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Irwin Cotler, MP

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Debate on Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS

Posted on September 17, 2014 | No Comments

Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to join in this important debate on Canada’s military role in Iraq.

We are engaging in this discussion as our military is being deployed to help counter ISIS, the Islamic State, which has taken control of large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, killing and terrorizing civilian populations, targeting Shia Muslims and various minorities, including Kurds, Christians and Yazidis, and engaging in a whole gamut of international criminality, be it ethnic cleansing, genocidal acts, plundering ancient and protected sites, or executing journalists in a gruesome fashion, the beheadings videotaped and posted online for all to see.

Of course, we are all disgusted and enraged by such barbarism. The Islamic State must be stopped, and Canada should join our allies in order to do so. It is encouraging to see that many countries have declared their support and have committed resources to help defeat the Islamic State and restore peace and stability to Iraq and the Middle East. I am sure we will offer our full support and recognition to those who contribute to this important international mission.

As has been mentioned this evening several times, I hope that the government will provide more information about the role the Canadian military will be playing in Iraq, notably the timeline for deployment.

As we examine and debate Canada’s role in combatting ISIS, it is critical that we take the time to review our role in Iraq through a wide-angle lens, indeed through an international prism. ISIS is really metaphor and message of a larger evil. Indeed, even if we were to defeat ISIS tomorrow, the global radical jihadist threat would remain. As such, we must consider how ISIS came to be and recognize the nature of the multiple threats it poses, understand the broader global context of the Islamic terrorist threat, and appreciate the radical ideology underpinning it, as I said, of which ISIS is only one part.

For example, in the spring of 2011 in the Syrian city of Daraa, 20 young Syrians, at the time, painted graffiti, expressing their desire for freedom and reform, what came to be known as a peace and dignity revolution.

When they were arrested and tortured, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in protest, chanting “peaceful, peaceful”. In response, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime fired into demonstrators. This was followed by artillery and tank assaults against civilian neighbourhoods; the rape, torture and murder of their inhabitants; the bombing of schools and hospitals; and the use of cluster munitions, thermobaric weapons and chemical weapons against civilian populations.

At the time, those of us who argued that what was needed was the implementation of the responsibility to protect principle, which was not only a matter of engaging, and not even necessarily military action, but which included expanding and enhancing global sanctions, establishing humanitarian quarters and civilian protection zones, holding the Syrian leadership accountable for their crimes under international law, and providing defensive weapons to the moderate opposition at the time.

Regrettably, those of us who recommended that kind of protective intervention were told that any intervention would lead to more sectarian violence, the likelihood of civil war, the jihadization of the conflict, and the like.

Regrettably, what happened as a result of all this was that jihadization and the beginnings of ISIS took place, not because we intervened but because we did not intervene. Indeed, one of the consequences of allowing the Syrian conflict to fester, of not assisting at that time what was in effect a peaceful protest, was not only that ISIS was able to take root but to develop and strengthen and spread out.

Three years ago, the world did not engage in the protective humanitarian measures that were required in Syria. Today we find ourselves sending personnel to confront a violent terrorist jihadist group that grew in part out of our own inaction and has gone beyond Syria. Moreover, ISIS represents a composite of threats, not only to Iraq and Syria but to the broader Middle East, a clear and present danger to the stability of the Middle East and indeed the international community.

It has, of course, been violently taking control of Syrian and Iraqi territory, threatening and brutalizing civilian populations as it advances, but ISIS has also been a destabilizing force in the Middle East as a whole, particularly in countries bordering Syria and Iraq. Not only do countries such as Jordan and Lebanon continue to deal with an influx of refugees from neighbouring conflicts, but some support for ISIS has even been found to exist in these countries themselves.

Indeed, The New York Times has reported that shops in Lebanon sell ISIS paraphernalia, and ISIS flags can be seen flying on the streets in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, near the Syrian border. There has been some protest support with regard to ISIS in Jordan. Therefore, as appears to be happening, the effort to combat ISIS must also include support and contributions from Muslim countries in the Middle East to ensure that its ideology and its physical presence do not spread.

As well, ISIS poses a further threat in that it has attracted, by some estimates, as many as 12,000 foreign fighters. Its own force has now increased and is now believed to be triple the size it was originally and is estimated to have over 30,000 people. These foreign fighters include many from the west, including Canada. It is disturbing to learn of Canadian youth from Calgary or Timmins becoming engulfed by the hateful ideology of ISIS and joining the group’s murderous campaign.

Moreover, the possibility that some of these individuals could one day return to Canada and seek to put their pernicious ideology into practice on Canadian soil cannot itself be discounted. Importantly, therefore, the Canadian Council of Imams, along with other leaders of Canada’s Muslim community, have condemned, in their words, the Islamic state’s “narrow, bigoted, dogmatic distortions” and have called for “meaningful discussion, to engage preventative strategies and to find meaningful solutions to this growing threat in our country”. Indeed, such efforts must be an important part of our anti-ISIS campaign, along with the military measures we are discussing tonight.

Thus, ISIS threatens Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the broader Middle East, and the international community at large and has even succeeded, on occasion, as I mentioned, in recruiting Canadians to join its cause. These threats must be met with the requisite response, military and otherwise. Canada must play its part, and the people of Canada should know what part we have signed up to play.

However, the unfortunate reality is that even if we succeed in defeating ISIS, as I mentioned, the global jihadist terrorist threat will persist. We must view ISIS and our efforts to combat it in that broader context, recognizing the similarities between ISIS and other jihadist groups and understanding that it is but one part of a larger terrorist threat.

I recently returned, for example, from an international conference hosted by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center near Herzliya. Among the speakers and attendees were Iraqi Christians and Yazidis, moderate members of the Syrian opposition, and numerous international experts on terrorism and counterterrorism. One of the recurring themes of the conference was that we face not only one murderous radical Islamist group and ideology, such as ISIS, but an international network of radical Islamic terrorist ideologies. In the Middle East alone, in addition to ISIS, there are other radical Sunni groups, including al Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and radical Shiite groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, along with the leading state sponsor of terror, Iran, which has notably trained, supported, and financed both Sunni and Shiite radical extremist groups; for example, both Hezbollah and Hamas.

In Africa, groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia are likewise violent and dangerous. Indeed, there are likely more than 40 non-state radical Islamic terrorist groups operating in some two dozen countries. As British Prime Minister David Cameron recently said, these groups espouse “a poisonous and extremist ideology that I believe we’ll be fighting for years and probably decades”.

Indeed, another of the recurring themes of the conference was the need not only to fight terrorist groups militarily but to combat this poisonous ideology that underpins and nourishes their totalitarian objectives. This fight, therefore, must occur not only in the theatres of conflict, such as Iraq and Syria, but also here at home, where necessary, where some of our youth may be targeted for recruitment. To this end, as I indicated, co-operation and engagement with Muslim communities and community leaders in the west are essential.

Another important way of combatting such terrorism is cutting off its funding. In addition to Iran, Turkey and Qatar have become significant sponsors of terrorism, notably of ISIS and Hamas, and so diplomatic and financial measures could dovetail with military ones, choking off financial support for terrorist groups.

Perhaps one of the most significant things that could be done to combat terrorism is to ensure that it does not succeed to begin with, that it is not rewarded, validated, and nowhere legitimated while groups that do not adopt terrorist tactics, such as Tibetans, do not receive our attention and support. Every payment of ransom, every prisoner swap, every moral equivalence or offer of legitimacy, every unnecessary concession to a terrorist group encourages still more terror.

Indeed, for example, suggestions that Hamas should be treated as a mere political party or placed on a morally equivalent plane with democracies that fight it is itself part of a pattern of indulgence that only encourages more terrorism. For example, if we are to combat Hamas as a terrorist group, we should engage in what I have elsewhere referred to as a kind of “six D” strategy, which would work as well with regard to other terrorist groups in that regard.

The first step is demilitarization. The second is the disarming of the terrorist militias, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the like. The third is the dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure. The fourth is the defunding of its sources. The fifth is the detoxification of its ideology. The sixth is development—in other words, a reciprocal response to these forms of demilitarization and dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure would be a massive program for reconstruction, relief and development.

At the same time, we must ensure that groups that shun terrorist tactics receive our attention and support. For example, while parliaments around the world debate how to approach ISIS, while the subject will undoubtedly receive much attention at the upcoming UN General Assembly, and while it should be the subject of a UN Human Rights Council emergency debate, as I and others have proposed recently, one would be hard pressed to find a parliamentary debate about the plight of the Tibetan people, who have been facing repression for decades, but who, if they engaged in violence, would self-immolate rather than attack Chinese civilians.

All of this is to say that the struggle against terrorism and radical Islamist ideology is a complex, multifaceted fight. As Canadians go to Iraq to support efforts to combat ISIS, let us support them, let us have full information about the nature and scope of their mission, and let us not forget that the fight against ISIS is but one battle in a much larger war in which military, economic, diplomatic and humanitarian measures must all be brought to bear.

To conclude in that regard, first, we need to expose and unmask the critical mass of threat and the critical level of mass atrocity of ISIS and other radical terrorist Islamic groups. For example, we have seen in a poll taken now that 61% of American voters believe that the U.S. taking military action against ISIS is in the national interest, versus 13% who do not. However, when asked last year about the U.S. taking action against Syria after its reported use of chemical weapons, only 21% said that action was in the nation’s interest, while 33% said it was not. I believe that it is the exposure of the barbarism of ISIS, including the theatrics of its barbarism, that has helped to mobilize public opinion. We need to really expose and unmask the critical mass, not only of threat but the critical mass of mass atrocity that has been engaged in.

Second, we need to expose and unmask the radical and murderous ideologies that underpin ISIS and the other terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda, al-Nusra, Islamic Jihad and the like, which pose a clear and present danger, as I indicated, not only to the stability of the Middle East but to Europe, North America and the like.

Third, we must expose and unmask the genocidal anti-Semitism of these groups. This is not a term that I would use lightly or easily, but there is no other term to describe the toxic convergence of the advocacy of the most horrific of crimes, namely genocide—it is a word that we should even shudder to mention. Embedded in the most enduring of radical hatred, namely anti-Semitism, is the propagation of terrorist acts and furtherance of both this genocidal objective and these radical, hateful ideologies.

Fourth, we need the U.S. and allies to step up efforts to choke off, for example, the Islamic State’s funding. In particular, we need to focus on steps to choke off the oil sales of the Islamic State, its donations from the Persian Gulf and its extortion rackets. Officials said their strategy is highly dependent on the co-operation of Middle East allies such as Turkey, Qatar and Kuwait in preventing the flow of finances and fighters into the Islamic State’s war machinery.

Since the primary source for the Islamic State’s fund comes from its sale of oil and refined petroleum, therefore, what needs to be done is to curtail their capacity to engage in such sales and to cut off the capacity of those that assist them financially in that regard. We also need to ensure, and with this I close, that terrorism is not rewarded; that recruitment of Canadians and others is countered, as we have begun to do here in Canada with the engagement and the leadership of the Muslim communities at its helm; that we have a program and policy with respect to protect against the returning jihadist committing terrorist acts in this country. As I said, only a comprehensive approach involving military, diplomatic, political, economic, humanitarian and educational measures will achieve this.

We always have to appreciate that terrorism constitutes an assault on the fundamental security of a democracy, be it Canada, Europe, or otherwise, and that counter-terrorism is really a response in the protection of human security, the security of a democracy and the security of the life of each of its inhabitants. Equally in the Middle East counter-terrorism at this point will be and will serve the protection of the inhabitants of the countries in the Middle East who are in the first line of threat from these radical jihadist groups symbolized by ISIS, but not limited to ISIS.

Question on the Order Paper Q-511

Posted on September 17, 2014 | No Comments

Prof. Cotler recently submitted a written question to the Government about telecommunications companies sharing subscriber information. The question and answer can be found here: 8555-412-511

Question on the Order Paper Q-591

Posted on September 17, 2014 | No Comments

Prof. Cotler recently submitted a written question to the Government about Supreme Court appointments. The question and the Government’s answer can be found here: 8555-412-591

Question on the Order Paper Q-543

Posted on September 17, 2014 | No Comments

Prof. Cotler recently submitted a written question to the Government on Supreme Court appointments. The question and the government’s answer can be found here: 8555-412-543

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Question on the Order Paper Q-497

Posted on September 17, 2014 | No Comments

Prof. Cotler recently asked the Government a written question about Supreme Court appointments. The question and the Government’s response can be found here: 8555-412-497

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The fatal flaws of the Schabas Inquiry

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Schabas’s appointment to an already fatally flawed commission raises, at a minimum, a reasonable apprehension of bias, if not actual bias, and is a standing violation of the elementary principles of due process applicable to UN fact-finding missions.

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Posted on August 15, 2014 | No Comments

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Posted on July 28, 2014 | No Comments

(As published in Huffington Post) The latest Israeli-Hamas war, with its evocative images of human suffering, has engaged hearts and minds the world over, particularly in […]

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