What do the Prime Minister of Canada and Millenarian crazy-folk have in common?
Sounds like the lead-in to a complicated joke, doesn’t it?
There are a couple of things that have been reallyreally bugging me lately.
Interestingly, as is so often the way in my life (and my particular way of viewing the world), they are both connected.
Apocalyptic nutbags and Stephen Harper are making me want to bite something lately. It’s hard to focus on anything else. Seriously. The drafts folder just keeps growing and growing and yet I can’t manage to hit the ‘publish’ button.
From where comes all this recent angst? Well, in case you aren’t Canadian- or if you are Canadian and you’ve been living in a soundproof tunnel beside York University for the last little bit- Harper’s Conservative government has decided that we are at war with things like niqabs– necessitating daily wardrobe checks from our Sartorial Leader (check out the hashtag #DressCodePM if you want a good chuckle)- and, as a result, that we need further scrutiny of this great threat to our nation. In order to do so, CSIS (The Canadian Security Intelligence Service- fill in oxymoron jokes as you wish) needs to have the authority to keep a closer eye on all of us.
Or, more truly, on some of us.
As The Walrus noted recently, “CSIS was designed with a broad mandate but limited powers. Until now, it has been an intelligence service—which is to say that it collects and analyses information, and supplies threat assessments to the government. When it was created in 1984, parliament approved CSIS’s mandate as one that excluded “kinetic” powers—including the power to arrest or otherwise do things to people in the physical world (except when necessary, for example, to install a wiretap or listening device).”
Talking about Harper’s ‘anti-terrorism’ bill, last month a Globe and Mail editorial (February 5) noted that ‘one part of Bill C-51 creates a new definition of an “activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada” that includes “terrorism,” “interference with critical infrastructure” and “interference with the capability of the Government in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada.’
As a result, ‘if Bill C-51 passes, CSIS will be able to disrupt anything its political masters believe might be a threat. As the bill is currently written, that includes a lot more than terrorism.’
That’s pretty damn terrifying, if you ask me.
But this focus on ‘terrorism’ is alarming in itself. In the lead-up to an October election, our Fearful Leader has stated:
‘The fact of the matter is this, ladies and gentleman: The international jihadist movement has declared war. They have declared war on anybody who does not think and act exactly as they wish they would think and act. They have declared war and are already executing it on a massive scale on a whole range of countries with which they are in contact, and they have declared war on any country like ourselves that values freedom, openness and tolerance. And we may not like this and wish it would go away, but it is not going to go away and the reality is we are going to have to confront it.’ (Globe and Mail, January 8, 2015).
This rhetoric sounds oddly familiar.
‘Today, we take an essential step in defeating terrorism, while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans. With my signature, this law will give intelligence and law enforcement officials important new tools to fight a present danger. This legislation is essential not only to pursuing and punishing terrorists, but also preventing more atrocities in the hands of the evil ones. This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war.’
Recognize that? Anyone? Bueller?
George W. Bush said those words as he signed into the law a little thing called the Patriot Act. Almost 14 years ago.
For a PM who has coasted on the coattails of a song-and-dance performance about his role in ensuring economic recovery post-recession, he’s had a hard time lately, what with the drop in the dollar and the price of oil and the stubborn reticence of some people regarding the approval of certain pipelines… It’s hard to keep to the Party Line about economic prosperity when the Albertan-heart of your support-system is dealing with lay-offs and tar sand shut-downs.
So stirring up a little (un)healthy fear among the population might regain some of the votes- and also allow the Cons to take care of those muckrakers who want to talk about inequity regarding the treatment of First Nations, and those rabble-rousing science-types who just won’t shut up about things like global warming, even when their institutions are shut down or de-funded. Win-win-win.
If you’re not up to speed on recent politics-as-usual here in our once-great Nation, you might think I’m the one being alarmist regarding some of his current/recent policy change pushes. So, if you require further evidence, how’s about these apples? Credit checking and (potentially) fingerprinting public servants? Or this little gem that further closes the ideological divide between us and some of the more inexplicable things that our American neighbours consider to be standard operating procedures. I love how his comments- about protecting oneself with gun violence- ‘are being promoted by the Conservatives’ election campaign manager ,’ in spite of the reality that, legally, Canadians do not have the right to defend their homes with a gun- that this belief ‘is a common misperception that is much more true in the United States than it is here.’
Fortunately, a lot of people aren’t ignoring all this windbaggery. Despite Harper’s best efforts to pass things without parliamentary hearings or input from voters, Canadians let their voices be heard this past weekend. And the clarion call is still sounding for citizens to step up and weigh in on the matter of what it means to be Canadian. Not wanna-be-American-Fox-News-loving-far-right-reaching-fossil-fuel-pushing-Republican clones.
Especially since a lot of this is stuff and nonsense.
How can you say that, cole? Aren’t we under direct attack by the Islamic State?
Over the weekend I came across a fantastic article that seriously- and studiously, and in an informed and reasoned manner- looks into the origins and ideologies of ISIS/ISIL (the article was first posted by a former TA of mine- now a contract instructor at UofT, who is currently on strike- but that’s a tangent- important though it may be- for another day).
It’s long, but well-worth the read.
The most salient points for my discussion?
As I’ve noted before, here, historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking- and the literature and policies that support it- develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better scenario that we expect to show up at some nebulous future date.
In historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality. The new reality is posited to be one of justice- as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo- religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness.
We still think in these terms in our secular environments- even if all religious underpinnings seem to be removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realities- and it has become part of our inherent way of approaching our world.
For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature), from a philosophical and personal perspective, it’s my least favourite literary construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, in favour of the life that might come along at some point in the future.
Graeme Wood points out in his article that the Islamic State is apocalyptic to the core.
‘The Islamic State has its share of worldly concerns (including, in the places it controls, collecting garbage and keeping the water running), but the End of Days is a leitmotif of its propaganda. Bin Laden rarely mentioned the apocalypse, and when he did, he seemed to presume that he would be long dead when the glorious moment of divine comeuppance finally arrived. “Bin Laden and Zawahiri are from elite Sunni families who look down on this kind of speculation and think it’s something the masses engage in,” says Will McCants of the Brookings Institution, who is writing a book about the Islamic State’s apocalyptic thought.
During the last years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the Islamic State’s immediate founding fathers, by contrast, saw signs of the end times everywhere. They were anticipating, within a year, the arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end of the world. McCants says a prominent Islamist in Iraq approached bin Laden in 2008 to warn him that the group was being led by millenarians who were “talking all the time about the Mahdi and making strategic decisions” based on when they thought the Mahdi was going to arrive. “Al-Qaeda had to write to [these leaders] to say ‘Cut it out.’ ”
For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need.”
But N.B. These bloodbaths will take place on their own soil– not in foreign battles with Western infidels or apostates.
The thing about people who hold onto ridiculous, mythological constructs? They cling to the literal letter of those constructs to the very end (check out any given bible-thumper who appears as a pundit on Fox, if you doubt the veracity of that statement). The Islamic State’s apocalyptic worldview includes an engagement of the enemy only after the emergence of the anti-Messiah- at Dabiq- their version of Megiddo/Armageddon. The culmination of their propagandist vision of a return to medieval concepts of both morality and warfare will take place in Aleppo, in northern Syria.
“Only God knows” whether the Islamic State’s armies are the ones foretold, Cerantonio said. But he is hopeful. “The Prophet said that one sign of the imminent arrival of the End of Days is that people will for a long while stop talking about the End of Days,” he said. “If you go to the mosques now, you’ll find the preachers are silent about this subject.” On this theory, even setbacks dealt to the Islamic State mean nothing, since God has preordained the near-destruction of his people anyway. The Islamic State has its best and worst days ahead of it.’
The foreign fighters (and their wives and children) have been traveling to the caliphate on one-way tickets: they want to live under true Sharia, and many want martyrdom. Doctrine, recall, requires believers to reside in the caliphate if it is at all possible for them to do so. One of the Islamic State’s less bloody videos shows a group of jihadists burning their French, British, and Australian passports. This would be an eccentric act for someone intending to return to blow himself up in line at the Louvre or to hold another chocolate shop hostage in Sydney.
A few “lone wolf” supporters of the Islamic State have attacked Western targets, and more attacks will come. But most of the attackers have been frustrated amateurs, unable to immigrate to the caliphate because of confiscated passports or other problems.’
This is key: ‘Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case. The land it controls, while expansive, is mostly uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates or slowly shrinks, its claim that it is the engine of God’s will and the agent of apocalypse will weaken, and fewer believers will arrive. And as more reports of misery within it leak out, radical Islamist movements elsewhere will be discredited: No one has tried harder to implement strict Sharia by violence. This is what it looks like.’
Yet, some Western leaders, including Stephen Harper, would have us believe that the Islamic State, in particular, is at Canada’s very door- and will be kept at bay only if our intelligence-gathering agencies are given carte blanche to ensure that none of their apocalyptic poison infects our home and native land.
Which isn’t in keeping with actual scholarship/analysis regarding the realities of the situation as it lies- far from our shores. Wood notes that the solution to ridding ourselves of the perversion of reason that is the Islamic State isn’t likely to be simple or quick, but eroding our freedoms and values to the point of no return isn’t the best route to be taking.
There are, certainly, human rights concerns that require addressing. We remain citizens of a shared planet, and it sits unwell for us to watch as people are massacred and enslaved by illogical and morally- and philosophically- offensive ideologies. But direct engagement needs to be carefully evaluated- as does continued involvement by government(s) who refuse to do their homework- by listening to people who know the sitch- sociologists, historians… those sorts of insurrectionists that threaten our national security.
The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest. Al-Qaeda’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology… That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.’
It would be disingenuous- and hyperbolic- to equate Harper’s rhetoric with that of the Islamic State. I’m not suggesting that their particular forms of propaganda are comparable. But the underlying tools used to promote that propaganda are based in the same benighted vision of Us Vs. Them.
The Islamic State is engaged in an ideological struggle to justify their self-proclaimed caliphate. They are using opportunistic violence and medieval argumentation as a means of instilling fear in people who can’t be arsed to look any deeper into their origins or ‘party platform’.
Stephen Harper is engaging in politics of fear and division for reasons of all-too-obvious expediency as he attempts to cling to the power he was, for some inexplicable reason, granted by the citizens of Canada. Things aren’t going his way. So, carrying ever-forward with his vision to remake Canada into something unrecognizable, he’s resorting, more and more, to fear as his default modus operandi.
Terrorism can be defined as ‘the state of fear and submission produced by terrorization- which can be achieved through acts/words that dominate or coerce through intimidation.’
Gotta say. It’s working.
To be completely fair and as even-handed as possible, I have to note that Tom Mulcair’s federal NDP (the Official Opposition) will only vote for the Bill if amendments are made, but Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberals are supporting Bill C-51. This is also inexplicable to me. I have yet to see a legitimate argument for them doing so. From everything I’ve read, the decision to support the unsupportable is almost as politically expedient as the Conservatives’ reason for creating it.
In a circular argument that is making my head freakin spin, Trudeau said something along the lines of ‘the Cons would be very happy to use a Liberal vote against C-51 to further their fear-mongering agenda and use it to shore up votes to the detriment of the Liberal voter support’ (keep in mind, I’m paraphrasing). He speaks of ‘improving’ the Bill- once he is PM- making it more palatable to Canadian tastes.
Here, I’m not paraphrasing. He actually said this:‘I am a Liberal. I believe that when a government asks its citizens to give up even a small portion of their liberty, it is that government’s highest responsibility to guarantee that its new powers will not be abused.’
I call bullshit.
So does Ben Franklin.
And that Matt Johnson guy I’ve talked about before…
Of this once proud nation
Can you sense the fear and the hatred
Growing in the hearts of its population And our youth, oh youth, are being seduced
by the greedy hands of politics and half truths The beaten generation, the beaten generation
Reared on a diet of prejudice and misinformation
The beaten generation, the beaten generation
Open your eyes, open your imagination We’re being sedated by the gasoline fumes
and hypnotised by the satellites
Into believing what is good and what is right You may be worshiping the temples of mammon
Or lost in the prisons of religion
But can you still walk back to happiness
When you’ve nowhere left to run? And if they send in the special police
To deliver us from liberty and keep us from peace Then won’t the words sit ill upon their tongues
when they tell us justice is being done
and that freedom lives in the barrels of a warm gun
If you’re Canadian, and you haven’t done so already, I urge you to make your voice heard about this Bill C-51 nonsense. We can not allow ourselves to be terrorized- by ideologically and morally backward enemies abroad or by those who seek to rule through intimidation and misinformation that leads to loss of the freedoms that define us in our own eyes and in the eyes of our fellow humans.
We are not (yet) beaten.
The response to the anomie that causes apocalyptic thinking lies in addressing the inequities that are found in our current social situations. Hiding behind inflammatory fear-mongering and visions of cataclysms yet-to-come as an impetus to the further degradation of Canadian mores isn’t an acceptable form of 21st century, rational, secular governance. If we don’t wish to become that which we are being told-constantly- to fear, that truth has to be dragged to the surface and inserted into the democratic dialectic that we cherish. Preferably before alarmist rhetoric becomes policy.