Mark Kersten on the Terror Attacks in Canada

by Kevin Jon Heller

These days, I usually use Twitter to point readers to blog posts that deserve their attention. But Mark Kersten’s new post at Justice in Conflict is so good — and so important — that I want to highlight it here. The post achieves the near-impossible, passionately indicting Canada’s right-wing government for creating a political environment ripe for terrorism without in any way suggesting that Wednesday’s terror attacks were justified. It’s a truly brilliant post, from top to bottom. Here is a snippet, concerning the Harper government’s foreign-policy disasters:

The Canadian government has actively pursued a political philosophy of retribution and control that tarnishes the country’s image as an ‘honest international broker’. Harper’s record attests to an unyielding mission to reshape Canada’s international identity as a tough and hard-power state. The Harper government plays the part of destructive belligerent in climate change negotiations and tar-sands cheerleader. It is first in line to threaten Palestine with “consequences” if Ramallah pursues accountability for alleged crimes committed by Israeli forces in Gaza. While it isn’t usually described as such (many prefer terms like “militarily engaged”), the reality is that Canada has been at war, primarily in Afghanistan, for most of the last decade. And while we should judge each decision to engage in wars on their own terms, the government has positioned itself as a military – rather than diplomatic or humanitarian – middle power. The role of Canadian citizens in the Afghan detainee scandal has been swept under the rug. The government willfully left a child soldier, Omar Khadr, to rot in Guantanamo and were the only Western government not to request the repatriation of their citizens from that nefarious island prison. It left Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen wrongly accused of terrorism, stranded in Khartoum for years and threatened anyone who tried to help him return to Canada with aiding and abetting terrorism. In a country that takes pride in seeing Lester B. Pearson as the father of peacekeeping, the government prefers to count the number of fighter jets it will buy than the number of peacekeepers it deploys. And, making matters worse, those who disagree with the Harper government’s approach to being “hard on crime”, “tough on justice”, and “a military power” are too often portrayed as naive or betraying Canadian values.

Sadly, it’s not just Canada that has pursued the kind of right-wing policies that make horrific acts of terrorism more likely. Very similar posts could — and should — be written about the Key government in New Zealand, the Abbott government in Australia, and (yes) the Obama government in the US. These misguided policies have done next to nothing to prevent terrorism; they create the illusion of security, not its actuality. Indeed, insofar as they do little more than further radicalize the populations they affect, the policies have made us all that much less safe.

Read Kersten. And if you are on an academic committee that is looking to appoint a brilliant young lecturer, hire him.

9 Responses

  1. [As someone who does not use Twitter, I’m happy to find the post and link here.]

  2. Kersten’s article seems to me based on arbitrary premises. He wants us to find the cause of Cirillo’s assassination in the policies of Stephen Harper. This is the “root cause”. In connection with Canada’s failed Security Council bid, he explains “Canada is no longer perceived as an innocent, liberal, peace-loving state anymore.” The word “perceived” means that reality is not so important.

    Well, there are plenty of apparently innocent, peace-loving states such as Germany which have plenty of Salafist terrorists; and also Sweden has had its terrorists, for example:

    It doesn’t seem to make much difference whether a state is innocent and peace-loving or not; there will be terrorists anyway. Kersten does not tell us precisely what he considers the root cause of terrorism, although he associates it with a conservative, tough-on-violators approach, which is perceived as less just than the innocent, peace-loving approach. The importance of perception suggests that the Security Council election is in fact a highly contrived affair. Indeed, concerning Canada’s failed bid, we can find confirmation. See below:

    Some actual SC members such as Jordan and Rwanda do not seem to be conspicuous human rights luminaries. Perhaps the author considers them better than Canada. But I am sarcastic. I should have said that the article is not an attempt to find the truth about anything. It is a purely manipulative rhetorical appeal. Its objective is “passionately indicting” (as Professor Heller puts it), not understanding what is going on. What are the root causes of terrorism? These days, I’d say the biggest is the introduction of Islam into politics — which, given the nature of Islam, is hard to avoid.

  3. Shorter Byrnes: it’s arbitrary to argue a state’s policies have a role in terrorism, but not arbitrary to argue that terrorism results from Islam. Readers should attach to that argument whatever adjective they feel is most appropriate.

  4. Which of the acts in Canada are actually “terrorism” (as we usually consider terrorist acts, i.e., serious crimes committed for political reasons/force a state to do or not to do something in time of peace) and which ones are legitimate acts of war in the conflict(s) in which Canada is involved?

  5. Guy: I don’t understand the distinction you seem to search for between legitimate acts of war, and terrorism. I think you have to draw a distinction between acts of war that are illegitimate because they have effects that are disproportionate due to lack of complete knowledge of the combat situation, and acts in which war may not even be involved, and which are deliberately undertaken to terrify. To put it simply, a wrong may be the result of an error or mistake, or it may be the result of malice.

  6. Maybe I was unclear – I meant to ask if certain acts committed against Canadian military personnel could be qualified as legitimate acts in the war that Canada is waging against various groups, instead of being characterized as terrorism.

  7. The S.C. and the G.A. have condemned all forms of terrorism, by whomever, in any context, but have not provided a definition. Dictionaries, etc. would require that the tactic involve an intent to produce terror and a terror outcome. Trying to compel a state or govt. to do something may not involve an intent to produce terror, much less a terror outcome.

  8. Guy,

    I don’t think we can describe any of the attacks as “legitimate acts of war,” given that they were launched by individuals who are not privileged combatants. They are crimes under Canada’s domestic law and prosecutable as such. What we can say is that the acts were not all necessarily war crimes; those that targeted legitimate military objectives were clearly not.

  9. Of course, correctly to classify a violent act as simply criminal or terrorist or a legitimate act of war or whatever, is all very well, but I thought the objective here was to determine the causes of the act.

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