New Canadian Media
Sunday, 12 March 2017 20:25

Creeping Hopelessness in Terror Fight

Commentary by Phil Gurski

We seem to be having a hard time figuring out what to call our struggle with terrorism. Leaving aside the belief, held by me and others, that framing counter terrorism in terms of war is a bad idea, it is clear that we keep changing our minds about what we are really involved in. 

After the clumsy misstep by U.S. President George W. Bush to label it a “Crusade”, we moved from the ‘war on terrorism’ to the ‘long war’ to the ‘global struggle against violent extremism (GSAVE) to ‘countering violent extremism’.  The latest iteration, which I read today in a New York Times op-ed, has me worried, as much for its pessimistic tone as its psychological effect on all of us.

According to Brian Castner, a formal explosives disposal specialist in the U.S. Army, some in that country’s military have begun to refer to the fight against terrorism as the ‘Forever War’.  This is not a good development.

War imagery

Let’s think about this phrase for a moment.  Forever.  That’s a long time.  And, what is worse, is that forever has no end.  In other words, we will be fighting terrorism and terrorists in a war with no termination.  No victory.  No truce.  No surrender.  No resolution.  Just war, interminable war.

In some ways we should have known this from the start.  Wars against abstract or common nouns don’t end because these nouns don’t reflect tangible entities.  Terrorism is no more a defined object than are drugs, poverty and cancer.  These ‘things’ are either tactics (terrorism), social ills (drugs, poverty) or natural phenomena (cancer).  They don’t have armies – yes Islamic State has a pseudo army with quasi soldiers – or uniforms or well-delineated structures.  You might as well declare war on mist. Yet we frame all kinds of social causes as war.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see a role for the military in counter terrorism measures, even if I disagree with the war metaphor.  But that role has to be constrained and carefully deployed.  Against IS or Boko Haram in northern Nigeria there is space for the army.  After all, however, this fight is for security intelligence and law enforcement agencies on the one hand and civil society on the other.  The former are tasked with taking care of those who wish to do us harm, while the latter look after addressing the conditions under which people turn to terrorism so that, in the end, fewer make that decision.

Accepting death and destruction

We must stop using war imagery when we talk about terrorism.  Aside from the reasons just cited, if those in the armed services are seeing this as the ‘forever war’ what does this mean?  If means that a hopelessness has entered into the minds of those we send to confront terrorists. 

Hopelessness not only breeds depression but it serves as an obstacle to other possibilities. If we convince ourselves that this war is eternal and that we will have to keep killing terrorists, iteration after iteration (Al Qaeda, IS in Iraq, IS, Al Shabaab, AQAP …) we consign ourselves to a non-solution.  I can think of little more futile than accepting death and destruction as the only way forward. There has to be a better way – I think a lot of people are involved in alternative approaches already – and we have to find it and implement it now.

The First World War was once called the ‘war to end all wars’.  We all know how that phrase ended up.  We need to get smart about terrorism before the Forever War becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

For our own sakes as well as those of future generations.


Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield).

Published in Commentary

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary

Jose Duque, an immigrant from Venezuela, is using music to keep children in band practice and out of trouble on the streets.

In his native country, Duque participated in the El Sistema program, for over 16 years as an orchestra player, music teacher, and later, as a regional co-ordinator.

The program, which is run in countries around the world, gives children from diverse backgrounds a safe and fun place that fosters discipline, increased self-esteem and a sense of community.

When Duque immigrated to Calgary 10 years ago, he thought there were no children living in poverty in the city.

“I thought Canada was paradise,” says Duque, adding he imagined no one in Calgary would need a program like El Sistema.

Duque soon started to see the cracks in his new homeland.

The opportunity to dream

However, Duque soon started to see the cracks in his new homeland – Canada wasn’t the perfect paradise he imagined.

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, he met many low-income families who had difficulties keeping their children away from drugs, gangs and isolation.

“I wanted to offer disadvantaged children the opportunity to dream,” says Duque.

That is why five years ago, he decided to start a free after school music program at the church.

Now, with the support of International Avenue Arts and Culture Centre (IAACC), Duque’s small initiative has grown into the Calgary Multicultural Orchestra (CMO) – a full-time program with three professors and 60 students based on the El Sistema program model.

The program operates in Calgary's Forest Lawn area, which has double the percentage of low-income households than the rest of the city, according to Statistics Canada. IAACC funding provides children with free musical instruments and music lessons every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema youth orchestra system in Venezuela, shares the story behind the program.

Diverting children and youth from the streets

Duque says CMO will create positive outcomes similar to other El Sistema projects around the world – a decrease in juvenile crime and school drop-out rates. However, to achieve his dream he requires more participation from the community.

“Some people believe that orchestral music is something exclusive, but it isn't true.”

“If we could get 1,000 children from Forest Lawn and other communities in the northeast we could create a real change,” says Duque. 

According to a study by the Inter American Development Bank for every dollar invested in the El Sistema program in Venezuela, it reaped about $1.68 in social dividends – with benefits such as a decline in juvenile delinquency and improvement in school attendance.

The biggest rate of juvenile delinquency occurs between 4 and 7 p.m., explains Duque, which is the timeframe when children spend more time alone after school and before their parents return from work in the evening.

“We are giving a space to these kids to do something special,” he says. “We are taking them away from the streets, the drugs and the gangs.”

Putting a focus on inclusivity and tolerance

Amédée Waters, program administrator for the CMO, says the program aims to bring together children from all incomes, races and religions. 

“The idea is to create a sense of inclusivity, tolerance and community,” says Waters. “Some people believe that orchestral music is something exclusive, but it isn't true.” 

"[T]he program makes children and parents focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different.”

Mark Lobnowcs, whose 11-year-old child participates in the CMO, agrees that the program creates more tolerance. 

“I think it is marvellous that the program makes children and parents focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different,” says Lobnowcs.

He also says the program is a great opportunity to learn music from top professional musicians. “It is amazing that someone with Jose’s qualifications is doing something like this for free.”

Hikmat Kafi, whose seven-year-old daughter has been with the CMO for over two years, says that the program has helped her daughter to open up to other children.

Kafi arrived to Canada from North Sudan 10 years ago. She says that her daughter’s participation in the CMO has had a positive influence on her two brothers. “If you see your child happy, then all the family is happy too,” she shares.

The program costs IAACC over $2,300 per child per year, and funding can be an issue, according to Waters.

Right now the program has a waiting list of over 30 children, but it doesn’t have the funds to pay for teachers and instruments.

“It is always a struggle to find the funds,” says Waters. As a result, the program is always looking for volunteers and used musical instruments.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture
Tuesday, 06 October 2015 13:47

Indo-gangster Film Shoots Blanks

by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver

Splashy, colourful and loud as a tie-dyed turban, Beeba Boys is an arranged marriage between a Bollywood drama and Reservoir Dogs, with the match made by Tom Ford. Sadly, however, this is not one of those weddings where love blossoms over time and the couple bonds into one happy unit. 

The film is loosely inspired by the brief life of Vancouver Indo-Canadian gangster Bindy Johal. In filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s version, however, the protagonist is an overcooked caricature of Johal's media persona.

Jeet Johar, played by Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda, is no longer a street thug trying to secure a piece of the local drug trade – typical of the vast majority of Vancouver’s real-life disorganized street level Indo gangsters.

This bogeyman is the established head of a sinister group of snazzily-dressed goons whose operation is as well-oiled as their looks. Meet the Beeba Boys (beeba being a maternal term of endearment meaning ‘good boy’), with Johar as the established Kingpin don of this Hell’s Kitchen.

This flimsy treatment of the protagonist twins poorly with a plot that seems templated, and disjointed in its formulaic shifts.

Mehta’s Jeet is a homicidal maniac with limited emotional range. He broods, threatens people, broods some more, gets angry and shoots someone, and then broods some more.

He is a human automaton – ironically his son in the movie compares him to Megatron – who somehow happens to be the head of a sophisticated drug operation, though we never learn how Jeet becomes the Scarface of Vancouver. We see less of Jeet actually running his business than dressing up to run his business.

This flimsy treatment of the protagonist twins poorly with a plot that seems templated, and disjointed in its formulaic shifts. It feels like Mehta is checking boxes trying to get all the ingredients into this recipe: gangster threatening rival, gangster going to jail, gangster in court, gangster courting his moll, all stirred together with a couple of cultural scenes, and voila the souffle. The pieces do not sum to a whole greater than its parts.

Epitome of hyperbole

Particularly weak is the vapid relationship between Jeet and his love interest, Katja (Sarah Allen). It is the classic trope of the innocent girl falling for the bad boy. But Mehta’s treatment is lazy, even hinting at a mild case of Jungle Fever

Chance circumstance tosses Katja within pheromone-sniffing distance of Jeet Johar and suddenly its mating season in Beeba-land. With little else between them, we are expected to invest in their explosive connection.

 

It is the epitome of hyperbole: hyper-masculine Jeet doesn’t court women as much as he summons them to his bed. The relationship drags through the movie more as a distraction, eventually sopping with Bollywood-style melodrama to fill the void left by the lack of chemistry.

Hooda’s searing on-screen presence and his few scenes of emotional authenticity salvage his character but in the end, the screenplay renders him as flat-footed as Katja, without the bounce in his legs to take us anywhere beyond the designer-upholstered basement of his parent’s house where he lives and runs his gang of Beeba’s. 

Film missing important context

Period pieces and culturally specific underworld movies benefit from narration, take for example City of God (set in Brazil’s favelas) or Goodfellas (Italian mafia in NYC). The viewer is given the context to follow the storyline and to know why any of this is worth watching. Utilising this device in Beeba Boys would have helped frame scenes for viewers unfamiliar with Sikh cultural references. 

A prime example is a macabre wedding sequence featuring a dead groom at the start of the film. There is dancing, singing, and a general big-fat-Indian-wedding celebration centred around a blue-faced corpse.

It feels straight from a Tarantino playbook – nobody is alarmed, not even the children when the dead man topples over. Is this the Beeba Boys' way of pouring out a 40-ouncer of malt liquor to mark the death of a comrade or has Mehta planted a hook for a sequel, Beeba Boys II, the zombie thriller? 

Unfortunately the film resorts to 'gangsta bombast' instead of treating the subject matter with more respect.

Over her 20 plus years of film-making Deepa Mehta has made a significant contributions to Canadian and South Asian cinema which has firmly embedded her as an icon in the Canadian canon of film. She is as good a filmmaker as any in the South Asian genre. Given the right script, she is capable of producing resonating, finely textured features like Earth.

Beeba Boys is her first crack at gangster noir, a rare genre in Canadian cinema. Unfortunately the film resorts to 'gangsta bombast' instead of treating the subject matter with more respect. 

There is a story worthy of exploring in the life of Vancouver’s real life beeba boys who enter the drug trade. They are typically 2nd generation young men from stable middle class families. Many have college educations. Yet they are lost and seem to enter this world seeking direction. Too many – over 150 in the last 20 years – leave it only once they are lost for good. 

The film provides little insight into why Vancouver should be the grounds for the rise of the Indo-Canadian gangster as opposed to Toronto, New York, or other cities with significant Sikh populations. If religion is the root cause, as Mehta’s film seems to suggest at times, it still does not explain the disparity in violence between different population centres.

Given its specialised focus, the film will find viewers upon general release, and the trailers will surely create an impression. But like the young Indo-Canadian men who have died in Vancouver’s drug trade, Beeba Boys lives too fast to leave much impression.


Published in partnership with the South Asian Post.

Published in Arts & Culture

Toronto (IANS): Sikh leaders in North America blame conversions, drugs and migration for the decline in the growth rate of Sikh population in India from 1.9 percent to 1.7 percent as per the 2011 census. “While Punjab leaders are promoting their family businesses, the youth has sunk in drugs. So what do you expect from […]

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Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in India

A French Olympic swimming champion has caused fury among the sport’s authorities after claiming that his colleagues on the national side regularly take cocaine. Amaury Leveaux, who won gold in the 100m relay at the 2012 London Olympics, makes his allegation in an autobiography published on Wednesday. Entitled Sex, Drugs and Swimming, it purports to […]

The Weekly Voice

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Published in Western Europe

Canada has stopped the importation of several drugs and drug ingredients from two Indian factories, as concern mounts in North America over health products sourced from the multi-billion dollar South Asian pharmaceutical industry. The products on the Canada blacklist range from medicines like blood pressure pills to chemotherapy drugs, anti-psychotics and painkillers.

Canada’s action comes after a U.S. trade representative's special investigation noted: "Reports indicate that anywhere from 10 to 40 per cent of drugs sold in Indian markets are counterfeit and could represent a serious threat to patient health and safety."

India produces nearly 40 per cent of the generic drugs used in the U.S. and Canada and has been stepping up production in anticipation of increased demand. 

At Health Canada's request, Canadian importers have agreed to quarantine health products from the following two India-based sites due to data integrity concerns: Dr. Reddy's Laboratories in Srikakulam, India and IPCA Laboratories in Pithampur, India.

It said the action comes in light of recent information from a trusted regulatory partner that raises concerns about the reliability of the laboratory data generated at these sites. 

A quarantine means that the Canadian importers have agreed to stop the importation and distribution of products from these two sites. At this time there is no identified risk to health, and Health Canada is not requesting a recall of any of the products.

Health Canada said it will continue to work with international partners and Canadian importers to gather and assess information regarding the situation and take action as needed to help protect Canadians.

Amir Attaran, Canada research chair in law and population health at the University of Ottawa, questioned why Health Canada has not blocked the sale of those medicines that had arrived on shelves earlier from the factories.

"How can the product be too dangerous to import, but safe enough to go down a Canadian's throat?" Attaran said in a interview with the National Post.

He said the integrity problems could range from relatively innocuous data-entry shortcomings to clearly fraudulent behaviour, such as fudging results on drug-stability tests.

Canada's increasing use of Indian-made medications, coupled with India's antiquated regulatory system, points to the need for more drastic action, such as barring all imports if the country fails to modernize its rules, Attaran said.

A newspaper in India reported that inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had earlier found problems at the plants - Dr. Reddy's Laboratories in Srikakulam and IPCA Laboratories in Pithampur. 

The Indian government has said it is investigating reports of generic versions of some medicines being manufactured without proper testing.

Health Minister J.P. Nadda. said that the government was aware of the reports regarding manufacturing of generic versions of some drugs without proper testing.

"The Indian Council of Medical Research has taken up the matter with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) for action against such erring companies," he said.

Earlier, as part of efforts to ensure that Indian pharmaceutical products meet international standards, New Delhi said it is spending about $500 million to build the capacity of the country's drug regulators.

National drug controller G.N. Singh said part of the money is to be used to set up a National Drug Regulatory Academy to train professionals who test drugs in the laboratories.  Singh said the government was also compiling a national pharmacopia to guide in the manufacture of drugs. 

He said the government's zeal to bring about affordable quality drugs to the people could only materialize if the government's zero tolerance for poor quality drugs was monitored by implementing laws that punished those who violated the rules.

Sudhanshu Pandey, joint secretary in the ministry of commerce and industry, said Indian generic drugs have become globally accepted and respected, and for this reason, there was the need to send a loud message out that the government was ready to ensure that the manufacturers met the standards required of them.

Pandey said patents for about 160 drugs would be expiring soon and that would give manufacturers more opportunities but, at the same time, he cautioned that it meant that innovations in the industry will have to be transparent so that global regulators would not question the standards.

Pharmaceutical Export Council of India (Pharmexcil) says that eight out of the world's top 25 generic companies come from India. 

Re-published with permission from South Asian Post.

Published in Health
Friday, 15 August 2014 21:01

Drugs Coming To Canada In Basmati Bags!

 Jalandhar: According to police in Punjab, Canadian drug cartels run by Indian immigrants have high stakes in the basmati rice business. Smuggling gangs are now using Basmati rice bags to hide drugs export from Punjab. After the seizure of 274kg ephedrine from a consignment from India last year by Australian authorities in Melbourne, the Royal […]

The Weekly Voice

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Published in International


(Photo: A kabaddi match in Vancouver.) Chandigarh (IANS): First it was a dubious link to an international synthetic drugs racket and now another accusation has come – money laundering. Punjab’s traditional sport of kabaddi would have been better off without either of the two, but that does seem to be happening now. The Central Bureau […]

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in News

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