Photo Jonathan Blair

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Beyond tragedy and invidious chest-beating

Beyond tragedy and invidious chest-beating

How great we Canadians are compared to those pathetic French, who now pay for their long history of "rejecting the other"...
In the Globe and Mail, Erna Paris points to the disproportional presence of Muslims in French prisons and gloats that Canada doesn’t have the same problem.
She should consider the possibility that  poor social integration in some countries may not regard mainly immigrants. In 2013, according to Canada’s correctional investigator, "aboriginal people represented a staggering 23% of federal inmates yet comprise 4.3% of the total Canadian population. And one-in-three women under federal sentence are Aboriginal.” The latter roughly equals the scale of over-representation that she rightfully denounces in the case of France. Add provincial prisons to the picture and there is little reason to boast about our history.
Writing from a country where "no Jewish refugees were too many" (to paraphrase the title of Irving Abela's and Harry Troper's history of Canada's policy towards Jewish refugees during World War II) Ms Paris should also perhaps thread more carefully when assessing the record of France during the Holocaust, which is more ambiguous than she suggests.
Her basic argument is defensible: citizenship matters, equality matters, and denial of either could well feed violence. And France indeed offers cautionary tales... along with Canada, the United States, and so on. Why, in the midst of the tragedy that strikes France, she felt the need to mar that argument with invidious chest-beating is beyond me.
Now, that argument may well be totally wrong too. Perhaps the very real social exclusion which is epitomized by prison statistics but associated with very distinct outcomes here and in France should make us consider the possibility that the heart of the problem, as the terrorist themselves keep saying, is islamic fundamentalism, not social exclusion.
French historian and philosopher Marcel Gauchet, in a recent interview with Le Monde, makes just that point, and in a way that is completely devoid of islamophobia. His explanation, in fact, harks back to the argument he first laid out in The Disenchantment of the World, which focused on Christianity.

Here is the opening summary of the full article:

Le fondamentalisme islamique est le signe paradoxal de la sortie du religieux 
Historien de la démocratie, Marcel Gauchet explique que l'origine de la violence des terroristes n'est pas -sociale ou économique, mais bien religieuse. Comment penser les attaques du 13 novembre et ce déferlement de haine ? Cette violence terroriste nous est impensable parce qu'elle n'entre pas dans nos grilles de lecture habituelles. Nous savons que c'est au nom de l'islamisme que les tueurs agissent, mais notre idée de la religion est tellement éloignée de pareille conduite que nous ne prenons pas cette motivation au sérieux. Nous allons tout de suite chercher des causes économiques et sociales. Or celles-ci jouent tout au plus un rôle de déclencheur. C'est bien à un phénomène religieux que nous avons affaire. Tant que nous ne regarderons pas ce fait en face, nous ne comprendrons pas ce qui nous arrive. Il nous demande de reconsidérer complètement ce que nous mettons sous le mot de religion et ce que représente le fondamentalisme religieux, en l'occurrence le fondamentalisme islamique. Car, si le fondamentalisme touche toutes les traditions religieuses, il y a une forte spécificité et une virulence particulière du fondamentalisme islamique. Si le phénomène nous échappe, à nous Européens d'aujourd'hui, c'est que nous sommes sortis de cette religiosité fondamentale. Il nous faut en retrouver le sens.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Terrorism: the need for intelligent intelligence, not just more of it

To those who may think that even C-51 is not enough and that Canada should put even more resources into controlling its population, the lesson from France may well be that, at some point, expanding the reach of surveillance becomes counterproductive, and that point may already have been reached in France. 

From The Economist:

"France has robust judicial and security laws that give investigators fairly sweeping powers to monitor, detain and interrogate suspects. In the past these have been envied by their counterparts working in countries with stricter constraints. Yet the French now seem to be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers involved. Manuel Valls, the prime minister, acknowledged this week that fully 10,500 people in France are on a file known as “Fiche S”, meaning that they are suspected of being radicalized.

Assessed on a scale, they range from those who have simply looked at jihadist websites or met radicals outside mosques, to those considered highly dangerous. Only a fraction can be monitored closely, because it requires 20 agents to follow one suspect round the clock. As François Heisbourg, of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, points out, it is in many ways good news that people like Amimour and Mostefai were known to the intelligence services. The trouble seems to lie with the analysis of the risk they posed, and the follow-up.”

Why must so much media coverage about drugs be over the top...

Vox's German Lopez is my favourite reporter on drug issues. Clear, measured, always the right table or graph. Great. Well, most times.

Indeed, I think he blew his last one, on Captagon, ISIS' amphetamine, which was clearly meant to tone done hyperbole and introduce a measure of sanity in the discussion. And indeed, the press coverage of that issue has been very much over the top.

Unfortunately, Lopez swallows whole the latest piece of moral panic coming from the very prohibitionist UNODC and abetted by Time magazine:

"A pill that costs pennies to produce in Lebanon retails for up to $20 a pop in Saudi Arabia, where some 55 million Captagon tablets are seized a year — a number that even Saudi officials admit amounts to only 10% of the overall total that actually makes it into the kingdom, according to the UNODC World Drug Report and a not-yet-published E.U. assessment of drug trafficking in the Middle East."

So, about 550 million tablets make it to the kingdom and 10% are seized, which leaves about 500 million pills on the market. At $20 a pop, we are talking of about $10bn worth of amphetamines...

Now, Saudi Arabia is a country that, in 2013 imported $14bn worth of automobiles. In other words, this article calling for skepticisms towards media reports is telling us that the market for amphetamines is two-third as large as the car market and that every one of the country's 28 million people (men, women, babies, kids and retirees) spends, on average and every year, $400.00 on that particular type of drugs. And remember, this is what "even Saudi officials admit," so the careful reader is to understand that these numbers are low estimates.

Sorry guys, but who is high on what here?