by Binoy Kampark in Melbourne
At the psychological heart of every liberal is a milk soft tendency to succumb to the authoritarian personality, a feeling that, just around the corner, resistance will fold. Before such authority, adoration and bruising follow in menacing union.
“Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions.” -Joseph Conrad, Nostromo (1904).
As US President Bill Clinton fumbled his way, fly-down, through the Oval office of the 1990s, his popularity ratings would soar with the next insidious missile strike on a place in Sudan or Afghanistan, places few US citizens would have been able to find on the map. What mattered was that impotence before official inquiries was not to be replicated by the man behind the trigger, even if it did entail the slaughter of a few anonymous coloureds of Islamic faith.
The Trump Phenomenon
President Donald Trump presents this problem in an even more profoundly obscene way. Impulsive, spontaneous, trigger happy at the end of a conversation, the boy man imperial figure is capable of doing anything that will change the game at a moment’s notice. Those interested in examining such behaviour best dust off their copies of Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars to make sense of it all.
The entertainment fetishized complex of suffering, the reality show of dead and dying children, becomes the centre point for supposedly sensible policy. Ever long in having the ear of the intelligence community in Washington, David Ignatius dares find moral suasion in the act of firing 59 cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase.
“Even for a president who advertised his coldblooded pragmatism, the moral dimensions of leadership find a way of penetrating the Oval Office. In the case of President Trump, the emotional distance seems to have been shattered by simple, indelible images of suffering children in Idlib, Syria.” - David Ignatius
As Joan Walsh explains in The Nation, individuals such as Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s News Day (“I think Donald Trump became president of the United Sates” with the strikes); or MSNBC’s Nicholas Kristof (Trump “did the right thing”) signal that dire, toxic embrace that confuses power with purpose. From seeing Trump previously as an incompetent, unable buffoon unfit for the White House, he bloomed in the field of conflict.
We have seen such instinctive support before, notably from those within progressive circles. The liberal establishment, be it the human rights defender Michael Ignatieff or the late polemicist Christopher Hitchens, both strutted the line that weapons could be used to advance humanitarian and liberal agendas even as they destabilised and amputated a nation state.
Ignatieff took his point of departure as the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States, admitting that backing the mission that took the United States on an ideological crusade into Iraq in 2003 involved keeping company with those he did not like because they were “right on the issue.”
“As long as there was as much as a 1 percent chance that rogue states would transfer chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to suicide bombers, Britain and the United States knew where their interests lay, and they did not lie in deferring to the reluctance of their allies at the United Nations.”
Such an observation has all the ingredients that have since been replicated by Trump: a castigation of the international community, a general scolding of the UN system as barrier to firm action against atrocity, and the sense of catastrophe in the absence of such action.
Unity Against Terroristic Ideologies
As he was scribbling in March 2003 with Iraq smouldering, Ignatieff would say that he wished for a world with stable rules, and limitations on the use of force. But he also made it clear that supporting the invasion “entails a commitment to rebuild that order on new foundations.”
Hitchens was similarly converted in the carnage of the collapsing Twin Towers of New York, embracing the thesis against incongruously named Islamofascism, and seeing any means to counter it, even those forces not so inclined towards it (Saddam Hussein was far more secular in his terrorising approach) as conflated enemies requiring extinction.
So convinced was he by the case that any attempt to suggest he had erred in joining the powerful was dismissed as ill-informed claptrap. “We were never, if we are honest with ourselves, ‘lied into war’.” -Christopher Hitchens
In other instances, Hitchens was positively bloodthirsty, exulting in the infliction of those deserving of death. These villains, he wrote in 2002, would receive “those steel pellets”; they would “go straight through somebody and out the other side and through somebody else… They’ll be dead, in other words.”
Such symptoms of automatic support for the beast of purpose are typical of the seductive allure of muscular power, which is, by its very nature, anti-intellectual and consoling. Intellectuals and members of the professional classes, while feeling repulsed by such fronts, often swoon to its application. They would love to be riding the storm of ill-thought in sadistic bliss, but prefer idyllic shelter whilst daddy does his bit for the patria.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Abbas Somji (@abbassomji) in Calgary
For some Muslims in Canada, the events of Sept. 11 cling to their collective memory like a dark stain, penetrating so deep into the fabric of the community that its presence is still felt 13 years later.
“The vast majority of Muslims opposed that barbarism and today remain horrified with what happened,” says Abdul Souraya, immigration lawyer and co-chair of the Calgary Police Middle East advisory Committee.
“Sometimes the community is painted with a very large brush. And there’s a collective punishment and anguish that goes with that.”
That sentiment is particularly fresh in Calgary, the hometown of five young men who reportedly joined an Islamic extremist group and were subsequently killed in action overseas in the last year.
Souraya was one of the presenters at this year’s OWN IT 2014 – a four-day conference organized by Calgary Muslim groups. Government officials, community leaders, academics and police convened to discuss how to prevent criminal radicalization at a southwest Calgary mosque.
The summit, held intentionally on Sept. 11, was a way to take ownership of the public narrative, and to highlight strides made by the city’s Islamic groups to uproot any hint of extremism on the home turf.
Re-living the shock
Souraya says the recent high profile deaths of young Calgarians linked to Islamic extremism shook the city’s Muslim community to the core, forcing them to relive the same shock, helplessness and frustration of years past.
Federal officials say they’re aware of at least 130 people with Canadian connections who were “suspected of supporting terrorism-related activities”. Local police suspect at least 30 of them are from Calgary, and five men have already been publicly named in news media reports.
Souraya insists the conference was “not a reactive or apologetic public relations gesture” – nor does it intend to take responsibility for the actions of the alleged perpetrators.
“A lot of people assume that when something happens affecting a Muslim individual, they almost expect a Muslim reaction from the community,” says Souraya. “In fact there are some critics who would say the Muslim community is not rejecting or opposing enough.”
Empowering youth took precedence during the talk and tough questions were asked. Why does extremism take hold? What informs that behaviour? Is it solely through online propaganda or are there recruiters embedded within the community shaping impressionable young minds? What red flags should parents watch for?
Close to home
The conference hit close to home for Christianne Boudreau, whose 22-year-old son, Damian Clairmont, was reportedly killed fighting with ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in Syria in December or January of this year. Boudreau has been calling on the Canadian government to take action on de-radicalization, but says her cries have fallen on deaf ears. She has now launched her own program aimed at dealing with future cases of Canadians who might be attracted to join overseas conflicts – so that other parents don’t have to go through the same grief and unanswered questions she continues to experience.
New Canadian Media first spoke with Boudreau in an exclusive interview last February.
Boudreau says time hasn’t eased her pain. In her search for answers, she has discovered families in Europe who have also recently lost children to Islamic extremist groups. This past summer, she travelled to France and Germany to meet with those families – an experience that has helped her find some meaning and has fuelled her desire to establish a similar support network on Canadian soil.
She says the conference has given her “a ray of hope,” especially given the high-ranking officials in attendance, pledging to be a part of the solution.
“Seeing so many people verbalize it out loud, so now they’re accountable for it, big difference,” says Boudreau.
Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson says he thinks there will be more concrete action than in the past because the conference has pulled together “an action-oriented group,” rather than one that simply spouts long-winded academic jargon about extremism but fails to do anything about it.
Although radicalization is federal jurisdiction, Hanson says much work is already being done at the grassroots level, reaching out to students from elementary to high school.
“Within a municipal environment, our role, primarily, is the early intervention, prevention, education and working with the communities to prevent this from happening in the first place,” says Hanson.
He is convinced Calgary isn’t immune to extremist recruitment campaigns that have been known to infiltrate other parts of the world. He insists youth need more than just online propaganda to cross over into radical territory.
“Reading something on a screen, if you’re an average person, that’s not good enough,” he says. “There has to be tangible efforts to move you forward into that in a way that is more than just reading a book or reading something on a screen.”
Hanson likens the recruitment technique adopted by extremists to gangs, an effective strategy in making wayward youth feel as though they have a new family.
“[Recruiters] are looking for young men or women who feel unengaged. They don’t connect to society. They’re looking for a reason, a purpose, something greater than themselves,” says Hanson, adding that the issue cuts across all ethno-cultural communities.
Hanson says he’s working on how to differentiate criminal activity from terrorism in its early stages, and how to monitor it. He says the young Calgarians who were killed, such as Damian Clairmont, managed to slip through the cracks – especially since Calgary Police has only been running the intervention program for a few years, and it may have been too late for some youth who were already radicalized.
“It’s a community-based approach where those families, those friends, those people out there, who start to see the recruitment happening, they feel that they can call someone,” says Hanson, who adds that many of the families involved didn’t even know who to reach out to for help.
No simple solution
Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) says there is a temptation “to find the magic bullet” and uproot criminal radicalization, but it’s not so simple.
“There’s no single pathway for individuals to go from being a productive, contributing member of society to being somebody who espouses and supports and takes part in violence inspired by extremist ideology,” says Gardee, on behalf of the Muslim civil liberties and human rights organization, a conference partner.
He says there’s a need to understand the complexity of the problem and to address it in a comprehensive way, looking at short term and long-term solutions.
In the short term, this means identifying factors that make someone more vulnerable to the slick propaganda that violent extremists may use and working with partners at all levels of society – from government stakeholders to educational institutions – to stop it.
Long-term strategies may have to with debunking and “de-glamorizing” deep-rooted violent extremist ideology as a way to reduce its ability to influence youth.
“The reality is that this is far from glamorous and the comforts of life that they’ve enjoyed [in Canada] ... If we can communicate that and have authentic actors to communicate with youth, who are already viewed as being ‘credible,’ the message is going to be that much more effective,” says Gardee.
For the present, however, Souraya says he hopes the current climate doesn’t negatively impact life for youth who are far removed from instances of extremism on Canadian soil.
Souraya says parents are concerned heightened investigation could lead to surveillance of Canadian youth.
“We don’t want that to be a by-product of the actions of other people,” he says. “We want to be able to live again in a safe, secure environment where people are free to do what they want to do within the confines of the law and not have to worry about their faith being an impediment to their happiness or their progress in life.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit