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  November 20, 2015

Canadian PM Trudeau Halts Bombings in Syria, But Is It a Real Shift in Policy?

York University's Sabah Alnasseri says although Justin Trudeau is keeping his campaign promise, more Canadian ground troops are headed to Iraq
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Sabah Alnasseri was born in Basra, Iraq, and earned his doctorate at the Johann-Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. He teaches Middle East politics and economy at the Political Science Department at York University in Toronto, Canada. His publications cover various topics in Marxist political economy, Marxist state theory in the tradition of Gramsci, Poulantzas and Althusser, theory of regulation, and Middle East politics and economy.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has kept one of his main campaign promises. He announced that he plans to withdraw Canada's fighter jets from the U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq. This is a stark contrast from his predecessor Stephen Harper, who launched Canada into this coalition a year ago.

Here to highlight the significance of this move by the prime minister is our guest, Sabah Alnasseri. He is a professor of political science at York University in Toronto, Canada. Thanks so much for being with us, Sabah.

SABAH ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So let's get right into it, Sabah. Most of what we're hearing from the West is really about more air strikes. France continued its bombing campaign in Syria after the Paris attack. But Canada is pulling back. Why is this so significant, Sabah?

ALNASSERI: Well, first I think to his credit this is his second promise. The first promise of Mr. Trudeau was to have 50 percent of his cabinet women, which he did. And I think this second promise of his campaign which he's trying to fulfill, the one he mentioned about withdrawing and, you know, reducing the military engagement of Canada in the Middle East. So to his credit these are two of his, you know, election campaign.

Let me start with this. I would say that the security state itself is the reason why there is no security. And let me explain this. You know, since 9/11, Western states and Europe, United States, and under the Harper government in Canada, spend hundreds of billions of dollars in the so-called security states. They waged war. They undermine civil liberties, restrict movement. There were mass incarcerations, suspicion, criminalization of community, and so on. This didn't make Western states more secure, more safe. No. You see, we have this attack and we have other attacks before in the U.S. and Europe.

So I think the security state, through its own policy of [insecuritization] of the population makes people more vulnerable to extremists than otherwise. That's why I see it as significant what Mr. [Prime Minister] Trudeau is trying to do here, is by introducing a turn, a shift, in Western foreign policy vis-a-vis the conflict in the Middle East, which I hope he will extend also to the conflict inside Palestine, and shift the policy of the Harper neocon government. The unilateral support of Israel, which, you know, empowered Israel actually to commit genocide against the Palestinians, that we've seen at least two wars, in 2014, 2009.

So if Minister Trudeau will pursue such policies, such a shift in foreign policy to a much more peaceful, non-military solution to the conflicts, I think this is significant not only in the Canadian context, but for two reasons. One, it will act against all these insecuritization introduced by the security state under Harper. Namely, the collective criminalization and suspicion of our Muslim community in Canada. This made Canada actually more vulnerable to extremists than otherwise. That's why I think Trudeau is pushing back against this.

The second significant movement, I would say, since Canada has, at least under the Harper government, was involved directly in the so-called war on terror, and introducing now a shift in foreign policy that might give a good example to, for other states to follow suit. And to seek for peaceful solutions of this [conflict] rather than betting on more [inaud.] more bombing, more militarization. So I think it's significant for two reasons.

DESVARIEUX: But Sabah, how much is this really a shift? Because at a meeting about the TPP this week, Trudeau said that Canada will keep doing, quote, “more than its part” to defend against the Islamic State of Iraq, ISIS, essentially. But augmenting its contingent of ground troops currently training in Iraq, it's going to be doing that. So how much is Canada really shifting when it comes to its role in the Syrian conflict?

ALNASSERI: Right. Well, it's too early to say. Because you know, at least the last ten years under the Harper government there was a kind of common sense that developed through different kind of policies. Migration policies, refugees, security policies and so on, that created a sense of the vulnerabilities of the Canadian people vis-a-vis extremist attacks from outside. Not only from outside, but also suspicion vis-a-vis Canadian Arabs and Muslims, et cetera. So this common sense, this atmosphere of fear and suspicion, is not easy to push back against. [Inaud.] it would take time.

So I'm pretty sure that not only in the media, but also within the political class itself, there will be attempts to push back against any turn or shift in foreign policy of Canada and the Middle East. That's for sure. And I think [Prime Minister] Trudeau is aware of that. And I think it would take time for him and for his cabinet to push back against all these prejudices and, you know, fearmongering, et cetera. Only then we can tell how significant is this shift. And it's too early to say.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And pushing back on some of that that you mentioned, the fearmongering and so on and so forth, they also have to present alternatives. So what would you recommend that Canada focus on if it truly wants to be less vulnerable in the world?

ALNASSERI: Right. I think--you see, I mean, I use the example of Afghanistan when I used to teach in Germany. When I look at how much NATO states invested in the war in Afghanistan, to occupy Afghanistan, and calculate it economically, what if this amount of money was spent, let's say, supporting farmers in Afghanistan? And paying a farmer in Afghanistan, let's say, $10 for a kilo of tomatoes or potatoes, rather than them, the farmers, cultivating opium and selling them for $10 for the warlords. So we have done that, that would have get rid of the opiums and all the drugs and would have introduced development for the Afghani people to prosperity, welfare, peaceful solutions and development. That would have been the best way to push back against [inaud.] involvement in extremism and terror.

What they did is quite the opposite. They militarized the conflict, destroyed the country, killed 10,000 of peoples, and cultivated this, indirectly, the opium production, right, the highest in the world. So the same thing you can say here about Canada and the Middle East. If Canada now would engage productively in the conflict with Israel and Palestine, and push for a peaceful solution, sustainable and social, and just solution [inaud.] Palestine. When push for a economic and political development in Iraq to incorporate, integrate the alienated segment of the Iraqi population into the Iraq state, would push for political solution in Syria, to create a transition government that will solve the conflict peacefully. I think that's the way to move forward.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Sabah Alnasseri, joining us from Toronto. Thank you so much for being with us.

ALNASSERI: Thanks for having me, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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