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Jihadis and Far-Right: More in common than they care to admit

January 15, 2015

There is nothing quite like turning on minorities in times of crisis.  In response to last week’s massacre of Charlie Hebdo artists and writers by murderers claiming to avenge the Prophet, simple-minded bigots here and abroad want Muslims to pay.

News Corp executive and owner of Fox News Rupert Murdoch said Muslims must “recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer,” wilfully blurring the line between moderate and radical, normal and psychopath.

Even if he has since tried to backtrack, it’s a well-worn formula adopted by National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who said if the Islamist cancer is not eradicated, it will spread.

Dur etre aimee par les cons

It’s worth wondering whether the ravings of the right-wing panic brigade are batty after all, as Michael Deacon at The Telegraph writes, and examining what the right have to gain.

What if we turned on all Muslims as though they were some monolithic, homogeneous group, and  shunned them for supping with radicals.  And suppose all the while we did nothing to improve the prospects of low-income Muslim families living in areas of high unemployment.  Sparks have already flown in les banlieues in the past. What if we continued to feed this toxic mix of urban neglect and right-wing scapegoating, until more young men fell under the spell of extremist imams and their homicidal dogma?

And what if their ranks swelled, until new violence broke out, prompting a backlash so fierce that the government would be forced to act?  Well, the government would likely strengthen anti-terrorism laws, restrict civil liberties and rein in immigration.  Police profiling would not slacken any time soon.

Not only does this look like the policy platform of the National Front, it’s a snapshot of post-9/11 America – and a possible post-January 7 Europe to come. So obvious is the temptation of government over-reach that the French Prime Minister disavowed any looming Patriot Act à la Française, or indeed a French NSA.

Liberty and Civil Rights vs Fear and Militaristic Over-reach

France is at a cross-roads.  Over the past week, we’ve seen millions march in solidarity not seen since the first world war.  The government has striven to overcome fear and division and move toward national unity. But it will also deploy 10,000 troops and police across the country, increase surveillance, and is facing pressures for tougher legislation from predictable quarters.

Keep an eye on the far-right zealots, and the Islamists they claim to hate.

They have more in common than they would care to admit.



Only in America

Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

Imagine the country that triggered the 2008 financial meltdown criticizing the United Nations for “mismanagement.”  Under an emboldened Republican House, the US is threatening to cut its contributions to the UN, and may just look into corruption there, too.

Imagine a country that has been engaged in covert military activity or outright invasion almost every year in its modern history, urging Egyptians to pursue, “through non violence,” its fight for political freedom. “Violence is not the response,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said helpfully. Irate Egyptians apparently stopped mid-chant, and duly resumed their protests in a more peaceable manner. *

Out of the wealth of irony in Washington, there’s also the puzzlingly popular call to address American gun violence – with more guns. Maybe like everything else, irony itself is super-sized, to grotesque proportions.


* Update on the Egyptian protests, Feb. 2: So much for the peaceful part. It seems a White House press conference isn’t enough to avert chaos in the Middle East after all. Now Washington “deplores” the violence, says Gibbs. “We reiterate our call for all sides in Egypt to show restraint and avoid violence.” It should calm down any time now.


Clinging to the Escalator

January 23, 2011

Filing into Pearson airport in Toronto, more than 80% of the passengers stop dead on the escalators, waiting to be carried the rest of the way – after sitting in a plane for Seven Hours.

You can almost hear the nature show narrator whisper:  “Once known as Homo Sapien, he is the Biped Sloth, capable only of sitting, lying down and staring vacantly into illuminated screens…”


“I’m terribly sorry, but that’s going to cost you.”

December 13, 2010

This seems to be the ethos of no-frills airline Air Transat where, even if you arrive well before take-off, staff won’t hesitate in telling you to turn around, get on another flight – and pay again for the privilege.

During the London tube strike in September, the movement of an entire city was slowed to a crawl. Trains stopped and the subways fell silent. Above ground, there was chaos: Londoners and bewildered travellers ran into the streets vainly trying to hail cabs that were already full. People were running late or missing appointments altogether.

Some would understand – after all, this is London, and the hegemony of the Tube is known to have a heavy impact beyond its tracks and platforms.

Not everyone would, however.  The noise of urban life cannot be heard inside Gatwick Airport. And Air Transat staff within, were deaf to news that commuters who normally arrive two hours before flight time would on this day, be later. Arriving just under an hour before take-off was somehow too late.

“I’m sorry,” said the attendant curtly. “They’re not processing any more passengers now.”

When I pointed out the time, she pointed down the hall to a colleague selling tickets for later flights.

“Surely they’ll provide discounts for people caught up in a transit strike,” I hoped. “…Or at least at a reasonable rate,” as I approached the counter.

No such luck. It cost another $1,000 to get home.

The attendants’ tight smiles suggested that far from not doing their job, they were doing it quite well indeed. They had made money from me and the others lining up to buy tickets, all over again.


Email your stories about Air Transat – and any other companies doing well when their customers are not.


French weathermen held to a high standard

December 9, 2010

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon accuses France Meteo of failing to anticipate the massive snowfall which caused chaos in much of central France.  Now either the standard of meteorology in France is so exacting that any slip in forecasting must be punished with the utmost severity, or we have a politician groping about rather shamelessly to excuse the government’s lack of preparedness.

It may be worth asking Fillon if he wants to blame anyone else for any mishaps under his watch, or  if his dog has ever dined on the odd dossier.


It’s Not a Mosque. It’s Not at Ground Zero.

December 4, 2010

I’m sure it’s not just right-wing cranks and crazed cable news panellists who harbour a deep disdain for facts, or for anyone having the audacity to cite them. But at the risk of adding to their ire, let’s clear this much up: The “Ground-Zero Mosque” is neither a mosque, nor to be built at Ground Zero.

* It’s a multi-faith cultural centre housing a mosque and a prayer room for people of other faiths

* The multi-story building will include a swimming pool, childcare and exhibition facilities, a library, auditorium, restaurant and more

* It is more than two blocks away from the aptly named Ground Zero – where nothing has been built in the nearly 10 years since the Twin Towers were destroyed

This information is easy enough to find. So why is it still necessary to repeat such basic truths in the bizarre storm of relentless propaganda?

My fledgling theory begins with a few observations:
1.  Politicians and pundits – particularly the venal and more intellectually languid among them –  appeal to people’s most basic instincts of tribalism and resentment of the Other – whether Muslim, foreign or liberal

2.  These people harbour an insatiable appetite for power, political gain, and popularity, and know to offer scapegoats and simple solutions

3.  A badly educated nation, largely dependent on cable news for the bulk of their information about the world, has suffered a steady erosion of their critical faculties, and they are less capable of providing – or even  digesting – a cool analysis of complex issues. They instead fall prey to the doggerel pushed by people like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly – and a host of other snake-oil salesmen who would have difficulty getting a job in any other country.


Royal Posse Goes Street

December 2, 2010

As hard as colonies around the world once fought for independence, millions continue to harbour a bizarre fascination with the royal family. Prince William and Kate Middleton’s announcement that they would marry in 2011 graced the news pages and TV screens all over a planet on which the sun of empire once never set.

The Colonial Mentality of which Fela Kuti sang decades ago, remains pathologically entrenched, but the royals for their part, are modernising. Prince Charles has long been an eco-advocate, and wifey Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall has been studying street lingo, saying news of the wedding is “wicked.”

To which the head of the Windsor Massive – aka Queenie – bawled out: “Lick a shot!”  Thus began a celebration where royal rudies bust pure lead all over Buckingham, and a merry time was had by all, with minimal casualties.


Toronto a Hick Town in Sheep’s Clothing

November 14, 2010

An otherwise excellent columnist for the Toronto Star recently penned a veritable ode to recent road works on Bloor Street,  in one of Toronto’s ritzy districts. It also happens to be one of the main roads that carries people from the suburbs into the city, where cyclists have been lobbying for bike lanes to make travel safer, for years. To no avail.  Here’s my missive:

Dear Chris:

I’m surprised and saddened by the omission of any reference to the absence of bike lanes on Bloor. It remains a glaring insult to people who live sustainably that in the vast majority of Toronto’s streets, there is nowhere for people to ride safely. You write of the poor pedestrians, who finally have room to move freely in Bloor’s ritzy strip. Well, for Toronto’s 5,000 kms of roads, there are as many kms of sidewalk – and but 100kms of bike lanes.

Refining the borders of our clogged streets with potted plants while refusing to paint a stripe on either side is yet another reminder that Toronto is a red-neck town that changes its shirt without ever abandoning its backwardness.

You normally take the time to produce a thoughtful, holistic appraisal of city planning. But this ode to cosmetics leaves readers with the impression that what is being built on Bloor is progressive. It is not. It’s retrograde pandering to Toronto’s nauseating brew of base and superficial instincts.