New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 27 February 2018 10:05

Let’s Temper the Gaga over Black Panther

Commentary by: Mohamed Hammoud in London, ON

A little bit of racism is okay seems to be the message coming out of the runaway success that is Black Panther.

Let's all admit this is a great movie, a testament to a first in Hollywood where we can finally celebrate a black superhero. Movies need to bring in the crowds and cash at the box office, and with $192 million in the first week alone, Black Panther is doing just fine.

While great, it falls short, however briefly, by propagating Islamophobia. 

Celebrating Blackness

Yes, the movie does a formidable job at breaking with some common stereotypes by celebrating African Blacks as noble warriors in the fictional technologically-advanced nation of Wakanda. The characters are robust and emotionally intelligent and visually captivating with their traditional wardrobe. There is even testament to #FemalePower with heroes like Shuri, who exudes witty brainpower as T'Challa, the main character’s little sister, and with the characters of Nakia and Okeye as strong, independent women warriors who can think for themselves and are even willing to sacrifice their personal affections for a greater cause and the common good of their people.

In the wake of #MeToo, director Ryan Coogler scores again with a reminder to the need for powerful women role models. 

Yes, I'm sure we have all waited long for a movie to do this, especially since the lack of diversity at the 2016 Oscars where Coogler's Creed, starring a black man, was nominated, although the nominee at the time was a white man. Black Panther can be seen as redemption for Coogler in 2018, but while the box office hit attempts to break stereotypes, in the same Hollywood fashion we have seen before, it doesn't quite succeed at breaking them all, and, it could be argued that it perpetuates some while dispelling others. 

American vs African Blacks

Marvel wowed us with woman power with Wonder Woman, and now it is trying to appease us with a black superhero. Undoubtedly, this should be seen as a win for all of us, not just the black community. And it is. But as much as we want to celebrate the victory of T'Challa, does the plot do enough for the cause of #BlackLives as a whole? With the conflict between the two panthers, T'Challa and his outcast cousin, Killmonger, there is a message that when it comes to blackness, the noble African community fares much better than its American counterpart, struggling to reclaim their rights and glory.

While all good stories need a riveting plot, this tale compromises the struggle of the underdog, Killmonger, at the expense of his more noble African cousin, T'Challa. Spoiler alert:  if the ending tries to redeem this split between the two communities, it doesn't do enough to counter the stereotype of the American black man as a thug and gangster.  

Pandering to Islamophobia

The debate around black characters is not the movie's only downfall: the net’s ablaze with debates about the movie's alleged Islamophobic undertones. The much-discussed segment comes near the beginning of the story where T'Challa saves Nakia. Here, we witness the only reference to Arabic speech and to Muslims in the movie, and not surprisingly, they remind us that the only Muslim in the storyline is a terrorist who kidnaps women captives in full hijab.

Further to this, the female captives are emancipated not once, but twice, when they are rescued by T'Challa and Nakia, and then again, when they remove their ever-oppressive headscarves. If, as many are quick to point out in these online discussions, in defence of the movie and to exonerate this passage from pandering to #Islamophobia, that this was a reference to Boko Haram, I'm not sure that the majority of the viewing audience would pick up on it.

Or that they would be able to detach the significance here of the movie adopting another Islamic expression into Hollywood’s terrorist vernacular – the mention of "Wallahi", a very sacred vow meaning "By God I will" and much stronger than the more common "Wallah". These examples are enough to assert that even a little bit of racism in an otherwise praiseworthy artistic endeavour is still a bit too much. 

In sum, while Black Panther portrays a new black reality, it falls short of fighting negative stereotypes of the typical black American outcast criminal and the Muslim terrorist. While surely a step in the right direction for #BlackLivesMatter, we must be aware that this more about celebrating box office revenues than anything else. Let's not get carried away. 


Mohamed Hammoud has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. He is also an active contributor to New Canadian Media and a member of the NCM Collective.

Published in Arts & Culture
Tuesday, 23 January 2018 11:42

United We March

By: Mohammed Hammoud in London, ON

On Saturday, January 20, millions took to the streets to protest unjust legislative policies against women in the U.S. and Canada. Originally organized as a rally against the Trump administration in 2017, in its second year, the Women’s March is quickly becoming a voice for human rights advocacy.

In Toronto, thousands of women and men alike joined forces in the march which took place at Nathan Phillips Square with “Defining our Future” as this year’s theme.  Starting at noon, many speakers including former Ontario MPP Zanana Akande addressed the crowd to demonstrate support for one another.

Marginalized voices need to be heard, and what better time than now? The fact that 2018 is an election year in Ontario, the fight for gender equality and social change is at the forefront, especially with policy makers who want to keep their positions.

As a man of faith, I feel that it is important to support this movement, by speaking out and taking action. After all, remaining silent only condones the injustice.

This year, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements reinforced the momentum behind the Women’s March by exposing the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and workplace harassment. Numerous, almost daily revelations of sexual misconduct allegations have been brought into the public sphere, exposing abusive men in powerful positions. Yet, it seems as though the focus is on exposing individuals, rather than the system that enables them to abuse their power and get away with it.

Abusive systems led by tyrannical men is nothing new. History is mired with countless stories of human rights abuse and social injustice. At our home, we draw personal inspiration from strong women in history as examples. Asiya bint Muzahim, wife of the Pharaoh, denounced her husband in support of Moses. Mariam, mother of the Messiah, who, in spite of being falsely accused of adultery, remained firm in her resolve. Zainab bint Ali, granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, who confronted the tyrant of her time after he had commanded the murder and beheading of her brother, Hussein ibn Ali, and 72 of his companions.

After 1400, Zainab’s speech still resonates today as it calls out from Karbala, a small town in central Iraq, to over 23 million visitors who flock there for the largest human gathering, the “Fortieth”, to stand up against tyranny and abuse of power and call for social justice.  

By highlighting these powerful women as role models, we are emboldened as sons, brothers, husbands and fathers, to ensure that we do not abuse our positions. Women’s voices are heard, and they play an active role in our homes, as well as our communities.  

I personally draw inspiration to vocalize from the brave women of the #MeToo movement who spoke out and started the wave of allegations against abusive men of power. Their cause is a call to action for similar offenses and radicalization. Yet, while there have been hints of rampant sexual abuse in the movie industry for almost 30 years, the topic did not receive the needed attention since.

A 2016 TED Talk from Naomi McDougall Jones hinted at the exploitation by going straight to the heart of the issue and addressing the abusive and sexist nature of Hollywood. Jones explains how “95 percent of all the films you have ever seen were directed by men. Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of all of the leading characters that you have ever seen were men. And even if we just talk about the last five years, 55 percent of the time that you have seen a woman in a movie, she was naked or scantily clad. That affects you. That affects all of us.”

It is not just the movie industry, but an entire system that typecasts woman as a commodity, radicalizes groups and labels them as criminals, drunkards or terrorists based on the colour of their skin or religious beliefs. When this system intensifies its hold on our institutions, it is enabled to establish deep roots in our society and our legislative policies. This systemic racism is further legitimized when it silences the victim and empowers the aggressor. The result: a silent discrimination that ends up robbing us of our voice, our courage and our identity, leaving us to feel nothing but shame and guilt. 

So, as we march united with these movements, we need to challenge our blind financial support of such industries. For them, #TimesUp. As Jones recommends, we need to fund alternative mechanisms that share our causes, where we are empowered and celebrated, rather than mocked and shamed to feel inferior. Only then, when we can find what makes us great again, can we define our identity and reclaim our what is rightfully ours.


Mohamed Hammoud has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. This piece is part of a series titled, "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario". Writers interested interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 19 September 2017 09:30

When the Fear of Terrorism Trumps Reason

Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa

There is no question that fear sells. The latest Stephen King film about an evil clown – It –  grossed over $120 million in its first three days after all.

We are odd in that we both fear fear and we are entertained by it – go figure.

But fear is not always helpful, unless you are running away from a grizzly or swimming away from a shark.  It is particularly counter-productive when it leads you to stop doing things you normally do. Things like going to a restaurant or to a movie (perhaps to see It) or on a vacation.  And the one thing that seems to be causing many people to alter their normal lives is the fear of terrorism.

In some ways this is, of course, understandable since there is not a day that goes by where we do not see or read about some act of violent extremism somewhere in the world.  These acts seem to resonate even more when they take place in ‘our world’ – i.e. Western Europe, North America or Australia – than when they occur in Africa, the Middle East or Asia (fact: the vast majority of attacks and casualties occur in the latter three rather than the former). 

The images of bloody corpses and mangled limbs sends shivers to those who witness them, in person or via social media.  We become afraid of terrorists and terrorism and we begin to believe that we will become the next victims unless we stay away from where the terrorists are.

This is problematic as terrorism can occur ANYWHERE.  A very short list of recent attacks underscores the ubiquity of terrorism: an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, a pedestrian mall in Barcelona, a London Tube train on a busy morning commute, in front of Notre Dame in Paris, a market stall in Kabul.  And I could go on. 

Yet, paradoxically, the chance of an act of terrorism in any one place at any given time is infinitely small (it is obviously higher in Baghdad and Mogadishu than in New York or Melbourne, but even then it is rare-ish).

What is unhelpful is to panic and cancel EVERYTHING because you are convinced you will die in a suicide bombing if you stay the course.  A few examples are illustrative of an irrational succumbing to the fear of terrorism:

  • diners in a Toronto restaurant last weekend that was the scene of a targeted killing of a real estate magnate told the media they thought they were going to die in what they believed to be a terrorist incident
  • the Israeli government issued a travel advisory for ‘Western and Northern Europe’ during the Jewish High Holy Days
  • US President Trump has been very irresponsible in raising the fear level with his characterisation of Muslims as terrorists

How is any of this a good thing?  Why in the world would a school board in Edmonton cancel a trip to Paris after the November 2015 attacks when Paris the day after was probably the safest city on the planet in large part due to the increased presence of armed soldiers?  Fear and ignorance, that’s why (and probably parents’ demands, which were born out of fear).

Giving in so easily to fear does many things.  It rewards terrorist groups that aim to make us afraid and over-inflates their pathetic importance.  It has serious implications for many parts of the economy both at home and abroad.  And it undoubtedly makes us more jittery the next time a terrorist attack occurs which makes us react with fear more quickly.

I am not advocating rushing off to Kandahar on vacation tomorrow, but if we value our societies and our freedoms we need to live.  Living means going out, seeing friends, visiting exotic lands and learning from each others’ cultures and histories.  And we cannot do that by barricading ourselves in our duct-taped basements.

I think the right reaction is that of the Brits. They are famous for their ‘stiff upper lip’, a way of sneering at danger and uncertainty and forging ahead. That is exactly what a lot of people did in the wake of last Friday’s Tube attack (quote of the day: “I won’t stop taking the Tube because of some idiot”).  They also didn’t waver during the decades of IRA bombings.  I believe there is a lesson in that for all of us.


Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting.  His latest book The Lesser Jihads is now available for purchase.

Published in Commentary
Monday, 27 March 2017 10:20

Why Do We Keep Missing The Terrorists?

Commentary by Phil Gurski in Ottawa  

I am sure you have all read the stories. In the aftermath of an arrest of a mass murderer (or a terrorist), neighbours, friends and colleagues are interviewed about what they knew about the suspect. 

Here is what they tend to say:

  • I never saw it coming!
  • He was the nicest guy!
  • I can't believe that he would have done such a thing!

In the wake of the London attacks, neighbours of the terrorist who was shot dead on the scene, Khalid Masood, told reporters that "he had been the model suburban neighbour: keeping to himself, washing his car, mowing his lawn, even passing on a few footballing tips to the local kids".  Here is another offering from a man who stayed in a hotel with Masood: "Nothing in his demeanour or his looks would have given me any thoughts that would make me think he was anything but normal."  That description is not consistent with someone who ran over pedestrians and tried to storm the British Parliament.

In the case of a Belgian man believed to have prepared to strike people with a vehicle in Antwerp – possibly inspired by terrorism (an attempt that occurred the day after the London atrocity) – a friend told the media 'I am almost 100 per cent sure that this person – in my eyes – was not capable of committing a terror attack".

So, what gives?

Telltale signs

Simply stated, people do not know what to look for. I say this not out of arrogance or elitism but rather out of experience.  I have interviewed the parents of children (now dead) who have expressed complete bafflement regarding what happened to their offspring.  And yet when the signs of problematic behaviour and telltale ideology are presented to them, a light goes on and they bemoan the fact that if they had known then what they know now, they would have been in a better position to take action (at a minimum challenge their offspring to justify the attitudes they held and at a maximum get outside help).

I am not so certain that this lack of insight is limited to cases of terrorism. There are most probably similar, yet different, signs that surface when a person abandons long-held beliefs and behaviours and opts for a new direction that brings them trouble (drug use, gang membership, general criminality).  And unless you know what those signs are, you are not in a position to do anything about it.

No template

What, then, is the answer?  It is simple actually: training and awareness raising.  And a good place to start, if I may be so bold, is to have a look at my 2015 book The Threat from Within: Recognizing Al Qaeda-inspired radicalization and terrorism in the West (Rowman and Littlefield).  In there you will find an entire chapter on signs to take note of when someone is probably going down the path to violent extremism. The book was based on a decade-and-a-half of research carried out while I was at CSIS, so it is heavily data-driven.

When it comes to what to do about someone about whom concerns have been raised, that is a little bit trickier.  Parents/siblings/friends/religious leaders have to decide whether the individual in question can be reasoned with and deflected from a bad end or whether the case is serious enough – i.e. there is a threat to national security – to involve CSIS or the RCMP.  That call can only be made on a case by case basis: there is no template to help in that regard.

In the end, there are always overt signs of violent radicalisation.  Always.  It is just a matter of knowing what to keep an eye out for.


Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

Published in Commentary

A study led by Western University researchers Stelian Medianu and Victoria Esses has found that visible minorities are significantly under-represented in senior leadership positions at City Halls in London and Ottawa, with Hamilton faring better.

In London, only 7.9 per cent of senior leaders in the non-profit and municipal public sectors were identified as visible minorities compared to 13.1 per cent of the general London population.

In Ottawa, only 11.9% of senior leaders in the studied sectors were visible minorities compared to 19.4 per cent of the general Ottawa population.

In contrast, it was found that 13.8 per cent of senior leaders in Hamilton were visible minorities, closely aligned with the 14.3 per cent of the general Hamilton population who are visible minorities, according to a Western University news release

New Canadian Media interviewed Prof. Victoria Esses by email. She is Director of the Western Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations. Access the study here: Visible Minorities and Women in Senior Leadership Positions: London, Hamilton and Ottawa

Q: What would you say were the top five findings from this study?

The top five findings from the study are as follows:

In London and Ottawa, our data showed that visible minorities and visible minority women were severely under-represented in leadership positions in the municipal public and non-profit sectors. Hamilton fared better overall.

The municipal public sector had the poorest representation of visible minorities and visible minority women across all three cities. Visible minorities and visible minority women were also severely under-represented in Ontario’s agencies, boards, and commissions.

There was also evidence of under-representation of women at the senior leadership level in all three cities and Ontario’s agencies, boards, and commissions, but these effects were less severe than those evident for visible minorities and visible minority women.

Q: What do you think was your most startling finding in the representation of minority groups ?

The most startling finding was with respect to the lack of representation of visible minorities in the municipal public sector.

Q: You have been a researcher in the area of immigration and equity for a long time. What are the legitimate conclusions Canadians can draw from this study nation-wide? Is there a need for studies in other immigrant-rich cities and towns across Canada?

There is a need for studies in other cities and towns across Canada. Similar research is currently being conducted in Vancouver and we look forward to seeing their results.

I believe that one conclusion that can be drawn from these results is that there is still work to do to ensure that senior leaders who are our decision-makers represent those for whom these decisions are being made. This work may occur at the level of recruitment, as well as selection of senior leaders.

Q: Did you interview corporations and hiring managers? How did they explain the gap between the demographics of London and the representation within their own companies/institutions? Are they doing anything to fix this gap?

As mentioned, we did not look at businesses. Instead we examined the public sector and non-profits. It is also important to note that our methodology involved examining the representation of visible minorities in leadership positions and we found evidence of under-representation, but we did not address the issue of why these effects are evident. 

 

Published in Top Stories
Saturday, 29 October 2016 14:47

CETA Hold-Up has Lessons for Brexit

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

When about a week ago, Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland cried in Brussels, her sniffles were heard around the world.

The Times of London carried a story on October 22 headlined, “Trade deal failure reduces Canadian minister to tears”. The story reported that “a tearful Canadian minister declared that the European Union was incapable of reaching an international trade deal” after the Canada-European Union free trade agreement floundered, after seven years of negotiations.

The Canadian minister’s tearful display was soaked up by both British and Europeans, who were closely monitoring developments as Canada and the EU attempted to rescue the deal. This last-minute hurdle is perhaps instructive in the run up to complex negotiations that will accompany an exit plan for a member state.

The British voted in a referendum in June to leave the 28-country common market of 500 million.

Amidst the swirling British Brexit drama, The Times story also contained a stark warning: “The failure to agree the EU-Canada deal – vetoed by a single Belgian region – indicates the pitfalls Britain will face as it attempts to forge a new commercial relationship with the EU.”

Parlez-vous Brexit?

In another twist familiar to Canadians, Michel Barnier, the French lead negotiator for the European Commission, suggested that he expects his native tongue to be used at meetings and in documents that will determine Britain’s future relationship with the EU. 

Fortunately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped in to offer a compromise, suggesting there need not be an “official language” for the talks at all. All of this transpired while British Prime Minister Theresa May was on her first visit to the EU.

Negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU will be complex, as it is the first time that a country has decided to leave.

As the British pound tumbles on foreign exchange markets, its economy showing signs of slowing down and financial institutions and international companies looking to leave Britain and relocating their European headquarters, and with no real political strategy to exit, Britain is living in a vacuum.

It was evident to me on a recent visit that the country is engulfed by confusion and uncertainty of unprecedented magnitude, arising from no one really expecting or predicting the British to vote to exit the EU.

Faced with uncertainty and grim economic forecasts for the island-nation economy, the British are getting cold feet and are unsure what to do next. The options appear to be: set in immediate motion a mechanism to leave the EU, try to negotiate terms of departure in the hope of retaining some benefits of a common market, or try to delay the exit for as long as possible. Currently, all three are being tried.

Wanting it all

However, almost four months since the referendum, there is no exit strategy. The Prime Minister, the governing Conservative Party and the political leadership remain clueless. Britain has to invoke Article 50 to start negotiations to leave the EU. This process will take two years.

For instance, Britain wants to restrict free movement of European workers, while wanting to keep intact its tariff-free trade advantages. It is unlikely the Europeans will oblige.

Some want Parliament to vote whether Article 50 should be invoked. But, others argue this will be subverting the will of the people who clearly expressed their desire to “leave” the EU.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has declared her intention to present a Bill to the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum to separate from the United Kingdom. Scotland will then apply for EU membership.

A majority of Scottish voted to stay in the EU in the June referendum.

The only bright sign is that, with the pound plummeting almost 20 per cent since the Brexit vote, tourists are flocking to London for Christmas bargain shopping. But, that too is temporary.

While Minister Freeland may have shed a tear or two in vain and Canada is going ahead with signing the Canada-EU Trade Agreement, Britain is far from getting such a result. After all the negotiating is done and deals made, what may be left of a United Kingdom or Great Britain may well be just “Little” England!

 

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a retired Canadian diplomat and former publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine and can be reached at bsliddar@hotmail.com or visit www.liddar.ca

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 27 October 2016 11:15

London’s Poor Diversity Score No Surprise

Commentary by Evelina Silveira in London, Ontario

A recent study published by the Western University's Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations found a severe lack of visible minorities in leadership roles in organizations in London, Ontario. 

While the study made headlines, the findings came as no surprise to me.  I have lived in London all my life, working as a diversity consultant for the 10 years. I would like to offer an explanation as to why inroads have not been made in visible minority leadership in  London, Ontario.

Flashback to about 13 years ago, when I started to work on a business plan for Diversity at Work: I interviewed many leaders in London asking them whether my idea of having a business which promoted hiring and supporting diverse candidates would ever fly.

I will never forget the answer I received from a human resources consultant who had previously held many jobs in the recruitment and leadership fields.  She said:  “Evelina, as long as there are enough white people to fill the jobs, no one will ever consider anyone else, because they don't have to.”

Essentially, she conveyed that there really was no need to change the recruitment process and that it was too much work to do so.

A late joiner

In comparison to other cities, London has lagged behind. Perhaps it is because the jobs could easily be filled as the human resources consultant suggested, or maybe we ignore the ever-growing presence of visible minorities which started in the mid-1980's. 

Some of our largest employers and institutions have only recently developed diversity policies, later than their counterparts in other comparable cities which have a high number of visible minorities and immigrants. I often scan the diversity plans of the public service organizations in London and it would appear that the effort or the kind of approach being used – if at all – are not producing  much in terms of achieving a representative workforce, let alone diversity in leadership. 

My observations are consistent with the findings which indicate a very low level of visible minority participation, notably 5.3 per cent on agencies, boards, and commissions.  Their lack of participation at these levels can have ramifications for how services are delivered, in addition to resource allocation. 

Furthermore, there is a tendency, especially with boards, to recruit people they know, often friends and co-workers, to fill vacancies.  This can perpetuate the lack of representation and the effort to create a more diversified board and committees.

It is startling how many workplaces have not implemented the strategies and best practices that can help mitigate these gaps. How might we explain the disconnect? There are a multitude of reasons why this occurs and this is key to understanding the problem of under-representation in London’s publicly-funded organizations.

Consider these possibilities:

·         Foreign credentials and work experience are not recognized. Generally speaking, if an applicant has not graduated from a leadership program in North America or the U.K , there is a good chance their education in leadership may not be recognized.  Leadership experience from other  parts of the world may not be taken into consideration for a host of reasons, including cultural differences in how we do business and interact with employees.  

·         Effective leadership requires highly developed communication skills:  in person, in writing and over the phone.  An internationally-trained applicant is disadvantaged if they have a pronounced accent and have an indirect style of communication.  Interviewer bias can hamper heavily-accented applicants, who may be mistaken as unqualified because they speak differently.  Across cultures, there are variations in how we conduct meetings, presentations and write reports. The Canadian standards are often learned in school or through work experience.

At civic level: zero

The number of visible minorities and immigrant leaders in municipal organizations is at a glaring zero per cent! 

Given that government organizations are held to a higher standard than the private sector to have a reflective workforce, as well as to meet Employment Equity standards, this represents a failure of implementation and consequently lost opportunities for diversifying the workforce and gaining new skills and perspectives. 

With increasing job insecurity, good benefits and salaries, public service employees are not likely to leave their jobs.  Understandably, this represents fewer opportunities for external applicants to get hired. 

It would be interesting to know if the City of London has an internal mentoring program to assist aspiring leaders.  Research consistently indicates that visible minorities and immigrants find a lack of mentors in the workplace. 

Successful leaders often attest to the significance of mentors throughout their careers.  There have been some attempts over the last few years to develop internships for immigrant professionals at the City of London. However, it is hard to know if this experience translated into permanent employment with the City.

Finally, we cannot overlook bias and racism in the recruitment and selection process, although it does not probably explain the huge disconnect between the population and their representation in the workforce. In my experience, if the leadership in an organization is not familiar with the business benefits of a diverse workforce, they are very unlikely to support and initiate programs which can facilitate the entry and promotion of visible minorities within their organizations.

Evelina Silveira is the President of Diversity at Work in London, a three-time award winning firm which specializes in creating inclusive workplaces and diverse customer bases.  She has co-authored two globally acclaimed books and is the publisher of the Inclusion Quarterly.

Published in Economy

Commentary by Susan Delacourt in Montreal

The conversation that Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has been trying to open — about immigrants, integration and “anti-Canadian values” — was well underway in Montreal on Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

While potential Leitch supporters weren’t thick on the ground at the Canada 2020 Global Progress gathering, the discussions at this event showed that integration of immigrants is a big issue on the progressive left in Canada — and the world — as well as on the political right.

They’re not the same conversations, though, so someone is eventually going to have to bring them together.

Immigration and integration was a running theme when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and London Mayor Sadiq Khan sat down for a chat on stage in the Ritz ballroom on Thursday morning.

Of course it would be — Khan is the first Muslim mayor of London, who has already tussled publicly with Donald Trump over the presidential candidate’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Khan, who only came to the job this spring, is on his way to the United States this week, so we can expect the lively back-and-forth to continue.

Khan warned that whenever critics say that Muslim values are inconsistent with Western values, they’re singing from the same songbook as the so-called Islamic State, which also believes that walls between cultures are better than bridges.

“There are people in Daesh and so-called ISIS who say it’s incompatible to be a Muslim and hold Western liberal values,” he said. “Daesh and so-called ISIS hate someone like me,” Khan said, because he proves that Muslim and Western values can co-exist in one person, as well as within the larger community.

On stage at the Ritz-Carlton, Khan lavished praise on Canada in general and Trudeau in particular, calling this country an international “beacon” for the way Trudeau had welcomed refugees and newcomers to this country. He called last year’s election an “inspiration.”

Trudeau, for his part, was saying all the right (or should we say left?) things about the importance of making newcomers feel welcome in Canada.

But it wasn’t a total love-in. Prodded by moderator Jennifer Ditchburn to reconcile gender diversity with the male-and-female segregation at a mosque he attended earlier this week, Trudeau said there was still “work to do” on integrating diverse values.

When Ditchburn asked Khan and Trudeau how their embrace of diversity and integration could go beyond words, the Prime Minister responded with — well, some more words, about the need to “demonstrate” to people why newcomers to Canada are an asset, not something to be feared.

The better answer to the beyond-words question was found upstairs in a smaller meeting room after the Khan-Trudeau session.

There, around a large meeting table in a breakout session at the Global Progress meeting, an incredibly eloquent Labour MP from Britain, Chuka Umunna, tackled head-on the need to have the conversation about immigration with more than lofty or sentimental words. It’s simply not good enough, he said, to write off fears about immigration as mere racism — even if that’s what it is.

Umunna is the son of an English-Irish mother and a Nigerian-born father, who has been occasionally described (over his protests) as Britain’s Barack Obama. So he’s had a lifelong immersion in where cultural integration is working in the United Kingdom, and where it’s not. Forget about all those idyllic images of cultural diversity that London put on display during the 2012 Olympic ceremonies, Umunna said — “we are not integrated.”

Umunna’s own constituency of Streatham was part of the borough with the highest votes in favour of remaining in the European Union during the Brexit referendum last June.

But he’s been keeping a close eye on what is feeding the anti-immigrant sentiment that gave so much fuel to the forces campaigning successfully to get Britain to leave the EU. The only way to examine the sentiment, he says, is right there on the ground.

He went to take a look for himself at the areas where people voted in high numbers for Brexit and found huge increases in immigration during recent years, resulting in major dislocation in the local labour markets and a lack of social services to handle the needs of newcomers. As a result, the long-time residents and newcomers live in isolated pockets, rarely interacting with each other.

It’s not enough to simply tell people to integrate, or even to teach about it. “We cannot wait for our schools to do the job of integration for us,” Umunna said.

Talking about integration isn’t the same as living with integration, in other words, and that’s an intensely local job, that has to reach right down to the streets, homes and businesses where people conduct their day-to-day lives.

What Umunna was saying, in effect, was that this roiling debate over immigration and integration is not going to be resolved through abstractions or distance on either side. As Khan was saying as well, the extremist view is one in which cultures can’t co-exist or be reconciled.

The people who ticked off the box in favour of screening for Canadian values on Leitch’s survey — the survey that tipped some of this debate into the open in Canada — may well be living in worlds similar to the ones Umunna described: communities where immigrants and non-immigrants live in isolated pockets.

Similarly, the people preaching about tolerance and acceptance of newcomers may not be having many conversations with the kind of people who are expressing fears and apprehension about open borders in Canada.

If immigration and integration can’t work with this kind of polarized isolation, neither can the debate. The conservative right is talking about these issues. So is the progressive left, as the Global Progress summit vividly illustrated. It may be time to put these two solitudes in one room to talk it out.

By arrangement with ipolitics.ca

Published in Policy
Monday, 08 August 2016 11:45

‘We are Just as Safe as a Year Ago’

by Our National Correspondent

Recent terror attacks in Europe have unnerved Canadians and many wonder which nation or what out-of-the-way tourist spot may be the next venue for a suicide bomber. New Canadian Media asked two experts on the evolution of terrorism, Amarnath Amarasingham and Phil Gurski, to give us their latest threat perceptions.

This interview was conducted by e-mail. 

NCM: Do recent attacks in western Europe, including some involving refugees, and the anti-immigrant sentiment stoked by Brexit alter your views on the threat faced by Canada?

PHIL: The terrorist threat to Canada is not more significant now than it was a year ago (i.e. during the Paris attacks – see Ralph Goodale’s statement). The recent events in France and Germany do not have a direct bearing on what may happen in Canada: that is why the Canadian government does not tend to raise the level in the aftermath of overseas attacks. The level is set based on intelligence and relates directly to the threat to this country.

 

AMAR: Having said that, I do think many people are worried about copycat attacks, especially by individuals who are already inspired by the ISIS (Islamic State) or AQ (Al Qaeda) message. As we saw in Europe in July, several attacks happened almost back to back. This is often not a coincidence, but involves individuals who see other attacks and are inspired to launch their own. Or, more operationally speaking, see a law enforcement crack down around the corner and speed up their own plans.

 

NCM: As you know, Canada is at the forefront of resetting refugees caught in the Syrian quagmire. Do recent events give you pause?

PHIL: With respect to the refugee issue, my guess would be that the small number of attacks tied to refugees in Europe would not play into the threat to Canada. The situations in Europe and Canada are starkly different. Europe was faced with an onslaught of millions of refugees whom they were not able to screen: hence it was possible for those with ties to terrorist groups to mingle with legitimate refugees. Canada took in far fewer and these were carefully vetted by CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and CBSA. (Canadian Border Services Agency). While it is possible that an extremist would be able to get through, it is less likely. Here is a link to my blogs on the refugee issue here and here. Canada has never had the same scale of anti-immigrant lunacy we are seeing in the wake of Brexit and I do not think we ever will – at least not in the near future.  Canadians are largely pro-immigration – we have been raised that way.

AMAR: Canadians are certainly pro-immigration, but I think it’s within bounds. As we saw with the last election, most Canadians (and polls confirm this) make a distinction between immigrants and refugees. They see the latter as somehow illegitimate, as people who milk the system, as people who are potentially dangerous and so on. And as we also saw with the last election, when attacks happen abroad, like the Paris attacks, where one of the attackers was rumored to have traveled on a fake passport through migrant networks, it does have an effect here. This happens even though it was one person, and, as Phil says, we are separated from these conflict zones by large bodies of water, which allows us to choose who we let in very carefully.

[Canadians] see [refugees] as somehow illegitimate, as people who milk the system, as people who are potentially dangerous and so on.

NCM: Phil has previously written about radicalization being an "idiosyncratic" process: there is perhaps no pre-determined pathway. Does that make the challenge of dealing with radicalization an impossible task?

PHIL: It is not “impossible” to deal with radicalisation to violence even if the process is idiosyncratic.  The inputs are unique to every person: the outputs (or the signs) are usually quite obvious to those who know what to look for (see my book The Threat from Within for a fuller discussion). I am no longer privy to the “chatter” about Canada.  

AMAR: I agree with most of that, but there’s a difference between whether groups “out there” hate us and whether we are making our citizens feel included and welcome. On the one hand, there is no real evidence that increased inclusion prevents radicalization to violence. In fact, I’ve interviewed fighters who still love the country they grew up in, never experienced racism, etc. They left to fight in Syria because they saw it as a religious obligation to defend fellow Muslims. 

NCM: What's the latest "chatter" about Canada? Are we in the crosshairs of the various terrorist groups or are we less so because of our humanitarian and empathetic response to the refugee crises? 

PHIL: I am no longer privy to the “chatter” about Canada.  In a weird way, Amar is closer to this now than I am. It must be said, however, that there never was much “chatter” about Canada when I was with CSIS or CSE (Communications Security Establishment).  We have never been a primary target of any Islamist terrorist group.  This is not to say we can down tools and lower our vigilance but we will never garner the same attention as the US, the UK, France or others.

AMAR: We are certainly on the radar. Canada often shows up in speeches by ISIS spokesman Adnani, and in some of the jihadist Twitter and Telegram platforms. The question is whether “chatter” constitutes a real threat and something we should put our resources into protecting against. A good example are these “kill lists” that often get published by pro-ISIS hacking groups online. These lists are published in fairly obscure, by mainstream standards, jihadi platforms and the only people who often know about them are people like me and Phil, who have nothing better to do than to watch this stuff. A recent kill list had thousands of names for example. So, yes, we should be vigilant, but we should also be careful not to over-react. 

NCM: Lastly, are we more safe or less safe as a result of the change in government in Ottawa last fall? The Liberals have made "inclusion" a big part of their narrative, including immigrant and refugee inclusion. Does that bode well to minimize the risk of terrorism and radicalization?

PHIL: If you look at the latest Dabiq (#16), you see a section (page 30) where IS tells us why it hates us.  Whether we have a Conservative or Liberal (or even NDP!) government is irrelevant.  Terrorist groups like IS have a laundry list of grievances against everyone and they don’t take the time to read about our more “inclusive” society and change their view.  We are, to put it simply, an enemy because of who and what we are and the likelihood that this will change is next to nil. Still, it must be stressed that we are relatively safe in Canada.

Whether we have a Conservative or Liberal (or even NDP!) government is irrelevant.

AMAR: Phil is right that for some of these groups, the bar for inclusion is quite high – like some of these “Sharia4Belgium” type groups who don’t feel “included” unless they are living under Sharia Law. It’s not a level of inclusion that people in the West are ever going to accept. On the other hand, I think we in Canada are indeed doing something right, even if we can’t really put our finger on what that might be. The challenge is to not screw it up. 

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield).

Amarnath Amarasingam is a Fellow at The George Washington University’s Program on Extremism and tweets at @AmarAmarasingam 

Published in Top Stories
Monday, 04 July 2016 12:49

The Bad and Ugly Brexit

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Most divorces end bad and ugly, needlessly. Brexit's fate is no different. 

After almost four decades Britain decided to walk out of a relationship with Europe.

However, one must recognize that Britain was always the problem child in the European Union family. With one foot on the island and the other on the continent, it was going to be difficult to juggle the strained “long distance” relationship.

In the end, Britain decided to walk away from the EU home.

France – not once, but twice – advised against entering into such a relationship. In 1963 and 1967, France’s President Charles de Gaulle vetoed United Kingdom’s entry into what was then known as European Economic Market.

He alluded to the British sense of arrogance and self-importance. It was only after de Gaulle’s fall from power in 1969, that the U. K. applied and became a member on January 1, 1973.

Straightforward question

The referendum question was straightforward and simple, as were the two choices:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" 

  • Remain a member of European Union
  • Leave the European Union”

So, where was the confusion? Was the decision to walk away based on economics, social, political, or some other reason? No one really knows, including those who voted to exit and now want to change their minds.

The British facade of a tolerant, inclusive society, cracked, flaked and crumbled. Thanks to social media, the insular British island’s latent, long-simmering, ugly underbelly surfaced immediately after the vote to leave the EU. 

The British facade of a tolerant, inclusive society, cracked, flaked and crumbled.

Brexit turned bad and ugly!

The reaction to the exit vote quickly led to xenophobia, racism, and intolerance. Coloured Britons were verbally and physically abused. There were reports of their businesses torched. A Polish Cultural Centre was vandalized.

Issues that were not on the referendum question reared their head: latent racism and xenophobia, hallmarks of British society in 60s and 70s, suddenly manifested in ugly acts of violence and hate. Britain’s police reported a 57 per cent increase in hate crimes after Brexit vote.

Intrusive EU bureaucracy

Britain’s population has been frustrated by dictates from EU headquarters – from regulating the size of bananas, to incursions into what the British consider their private lifestyles. Britain, too, was cautious in moving too close to Europe.

For instance, it stayed away from the Euro monetary union and constantly spurned EU regulations citing a threat to British sovereignty. It resisted moves to implement the free movement of peoples across Europe’s borders, so it could pick and choose those who could get in.  

As a requirement of the free movement of goods and people, a significant number of immigrants from former Eastern European countries, such as Poland, headed to Britain to work and live. Like all immigrants, they worked hard, but the British were always suspicious, accusing them of taking away their jobs.

Britons forgot that the borders of other 26 European Union countries were open to them, and that many of their fellow-citizens had moved to work there.

On the other hand, zealous Eurocrats perhaps moved too fast, dreaming up of a Euro army and one Euro foreign policy.

The British were told of millions being siphoned off from the National Health Service to be spent on immigrants and refugees. The media carried horror stories of immigrants and refugees being housed in luxury hotel-style accommodations. Anti-Europe/Eurosceptics, right-wing politicians, jumped at the opportunity to whip up hysteria among the public against perceived waste.

Lesson on referendums

Unfortunately, not-so-recent newcomers also joined the anti-immigrant wave. They bought into the argument that the relative latecomers were stealing jobs, tha there was no room in the country left for any more immigrants and refugees. They were a burden on health care and social security and other social services.

Ironically, the British could go, conquer and impose their lifestyle on countries on all continents during the days of their empire, but do not wish to see the faces of their former subjects in Britain.

Ironically, the British could go, conquer and impose their lifestyle on countries on all continents during the days of their empire, but do not wish to see the faces of their former subjects in Britain.

There was also an element of anti-Muslim bias too. Right-wing British politicians promised to save the island nation against the hordes from Europe and elsewhere. Leading up to the referendum, Leave side politicians made covert references, equating leaving the EU to putting an end to immigration and stopping the flow of refugees.

So, what transpired was a carefully calculated political manipulation. 

If anything, the Brexit exercise has proved that referendums are the lowest form or instrument of democracy. The public is manipulated and swayed by politicians on emotional matters, issues that may not even be central to the basic issue.

It is not the end of Britain. It will find its own way forward.

But, Britain will never learn to drive on the right side of the road!

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a former Canadian diplomat and founder-publisher/editor of Diplomat & International Canada magazine. www.liddar.ca

Published in Commentary
Page 1 of 3

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