gave his Four Freedoms speech after experiencing two world wars, the arms race was the focus of his remarks regarding freedom from fear. Today, freedom from fear means much more and the challenges are even greater. 

Fear has dominated our mindset these days. Violence and terrorism is now an ongoing reality that directly impacts Canadians. How can we not be concerned for, even feel fear for, our safety, with attacks such as the Californian and French events fresh on our minds?  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][N]o individual going about his or her daily life should fear being targeted by such fear.[/quote]

But this fear impacts in two ways. The obvious is that we each have the right to go about our daily business without fearing a terrorist attack harming our loved ones. But, in addition, no individual going about his or her daily life should fear being targeted by such fear. 

The sign on the lawn that tells Canadian Muslims or Jews to go home, the hijab-wearing woman buying groceries who is accused of being a terrorist, the hateful graffiti on Hindu places of worship, the racism directed at Aboriginal peoples – these are all examples of breaches of every person’s right to be free from fear. 

Fear used to marshal hatred 

As we mark this milestone date, the Secretary General of the United Nations reminds us, “Millions of refugees and internally displaced persons are a tragic product of the failure to fulfil this freedom [from fear]. Not since the Second World War have so many people been forced to flee their home.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Fear and hatred of the ‘other’ as justification for racism must be countered.[/quote] 

Our response as Canadians must be to open our doors without discrimination, while exercising all due diligence, as we commit ourselves to continue to build a society based on inclusion and founded on the principles of human dignity and mutual respect. 

Hatemongers know that the best way to marshal hatred is to channel it through fear, to manipulate fear to racist ends – often justified through an appeal to narrowly defined identities and collective fears of being overwhelmed.  

We are all deeply troubled by the threats to our security and by the impact the violence we are witnessing is having. We should be looking to protect our society and way of life based on our common humanity. 

However, that will come with guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of all, when we respect the balance these rights and freedoms demand from each of us. Fear and hatred of the ‘other’ as justification for racism must be countered.  

These are the lessons embedded in this year’s International Human Rights Day. 

Canada and its residents must be ready for the challenges ahead. Respecting our rights and freedoms can and must be one of the key principles that guide us all as the year ahead unfolds.

Anita Bromberg has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation since June 2014.

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Published in Commentary

by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto

Every day, we see pictures and videos of families desperately crossing the sea to escape war and poverty back home. Hundreds of refugees are interviewed and photographed arriving on Western soil with nothing except what they can carry. 

Sometimes, they are greeted with open arms. Often, with animosity. 

The literary fiction world has jumped on board with what the United Nations calls “the worst humanitarian disaster since the Cold War.” 

That’s not to say that fiction writers are sensationalizing or capitalizing on human suffering. It's quite the opposite – they are sharing these stories in a way that helps us make sense of the world. 

Good fiction, after all, invites us to discover what it is like to be someone else entirely. 

Canadian author Lawrence Hill’s latest book about a refugee marathoner running for his life (literally) and trying to survive in a wealthy island nation falls beautifully into this category. 

Hill’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. 

The Illegal was released in Canada on Sept. 1 of this year, the same day Germany revealed it had registered more than 3,500 refugees from Syria in one day alone. The next day, the British far-right populist leader, Nigel Farage, warned that the European Union had opened the door to an “exodus of biblical proportions.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Hill draws upon themes of racism and political oppression to capture the plight of undocumented migrants today.[/quote]

Enter the fictional world of Zantoroland

Like his earlier work, the award-winning international bestseller The Book of Negroes, Hill draws upon themes of racism and political oppression to capture the plight of undocumented migrants today. But that’s really where the similarities end. 

Set in 2018, The Illegal depicts two fictitious island countries situated in the Indian Ocean between Africa and Australia. 

Zantoroland is tiny, poor and black, with corrupt leaders that regularly sanction torture and killings of dissidents. Just 15,000 km north of Zantoroland is its polar adversary – or so it seems. Freedom State is rich and white, and led by a government as ruthless, as it is impressive. 

The lead character, and hero, of this story is Keita Ali, a quietly determined professional runner from Zantoroland. 

After Keita’s journalist father is publicly executed in the country’s infamous town square for probing too deeply into the government’s alleged dealings with Freedom State, Keita signs on with the notorious marathon agent Anton Hamm and escapes into neighbouring Freedom State. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Zantoroland represents the impoverished failed states that so many refugees today flee from.[/quote]

But the wealthy island nation, for all its economic prosperity and democratic, independently-run institutions, is just as determined to rid the country of potential threats: Freedom State is in the midst of an intense campaign to deport all undocumented ‘illegals’ like Keita back home to Zantoroland, where they would face certain death. 

In his bid to survive, Keita comes across a host of eccentric characters – from Ivernia Beech, a spirited old woman who breaks library policy to issue new cards to undocumented refugees and Lula DiStefano, the fiery madam of the community’s infamous brothel and caretaker of Freedom State’s teeming refugee population, to Rocco Calder, the blue-eyed recreational marathoner and Freedom State’s dispassionate immigration minister. 

Zantoroland not unlike real world

What makes The Illegal fascinating is, of course, that the fictitious world Hill creates isn’t really fictitious at all. The plot is peppered with cultural references to today’s modern institutions. 

Amnesty International is called to save Viola, a reporter from Freedom State who gets imprisoned in Zantoroland during an assignment, Keita’s father collaborates with a journalist from The New York Times before his murder, and Tim Hortons is referenced as “the cheapest coffee chain in the world … popularized a continent away.” 

Any work of fiction that adopts Tim’s coffee into its setting can never make a Canadian reader feel too disconnected. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]With swift grace and provocative moral questions, The Illegal does well in making us remember the forgotten that live among us.[/quote]

On a deeper level, the world Hill creates reflects strong parallels with today’s universe. 

Zantoroland represents the impoverished failed states that so many refugees today flee from: Syria, Libya and Somalia, among others. Freedom State, of course, represents us – the democratic countries of the West that at times appear sympathetic to the plight of refugees, while simultaneously using underhanded (or blatant) means and rhetoric to keep them as far away from us as possible. 

U.S. Republican candidate Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from the U.S. is perhaps the most recent example of this, but leaders across Europe and North America have generally expressed fear and reluctance to open their doors – Germany being the exception. 

With swift grace and provocative moral questions, The Illegal does well in making us remember the forgotten that live among us. 

One example of this, in Hill's narration, is when Keita arrives at a bank in Freedom State and is refused permission to open an account: “[The banker] extended a thick hand. It was a hand that had been strengthened by a gym membership and fed by hot cereal in the morning, lunch at midday and meat every night. 

“Keita reached for the obligatory shake, but to him, the banker’s cold palm felt like a wall. The wall had a door, and the door had a lock, and the lock needed a key. Some people had keys to this world, but Keita was not one of them.”

Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance journalist specializing in geopolitics and an instructor at the Humber College School of Journalism. 

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Published in Books

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

Canada needs to know it limits before its next intervention abroad, be it military or humanitarian. And be humble about it.

This is the message foreign policy experts apparently want to convey to prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau after he told a rally in Ottawa, “On behalf of 35 million Canadians – we’re back [after having lost our] compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years.”

The experts gathered at the Munk School of Global Affairs on Monday for the launch of Elusive Pursuits: Lessons from Canada’s Interventions Abroad, a Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) book under its Canada Among Nations series.

“Canadian foreign policy will certainly undergo a shift, as Mr. Trudeau has already indicated regarding our role in the fight against ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria),” said Fen Osler Hampson, director of the global security and politics program at CIGI, who co-edited the book.

“From global summitry and international coalitions to humanitarian crises, Canada has much to offer on the world stage,” Hampson continued. “Elusive Pursuits offers a unique lens on where Canada’s military presence and foreign aid has been and where it might be heading.”

Making a difference abroad

To be clear, Canadian Forces never stopped deploying, but rather the focus went from United Nations missions to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) efforts, he said.

“But as Canada has always not just been among nations, as the series title suggests, but in them, our politicians may as well be humble about what we can strategically do.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“No world leader gets up wondering what Canada is doing today.”[/quote]

As a middle power, our options will always be limited, said Hampson.

“We are strategy consumers, not producers. The big decisions about military operations are generally made by the United States, our main ally.”

Canada’s tendency is to intervene under the auspices of international institutions as it cannot operate by itself anywhere and can only send a fragment of what is needed to complete any operation. 

“This is not to say that Canada cannot make a difference in many difficult places in the world, but intervention is hard, it is complicated, and it requires more patience than we usually have.  Choosing not to intervene also has consequences,” Hampson explained.

“Today’s wars do not burn themselves out. We need the stamina to stay the course and cannot just get bored and exit.”

Selecting instruments of intervention

Emphasizing Canada’s strategic limitations, Hugh Segal, Master of Massey College and former senator, who wrote the foreword for the book, said, “No world leader gets up wondering what Canada is doing today.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Every choice we make, military or humanitarian, has a collateral implication.”[/quote]

Segal said while the option of looking away is a serious abdication of our role among nations, it is important to carefully select the instrument we choose to intervene with.

“It need not always be deployment of troops,” he stated. “We may let regional players do the job while we help with money. But if we don’t have the right instrument in our tool box, then we shouldn’t intervene.”

However, there is no single magical instrument, cautioned Aisha Ahmad, a panelist at the discussion who wrote a chapter in the book on Canada and Somalia titled “Learning from the Legacy of Failed Intervention”.

“Every choice we make, military or humanitarian, has a collateral implication,” said Ahmad. “Interventions are never neutral.”

Good intentions need to be carefully examined for their practical impact, she added. Feeding people is a great aim, but it could alter existing power relations, as food aid becomes a commodity in the war economy as it did when Canada intervened in Somalia.

Being realistic about our role

Jane Boulden, who wrote a chapter in the book on Syria and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), said the genocide in Rwanda brought the R2P concept to the forefront.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"There is always the need for assistance instead of interference.”[/quote]

But there has been resistance when it is seen as being used for regime change like in the case of Libya and currently Syria, continued Boulden.

Given the interest of the new government in peacekeeping operations, it makes sense to look at past Canadian efforts without the misplaced nostalgia, said Stephen Toope, director of Munk School of Global Affairs.

“I think we have to be realistic about the kind of role we can play. There is always the need for assistance instead of interference.”

In a recent article in the Ottawa Citizen McGill University professor William Watson effectively summed up the need for humility, which anchored the whole panel discussion:

“We apparently never tire of telling the world it needs more Canada,” he wrote. “I find it all cringe-worthy. The best test of that is to ask yourself how the boast you are making about Canada would sound if an American said it about his country. ‘The world needs more USA!’ ‘Yeah, right, buddy.’”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in International

Several major humanitarian agencies have announced plans to expand, launch and upscale operations in response to the European refugee crisis in the past month. 

Faced with European governments apparently unable to cope with the influx, aid agencies say their services are needed. 

Among those to launch new appeals are Islamic Relief, the ACT Alliance and World Vision.

Some agencies are launching work in countries in which they never previously had a presence. World Vision is seeking funding for its first response in Serbia, for example. Last week it began distributing family kits as part of operations supporting informal camps in Subotica and Kanjiza in northern Serbia near the Hungarian border. 

The ACT Alliance, meanwhile, plans to scale up work through partners in Greece, Hungary and Serbia. Its proposals include plans to provide food, sanitation, non-food items and shelter to at least 300,000 people – almost as many have arrived in Greece so far this year. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We felt this was the best time for us to engage with European agencies by launching the appeal and putting out messages about how it is their obligation to accept these refugees.”[/quote]

Islamic Relief has been offering translation services and cash grants on the over-run Greek island of Lesvos, but is seeking funding for a major ramping up of its operations. Action Aid has also sent a humanitarian team to Greece to assess what it could do to help there.

These responses are in addition to ongoing work by Save the Children, Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the International Rescue Committee, the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies of Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Italy and Serbia, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and others. 

World Vision International for one argues that its help is much needed. “We felt this was the best time for us to engage with European agencies by launching the appeal and putting out messages about how it is their obligation to accept these refugees,” said spokesman Henry Makiwa. 

Arising challenges

But the prospect of aid organizations launching largescale humanitarian operations on the world’s richest and most technically competent continent is raising eyebrows. 

“From a global perspective, these reactions are completely out of proportion – the numbers [arriving in Europe] are nothing. If you take them country by country compared to Turkey or Lebanon or even Iraq, they are very small,” said Sara Pantuliano, director of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute in London. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]hose on the ground say a key problem is that standard approaches to displacement are not appropriate.[/quote]

Although it sounds logical to bring in humanitarian agencies to cope with a refugee crisis, those on the ground say a key problem is that standard approaches to displacement are not appropriate. 

This is further complicated by a situation that is changing day by day and by a lack of data on who is arriving and what they need – carrying out needs assessments among a highly mobile population has proved extremely difficult. The closure of the Hungary's border with Serbia, for example, is now creating a rapidly growing backlog of refugees who are overwhelming existing facilities.

Agency responses often also bypass local civilian efforts that have provided much of the assistance to date.

UNHCR has now established a regional refugee coordinator for Europe, but the modalities of handling a multi-country coordination service are far from clear. The prospect of humanitarian agencies working on European soil is not necessarily comfortable for governments.

Internal sources within the UN say the organization is facing opposition from some European authorities unwilling to accept assistance from the UN for fear it is tantamount to admitting their own failure to handle the situation. 

The lack of coherent advocacy and strategy on refugee issues is also a notable gap. 

Amid the disparate responses from humanitarian agencies, it is clear there is an overwhelming need for a coherent, strategic response – from the countries of the European Union, but also from aid agencies. As MSF pointed out, the situation is extremely fluid and new challenges present themselves daily.

The European refugee crisis may be smallscale compared to what is going on in other refugee hosting countries, but it seems to have caught everyone by surprise, and conventional humanitarian response may not be the answer. 

This article first appeared on IRIN, an independent, non-profit media organization whose core objective is to highlight neglected crises and analyse humanitarian action and has been republished here via Asian Pacific Post.


Published in International

by Prof. Parvati Nair, UNU-GCM, United Nations University in Barcelona

A child should not have to die to mobilize governments into credible action. 

The photograph of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi's body washed ashore, which has mobilized international responses to the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean over the past week, signals two inter-related tragedies: firstly, that of the human loss and suffering that is ongoing in this context, and secondly, that of the dire shortcomings of global and regional good governance of migration. 

As the EU prepares to address this issue in the run-up to the High Level Side Event on Migration planned at the UN on 30 September, there is an urgent need to reflect on how best to swiftly and competently address the mounting crisis in migration to Europe. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][M]igration is a fact as old as the history of humanity itself.[/quote]

While Italy and Greece are overwhelmed as receiving points of migration from across the Mediterranean, there is every indication that the numbers of refugees who have entered Europe form only a small proportion of those who are already displaced and making their tortuous ways via Libya, Turkey, Eastern Europe and other routes in search of a safe and dignified life. 

Multiple causes for migration

There are some important facts that must be taken into account in this context: firstly, a condition for positive dialogue among global leaders is the understanding that migration is a fact as old as the history of humanity itself. 

Secondly, the flows coming into Europe today are mixed. It would appear that certain world leaders may favour hosting refugees (if only because there is a certain historical and political kudos to be found in the idea of Europe as a place of shelter), but reject the thought of offering hospitality to 'economic migrants' as those coming to take advantage of European wealth. 

In reality, there are multiple causes that displace populations and trigger migration. Refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants move shoulder to shoulder along networks and routes to Europe. 

Thirdly, the vast and growing underworld of smugglers and traffickers (at times it is hard, if not impossible, to disentangle the one from the other) thrive off existing European border policies and practices. The denial of visas and the building of fences with ever more razor wire foster the business of smugglers and force migrants down unsafe and undignified terrains of illegality. This is not the way forward. 

Relieving burden on Greece, Italy

Governments must understand that for as long as vast global inequalities that relate at once to questions of wealth, well-being, freedoms, rights, peace, security and democracy exist between Europe and other parts of the world, there will be both the absolute need and the overwhelming desire to access Europe. 

Against this backdrop, global leaders need to respond proactively in the short, medium and longer terms in order to safeguard lives and diminish suffering. 

As a first step, European leaders must establish a common asylum policy that sets procedures whereby residency and benefits are on offer equally across European states. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]For governance to be credible, what is needed is an approach that is proactive, not responsive.[/quote]

Perhaps Europe could look back at that other image of a suffering child that once mobilized a similar response – the girl fleeing napalm in Vietnam – and work towards a resettlement plan that is shared and that takes into account not solely those already in Europe, but also the many more on their way. Europe has room for them. 

The current burden on Greece and Italy needs urgently to be relieved. It also seems imperative to open legal channels for migrants, so that they do not surrender their safety into the hands of smugglers. 

A common asylum policy with applications processed along transit routes would enable legal, safe and managed migration into Europe. While this is being implemented, governments need urgently to contribute funds to the many agencies that are currently providing for the basic needs of migrants. 

In the medium term, European leaders need to engage with governments in Turkey and the Gulf. 

While Turkey currently hosts large numbers of Syrian and other refugees, the granting of residence and employment rights via visas would enable them to both contribute positively to local economies and ensure their safety and dignity. The Gulf countries too could engage in settlement programmes – if the political will were present. 

In the longer term, there is much that remains to be done. The ending of conflicts, greater development, and the ending of political oppression are all necessary for well-being, democracy and dignity. For governance to be credible, what is needed is an approach that is proactive, not responsive, and that acts always within the larger frame of human rights. 

by Dr. Melissa Siegel, UNU-MERITUnited Nations University in Maastricht

With migrants arriving – and dying – every day in Europe, countries like Sweden and Germany have been stepping up and giving a good example to their European neighbours; but sadly this example is not being readily followed.

The general lack of coordination at EU level is simply unacceptable and frankly embarrassing for a region that prides itself on upholding principles of human rights.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][R]efugees are resilient, hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves.[/quote]

As EU leaders prevaricate over the 200,000 refugees they have agreed to take over the next five years, countries neighbouring Syria have seen their populations rise by as much as a quarter.

Lebanon and Jordan, with populations of 4.5 and 6.5 million, are respectively hosting more than 1.2 million and 650,000 refugees, while Turkey continues to welcome additional refugees after having absorbed 1.6 million.

Refugees as part of economic development

For too long, Europe has given aid while saying, ‘not in my backyard’; this policy is not only shameful, but also completely unrealistic.

Camps in neighbouring countries are overflowing and people have few other options than to move on.

“The deteriorating conditions in Lebanon and Jordan, particularly the lack of food and health care,” writes Harriet Grant in The Guardian newspaper, “have become intolerable for many of the 4 million people who have fled Syria, driving fresh waves of refugees northwest towards Europe and aggravating the current crisis.”

This means we are going to continue to see refugees and asylum seekers knocking on Europe’s door. If Europe really cares about the well-being of these individuals (and human rights principles more generally), then more durable solutions need to be taken at a European level. This starts with accepting more UNHCR resettles so that they do not need to make the dangerous journey to Europe themselves.

European leaders should also change their thinking about the current refugee situation and embrace it as an opportunity instead of a threat. As Professor Alexander Betts of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford puts it, we could ‘treat refugees as a development issue.’

He argues that refugees are resilient, hardworking people trying to make a better life for themselves. By doing so, they are able to greatly contribute to the development of the economy and society in their host country.

Europe, with an ageing population, should see this situation as not only a humanitarian responsibility, but also an opportunity to bring capable, resilient new people into their societies.

Re-published via Pressat Newswire

Published in Commentary
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