Is Stephen Harper off his rocker? Forget his trip to Jerusalem last year when the Canadian prime minister said that criticism of Israel was a “mask” for anti-Semitism. Ignore his utter failure to bring home to Canada al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy, whose retrial was staged by the Egyptian government to give him the chance to leave for his country of adoption. Cast aside Harper’s Blair-like contention that the Islamist murders of Canadian soldiers had nothing – absolutely zilch – to do with his decision to send Canada’s F-18 jets against Isis.
Now Harper, the man with the choir-boy good looks whose pro-Israeli policies might win him a seat in the Knesset, is about to push a truly eccentric piece of legislation through parliament in Ottawa. It’s called – and I urge readers to repeat the words lest they think it’s already April Fool’s Day – the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”. Yup, when I first read the phrase “Barbaric Cultural Practices Act”, I felt sure it was a joke, a line from the “Big Bang Theory” or a Channel 4 mockudrama about Nigel Farage’s first premiership.
Nope. It’s all real. But let me quickly explain that the “Barbaric Cultural Practices” in question are polygamy, “gender-based” family violence, “honour-killing” and forcing children under 16 to leave Canada for marriages abroad. I’ve no problem with legislation against this, of course. Nor have most Canadians.
I’m also against illegally invading foreign countries, colonising other people’s land, “waterboarding” and bombing wedding parties, or firing drone missiles into Waziristan villages. But these aren’t quite the “barbaric cultural practices” Mr Harper has in mind.
What’s odd about the “barbarism” he’s thinking about – although the very use of the word “culture” is intriguing now that Isis has determined that “culture” is a sin after the Tunis museum massacre – is that these “practices” are already forbidden by Canadian law.
Polygamy is illegal in Canada – although Mormon polygamists in British Columbia appear strangely untouched by the new legislation – and Canadians were a bit non-plussed to learn from their government last week that there are “hundreds” of polygamists in their country. As for “honour-killing”, murder is murder is murder, in Canada as in Britain and in the US and in almost every other country in the world.
No, the catch is that this unique legislation, which Canadian MPs will be discussing again today, is that it doesn’t come from Canada’s perfectly capable minister of justice Peter MacKay, but from the Canadian minister of – you guessed it – Citizenship and Immigration. Now isn’t that odd?
The chap in charge of Canada’s immigration policies is Christopher Alexander, who is himself a pretty “cultured” politician, a McGill and Balliol man, a former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, where there’s plenty of polygamy and “honour-killing” and child marriage, and, well, let’s not go into Afghan government corruption, Afghan police torture, drones and the rest.
Because in truth, the new Canadian legislation is about foreigners or – more to the point – Muslims. Hence the BC Mormons have nothing to worry about. Because the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act (Bill S-7) – let us keep repeating this weird name – is playing what Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom calls the “foreign barbarian card”.
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It foregrounds not crime per se but crime specifically associated with Muslims - hence the Canadian government’s legislative gloss that the act is against barbaric “traditions”. And Muslims, as we know, have for centuries been famous in Western song and legend for harems, multiple wives and disrespect for women.
There are indeed plenty of things wrong with Muslim societies. I’ve written extensively in The Independent about the scourge of “honour killings” – the slaughter of young women for refusing arranged marriages or adultery or who were merely rumoured to have behaved “immorally” (like calling a man on a mobile phone) in Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, “Palestine”, Jordan and Egypt.
We’ll forget for a moment that NGOs also told me that per head of population, “honour-killing” may be practised even more widely among Egyptian and Jordanian Christian communities. For the Christians, be sure, are not among Christopher Alexander’s targets.
It’s odd too, that “barbaric” is part of the Isis vocabulary for foreigners who bomb predominantly Muslim countries – America’s bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Yemen and Libya come to mind over the past 42 years – and collude with the occupation and theft of land from Arab Muslims by the very same country whose critics are in danger of being called “anti-Semitic” by Stephen Harper.
And you can be sure that this same prime minister, in his outrage at the barbaric practices of Isis – and Canadian Muslims – will understandably now be avoiding all talk of a little scandal that must be bothering him quite a bit in private: the Turkish accusation that a Syrian intelligence operative who allegedly helped three British girls cross into Isis-held Syria was also working for Canadian intelligence employees. Accprding to Turkey, these agents operated from the Canadian embassy in Amman – where the Canadian ambassador was handpicked by the aforementioned Stephen Harper after being the prime minister’s top bodyguard in Ottawa.
Now I’m not going to take the side of the Turkish police – they deported me from their country in 1991 after I found Turkish troops stealing blankets and food from Iraqi refugees. But their computer records reportedly show that the supposed spy for Canada, a certain Mr Rashed, entered Turkey 33 times on a Syrian passport and had also travelled to Canada.
The man does not work for CSIS, Canada’s spy outfit, according to Ottawa government “sources”. But officially, CSIS, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – the guys who always “get their man” – and Harper’s office have all refused to comment. The Ottawa Citizen has been highlighting another new bit of Harper legislation, Bill C-44 this time, which would allow Canadian judges to authorise CSIS activities abroad “to investigate a threat to the security” of Canada, “without regard to any other law, including that of any foreign state...”
Plenty to think about there. But no, it’s those pesky Canadian Muslims – or Muslim residents of Canada – who are the guilty ones, those who engage in “barbaric cultural practices”. It certainly says an awful lot about Harper’s Canadian political cultural practices.