Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent. His new book is The Conquest of the Middle East.
June 12, 2006
The Case of the Toronto 17: Has Racism Invaded Canada?
By ROBERT FISK
This has been a good week to be in Canada–or an awful week, depending on your point of view–to understand just how irretrievably biased and potentially racist the Canadian press has become. For, after the arrest of 17 Canadian Muslims on “terrorism” charges, the Toronto Globe and Mail and, to a slightly lesser extent, the National Post, have indulged in an orgy of finger-pointing that must reduce the chances of any fair trial and, at the same time, sow fear in the hearts of the country’s more than 700,000 Muslims. In fact, if I were a Canadian Muslim right now, I’d already be checking the airline timetables for a flight out of town. Or is that the purpose of this press campaign?
First, the charges. Even a lawyer for one of the accused has talked of a plot to storm the Parliament in Ottawa, hold MPs hostage and chop off the head of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Without challenging the “facts” or casting any doubt on their sources–primarily the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Canada’s leak-dripping Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) — reporters have told their readers that the 17 were variously planning to blow up Parliament, CSIS’s headquarters, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and sundry other targets. Every veiled and chadored Muslim woman relative of the accused has been photographed and their pictures printed, often on front pages. “Home-grown terrorists” has become theme of the month–even though the “terrorists” have yet to stand trial.
They were in receipt of “fertilizers”, we were told, which could be turned into explosives. When it emerged that Canadian police officers had already switched the “fertilizers” for a less harmful substance, nobody followed up the implications of this apparent “sting”. A Buffalo radio station down in the US even announced that the accused had actually received “explosives”. Bingo: Guilty before trial.
Of course, the Muslim-bashers have laced this nonsense with the usual pious concern for the rights of the accused. “Before I go on, one disclaimer,” purred the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente. “Nothing has been proved and nobody should rush to judgment.” Which, needless to say, Wente then went on to do in the same paragraph. “The exposure of our very own home-grown terrorists, if that’s what the men aspired to be, was both predictably shocking and shockingly predictable.” And just in case we missed the point of this hypocrisy, Wente ended her column by announcing that “Canada is not exempt from home-grown terrorism”. Angry young men are the tinderbox and Islamism is the match.
The country will probably have better luck than most at “putting out the fire”, she adds. But who, I wonder, is really lighting the match? For a very unpleasant–albeit initially innocuous–phrase has now found its way into the papers. The accused 17–and, indeed their families and sometimes the country’s entire Muslim community–are now referred to as “Canadian-born”. Well, yes, they are Canadian-born. But there’s a subtle difference between this and being described as a “Canadian”–as other citizens of this vast country are in every other context. And the implications are obvious; there are now two types of Canadian citizen: The Canadian-born variety (Muslims) and Canadians (the rest).
If this seems finicky, try the following sentence from the Globe and Mail’s front page on Tuesday, supposedly an eyewitness account of the police arrest operation: “Parked directly outside his … office was a large, gray, cube-shaped truck and, on the ground nearby, he recognized one of the two brown-skinned young men who had taken possession of the next door rented unit…” Come again? Brown-skinned? What in God’s name is this outrageous piece of racism doing on the front page of a major Canadian daily? What is “brown-skinned” supposed to mean–if it is not just a revolting attempt to isolate Muslims as the “other” in Canada’s highly multicultural society? I notice, for example, that when the paper obsequiously refers to Toronto’s police chief and his reportedly brilliant cops, he is not referred to as “white-skinned” (which he most assuredly is). Amid this swamp, Canada’s journalists are managing to soften the realities of their country’s new military involvement in Afghanistan.
More than 2,000 troops are deployed around Kandahar in active military operations against Taleban insurgents. They are taking the place of US troops, who will be transferred to fight even more Muslims insurgents in Iraq.
Canada is thus now involved in the Afghan war–those who doubt this should note the country has already shelled out $1.8bn in “defense spending” in Afghanistan and only $500m in “additional expenditures”, including humanitarian assistance and democratic renewal (sic)–and, by extension, in Iraq. In other words, Canada has gone to war in the Middle East.
None of this, according to the Canadian foreign minister, could be the cause of Muslim anger at home, although Jack Hooper–the CSIS chief who has a lot to learn about the Middle East but talks far too much–said a few days ago that “we had a high threat profile (in Canada) before Afghanistan. In any event, the presence of Canadians and Canadian forces there has elevated that threat somewhat.” I read all this on a flight from Calgary to Ottawa this week, sitting just a row behind Tim Goddard, his wife Sally and daughter Victoria, who were chatting gently and smiling bravely to the crew and fellow passengers. In the cargo hold of our aircraft lay the coffin of Goddard’s other daughter, Nichola, the first Canadian woman soldier to be killed in action in Afghanistan.
The next day, he scattered sand on Nichola’s coffin at Canada’s national military cemetery. A heartrending photograph of him appeared in the Post–but buried away on Page 6. And on the front page? A picture of British policemen standing outside the Bradford home of a Muslim “who may have links to Canada”.
Allegedly, of course.