Monday, 26 June 2017 13:55

Polish Sunday - Annual Pilgrimage

By: Fred Mercnik in Niagara-on-the-Lake

In 1918, 26 Polish soldiers were buried in the Polish Military Cemetery behind St.Vincent de Paul Church.The small plot of graves is immediately distinguishable from the others in St. Vincent de Paul cemetery. Surrounded by a small iron fence, the 25 graves bear the emblem of a white eagle, the symbol of a free Poland. The soldiers were newly emigrated Polish-Americans when they traveled from the U.S to Niagara-on-the-Lake to train for an independent Polish army during the First World War.  About 20.000 trainees filed through Niagara from 1917 to 1919, sleeping in barns, outnumbering the town's residents. The men in the graves died in the Spanish influenza pandemic. Each year, local Poles march from downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake to the cemetery plots, commemorating not only the spirit of the volunteers but the liberation of the motherland.

{gallery}Polish Ceremony{/gallery}


Republished with permission from Fred Photo

Published in Arts & Culture

by Dustin Godfrey in Vancouver 

A new exhibit at a Vancouver museum is exploring the experiences of a lesser-known group of combatants in the Second World War, who were major contributors to Chinese-Canadian civil rights, according to experts.

The Chinese Canadian Military Museum’s “Rumble in the Jungle” exhibit looks at Force 136, a team of Chinese-Canadians trained by British forces to practice guerrilla tactics in Southeast Asia. 

Borrowing tactics from the French resistance to Nazi occupation during the Second World War, the team fought against the Japanese advancements in the area,

Local historian and lecturer Judy Lam Maxwell, who wrote her master’s thesis on Chinese-Canadian war veterans, conducts tours of historic spots in Vancouver’s Chinatown. She said the reason for using Chinese-Canadians as guerrilla fighters in the region was largely due to appearance and language barriers faced by Caucasian Allied soldiers.

“They were British subjects and they were going into territories that were colonized by the British, but all through Southeast Asia is a sprinkling of Chinese,” she says. “That gave them power that they visually fit the part, whereas here, being in society here, they stood out.”

Launching the exhibit

The museum’s curator, Catherine Clement, says the exhibit’s launch in May was the biggest the museum had ever seen; in attendance were nine living veterans of Force 136.

Cynthia Fung-Sunter attended the launch with her three sisters and her two sons. Her father, Henry Fung, was the among the first group sent into the war with Force 136. She says she has had to piece together her father’s experience through external sources.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The reason for using Chinese-Canadians as guerrilla fighters in the region was largely due to appearance and language barriers.[/quote]

Henry Fung in Southeast Asia in 1945.

“I did ask, clearly, at different points, and he just would not give details,” she recalls, noting that the silence on the subject may have been due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

“She did a fine job,” says Fung-Sunter, commenting on Clement’s work in the exhibit. “I honestly feel that Force 136 became alive in that exhibit.”

Force 136’s impact on civil rights

Clement says the impacts of Force 136 extend much further than the context of the war; its existence acted much like a civil rights movement in its own way.

“A lot of the [Chinese-Canadian men] who served in the war were actually not considered Canadian citizens,” says Clement, referring to the denial of citizenship to Chinese Canadians, including those born in Canada, under the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923.

“It denied [them] the right to vote,” she says. “It means that even if you obtain a university degree, you cannot practice medicine or law, engineering, accounting — any of the really important professions.”

According to Lam Maxwell, after the war, many countries looked introspectively at their own racially driven policies.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Its existence acted much like a civil rights movement in its own way.[/quote]

“There was also the realization that all these countries were racist in their own way,” said Lam Maxwell, pointing to segregation in America and Canadian treatment of the Chinese community. “They were fighting for rights on many different levels.”

Clement notes that it was the contribution of Chinese-Canadians to the war efforts that gained the community a great deal of popular support for civil rights.

“The war ended in ‘45, and two years after, Chinese are finally granted the right to full citizenship,” says Clement. “A lot of it had to do with their service in the war."

In that same year, 1947, the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Ten years later, former Force 136 member Douglas Jung was the first Chinese-Canadian voted into parliament as the representative of Vancouver Centre.

The importance of remembering

Due to Force 136’s clandestine nature, Clement says it was difficult to garner information about the group. 

It took about five months of full-time work to put the exhibit together, during which time she interviewed soldiers’ children like Fung-Sunter, whose knowledge of their fathers’ experiences was often fragmented.

Clement said she was interested in doing the exhibit on Force 136 now because there had never been one dedicated to the group and because of the shrinking number of living Chinese-Canadian Second World War veterans.

“There was this one last window of opportunity to do something to celebrate what they did while they were still alive,” she states. “And it’s an excuse to ask them more questions about what that experience was like.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The war ended in ‘45, and two years after, Chinese are finally granted the right to full citizenship.”[/quote]

For Clement, there are lessons that today’s Canadians can learn from the history of the Chinese involvement in Force 136.

“For Chinese people, it’s understanding history,” she says. “How did we get here? This is not by accident; this is by things that people did for us, of [whom] there are still a few [. . .] around.”

Regarding Canadians as a whole, Clement says the lessons come back to the issue of immigration, which has come up in recent years in Vancouver.

“What do we learn from that? It’s that [. . .] making people feel different and isolated actually works against us as a community,” she concludes. 

"Rumble in the Jungle" will be featured at the Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver’s Chinatown until fall of 2016.

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Published in History

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

Canada’s foreign policy is caught in a precarious balancing act between the “sunny ways” of election promises and the realpolitik of weapons sales to countries with dubious human rights records.

In his new book, Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future, former Senator Hugh Segal suggests a solution that he says is focused, principled, and based on two foundational principles – freedom from fear and freedom from want.

Segal’s expertise in foreign policy was acquired through more than 30 years of involvement in foreign and security policy. This included chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a serving term as President of the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP), a non-partisan think tank and research institution.

Introducing his book at a launch hosted by the IRPP in partnership with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, he explained that while he has the highest regard for some of Canada’s hardworking diplomats and other foreign service personnel, he is concerned that foreign policy is a mess of shifting priorities swinging from right to left, according to the ideology of the government that happens to be in power.

His aim, he said, is to give some clarity and direction to foreign policy, which in his opinion, should not be dependent on party politics.

The launch took the form of a conversation between Segal and Jennifer Ditchburn, Editor-in-Chief of Policy Options, the magazine affiliated with IRPP.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences . . ."[/quote]

More foreign aid

Elaborating on freedom from want, Segal said it is in Canada’s interest to see that families, communities and nations around the world live in reasonable prosperity, buoyed by a sense of hope for the future.

“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences, not only for those living in despair, but for their neighbouring communities and countries,” he pointed out, adding that the total absence of hope leads to violent behaviour based on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude.

“Putting those two freedoms – freedom from want and from fear – at the centre of our foreign policy would make it more coherent and the world would understand better what we stand for as Canadians,” Segal said.

He added that if extreme poverty is the root cause of violence, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to diminish this cause.

“I think that both in terms of foreign aid and international development and in terms of doing our fair share militarily, we are not doing enough,” he said. “In the [Prime Minister] Lester Pearson era we contributed 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid, but in recent years our numbers have been much lower.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to boost funding to the global fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, but said Ottawa will not meet the goal to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid anytime soon.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action . . . [/quote]

Increase military capacity

Another key point that Segal makes in his book and highlighted at the event, is that Canada needs to reinforce its values-based foreign policy with an appropriate military capacity.

“We have a great military, but we need more of them,” he said. “Canada should probably have Armed Forces of 150,000, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves rather than our present number which is in the 50,000 to 60,000 range.”

He said Canada also needs a 60-ship fighting navy, rather than one that has 20 or 30 ships, that can be deployed on humanitarian and diplomatic missions “to send a clear message about Canadian values.”

Giving some examples of how such military strength could help Canadians and those abroad, Segal said, “We need to make sure the Chinese respect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and other people.”

“Our failure to engage with [Bashar al-] Assad three or four years ago is why we have such a horrendous situation now,” he added, referring to the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Using a Western Canadian expression, he said: “We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action or even the capacity for action.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy.”[/quote]

Decline since Chrétien era 

“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy,” he emphasized.

Segal’s central thesis is strongly reminiscent of a 2003 publication While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World by Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen. Both authors lament the decline of Canada’s foreign policy and its military, especially since the glory days of Prime Minister Pearson.

Both consider that it took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Segal points out that in that era, by sending delegations of Canadian business people and politicians around the world to increase trade, it became necessary to tread carefully so that no potential trading partner would be offended.

Both Segal and Cohen call for a values-based approach.

“The notion that this book might contribute to that debate in some constructive way would be my fondest hope,” said Segal.

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Published in Books
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 13:55

Military Response Will Enhance ISIS's Lure

by Firas Al-Atraqchi (@Firas_Atraqchi) in Cairo, Egypt

Canada has not thoroughly addressed all aspects and ramifications of its proposed contribution to the U.S.-led coalition to destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The current debate raging in Parliament and in newspaper columns is healthy for the country and provides an opportunity for different voices to examine different avenues to deal with the ISIS threat.

However, there are crucial questions that have either been inadequately addressed or have never been raised.

The first involves ISIS's origins.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 not only completed the process of deconstruction initiated by the sanctions, but led to a gradual decentralization of power, which helped to foment sectarian and ethnic divisions that would quickly take root and threaten the country’s sovereignty and unity.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Both the Baghdad government and its U.S. backers should have learned a valuable lesson that only inclusive politics could defeat sectarian and extremist ideologies.[/quote]

The first decision of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) headed by Paul Bremer was to disband the Iraqi military – a costly and deadly mistake.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men were now left with no jobs, no pay and no prospects. With Iraq’s national institutions – such as the military – crumbling or being voided, these men dissolved back into their ethnic constituencies. In the years to come they would prove to be fertile recruiting ground for the militias and extremist groups that ran rampant in Iraq.

It was as if administration of Iraq, first by the U.S. military and CPA and later by Baghdad governments, was based on a how-to list published in an Extremist Militias for Dummies handbook.

Economic, political and military disenfranchisement pushed Iraq very close to a full-out civil war in 2006 as extremist militias, including ISIS's precursors, committed waves of atrocities and murder.

Both the Baghdad government and its U.S. backers should have learned a valuable lesson that only inclusive politics could defeat sectarian and extremist ideologies.

Rise of ISIS

Unfortunately, this was a lesson lost: Between 2010 and 2014, former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki appropriated control of ministries based on sectarian affiliations and political loyalties.

The Iraqi army remains largely sectarian, and Sunni Sahwa militias, which were credited by U.S. commanders as having played a pivotal role in stabilizing the country, were discouraged and barred from joining national security forces.

It was during this political jockeying that ISIS – then known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) – started to mobilize. Believed to have been an Al-Qaeda affiliate originating in Anbar Province, the group moved to the Nineveh province in 2007 and began a campaign of attacks, intimidation and fear.

Sunni frustrations were slowly growing and eventually culminated in ISIS’s routing of the Iraqi military and expanding control over western and northern Iraq this summer.

Canadian debate

The Canadian debate must at this point acknowledge that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien was entirely right to stay out of the 2003 war which created this quagmire to begin with.

Despite repeatedly being told that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world (based on manipulated intelligence and bogus Weapons of Mass Destruction, WMD claims), Chretien and his government believed a military solution was the wrong one.

Today, Canadians are being told that ISIS is a threat to the world and their security.

Let us agree once and for all that ISIS is the most ruthless, merciless, uncompromising extremist group to ever emerge in the Middle East. Unlike Al-Qaeda, their strategy focuses on consolidating territory under their control and constructing an Islamist state, with an administration, court system and economic policy.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Canadian debate must at this point acknowledge that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien was entirely right to stay out of the 2003 war which created this quagmire to begin with.[/quote]

They have brutally killed Shia and Sunni alike in both Iraq and Syria, as well as persecuted and murdered minority Christians, Yazidis and any group they can easily label as "apostate". Even former Iraqi resistance fighters have not been spared.

ISIS commands fighters from Bosnia, Chechnya, Libya, Afghanistan and a host of other countries considered Western allies; their numbers are growing – as thousands of politically disenfranchised flock to their ranks.

If unchecked, they will continue to grow, slowly making a mockery of one Arab military after another; they are an acknowledged threat to Muslim and Arab countries. 

That perhaps explains why Arab countries that had previously provided support to ISIS and other Islamist militant groups to overthrow the regime of Syria's Bashar Al Assad have now awakened to the fact they cannot control the beast they helped create.

Déjà vu

It's Afghanistan all over again; Western-backed mujahideen morphing into Western-opposed Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

And just like in Afghanistan, battle-hardened jihadists will return home one day -- the question then becomes whether they will turn on their home societies and attempt to create Islamist states there?

In the 1990's (and some argue well into 2014), Egypt fought its war with ideological and militant jihadists returning from Afghanistan and Bosnia.

Could Canada face such a challenge? It is not improbable. But Muslims in Canada would probably be the first to stand up to returning jihadists, much as mainstream clerics in the Middle East have condemned ISIS's ideology and practices, and forbade young men and women from joining them.

The examination of ISIS's rise to power leads us to the second question that has not been addressed in this passionate debate: What happens once ISIS is defeated and destroyed?

(Did anyone ask what happens in Iraq after Saddam Hussein is removed from power?)

Iraq is in a state of disrepair and needs international scrutiny and efforts to set it on the right course.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]But Muslims in Canada would probably be the first to stand up to returning jihadists ...[/quote]

Any military consideration to deal with ISIS must be in parallel with a focused and persistent political dimension that ensures a post-ISIS Iraqi government is inclusive of all sects and denominations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has hinted that Washington will pressure Baghdad to reverse the course of the past eight years and make concerted effort to bring Sunnis into the fold.

But hints and 'ahems' are simply not enough.

Staying out

Yes, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is right to call for humanitarian assistance in Iraq and Syria, but that, too, falls short.

Iraqis and Syrians don't want to be given Happy Meals, refreshing toiletries and tents to inhabit in the desert. They want to go home and live in their neighborhoods safe and secure without the fear of a sectarian militia towering over them swords and Kalashnikovs in hand.

The New Democratic Party (NDP) came closest to highlighting the crux of the ISIS issue when Tom Mulcair said that Canada should use “every diplomatic, humanitarian and financial resource” to respond to the human tragedy unfolding on the ground, and “strengthen political institutions in Iraq and Syria”.

Events this past weekend should serve notice to those seeking to rush Canada into a war it cannot win militarily. On Monday, ISIS fighters in Syria continued their sweep of Kurdish villages in northeastern Syria by gaining control of most of the town of Kobani near the Turkish border. Kurds in Syria say coalition air strikes have not worked. A week earlier, ISIS seized control of 60 Kurdish villages forcing nearly 160,000 people to flee to Turkey.

In Iraq, local authorities in the city of Hit in the western Anbar province said that at least 18 civilians were killed and many injured in U.S. air strikes targeting ISIS positions.

A few days earlier, U.S. Apache helicopters were used in combat operations against ISIS fighters who were reported to be nine kms. from Baghdad.

Mission creep is all too real a possibility in the weeks and months ahead. With every errant missile that kills Iraqi and Syrian civilians, ISIS gains sympathy and fresh recruits.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Chretien's decision to stay out of the last coalition reaped Canada considerable global dividends.[/quote]

“The dark clouds of terror are gathering in Iraq and Syria, threatening to strike their thunder from India to Spain,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told parliament on Monday.

“We must not let this storm descend on Canada, and we know that it will if left unchecked," he said of Ottawa's mission in Iraq and Syria.

Stopping ISIS is not in debate here; the issue is how.

Chretien's decision to stay out of the last coalition reaped Canada considerable global dividends.

Canada's mission must, therefore, build on these dividends and carry an equally powerful diplomatic and political component. No military strategy will ever resolve the crisis in Iraq. The more militant the response the greater ISIS's lure becomes.

Firas is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. In April 2010, he left Al Jazeera's English-language website, where he worked as a senior editor since 2004. In September 2010, he joined the American University of Cairo as an associate professor of practice at the Journalism and Mass Communication department. He is a member of New Canadian Media's Editorial Board.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary
by Ranjit Bhaskar
With the world at large impassive in its reaction to the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, the diametrically opposite responses from Syria and Turkey are perhaps the most telling.
Syria's President Bashar Assad has praised the massive protests against the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and said it means the end of political Islam. In an interview with the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper, Assad said his opponents at home failed because they tried to bring religion onto the battlefield. "Whoever brings religion to use for political or factional interests will fall anywhere in the world."
“It is unacceptable for a government that has come to power through democratic elections to be toppled through illicit means and, even more, a military coup,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. This strong reaction was to be expected as Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the model for Mr. Morsi’s Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.
For the record, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has urged all parties in Egypt to remain calm, avoid violence and engage in meaningful political dialogue. "This is important not only for Egypt, but, given Egypt’s influence, for the whole region as well," Baird said.
While Assad has reasons to be antagonistic against Islamists as they spearhead the fight against him, his diagnosis may only be partially true: what we are seeing is not the end of political Islam but a likely end to Islamists engaging in electoral politics.
Winning elections
The message out there among Islamists is that winning elections does not seem to benefit them and Egypt is only the latest in a string of bitter lessons.
In 1991, Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front won the first round of parliamentary elections only to be blocked from power when the president, under pressure from the military, dissolved parliament and annulled the vote. What followed was a decade of civil war in which more than 250,000 people lost their lives. That insurgency is still alive in the Sahara today and Canadians were reminded of it when four fellow citizens were linked to a deadly attack on an Algerian gas plant that killed dozens in January of this year.
Analogous to the Algerian fiasco, in 2006 when the Islamist Hamas won elections in Palestine, it was ostracized by the U.S., Canada and some other countries because of the position it took against Israel.
The Ennahda party, that won the 2011 elections in Tunisia after the first revolution of the Arab Spring, seems to have bucked the trend thanks to sharing power with non-Islamist parties. That lesson seems to have been lost on fellow Islamist parties elsewhere. Winner takes it all seems to be their mind-set.
It was in evidence when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against the recent protests in Istanbul’s Taksim square.  Mr. Erdogan referred to his electoral victories and his parliamentary majority as a license to carry out policies as he saw fit. The more reconciliatory President Abdullah Gul had to point out that true democracy “does not only mean elections.”
This attitude of Islamists toward power gained through the ballot must be seen in the light of debates won within their circles on the superiority of electoral politics over violence. When the so-called Arab Spring movements in Tunisia and Egypt brought to power elected Islamist parties, it was a serious blow to al-Qaeda and the jihadists. It showed the world that political Islam’s compatibility with electoral democracy need not be confined only to Turkey in the Middle East.
Failed experiment
That experiment is at risk with the fall of Mr Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader. Analysts, like those at the US-based Stratfor Global Intelligence group, say the Muslim Brotherhood will probably not respond violently but may engage in civil unrest leading to violence. However, they fear that elements from ultraconservative Salafist groups would abandon mainstream politics in favor of armed conflict.
The ground for that is already being laid. Hundreds of Egyptians are in Syria fighting alongside Islamist rebels against Assad's forces. And at home in the Sinai desert, jihadist groups have taken advantage of the chaos of the past few years to build themselves up.
The Syrian president’s optimistic prediction of the end of political Islam may not come to pass soon. A cornered foe can always lash out with unpredictable results.- New Canadian Media
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Published in Commentary

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved