Canada and the Terrorism of the Weak
November 2, 2014
By Stephen Gowans
Seven years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British forces, the director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency at the time of the invasion, Lady Manningham-Buller, confessed that Iraq had posed little danger, and that the invasion itself created a threat by radicalizing Muslims.  Thirteen years after the United States launched a “war on terror” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda, once a small group with a few bases in Afghanistan, had metastasized into the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a militarily sophisticated organization which controlled an area in Iraq and Syria the size of Britain.
Al-Qaeda has come a long way, despite the war on terror. Jihadist militants now challenge Western domination of traditionally Sunni Muslim areas from North Africa to Afghanistan. They do so in various ways: with weapons captured from the regular armies of Iraq, and of the independent, secular, nationalist governments of Libya and Syria, or provided to them by Gulf monarchies subservient to the United States; through suicide bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings; and through terrorist attacks on Western countries.
In the film, The Battle for Algiers, a journalist asks the Algerian liberation leader Ben M’Hidi: “Don’t you think it’s a bit cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosives that kill so many people?” M’Hidi replies: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenceless villagers so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombs and you can have our baskets.” 
Victims of Western foreign policy fight back. And since they do not have access to sophisticated weapons, they use whatever is at hand, which often means low-level attacks on civilian populations to induce them to press their governments to end policies the terrorists object to. Terrorist attacks are not random, irrational, unplanned events, without concrete goals. Political scientist Robert A. Pape, who studied every case of suicide terrorism that occurred over a two decade span, points out that the terrorism of the weak is invariably aimed at pressuring target countries to withdraw their military forces from territory the terrorists consider to be their homeland.  For example, Osama bin Laden attributed his campaign of terrorism against the United States to Washington “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorising its neighbours, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples.” Other programs of suicide terrorism have pursued similar goals. Pape notes that, “Suicide terrorists sought to compel American and French military forces to abandon Lebanon in 1983, Israeli forces to leave Lebanon in 1985, Israeli forces to quit the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1994 and 1995, the Sri Lankan government to create an independent Tamil state from 1990 on, and the Turkish government to grant autonomy to the Kurds in the late 1990s.” 
Canada’s decision to support the U.S.-led war against ISIS won’t enhance the security of Canadians. It will, like the 2003 U.S.-British invasion and occupation of Iraq, simply radicalize more Muslims. Canadians could become the targets of retaliatory attacks. A Canadian member of ISIS warned in a video uploaded to YouTube in “a message to Canada and all American powers. We are coming and we will destroy you.” 
Strengthening the Canadian Police State
The increased threat of terrorist attack has led police states in the Western world, including Canada, to become police states on an elevated scale. Calling Canada a police state may seem odd. We are so thoroughly imbued with the notion that North American and Western European countries are liberal democratic counter-examples to the police state, that the idea of calling Canada a police state seems as nonsensical as calling night, day. Even critics who are acutely aware of the parallels between Canada and the archetype of the police state, East Germany (with its notorious Stasi) find it difficult to put “Canada” and “police state” together in the same sentence. Canadian social scientists Reg Whitaker, Gregory Kealey and Andrew Parnaby wrote a long history of the police state in Canada , but couldn’t bring themselves to use the phrase “Canada’s police state.” Instead, they noted that “the state in a liberal democracy like Canada” has behaved remarkably like a police state. It has “persistently spied on its own people, run undercover agents and maintained secret sources of information…and kept secret files that categorized people in terms of their personal beliefs.” All the same, in the hands of Whitaker et al., Canada escapes the police state designation. The journalist Patrick Cockburn complains that Western governments have adopted the methods of police states, but Cockburn doesn’t say they are ones. It’s as if it’s all right to acknowledge that Canada and its liberal democratic cohorts behave like police states, but not to label them as such.
Yet consider the facts: The political police in Canada have shown “remarkable energy and zeal in spying on larger numbers of citizens. (An official) commission (of inquiry) discovered in 1977 than the RCMP security service maintained a name index with 1,300,000 entries, representing 800,000 files on individuals,” at a time the country had a population of only 24 million.  Among the Canadians the police state spied on was Tommy Douglas, revered for his contributions to the creation of Canada’s public health insurance system. Although Douglas died three decades ago, the state refuses to publicly disclose its file on the prairie politician to protect the informants who secretly passed on information about him to the state. The informants may still be alive, and the state doesn’t want to reveal their names to assure future informants that their anonymity is guaranteed and that it is safe to spy on fellow Canadians. 
Ken Stone, a non-violent activist from Hamilton, Ontario, has spent a lifetime organizing on behalf of workers and for various progressive causes. After graduating from the University of Toronto in the 1960s—where he ripped up his Bachelor of Arts degree at his graduation ceremony, telling the audience “This piece of paper is meaningless”—he sought out a working class job, settling in Hamilton to drive trucks for Canada Post. He became active in his union, and politically engaged, “protesting, organizing, rallying, struggling, demonstrating, sitting in, agitating, voting and even running for office.” That was enough to bring Stone to the attention of Canada’ police state, which amassed “a 700-page long RCMP and CSIS file, detailing every meeting he attended between 1968 and 1986.” 
Between 1950 and 1986 Canada’s political police compiled a list of 66,000 Canadians who were active in working class causes, who would, in the event of a leftwing threat to the established order, be arrested and interned in concentration camps. Stone was on the list. 
The leftwing U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky has pointed out that politics is far more than voting, and that voting is only a very small part of politics. Politics is doing what Stone has done most of his life: organizing, struggling, pressuring, agitating, educating, rallying, and demonstrating, on top of voting and participating in the electoral process. Chomsky, and other leftwing intellectuals, criticize elections “as a method of marginalizing the population”  by encouraging people to think that the political process is limited to casting a ballot every few years.
The effect of believing that politics equals voting, full stop, is to yield the political field to the corporate elite. In the Fall 2014 issue of Perspectives in Politics, political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page examined over 1,700 public policy issues, concluding that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interests groups have little or no independent influence.” 
Economic elites exert an outsize influence on public policy because they recognize that politics is far more than voting and use their wealth to buy resources that allow them to influence policies of interest to them in the state. They overcome their disadvantage of holding only a tiny fraction of all votes (they are, after all, only the one percent) by pressuring politicians directly, shaping public opinion to favor corporate positions, and becoming directly involved in public life. They lobby; fund public policy think-tanks and advocacy organizations to promote pro-corporate positions; donate to political campaigns; rotate their members in and out of key positions in government and the state; provide lucrative job opportunities to former politicians who supported corporate elite positions while in office, thereby encouraging sitting politicians to aspire to the same opportunities and to act accordingly; and shape public opinion to support pro-business positions through their ownership and control of the mass media.
Stone wasn’t marginalized by the deception that politics is voting and nothing more—the misconception that allows the corporate elite a free hand to dominate the country’s political life. But the reality is that people who recognize that politics is more than voting and act accordingly come to the attention of Canada’s police state, if they work on behalf of progressive, popular, or working class interests. On the other hand, Canadians who promote corporate Canada’s interests, or limit their political activity to voting, or are politically inert, never know that a police state exists in Canada, and wonder about the sanity of those who say it does.
Already strong, the police state has been strengthened further in the wake of 9/11. Laws which once set limits on the political police have either been weakened or done away with. Additionally, Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, has revealed that the United States and its anglosphere partners in the so-called Five Eyes signal intelligence network, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, operate a massive electronic surveillance program that scoops up personal information on virtually everyone. There is no doubt that information collected through ubiquitous surveillance could protect Canadians from people with malicious designs (but not from terrorists who are sophisticated enough to take effective measures to minimize the risks of their communications being intercepted.) The problem is that Snowden’s revelations have shown that the surveillance program is also used to spy on world leaders, including allies, and to gather information related to trade and business deals , while there’s little evidence that it has actually prevented terrorist attacks.
While the strengthening of the police state in Canada might seem to be a matter of indifference for ordinary Canadians—after all, isn’t disrupting a terrorist plot the worst that could happen?—the political orientation of the political police should worry anyone who works to advance the interests of the 99 percent. The history of the police state in Canada is one of monitoring and disrupting people who organize on behalf of the exploited and oppressed in the economic and political spheres. A stronger police state, then, means the state is in a stronger position to use its surveillance apparatus to undermine unions, working class political parties, and groups and individuals advancing progressive causes which challenge the rich and powerful.
Echoing the entanglements of Ken Stone with Canada’s police state, Whitaker, Kealey and Parnaby point out that Canadian security services have a long history of surveillance “on the side of the political/economic status quo” and against those “who challenge the powerful and the wealthy.” They add that the history of the political police in Canada is one of “conservatism” where the “the targets of state surveillance form a kind of roster of Canadian (working class) radicalism” and where those who pursue the class war from the bottom up have been seen as subverting “the proper political and economic order” and therefore are deemed legitimate subjects for surveillance and disruption. They adduce “evidence that the secret police may have played an active role in covertly disrupting, dividing and defeating unions.” Accordingly, they brand the activities of Canada’s security police as “an activist conservatism on behalf of capital against its perceived enemies” and note that the intervention of the security services against working class activists challenges “the standard rhetoric about the neutrality of the democratic state.” 
The strengthening of the political policing apparatus of the state—while it may indeed be useful in disrupting terrorist attacks—opens up space for the corporate community through its sway over the state to more muscularly assert its interests against ordinary Canadians.
Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak to Protect Canadians
Terrorism is the use of political violence against civilians to pressure governments to bring about changes in public policy. Used by the weak, it almost invariably aims at pressuring target countries to withdraw their military forces from territory the terrorists consider to be their homeland. But it is not exclusively the tool of the weak. Terrorism is also used on a massive scale by Western countries and their allies, whose bombing campaigns against foreign targets deliberately create misery among civilian populations in order to pressure them to overthrow their government or demand that it capitulate to the ultimata of Western powers. No better evidence of the terrorist intent of Western bombing campaigns is provided than in U.S. Air Force Lt. General Michael Short’s explanation of the objectives of the 1999 U.S.-led NATO air war on the former Yugoslavia, in which Canada took part. Explained Short, “If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo?  How much more of this do we have to withstand?’”  This is a text-book example of terrorism.
The most effective way to deal with the terrorism of the weak is to treat its causes. If it aims to force foreign military forces to withdraw from territory the terrorists consider their homeland, and military forces are in the territory on illegitimate grounds, it follows that morally and politically, but also with regard to safeguarding the security of Canadians, that the occupations and interventions should be brought to an end. Canadian military force ought to be deployed to protect Canadians, not to endanger them by unnecessarily provoking retaliatory attacks. Since Western militaries have no legitimate right to intervene in the territories militant Sunni Muslim fundamentalists consider to be their homeland, the most effective way to safeguard the security of Canadian citizens from ISIS’s terrorism of the weak is to bring the interventions to an end.
But in order to justify continued military intervention in the Middle East, Canadian politicians, including the prime minister, deliberately confuse cause and effect. They would like Canadians to believe that the threat of terrorism against Canadians has caused the government to contribute military personnel and equipment to the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS as a measure of self-defence. However, the truth of the matter is that ISIS poses no threat to Canada, except insofar as the country’s military participates in a campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy it. Canada’s sending troops and warplanes to Iraq has caused ISIS terrorists to threaten Canada, not the other way around. And the 13-year war on terror has done nothing to eliminate the terrorism of the weak. To the contrary, it has made it stronger and more pervasive.
Security analysts had warned that the threat against Canada had been increasing for more than a decade, “after Canada sent the military into Afghanistan and amid Mr. Harper’s robust support for Israel and strong criticism of Iran.” Ray Boisvert, a former senior official with CSIS, explained that “We have been in the top five of al Qaeda targets now for over a decade.” He didn’t, however, explain that this is not, as politicians and much of the mass media would have us believe, because al-Qaeda has an irrational hatred of Canada, but because the organization views Canada as contributing to the U.S.-led project of occupying Muslim territory, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, and humiliating its people, as bin Laden put it. More specifically, CSIS warned that Canada’s joining the fight against ISIS would increase the chances that ISIS or its sympathizers would strike Canadian targets. 
The security agency didn’t have to uncover hidden information to learn that Ottawa’s declaration of war on the Islamic State raised the terrorism threat level. ISIS announced it. The militant organization’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, urged sympathizers to carry out attacks on the nationals of countries taking part in the mission against ISIS. He said, “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French —or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be.” 
One month later—and just one day after CF-18s were dispatched to an airbase in Kuwait to take part in the U.S.-led campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS—Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a convert to Islam, and possibly inspired by al-Adnani’s exhortation, shot and killed a soldier standing guard at the Cenotaph in Ottawa, before making his way to the Parliament Buildings, where he fought a gun battle with security officers before being fatally wounded. A week earlier, Martin Couture-Rouleau, a convert to Islam who aspired to travel to Iraq to fight with ISIS, used an automobile to run down two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, before being shot and killed by police. The government seized on these incidents to justify its decision (which had been taken before these incidents occurred) to join the coalition against the Islamic State. The prime minister told the country that Canada would continue to “fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores.” This was tantamount to poking at a hornets’ nest, getting stung, and then using the fact you were stung as a reason to continue poking.
Clearly, ISIS was not calling for terrorist attacks on Canadians out of random, irrational, lust for violence. It did so to pressure Ottawa to reverse its decision to send special forces to northern Iraq to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces to fight ISIS and warplanes to the Middle East to attack ISIS positions in Iraq’s Anbar province. Significantly, Ottawa raised no objection to ISIS when the violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists were slaughtering their way across Syria and threatening to topple the independent secular nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, ISIS’s successes were largely attributable to aid received, both directly and indirectly, from Ottawa’s allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It was only when ISIS threatened the Iraqi government, which Ottawa supports, that Canada joined the Washington-led campaign to stop ISIS.
The appeal of the Islamic State to many Arab Sunni Muslims lies in their sympathy for what they see as the organization’s goals: (1) to erase the artificial divisions in the Arab world created by Britain and France after WWI when the two European powers carved up Arab territory into multiple states subordinate to the West; (2) to overthrow the corrupt dictators of the Arab world who rule at the pleasure of the United States; and (3) to return the region’s oil wealth to the people. 
There are no lofty reasons for Canada to participate in the war on ISIS. To claim that Canada’s intervention against the violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists is motivated by opposition to the organization’s barbarity is a demagogic sham. ISIS is virtually indistinguishable in the cruelty of its methods and harshness of its ideology from Saudi Arabia, which Canada strongly supports. If Ottawa truly abhorred ISIS’s vicious anti-Shia sectarianism, cruel misogyny, benighted religious practices, and penchant for beheadings, CF-18s would be bombing Riyadh, in addition to ISIS positions. Instead, Saudi Arabia, a theocratic absolutist monarchy, one of the last on earth, continues to receive Canada’s undiminished support.
ISIS is only a threat to Canada because the RCAF has been deployed to a military campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy it, and in support of continued Western domination of the Arab world, which militant Sunni Muslim fundamentalists (as well as many others in the region) vehemently object to. While ISIS may be the immediate cause of the terrorist threat to Canada, Ottawa’s decision to commit Canadian military forces in support of the maintenance of U.S. hegemony over Arab territory is the root cause, and a danger to the non-combatant Canadian soldiers and ordinary citizens who are the potential targets of blowback against this policy. Ottawa ought to be using the military to protect Canadians, not to unnecessarily endanger them.
Moreover, Ottawa should not be using the elevated threat of terrorists attack, of which it, itself, is the author, to justify the expansion of a police state which, if history is a guide, will be used to monitor and disrupt the activities of unions, left-wing political parties, and groups and individuals who challenge the rich and powerful, on top of Islamists and other opponents of Canada’s illegitimate military interventions abroad.
1. Sarah Lyall, “Ex-0fficial says Afghan and Iraq wars increased threats to Britain”, The New York Times, July 20, 2010.
2. The Battle of Algiers, Quotes, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058946/quotes
3. Robert A. Pape, “The strategic logic of suicide terrorism,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, August 2003.
6. Patrick Cockburn. The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. OR Books. 2014.
7. Reg Whitaker, Gregory S. Kealey, and Andrew Parnaby. Secret Service: Political Policing in Canada from the Fenians to Fortress America. University of Toronto Press. 2012.
8. Whitaker, Kaley, and Parnaby.
9. Colin Freeze, “CSIS fights to keep Tommy Douglas spying file under wraps,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 10, 2010.
10. Jeff Mahoney, “Working the shop floor of democracy,” The Hamilton Spectator, October 27, 2014.
12. This was the RCMP’s ProFunc (prominent functionaries of the communist party) list. See Kimball Cariou, “Profunc questions remain unanswered” People’s Voice, October 16-31, 2011.
13. In Andre Vltchek, “Down with Western democracy,” counterpunch.org, May 23, 2014.
14. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014. http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf
15. James Glanz and Andrew W. Lehren, “N.S.A. spied on allies, aid groups and businesses”, New York Times, December 20, 2013.
16. Whitaker, Kealey, and Parnaby.
17. A reference to the country’s leader, Slobodan Milosevic.
18. “What this war is really about,” The Globe and Mail, May 26, 1999.
19. Paula Vieira, Alistair MacDonald and Ben Dummet, “Two dead in Canada shootings,” The Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2014,
20. Ian Austen and Rick Gladstone, “Gunman panics Ottawa, killing soldier in spree at capital,” The New York Times, October 22, 2014.
21. David D. Kirkpatrick, “New freedoms in Tunisia drive support for ISIS,” The New York times, October 21, 2014.