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Let’s Finish The Job

Reginald Norman (Rex) Woods, 1903-1987

Woods, Rex. Let's Finish The Job. Cover illustration for Canadian Home Journal, May 1943. Oil on canvas, 70.5 x 63.4 cm. Sigmund Samuel Gallery of Canada/Royal Ontario Museum. Gift from the Estate of Etheldreda Jeanne Woods.

Satisfying as it is, the loss of one man does not win a war; there is no shortage of willing enemies.

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How to turn an Islamist

In the March/April edition of The National Interest, Former Air Force interrogator Matthew Alexander argues for a smarter, relationship-building approach to prisoner interrogation—a method that has paid rich dividends for Indonesia’s Detachment 88 counterterrorist unit.

The goal of the interrogators is not intelligence information that can prevent future terrorist attacks, but the conversion of the extremists into advocates against violent jihad. Interrogators have, de facto, become the primary facilitators of rehabilitation. In this manner, Karnavian has turned a tactical weapon into strategic leverage, and the results speak for themselves.

Following the implementation of Karnavian’s interrogation strategy, Indonesia did not have a terrorist bombing for almost the entire three years between 2006 and 2009, no doubt chalked up to the cooperation of numerous imprisoned extremists. Two former senior JI members captured by Detachment 88 have since written books admitting their erroneous violent beliefs. One book was a national best seller in Indonesia.

— Alexander, Matthew.  “Martyrdom, Interrupted.” The National Interest, 08 March 2010.

Mr. Alexander’s prescriptions do come with a certain number of partisan pot-shots at the previous presidential administration.  That doesn’t invalidate his argument per se, but it does raise questions about how many of these interrogation concepts are genuinely useful and field-workable, and how many are just a useful rhetorical stick used to beat one’s political opposites.

But as a grand strategy, it’s certainly true that turning the enemy’s key people can provide both useful operational intelligence as well as enormous propaganda victories.  I am all for taking the initiative and making the enemy waste his time on putting out the brush fires we can start.  More importantly it helps drive intellectual wedges between moderate and radical Muslims.

Ironically, many conservatives seem to make the same arguments as the Islamists: the only true Muslims are the ones that practice violent and murderous jihad.  It seems to me that we ought to be making a specific and pointed counter-argument using the voices of non-radical Muslims.   Whether or not moderate or radical Islam is actually closer to the intent of the founder is a secondary or even tertiary concern; the main object is to diminish the radicals’ potential manpower and recruiting pool.

Oddly enough, as the years have gone by my estimation of the Islamist threat has fallen, not risen.  This is not due solely to the fact that terrorist attacks in North America are far and few between, but also because oil reserves are dwindling, and the more I examine it, the more ridiculous Islamism as a political philosophy becomes.

To be blunt, violent Islamism is not the sort of thing anyone with half a brain and decent prospects would subscribe to.  Shackling the aspirations and potential of one-half your population is self-evidently a recipe for widespread human misery.  Retarding scientific and technical advances because they do not fit into 7th century cosmology is obvious self-imposed stagnation.  Arguing the merits of pluralist democracies versus blatantly unpalatable theocracies ought to be child’s play for a civilisation with Hollywood at its disposal.  That we have yet to do so says a lot more about the weakness of current Western philosophical thought than it does about the supposed strength of Islamism.

What little economic strength it has, it derives from “found wealth”—the happy accident of Saudi Arabia, longtime patron of evangelical Wahhabism, sitting astride a large concentration of the globe’s oil reserves.  If someone were to invent a portable garbage-powered Mr. Fusion reactor (a la 1985’s Back to the Future), the revenue stream of many Persian Gulf states would be irrevocably disrupted.

What’s more, political Islam is generally unpopular even in the places where it currently reigns, so I am not so worried that it will ever take hold here.  It is barely managing to hold on to the places it does have, and it manages that only through draconian laws, autocratic government and official suppression of most other religions.

What is far more troubling is that if we cannot rouse ourselves to tackle so weak and brittle an enemy, we will have no hope at all of tackling larger, fiercer pathologies which actually enjoy considerable popularity both at home and abroad.

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Winston Churchill addresses Canadian Parliament, Dec. 30, 1941

(click on image to see British Pathé newsreel)

“The contribution of Canada to the Imperial war effort in troops, in ships, in aircraft, in food, and in finance has been magnificent…

Hitler and his Nazi gang have sown the wind: let them reap the whirlwind…

When I warned them (the French) that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, ‘In three weeks England would have her neck wrung like a chicken.’ Some chicken! Some neck.”

— Churchill, Winston S. Address to the Parliament of Canada, 30 December 1941.

CBC Digital Archives has a larger excerpt of the speech.

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The Death of Enlightenment

Kamal Al-Solaylee and family. (Globe & Mail / Kamal Al-Solaylee)

In Saturday’s Globe & Mail, Kamal Al-Solaylee weaves a doleful tale of his family’s regression from wealth and progressive enlightenment to soul-destroying darkness in the span of a single generation.  Mr. Al-Solayee’s young sisters once took joy in perusing Alexandria’s stores for bikinis, Beatles albums and other trappings of Western pop-culture; today their existence is markedly different.

The photo captures a moment of bourgeois life in the Middle East, before the region became associated in the Western collective psyche with exporting terror or the subjugation of women. It’s an image of a large and admittedly privileged family, led by enlightened, secular parents from southern Yemen.

…Yemen’s new notoriety doesn’t surprise me; what does is how all the warning signs went unnoticed for so long. I saw it in my own flesh and blood: An open-minded family defined by its love of arts and culture embraced hard-line interpretations of Islam and turned its back on social progress and intellectual freedom.

…I paid a visit to my family in the spring of 1992, my first in almost six years, and was shocked to see how just a few years changed us both so dramatically. There was a defeatist quality to their lives, while mine had hopes of a better future. My sisters seemed especially dispirited. Four of them worked for a living, but although their jobs gave them some economic independence, their lives remained limited. Beyond their commute to work, they rarely ventured anywhere other than grocery or clothing stores.

Returning again in the summer of 2001 – my first visit since I had moved to Canada in 1996 – I encountered a family that was a lot closer to the stereotype of regressive Muslim culture than I had ever known.

The veils were in full view. Everybody prayed five times a day. My brothers were unapologetically sexist in their dealings with their wives. Was this the same family that once took turns reading the great works of literature and subscribed to four newspapers daily, three in Arabic and one in English?

One of my brothers was actually suggesting that his eldest daughter need not go to university because education wouldn’t help her much as a housewife…

— Al-Solaylee, Kamal.  “From bikinis to burkas.” Globe & Mail, 9 January 2010. [Emphasis mine.]

Although Yemen has long been on a slow slide to anarchy, one of the many turning points Mr. Al-Solaylee highlights is the 1991 Gulf War.  In that conflict, the Republic of Yemen publicly supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia expelled hundreds of thousands of migrant Yemeni workers in retaliation.  The country was thus flooded with unemployed men who had been thoroughly immersed in the Saudis’ corrosive brand of austere, reactionary Islam.  And from there, the Republic of Yemen’s downward deck-angle accelerated.

Left and right sides of the political spectrum tend to disagree over whether it is poverty of opportunity or toxic ideology which is at the root of the issue; what Mr. Al-Solaylee’s story shows us is that the ideology can afflict the wealthy and comfortable just as easily.

The world has since realised that widespread hopelessness mixed with nihilist ideology can create a very toxic and potent brew; something of the same cocktail was effective in October of 1917, October of 1922, and March of 1933.  But while the West is at great pains to revitalise the economies and civil infrastructure of lands like Iraq and Afghanistan, the ideology has by and large gone unchecked.  In March of 2009, Afghanistan’s President Karzai still signed into law the repressive Shia Personal Status statute, which permits spousal rape and child marriage.  And the world’s foremost exporter of Wahhabi intolerance—Saudi Arabia—is still at it, with foreign workers comprising two-thirds of its total workforce and a staggering 95 percent of labour in the private sector.  It would seem that attacking poverty and hopelessness, while admirable, is not the sole (or even primary) solution.

If the world is to have any victory over Islamists, it will have to start tackling the central tenets of the ideology head-on.  To have fought the effects of Fascism or Communism for decades, without also exposing the cruel, humanity-denying theories at their cores would be nonsensical.  So it is with the war on Islamic radicalism.

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Deeyah on freedom for Muslim women

Norwegian singer Deeyah laments the fact that mild displays of female sexuality are more outrageous than women being beaten and killed for bringing perceived shame upon their kin.

See also the interviewer’s condescending brush-off of her point (at 2:23) in favour of a discussion of Deeyah’s vocal training—”But the really important thing about you, yeah, despite the image and everything else, is that you can actually sing…”

RELATED: Deeyah discusses the purpose of some of the imagery in her videos, and the underlying point that whether one wears a burqa or bikini, that should be a choice freely made, with the physical integrity of the wearer respected.

Also see the Flea‘s discussion (circa 2006) of the controversy engendered by Deeyah’s video for What Will It Be.

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Count the cost

Master Corporal Serge St-Aubin (front) and Corporal Adam Valiquette (rear) are greeted by local Afghan children as they patrol through the village of Teymurian. (CF Combat Camera / Master Corporal Matthew McGregor, Image Tech, JTFK Afghanistan, Roto 8)

The Globe & Mail‘s Douglas Bland asks Canadians to consider all of the implications of withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2011:

Canada-U.S. relations: The maintenance of co-operative relations with the United States is Canada’s vital national interest. What are the likely security, defence and economic impacts of withdrawal in 2011?

Canada-NATO relations: Would a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan negatively effect Canada’s diplomatic and economic relations with the Atlantic alliance and the European Community generally?

The Taliban and other foes: Will a Canadian withdrawal embolden Taliban leaders and weaken the Afghan government, endangering subsequent humanitarian effort in the country?

The Canadian Forces: No one knows how much the Afghan mission will eventually cost Canada. But government officials do know that staying will cost many more billions, eating into budgets for other policies. Leaving will save something. Is the government actually willing to sacrifice the Afghan commitment (and its defence policy aimed at rebuilding the Canadian Forces) in order to reduce the deficit?

Canada and the UN: Will withdrawal from the UN mission in Afghanistan risk forfeiting our credibility as a leader of the “Responsibility to Protect” concept?

Canada’s place at the table: When Afghans eventually (and inevitably) decide to negotiate an accommodation among their country’s many factions, does Canada expect to have influence if we have abandoned the country?

— Bland, Douglas.  “Afghanistan: After 2011, then what?Globe & Mail, 7 January 2009.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the citizens of a nation generally do not have a realistic idea of how their nation is viewed by foreign policymakers.  One of the most interesting things revealed in General Rick Hillier’s recent book is that our long service in the Balkans under the UN flag inadvertently undermined NATO’s perception of our fighting worth.

Contrary to the popular perception at home—where we were seen as comforting the afflicted, boldly doing what others would not do, garnering respect around the world—allied political and military brass saw a Canadian Forces that was sclerotic, ill-equipped and micromanaged by Ottawa to the point where it could not be usefully employed in a fluid tactical environment.  When UN forces in-theatre needed troops to put into action on short notice, Canada rarely got the call.  NATO commanders in the Balkans (Hillier included) avoided tasking CF units because they knew that Ottawa’s approval would take weeks to obtain, when the fight would be over within days or even hours.  When we did get the requisite approvals in time and went into combat, our logistics train could not keep us supplied and armed, and we had to beg, borrow and steal from better-supplied UN outfits.  As we strove to make a difference in the world and increase Canada’s prestige and influence, and despite the ultimate sacrifice of dozens of good Canadians, we accomplished the opposite.  Not because UN missions are inherently unworthy, but because our allies got to see firsthand how our combat potential was paralysed by bureaucracy and lack of political will back home.  The Canadian public did not realise this (because the message traffic had obviously remained internal to DND and PMO), but Canada’s reputation at the policymaker level suffered; our allies saw that we meant well, but could not be counted on to deliver.

This had consequences for Canada in Afghanistan, too.  Some NATO allies (Britain is the only one I can remember offhand) were initially quite determined to keep Canadian forces out of the Afghan mission, because the perception was that we would once again field an ill-equipped contingent that would be hamstrung from taking part in operations by tortoise-like micromanagement from Ottawa.  This perception has been reversed due in part to the sacrifices of our men and women, naturally; but also due to hardworking CF brass like Generals Hillier and Natynczyk, and the willingness of our political leadership—and here I include Paul Martin, Bill Graham, Stephen Harper, Gordon O’Connor and Peter MacKay—to attack the bureaucratic sclerosis and allow our Canadian Forces to be more flexible and agile.

Whether one supports continued action in Afghanistan or not, the reality is that this fight has increased Canada’s visibility, influence and prestige at the top-tier political level; which is, on balance, a good thing.  Stronger influence helps a nation pursue its national interest and get results.  Withdrawing before the Afghan government is independently viable risks summoning the recently-dispelled impression that once again, Canada means well but can’t be counted on to deliver.  This would not be a positive development for our nation, and Canadians should be under no illusions about how such a move will be viewed by allied governments.

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The battle will go on for the rest of our lives

Christopher Hitchens engages in a rambling and somewhat self-indulgent rant about “security theatre”, but manages to get the lead out in the closing paragraph.

What nobody in authority thinks us grown-up enough to be told is this: We had better get used to being the civilians who are under a relentless and planned assault from the pledged supporters of a wicked theocratic ideology. These people will kill themselves to attack hotels, weddings, buses, subways, cinemas, and trains. They consider Jews, Christians, Hindus, women, homosexuals, and dissident Muslims (to give only the main instances) to be divinely mandated slaughter victims. Our civil aviation is only the most psychologically frightening symbol of a plethora of potential targets. The future murderers will generally not be from refugee camps or slums (though they are being indoctrinated every day in our prisons); they will frequently be from educated backgrounds, and they will often not be from overseas at all. They are already in our suburbs and even in our military. We can expect to take casualties. The battle will go on for the rest of our lives. Those who plan our destruction know what they want, and they are prepared to kill and die for it. Those who don’t get the point prefer to whine about “endless war,” accidentally speaking the truth about something of which the attempted Christmas bombing over Michigan was only a foretaste. While we fumble with bureaucracy and euphemism, they are flying high.

— Hitchens, Christopher.  “The truth about airplane security measures.” Slate, 28 December 2009. [Emphasis is mine.]

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Imagine a religion that imposes laws always beneficial to men but hazardous to women

Giulio Rosati (1858-1917). Inspection of the New Arrivals. Oil on canvas

Mr. Ahmet Riza, Minister of Education for the ailing Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, diagnoses the problems of the ummah.  Keep in mind that this was written thirty to forty years before the ideology we would call Qutbism came into being.  Also be warned that there are casually derogatory remarks about Jews.

“Though many famous scholars emerged among the Arabs in the fields of geometry, algebra, astronomy, geography, and medical sciences during the times of Prophet Muhammad and of his successors, a thousand years later the ummah of Muhammad have descended so low as to request a shopping tally of three and a half gurush from the clerk of grocer Georgos. This is due to the fact that the Prophet’s words have been so misconstrued by our God damn ignorant imams and softas as to claim that when the Prophet used the term science he referred only to readings from the Quran… It is for such reasons that nobody read the works of the Western scholars…  These cowardly scoundrels effected the annihilation and wretchedness of a great ummah! … Today the Muslims have declined to the level of Jews. If you ask my own opinion: From the viewpoints of education and knowledge they are certainly at a level lower than the Jews. The ummah is dissolved, weakened, and from this point it will never recover and regain vitality. The believers in the heaven which has houris, cold sherbets, and rivers are decreasing.

Were I a woman, I would embrace atheism and never become a Muslim. Imagine a religion that imposes laws always beneficial to men but hazardous to women such as permitting my husband to have three additional wives and as many concubines as he wishes, houris awaiting him in heaven, while I cover my head and face as a miller’s horse. Beside these I would not be allowed to divorce a husband who prevented me from having any kind of fun, but would be required to submit to his beatings. Keep this religion far away from me.”

— Ahmet Riza, as quoted in a letter to his sister, Fahire.  Hanioglu, M. Sukru.  “The Political Ideas of the Young Turks.” The Young Turks in Opposition.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.  p200-212. [Emphasis is mine.]

If the minister were a woman, however, he may have been butchered by his own family for the public disgrace of renouncing Islam for atheism.  A small hurdle some of today’s Muslim women may also face.

A hundred years later, not much has changed.  Islam is still temperamentally inclined to reject any research and science that might be at odds with the Quran, and Muslim women are still de facto and de jure lesser entities under sharia law.  Perhaps most sadly, the decisionmakers of our time are even less willing to confront these engines of human misery and call them by their true name.

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