Michael Van Arragon


Canadian Parliamentary Rhetoric is Damaging

A young activist and social service worker argues for journalists & academics to engage in relativistic enquiries and not fall for the dogmatic corporate narratives.

Sayyid Ali Khamenei,

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It’s an interesting exercise to engage in a letter writing campaign like this one. To start I think we ought to address Canadian parliament and some of the rhetorical limitations imposed on the discursive elements of this immediate moment in history. Today (02/19/15) the new Canadian Minister of Defense Jason Kenny gave his maiden speech to the CDA Institute (A militaristic advocacy body) in which he berated the average Canadian citizen for exhibiting a fantastical and privileged complacency in the face of overt attacks on “western civilization” claiming; “We face a global movement that literally defies reason.” Kenny went on to string together recent attacks across Europe with the concept of ISIS-in-our-backyard; a perfect segue into Canada’s prospects as a continual partner to NATO ambitions in Iraq and Syria. This is a stylized and divisive framework for popular discourse: the noble (white) “west” versus the murky Islamic monolith. It is a current that is cynically orchestrated to usher in public support for a controversial policing bill and the strengthening of conservative legislative control through the criminalization of dissent. It is believed by Canadian progressives that this legal maneuver disproportionately targets young people of color.
Our Prime Minister recently laid out the purview of the new legislation, which is to target anyone sympathetic to the Muslim victims of imperialism abroad or racist policing at home. While the bill is democratically presumed neutral on the question of religion, it is clarified by the Prime Minister thusly: “It doesn’t matter what the age of the person is, or whether they’re in a basement, or whether they’re in a mosque or somewhere else.”

It is crucial then to focus on the hearts and minds of youth as they work to interpret contemporary misinformation set against a revisionist history that favors the narrative of Christian conquest. Economic conditions determine our response to an extent and employment prospects for youth are bleak. Neoliberal readjustments to domestic economies based on the exploitation of commoditized labor in “emerging markets” has moved well-paying manufacturing jobs away from industrial centers like in my hometown. Precarious work in minimum-wage service industries awaits the uneducated, undereducated and overeducated alike (all are victims of the same natural impulses of profitability). The same youth who will endure this economic paradigm have only known their country as one that is perpetually at war with Muslims abroad (for instance: Canada waged a deadly occupation on Afghanistan from 2001-2014). It is this volatile mix of economic instability and constant, reactionary foreign policy that has me worried. A new Poll by the Angus Reid Institute claims: “82% of Canadians support Bill C-51” (this is the innately Islamaphobic policing-act mentioned earlier). Furthermore the poll shows that “One in three respondents say the bill doesn’t go far enough.”

With the federal Election imminent a bizarre attack on the Canadian parliament in October became an opportune moment for the Harper government to polish its’ tough-on-terrorist, tough-on-Muslims edifice; immediately playing to the lowest instincts of a volatile electorate. Harper pushed for and won a new combat mission in Iraq. It’s been this instance of violence at the capital that has justified and excused any and all nationalistic, militaristic and racist fervor in parliament since.

Recently, a youth-led, mass-shooting conspiracy in Halifax was uncovered, the scale and nature of the attack so disturbing it briefly entered the same conversation on national security and protective measures usually reserved for people of color and environmentalists. The conspiracy was to be realized by white Canadian youth linked to online neo-Nazi subculture. There is a lot of speculation as to what the causes of youth-alienation are, it cannot be said that Islam plays any significant role in this instance. Certainly this sort of violence does nothing to legitimize the culture of orientalism and Islamaphobia that necessitates the current policy, in fact, the political consequences of the plot spilled over into an interesting distinction made by Justice Minister Peter Mackay (02/14/15) “What we know of these alleged plans for a mass attack against our friends and our neighbours is that the attack does not appear to have been culturally motivated — therefore not linked to terrorism.” Unfortunately fears over state repression on the question of terrorism have only been shared by white Canadians due to the risk of “broad interpretations of the definition” a valid concern but a protectionist one at that. When asked to clarify this point further, the minister told reporters: “look it up.” The political conscience of the ministerial cabinet shows a confirmation bias that prioritizes the actions of Muslims in every context even when empirical evidence provides new applications for the same posture.

If our youth are to have a clear picture of anything happening today, academics and Journalists must engage with some form of relativistic inquiry that weighs fact favorably against the dogmatic and contradictory epistemology of corporatist governments. While I don’t see any expediency in crafting a detailed comparison of religions as perpetrators of violence it is worthwhile to think about the confluence of Christian faith and colonial adventurers as these historical trends can be drawn out into contemporary understandings of geopolitical contentions for our purposes. Iran’s position in particular (seen by some as counter-hegemon) is not easily interpreted when couched in the hypocritical positions taken up on religion and energy acquisition by mainstream scholarship. As a rival retailer in the oil-market; Canada is pressured by private interests to continue its’ sanction on your country for principled concerns over nuclear energy, resource securitization and state-repression. Simultaneously, no apologies are ever made by our government for the egregious degradation of our shared environment, the toxic fallout from bitumen extraction at Albertan tar-sands, the exploitation of treaty rights with First Nations or the advantageous geopolitical position taken up last year by The Canadian Commercial Corporation as it pledges a 14.8 billion dollar contract to the vicious Saudi Monarchy. To be sure this is a simplistic overview of our interconnectedness as youth across the world and under government, but it is with this exciting new conversation that we engage our peers before they are swallowed up by the propaganda of state and capital.

I can only conclude by exposing myself as a person of no-faith or spirituality who was once very dismissive of my Muslim siblings. While I am learning to show love and solidarity anew, I still benefit from my white skin and ambiguous spiritual identity in the political climate I briefly described. At first I wasn’t sure if I should participate in this forum or not, it’s difficult to write with conscience, brevity and passion while divested from any allegiance to Canada, Iran or any religion. I came to think that if my voice among these letters helps to mitigate the antagonisms perpetrated by the current and dominant culture through conversation here or abroad, than that is something. Thank you for your time and conference.

Michael Van Arragon, Social Service Work Student, Hamilton Ontario

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