The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The ISIS Crisis Comes to Canada

In my last essay I talked about how an alliance of Western countries, including Canada, was coming together to fight ISIS or the Islamic State, a jihadist terrorist organization that has seized a large chunk of territory in Iraq and Syria, declared itself a caliphate, and has been kidnapping young women, committing ethnic cleansing against groups like the Yazidis, beheading Western journalists and behaving atrociously in general. I talked about how the rise of ISIS was made possible by the folly of the current American President and his predecessor. The governments of Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad, while despicable in many respects, were capable of keeping jihadist groups like the one that became ISIS in check. In their confidence in the ability of liberal democracy to create a new and better world, George W. Bush removed Hussein and Barack H. Obama threw his support behind the rebels seeking to oust Assad. I talked about how the war against ISIS was being fought on behalf of an unworthy cause, of liberalism, the disease that is killing Western civilization from the inside out, rather than Christianity, the faith which resisted Islam’s onslaught on the Western world from the Battle of Tours to the Gates of Vienna. I also talked about how the Bush doctrine of taking the fight to the terrorists, i.e., waging wars overseas to wipe them out before they can attack us at home is the mirror image of what we ought to be doing. We should be trying to keep jihadists out of Western countries so that we do not need to waste Western lives and Western money waging war overseas. Dr. Srdja Trifkovic has said that “The victory will come not by conquering Mecca for America, but by disengaging America from Mecca and by excluding Mecca from America” (1) and if we substitute “Western civilization” for “America” I think that is about right.

Within days of having completed this essay another aspect of the problem presented itself.

On Monday, October 20th, a young man named Martin Couture-Rouleau ran down a couple of Canadian soldiers with his Nissan Altima inthe Quebec city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. One of these, a fifty-three year old Warrant Officer named Patrice Vincent, died from the injuries the next day. After the attack Couture-Rouleau called 911 to boast of what he had done “in the name of Allah”, then took off in his vehicle with the police in hot pursuit and ran into a ditch, escaped his vehicle, attacked the cops with a knife, and was shot down dead. He had converted to Islam last year, renamed himself Ahmad LeConverti, and had his passport confiscated because he wished to go overseas to join ISIS.

Two days later, another young man named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, went to the National War Memorial in Ottawa and shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo, one of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, from behind with a rifle. He then fled the scene of the murder, arrived at Parliament Hill, jacked a vehicle which he drove to the Peace Tower, entered the Parliamentary buildings and engaged the House of Commons security forces in a gun fight in the Hall of Honour before being taken down by Sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers. Zehaf-Bibeau had converted to Islam ten years ago.

These incidents, which were apparently unrelated, present another aspect to the problem in that the perpetrators here were home-grown. Couture-Rouleau and Zehaf-Bibeau were Canadians, and not just in the same sense that Omar Khadr, who had been born in Toronto, to a family that raised him in Peshawar, Pakistan and Jalalabad, Afghanistan is a “Canadian”. They were both born and raised in Canada, to Canadian families, and were brought up in mainstream Canadian culture. Their conversion to Islam was one side of a coin, the other side of which was a rejection of the society into which they had been born and its culture.

Now clearly a strategy that focuses on keeping jihadists out of the country with a sensible immigration policy and strong border security cannot prevent attacks from homegrown terrorists who have rejected the country, society, and culture into which they were born and have by choice embraced the culture of jihad. Indeed, a preventative strategy against this sort of attack is likely to prove elusive. Measures like tightening up security in places that are at high risk of being targeted and increasing domestic surveillance can only do so much and come with a heavy cost in terms of freedom lost. We have only just now, in the last few years, began to recover the freedom that was stolen from us by the father of the present leader of the Liberal Party back in the 1970s and can scarcely afford to lose any more.

Speaking of Trudeau père, it was he who in 1971 declared Canada to be officially multicultural. This is a huge part of the problem we are dealing with. Multicultural, as Trudeau used the term, means something more than mere cultural plurality. Culturally, a society can be either homogenous or plural. There are different kinds of homogeneity and plurality. The city-states of ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy had one type of cultural homogeneity, the nation-states of post-Renaissance Europe had another. The Roman Empire, in which a multitude of local cultures were tolerated so long as they recognized the supremacy of Rome was a different kind of cultural plurality from that which came about in Britain when the king of Presbyterian Scotland inherited the throne of Anglican England.

Canada has always been a culturally plural country. In the original Confederation of 1867 there were four provinces, three of which were primarily English and Protestant, one of which was French and Roman Catholic. The plurality, the Fathers of Confederation had in mind for the country they established, was a plurality along the lines of that which then existed in Austria-Hungary in which culturally distinct nations were joined by a common loyalty to a Christian royal House. This is not the kind of plurality Trudeau had in mind when he declared Canada to be multicultural.

Trudeau’s multiculturalism is a pluralism based upon the idea of equality – that all cultures are equal. This is not the same thing as saying that under the Crown all citizens have the same rights and are subject to the same laws regardless of their culture. The latter idea is not culturally neutral but is distinctive of certain cultures and not present in others. If all cultures are equal then a culture that contains this idea is no better for doing so than a culture that does not and the opposite of this concept is equally valid. The only way in which all cultures could be equal would be if all cultures were equally worthless. Multiculturalism or cultural egalitarianism is cultural nihilism.

This applies to religion, which T. S. Eliot rightly said was the heart and centre of culture, as well. Religions do not all teach the same thing. Therefore, the only way in which all religions could be equal would be if they were all wrong. This would seem to be exactly what many progressives think or at least assume, even if they are unwilling to admit it. This assumption could only have developed in the vacuum created by the loss of faith in the religion that has been at heart of Western culture and civilization for almost two millennia. Perhaps that vacuum might help explain how two young men, born and raised in the Western country of Canada, could so reject their country, its culture,and the larger civilization to which it belongs as to embrace, in a zealous and violent way, the religion that has sought to conquer that civilization by force since the seventh century. If Trudeau fils is still looking for "root causes" of jihadist violence that is one he might consider.


(1) In Defeating Jihad: How the War on Terror May Yet Be Won In Spite of Ourselves, (Boston: Regina Orthodox Press, 2006).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The ISIS Crisis

In the op/ed columns of newspapers and on blogs on the internet and in commentary on television and radio, a debate is raging over the necessity of “boots on the ground”. The question is one of how to deal with ISIS – not the ancient Egyptian goddess but the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – the Sunni jihadist organization that has seized control of a large chunk of territory on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border and which earlier this year proclaimed itself to be a caliphate. We have been hearing news stories about the atrocities this group has perpetrated, from the ethnic cleansing of the Yazidi to the mass kidnapping of Christian girls to the beheading of Western journalists, for months and for those carrying out the aforementioned debate, it is a matter of whether air strikes would be a sufficient response or whether a ground invasion is necessary. It is taken as a given by both sides that military intervention of some sort or another is necessary..

That military action against ISIS is necessary is certainly the position of our Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Last month he declared the Islamic State to be “a direct threat to the security of this country” and promised that Canada would not “stand on the sidelines and watch” in the fight against ISIS but that we would “do our part”. What doing our part entails, apparently, is the sending of Canadian CF-18 Hornet fighter jets, along with support vehicles and military personnel, to take part in an international coalition fighting against ISIS in Iraq. The House of Commons approved this action by a vote of 157-134 on October 7th and polls indicate that it has broad support among Canadians.

That support is not universal, of course, and while Prime Minister Harper’s rhetoric does raise the interesting question of what he would have proposed to do about this “direct threat” to Canada’s security if an international coalition had not already existed and neither the USA, UK, not UN showed any interest in fighting ISIS, perhaps the best argument in favour of the government’s position is to contrast it with the alternative position of the vapid and vainglorious leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau insists that Canada’s role in this conflict should be one of providing “humanitarian assistance” rather than combat, i.e., providing food, shelter, and other necessities to the victims of ISIS rather than helping to take out the terrorist organization that is victimizing them. This is rather akin to the man in the old anecdote about the insane asylum who proves that he is worthy of abiding in that institution by continuing to mop up a floor flooded by an overflowing sink rather than turn off the tap.

Recently, former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien weighed in on the matter, supporting Trudeau’s position, pointing to all the thankful remarks he still receives from Canadians for keeping us out of the 2003 Iraq War and saying that providing humanitarian assistance has been Canada’s way for fifty years. That is somewhat of an oversimplification, which ignores the fact that Canadians had a combat role in the War on Afghanistan authorized by Mr. Chretien himself or that we had a combat role in the original war against Saddam Hussein in 1991.

Yes, Jean Chretien was right to keep us out of the 2003 Iraq War. It was probably the only time in his life he was ever right about anything but you know what they say about a stopped clock. The invasion of Iraq began in the March of 2003, one year and a half after the attack by Islamic terrorist organization Al Qaeda upon the United States on September 11, 2001. It was this latter event that took the administration of then American President George W. Bush down a militaristic path. Now the United States, at least to any sane person, had in the 9/11 attack a clear justification for retaliation. It seemed odd, therefore, that so soon after 9/11, while its broadly supported efforts to take out the terrorist organization responsible for the attacks and the Taliban regime that sheltered them were still underway and incomplete, the Bush administration would concentrate so much effort on taking out the Saddam Hussein regime which had no plausible connection to the attacks.

The Bush administration’s official reason for toppling the Hussein regime was their claim that Hussein was developing Weapons of Mass Destruction which it was cleverly hiding from UN inspection teams. That seemed then as it seems now to be an excuse, a pretence that hid the Bush administration’s real motives. At the time those of us, left and right, who thought the Iraq War was a mistake, did so because a costly war of regime change in Iraq did not make sense when the War in Afghanistan was still underway and because we suspected that the actual motives of the Bush administration were less than noble. Whether those suspicions were warranted or not, now, looking on it from the perspective of eleven years of hindsight, another reason for considering the Iraq War to have been utter folly is apparent. Namely, that it is the removal of Saddam Hussein that made the rise of ISIS possible.

The Ba’ath government of Saddam Hussein was reprehensible in many ways, of course, but what it had going for it was that it was capable of keeping jihadist groups like the one that eventually became ISIS down. If what Iraq needed was a stable government, with something vaguely resembling law and order if you looked at it from far enough away, where Muslims other than those of the predominant sect, Christians, and other groups would enjoy a degree of protection and not be completely trampled on, then Saddam Hussein was the best of all possible bad options.

Whatever the non-ideological motivations of the Bush administration might have been, two overarching ideological principles can be seen to have guided its military actions. The first is the idea of “taking the fight to the enemy”, i.e., going overseas to take out the terrorists before they can attack us in Western countries. The second is the idea is that terrorism is the product of and supported by non-democratic governments which should therefore be replaced by democratic ones wherever possible. If the “War on Terror” was an expression of the first idea, the Iraq War embodied the second.

The current President of the United States has been criticized by many for his handling of international affairs. Frequently this takes the form of comparing him negatively to George W. Bush – whereas the latter was decisive, firm, and strong, Obama is indecisive, wishy-washy, and weak. However much truth there may be in this, I would suggest that with regards to international affairs, Obama deserves the most criticism for the area in which he and Bush are most alike, namely their naïve belief in democracy as a universal force for good.

By removing the dictator who kept such forces at bay in Iraq, in the name of democracy, Bush created the conditions that led to the rise of ISIS there, just as his insistence upon democratic elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip only empowered and gave a sort of pseudo-legitimacy to the terrorist organization Hamas. Obama received much criticism for not following through on the “line in the sand” rhetoric he directed against the government of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War, but, while this did cause the United States to lose a great deal of “face”, perhaps the bigger problem was that he had thrown his support behind the rebels, when the weakening of the Assad regime is precisely what led to the rise of ISIS on the Syrian side of the border. Consistently, Obama like Bush before him, has supported rebel groups against strongman governments in Egypt, Libya and all across the Middle East and, as with Bush before him, the largest benefactor has been Islamic jihadists.

Indeed, if you are looking for a sound case against Canada’s involvement in the coalition against ISIS, ignore the twaddle coming out of the mouth of the son of our worst ever Prime Minister, the fact that Barack Obama is the leader of the coalition is a good place to start. To that, we could add that the coalition includes the biggest jihad-sponsoring countries in the Middle East but none of the governments that have effectively kept down and contained jihadist terrorism in the past. The same was true of the coalition George W. Bush put together for his War on Terror which is why that War was for the most part a sad and sick joke. Finally, we could make the case ironclad by pointing out that while our opponents, by establishing a caliphate, have sought to stoke the fire of zeal among their followers by conjuring up imagery from the earliest history of Islam when it was united, strong, and a virtually unstoppable juggernaut, we are once again marching into battle against them not under the aegis of the faith that defeated their fathers at Tours and the Gates of Vienna, but in the name of liberalism, the disease that is killing us from the inside.

Perhaps one day Western leaders will awaken to the fact that the best strategy for dealing with groups like ISIS is the reverse of the Bush doctrine. Instead of taking the fight to the terrorists overseas in the hopes of averting terrorist attacks on Western soil it would make much more sense to close the borders of the West to the Islamic world so that we do not have to involve ourselves in their conflicts over there. Despite the disturbing number of “Western” youth being recruited by organizations like ISIS, however, this strategy is less acceptable to progressive liberals and leftists like Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair than outright war. In the meantime, we should be thankful that Prime Minister Harper, however grandiose his rhetoric, placed very careful and specific limits on the military action for which he sought and obtained Parliamentary approval. The United States is not so fortunate. Their president is clearly in over his head and in the long run could potentially have them bogged down in a quagmire that would make George W. Bush’s look like a little mud puddle in comparison.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Couple of Deadly Sins

In the traditional moral theology of the Christian Church, seven “sins” were identified as being particularly deadly. These were Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice (Greed), Gluttony and Lust. I place “sins” in quotations not because I question the Church’s judgement of these as being wicked, but because they are actually vices rather than sins. A sin is an evil act like murder, robbery, or lying. A vice is an evil character trait or habit – the opposite of a virtue which is a good character trait or habit. These seven obviously fall within the vice category, and in classical Christian moral theology are ordinarily contrasted with seven Christian virtues, but the name “Seven Deadly Sins” somehow became attached to the list, has the weight of centuries of prescription behind it, and, if it comes down to that, has a better ring to it than “Seven Deadly Vices.”

Dorothly L. Sayers, who was a mystery writer, Christian apologist, and medieval scholar in the early to mid twentieth century, gave an address to the Public Morality Council at Caxton Hall in Westminster, in 1941, entitled “The Other Six Deadly Sins.” The text of her address can be found a number of collections of her essays, including Creed or Chaos? and The Whimsical Christian. The six which are the topic of her talk are those other than Lust and the point of her discussion was that these six had come to be neglected and Lust overly emphasized in popular Christian teaching. “Perhaps the bitterest commentary” she said “on the way in which Christian doctrine has been taught in the last few centuries is the fact that to the majority of people the word ‘immorality’ has come to mean one thing and one thing only.”

Ironically, in traditional Christian theology, as reflected in Dante Aligheri’s Divine Comedy - of which, incidentally, Sayers produced a translation – Lust was considered to be the least of the seven. Pride – the sin of Lucifer and the original source of all other sin - was considered to be the worst. The order in which I listed them in the first paragraph of this essay goes from worst to least – traditionally, the Church would list from least progressing to worst, beginning with Lust. As Virgil leads Dante up the mountain of Purgatory in the Purgatorio, they encounter the faithful being purged of their vices in order of their seriousness, beginning with lust and ending with pride.

If Dorothy L. Sayers was right in saying that popular Christian ethics had come to focus too heavily upon Lust to the exclusion of other sins, and she was, there is now a tendency in certain circles to make Avarice into the sum and total of all evil. Sayers used the term Covetousness for this vice. Both terms are now rather archaic but they are also more precise than the most common contemporary equivalent, Greed, which in its ordinary, everyday usage, includes Gluttony as well as Avarice. Avarice was the third least of the Seven Deadly Sins in traditional Christian ethics but those who seek to wed Christian theology to socialism often seem to consider it to be the worst. This is because they see Avarice as the driving force behind the capitalism they hate so much.

Whether Avarice actually is the force behind capitalism is debatable – much depending, of course, on how one defines capitalism. We will return to that momentarily. What is indisputable, however, is that Envy – traditionally, the second worst of the Seven Deadly Sins - is the force behind socialism. Nobody put it better than Sir Winston Churchill who said “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery”. Envy is hate and resentment of other people because of what they have. It is the very essence of socialism.

Now to be fair a distinction needs to be made here. In North America an unfortunate tendency has developed to lump every law and every government program that is aimed at - whether effectively or not - bettering the conditions of the less advantaged under the label of socialism. This is not what the word socialism has historically meant and it is certainly not what Churchill meant by it in the above quotation. Indeed, laws and programs intended to better the conditions of the less advantaged have historically, often been introduced by conservatives, like Otto Von Bismarck in Germany, Benjamin Disraeli in the United Kingdom, and R. B. Bennett and John G. Diefenbaker in Canada for the purpose of combating socialism. In an interview with the Paris Review in the early 1970s, Anthony Burgess remarked that “to take socialism seriously, as opposed to minimal socialization (which America so desperately needs), is ridiculous”. This is the necessary distinction so let us borrow Burgess’ apt terminology for it. The laws and programs that comprise minimal socialization are not based upon Envy, but Envy is the essence of true socialism.

Socialism began in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and has been formulated in many different ways and has spawned many different movements which often bear little resemblance to one another.. Some socialists were anarchists who wanted to get rid of the state, others saw the state as the instrument by which their goals would be achieved. Some believed violent revolution was the path to their collectivist utopia, others insisted upon working peacefully and lawfully within the established system. Beneath all of these differences, what the various socialists had in common, is the idea that the private ownership of property is itself evil and unjust and that it is the source of most or all other evils and injustices in society. Originally, socialists proposed as a “solution” to this “problem” that private ownership be replaced by some form of collective or common ownership. Today, many, perhaps most, socialists have abandoned the advocacy of collective ownership in favour of a combination of confiscatory taxation, a heavily regulated market and an expansive welfare state that is far beyond anything that could be described as “minimal socialization”. What they have not abandoned is the basic idea of socialism that blame for the ills from which society suffers is to be placed on the “haves” for having so much. This hatred of the “haves” for having, continues to permeate all socialist rhetoric and it is precisely this attitude which the Church has traditionally condemned as the cardinal vice of Envy.

The relationship between socialism and Envy, therefore, is undeniable. Socialism is an ideology, and its basic concept reduces to Envy. If there is a relationship between capitalism and Avarice it is by no means as clear as this. Capitalism is an economic arrangement in which people own property on or in which commercial goods are produced (farms, mills, mines, factories, etc.), hire other people to work on or in that property, and market the goods, living off of the profit, that which they receive for the sale above what is necessary to cover the costs of operating their property. If some or even most capitalists (property owners) show Avarice in overcharging for their goods or underpaying their employees this does not mean that capitalism itself is based upon Avarice in the way that socialism is based upon Envy. (1)

Not only is the connection between socialism and Envy clearer and more fundamental than the connection, if any, between capitalism and Avarice, Envy is in the traditional teachings of the Christian Church the worse of the two vices. Let us consider why the Church traditionally ranked these vices in this way.

Avarice is similar to Lust and Gluttony in that it is a natural, God-given desire that has been perverted by excess into a vice. God, the Bible tells us, created man male and female, and ordered him to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Sexual desire, therefore, in and of itself, cannot be the bad thing that the Bible and the Church condemn as Lust. Lust is sexual desire taken to a vicious excess. Similarly God created us so that we require sustenance and gave us an appetite for food. If we did not have that appetite we would starve to death, but when that appetite is indulged to excess it becomes the vice of Gluttony. If Lust is the perversion by excess of the good, natural, and God-given sexual appetite and Gluttony is the perversion by excess of the good, natural, and God-given appetite for food, Avarice is the perversion by excess of the good, natural, and God-given appetite to have material possessions.

Jesus said that all of God’s commandments could be summarized in the greatest two – to love God and to love our neighbour. It follows from this that all vices and sins must be defects in our love for God and other people. This tells us how the vice of Avarice is to be distinguished from the natural, God-given, desire for material possessions. It is not sinful to want “things”. If however, we put our trust in material wealth, looking to our possessions as our source of personal security, then we have failed to love God properly because we have committed idolatry by giving to our material possessions the faith that we owe our Creator. The desire to have – even to have more – is not in itself Avarice. It becomes Avarice when we look at others and think “I don’t want them to have any, I want it all for myself”.

Envy is a different sort of vice altogether. It is not a twisting or a perversion of a natural desire but consists entirely of ill will towards others.. Envy resents another for what he possesses. The resentment is based upon the fact that it is his and not mine regardless of whether I actually want it for myself or not. Envy wants to see what the other person has taken away from him even if oneself is not thereby enriched or benefited in any way. As Dorothy L. Sayers said of Envy:

Envy is the great leveller: if it cannot level things up, it will level them down; and the words constantly in its mouth are “My Rights” and “My Wrongs.” At its best, Envy is a climber and a snob; at its worst, it is a destroyer-rather than have anybody happier than itself, it will see us all miserable together.

It is closely related to Pride, which in the traditional view is the only one of the Seven worse than itself. Pride is the worst of the Seven because it is the true “Original Sin” in the sense that it was the first sin, the sin of Lucifer, the root from which all other sin sprang. If Pride is the root sin, Lucifer’s sinful attitude towards himself, the second sin, the first to grow out of the root of Pride in the heart of Lucifer was Envy, his sinful attitude towards his Creator.

The Church’s traditional ranking of the vices seems entirely right and sensible. Envy is the second worst after Pride because the two are inseparably intertwined, almost the same sinful attitude in two different aspects, Pride looking inward and Envy looking outward. They are satanic in the most literal sense of the word – the sins that brought about Lucifer’s fall – and thus the spring from which the tainted river of sin and vice flows. Avarice, like Gluttony and Lust, is a lesser vice, a natural, God given desire that has been twisted and taken to excess, by the corrupting influence of the root sins of Pride and Envy.

Thus traditional Christian theology sheds much light on the kind of modern theology that looks more sympathetically towards socialism, the heart of which is Envy, than towards capitalism, which socialists claim promotes Avarice. (2)

(1) This essay will probably come across as an apology for capitalism, which I suppose it is if we associate no other connotations with capitalism beyond the definition in the eighth paragraph. The term usually has other connotations of course. These include mass production, industrialization, urbanization, technology, progress, and basically all the concepts that are wrapped up in the word “modern”. I make no apology for a capitalism that includes these concepts, each of which I look upon with varying degrees of suspicion and disgust. These are as much a part of socialism, however, as they are of capitalism.

(2) Dorothy L. Sayers, whose speech “The Other Six Deadly Sins” I have referred to throughout this essay, said that “If Avarice is the sin of the Haves against the Have-Nots, Envy is the sin of the Have-Nots against the Haves.” While I understand why she would say this, I question it. Anybody who has worked or volunteered for an organization that distributes food, clothing, etc. to the Have-Nots and has had to try and prevent those who are ahead in the distribution line from hoarding everything from those who are behind them in the line, will know that Avarice or Greed is hardly an unknown vice among the Have-Nots. On a somewhat related note, V. S. Naipaul has the narrator of one of the stories in his In a Free State comment “But no, like all poor people they want to be the only ones to rise. It is the poor who always want to keep down the poor.” I would also suggest that if one wants to observe Envy, on a truly spectacular scale, one has to look among the Haves.