Friday, June 09, 2006

Mad Dogs, Root Causes, Englishmen, and Fish

Michael Byers is a very smart guy. He’s been generous with me, too, having helped me sort out some of my own questions about international law and “war law,” which is his field of expertise. Michael makes some very good points today about why Canadians should keep their heads, in the aftermath of last weekend’s arrests of 17 Muslims on terrorism-related charges.

I am a little bit troubled by the suggestion that part of the work of keeping our heads, as Byers sensibly advises, is the business of getting at the "root causes" he associates with the alleged plotters. If there is any truth at all to the allegations that they planned to chop off the prime minister's head and blow up the CN Tower, isn't it a bit of a stretch to assume there are any legitimate root causes here, or any legitimate grievances involved at all?

But there are a couple of points Byers makes that I find myself not just objecting to, but recoiling from. I expect it’s mainly because of my Irish-Catholic immigrant background, which is probably what also allows me to not recoil from, but rather feel a deep sense of affinity with, the points Asma Arshad Mahmood makes about the same dilemma that Byers addresses.

Says Mahmood: "I am a very devout Muslim, an extremely old-fashioned Muslim in many ways, (but) I do not believe that the clergy has any right to represent Canadian Muslims in any way," Mahmood said. The primary role of an imam is to conduct prayers and educate people about faith, not to dabble in international politics, she added.

The reason I can so readily relate to what Mahmood says is that it's more or less the Muslim version of my own view of the Catholic clergy, which is that they should visit the sick, bury the dead, administer the sacraments, and shut their yaps.

The thing that bothers me in Byers' article, owing to being a Mick, is this: The IRA taught the British an all-important lesson: If you're fighting to defend your way of life, you mustn't give up your way of life. And this, in aid of the assertion that despite the Irish Republican Army's bombing campaign in England, the British kept their heads: Yes, people were concerned. But they went to work the next day, their rights were not compromised, and people of Irish ancestry and adherents of Catholicism were not collectively blamed.

I'm not so sure one can say that the British, in response to the Irish Republican Army's bombing campaign, were defending their way of life. The Irish Republican Army, for all its failings, was most certainly not at war with the British way of life. And Catholics, specifically Irish Catholics, while never failing to find friends and allies among the English people, suffered terribly from "backlash." Their rights were compromised. The Irish in Ulster, while considered British subjects, were often subjected to the most outrageous treatment. They were imprisoned without trial, and were routinely subjected to torture.

Secondly, for whatever one might say about the ill-advised, barbaric and indeed sometimes "terrorist" aspects of the IRA campaign, it was in aid of a negotiable and finishable agenda, with a clear objective that was broadly supported by democrats and progressives around the world - and in England itself, incidentally. The objective was easily articulated, and was understandable in rational, democratic terms, and it remains the objective of Sinn Fein, which is represented in the British House of Commons: the reunification of the six counties of Northern Ireland with the 26-county Irish Republic.

Another key point is that the IRA, even during its most bloodthirsty periods, always enjoyed fairly significant support from the community on whose behalf it claimed to be fighting.

Clearly and obviously, there is absolutely no evidence that Canada's Muslims support anything vaguely like the ugly terrorist fantasies that have been attributed to the 17 Ontarians arrested last weekend. Indeed, whenever a Canadian Muslim is presented with the opportunity of a microphone and an audience these days, the message is pretty consistent: We're not a bunch of jihadists; and we need your help.

As for the "root causes" of alienation among Muslim youth, wouldn't at least one of those causes be the dunning and incessant lie, so fashionable among the pseudo-left, that the Canadian government is whipping up Islamophobic hysteria while engaging in an illegal and imperialist war of occupation in Afghanistan? If I was a Muslim kid and I allowed myself to believe that, I'd be alienated, too.

Meanwhile, Georgie Monbiot draws a bit of tortured comparison between Iraq and pre-independence Ireland here. This bit is both untrue and nutty: The other side - whether it concerns Ireland, India, Kenya or Malaya - is always inadmissable. The torture and killing of the colonised is ignored or excused, while their violent responses to occupation are never forgotten.

It's nutty because it's such a sweeping generalization. It's untrue because of the overwhelming evidence against it, especially in the case of Ireland (the English have probably done more to recount the story of Britsh atrocity in Ireland than the Irish have). But this, even though it's in aid of a convoluted comparison, redeems the piece: Occupations brutalise both the occupiers and the occupied.

Moving along with convoluted comparisions involving race and ethnicity and stuff, here's my favourite of the week:

If this had been a fishery where, say, only Canadians of English descent were allowed to fish commercially and all other Canadians had to be tied to the dock, this program would have been struck down in a second.

That' s Phil "Race Card" Eidsvik, in response to a unanimous decision by five judges of the British Columbia Court of Appeal that puts to rest the notion that race has anything to do with the fisheries undertaken by the Musqueam, Tsawassen and Burrard peoples.

Those fisheries are not "race-based fisheries." Period.

Eidsvik isn't giving up, though. He expects to take his silly arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada, because: It's pretty darn common sense that when one race can go to work on another day and another race can't - this is discriminatory treatment.

My old pal, Ernie Crey, whose Sto:lo people fish upriver from the Musqueams, sent me this note yesterday, in response: Terry: Don't go to work tomorrow because it's a Sto:lo only workday at your desk.


Here's the upshot of the judges' decision:

The people of Canada, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, are obliged to and are certainly entitled to issue communal fishing licences to certain aboriginal communities in order to allow them to conduct their fisheries in a lawful, orderly way. If we feel like it, we can also draw up the licences in such a way that fishermen in those communities can sell their fish if they feel like it.

Certain belligerents in the commerical fishing industry who don't like this can't stop us from doing this. And the fact that aboriginal fishing communities might be said to come from a "particular race" has nothing to do with anything. These folks could be pink, purple, orange or spotted or striped for all we care. It's irrelevant. They are Canadians. Their ancient communities also happen to be vested with constitutionally-protected fishing rights, arising from their customs, traditions, and practices. It's the old English common law way of figuring out what "rights" are.

If Canadians would like to be able to buy some of the fish caught in those aboriginal fisheries, then Canadans can see to it that the aboriginal communal licences allow the sale of fish. That is the way things are done in a democracy governed by the rule of law.

With the tiniest bit of luck, one effect of this ruling will be to dissuade eejit reporters and editors from allowing the inflammatory and mischievous and inaccurate term "race-based fishery" to show up in headlines and news copy about aboriginal fisheries.

It's a fiction. And an ugly one. It should stop.

Stopping ugly and hateful speech isn't easily done by law, though.

I'm thinking of this guy.

I'm also thinking of this kind of thing, which alleges that the "Stop Genocide in Darfur" campaign is really a Zionist plot, aided by Yankee evangelicals. And is really all about oil.


Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

Terry said:As for the "root causes" of alienation among Muslim youth, wouldn't at least one of those causes be the dunning and incessant lie, so fashionable among the pseudo-left, that the Canadian government is whipping up Islamophobic hysteria while engaging in an illegal and imperialist war of occupation in Afghanistan?
Dirk replies...come on,yes I know there are those that claim this.but it is not all based on nonsence.what about the west and their numerous interventions in the Muslim world,what about the west and the US in particular overthrowing or having a hand in,the thwarting of many of the democratic expressions of peoples in the Middle East,and their(the wests)habit of always backing right wing dicators etc against the democratic wish of the Muslim people.
Might this be a factor???
its not the mumblings of a few idiots on the so called "left" with little or no influence that matters.Yes the west does bear some responsability for some of the alianation in the Muslim world and the Third world in general.

8:05 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...


What do you mean by "the West and their numerous interventions in the Muslim world"? What wrong should be laid at the feet of any of us in Canada, Muslim and otherwise, that would require us to "bear some responsibility for the alienation of the Muslim world"? I hope you're not going to blame Torontonians for the Crusades. . .

"The mumblings of a few idiots" who have little influence on public opinion are always among the "root causes" behind acts of terrorism and terrorist ambitions.

It's all I'm saying, lad.



10:35 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

Mostly I was talking about the Muslim world in general.A case can be made,that many in the Muslim world do have legitimate reasons for being suspicious and or hostile to the US and western policies in the Middle East.
We have done a piss poor job in alievating these concerns .If one(in the west) were to depend on the TV for most of their info (as many do),their understanding would be skwed and one sided.This also applies equally to much of the info those in the M.east are exposed to concerning the west.
Both sides need to understand the other.This is not helped by the poor excuse that passes for much of the media here in the west.
But you are right there can be no excuse for any of the behaviour of the Toronto 17.No innocent person deserves to die for the crimes or precieved crimes of their government.
This is true for all sides.But the fact is its the Muslim world that was attacked and invaded,it is the innocent Muslim that are the majority of the victims(tens of thousands).
I just fail to understand how anything good can come out of war.We must support and help those everywhere that are struggling for basic humanrights.There can be no double standrad on our side.
We all know the US involvment in Iraq and Afganistan were not based out of concern for the ordinary people or their democratic aspirations.
This Talk about democracy after the fact,is for public consumption period.
If Canada was in Afganistan on behest of the UN(to provide security),which had a plan,a kind of Marshall plan to rebuild the country I could support it.But this is not the case,and i fear will never be tha case.
I can not help but think its half hearted and ill concieved.
It is the ordinary people of Iraq that are suffering and will continue to suffer,as long as this is so there will be those that might lash out motivated by what ever logic.War and invasion ar dead-ends,the anti-thesis of democracy and good.

12:07 AM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

Excellent post, Terry.

10:28 AM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

A superb post, Terry. Re root cause and grievances - have you had a chance to see/hear that spoof:

As they say, every joke is...

11:22 PM  
Blogger mbari hogun said...

Terry, not to be difficult, but the IRA's stated goal was not the re-unification of the north with the 26 counties. The IRA's ultimate aim was to realize the republic proclaimed in 1916, and in the process to destroy the northern statelet and the (in their view) illegitmate Republic of Ireland. For around a decade the new state was to be a "federal democratic socialist republic," however in the early 80s federalism was dropped.

7:56 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...


Strictly speaking, you're right. But you can't say "the IRA's stated goal was not the re-unification of the north with the 26 counties". That was precisely the IRA's stated goal. You're right to say that militarily, the goal was the 1916 Republic, and politically it was a "workers" republic. But I might have also pointed out that the Constitution of the Republic (Eire, the 1948 Republic, a UN member in good standing) described a 32-country republic. And the IRA's goals were always negotiable. You could lose count of the number of ceasefires and secret and not-so-secret negotiations between the IRA and the British and the Eire government.

Terrorism is always wrong, and while IRA terrorism was every bit as wrong and Islamist terrorism, it was different to the extent that the IRA's aims could be accomodated and its demands supported in a democratic, progressive, constitutional context. It's in this way that the "root causes" of terrorism in the IRA case (if by root causes we mean political grievances, aims and objectives) are not comparable to the root causes of Islamist terrorism.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

Terry said:It's in this way that the "root causes" of terrorism in the IRA case (if by root causes we mean political grievances, aims and objectives) are not comparable to the root causes of Islamist terrorism.
..not to defend or apologies for the so called Islamist terrorist.But what ever their twisted view this phenomena is based on real or precieved actions committed by the "West" in the Muslim world.They are exploiting a situation in these countries that many of it's citizens feel are intolerable e.g lack of political expression,freedom of expression.
In short the peoples angry at injustice has been hijacked by the Islamist.This was long in coming and did not happen over night.Matters were not helped by the "west"supporting(indeed overthrowing elected govt,Iran 54)dictators etc over the democratic aspirations of the ordinary people.

1:44 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

Dirk: Agreed. No need to convince me of the wretched and ugly and stupid policies the U.S. has historically adopted in "the Muslim world." No need to convince the Americans of that nowadays, either. Even Condi Rice says she's convinced.

How any of that should factor into "root causes" animating a barely-detectable but clearly very dangerous minority among Canada's Muslims is another matter. Citing Canada's engagement in Afghanistan certainly doesn't cut it, either. The vast majority of Afghan-Canadians (the vast majority of whom are Muslims, by the way) appear to wholeheartedly support the intervention that began under the previous Liberal government. I've never met or talked to an Afghan-Canadian who isn't supportive of the NATO-ISAF mission. And as I've pointed out here before, all the evidence suggests that the vast majority of people in Afghanistan are similarly supportive of both the NATO-ISAF mission and (believe it or not) Enduring Freedom.

Here's a thought: Maybe the "root cause" underlying anybody's desire to set off huge Oklahoma-scale massacres in downtown Toronto is a barbaric, fascist pathology that no amount of "understanding" will rectify.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

Its not so much I am looking for root causes so as to somehow blame the "west" for the rise of such groups as the Toronto 17.
But our policies must take into account the"wests" past actions in the Middle East as a way of understanding why so many people in these countries distust or are hostile to the "west".And then adjust our policies and actions accordingly.
By using the same language and simplistic notions (e.g evil/good), as those imployed by the terrorsts,we are not helping our cause.
Perhaps the govt should just listen to the people in these areas rather than all the so called experts.The situation in Afganistan is complicated,more boots on the ground is not the answer,whats need is all the other "unsexy",mundane stuff,development,jobs,hope that the future will get better.Its easy to send troops and think you are helping,but it calls for real imgination and commitment to deal with the underlying causes of so much of the misery in Afganistan.
A -Marshall type plan- is need,with security and troops,but one small part of the plan.
I can help but think that as soon as the cost in the lives of our troops get to high(8 dead to-date)we will pullout,having acomplished nothing.What will the deaths and saddness in so many Cnd families have meant then....

2:47 PM  
Blogger Budd Campbell said...

"Phil "Race Card" Eidsvik in response to a unanimous decision by five judges of the British Columbia Court of Appeal that puts to rest the notion that race has anything to do with the fisheries undertaken by the Musqueam, Tsawassen and Burrard peoples.

Those fisheries are not "race-based fisheries." Period.
Stopping ugly and hateful speech isn't easily done by law, though."

Terry, since everyone knows you're a Liberal in good standing, it's no surprise that you have no time for Tory Eidsvik. However, I think that in a moment of candour you would have to admit that the Native fishery is, if not exactly a racially defined program, certainly one that comes awfully close to that in the eyes of most people.

The distinctions are there, historic entitlements passed down through inheritance, membership in Indian bands acquired by non-Indians through marriages, and so on. But it is a fine distinction.

You may recall that when the Nisga'a Treaty was signed your friends in the provincial Liberal Party, Geoff Plant and Gordon Campbell, wasted no time in denouncing "race-based" privileges. That would be the same Gordon Campbell you have recently endorsed as part of your editorial push on behalf of federal Liberal candidates in this past winter's election, calling on all Aboriginals to abandon the NDP in favour of all unified [i.e. Liberal] anti-Conservative front.

I am curious about the last of your paragraphs that I quoted, the one about difficulties in lawfully silencing Eidsvik. Are you saying you feel contrained by law in some uncomfortable way every time you lay eyes on Eidsvik?

8:41 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...


You're Erik Poole, "NDP member since 1968," so let's get that much straight, first, and then let's get these things straight: I'm not a Liberal in good standing or in bad standing. I have no friends in the provincial Liberal Party that I'm aware of. I have never endorsed a provincial Liberal. I made no "push" on behalf of federal Liberal candidates in the last election.

I was more or less with Buzz Hargrove, true. But then I'm always more or less with Buzz.

I'm not sure what "fine distinctions" can be drawn between the law and the reactionary and vulgar and bigoted conception of "race based" fisheries. They're not fine distinctions. They are huge differences.

And I don't know what your question is about, either.

Gotta run.

11:00 AM  
Blogger mbari hogun said...

Again, being a pedant here, but the founders of the Provisional IRA-- people like O'Bradaigh and MacStiofan-- thought the 26 county state was a collaborationist entity. Hence why O'Bradaigh's current organization, RSF, still refuses to recognize anything but the 32-county republic proclaimed in 1916 and realized a few years later.

I accept your point that, in general, the PIRA's end goals have been more-or-less negotiable. Considering that the Provos emerged from the less pragmatic half of a Marxist-traditionalist split in the IRA, I'd attribute most of the PIRA's flexibility to individuals like Gerry Adams and his allies. Because if you look at the beliefs of the Provos, as outlined in the Green Book and elsewhere, they were very, very inflexible.

In my opinion, the primary difference between the Provisionals and the Islamists is their willingness to kill innocents and the validity of their aims. I more-or-less agree with the stated Provo aim of a socialist republic, whereas I would never want to live in an state governed by the interpreters of Allah's will.

12:44 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...


well, i gotta say, you know your stuff. i appreciate your insights here. thanks.

last time i poked into this was here:

hope the link doesn't disappear off the page. . .



11:00 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

That URL, which did scroll off the page, can be found here.

Terry, if you want to hotlink, just do it like this:

<a href="http://url_goes_here">link text</a>

Failing that, posting the TinyURL would guarantee that it would fit on the page.

4:58 PM  

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