By Michael Petrou - Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 0 Comments
After seven months in jail, one member of Pussy Riot is still eager to court controversy
Yekaterina Samutsevich is a member of arguably the most famous musical ensemble ever to come out of Russia, but when not wearing a fluorescent balaclava and shouting, she’s easy to miss in a crowd.
Samutsevich is short and walks quickly, leaning forward with a hunched and self-effacing shrug in her shoulders. She wears a faded sweatshirt over an equally faded T-shirt and has her hair cut in the long-banged style that a teenaged skateboarder might have worn two decades ago. She seems a lot younger than her 30 years.
Her band, Pussy Riot, gained worldwide notoriety—and in Russia, a great deal of infamy—when its members stormed Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour to stage a “punk prayer” protest song to show their opposition to Vladimir Putin and the increasingly close ties between the Russian president and the country’s Orthodox Church, which she says is an anti-feminist institution.
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 10:29 AM - 0 Comments
The Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran, an effort by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs to provide a platform for Iranians to discuss and debate the country’s future, mostly through Internet social media, has received more than 149,000 distinct visitors from inside Iran, according to a Foreign Affairs source.
I wrote about it in a little more detail here.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, May 10, 2013 at 9:16 PM - 0 Comments
Canada severed diplomatic relations with Iran last September, cutting off contact between the Iranian and Canadian governments. Simultaneously, however, a team at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has been working to engage directly with Iranian citizens.
It’s a difficult challenge. DFAIT is banking on the populist potential of the Internet and online social media.
To this end, DFAIT and University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs are, today and tomorrow, hosting a conference, or a “Global Dialogue” on the future of Iran. The physical conference is taking place at U of T and involves speakers from the Iranian diaspora.
The deeper goal, however, is to converse with Iranians inside Iran using a variety of social media. Iranians not at the conference can submit questions through Google Moderator and other tools. Some already have. The conference is also being live-streamed online, and has accounts on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
I’m guilty, perhaps, of seeing too much of today’s conflicts through the lens of the Spanish Civil War. I spent years of my life immersed in studying and writing about it, and it shaped the way I think.
And yet the lessons from that tragedy continue to reverberate, even if they are largely ignored. The primary one is that fascism cannot be appeased. Few openly dispute that today, given the near-universal acceptance that the Second World War was a good and necessary war, and that we waited too long to confront the fascism behind it.
Instead, we pretend fascism isn’t there, to justify not fighting against it. We sneer at those who use the term to describe the Khomeinists in Iran — although that state’s demand for subservient conformity, its murderous suppression of dissent, and the oppression it visits on its Baha’i religious minority doesn’t leave room for a lot of other equally accurate adjectives.
We ignore the Taliban’s bloodlust, their ethnic and religious supremacism, and we say they are in fact Pashtun nationalists, or conservative Muslims, or anti-imperialists, or something else we cannot understand because we are Western and they are not and it’s arrogant for us to even try. And so we abandon their victims and congratulate ourselves on not making the same mistakes as George W. Bush. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
The horror of Boston is familiar to many in Chechnya—but that doesn’t mean the region was involved
Rustam Tabayev’s youth in Chechnya was tragic, but not that unusual.
His family’s apartment in Grozny was destroyed by Russian bombs during the first Chechen war of 1994 to 1996. Soldiers ransacked his brother’s library, leaving books scattered up and down their street. They fled to Baku, Azerbaijan. “We lost everything,” he says.
His father was a doctor in the Russian army, serving elsewhere. This was enough to brand the family as traitors in the eyes of some Chechen rebels. Threats reached them even in Baku. Meanwhile, two of Tabayev’s cousins enlisted in militias fighting the Russians. “You’re sitting at home and someone’s bombing you. It’s a common reaction of all men to want to do something,” says Tabayev.
One cousin joined a group of nationalist fighters. Another joined Ibn al-Khattab, a foreign Arab and radical Islamist who had fought in Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden.
That cousin had never been religious before, says Tabayev, but Islamist recruiters were everywhere and he was convinced by their message. His family tried to talk him out of it, to no avail. “They’re like zombies,” says Tabayev, speaking of young men who joined the Islamist rebels. “They don’t want to hear anything.” Both cousins disappeared and are presumed dead.
Tabayev eventually moved to Moscow with his sister, went to university and has a successful career. Now 31, he wears a fashionable suit and designer stubble. His family’s apartment in Grozny has been rebuilt with government funds. He visits often. It’s mostly calm there, and his life in Moscow, where he also heads an organization of Chechen youth, is good. But he remembers less happy times in the Russian capital, and those memories returned with news that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the two brothers suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon, are ethnic Chechens.
“I knew that, all over the world, the idea would go that all Chechens are terrorists. I know what this is like, because I know what it was like in Russia,” he says, recalling his early years in Moscow, when police frequently stopped and searched him and he struggled to find work.
Chechen Islamists have been linked to numerous terrorist attacks against Russia, and have fought in Afghanistan. But they have not previously targeted America. And there is little to suggest the Tsarnaev brothers were radicalized in Chechnya. Both boys spent much of their youth in Kyrgyzstan, where many Chechens still live, some 70 years after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin deported them there during the Second World War. The family then briefly moved to Dagestan, a Russian republic in the North Caucasus bordering Chechnya. The boys’ mother is not Chechen, but Avar, the predominant ethnic group of Dagestan. Tamerlan’s online footprints suggest he felt close emotional ties to Chechnya—where it seems he had never lived. A skilled amateur boxer, Tamerlan told a photographer in 2009 that unless Chechnya became an independent state, he would like to compete for the United States rather than Russia. Chechnya is now run as a de-facto fiefdom by Ramzan Kadyrov, a pitiless strongman whose loyalty to Moscow ensures an unending flow of Kremlin money, which he uses to pay for perks such as flying in Hollywood celebrities to help him celebrate his birthday. Kadyrov has effectively suppressed the Islamist rebellion on his territory.
“His terrorists are on the run, hiding somewhere in the mountains. They have very poor communications with the outside world and do not have the capacity to organize terrorist attacks, especially across the Atlantic,” says Maria Lipman, chairwoman of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s society and regions program.
There is speculation that Tamerlan might have been further radicalized, or even trained, on a trip to Russia for six months last year. If so, it likely happened in Dagestan, where his parents now live, rather than Chechnya.
According to Lipman, any attempts by Tamerlan to contact Muslim extremists there would probably have attracted the attention of Chechen authorities. “Him travelling around Chechnya meeting with radicals would not be likely, because of just how tough, how brutal the local leader is,” she says. Dagestan, however, is much less stable than Chechnya, and many Chechen Islamists who have been pushed out of Chechnya now live there. It is, says Lipman, a “cesspool of terrorism,” where civilians are frequently targeted in attacks that are rarely noticed in the West.
It’s conceivable that Tamerlan was radicalized in Dagestan, but at this stage, no one knows for certain. He spent his formative years in the United States, and the roots of his hatred might have grown in America, or on the borderless recruiting grounds of the Internet.
The Boston bombings brought to the U.S. horrors that are familiar to many Chechens. That doesn’t mean they originated there.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 10:42 AM - 0 Comments
No British politician today can escape the shadow Margaret Thatcher cast over the nation
Margaret Thatcher defined and shaped postwar Britain and the larger world. No politician in Britain today—whether they like it or not, whether they celebrate or resent it—can escape her shadow.
The “great man theory” of history, which stresses the impact of individuals in world events, has fallen out of favour since it was developed by the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle almost 200 years ago. The counter-argument holds that context is everything, that individuals are simply products of their societies.
And perhaps Britain in the 1970s, rocked by labour unrest and marinating in the palpable pessimism of faded empire, might have produced someone like Margaret Thatcher: defiant, confrontational, resolute, optimistic. But it’s hard to imagine anyone else making such a splash, with such persistent and far-reaching ripples.
By Bookmarked and Michael Petrou - Friday, April 12, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
“It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered,” U.S. president Harry S. Truman confided to his diary as he contemplated unleashing an atomic bomb against Japan in 1945, “but it can be made the most useful.”
It was the promise of making a useful, if undefined, contribution to the war effort that drew thousands of women to a newly created factory complex at Oak Ridge, Tenn. They were clerks, chemists, machine operators and cleaners. They came from all over America to live in trailers and prefabricated homes in a town that didn’t officially exist, and to work on a project none of them were allowed to understand. Their job, they learned after atomic bombs obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was to enrich the uranium that made these weapons so destructive.
This is a social rather than a scientific history. Its focus is on previously voiceless women who worked together at a time when Americans shared a common purpose but were still divided by race. Black employees lived segregated lives under poorer conditions than their white counterparts, without their children and apart from their spouses.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 2:04 PM - 0 Comments
Why Canada decided to ditch Israeli trauma kits during Baird’s 2011 visit
Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) hired a commercial supplier to provide emergency medical equipment to Libyan rebels fighting dictator Moammar Gadhafi, in part over concerns that some material that the Canadian military could have provided was made in Israel or marked with crosses that DFAIT feared resembled those worn by Crusaders.
In June 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird made an unexpected visit to Benghazi, then the headquarters of Libya’s National Transitional Council, which Canada had just recognized as the country’s legitimate representative. The visit coincided with the delivery of some 333 emergency trauma kits, which Baird described as “a gift from Canada to the Libyan people.” The kits were purchased through Relief Chain Solutions, a Gatineau, Que.-based supplier, at a cost of approximately $66,500. Shipping costs brought the total price for delivering the kits close to $83,000, according to DFAIT.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, April 8, 2013 at 10:35 AM - 0 Comments
Why cartoonists are proving to be a powerful force in one of the world’s most repressive regimes
There are many ways one can land in an Iranian prison. Marching to protest a stolen election is risky. Calling for the end of Iran’s ruling theocracy is dangerous. Nikahang Kowsar was jailed for drawing a cartoon of a crocodile.
The crocodile, and the pun name he gave it, led readers to believe Kowsar was mocking a prominent cleric. He was, but he had hoped the metaphorical nature of the drawing would protect him.
It did, partially. Kowsar received death threats and was arrested. But when interrogated in court by Saeed Mortazavi—a judge who would later gain infamy for his involvement in the imprisonment and murder of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi—Kowsar could plausibly claim that he had drawn a fictional character, not unlike the Pink Panther. He was released after six days.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, April 1, 2013 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Karzai’s new anti-U.S. stance is driven by a desire to leave office as a peacemaker, not a puppet
On a mild winter day 11 years ago, George W. Bush stood beside Hamid Karzai, then the Afghan interim leader, in the White House Rose Garden and declared America’s “enduring commitment to Afghanistan’s future.” He called Karzai a determined leader and said his government reflected the “hopes of all Afghans for a new and better future.”
Karzai, wearing a peaked cap and loose-ﬁtting green tunic, was equally effusive. Afghanistan, he said, was a good partner and would stay a good partner. “I’m sure that the future of the two countries will be good, and a wonderful relationship should be expected to come in the future.”
It is almost jarring to watch video footage of that news conference today. Weak sunlight on the green White House lawn adds to the sense of optimism and goodwill between Afghanistan and the United States that was present then but has unravelled since. Relations reached their lowest point this month, when Karzai suggested the United States and the Taliban were colluding to destabilize the country to prolong America’s presence there.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, March 22, 2013 at 10:41 AM - 0 Comments
This morning I sent Suzanne Legault, Canada’s information commissioner, the following letter. Updates will be posted here as warranted.
Dear Madam Legault:
I am writing to file a formal complaint about an access-to-information request I filed with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade on August 23, 2012. The file number is [...]
On September 25, 2012, DFAIT sent me a letter indicating that it would not be able to meet the statutory limit of 30 days and granted itself a 150-day extension. I was disappointed but took DFAIT at its word that his deadline would be met, which is why I didn’t file a formal complaint within sixty days of receiving the extension notice.
DFAIT, however, has not met its self-imposed deadline. [...] at DFAIT has informed me that a partial release was been mailed today. The balance of the disclosure is being held up by the Privy Council Office. Ms. [...] says she does not know when the PCO will release this material. Ms. [...] also informs me that the material the PCO is holding up consists of four pages. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Monday, March 18, 2013 at 4:00 AM - 0 Comments
The comandante’s chosen successor launches his campaign for the presidency
The early days of Venezuela’s election campaign have featured the use of a corpse as a political prop, the intensification of an already creepy personality cult, and the incumbent candidate, Nicolás Maduro, accusing opponent Henrique Capriles, whose platform emphasizes “social inclusion” and poverty reduction, of being a fascist.
It is not, in other words, a restrained and thoughtful campaign—and even that description is perhaps generous. Democratic campaigns at least attempt to be fair fights; this one does not.
On April 14, Capriles must beat not just Maduro, but also the ghost of recently deceased president Hugo Chávez, most media, the military and the country’s supposedly non-partisan institutions, which Chávez politicized and tried to transform into tools of his “Bolivarian Revolution.”
On his own, Maduro, a former foreign minister who was named interim president after Chávez died, is a beatable candidate. A bear of a man and long-time Chávez loyalist, he lacks his predecessor’s charisma. “That wouldn’t matter so much if the economy was growing,” says Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami. But it’s not. Chávez used subsidized oil exports to buy favour across Latin America and the Caribbean. He channelled revenue into social “missions” in poor neighbourhoods, instead of investing in maintenance and equipment to increase production. Infrastructure has decayed. Hospitals and schools are in rough shape. Violent crime is rampant.
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 3:32 PM - 0 Comments
Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar is in Vienna this week to attend a session of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
He is listed in a 26 July 2010 decision of the Council of the European Union as an individual members states should bar from entry because of his links to nuclear and ballistic missiles activities.
Austria is a member of the EU.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
A political assassination. A prime minister’s resignation. The country that was the cradle of the Arab Spring is shaking
Tunisia’s interim President Moncef Marzouki has called his country “an exceptional experimentation lab in the Arab world.”
The experiment is Tunisia’s efforts to transition from an authoritarian dictatorship to democracy. If Tunisia is exceptional, it is because many believe this is where the Arab Spring has the best shot at fully blooming.
Egypt is bigger and more important, Libya’s revolution was bloodier, and if Syrians succeed in unseating President Bashar al-Assad, they will have paid the highest price for their freedom. But Tunisia was first, the spark that set the rest of the region ablaze. And while the Jasmine Revolution had its martyrs, fewer died in Tunisia than elsewhere where dictators were overthrown. Its revolution was relatively peaceful and quick: less than a year after president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down in January 2011, elections for Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly were held.
This took place in a country that, while lacking political freedom, was socially progressive—by 1956, women had equal rights and abortion was legalized in 1973—comparatively wealthy and well educated. A 2009 World Economic Forum report ranked Tunisia 30th in the world for health and primary education, and seventh for the quality of its math and science teaching. Culturally, many middle-class Tunisians were open to Europe. They did business there and spoke French. They might not have lived in a pluralistic democracy, but they had a pretty good idea of how one worked.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 9:11 PM - 0 Comments
To say that Hugo Chavez divided Venezuelans doesn’t do justice to the extremes of emotion he provoked in his fellow citizens.
I once spent an evening with a wealthy woman in Caracas who made increasingly lurid and damning allegations about the president, culminating in an anecdote about a friend of a relative of a friend who supposedly knew Chavez and heard him express admiration for Hitler.
This was preposterous, but then so was much of the hagiography that surrounded Chavez when he lived, and that will surely get kicked up a notch now. Chavez was not a tyrant, but nor was he saint who sought to liberate Venezuela’s poor and unite the country behind revolutionary socialism. That Venezuela is so split now at the moment of his death is the natural result of his own polarizing politics.
Chavez was an autocratic populist who governed as if in the midst of a perpetual election campaign in which he was not constrained by normal democratic rules. For Chavez, Venezuelans could be divided between his supporters — chavistas — and opponents. Most chavistas were poor, and many benefited from his polices designed to help them. Chavez brought them subsidized food and more accessible healthcare. He built cable cars to connect residents of mountainside shantytowns to the centre of Caracas.
But to Chavez the poor were also — and perhaps primarily — supporters to be mobilized. So many of his social programs were politicized. The committees administering them were linked to Chavez’s party. Schoolchildren learned to sing his praise. In one particularly telling incident, Venezuelans who signed a petition asking for a presidential recall referendum found themselves excluded from public service jobs — whether they were poor and in need of employment or not.
The sad irony is that after 14 years with Chavez in power, Venezuelans are still poor. Wealth is now distributed more evenly, but there is less of it to go around. While the economies of neighbouring countries such as Brazil and Colombia have expanded during the past decade, Venezuela’s has stagnated. Chavez made economic decisions on the fly, sometimes announcing them during weekly unscripted televised addresses that also included the president singing and dancing.
He devalued the currency. He nationalized the oil industry and managed it poorly. He didn’t diversify the country’s economy. Some 50 per cent of government revenue comes from oil. If its prices hadn’t have soared so high during his presidency, Venezuela would be in even worse financial shape than it is now.
Hugo Chavez tried to raise Venezuela’s global profile by forging alliances with pretty much anyone opposed to the United States. His bonds with Fidel Castro’s Cuba at least made some ideological sense; those with the archconservative theocrats running Iran betray the amoral hypocrisy of his brand of socialism.
If Chavez can be justifiably praised, it is for empowering Venezuela’s vast underclass. They had been variously cheated, exploited, and ignored before he came to power. They cannot be ignored any longer. With luck, a more democratic, liberal, and economically competent president will eventually take Chavez’s place without forgetting that lesson.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 3:16 PM - 0 Comments
Foreign ministry vows ‘murderers’ of three-year-old Max Shatto will be punished
The emergency room death of an adopted Russian child in the U.S. has ignited a firestorm of nationalism, political posturing, and anti-American anger in Russia.
Three-year-old Max Shatto, who was adopted last year by a Texas family, died in January under circumstances U.S. officials are investigating, though no arrests have been made.
Russian officials are not withholding judgment. The country’s senior investigating authority says the “murderers of the Russian child” will be punished; a special representative for human rights at Russia’s foreign ministry calls it “another case of inhuman abuse of a Russian child by U.S. adoptive parents.”
Last year, Russia passed a law banning U.S. adoptions—ostensibly because of previous deaths of Russian children in the U.S. But the move followed the passage of U.S. legislation to prevent Russians suspected of human rights abuses from entering America. There are almost one million orphans in Russia, many of them with health and psychological problems that make them less likely to be adopted by Russian parents. Americans have adopted 60,000 Russian children in the past two decades—their best shot at a life, said one orphanage director.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:58 AM - 0 Comments
Canada’s Access to Information Act stipulates that a government institution should disclose information 30 days after a request is received.
It also allows government institutions to extend this time limit to a “reasonable” length of time, if searching through records would interfere with the work of the government department in question, or if “consultations” are necessary that cannot be completed within the original time limit.
The Act’s application is fairly narrowly defined. It does not apply to “confidences of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada,” and thereby shelters from scrutiny much pertaining to Cabinet and committees of Cabinet.
In practice, my experience is that requests are rarely completed within 30 days. Just what constitutes a “reasonable” extension is debatable. I’ve just received a disclosure from the Canada Border Services Agency for a request I made in 2010. I’ve similarly had to wait three years for a response from the Canadian International Development Agency. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 3:22 PM - 0 Comments
Barely a month ago, the arc of Israeli politics seemed pretty clear, if not all that promising. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party had teamed up with the even more right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, and the combined bloc was poised to dominate the election. Its probable coalition partners included Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, which wants to formally annex a chunk of the West Bank and is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel was lurching to the right, throwing away what might be its last chance at a workable peace with the Palestinians.
This was more or less how I read things at the time. I was hardly alone. And then elections in January proved us wrong. Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu did win a plurality of seats, and Jewish Home finished a strong — though weaker than expected — fourth. But the right did not surge overall. And the biggest advance was achieved by the centrist Yesh Atid party, whose leader, Yair Lapid, supports a two-state solution, even if it was not the focus of his platform.
I wrote after the elections, that their results were unlikely to herald much progress on negotiations with the Palestinians. The issue simply didn’t factor in the campaign. But the Israeli centre and left had shown itself to have life, forcing Netanyahu to say he would try to form a broad coalition, rather than seeking refuge among likeminded nationalists.
Now that coalition is beginning to take shape. Netanyahu has forged an alliance with the Hatnua party and its chair Tzipi Livni — a strong proponent of a negotiated peace built on two states. Livni will be justice minister, and is charged with leading negotiations on the Palestinian issue. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Friday, February 15, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
With 60,000 dead and 250 more dying each day, has the time come for foreign action?
Late last month, U.S. President Barack Obama stood before a shivering but enthusiastic crowd gathered on Washington’s National Mall to hear him lay out his vision for his final term in office. America was emerging from a dark period of struggle and conflict, he told them in his inauguration address. “A decade of war is ending.”
Had they lived long enough, this might have come as news to the 210 people who died in Syria that day—a fraction of the approximately 60,000 who have perished since an uprising began against dictator Bashar al-Assad almost two years ago.
The dead, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, included 15 children and at least 68 civilians—one of whom was tortured to death by the regime. The toll has continued apace. “Every single day has become a fixed price: 250 casualties,” says Hassan Hachimi, a Syrian-Canadian member of the Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella coalition of opposition groups.
Book review: The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
By Bookmarked and Michael Petrou - Friday, February 15, 2013 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Julian Fantino, Canada’s minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency, recently wondered why Haiti, with so many unemployed, is covered in garbage—despite all the aid money that has poured into the country since its devastating 2010 earthquake. He would probably learn a lot from this book.
Let’s start with the garbage. Even today, the drainage canals of Port-au-Prince are clogged with empty water bottles sent by international donors. Haitians never lacked water; they lacked the means to purify the water they already had. But cargo planes unloading bottles look good on television, so in they came. Haitians received a lot of other things they didn’t need from the outside world: food that undermined domestic production, Hollywood celebrities, cholera.
What Haiti didn’t get—at least if we’re talking about its government—was cash. Much of the money that was pledged was never delivered. Millions of so-called aid dollars were in fact debt relief. And many millions more went to the UN, or NGOs, or never left the donor countries at all. It went to pay for things like hotel rooms, and SUVs.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 3:36 PM - 0 Comments
The House of Commons foreign affairs committee met today to discuss Mali, where France is currently engaged in war against al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups who had taken control of the northern half of the country. Canada has loaned France the use of a transport plane.
Robert Fowler, the former Canadian and UN diplomat who spent 130 days as a hostage of these same Islamists in northern Mali in 2008 and 2009, testified to the committee.
Fowler argued that Canada should contribute more to the French-led mission, including military assets such as intelligence officers, air power and special forces. He said millions of people in northern Africa are in “significant peril” from the Islamist threat and that no Canadians — indeed no Westerners at all — are safe in large swaths of the Sahel where these Islamists hold sway.
There can be no negotiations with them, he said, because there is no middle ground between what they want and what we might be prepared to give. He recalled his captors bragging about the millions of dollars they had obtained through kidnapping and smuggling, and yet they dressed in rags. They didn’t care about material possessions, only jihad and entering paradise as a martyr in God’s war against the infidels. Economic development, in other words, isn’t going to convince them to put down their weapons. They don’t want jobs; they want to die. And they must be killed — “diminished” is how Fowler put it. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
The government is already rounding up ‘dissidents’—an early warning sign to the opposition
Iran’s disputed 2009 election, which returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency, led to mass protests and a brutal crackdown that saw dozens killed and thousands arrested. This time, the government is taking early steps to silence potentially disruptive voices. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast last week warned that Iran’s “enemies” are planning to foment unrest as part of an “all-out war” against the Islamic Republic, pre-emptively defining protesters as anti-Iranian. Elections aren’t until June.
Late last month, 16 journalists were arrested and taken to Tehran’s infamous Evin prison, where they are reportedly being held in wing 209—the same cellblock where Canadian Zahra Kazemi was murdered in 2003. (In an ironic twist, Saeed Mortazavi, the former prosecutor who sent her to prison, was arrested this week—possibly as a result of a power struggle within Iran’s political elite—and is now in Evin himself.) Arash Azizi, an Iranian journalist living in Canada says the arrests have shocked journalists in Iran, in part because several of those arrested were not obvious targets, even for Tehran’s thin-skinned government. “We are used to these kind of attacks, but this was unexpected. This was an attempt to bring an atmosphere of intimidation before the election.” It is not just journalists who are being subjected to increased state pressure. Coffee-shop owners have been ordered to install video cameras and provide the recordings to authorities. Cafés are popular with Iranian youth and intellectuals who enjoy the chance to drink, smoke, talk and listen to live music. Dozens were raided last summer, ostensibly for offences such as allowing women to smoke hookah water pipes. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 9:52 PM - 0 Comments
Monday night’s debate on Mali in the House of Commons began with Bob Dechert, the Conservative parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, describing the proceedings as evidence the government wants to engage Parliament regarding Canada’s response to the ongoing conflict in that country.
There is a tradition of Parliament debating when this country goes to war. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King famously delayed Canada’s entrance into the Second World War until Parliament could decide. The stakes were smaller this time. Canada’s military contribution to the Mali war is limited to the loan of one transport plane to France, and that decision was made by the Prime Minister, without debate in the House.
Nevertheless, here was a chance for Parliament to discuss Canada’s role in a matter Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has called part of “the great struggle of our generation.” You might think, given that description, that Baird would have shown up. He didn’t. Neither did most MPs. Of party leaders, only outgoing Liberal chief Bob Rae and Elizabeth May of the Greens took part. Attendance peaked at fewer than 40 members, and dropped off as the evening wore on.
For much of the night, it was hard to blame those who stayed away. The discussion was hardly inspiring to watch. There were scripted remarks delivered woodenly from sheets of paper. Bob Dechert appeared to be reading talking points from his smart phone. Little substantial discussion took place about the actual war and what Canada’s involvement in it should or should not be.
Opposition parties spent an awful lot of time arguing that Canada has recklessly cut back aid to, and its diplomatic presence in, Africa. This might be worth further discussion, but meanwhile there’s a war on. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says French soldiers have killed “hundreds” of Islamists over the past month. Frozen CIDA funding isn’t the biggest problem Mali has right now. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Friday, February 1, 2013 at 12:42 PM - 0 Comments
The French president launched a war in Mali just as his popularity hit an all-time low
François Hollande probably never expected to be a wartime president. To be fair, until Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French Socialist Party’s presumed nominee for president, flamed out amid allegations of sexual assault in 2011, Hollande likely never expected he’d lead the country at all.
He is an “accidental” president, says John Gaffney, co-director of the Aston Centre for Europe at Aston University in Britain, one who triumphed over incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy—whose pomposity made a nation sick of him after only one term in office—largely by virtue of the fact that he wasn’t Sarkozy.
Still, to the extent that Hollande seemed likely to do anything bold, launching a unilateral war would not have featured on many analysts’ predictions before this year. Hollande campaigned on a promise to end France’s combat role in Afghanistan a year earlier than scheduled, and did so. In October, during a visit to Senegal, he declared the end of the era of Françafrique, referring to France’s meddling in its former African colonies. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Rescuing Germany’s history, one toothbrush at a time
Justinian Jampol created a museum because he had a storage problem.
A decade ago, the young Californian was a graduate student at the University of Oxford, researching visual culture from the Cold War Communist bloc. He worked his way through archives in Berlin and Moscow, but found that the material in them was limited.
“You realize two things,” says Jampol, speaking of the archival material. “They’re the voice of authority, and they’re paper.”
Museums had other flaws. “They’re there to tell you a particular story. There’s a beginning, a middle, an end, and a gift shop. You can’t really engage with it.” Continue…