Tag Archives: Islamism

Afghanistan: Pak Military vs Pak Taliban Across the Durand Line (plus UPDATE on murderous ISIS attacks in Afghanistan)

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Twenty-seven members of one family were buried in a mass grave in Mandatah. It was marked with white flags and 27 piles of stones.”)

Now that the (for years heavily Pakistan-backed) Afghan Taliban are firmly (sort of) back in power, the Pak military are increasingly exasperated with their protégé’s’ tolerance/protection of their Pak brethren in Afghanistan.

First two tweets,

and now from a NY Times report vividly describing the aftermath of the strikes mentioned just above (and the background to them)–can’t say Kabul wasn’t warned:

More personal accounts of the attacks and their aftermath conclude the story.

That tweet, from Terrific Terry Glavin:

Plus these earlier ones. Bloody ISIS:

UPDATE: More on ISIS’s muderous attacks at Defense One’s “D Brief“:

Another explosion at a mosque in Kabul killed at least 66 people on Friday. A suicide bomber struck as “worshippers at the Sunni mosque gathered after Friday prayers for a congregation known as Zikr—an act of religious remembrance practised by some Muslims but seen as heretical by some hardline Sunni groups,” Reuters reported from the Afghan capital.
UN offers sympathy and condemnation. “Attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including mosques, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law,” Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “It was not immediately clear who was responsible,” Reuters continued. “Scores of Afghan civilians have been killed in recent weeks in blasts, some of which have been claimed by Islamic State.”
ICYMI:Islamic State claims deadly bomb blasts on minibuses in Afghan city,” via Agence France-Presse, reporting Thursday from Mazar-i-Sharif, in the north. ..

And a related recent post:

Pakistan’s Violent Islamic Fundamentalism

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Pakistan’s Violent Islamic Fundamentalism

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “A memorial for Priyantha Diyawadanage, who was lynched by a Muslim mob. Credit…K.M. Chaudary/Associated Press”.)

This is a long-standing and serious problem which the country’s governments have been unwilling effectively to confront. From a story at the NY Times:

Religion-Fueled Mobs on the Rise Again in Pakistan

The recent lynching of a man accused of burning pages from a Quran underscored Pakistan’s leading status as a site of religious violence.

By Zia ur-Rehman and Salman Masood

KARACHI, Pakistan — Last month, a man named Muhammad Mushtaq was accused of burning pages of the Quran inside a mosque in central Pakistan. A mob armed with sticks, bricks and axes gathered at the mosque and dragged him out.

Mr. Mushtaq was tortured for hours and eventually killed, his body hung from a tree. A handful of police officers were among those who watched.

The Feb. 12 killing in the district of Khanewal was denounced across Pakistan. Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government had “zero tolerance” for such mob violence and promised that the police officers would be punished.

But lynchings over offenses to Islam, real or imagined, are far from new in Pakistan, where blasphemy is punishable by death. Rights activists say lynch mobs exploit anti-blasphemy laws to take matters into their own hands.

In recent years these episodes have risen to an alarming level, with increasing cases of fatal violence.

Critics and rights activists say that vows like those made by the prime minister are mere lip service and that Mr. Khan’s government, much like his predecessors, has not taken any practical steps to curb violence [emphasis added].

Instances of mob violence, and state-enforced criminal blasphemy cases, are more frequent in Pakistan than anywhere else, according to a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“The lack of political will and commitment has always stood as the biggest obstacle to prevent the abuse, misuse, and exploitation of blasphemy laws,” said Tahira Abdullah, a rights activist based in Islamabad.

Mr. Khan’s government is no different from its predecessors in promising to tackle the menace of religious violence, she said. But “it is too cowardly to confront” influential religious parties in Parliament [emphasis added], Ms. Abdullah said, “and the rampaging militant extremist groups outside Parliament.”

Blasphemy allegations have led to the vandalizing of Hindu temples and neighborhoods, the burning of police stations by angry mobs, the lynching of a student on a university campus and the killing of a provincial governor by his own security guard. After Musthaq’s killing, a senior police official told a parliamentary committee that 90 percent of those involved in blasphemy violence are between the ages of 18 and 30.

Just two months ago, a Sri Lankan, Priyantha Diyawadanage, was lynched by workers he oversaw in a factory in the eastern city of Sialkot. Mr. Diyawadanage was accused of tearing off stickers with religious inscriptions from the factory walls. He was tortured for hours by an enraged mob before his body was thrown off the factory’s rooftop, beaten and set on fire [emphasis added].

In 2021, at least 84 people faced blasphemy accusations in courts and from angry street mobs, according to the Centre for Social Justice, a Lahore-based minority rights group. Three people, including Mr. Diyawadanage, were killed by a mob over such allegations, it noted.

In August, a mob in the Rahimyar Khan district, also in Punjab Province, damaged statues and burned down a Hindu temple’s main door after a court released an 8-year-old Hindu boy on bail. He had been charged with blasphemy for allegedly urinating in the library of a madrasa.

Defense lawyers are also at risk. In 2014 gunmen murdered a Pakistani lawyer, Rashid Rehman, in Multan city for defending Junaid Hafeez, an academic charged with making derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad. Mr. Hafeez had been in prison, unable to find a lawyer, before Mr. Rehman agreed to take up his case.

In 2011, two politicians were murdered in similar episodes. Salman Taseer, then a provincial governor, was killed by a bodyguard after expressing opposition to blasphemy laws. Shahbaz Bhatti, a federal minister, was murdered for opposing the death sentence imposed on Asia Bibi, a Christian convicted of verbally insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Though Ms. Bibi was acquitted in 2019, she fled Pakistan and her lawyer has been receiving death threats.

“The increasing theocratization of Pakistan and rising militant extremism makes it very difficult for lawyers to defend alleged blasphemers,” Ms. Abdullah said. “It takes a great deal of personal courage and professional integrity to withstand huge overt pressure and threats [emphasis added].

Law enforcement agencies are not trained, or equipped to handle, frenzied vigilante mobs, and find themselves overwhelmed, Ms. Abdullah noted…

“Since the death penalty, a mandatory punishment for blasphemy, was made a law, there have been several bouts of religion-based violence in Pakistan,” said Peter Jacob, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice.

While no one has ever been executed for the offense, violence against alleged blasphemers is hardly unusual.

Rights activists link the current spike in blasphemy-related violence to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, an emerging radical religious party. And Islamist parties and militant groups in Pakistan have been emboldened by the Taliban’s coming to power in neighboring Afghanistan last year [emphasis added].

“The government’s narrative about Islamophobia in the rest of the world” fuels the religion-based violence, Mr. Jacob said…

In April last year, Tehreek-e-Labbaik organized violent, countrywide protests demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador after President Emmanuel Macron of France eulogized a French teacher murdered for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a classroom.

The Pakistani Taliban have also announced support for anti-blasphemy campaigns and promoted armed struggle to protect the honor of Islam.

Posters offering a reward of some $56,000 to kill Faraz Pervaiz, a Pakistani Christian, for posting anti-Islamic content on social media often appear in anti-blasphemy protests in the country.

Mr. Pervaiz, 34, now living in self-exile in Thailand [emphasis added], said that he started speaking out for the rights of non-Muslim communities on social media after a Muslim mob attacked a Christian neighborhood in Lahore in 2013, torching more than 150 houses and two churches following reports that a Christian sanitation worker had blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad.

“Even in Thailand, I feel insecure,” he said in an interview, after a Pakistani Muslim refugee shared one of his videos and his location on social media. Mr. Pervaiz left the country in 2014 after receiving threats, he said.

Journalists in Pakistan have refrained from reporting on blasphemy cases since the rise of the extremist parties and their growing influence.

“Covering the issue of blasphemy as a journalist, and especially for the Urdu-language press, can either get you killed, or you’ll be fired for jeopardizing the survival of the organization you work for,” said Razeshta Sethna, a journalist and author of a recent report on the stifling media environment in the country [see post noted at the end of this one].

Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, and Zia ur-Rehman from Karachi, Pakistan.

And a tweet for a column by a Canadian of Pakistani origin:

That post. from June 2021:

Pakistan’s Media under Pressure

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Macron et les Musulmans en France, cont’d

Further to this post almost a year ago,

Macron and Muslims, or, Marianne et les Musulmans en France, Part 3

with the presidential election looming President Macron ups the integration (of sorts) ante–at Deutsche Welle:

France launches new body aiming to reshape Islam

Dozens of influential Muslim figures were handpicked by the government to take part in the new Forum of Islam. Critics say it is an attempt by French President Emmanuel Macron to gain right-wing support.

France will host the first summit of the Forum of Islam on Saturday [Feb. 5], a new body that aims to reshape life for Muslims in the country and rid the religion of extremism.

The body, meeting in Paris, is made up of clergy and laymen and -women who will help to lead the largest Muslim community in western Europe.

They include imams, influential figures from civil society, prominent intellectuals and business leaders.

France is still reeling from attacks by Islamist extremists that killed hundreds of people over the past decade.

The country is still coming to terms with how hundreds of French Muslims went to fight with the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

But critics worry that the body is an attempt by President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party to attract right-wing support by controlling the Muslim community [emphasis added].

What is the Forum of Islam?

The body, which will meet annually and split off into four working groups, is mirrored on the German model of the Deutsche Islam Konferenz (DIK).

The working groups will focus on the training of imams (prayer leaders), clerics employed in prisons, hospitals and the military, as well as mosque security, and discrimination against Muslims.

Muslims in France have long complained of stigmatism in daily life, and they say discrimination gets noticeably worse after Islamist terror attacks.

All of the members of the forum are handpicked by the government, and women will make up at least a quarter of its members [emphasis added], according to French media reports.

The body replaces the French Council for Muslim Faith, which was set up in 2003 but has been wracked by infighting.

Reducing foreign influence on Islam

“We want to launch a revolution by putting an end to (foreign influence) on Islam,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who is set to partly attend the summit, said in a recent interview with Le Parisien daily.

Islam is not a religion of foreigners in France, but a French religion that should not depend on foreign money and any authorities abroad [emphasis added, bonne chance],” Darmanin said.

Several Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have funded the construction of mosques in Europe , some of which have become hotbeds of radical Islam and extremism [and lots of Saudi links to Muslims in Canada–see here and here].

Supporters say the new body will ensure that Muslim practices in France adhere to the country’s cherished value of secularism in public life [emphasis added, how realistic?].

Macron’s attempt at reaching right-wing voters?

Critics see the efforts as a political ploy to lure right-wing voters to Macron’s party ahead of April’s presidential election [see post noted at bottom].

Macron, who has yet to announce whether he will run for a second term, faces stiff competition in the first round, not only from far-right leader Marine Le Pen, but also two other conservative candidates.

Others say the initiative is another example of institutionalized discrimination that holds the whole community responsible for the violent attacks of a few.

Some Muslims are worried that the government is going too far in trying to control their faith.

Last year, the French parliament approved a law to strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sports clubs to safeguard them from radical Islamists, and to promote respect for secularism and women’s rights.

Plus a December 2021 post on the April election:

France: 2022 Presidential Election Preview, or, how far Right and any Left left?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Terrorism? Whose Stinking Terrorism?

Phil Gurski, an erstwhile counter-terrorism analyst for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (more here), argues that “terrorism” should be removed as a specific criminal charge from the Criminal Code of Canada as:

a) it contributes little of substance to the sentences of convictions; and

b) charges are becoming increasingly politicized depending on the political and ideological flavours of the day.

From an article at the Ottawa Citizen:

Why ‘terrorism’ shouldn’t be in Canada’s Criminal Code

How can someone who worked for CSIS for 15 years think it’s a good idea to remove this offence from the code? Because what we call terrorism has become increasingly politicized.

…Terrorism has become a heavily politicized issue that is applied haphazardly in law and is not necessary as a specific charge to ensure that those who plan and/or execute serious acts of violence for political, religious or ideological reasons spend a long time behind bars.

First, a bit of history: Terrorism has not been an offence under the Criminal Code for very long. It was shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 that the Anti-Terrorism Act was passed. Prior to that, acts which most would agree were terrorist in nature were prosecuted using other offences…The decision to encode terrorism was a rushed one (as was the decision to list the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol).

Second, finding someone guilty of terrorism does not usually lead to a longer sentence than that for murder. Interestingly, if a given crime is construed as a hate offence, rather than a terrorist one, there is precedent for condemning someone to more time in prison.

Third, it is hard to demonstrate that a given act is indeed terrorist in nature. The Crown has to to prove one or more of a political, religious or ideological motive (and what constitutes an “ideology”?). The same is not true for murder, for example, where it is merely necessary to demonstrate the act occurred. Why make a court case more difficult to win when the end result is the same vis-à-vis sentencing?

Why bring this up now? A few cases have arisen in which the decision (not) to lay terrorism charges smacks of political opportunism [emphasis added]:

— A woman who joined ISIL and is now back in Canada has NOT been charged under section 83.01 of the Code despite the fact that ISIL is a listed terrorist entity in Canada;

— An Edmonton man was found guilty of five counts of attempted murder [no terrorism charge] for a series of car rammings in 2017: he had an ISIL flag in his car at the time and was, in all likelihood, an ISIL wannabe.

In contrast:

— A London [Ontario] man who ran over and killed four members of a Muslim family in his vehicle last summer has been charged with terrorism although on the surface a charge of first-degree murder with a possible hate angle would be more effective [photo at top of the post is from this story, “Calls grow to lay terrorism charge in London attack. Why it won’t be easy”, with several videos including of PM Trudeau]. (Note, Alexandre Bissonnette was never charged with terrorism for his heinous attack on a Quebec City mosque in January 2017 in spite of its close similarities to the London vehicular attack.  Both strike me more as hate crimes than terrorism);

— A Toronto man who stabbed one woman to death in a massage parlour in 2020 was charged with “incel” (involuntary celibate) terrorism although it is far from certain that this type of violence is terrorist in nature.

In other words, the decision by the Crown to lay terrorism charges seems to have little to do with whether the acts themselves constitute terrorism and more with the “message” the Crown/ government wants to deliver [emphasis added]. It certainly appears to me that some kinds of “terrorism” are currently more fashionable for prosecution than others in Canada (for instance, so-called “right-wing” terrorism).

All this flies in the face of the fact that on a global scale, one form is by far more prevalent than any other: Islamist terrorism (I do not use the bureaucratic term “Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism” favoured by the Trudeau government, a phrase that was non-existent when I worked counter-terrorism in the 2000s and 2010s).

…Given the shameless politicization of the term “terrorism” and its nebulous impact on ensuring that the guilty incur appropriate punishment, it is time to excise it from the code.

Note that a decision to do so would have absolutely no impact on the ability of CSIS and the RCMP to investigate: CSIS’s ability to look into terrorism has been part of the agency’s mandate since its creation out of the former RCMP Security Service in 1984. The only time this term is legally relevant is when charges are laid.

We have arrived at a stage in Canada where the term “terrorism” is used to cover phenomena it should not. When everything is terrorism, nothing is.

Phil Gurski worked at CSE and CSIS as an analyst for 32 years.  His latest book is The Peaceable Kingdom: A history of terrorism in Canada from Confederation to the present.

Sure makes sense to me. Would also put a stop to talking heads on television panel shows debating whether or not any particularly awful crime constitutes “terrorism”, almost always in order to make their own political or ideological point.

By the way the UK devotes considerable police resources to counter-terrorism (understood generally to be Islamist). See: “Counter Terrorism Policing–Our Network“–of course the UK has suffered very much more from terrorism than Canada.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

The Dragon’s Growing Embrace of the Taliban–and the Poor Uyghurs (what East Turkestan Independence Movement anyway?)

It certainly looks like the PRC is working to become at least close to the paramount power in Afghanistan–and that the Talibs are willing to turn a blind eye, in return for Chinese backing, to what is happening in Xinjiang (known by many Uyghurs as “East Turkestan”). Also, what might the Taliban do with Uyghurs in Afghanistan to keep Beijing happy? Then there’s the Islamic State Khorasan factor, in Afghanistan itself vs the Talibs and perhaps trying the reach into Xinjiang. Several moving parts at play. At the Globe and Mail:

Chinese Foreign Minister meets Taliban officials as Afghan Islamic State affiliate appears to adopt Uyghur cause

James Griffiths

Asia correspondent Hong Kong

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi wrapped up a series of meetings with top Taliban officials in Doha this week, as the militants continue to court Beijing for assistance in rebuilding Afghanistan.

A video posted Tuesday [Oct. 26] by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid showed Mr. Wang receiving a gift from his Taliban counterpart, Amir Khan Muttaqi, in the Qatari capital. On Monday, the Chinese official met with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban deputy prime minister.

According to Chinese state media, Mr. Wang pressed both men for assurances the Taliban were “making a clean break” with the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Beijing has long blamed the ETIM for terrorist attacks and unrest in China, particularly in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, though independent analysts are skeptical of Chinese claims about the group’s size and capabilities [emphasis added].

State media quoted Mr. Baradar as saying the Taliban “attaches great importance to China’s security concerns and will resolutely honour its promise and never allow any forces to use Afghan territory to harm China.” Taliban statements did not mention the terrorism issue, focusing instead on economic co-operation.

Beijing has been tentatively supportive of the new Afghan government since the Taliban swept to power in August…

…Prior to their takeover, Afghanistan was dependent on international aid for about 40 per cent of its GDP, according to the World Bank, and the country’s economy has been in free fall since August.

China has appeared willing to step in and fill this gap, though not nearly as fast as the Taliban would like. In Doha, Mr. Wang urged the U.S. and other Western countries to lift sanctions on the group and “engage with the Afghan Taliban in a rational and pragmatic manner to help Afghanistan embark on a path of healthy development,” according to state media.

He also called on the Taliban to “effectively protect the rights and interests of women and children,” a key sticking point for the international community [one doubts the PRC is at all serious about this, just playing to that–mythical–“international community“].

But Chinese officials remain wary of a potential security vacuum on the border of Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused of interning millions of Uyghurs…One of its justifications for the crackdown in the region is the alleged threat of terrorism, which China has mostly linked to ETIM [emphasis added].

Most public information about ETIM comes from Chinese sources, and Beijing has blamed the group for protests and other unrest in Xinjiang to which it has no apparent link, including incidents China has previously laid at the feet of other Uyghur groups.

According to Sean Roberts, author of The War on the Uyghurs: China’s Internal Campaign Against a Muslim Minority, even ETIM’s name itself deserves skepticism.

“As far as I can tell, no group has ever called itself the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement or ETIM,” he writes. “However, the group of Uyghurs that is usually associated with the ETIM label did exist and did establish a community in Afghanistan between 1998 and 2001 with the intent of initiating an insurgency inside China, a goal it never came close to attaining [emphasis added].”

Mr. Roberts and other experts argue China has used the ETIM label to conflate a number of mostly tiny militant groups or extremists – some Uyghur separatists, some Islamists – in order to justify the crackdown in Xinjiang.

ETIM was designated a terror group by the U.S. during the George W. Bush administration, when Washington was cultivating Chinese support for the “war on terror.” But last year, the State Department delisted the group, saying that “for more than a decade, there has been no credible evidence that ETIM continues to exist [emphasis added].

…both the main Islamic State organization and its Afghan affiliate [IS-K] have largely avoided targeting China or even using the plight of the Uyghurs in their propaganda. This may be changing, according to Nodirbek Soliev, a senior analyst with the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

[The group has a] growing disappointment with Beijing’s evolving diplomatic and economic engagement with the Taliban,” he wrote this week, using an alternative acronym for the group. “For ISK, a stronger Taliban state means more serious challenges to its ambitions and survival in Afghanistan. Increased Chinese involvement in the post-Taliban Afghanistan will further antagonize IS and ISK.”

Mr. Soliev added that ISIS-K may see the Taliban’s apparent willingness to deport Uyghurs as an opportunity to “position itself as a new protector,” increasing its opportunities for recruitment [emphasis added].

The Uyghurs just keep getting squeezed.:

Researchers Say Islamic World ‘Actively Collaborating’ With China’s Global Campaign Against Uyghurs

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Christians just Hanging On in Iraq

The sad reality in this Reuters story (caption for photo at top of the post: “A view of Rabban Hormizd Monastery is seen in Alqosh, Iraq February 18, 2021. Picture taken February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani”):

An ancient monastery in Iraq is a symbol of Christian survival

ALQOSH, Iraq (Reuters) – Nestled in a steep rocky hillside among the remote mountains of northern Iraq, the Rabban Hormizd Monastery has watched invaders come and go through Christianity’s tumultuous history in this corner of ancient Mesopotamia.

Mongols, Persians, Arabs, Kurds and Ottomans have sacked, surrounded or occupied the seventh century monastery and the Christian town of Alqosh, above which it perches, near the borders with Turkey, Syria and Iran.

But Christians there survived the latest onslaught, this time by Islamic State militants who took over one third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017, including the city of Mosul just 20 miles (32 km) to the south.

Mercifully for them, a string of villages just above Mosul was as far north as the group got, sparing Alqosh the brutality inflicted on minority faiths and sects. Some families fled those villages to the safety of the town.

“This will remain a Christian town, I believe. We have to stay in this land,” said Brother Saad Yohanna, an Iraqi monk working at a local orphanage.

“Far fewer people live here these days – maybe 1,000 families from 3,000 a few years ago, but it remains home for them.”

Of the 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003, only around a fifth remain, the others driven out by sectarian violence first by al Qaeda and then Islamic State [emphasis added].

The displaced who remain will get rare recognition this week, as Pope Francis visits the country from March 5-8. The closest he will get to Alqosh is a cluster of demolished churches in Mosul, once Islamic State’s de facto capital…

Control of Alqosh itself, after centuries of change, remains unresolved. It lies along disputed territory between the Baghdad central government and the self-run Kurdistan region.

It is in Baghdad’s Nineveh province, but controlled by Kurdish forces who helped drive Islamic State away [emphasis added]

The country’s oldest monastery of St Elijah, near Mosul, was damaged during the 2003 conflict before Islamic State destroyed it just over a decade later.

Rabban Hormizd Monastery, named after its founder, was built when Muslim armies were conquering the Middle East, and fortified over time. Dotted around its high brick walls are caves where monks once cloistered and prayed.

It became an important centre of the Eastern Catholic clergy from the 16th to 19th century, although monks gradually moved out to more accessible digs, including a second monastery in the town.

It is open now to visitors, worshippers and local monks, but not inhabited [emphasis added]

Earlier posts:

1) The Exodus of Christians in the Middle East, Cont’d [2014]

Further to this post,

The Exodus of Christians in the Middle East and Their Murder Elsewhere

I would wager–given the state of Canadian education–that the great majority of people here are unaware that Anatolia (Turkey today), the Levant, and North Africa were, as a result of the Roman Empire, heavily Christian when the Arab Muslim invasions of the seventh century A.D. defeated the Byzantines…

2) “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?” Part 2 [2015]

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Macron and Muslims, or, Marianne et les Musulmans en France, Part 3

Konrad Yakabuski (tweets here) of the Globe and Mail outlines the French president’s approach to certain aspects of the Muslim question in his country:

Opinion

As for those American “theories”, a tweet of mine:

A post a year ago, also with a piece by Mr Yakabuski:

Macron and Muslims, or, Marianne et les Musulmans en France, Part 2

Keep in mind that la laïcité de la République is rather an inspiration for many Québécois, see e.g. the famous (or infamous) Bill 21 on religious symbols.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

UN Peacekeeping: PM Trudeau and Liberals too Fearful to Meet their Pledges when they Realized the Realities of “Killer Peacekeeping”

Further to this post from 2016 when the then-newish Liberal government announced with great fanfare that Canada was back for UN peacekeeping,

“The end of peacekeeping, and what comes next for Canada’s soldiers”

the Trudeau government soon chickened out of any major commitment that might involve any real risk of numbers of fatalities, breaking quite a few public pledges along the way. But, hey, who cares what the rest of the world might think about this country’s esprit de sérieux? The Liberals soon realized most of the voting public they were relentlessly courting frankly didn’t give a damn, my dears; so they dithered for two more years and then sent a force to Mali to do the least dangerous mission they could put together (but note towards the end of this post what the Brits are doing in the Sahel). Excerpts from a Canadian Press piece by Lee Berthiaume (tweets here):

A look at Canadian peacekeeping 25 years after Rwanda

When now-retired major-general Guy Tousignant handed over command of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda 1995, Canada had been involved in virtually every UN mission over the previous four-plus decades.

But after the scandal of Somalia, in which Canadian soldiers tortured and killed a teenage boy, the frustrations and failures of the UN’s efforts in Bosnia and Croatia, and the horrors of Rwanda, Canada started to withdraw from peacekeeping.

Read more: Number of Canadian peacekeepers deployed abroad hits 60-year low

Today, Canada has around 40 peacekeepers in the field. That’s a fraction of the 1,200 Canadian blue helmets and blue berets deployed when Tousignant left Rwanda.

That number is also about one-third of what it was when the federal Liberals came to power five years ago — despite repeated promises from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government for Canada to do more.

That the decline has continued is frustrating for some who worked with the Liberal government during its early years. They told The Canadian Press they supported the plan to re-engage in peacekeeping and they believed it was going to happen…

Most agree, to varying degrees, [that]…the potential electoral costs of a large-scale deployment of Canadian peacekeepers overseas are seen to outweigh the benefits.

“I think the Liberal government realized there was probably little votes in it,” says retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian army commander Andrew Leslie, who was an adviser to Trudeau before being elected as a Liberal MP in 2015.

“The characteristic of this current government is its relentless and ruthless focus on how to get re-elected. And promises were made and not kept.”

Leslie, who did not run for re-election last year, made clear he thinks other governments have made similar calculations in the past.

The Liberal government insists it is living up to its commitments, and that Canada is making a real difference at the UN.

It points to the year-long deployment of helicopters to Mali, which ended in August 2019, and the occasional deployment of a transport plane to Uganda [see this official, and not very informative, official webpage on the appropriately, and ironically, named Operation PRESENCE]. Canada is also spearheading efforts to increase the number of women on peacekeeping missions and working to prevent the use of child soldiers in conflict…

Roland Paris, a former foreign-policy adviser to Trudeau, said the government “has ended up in a place where it can say that it’s meeting its commitments to re-engage with peacekeeping, at really minimal cost.”

The transport plane deployed to Uganda on occasional basis to ferry troops and equipment to different UN missions in Africa is useful, said Paris, but “on its own, it’s a minimal commitment,” adding the same could be said of the contribution to Mali…

All say what is really needed is more Canadians in the field — something Trudeau called for ahead of the October 2015 election that brought the Liberals to power.

A survey conducted by Nanos Research on behalf of the Canadian Defence and Security Network in August found three in four respondents said they were supportive of peacekeeping. But it also found older respondents more supportive than a key target for the Liberals’ electoral efforts: young Canadians…

The government committed in August 2016 to deploying up to 600 troops and 150 police officers on UN missions, then delayed for years before sending helicopters to Mali after repeated requests from the UN and allies such as France and Germany.

The Liberals also promised in November 2017 to provide a 200-strong quick-reaction force to the UN. Three years later, it has yet to materialize.

“I see it as extreme risk sensitivity,” Paris said…

In the meantime, the UN struggles to make do with what member states have on offer. The British started a three-year deployment of 300 troops to Mali this month, but the mission there is still short hundreds of troops and police officers…

About that UK contribution to the UN’s MINUSMA mission (website here), the British Army has taken on the sort of boots on the ground role, running real risks, that PM Trudeau turned his back on. That sort of thing is noticed around the world even if barely, if at all, in Canada:

300 British troops deploy to Mali on UN Peacekeeping Mission

A UK task force has arrived in Mali to join the UN peacekeeping mission where they will provide a reconnaissance capability

UK troops arriving in Mali on an RAF A400M
UK troops arriving in Mali on an RAF A400M

300 UK troops have arrived in Mali as part of the UN’s peacekeeping mission, primarily drawn from the Light Dragoons alongside the Royal Anglian Regiment and supported by specialist trades from across the Armed Forces.

The UK Task Force will provide a highly specialised reconnaissance capability, conducting patrols to gather intelligence and engage with the local population to help the UN respond to threats from violent extremism, and weak governance…

And lookee here. also from the above government news release–the UK is also providing direct help on the ground to the separate French counter-terrorism combat operation in the Sahel, something this government would never contemplate (or might it? see below):

Alongside this, the MoD currently has 3 Chinook helicopters and 100 personnel in a logistics role supporting the French-led Counter-Terrorist mission, Operation BARKHANE [more here]. This is entirely separate from the UN mission, but they will be operating in the same region.

But in fact is there a slim chance that we might follow the Brits with some personnel and equipment in-theatre for Barkhane? Seems unlikely to me but see this recent post:

Canadian Military to Support French Counter-Terrorism Combat Mission (Barkhane) in Mali/Sahel?

Lots more on what I sometimes call today’s “killer peacekeeping” at these earlier posts.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Canadian Military to Support French Counter-Terrorism Combat Mission (Barkhane) in Mali/Sahel?

This looks like a well-inflated trial balloon as it’s the French defence attaché in Washington who’s floating it. And especially striking as PM Trudeau last year pulled out our low-risk contribution (Op PRESENCE) to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) as soon as could be half-decently done despite UN requests to extend it a few months (“Canada delays departure from Mali until end of August: UN had been urging the Liberal government to extend the mission”). Indeed it seems this balloon went up after discussions between the two countries and presumably with Canadian agreement.

Nonetheless giving direct, even if low-risk, assistance to the French anti-jihadist Op Barkhane would be quite a volte-face for this government (it is noteworthy that France is now also asking for more military help from fellow EU members). Perhaps the government has decided, in these uncertain times for relations with the US–even with a Biden administration, and with a UK in rather a bit of a Brexit bother, that now is the time to strengthen ties with our most important partner on the continent as several elements of our foreign policy are coming under review.

And, in relation to strengthening relations with France, it is noteworthy that on November 13 our foreign minister, François-Philippe Champagne, tweeted this after the French had taken out a senior al Qaeda leader in Mali:

Canada welcomes the success of the French Armed Forces’ operation. This news is particularly important for the security of civilians & the stability in #Mali.

I cannot recall a previous similar congratulation for a hit job on a terrorist by our government (well, maybe bin Laden) so maybe we were signalling a more “muscular” attitude in the French context.

Other factors, er, enabling taking part in Barkhane: Britain has been supporting the operation with three large RAF transport helicopters in Mali for over two years so the Canadian Armed Forces would be working alongside two very familiar allies and sharing a common (if different) language with both.

From a Canadian Press story by Lee Berthiaume (tweets here):

Canada facing calls to step up amid violence, instability in Mali

Canada is being urged to step up its presence in Mali, including through the provision of military assistance to help fight Islamic militants in the region and a diplomatic push to lead peace and reconciliation talks.

The calls for greater involvement follow a coup in August that has once again left the West African nation under military rule even as fighting between different armed groups — including some Islamic extremist groups — continues to spiral out of control.

They also come more than a year after Canada wrapped up its peacekeeping mission in Mali, leaving only a handful of troops and police officers to continue supporting United Nations’ efforts to bring peace and stability to the country.

French military and diplomatic officials were among those asking for more Canadian involvement in Mali during a panel discussion last week on the situation in the country hosted by the Ottawa-based Conference of Defence Associations Institute [here is the webpage for the webinar].

France has been leading efforts to counter the growing threat of Islamic extremists in West Africa and the sub-Saharan region since a previous coup in Mali in 2012, with French forces involved in combat operations against jihadist groups.

Canada has provided some support to that French mission, which is known as Operation Barkhane, notably the occasional provision of military transport aircraft to help move troops and equipment around the region.

French Brig.-Gen. Cyril Carcy, who until August commanded Operation Barkhane, thanked Canada for that contribution during the CDAI conference even as he hinted at talks between Ottawa and Paris around the provision of more assistance.

“I do believe that discussion is already underway to ask for additional contributions,” Carcy said in French before listing several ways in which the Canadian military can help French and local African forces fighting terrorist groups in the region [emphasis added].

Those include more intelligence and sensors to help locate and identify Islamic militant forces as well as air-to-air refueling to support French fighter jets operating in the region.

“The Canadians can therefore participate without necessarily being present in Mali in the combat sense,” said Carcy, who is now the French defence attache in Washington, D.C. [emphasis added]

But perhaps my speculation (WAG-ing) at the start of the post is just building castles in the Sahel sand–see image at the top.

UPDATE thought: Of course it may also be that, by having their D.C. defence attaché speak publicly as above, the French are trying to put pressure on PM Trudeau’s government to do as they would like.

By the way, the UK is about to deploy in December a substantial British Army contingent for MINUSMA, Mali, to take on a forward, boots on the ground role, that PM Trudeau would not:

[300] Soldiers from the Light Dragoons and Royal Anglians are deploying to the West African country..

The British soldiers will deploy in December in a non-combat role, acting as the Long-Range Reconnaissance Task Group to the UN peacekeeping operation MINUSMA. 

Their role will be to conduct patrols in Jackal vehicles, providing situational awareness and intelligence [not exactly a task without real danger] that will help to protect civilians in the region, amid sharply rising terrorism and conflict..

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Religion and the Beheading of Samuel Paty by a Chechen in France–and then Nice

The conclusion of a piece by my friend Terry Glavin (tweets here) in the Ottawa Citizen:

On the death of Samuel Paty – Shouldn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion too?

The French school teacher’s brutal murder by a radical Islamist set off an outpouring of revulsion across the country. But somehow, several [Muslim] world leaders are attacking France’s president over it.

As for French Muslims, the response is…mixed. Several French imams have declared Paty a shaheed, a martyr, and joined in laying wreaths in his honour at the Collège du Bois d’Aulne.

In his statement observing the International Day of Religious Freedom, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, François Philippe-Champagne, said this: “As a multicultural, multi-faith and multi-ethnic society, Canada will continue to stand up for human rights, including the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, at home and around the world.”

That would be nice. We might also stand up, for once, for the human right to be free of religious belief, and to be protected from religious bullies and fanatics, at home and around the world.

I confess that, for very personal reasons, I have been a convinced atheist since the age of eight. At the same time I try to live by Christian tenets. I see no contradiction.

And then Nice:

Three dead as woman beheaded in France, gunman killed in second incident

NICE, France (Reuters) – A knife-wielding attacker shouting “Allahu Akbar” beheaded a woman and killed two other people in a suspected terrorist act at a church in the French city of Nice on Thursday, while a man waving a gun was shot dead by police in a separate incident…

A post from this February–President Macron’s position is firm and consistent:

Macron and Muslims, or, Marianne et les Musulmans en France, Part 2

And this from Mr Glavin in 2015 after the mass murder by two Islamists at Charlie Hebdo‘s offices (claimed by al Qaeda):

No, they didn’t have it coming

The staff of Charlie Hebdo didn’t have it coming. It wasn’t western imperialism or “blowback” or American impudence or inattention to the allegedly delicate feelings of Muslims that killed those people in Paris.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds