November 12, 2015
By Anthony James Hall (Special to Truth and Shadows)
After taking his vow of office, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced his new cabinet. Canada’s triumphant leader rightfully boasted that the new face of his government authentically reflects Canada’s multicultural population. Moreover half of his appointees are women. One of them, Jody Wilson-Raybould, is a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation as well as Canada’s first Aboriginal Minister of Justice.
Another striking appointment is that of Maryam Monsef. Age 30, Ms. Monsef is the youngest Minister as well as the first Muslim ever to hold a cabinet position in Canada’s executive branch. Monsef emigrated from Afghanistan when she was 11 years old. Trudeau assigned to the youthful cabinet inductee the Democratic Institutions portfolio.
The elevation of a young Muslim woman to high office in the core of the Canadian government represents a good beginning to start repairing the enormous damage wrought by the defeated former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. In the recent election campaign Harper brought to radical extremes his attempt to gain political advantage from bashing Muslim people, Muslim religion, and Muslim dress. He had hoped to ride to a new electoral mandate by energizing a wave of Islamophobia.
Harper’s campaign began under the guidance of Lynton Crosby, an Australian Wizard of Oz with considerable political experience turning anti-immigrant, anti-Aboriginal policies to the political advantage of his prior client, neoconservative Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Crosby tried to help Harper refine his image as Christian warrior with a passion for vanquishing Islamic infidels. The defeated prime minister attempted to cultivate his crusader personae by dramatizing a federal prohibition on the wearing of the niqab—a feature of Islamic dress adopted by some Muslim women—during citizenship ceremonies. This ban was ruled unconstitutional by the courts, but Harper promised to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada if re-elected.
A Muslim himself, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi condemned Harper’s tactic as “disgraceful.” Nenshi explained that under the auspices of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “the label of terrorism is thrown around in Ottawa with disturbing regularity… It’s targeted language that always describes an act of violence by someone of my faith.” The popular municipal politician continued, “To tie violent action to a religious group,” is “incredibly dangerous stuff.”
Of course there is nothing new in the attempt by the ousted prime minister to incite and exploit fear of Muslims as a religious wedge issue deployed in the service of political gain. The harnessing of Islamophobia for the advancement of neoconservative agendas goes back at least to 1979 when the basic ideological framework of the Global War on Terror was outlined at an international conference in Jerusalem organized by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Islamophobia and dog whistle politics
Perhaps the outcome of the Canadian election suggests that the pendulum of popular public opinion in the West is shifting. Perhaps the failure of Harper’s party to hold onto power by trumping up fear of Muslims marks the beginning of the end of the Global War on Terror. Perhaps this crack in the neoconservative edifice is like the early stages of the public assault on the Berlin Wall whose toppling marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
By identifying Islam with “barbaric cultural practices” and “medieval tribal customs,” the former Harper government may have exposed too much about the structure of neoconservative lies, deception and spin. Harper’s crusader zeal may have drawn unwanted scrutiny to the manipulations malevolently deployed in constructing the psychological prisons of synthetic fear thrown up by the War on Terror’s busy contractors.
For a time it seemed the niqab issue had set the trap that would turn the election in Harper’s favour. Fearing this outcome, Sheema Khan chronicled in the Globe and Mail some of the experiences of those on the receiving end of the Islamophobia. She wrote, “The government’s open hostility has given license to bigots to vent xenophobia. A pregnant Muslim woman is attacked in Montreal. A niqab-wearing woman is attacked while shopping with her daughters in Toronto. Mosques are taking precautions. Identifiable Muslim women feel less safe, and Muslim youth face difficult questions about identity and acceptance.”
Fifty years after arriving in Canada as a toddler Khan felt compelled to announce that she was made to feel like “a second-class citizen.” She added, “the Conservative message is: You are Muslim, you are the ‘other,’ you can’t be trusted and you will never belong.”
In the Huffington Post Hassan Arif characterized Harper’s failed divide-and-conquer strategy as follows, “Stephen Harper is campaigning on fear using the niqab as a wedge issue scapegoating Muslims. It is no coincidence that a senior adviser on the Conservative campaign is an Australian strategist known for dog whistle politics against cultural minorities. This is an attack on a longstanding consensus in Canadian politics in favour of multiculturalism and diversity, a consensus that had been upheld by the Liberals.”
Fear of terrorism, fear of Muslims
Trudeau’s success in the campaign was based in part on his spirited defense of the principles that “a Canadian citizen is a Canadian citizen,” that the principles entrenched in the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights as well as in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must prevail.
In one of the most significant moments in the Canadian election campaign, Trudeau evoked the words of former U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt on the subject of fear. He declared, “Having failed to help Canadians where it matters, what is Stephen Harper left with? Fear. The politics of fear and division. Franklin Roosevelt said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Well, Stephen Harper has nothing to offer but fear itself. Fear of terrorism. Fear of the world beyond our borders. Fear of each other.”
Trudeau put in context his references to “fear of terrorism” by indicating, “We all know what is going on here…. It is nothing less than an attempt to play on people’s fears and foster prejudice, directly towards the Muslim faith.”
There are important international implications in the identification by the new Canadian Prime Minister of the prior government’s incitement and exploitation of Islamaphobia in the quest to gain, hold and extend political power. But Trudeau’s begs the question of what will happen next in addressing the great wrongs done to all Canadians through the long years when our government purposely inflamed public opinion against Muslims.
Paid mercenaries under Islamic flags
For the last 14 years since 9/11 the world has been delivered an onslaught of media imagery and commentary depicting Islamic terrorism as the world’s worst scourge. After two generations of being saturated in the intense psychological operations of the Cold War, we in the West were subjected to a shift from the propaganda of anti-communism to the propaganda of anti-terrorism. A key part of this propaganda has been to depict Islam as a religion of violence, as a seedbed of radicalization, murder and mayhem.
The biggest lie in the Global War on Terror is that the forces of Islamic jihad are totally independent, self-directed and self-financed. In fact there is a long history of the Western powers infiltrating the Muslim world and instrumentalizing Islamic sectarianism for imperial advantage. This trajectory of exploitation continues yet. It was on full display throughout the recent Canadian election campaign.
It is a matter of record that the CIA created al Qaeda as hosted within the mujahedeen and Taliban. The goal of this U.S.-financed and armed operation was to remove the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan. The Western creation and sponsorship of mercenary armies said to be operating various Islamic flags has continued in a large arc of covert intervention. This arc of instrumentalized Islam extends from the breakup of the Balkans to the overthrow of Gaddafi’s government in Libya to the current campaign aimed at displacing Assad from power and dividing Syria and Iraq into easy-to-manipulate statelets.
There is a large and compelling body of serious scholarship on the history of this process emphasizing the close connection between Western intelligence services and groups regularly identified in the media as Islamic terrorist groups. The prolific scholarship on these subjects of, for instance, Ahmed Nafeez, Peter Dale Scott and Michel Chossudovsky comes immediately to mind.
This is not to say that there are not real zealots, as there are in every religion, that are prepared to commit violence to advance what they see as their sacred cause. In the context of the inner workings of the Global War on Terror, however, such individuals are likely to become prized assets to be funded, armed and manipulated by Western intelligence agencies in the hope they will participate in acts necessary to generate the political currency of fear. We know that the forerunner to this type of transaction was Operation Gladio, a NATO-run series of violent episodes concocted to turn public opinion against Europe’s left-wing parties.
The Terror Factory
By design, the Global War on Terror merges the empowerment of police state and surveillance state at home, military aggressions abroad. In Terror Factory, Trevor Aaronson describes the role of the FBI agents and infiltrators in encouraging pliable Muslim individuals to commit violence, only to be apprehended at some point in the entrapment process. His research leads Aaronson to conclude that these same procedures of FBI manipulation are re-enacted in almost every case of reported domestic terrorism in the United States.
The evidence is strong that a similar process was at play in the Ottawa shooter event of October 22, 2014. On that day, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was identified by the FBI and CBS News as the killer of a soldier at the National War Cenotaph in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Several hours later the armed Zehaf-Bibeau, now described by U.S. sources as “a recent Muslim convert,” was reported as having been shot dead after entering the nearby Parliament Building.
In retrospect this episode can be seen as the commencement of the Harper government’s campaign for re-election. As on 9/11 an elaborate interpretation was delivered almost immediately without any formal investigation whatsoever. The Canadian media fell in line and refused to ask any skeptical questions. The Harper government predictably exploited the occasion to put through Parliament pre-prepared legislation and policies setting up then-Prime Minister Harper for his campaign for re-election conflating Muslim “barbarism” with his war against “jihadi terrorism.”
Professor Graeme MacQueen has evaluated the government and police accounts of what transpired and has found many internal contradictions and holes in the official narrative. He has identified 34 unanswered questions that must be addressed. The first is, “When and by whom was the FBI first informed of the perpetrator’s name?” MacQueen’s Report for Democracy International is entitled The October 22, 2014, Ottawa Shootings: Why Canadians Need a Public Inquiry. MacQueen devotes one of his sections to address the question, “Was Zehaf-Bibeau a Managed Terrorist?”
The managers of the New York-based Canadian newspaper chain Postmedia seem to have worked quite closely with Lynton Crosby and the operatives in the re-election war room of Stephen Harper. They obviously collaborated closely to generate a flood of evocative images depicting ghoulish impressions of jihadi terror in the run-up to the Canadian election.
Throughout the campaign Paul Godfey’s monopolistic Postmedia chain, including the Ottawa Citizen, the Calgary Herald, the Vancouver Sun and the National Post, filled their front pages with collages of mask-wearing Arab faces, hooded Islamic men, countless real or faked pictures of the gun-toting kaffiyeh-wearing Zahef-Bibeau, and headlines like “The Radical Reality: Canada and Homegrown Terrorism,” or “The Terrorist and the Imam.”
On October 3, about two weeks before the election, the Postmedia papers released a series of pictures purporting to show wide shots of Zahef-Bibeau at the National War Memorial in the very act of murdering his victim. There is no compelling evidence presented to interpret the images as anything other than rather crude photoshopped fabrications. About the “French tourist” who supposedly captured the images, reporter Shaamini Yogaretnam indicates that “Jean Paul asked the Citizen to use only his first name.”
Trying to explain the origins of the prior grainy image that was quickly published in the media in order to convict Zahef-Bibeau in the court of public opinion, Yogaretnam came up with nothing but weasel words and indeterminate phrases. In the process she produced a classic example of really bad or even malfeasant journalism. “It is believed,” she wrote, “that several Ottawa police employees forwarded a zoomed-in picture of the gunman to civilian email addresses. The leak of the photo onto the Internet is believed to have originated from law enforcement sources, but it’s not clear whether it was Ottawa police, OPP (Ontario Provincial Police), RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), or one of the forces in Canada or the United States that had access to the photograph that started the chain that led to its being posted online.” Who was it precisely that did this believing? How does such a confusing mishmash of words prove anything except an intent to deceive and obfuscate?
The day before the federal election, Paul Godfrey’s Islamophobia-inciting Postmedia chain gave new meaning to the term yellow journalism. The front pages of all the Postmedia newspapers brandished giant ads. Against plain yellow backgrounds the newspapers proclaimed, “Voting Liberal will cost you.”
Restoring public confidence
MacQueen is right. Canadians do need a public inquiry into the inconsistencies permeating the official accounts of the Ottawa shootings of October 22, 2014. But we need more than that. The new Trudeau government must address the broad and deep implications of his election campaign pronouncement that Stephen Harper has incited and exploited Islamophobia by conflating fear of Muslims with fear of terrorism.
It is a good start to have appointed Maryam Monsef to a cabinet post. But that alone does not repair the tremendous damage that has been done to the civil condition of Canadian society after almost a decade of Harper’s media-enhanced promotion of Islamophobia. How did Harper take power in the first place? He first took control of the prime minister’s position in 2006 riding a wave of neoconservative empowerment connected to now-hotly-contested interpretations of what really happened on 9/11.
Whatever happened, the Canadian government should not have made Canadian anti-terrorist policy after 9/11 by depending exclusively on a very flawed U.S. report. The 9/11 Commission Report was based on a heavily politicized investigation whose co-chairs acknowledge was “set up to fail.” There should have been a Canadian investigation into the Canadian aspects of 9/11 including Canada’s involvement on the fateful day in the failures of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Moreover no officials in the government and Parliament of Canada should have sanctioned policies and laws based on a foreign report whose main conclusions were based on evidence obtained through illegal torture. The result of this failure of due diligence is that many Canadian officials made themselves complicit in prohibited torture and therefore violators of international criminal law.
To be consistent with his condemnation of Harper’s fostering of fear and prejudice towards Muslims, Trudeau must help us come to terms with what is real and what is concocted in the former Canadian government’s so-called war on “jihadi terrorism.” What, for instance, are Canadians to make of the reports in the Canadian media last March that an agent or asset connected to Canada’s embassy in Jordan was caught in Turkey helping with ISIL recruitment?
It would be a travesty for Prime Minister Trudeau to follow in the footsteps of U.S. President Barack Obama by simply maintaining the same fictions intertwined with the Global War on Terror that the both men inherited from the neoconservative administrations that preceded them. To restore Canada to civil health we need a transparent public process get to the root causes of the Islamophobia, including the systematic identification of all Muslims with the heavily engineered imagery of terrorism. This investigation could be characterized as part of the process of restoring evidence-based policy making to police work and military operations. Only thus do we have a chance of regaining some balance between the requirements of liberty, democracy and transparency with the imperatives of security.
Anthony James Hall is currently Professor of Globalization Studies at University of Lethbridge in Alberta Canada. He has been a teacher in the Canadian university system since 1982. Dr. Hall has recently finished a two-volume publishing project at McGill-Queen’s University Press entitled “The Bowl with One Spoon.”