The politics of paternalism

The big news this week was the bombshell interview given by CSIS director Richard Fadden to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge on The National where Canada’s spy chief alleged that a number of cabinet ministers in provincial governments are under foreign influence. Red flag, or McCarthy smear?

Early last year, a mid-level diplomat named Richard Colvin rocked Ottawa when he alleged before a Commons committee that Canada was turning a blind eye to Afghan torture and some therefore argued complicit in torture and guilty of war crimes. Whistleblower or troublemaker?

The reaction to both events is very telling of our national psychology and perhaps of the psychology of western democratic citizens. The condemnation of Fadden was swift and there’s even talk that those around the Prime Minister are considering his hasty ejection while Colvin was romanticized as a small guy with a big message. Perhaps Fadden’s biggest miscalculation was that he wasn’t so small. Imagine the inverse of the outcome if Fadden had juvenilized himself in the equation by alleging that big bad daddy Stephen Harper knows that there are Chinese elements within provincial governments and that he’s covering it up. Of course, this would have been a different sort of career mistake for Fadden, but he would have found himself with the backing of the Canadian media rather than round condemnation. A modern folk hero standing up against the order! Instead Fadden is the perceived order and the order is trampling on smaller people.

When the west was entangled in a ideological and proxied military struggle with the Soviet Union, there was a external threat to our way of life, who we were as free citizens and our freedom to choose our future. When America emerged from the cold war as the world’s remaining superpower it suddenly found itself to be the only adult in the room. While an anti-establishment movement was growing within its borders, it was small and kept out of the mainstream because most were focused on the external threat, the structured order that sought to gain control.

As students of history tell us, the good guys won. The West did not wash away with the red tide of communism that lapped its shores for half a century. But now, the West is the order without threat. What are freedom-wired folks supposed to do without an external threat to their freedom?

Australia just got its first female Prime Minister. Most of us outside of Australia don’t know what she’s about but we surely know that its a good thing because we’re told that she succeeded in world that told her that she couldn’t. Same for Barack Obama; hope and change were simply code for tearing down the perceived societal order which was believed to be unbalanced. However, during the election, Barack Obama was America’s boyfriend. Now, that he’s president, he’s their father. That hope and change? More of the same. And those hopeless anti-establishment romantics? They throw bricks at the G20.

In Canada, Liberals have been the establishment for the overwhelming majority of the last 100 years. This establishment party has always had a knack for the gosh-gee little guyism. Anti-americanism was the Liberal stock and trade because in the politics of paternalism, America was the larger external threat to our way of life. We even had to regulate what Canadians could watch on television to protect them from this ordered systemic threat designed to subjugate us. The p’tit gars de Shawinigan? The desperately disordered Paul Martin? These men were forgiven because, well, they’re we just doing the best that they could against a bigger and meaner entity.

Stephen Harper finds himself in a world without personified threats to the Canadian way-of-life. Instead, he has trouble tapping into the politics of paternalism on both sides of the equation. First, he is paternalistic. He’s described as being calm, collected, calculative, “always three chess moves ahead”. Though he comes from the middle-class, it is a challenge for him to be perceived as the guy that fights with us rather than the guy that tells us what to do. On the other hand, the external challenges that would have buoyed his brand in the past have taken up an amorphous form. From the asynchronous challenge of the Taliban to the black-shirt anarchists at the G20, there’s no face to what menaces Canadians. And those that menace our ways of life? They are trivialized and get our arrogant sympathy. Some in this country view allegations of complicity of torture against the Taliban to be small people hurting small people while the big guy is uncaring. G20 protesters get more coverage from the media than the policy determined at the conference because the perception is that small people are sidelined while the establishment makes the rules.

A father figure is one that denies abortion or a gay marriage while a mother figure just loves you for who you are. Stephen Harper has smartly understood that Canadians eschew these elements of the paternalistic state yet he struggles with the maternal. The “nanny” state is one that tells us that we must, rather than mustn’t. We must “share our toys” according to maternal governance. Paternalism dominates in “our dad can beat up your dad” situations (ie. when external threats are perceived). In the absence of external threat, our defender is perceived as he who denies us. Currently, the children are upset about global warming, globalization, and fake lakes. Better that than red balloons and gulags, I suppose.

What is Stephen Harper to do? He cannot hope to re-raise us as well-balanced adults can he? In order for Harper to safely navigate the politics of paternalism he needs to be seen as smaller man fighting with us smaller people against the bigger world that threatens our way of life. Canada is the most sea-worthy vessel on the stormy seas of the global economy but there is no personification of the threat that surrounds us. Who is the Gorbachev of the global bank tax? Whom do we fight as we fight for small business and for the ma’s and pa’s that sell things in small towns? Who is the face of the looming union pension bubble that is about to burst?

Why do we as Canadians, and perhaps more broadly we in the west, tend to put more stock in the words of those that fight the establishment tell us rather than believe what we’re told by the establishment? How do we sort out what benefits us from that which disrupts? We are innately freedom-seeking people. In the absence of something external that threatens us, we turn our attention within. The ultimate expression of freedom surely isn’t anarchy and it certainly isn’t socialism, but without form those that romanticize this challenge to the order as mischaracterized expressions of freedom will continue to push these notions, often violently. And those of us who think one’s size and challenge are the only moral yardsticks will only continue to enable disorder at our own expense.

Ironic press release of the day

The Liberal Party put out this release today:

OTTAWA –The Harper government must stop their ongoing complicity in human rights abuses against Omar Khadr by bringing him back to Canada, Liberal MPs said today.

“An independent report has just found that Canada’s spy agency failed to take human rights concerns into account when interrogating Mr. Khadr,” said Liberal Consular Affairs Critic Dan McTeague. “This finding strengthens the case for bringing Mr. Khadr home and calls for stronger government oversight on how CSIS conducts its business.”

SIRC, which is the oversight body that monitors the work of CSIS on behalf of Parliament, reported this week that CSIS ignored human rights concerns when interrogating Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay prison.

Ah yes, who was the minister responsible for CSIS at the time of Omar Khadr’s interrogation? Khadr was interrogated and filmed by CSIS during February 2003. Wayne Easter was solicitor general of the Liberal government at the time.

Here’s CP:

OTTAWA — Canada’s spy watchdog says the Canadian Security Intelligence Service may need major changes after finding it ignored concerns about human rights and Omar Khadr’s young age in deciding to interview the Toronto-born teen at a U.S. military prison.

By Liberal logic, if the “Harper government” is complicit to human rights abuses by not bringing Khadr home, the Liberals are most complicit for having ministerial oversight over CSIS when the alleged abuse took place.

And then, the Liberals go on to lecture the Conservatives (their leader is a human rights expert, so I’m told):

Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae said the Harper government’s record on standing up for Canadian citizens abroad shows that they either don’t care about the expectations of a “contemporary democratic society,” or they don’t understand them.

“Whatever the case, it is unacceptable, and their complicity in human rights violations around the world must stop,” said Mr. Rae, adding that Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan’s response to the report was highly inadequate. “Our laws make it very clear how Mr. Khadr should have been treated. Clearly, there needs to be better oversight on how CSIS conducts its business overseas. And clearly he must be brought home.”

Omar Khadr: try him but not here

The status of Omar Khadr has been an issue that has been hotly debated in Canada and one that has recently seen media attention around the world with the airing of over seven hours of CSIS interrogation video of the boy at Guantanamo Bay.

It has also been one of intellectual conflict for conservative thinkers and hawkish Canadians. As a conservative, I have for the most part found intellectual solace in logic on issue tracks where my bleeding-heart friends usually hug the emotional left rail. The broad-arching free markets help rise more people out of poverty than knee-jerk social and emotional reaction to give hand-outs to sustain a substandard of living is but one example where cold right-wing logic is a better and more constructive end that short-sighted albeit well-meaning emotionalism. I have always believed that right-wingers act upon what they know to be true, whereas left-wingers act upon what they feel to be true.

And on the issue of Omar Khadr, I see a departure of my usually logic-minded friends on the right to irrational emotionalism usually reserved for the left.

There are a few indisputable facts about Omar Khadr that we should realize and consider through a logical lens in order to proceed both in manner true to our cold sense of objectivity and in harmony with our values as but one element of modern Western civilization.

  • Omar Khadr is alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed an American medic in 2002.
  • Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen. This is true as a fact and our emotional reaction to his family’s own irrationalism and Khadr’s own alleged actions does not change the truth of this fact. While Khadr spent most of his life in Afghanistan or Pakistan, he remains a legal Canadian citizen. Our government has the responsibility to enunciate our values on Khadr.
  • Every single person held in custody ought to be afforded the due process of law. There are exceptions that have been made when national security has been at stake yet Khadr has been held since 2003 and cannot be reasonably considered as a valued source of intelligence at this time. To deny Khadr due process is more fundamentally an affront to the basis of our values as modern civilized states in that we value the rule of law as constituent of the foundation that undergirds our society.

While Omar Khadr should not be left to rot at Guantanamo Bay, does this mean that Omar Khadr should be returned to Canada to face Canadian justice?

No.

Omar Khadr ought to face justice against his American accusers and stand trial before an American court. Guantanamo Bay cannot provide the justice that Americans deserve as Gitmo itself robs that society of two of its fundamental values: due process and the rule of law.

This conclusion of course will lead to some uncharacteristic emotional outcry from conservatives and most reaction will not be based upon the cold logical reason that is usually the hallmark of our ideology.

But, let’s go to first principles. Omar Khadr doesn’t himself deserve to be released from jihadi limbo at Gitmo and tried before an American court. However, as individuals who are defending a society based upon key values such as due process, presumption of innocence, and the rule of law, we deserve it. Khadr’s present threat does not manifest itself in his illiberal hatred of our culture, it rests instead in the extent to which we are to make our own values malleable in order rationalize our understandable but illogical emotion.

There is inconsistency on the Liberal side too, of course. Khadr was captured, interrogated and held under approval from the previous Liberal administrations. For them to demand his return, shows intellectual dishonesty and absurd emotionalism.

Khadr should not be returned to Canada, as we do not simply return Canadian citizens to Canada when they run afoul of the law in the United States. However, to complete this logical loop, Khadr must face the law in an American court. With both US Presidential candidates calling for the closure of Guantanamo, Prime Minister Harper would be wise to call for Khadr to face American due process.

Omar Khadr interrogation – supporting documents

Tomorrow, video of the Canadian/American interrogation of Omar Khadr at Guantanamo Bay will be released to the public. DVDs containing the video are said to run 7.5 hours long and Khadr’s defence team will be releasing a “highlight” video for the media.

Here are the documents describing Khadr’s interrogation

Read this document on Scribd: omar-khadr-interrogation