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.
Republished with permission from Fred Photo.
Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa
I have come to know the journalist Michael Petrou over the past few years. He would sometimes call me to seek my views on terrorism when he was with Macleans magazine and I relied heavily on his book ‘Renegades’ – the story of Canadians in the Spanish Civil War – for a section of my second book on Western foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. I happen to think he is a great writer and a solid scholar.
In a recent piece of analysis on the CBC Web site Michael noted that Afghanistan is ‘teetering on the edge of a dark abyss’ and that Canada, which lost 158 soldiers in its decade-long post 9/11 deployment, ‘should join its closest allies and return to Afghanistan.’ He argues that much progress has been made in Afghanistan since 2001 (infant mortality, a fledgling democracy, female school attendance) but that true advancement will be measured over decades. For his part, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to be leaning towards a peacekeeping mission in West Africa (possibly Mali) although even there the government is waffling.
And so the question remains: should Canada recommit to Afghanistan? Great question with no easy answer, especially in the context of the bombing in Kabul on May 31 that killed over 150. I will play the classic Canadian card and straddle the fence (joke: why did the Canadian cross the road? A: to get to the middle), providing views to supporting both a yes and a no response. It is not that I am normally wishy-washy: it’s just that there are solid arguments on both sides.
I fully believe that we cannot abandon Afghanistan. We tried that once – after the ragtag mujahedin kicked Soviet ass (with oodles of outside help it must be added) – and look where that got us. Warlordism, brutality and the arrival of the Taliban, which in turn played genial Afghan hosts to Al Qaeda. Afghanistan became a de facto failed state (it is hard to describe the Taliban regime as a ‘state’) and we know that failed states are prime real estate for terrorist groups (Somalia, northern Nigeria, Iraq, Yemen, etc.). If we don’t want to see the rise of yet another terrorist organisation on the scale of AQ we might want to keep our presence there robust.
Besides, don’t the Afghan people deserve a normal life? Given that the Afghan government appears incapable of providing the conditions for one shouldn’t we offer, on humanitarian grounds if nothing else? We will still run into the problem of Western ways clashing with Afghan culture but surely there are universal principles we can help maintain.
On the other hand, Afghanistan is not known as the ‘graveyard of empires’ for nothing. Many have tried to tame and control the country and none have succeeded. In addition there is the problem of how long. We were there for more than ten years and while, as Michael points out, some progress has been made the place is still a mess and may be getting worse. Will we need to establish an open-ended mission? How much will it cost? Are Canadians willing to accept more casualties in a country far away and little understood? Is the Canadian military equipped (materiel and human resource-wise) to continue multiple tours for our men and women in uniform? What is the end game? How do we measure our success? What is our exit strategy? Does anyone have an answer to these? Carleton University’s Steve Saideman has an interesting blog on lessons learned the first time around.
I fear that this conundrum falls into the ‘damned if we do and damned if we don’t category’. We cannot turn our backs on Afghanistan even if we seek to measure it solely through the lens of national interests and security. Afghanistan needs the help of the international community and that community must respond.
And yet those questions are still there. Furthermore why Afghanistan and not Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Central African Republic? Aren’t they as worthy?
Canada may be taking its time with this decision, and that may be frustrating to some, but a sober second thought is indeed required in this instance. If we are both to honour the deaths of those 158 soldiers and prevent 158 more we need to think this through.
Phil Gurski is a 30-year intelligence veteran and the author of the forthcoming The Lesser Jihads: Bringing Islamist extremism to the world.
Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa
We live in a world where fear is easy to spread. There is no shortage of evidence that bad things happen and that there are some bad actors in a lot of places.
The rise of the 24/7 news cycle and the ubiquity of social media have a lot to do with this. Sometimes, this fear is disproportionate to reality. The fear of violent crime is a good example: statistics in this country and others show pretty convincingly that violence of this nature is at historic lows and yet people still rank fear of violent crime high on their list of anxieties.
Terrorism fits here as well, as I have often said.
While there is no doubt that terrorism exists and we are reminded of it daily (less so in the West and more so in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia), we still have to maintain an objective perspective. Even if terrorism occurs more frequently today than it did, say, 40 years ago (although historical analysis might even differ on that point) it is still a rare event.
It is impossible to claim that terrorism is more rampant than non-terrorist crime for instance (shootings, domestic violence, etc.) let alone other kinds of death (disease, car accidents, etc.).
Terrorism is different from other forms of violent deaths because of its inherent ability to cause fear. That is why we call it terrorism – it instills terror and fear. That in essence is what the terrorists are trying to achieve, making us afraid of what they can do so that we will make decisions about things (foreign policy is a primary goal) under duress, decisions we would not normally make.
Some fears are natural – fear of snakes or spiders – and may go back a long way in the history of humanity. Others are manufactured. War and terrorism would fit here. If a fear is manufactured there must be a manufacturer and an audience (or recipient) of that fear. The audience, I would argue, has a choice of whether to accept or embrace the fear. It is as simple as that.
In other words, we play an enormous role in our own freedom from fear. We can simply choose not to be afraid.
I am not trying to oversimplify the terrorist threat or the challenge in dealing with it. This is indeed a hard problem that has always defied, and will most likely always defy, simple solutions. We will not 'defeat' terrorism anymore than we will 'defeat' crime in general.
But we can 'defeat' the goal of the terrorists by refusing to be cowed by their actions and their propaganda. We can decide not to allow them to make us afraid.
I'd like to end with a quote by the Swedish Prime Minister in the wake of this month's terrorist attack in Stockholm (an Uzbek terrorist drove a stolen beer truck into a pedestrian mall, killing four and wounding 15) as it really sends a strong message about fear: "I believe today’s [gathering] was a clear message from Stockholm and Sweden that we intend to keep our open, warm and inclusive society. That was the message. Terrorism will never defeat Sweden.”
Would that we all elected to not give in to fear and terror and tell the terrorists that they will never win.
by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver
More than 160 Canadians lost their lives, more than 1,000 were wounded, and the government spent over $20 billion during Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
Stephen M. Saideman, a scholar and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University, re-evaluates Canada’s performance in Afghanistan in his new book Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan.
Why Afghanistan and Kandahar
“Canada did not go to Afghanistan to turn it into a democracy that respected human rights and fostered functioning institutions,” Saideman writes. Canada’s objectives were to support its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, particularly the U.S., and change its own international standing.
NATO connects Canada to Europe and gives Canada, at least in theory, equal standing to the more powerful U.S., writes Saideman. It may also prevent American unilateralism, as the U.S. will have to take into account the preferences of other members of the organization.
Moreover, Canada has a strong interest in strengthening its relationship with the U.S. given its economic interdependence, limited defence budget and geographic location. The Afghan mission cemented that relationship.
The insurgency was much less intense in northern and western Afghanistan, but Canada decided to deploy to Kandahar in southeastern Afghanistan, which became one of the most violent sites of the war.
The conventional argument has been that the Canadian Forces (CF) had intentionally downplayed the risks associated with a mission in Kandahar. However, Saideman says that the mission in Kandahar met the aspirations of then prime minister, Paul Martin, the CF, and department of foreign affairs, trade and development.
Each was interested in redefining their own role and Canada’s role in the international arena. They also believed they could make a meaningful difference on the ground.
Warriors and/or peacekeepers?
The CF, over the course of the mission, changed its rules of engagement, its culture, and its status, both in Canada and with its international partners, following the adverse effects of the Somalia Affair. The 1993 military scandal involved the death of 16-year-old Somali national Shidane Arone at the hands of two Canadian soldiers during a humanitarian mission in Somalia.
The current generation of CF officers, Saideman says, were keen “to be seen as warriors and not as peacekeepers.” General Rick Hillier, former Chief of the Defence Staff for CF said “[t]he immense frustration at the ignorance of so many who labeled us ‘only’ peacekeepers had disappeared” following the Afghan mission.
Saideman notes the sacrifices made by the CF, but is also critical of characterizations of the Afghan Mission that “were too optimistic.” It is in the CF’s interest, the author says, to address this credibility gap created by its representation of the Afghan mission; “otherwise, it will be ignored as politicians will find its overly optimistic perspectives to be less than useful.”
Canadian Afghan detainee issue
In 2007, reports emerged that the CF and the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not address reports that Afghan detainees held by CF were subjected to torture after they were transferred to Afghan forces. This could have potentially constituted war crimes.
Saideman is extremely critical of parliamentarians from all political parties in their handling of the mission in Afghanistan. He says that the opposition parties’ fixation on the detainees was at the expense of addressing a much more important issue – the mission’s failure to establish any semblance of good governance.
He also notes that members of the Standing Committee on National Defence do not have security clearances and are therefore not authorized to see classified documents.
In other words, they do not know what the CF may be doing. This lack of knowledge and context can prevent parliamentarians from holding the Minister of National Defence accountable.
A good start
“If Canada deployed troops to Afghanistan to build a self-sustaining, stable, secure democracy,” its mission failed, writes Saideman.
However, Canada supported its allies, honoured its commitments, and made serious efforts to change things for the better in Afghanistan. Therefore, the mission “was worth it insofar as it constituted significant support for the most important multilateral security organization and its most important ally.”
Saideman’s book is replete with strong analyses. However, it does not study the success or failures of Canada’s Counter-Insurgency principles and efforts. If Canada is to get involved in similar missions in the future, the lessons learned from this effort in Afghanistan will be helpful.
Furthermore, while the author says that deploying troops to Afghanistan “was consistent with Canadian interests and values,” he does not mention what those values are. Are they only to support our allies?
Since Saideman says that helping the Afghans and building a democracy were not Canadian objectives, then we have to ask a tough question: Is fighting a violent war in a foreign country to enhance our international standing a Canadian value?
Saideman’s normative assessment poses moral questions about “Canadian values” and the construction of national interests with regard to the Afghan mission that his book does not answer. His contribution remains a good start to revisiting Canada’s Afghan mission.
Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He has a master's degree of arts in international affairs and diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and is published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
by Maria Assaf in Oxford, England
Imagine being a child bride in pre-revolutionary Iran – suffering abuse on a daily basis, being forced into a joyless marriage and having children at the age of 13. There is no law or organization that can protect you, as the entire affair is perfectly legal.
Now, imagine having a beautiful husband and children, a mother and father, and then losing them all in a genocide.
What hope could remain in a human heart after enduring such calamities?
Could an intense desire to right the wrongs or change the world bring back life to a suffering soul?
In Amity, author Nasreen Pejvack makes her reader wrestle with such questions, page after page, as she recounts both the painful and happy memories that form the lives of her two main characters: Ragusa, a survivor of the Yugoslav ethnic conflicts of the 1990s, who is on the verge of taking her own life, and her unknowing rescuer, Payvand, who is an Iranian activist with a tragic life story of her own.
Paradox of the West
Amity shows that there are moments in some peoples’ lives in which hope does not materialize from suffering. There are times when the soul has been so utterly shattered, that the mere suggestion of finding meaning within its pain is insulting.
Pejvack presents a panorama of a Western world – with its affluence and the seeming peace of its clean streets – which hides many truths and stories of refugees or others who have fled conflict and reached what seems like a safe haven.
As the stories in Amity show, the suffering of many of those individuals will not cease once they have a Canadian passport or British citizenship. The marks that their pasts have left on their souls will accompany them forever, like a shadow surrounding the most trivial moments of their lives.
Yes, many of them have been saved; the lucky few have even re-married in their new countries and found jobs and successful careers. But who can take away the pain of the memories, the tears, and the nightmares that keep survivors trapped in their minds as if in a prison of their pasts?
Pejvack’s book is heartfelt throughout. It is honest and direct and her phrases are simple, clear, and concise.
For those readers who are fortunate not to have suffered the misfortunes of war, oppression and tragedy, this book will provide insight into the lives of the millions of people worldwide who are experiencing similar fates as Ragusa and Payvand.
Understanding each other, and the world
Amity is a testament of sympathy with victims and the experience of sharing an understanding of tragedy and pain; of expressing empathy towards those who feel that no one could possibly understand the depths of their suffering.
This book grabs the audience’s attention rapidly, with its strong life stories and its vibrant political, economic and historical debates, made intentionally easy to read.
The writer’s political debates illustrate the evils that have plagued Iran and the nations that formed the former Yugoslavia, creating strong sentiments between two women who shared impassionate days and brought joy to each other in their pain.
The book succeeds at making the audience care about global politics and the way it creates wars that lead to the kinds of crises that have made these two protagonists suffer so much in their lives.
As Payvand tries to pull Ragusa back to life by telling her stories, this book also grabs the reader’s attention and curiosity from the beginning by making us want to learn more about the fascinating characters Pejvack describes in each chapter.
For those interested in the histories of the places where conflict has struck recently, this book embarks on detailed accounts of Iran’s recent past, explaining how the country came to be what it is now.
Pejvack’s explanations are nuanced and politically knowledgeable. Her book is incredibly timely and relevant in the context of the present turmoil in the Middle East.
Call to action
Each of Pejvack’s characters is an activist in her own right.
Ragusa, a Croat, married a Serb – something inconceivable during tense times in which Croatian and Serbian populations were at war.
Payvand, an Iranian revolutionary, had to see her comrades die and experience the disappointment of witnessing the onset of what she calls an ignorant revolution.
From the portrait of violence Pejvack presents comes a call for revolution. Formerly a writer and poet for an underground activist publication in Iran, Pejvack writes in a way that is every bit poetic as it is political and invites people to care, to take action, and to participate in her revolution.
The call for unity regardless of nationality and other differences is one of the most beautiful premises this book proposes. This work is a must-read for inspired young citizens of the world, as Pejvack appeals to those who are trying to make a difference and are in need of some accessible guidance on how to contribute positively to the world.
Maria Assaf is a Colombian-Canadian freelance reporter who writes for Latin American, Filipino and other immigrant publications in Canada, including New Canadian Media. She completed her bachelor's degree in journalism at Ryerson University and is currently pursuing a master's degree in development and emergency practice at Oxford Brookes University, where she is researching refugee freedom of expression.
by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto
Hossein is a 10-year-old Iraqi orphan with long hair, big olive-coloured eyes and a shy smile. He loves going to school and playing soccer. He also loves visiting his Canadian dentist for annual check-ups.
Hossein’s dentist is one of 51 volunteers who fly into Iraq every spring to provide free dental care.
Armed with colouring books, games and iPads – to entertain the children while they wait for their turn – the dentists come fully equipped to carry out everything from oral health instruction to preventative care, including fissure sealants, extractions and stainless steel crowns.
Toronto dentist Jaffer Kermalli* has been treating Hossein for several years. “His long hair hides scars from a bomb blast he was in,” Kermalli shares. “He came back to us [this year] and specifically wanted us to fix a broken front tooth and take away the pain from another tooth in his mouth.”
Kermalli recently went on his fifth trip to Iraq with Global Kindness Foundation (GKF), a Vancouver-based charitable organization that takes two trips every year to provide medical, dental and optical services to countries in need due to war and poverty.
A passion project
In 2015, GKF took its dental mission to Iraq and Kenya. In the past, the organization (members pictured) also travelled to Peru, India and Tanzania.
The 33-year-old dentist calls it his “passion project.”
“I plan my year around the GKF trips, and over the years have become more active in helping organize supplies and train volunteers. It gives me focus throughout the year, and is my ‘reset,’” he says. “To see the state of these children and how much they struggle; it puts all my first-world problems into perspective.”
The children they treat are generally thrilled to see them – notwithstanding the usual anxiety that comes with dental visits.
For many, it means the first time ever sitting in a dentist’s chair, or holding a toothbrush. The lack of basic awareness is a direct outcome of living in both a war-torn country and refugee camps, where dental care is scarce or not available at all.
Many non-dental volunteers have also joined the group, along with several opticians and physicians. The non-medical volunteers are assigned roles like screening the children in the waiting areas, occupying the children while they wait for their appointment and assisting the dentists.
Shahina Rahim, an IT executive at the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, joined GKF for a second time this year.
“I wanted to make a small difference to the lives of the children,” she says. “I couldn’t stop thinking about them and wanted to come back and help.”
This time, though, she took a few Arabic classes in Toronto before leaving in order to help overcome the language barrier.
Meeting many needs
Additional medical and optical camps were also set up, seeing more than 1,000 children over two weeks. Many were referred to specialists.
“One child had a case of congenital heart defect which had gone untreated and required surgery,” recalls Vancouver dentist and GKF founder, Dr. Hasnain Dewji (pictured).
“There were also some cases of severe psychiatric conditions, so a referral to a local psychiatrist was arranged. Two other boys needed growth-hormone therapy. We are trying to determine the cost of therapy and see if we can raise the funds needed.”
The two opticians in the group also flew in from Vancouver, and determined that at least 60 of the children they saw required corrective lenses. The charity arranged for the eyeglasses to be made in Tanzania and delivered for free to Iraq.
Kids are kids
The dental mission to Iraq started on March 19 and ended April 1. GKF is already recruiting its next set of volunteers to travel to Bhavnagar, India, in December.
For Rahim, the hardest part of her trip to Iraq was witnessing the social remnants of war – the beggars, the children in wheelchairs and the sheer poverty.
“For many of the kids, you can see the poverty through hygiene, dirty or worn clothes, and shoes or sandals that don't fit them.”
But none of that seemed to stop them from smiling, laughing and dreaming, she adds.
“My encounter with the kids has been a wonderful one. They have aspirations, optimism and hopes and dreams like all of us,” she says.
“Kids are kids after all, no matter what part of the world they live in.”
*Source is not related to the author.
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
The 75th anniversary of the Battle of Hong Kong is being commemorated across Canada by veterans and survivors of Japanese occupation and their families. About 2,000 Canadians fought to defend Hong Kong against Japanese occupation in Canada’s first combat mission of the Second World War.
“They were relatively inexperienced. A lot of them were new recruits,” says Patrick Donovan, curator of the exhibit Hong Kong and the Home Front at the Morrin Centre in Québec City, Quebec. “A lot of them learned to fire their rifles on the boat ride over.”
The Royal Rifles of Canada, Quebec City’s main English-speaking regiment, and the Winnipeg Grenadiers were sent to Hong Kong in fall of 1941 to join a battalion of commonwealth forces totalling 14,000 troops.
On December 8, 1941, Japanese aircraft began attacking Hong Kong. A day earlier, they had attacked Pearl Harbor. The defence of Hong Kong ended almost three weeks later when Canadian and other defending troops were forced to surrender. Among Canadian troops, 290 were killed and 493 were wounded.
Hong Kong and several other countries and territories were occupied by Japan for the duration of the war. On November 4, 1948, the International Military Tribunals for the Far East found 25 Japanese military and government officials guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Second World War.
Personal experiences of war
“The occupation is something we never talk about,” says Sovita Chander, whose father grew up in Japanese-occupied British Malay. The former president of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which runs the Morrin Centre, Chander says she learned about this period of her father’s life through his memoirs.
“I can't imagine my own children — now in university — having to go through that, and my heart goes out to my parents who were so young at that time,” says Chander.
Her father’s memoirs describe how at the age of six, he and his family spent a day in an underground shelter as the Japanese army passed overhead. The next day, he watched his father stay with a dying Indian soldier, who he buried the next day.
“Despite the atrocities, horror, and depravation, he held no animosity for the former occupiers,” says Chander of her father, noting that Malaya was also a British colony. “He developed an international outlook that was liberal and tolerant.”
Chander says it’s important to tell the story of the people from the Québec City region who were in Hong Kong, including some people who were involved with the Morrin Centre at the time.
“We tend to focus a lot on the victories of the war and it tends to glorify the whole business of war,” says Donovan of the Centre’s exhibit. “It's important to look at some of the defeats, and this story is a tragedy.”
He says the soldiers who were not killed were held in Japanese Prisoner of War camps for the duration of the War. Many prisoners died of malnutrition or diseases related to lack of food.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, more than 550 of the almost 2,000 Canadians who went to Hong Kong never returned.
“The Japanese still have not come to terms with what they did in the Second World War,” says Judy Lam Maxwell, whose mother lived under Japanese occupation in Hong Kong as a child.
“She had told me that because her father was a doctor, he could hide the kids in the hospital and they would be safe from harm,” says Lam Maxwell. “My mom, her siblings, and her mom are fortunate to have survived.” She says that her grandfather, or Goong Goong, was tortured by the Japanese, but also survived.
Commemorating the Battle
Lam Maxwell heard the stories of other survivors when she travelled to Hong Kong with ex-servicemen from Canada several years ago. She collected newspaper articles from Canada and Hong Kong that will be part of an exhibit at Centre A in Vancouver, B.C. later this year to commemorate the Battle of Hong Kong.
“Many of the Canadians and immigrants from Hong Kong living in Canada do not know this history and it’s important for museums and historians to share the significant link between Canada and Hong Kong,” says King Wan, president of the Chinese Canadian Military Museum Society.
The Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver will showcase “Force 136” on May 14 as part of Asian Heritage Month to commemorate Chinese-Canadians who joined the Special Operations Executive in East Asia during the war.
He notes that at the time, people of Chinese descent were prohibited from joining Canada’s armed forces. While many were rejected, recruiters who were eager to meet quotas accepted some Chinese-Canadians who enlisted.
The policy against Chinese recruitment was rescinded after the British government pressured the Canadian government to recruit Chinese-Canadians, as they could easily assimilate into East-Asian society and work for the army undercover. More than 700 Chinese-Canadians joined the Canadian army, mostly in British Columbia.
The museum will also commemorate the Battle of Hong Kong with another exhibit in the fall.
For Wan, whose family immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong, he feels these events are especially important so that we remember the service of both Chinese and Canadian soldiers who served in Asia and in the Battle of Hong Kong.
A poster recalls the Battle of Hong Kong to enlist new recruits to join the Royal Rifles of Canada, based in Quebec City. Source: Canadian Museum of History.
In the wake of Brussels — at least for now — we’re back in the bad old days of the War of Civilizations narrative.
In the face of terror most foul, fury and vengeance are once more in the air. It’s not quite Christianity versus Islam, but it’s close.
Some anecdotal evidence. Two comments on a story in The Independent, worlds apart, suggest that two great swaths of humanity are once again on an unnecessary and tragic collision course.
Bobby said: “All the whole Mideast and ALL their ilk are Hated by me and mine.”
Ceycey replied: “Is your humanity only for Europe?”
Both commenters were responding to a story in the British newspaper written by Yasmin Ahmed in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Belgium.
Ahmed pointed out that just before ISIS operatives set off bombs in Brussels, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks detonated a car bomb in Turkey near a transportation hub, killing 37 and injuring 70 more. A closely-timed second attack killed four more people. In fact, Turkey has been beset by a spate of bombings by Kurdish separatists and ISIS, who in 2015 alone killed 141 and injured 910 others.
In both Brussels and Ankara, innocent people were killed indiscriminately by fanatics who believe political causes sanctify murder.
But what struck Ahmed was the profound difference in the Western reaction to these atrocities. In social media there were safety check-ins on Facebook, hashtags on Twitter, and shared cartoons in response to the bombings at Zaventen Airport and Maelbeek metro station. In fact, “Brussels” garnered 17.5 million more Google news results than “Ankara”.
Global media funerals for some, mute indifference for others
While the world mourned Brussels, Ankara was treated as a mere regional event. Case in point: After this week’s Brussels bombings, European countries raised the Belgian flag above their national monuments — a fitting tribute. The Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colours of the Belgian flag, as was One World Trade Center in New York (though in truth, the colours looked more like red, white and blue). So Yasmin Ahmed posed an awkward question: Why didn’t Downing Street raise the red and white Turkish flag after the atrocities in Ankara?
Ahmed’s unease was mirrored by a young woman who knows a thing or two about being victimized by terrorism. Malala Yousafzai blazed to international fame after standing up for education for girls in Afghanistan and getting shot by the Taliban for her defiance.
She too has spoken out about the dangers of dividing the victims of terrorism between East and West, providing global media funerals for some, mute indifference to others.
“Do you not see that this indifference to the non-Western lives is EXACTLY what is creating and feeding terror organizations like ISIS? … If your intention is to stop terrorism, do not try to blame the whole population of Muslims for it, because that cannot stop terrorism,” she said.
And that raises an interesting question. Is the West mute on the subject of innocent lives lost to terrorists in Turkey because the motivations behind those attacks were different from the reasons behind the killing in Europe — or because Turkey is 98 per cent Muslim? Has the West’s accusatory finger moved from ultra-extremist groups like ISIS and al Qaida to designate the members of an entire religion — again?
In this season of presidential politics in the United States, the answer is, sadly, ‘Yes’.
Trump and anti-terrorism: Zero experience
CNN, which fielded carpet-coverage of the Brussels bombings in a way that repeated rather than advanced the story for three gruesome days, has already come up with a poll showing that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is now the first choice of Americans on anti-terrorism matters.
That is astonishing for a few reasons. First of all, Trump has zero experience in fighting terrorism in any official capacity. He has never held public office, and his chief advisor on foreign policy is The Donald. Trump has been widely denounced by military, national security and senior police leaders for his unconstitutional, illegal and flatly dangerous approach to some of America’s deepest problems.
The list is well known. So far Trump has proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States, deporting 12 million illegal aliens, building a wall on the Mexican border, bringing back torture and instituting racial profiling in Muslim communities in the U.S. Now he has added that he wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons against ISIS. That’s right — nuclear weapons.
In the flash of two bombs, the world is suddenly standing back in the rubble of 9/11 with President Bush repeating his With Us or With the Terrorists ultimatum. All the old, familiar and — I might add — failed solutions are once more being put forward by a real estate mogul who is being embraced as though he were King Solomon.
Though there are many particulars to the new fundamentalism for defeating terror, it comes down to the familiar mantra of guns, gates and guards. If the police just had enough unconstitutional powers, if free citizens just gave up enough civil liberties, if the West could just exert enough hard power against Islamic terrorists, if only there could be more forced regime change, if only Muslims would begin denouncing the evil-doers in their communities, the world would never have to see the cities of Europe and the United States burning again.
Those answers have been tried for 15 blood-soaked years and all the West has to show for it is millions of deaths, trillions in squandered treasure — and ISIS.
The time has come to recognize solidarity with all the victims of terror. As James Taylor, a U.K. citizen living in Ankara, posted on Facebook, “You were Charlie, you were Paris, will you be Ankara?”
Michael Harris is a writer, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. He was awarded a Doctor of Laws for his “unceasing pursuit of justice for the less fortunate among us.” His nine books include Justice Denied, Unholy Orders, Rare Ambition, Lament for an Ocean, and Con Game. His new book on the Harper majority government, Party of One, is a number one best-seller and has been shortlisted for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for English-language non-fiction.
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver
“Near the old Jewish quarter of Baghdad, at Al Rasheed Street, there is a meandering alley named after the Iraqi poet Al Mutanabbi,” read Shawk Alani, the organizer of the ninth “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” reading in Vancouver.
The reading, quoting Phillip Robertson’s 2005 report, “The death of Al Mutanabbi Street,” was the first of many during an evening in commemoration of Iraqi literature.
On Mar. 5, 2007, a car bomb devastated the famous bookselling street. Since 2007, writers, activists and artists have marked the anniversary of the attack with literary readings as part of a project called “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here.” Spearheaded locally by the Pandora’s Collective at the invitation of founder Beau Beausoleil, the annual event has included readings from Vancouver writers like Bonnie Nish and Hadani Ditmars.
This year, readings were held in over 20 cities across North America, Europe and the Middle East.
“I think the idea of Al-Mutanabbi Street ‘starting here,’ is to put context to history, and to say that these issues are not just issues that are local,” said Shawk, who prefers to be referred to using her first name. “These politics cross borders, there is relationships between what happens here and what happens in Iraq.”
The evening at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver campus was an immersive experience, where guests were greeted with a classical Iraqi playlist as they entered and offered cardamom tea.
Alani introduced the historical and political significance of the event, reminding the crowd of the pitfalls of the literary culture that was being celebrated. During Saddam Hussein’s reign, writers and intellectuals were servants of the state who produced literature praising the regime, for which they were rewarded.
The readings included the original and translated works of the 10th century poet, Al-Mutanabbi, read by Wadood Hamad, adjunct professor in chemistry at the University of British Columbia.
Hamad also read the poetry of one of Iraq’s most famous and influential poets of the 20th century, Muzaffar Al-Nawab, who wrote on the themes of love, politics, philosophy and existentialism.
Iraqi writer Dima Yassine and Palestinian filmmaker and songwriter Sobhi Al-Zobaidi performed original works that reflected on their lived experiences and memories of their homes.
Sara McIntyre read an excerpt from Inaam Kachachi’s American Granddaughter, a novel about a young Iraqi-American who serves as a translator during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the passage, the protagonist must stage a raid of her own grandmother’s house, as it’s the only way she is allowed to see her.
Alani issued a trigger warning prior to reading from journalist Anthony Shadid’s book Night Draws Near.
The excerpt, titled “A boy who was ‘like a flower’” dealt with the funeral of two teenaged boys who were victims of an unattributed attack. The scene addressed a raw, intimate moment of sorrow, anger and frustration that was all too common during the Iraq War.
In addition to the readings, Shawk showcased a short film by Iraqi creative director Mustafa Al-Sumaidaie, featuring the rebuilt Al-Mutanabbi street today, and played Walid Gholmieh’s Symphony No.2, “Al-Mutanabbi” B. Flat Major.
Shawk’s grandfather collaborated with the Lebanese composer to produce the piece, which was meant to provide listeners with an auditory experience similar to that of reading Al-Mutanabbi’s poetry.
Readings provide healing
“I think it’s important to make spaces that are critical, events that are a bit more involved, bringing more critical thought into people’s consciousness,” said Shawk of her involvement in the initiative.
She said that bringing the story of Al-Mutanabbi Street into consciousness and awareness was the first step, but she also felt the need to give people an opportunity to act upon this knowledge.
To inspire action, Shawk screened a video clip featuring Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal: 168:01, an art installation in Windsor, Ont. that includes a 12-metre bookcase filled with 20,000 blank books. Bilal hopes to swap each of the blank books for a real book that will be donated to the University of Baghdad’s College of Fine Arts.
Shawk said the significance of hosting this reading is about saying, “I’m here, I’m a part of this city now, and I want to bring to people’s awareness things that are happening in the other place where I also belong.”
She indicated that for members of the Iraqi and Arab diaspora, the event also represented an opportunity for “dealing with the emotions, the crisis, the trauma, all in a way that’s productive.”
Shawk noted that the Iraqi diaspora is quite diverse and unique in that there have been multiple conflicts over the past 50 years during which large populations emigrated, either as refugees or by choice.
“Art is an outlet; it is a place where we put our pain. You take the pain, you externalize it in a piece of art, and then you can step back and look at it and deal with it in a different way, and you can share it with other people,” said Shawk.
“Doing readings by other people is kind of like sharing that thing that has been externalized, and realizing that actually there are so many ways in which we have the same experiences.”
Shawk added that “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” enables Iraqis — a group that has been historically victimized and portrayed as weak, unhappy and constantly being killed — to partake in creating an alternate history for themselves.
Reflecting on her own birth in Baghdad in the wake of the first Gulf War, Shawk explained, “You can create a space in literature where you can celebrate life, resistance, and existence.”
Publisher's Note: This report has been updated to correct the history of this initiative: this was the ninth – not the first – edition of the reading. We regret the error.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit