The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: terrorism

Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown

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AS JUSTIN TRUDEAU MOVES THROUGH A SERIES OF SUMMITS that will surely have an effect on global direction, I thought of John Kennedy describing the turbulent first few months of his presidency:

“I knew that this country faced serious challenges, but I could not realize – nor could any man realize who does not bear the burdens of this office – how heavy and constant would be those burdens” 

Both men were the second youngest to be elected to the highest office of their respective countries – Kennedy was 42, Trudeau one year older. International crises defined their first year, and, like Kennedy, Trudeau has fielded no shortage of opinions concerning how he should respond to the Paris attacks. Some think he should ramp up Canada’s mission, while others believe he should stick with his original promise to bring the planes back home.

Putting aside our personal opinions for a moment, one can’t help but feel some sympathy for the situation the newly elected Prime Minister finds himself in. The pressures on Trudeau to ramp up the military option are fierce, and yet he rightfully points out that he was elected on a mandate to place resources on other vital aspects of Canadian influence, like diplomacy, international development, and peaceful conflict resolution.

Trudeau knows well enough that the West has been bombing regions of the Middle East for three decades and that there is little to show for it. Yet neither can he wash his hands of the affair. He’s in a bind, and at the end of all the opinions, pro and con, it is he who must decide.

The new PM doesn’t think along the traditional lines of conflict management. As Obama reminded the world yesterday, the real issues lie in the miserable conditions that caused so many refugees to flee their homelands. In a few more years, the Arab world will replace Africa as the world’s poorest region. Left in that condition, we can only expect more turbulence. Any military response must be coupled with far more effective efforts in diplomacy, education, women’s empowerment, and micro enterprise – initiatives that underwent significant cuts by the previous government.

And then there is the reality that few wish to talk about: ISIS, as a broker of world calamity, is highly overrated. This feels counterintuitive, but it merits further discussion. Paul Krugman, of the New York Times, among others, reminds us that the main weapon brandished by ISIS is fear itself:

“The biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire. And it’s crucial to realize that there are multiple ways the response can go wrong.”

He reminds us that one fallacy would be straight out appeasement – acting as though nothing serious has happened. Another would be stripping most of the liberties and rights of Western citizens in an effort to promise a security that can’t be guaranteed. There are some things that can’t simply be bartered away, like personal liberty and the case for a universal sense of human worth and dignity. As Krugman concludes: “The goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of.” Paris makes it feel like they are capable of so much more, but in reality it is the fear their actions breed within us that carries the greatest danger.

Trudeau is of the belief that cooperation among nations must be more permanent than just responding to occasional emergencies. The roots of terrorism lie in poverty, ignorance, and closed societies, and in this surely the nations of the world, and the private sector along with them, can provide resources other than mere weaponry and military intervention.  Each nation can play its own unique role, Canada among them.

Harsh reality broke in on Justin Trudeau’s entrance onto the world stage and will surely test the fortitude of his convictions and his belief that the Canadian people voted for something other than ongoing warfare. Shakespeare’s depiction of Henry IV’s leadership as, “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” is hauntingly real at this moment. The rhetoric of only a week ago, maintaining that, “Canada is back” is no longer sufficient for this vital moment in time. What is required now is a Canada that is different – in how it approaches the status quo, in its belief in the power of a woman’s role in the world, and the vitality of education, health, and a sustainable natural order. A PM that believes in the power, compassion, and fortitude of his own people might very well prove more effective than any jet armed to the teeth.

Politics Without Inspiration = Fear

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“PEOPLE GO TO FAR GREATER LENGTHS to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire,” noted one of the characters in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and our current brand of politics is proving this – over and over again. Manipulative politics understands that, while humans are naturally moved by hope, they are far more motivated by what they are afraid of; it’s been in our DNA from the beginning. They play to it, believing that it’s easier to get people into the voting booth through what they’re afraid of than by what inspires them. And so, in an increasingly dangerous world, political success is deemed to be located in that sweet spot where terror intersects with citizenship.

This dynamic is increasingly playing out in the run-up to the next federal election later this year. The government has a responsibility to protect citizens, but not by driving them to fits of insecurity. And the opposition parties are right to talk about the threats to our privacy through wide-ranging anti-terror legislation, but must do a better job at detailing a more rigorous foreign policy that involves smart investment, international development, and diplomacy.

It used to be, especially in times of deep international insecurity, that politicians sought to enlist us to create a more hopeful world. They achieved this in different ways, but their authority and power to inspire us came from the belief that their citizens could yet move towards what Martin Luther King Jr. called the long arc “that bends towards justice.”

But politicians rarely speak like that anymore, in part because they have found it easier to drive the politics of fear than a democracy of hope. They have become managers of public life rather than visionaries for it. They have preferred contention over collaboration and division of people over dedication to principle. When people are fearful, even if only some of the time, they are easier to bait than when they are full of confidence concerning their future. And so we get played, and, like sheep fearful of a wolf on the perimeter, never realize that our greatest danger always comes from promoters of fear in our midst dressed as our defenders. It is a fantasy through which politicians trade leadership for a kind of invisible enforcement. In any discipline in a turbulent world, those with the darkest fears and highest ambitions often get to practice both in leadership.

Yet author, Marilyn Ferguson, reminds us all that we know that on the other side of every fear is freedom, if we would but work for it. Plato put it differently: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light.”

Bruce Anderson, a pollster and panel member of CBC television’s popular “At Issue” panel, knows a thing or two about politics and is a gifted diviner of the national mood. In a recent Globe and Mail piece, he hearkened back to recent history, where politicians enjoyed success because they ran campaigns “about aspiration, about the future.” He goes on to add, “There’s a vacuum to be filled. It’s rare to hear leaders talk about dreams, except maybe how to avoid a nightmare.”

Andersen is right, as he is when he says our political conversations can feel more like “what do we need to do” than, “who do we want to be?” But we aren’t there at the moment, are we?

Vincent Van Gogh once boasted, “I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” Will our leaders put aside their broadswords in favour of aspirations that unite a nation instead of dividing it? In the midst of a dangerous world, does the future not belong to those who wish to build it instead of merely protect it?

This imposing and complex planet now confronts us with the greatest challenges in a generation: terrorism, climate change, poverty, financial dysfunction.  It’s full of big lurking things and we require big inspirational leaders who once again remind us that fear itself is, in fact, our greatest enemy.  Fear doesn’t just come from the presence of danger, but the absence of inspiration and a sense of optimism.  Ultimately the task of any politician is to call us out from the collective of fear to that place where whatever we dream and believe we can actually achieve.

 

Kayla Mueller is Free

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Note:  The blog post is actually from my Huffington Post piece today on Kayla Mueller, the American aid worker who died recently.  Her courage and example are just so palpable that I wanted to send it out as a blog post. You can get to the post directly here.

“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it,” said Ernesto Guevara. If indeed true, then Kayla Mueller would have spent her final hours in deep assurance and firmness of conviction.

Mueller’s death while under ISIS captivity was a situation full of irony. When ISIS officials, in a letter to her family, claimed that their daughter died from a Jordanian airstrike, the world looked on in disbelief since she had been held captive by ISIS forces since 2013. Her tragic death was due to their barbarism first and foremost, and the fact ISIS officials confirmed Mueller’s death through photos only reminds that one party alone is responsible for a senseless death and a tragedy almost too deep to bear.

The greatest irony of all is the manner in which this courageous young 26-year-old out-reasoned and out-championed her captors till the very end. For one so young, her sense of compassion, commitment, and desire for justice for all people showed a remarkable maturity. She was a brave woman come to terms with her plight and yet proclaiming the need for the freedom of all people. We know all this because we have it in her own words and insights.

“I have been shown in darkness, light, plus I have learned that, even in prison one can be free,” she wrote in her final letter. “I have a lot of fight left in me,” she continued, “and I am not breaking down. I will not give in no matter how long it takes … I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing.”

These were the words uttered near the end of her life. Just as revealing were those she wrote to a friend just prior to her capture over a year ago. They represented her reason for being in Syria in the first place and stand in direct opposition to the values of her captors.

“Every human being should act. They should stop this violence. People are fleeing. We can’t bear this. It’s too much. I hope you (her friend Kathleen Day) can tell the entire world what I’ve said here and what I’ve seen.”

What her life couldn’t fulfill, her death has accomplished — we are reading her challenging insights now and her passing is gripping an entirely new generation. Responding to her friend’s words, Kathleen Day noted, “They tried to silence her. They locked her up. They kept us silent out of fear. But now she’s free.”

For those relief and development workers serving in anonymity in some of the world’s most troubled areas, Mueller’s death is a sobering reminder of their own tenuous circumstances. And yet they are there, acting out a compassion and sense of justice that most of us will never discover.

Mueller herself was no novice. More than most, she committed her life to helping others. At home in Arizona she volunteered in a women’s shelter and worked at an HIV/AIDS clinic. Then she branched out overseas, working with humanitarian groups in Palestine, Israel, and northern India. She was captured attempting to rescue troubled families in Syria.

In a phrase, Mueller knew what the consequences could be. And yet she went and she thrived in serving humanity in some of its deepest places. She “showed us that even amongst unconscionable evil, the essential decency of humanity can live on,” said President Obama upon hearing the news of her death.

This world will never get better if we merely observe. In Kayla Mueller we have discovered the very courage it will take to make this world better for our children and other people’s children. Her religious faith helped to carry her through until the end. Whatever it is that strengthens and inspires us, we must now use it to act on this remarkable woman’s words: “We can’t bear this. Every human being should act.” Those who respond to her clarion call have now been given a most marvelous example of human dignity, conviction, and compassion. God bless every memory of you, Kayla Mueller.

9/11- Lessons Partially Learned

The following comes from a speech I delivered at a local church this past week on the subject of lessons learned from 9/11.

Ten years on, there are likely just as many questions arising as there were when the Twin Towers went down. Our world doesn’t feel safer, and turbulent events, both good and bad, have filled the new millennium. But as we commemorate the fallen of 9/11, there are three questions for which we at least have some partial answers.

First, it’s important to know what we remember. The very thought of some 300 firefighters climbing up the tower floors to their ultimate deaths is one of the enduring memories of that fateful day. When the sun had set, we learned that close to 3,000 people had perished. But that’s not the whole story – not even the majority of it. The most conservative estimates remind us that some 300,000 innocents died violently in Iraq and Afghanistan, all as a result of that devastating day in New York City. Some 300 firefighters; 3000 civilians; 300,000 Iraqis and Afghans – the numbers tell an advancing story.

This week there have been ceremonies, the unveiling of plaques, brass bands, eloquent tributes, and television specials bringing back enduring memories. We grieve through all of it. But what of the Iraqi mother we read of in the news that had a son blown up by a errant western bomb? Or the father in Afghanistan who helped the coalition forces construct a school only to have his wife killed by the Taliban as a consequence? There are likely more than 300,000 such stories – numbers, which if taken in context, could literally drown out our own grief. It doesn’t minimize the sadness we feel, but it does place it in perspective.

So let’s be clear on what we are remembering here. A barbaric act that eventually resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. From the dead Canadian trooper in Kandahar to the grieving widow in Tikrit, we have learned of history’s shadow side.

It is important to confirm why we remember. In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, the Koran, and the Bible, we read of God calling on people to put an end to poverty, injustice and oppression. But corrupt governments in developing countries and distracted citizens in the affluent West never took that charge seriously. In poverty resides anger; in destitution there is hopelessness; and in oppression there can be the tendency to let go of human decency and grasp at ideological solutions. This is what Bin Laden counted on and from such human pain he planted his base.

But this global angst is no longer confined to terrorist terrains. Many have been delighted at the democratic impulse of the Arab Spring, but have been more surprised at the demonstrations in London, England, in Beijing, and, yes, even in Tel Aviv, as constrained citizens watching their life’s savings filter away, rail against economic inequities. Soon this will happen in Canada. This is what happens when those who govern, either in the political or corporate sector, seek their own embellishment over those they are supposed to serve.

There are presently two billion people living in this world on less than $2 a day and they are increasingly anxious for justice. What else would we expect? Wouldn’t you take to the streets when the wealthiest two decades in world history have nevertheless left you with little while others soar in their jets or drive their fancy cars?

Why do we seek to remember on this special day of sadness? Because the problem hasn’t been solved. The injustice of a decade ago has been transcended in many ways by the economic injustice that has infiltrated even the wealthiest nations. We can’t forget as long as deprivation exists in the world.

Which brings us to how we remember. Following World War One, when Remembrance Day was first established after the carnage of the trenches, those who first remembered claimed in unison “Never Again.” A mere two decades later we were back at it. Then there was Korea, Vietnam, and a long string of conflicts that were as ideological as they were costly. We allowed ourselves to cut foreign aid repeatedly, go soft on international development, leave women around the world lost in injustice and powerlessness, adopt trading practices that impoverished nations at the same time as they spoiled us. We got our free trade while others received only impoverishment.

Much of this took place after the debacle of 9/11. It’s almost as if we’ve learned nothing. Our lives will remain insecure as long as we permit injustice in this world. We can blame corrupt governments all we want, but if our buying or trading patterns have elevated and protected the despots then our hands are dirty as well.

I have traveled extensively in recent years and no matter the remoteness of the places visited, I always run into a Canadian. Many are religious; others are humanists – all are compassionate. While others put their anemic trust in cruise missiles or advanced fighter aircraft, these people are taking freedom, justice and economic empowerment to those very places where terrorism can flourish and they drive a stake through the its heart by their compelling dedication to a better world. They are the complement to our men and women in uniform, only they fight with school books, medicines, women’s advocacy efforts, research acumen, and the great Canadian compulsion for human rights. Like the firefighters in the Towers, they go forward while others retreat because they have learned the lesson that the best way to remember is to defeat injustice at its source. We remember best when we take on the worst.

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