Playing the war card a dangerous game

Playing the war card is the lowest, most cynically opportunistic political manoeuver in the book. Is Stephen Harper playing that card?

Has he found the election platform that’s going to win him a majority in the next federal election, in October, or sooner?

Might Canadian voters have started asking questions about the Harper government’s ability to manage the internal economy in the wake of the collapse in crude oil prices and its impact on the Canadian economy and the government’s balanced-budget plans?

Is it convenient then to able to tell Canadians they have something much more serious to worry about, that being the threat of “violent Jihadism,” as Harper called it time and time again, at a well-staged recent political event in Richmond Hill?

He was there to announce his government’s new Anti-Terrorism Act 2015. Indeed, he told the suburban, Greater Toronto-area audience the Act was “just moments ago” released. That would have been in Parliament.

I suggest Parliament would have been the more appropriate place for the Prime Minister of the Canada to be, given the gravity of the situation. Usually, the political action of the leadership of a peace-loving nation in response to the imminent threat of a real war is not a partisan photo-op moment, but rather it’s a time for a show of political unity in the national forum.

But is the now clear and obvious threat posed by the likes of ISIS, a real war? Or are we walking into a trap, on our slippery-slope way to giving that gang of criminals exactly what they hope will come as a result of their horrific actions: war, indeed, but a much bigger one than we might dare imagine.

Now is not the time for increasingly war-like rhetoric. Rather it is a time to be cautious, careful, measured and thoughtful about what we do and say about the threat of “violent Jihadism.” That phrase itself is a very poor choice of words, reflecting a lack of understanding of Islam and the meaning of the Arabic word Jihad which is often mistranslated as “Holy War.”

ISIS may like to think of themselves as Jihadists, or holy warriors. They’re anything but. They’re a gang of well-armed criminals committing criminal horrific murders with a level of depravity that has shocked the world.

ISIS suddenly became the center of international attention when it emerged last summer from its stronghold areas in war-torn Syria and in a remarkably short time seized large areas of Iraq. Thousands of ISIS fighters easily beat the soldiers of a weak Iraqi government and seized a massive arsenal of U.S.-made weapons. They got even more attention by putting videos on the internet of their “fighters” murdering captured Iraqi soldiers in cold blood. Then they began beheading Western aid workers and other hostages, most recently two Japanese men and a captured Jordanian pilot, part of the coalition of countries, including Canada, that sent fighter jets to conduct a bombing campaign aimed at stopping their advance. They burned the young Jordanian alive.

ISIS last year also called on terrorists within Western countries, including Canada, to attack targets in those countries. It was an open invitation to unhappy, emotionally disturbed young men especially to give their lives some sort of twisted meaning by killing people. The result in Canada was the deaths of two Canadian soldiers, one shot in the back as he stood guard at the National War Memorial. That crazed assailant would have killed more people in the main Parliament building if he hadn’t been shot dead by Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers.

Last Month Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula also called on “lone wolf” terrorists to hit targets in Canada and other Western countries. In early January it happened, when homegrown terrorists killed 17 people in Paris, 12 of them in the offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Groups like ISIS, Al Qaida, and Boko Harum in Nigeria, are an obvious threat to the peace and stability of the world. Terrible criminal acts are taking place that need to be stopped, and the perpetrators apprehended, tried and punished for their crimes.

They may even be, as Stephen Harper said in Richmond Hill, “the most dangerous enemies our world has ever faced.” Not yet, perhaps, but eventually? Maybe, especially if we give them what they want.

The thing that’s perplexing about the horrific crimes being committed by ISIS especially is why. What do they expect to accomplish with actions that are bound to turn the better part of the world against them, including the Muslim world?

It doesn’t seem to make sense, unless ISIS, arguably the most dangerous of the lot of them,  has gambled that an increasingly warlike response from the Western powers and their allies in the Mideast and elsewhere in the world – a full-scale, “boots on the ground” invasion, for example – will force the rest of the Muslim world to take sides, leading to a much larger war.

I think that’s more than likely the fantasy of mentally disturbed men. But the odds of that actually happening will greatly increase if anti-Islamic reaction to terrorism becomes rampant, including in Canada.That’s another reason why our leaders especially need to be careful what they say, and how they say it, election year, or not.In all the circumstances, playing the war card with an excess of warlike rhetoric is a dangerous game.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2015.

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