New Canadian Media

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.

“Canada did not go to Afghanistan to turn it into a democracy that respected human rights and fostered functioning institutions.”

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.

Saideman is extremely critical of parliamentarians from all political parties in their handling of the mission in Afghanistan.

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.

Is fighting a violent war in a foreign country to enhance our international standing a Canadian value?

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.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto 

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz owes his early literary education to the two local librarians who nurtured his love for reading.   

The all-too-familiar story of unsupportive Dominican immigrant parents equating success with being a doctor applied to him, too, he said. 

Diaz attended public school in a poor community in New Jersey, staffed by overworked teachers with little guidance to spare. He struck an unlikely friendship with two local librarians, though, who handpicked books that they thought he would enjoy.  

“I didn’t receive the traditional mentorship,” Diaz said, addressing a diverse crowd at Mind the Gap: Crossing Imaginary Lines at the Toronto Reference Library. 

Paying it forward 

As part of Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) Canada’s Ideas in Dialogue 2016 series, Diaz engaged in a lively discussion with Sri Lankan-American novelist and fiction writer Sunil Yapa about a writer’s relationship with readers and family, the notion of privilege, and their own upbringing. 

“I did have very close relationships with my librarians, who introduced me to the things that mattered most,” he said. “They meant the world to me.” 

“You still feel the debt you owe the world is enormous – even coming from an immigrant family.”

Indebted to the librarians who broadened his outlook, Diaz said he decided years ago to pay-it-forward by helping to create space for other writers of colour in his work as a writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and through activism.  

“There were folks who had even less than I did. I found myself wanting to be helpful because part of me was dreaming of that for myself,” he said. “You still feel the debt you owe the world is enormous – even coming from an immigrant family.”  

Resolving conflict in writing 

Family was a natural point of conversation between Yapa and Diaz, who each had their own anxieties about being seen as different. 

For Yapa, it was his dad’s inability to accurately pronounce the expression, “Hunky dory,” which describes something that is satisfactory. Diaz said he grew up “hating all that is Black,” even though he was well aware of his origins.  

That much of his work revolves around family, as Yapa notes, is not lost on Diaz. 

“Families are an evergreen subject,” he said. “We are attracted to the machinations of family because this is the vernacular we speak best.”  

Diaz said he grew up “hating all that is Black,” even though he was well aware of his origins.

In The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, about an overweight, nerdy boy obsessed with science fiction, Diaz mined the familial conflict in his own family by exploring the fraught relationship between mother and daughter in his characters.  

“I had to first imagine not only my sister’s deep problematic relationship with my mother, but I actually had to figure out how they might figure out a way to gain compassion for each other,” he said.  

He added that it was largely a way for him to reconcile his own relationship with his sisters, who had borne the brunt of their mother’s excessive discipline, which he escaped because he was a boy.  

His sisters were punished for coming home at ungodly hours, while he wasn’t. Even as he witnessed this, he said he didn't grasp how it had affected their relationships until he realized he had failed to sympathize with them.   

“It was important to me to maintain the innocence of my privilege,” he said. “People always insist on their innocence when they’re guilty.”  

“If I have any secret to my artistry, it’s that when I close my eyes, all I see is readers.”

A family of readers 

Still broaching the concept of family, Yapa asked whether Diaz was forced to create his own literary family in the absence of one that supported his pursuit of writing. Diaz said unlike most writers, his “natural community” is other readers. 

This is partly because he considers himself a reader before a writer, and partly because he said an author’s most important audience is readers, not other writers. 

“If I have any secret to my artistry, it’s that when I close my eyes, all I see is readers,” he said.  

As a writer, he writes with readers in mind – people who he said are an author’s fiercest defenders and who embrace a book despite its flaws. 

Diaz later fielded questions from the audience – fans and writers alike – wrestling with issues of identity and writing from the margins.  

One woman asked how he contends with the “pressure to get it right” on behalf of his community and other minorities, to which he bluntly responded: “Why torment yourself with this idea that there’s this enormous group of people who need you to get it right? . . . Our work is not going to sing less, it’s not going to right injustice.”  

For writers hoping to use their work to gain their parents’ acceptance, he had this to say: “Know that perhaps it can’t do anything there, but that there may be another young person wrestling with the same question who awaits you. That’s perhaps the family you may save . . . Because I was saved by artists who had never imagined themselves saving me.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books
Monday, 21 March 2016 13:45

How Recession is Linked to Racism

Commentary by Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga 

The rise of ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’ Donald Trump who has floated to the top with the support of millions of Americans has prompted many to conclude that Americans are by and large racists. But that conclusion is wrong and simplistic. It is almost as foolish as people around the world concluding that just because millions of Indians gave BJP’s Narendra Modi a thumping majority proves Indians are basically communal and bigoted.

People in India like citizens in many western countries are tired of politicians taking them for a ride. The economy was going south, corruption was at its peak. People wanted change at any cost. In every democracy, ethnic minorities are often valued as vote banks and used by all political parties.

This sort of pandering has social and economic implications for the native-born, especially when economic times are tough. Trump, like PM Modi, is widely reviled by the political and social elite and liberal-leaning media personalities.

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Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 09 December 2015 07:16

It’s Islamic Terrorism. So What?

Commentary by Mohamad Ozeir

My name is Mohamad Ali Ozeir. My father’s name is Ali. My mother’s name is Khadija. My children’s names are Zena, Hassan, Jenan, Nadine and Sahar. I look like a typical Arab man: dark, Middle Eastern.

However, I don’t feel I owe anyone an apology for the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. Most of all, I don’t feel the need to condemn this carnage as an Arab American of Islamic heritage.

As a matter of fact, as a journalist and an activist, I don’t understand the whole enterprise of apologizing and publicly denouncing any crime based on ethnic or religious consideration.

I don’t understand the whole enterprise of apologizing and publicly denouncing any crime based on ethnic or religious consideration.

Because I felt as outraged by the San Bernardino attack, as I did by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut in 2012, by the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina last June, and by the attack on the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just a few days ago.

And I felt equally related to these assaults as to what happened in San Bernardino.

I wonder why we do have a debate about naming the terrorist attacks committed by people of Islamic background. While I can understand the sensitivity shown by the Obama administration toward this point, it is difficult to comprehend the right wing Republican insistence on calling it Islamic Terrorism.

What purpose does it serve, other than to slap a wide label on more than a billion people, most of whom don’t even subscribe to the religion, let alone to the politics of its fanatics?

Not the majority

I have some news for those eager to issue the label.

Yes, some Muslims are planning and striving to target Americans. Even more would be happy to see such an attack take place on American soil. And many more not only wish to see it happen, but are ready to justify it – in this category, being Muslim is not a requirement.

[I]t is worthwhile to note that Arab and Muslim victims of their violence outnumber all others combined, many thousand times over.

But these are not ALL Muslims, and they’re NOT the majority. They’re not even in the mainstream, and some would argue that they have more to do with American and Western support, training, and alliance throughout the years, than with Arabic or Islamic political influence or agendas.

And it is worthwhile to note that Arab and Muslim victims of their violence outnumber all others combined, many thousand times over.

Having said that, what does it matter? For the hate speech peddlers, especially on radio talk shows, and for the participants in the “Silly Season” called the Republican Primary, it is a ploy. It is a tool for energizing the base and motivating the supporters.

It is an old political tradition, going back as far as 1798 when the Federalist Congress passed the Naturalization Act. Back then the subject of hate was the French, and since then this country has gone down the same road more than a few times. Arabs and Muslims are the latest arrivals to the labeling circle. So what?

History repeating itself

The U.S. has proven itself capable of taking care of its own history.

Maybe David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, who cited President F. D. Roosevelt in touting the idea of internment camps, didn’t learn his history well enough to know that this country considers the decision to confine Japanese Americans during World War II to be one of America's most shameful acts.

As an Arab American of Islamic heritage, I can buy as many guns, military gear, and ammunitions as I please. Isn’t it strange?

I know this, I am not afraid for my well-being, and I refuse to be boxed in fear or artificial guilt.

The one thing that I do fear is becoming a victim of a shooting, either in a mass incident or single attack.

Because with all that’s going on, the stares in public places, the never-missed “random” checks in airports, the “smart” comments and camouflaged jokes, the endless profiling - with all this heavy, discriminatory scrutiny, I find it profoundly disturbing that one right of mine remains untouched, with ironclad protection.

As an Arab American of Islamic heritage, I can buy as many guns, military gear, and ammunitions as I please. Isn’t it strange?


Re-published with permission from New America Media.

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 05 November 2015 11:18

Canada is Not Immune to Racist Ideology

by James Sharma in Montreal

On Oct. 17, mayoral candidate Henriette Reker was stabbed in the neck during a campaign stop in Cologne, Germany. The perpetrator, a 44-year-old unemployed man, was furious about Reker’s support for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policy, which involves admitting 800,000 asylum seekers into Germany this year.

Germany has already seen nearly 500 attacks on migrants this year, eclipsing the 198 attacks recorded in 2014. Meanwhile, the U.S. presidential campaign has also been the site of xenophobia and racism.

As Canada prepares to process an increased number of Syrian refugees following the election of a Liberal government, political leaders and citizens would do well to remember that Canada is not immune to racist ideology and must take steps to prevent similar surges in violence.

A look at Europe's xenophobia

The attacks on migrants in Europe reflect a wider sentiment of xenophobic tension and insecurity that has bolstered neo-nationalist parties across the continent.

In October, national conservative parties received the most votes in parliamentary elections in Poland and Switzerland. Austria’s far-right Freedom Party received 30 per cent of the vote in the Vienna city council election, while in Greece, the neo-nazi Golden Dawn was the only party to achieve a higher percentage of votes in the September national election than in the previous one.

Additionally, 10,000 people gathered in Dresden, Germany, at the end of October to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Islamophobic Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) movement, and a group of right-wing extremists were detained in Bavaria for attempting to smuggle weapons for a potential attack on Halloween.

[T]he economic crisis and the migrant crisis combined to fuel support for anti-immigrant platforms.

Still, perhaps the most prominent name in neo-nationalist politics remains Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s nationalist and conservative National Front, whom many view as a potential dark horse in France’s upcoming 2017 elections.

While many of these parties have existed for decades, the economic crisis and the migrant crisis combined to fuel support for anti-immigrant platforms.

Europe has yet to recover from the debt crisis of 2009 with unemployment remaining high, reaching over 20 per cent in Greece and Spain, higher still for youth.

Although most refugees are civilians attempting to escape war zones, such as Syria and Iraq, opponents of immigration have framed the crisis as an attempt by economic migrants to compete for scarce jobs. The right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP), for instance, couples its economically liberal proposals with right-wing nationalism and calls for reduced immigration.

The potential threat of such xenophobic scapegoating is, in essence, that the reactionary behaviour we see from these political leaders today is no different from that of the European fascist parties during the interwar years. This misguided rhetoric is a major contributing factor to the increased violence against migrants across Europe.

At the same time as Europe’s neo-nationalist surge, our American neighbours are experiencing a pivotal xenophobic moment of their own.

More xenophobia south of the border

At the same time as Europe’s neo-nationalist surge, our American neighbours are experiencing a pivotal xenophobic moment of their own.

The leading Republican nominee Ben Carson has publicly denounced Muslims running for the presidency. Likewise, his close-trailing opponent Donald Trump has made headlines with his racist comments, labelling Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists.”

These direct attacks are galvanizing an anti-immigrant constituency most prominent in the American Midwest and South, and have directly led to acts of violence, such as the beating of a Hispanic homeless man by two men in Boston last August, one of whom said he was “inspired” by Trump.

Racist elements in Canadian society remain

In some ways, the situation in Canada is similar to that in Europe.

Canada is currently in an economic recession, and the youth employment rate is at its lowest level since 2009. And parallel to the Republican presidential candidates in the U.S., the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois used racist rhetoric surrounding the niqab during the last election, which has also led to acts of Islamophobic violence.

Though the Conservatives’ electoral gamble was ultimately unsuccessful, the racist elements of Canadian society to which they appealed remain in place.

[P]olitical leaders and citizens alike need to be consciously active in combatting racist rhetoric and ideology.

Justin Trudeau’s commitment to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees is certainly an improvement over the Conservative policy of fear-mongering, but Canada should accept an even greater number of refugees.

In doing so, we must be careful not to repeat Europe’s mistakes; political leaders and citizens alike need to be consciously active in combatting racist rhetoric and ideology.

Opportunistic politicians can exploit disenfranchised youth that feel disconnected from the political system and angry about their economic prospects, and scapegoat immigrants as the reason for their precarious economic position. This can be avoided only if we call out racist rhetoric every time we hear it.

By reflecting on the circumstances and political tactics that have led to the rise of the nationalist far-right in Europe, the effectiveness of racist rhetoric in the U.S., and the ensuing violence toward migrants, Canadians should be able recognize the warning signs in their own country.

The underlying conditions required for a surge in xenophobic violence are present – we must reject lazy scapegoating and resist attempts by opportunistic leaders to capitalize on racist sentiments.


James Sharma is a Continuing Studies student at McGill University.

Re-published with permission from The McGill Daily

Published in Commentary
Friday, 28 August 2015 11:34

Polarizing Politics and Public Anger

by Darren Thorne in Toronto, Ontario

In the grand scheme of things in the election campaign it was a minor incident, but an unsettling one. I refer to the odd spectacle that unfolded at a press conference for the Prime Minister last week, in which representatives of the press were heckled and, at points, shouted down by Conservative supporters.

As video of the incident showed, reporters apparently incurred the wrath of some of the crowd when they had the temerity ask questions about the Duffy trial.

In widely seen footage, one Tory supporter went further, accosting and repeatedly cursing at reporters, before being expelled by security. 

On one hand, it’s hard to take this seriously: the scene was bizarre and rather surreal, particularly when the gentleman in question curiously began accusing the reporters of cheating on their taxes. 

When asked what led him to that conclusion, he responded with the unassailable logic that the reporter in question was “a lying piece of s---.” 

Conservative spokespeople, to their credit, allowed that the incident never should have happened, and the Prime Minister himself tried to quiet the crowd, so the inclination is to ignore this episode, or just laugh at the absurdity of it all.

A foreseeable outcome 

However, taking a step back, it is hard to shake the feeling that somehow this incident may say something more about the state of our politics. 

In particular, at a time when it has become common in Canada for certain parties to traffic in the politics of polarization, isn’t this a thoroughly foreseeable, or even inevitable outcome?

[I]t can also fragment the public, encouraging party supporters to retreat into hostile ideological silos.

After all, if parties engage in the type of politics where perceived opponents are routinely demonized and disparaged as not only being wrong, but also untrustworthy and even malevolent, should it really be a surprise when avid supporters of those parties believe what they are being told and internalize the angry tone that so often characterizes attack ad campaigning? 

In fact, if you are relying on those tactics, isn’t this exactly what one would want: motivated, even angry supporters who are unwilling to even hear criticism of their party and who will vigorously fight the perceived persecution of ‘their side’? 

Certainly, one would think the fellow at the press conference would be voting Conservative.

This is the problem with reflexive attack politics: not only that it leads to poisonous animosity and pitched, seemingly endless warfare between the political parties themselves but, worse still, it can also fragment the public, encouraging party supporters to retreat into hostile ideological silos. 

Following America’s footsteps

To see where this can lead, we need only look across the border, where the level of political polarization paints a vivid cautionary tale.

As everyone knows, the U.S. federal government is all but paralyzed these days.

Fierce opposition between Democrats and Republicans has seemingly become reflexive, with the Grand Old Party (GOP) controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic Presidential administration proving unable to cooperate on producing virtually any legislative initiatives of real substance. 

But it is the accordant public polarization that is most striking, as vocal minorities have come to seemingly dominate public political discourse. 

[A]ny hint of cooperation with ‘the other side’ has come to be regarded as traitorous.

The rise of the exceptionally right wing Tea Party movement is only one example of this. 

The passionate, and at times almost deranged, opposition of this portion of the electorate to conflicting views, and to the Obama administration in particular, has been a driving force in American politics for much of the last decade.  

While this movement has bolstered the Republicans in elections in recent years, it has also made it difficult for the Tea Party to meaningfully participate in governing, as any hint of cooperation with ‘the other side’ has come to be regarded as traitorous. 

Over time, this has weeded out more moderate Republicans and pushed the party further to the right, with anti-establishment candidates such as presidential aspirant Ted Cruz, winning election in defiance of the more centrist Republican establishment.  

As a result, even initiatives supported by Republican political leadership as key to the party’s electoral prospects, such as immigration reform, have been internally blocked. 

Ironically, this is often to the detriment of the party itself, as it has increasingly reduced the Republican voting pool to a smaller and more insular, if more zealous and louder, minority. It has also resulted in unprecedented levels of political polarization and discord.

Thankfully, here in Canada we can take comfort that in our country it has not come to this, but as the spectacle at the press conference indicates, perhaps we are not as far away as we like to think.


Darren Thorne (B.A., LL.B, LL.M) is an international lawyer and adjunct law professor, specialized in international affairs, development and constitutional and international human rights law. He was previously counsel to Ontario's Deputy Attorney General and has an extensive history of international legal and project work throughout Africa, Asia and Europe.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, who is of Indian origin, just announced his candidacy for the Republican Primary for the next American Presidential election. Jindal has made opposition to hyphenated Americans a cornerstone of his policy. He wants to do away with terms such as Irish-Americans, Indian-Americans or Polish-Americans. All Americans [...]

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Published in International

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NEW YORK: China is waiting to topple the US dollar as the world’s reigning currency and replace it with the yuan.

Quoting Duowei News, Russia’s Pravda recently said that

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Published in China

THE Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) on Tuesday announced that four air duct cleaning companies paid a total of $55,000 as part of a settlement following violations to the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules. The CRTC also issued notices of violation accompanied by monetary penalties totalling $94,000 to five other air duct cleaning companies. Notices of violation […]

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Published in South Asia

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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