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Prime Minister Harper is an honorary conservative American, says Ariel Salzmann, associate professor at Queen’s University

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The Canadian Parliament devoted most of the day Monday and Tuesday to discussing the government’s plan to deploy F-18 fighter jets and 600 troops in a six-month air combat mission against the Islamic State. The three Canadian parties in Parliament have taken different positions on this. The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is leading Canada into another war. The Liberal Party is at best inconsistent, led by Justin Trudeau. And the NDP, led by Thomas Mulcair, is clearly against going to war and has proposed an amendment to the motion. The House will vote on the motion and the amendment this evening.

Now joining us to discuss Canada’s geopolitical role and global role in the fight against ISIS, from Kingston Ontario, is Ariel Salzmann. Ariel Salzmann is associate professor of Islamic and world history at Queens University.

Professor Salzmann, thank you so much for joining us today.


PERIES: So, before we get started about the debate in the Parliament, let me ask you, is there public support in Canada for joining a war against ISIS?

SALZMANN: I think the case for war has been waged by the Canadian media wittingly and unwittingly, with the Harper government playing along. So indeed there is now–poll results shows that there is majority support for Canadian involvement in this coalition and for taking a bigger role. So the support is the wind in Harper’s sails as he goes into this vote. It’s also taken a toll on the opposition, so that the Liberal Party seems to have taken a hit because of their inconsistent and divided role and their insistence that Harper has yet to make the case for war. All the while, figures in the Liberal Party are actually taking different sides on this question.

PERIES: Arial, what happened to Canada during this period of leadership by Stephen Harper and the Conservatives? I remember the days of John Chretien refusing to join the coalition to go to war in Iraq just after 9/11. What has happened during this period?

SALZMANN: Yes, indeed. This has come very much into my personal history as someone who left the United States at the height of the Bush era and happily crossed the border to accept a job here in Canada under Jean Chretien, who had basically, told along with the French and the Germans, that they wouldn’t be participating in an optional war in Iraq and feared the consequences. Of course, Chretien and his successors, including liberals like Paul Martin, also contributed, began, of course, in concert with NATO, their involvement with Afghanistan.

But I think it was this global drift toward war, the antiterrorism campaign, in which the Liberals, too, participated, that provided to some degree the platform from which the Harper government and the Conservatives–and really they’re synonymous in many respects, because Stephen Harper really made this party and made it a national party, took Canada and Canadian liberals and Canadian left of center off guard and really ran with this new mission of Canada in a transformed world. As my colleague Ian McKay and his coauthor Jamie Swift have noted in their recently published book Rebranding CanadaWarrior Nation it’s called, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety–basically, Harper has been able to capitalize on a plan of Canadian expansion, of Conservative politics, of unbridled, unfettered capitalism, and being able to market that to the Canadian public. And the war on terror and his extreme support for the right-wing governments in Israel and all of their policies, unqualified support, have been of a piece with that.

PERIES: Why is Canada taking this role as opposed to a more respectable humanitarian role, which it has previously played?

SALZMANN: Again, I think the whole thing is of one piece. When the Harper government came in–and Stephen Harper himself, who had been an MP in the Parliament, had been very rueful that Canada hadn’t lined up alongside George Bush, George W. Bush, in the war in Iraq and was very ready to make this all one, I think, one seamless policy internally, domestically, and in terms of foreign policy. First, re-create the Canadian image domestically, along with new aspirations–or long-standing aspirations, but much more aggressively stated, for Canadian expansion, particularly extractive, highly toxic industries, and moving further north in the contest for the Arctic. So that’s one of the first international policies.

And so, of course, those go hand-in-hand with, now, Canada’s lone position on the new emerging treaty or the almost finalized treaty on the rights of indigenous peoples, where Canada is alone in rejecting it and not endorsing it. So the domestic policies and the international policies of seeing Canada in this new imperial role go hand-in-hand.

He also has a base, of course, in sort of the Canadian heartland, which is really analogous to the American Midwest and South, West, and Texas, Oklahoma, etc., in which oil politics are central. And oil politics are national politics. Tar sand, the very dirty sort of residual element from which, after a very lengthy and toxic process, oil is extracted, has become, of course–is part of a national industry. People who don’t have jobs all throughout Canada go to Alberta to find jobs with good pay, and they commute back to the Maritimes and other parts of Canada, because the Canadian economy, although it’s not quite as stagnant as the U.S., is still lagging in job creation. People don’t have full-time jobs. So the domestic policy of the tar sands, which is becoming a national policy because it provides employment, it provides good-paying jobs, is of a piece with Harper’s refusal, for example, to even attempt attend the summit, the climate summit in September. So these policies go together, as well as Harper’s increased, very strident opposition to Russia. Clearly there’s energy at stake in its negotiations with the European Union. There’s a new treaty underway, negotiations for a new treaty. And, you know, getting the Europeans to turn a blind eye to the highly greenhouse gas nature of the tar sands is going to be, has been, one of the conditions, of course, for signing this new treaty.

So Harper’s policy is very, very clever in terms of his politics. And this also includes now–and from U.S. point of view, I think, [a note of (?)] concern and alarm is the way that Harper has become the ex-pat new American, the new American conservative, a conservative that Republican Party wished they had now as a possible candidate against the Democrats. And so it’s interesting how all sides are courting him, including Hillary Clinton, who has said that Canada must join this coalition, Canada is indispensable–although, even with six aircraft or nine aircraft, the contribution is still in the realm of the no more than symbolic.

PERIES: And other common ground, Ariel, along with this comradery that Canada is playing with the United States, it’s also their relationship–Canadian relationship with Israel is another point of convergence. Can you comment on that?

SALZMANN: Yeah, no, I think that’s where domestic international politics clearly dovetail, but in ways that other people might not fully appreciate. And I think therein also lies some of the this specificity of the Canadian case. So Harper from the very beginning determined that there was no shades of gray in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians and that everything Israel did was fine and should be supported. In contrast to that, there was the rest of the Muslim world, which was a different animal, as far as they were concerned. They were the other. And so pro-Israel politics have become the dog whistle politics, I believe, in the Canadian system, because on the one side, they mean unstinting, complete, evangelical fervor toward the Israeli state, to such a degree that it has even embarrassed many Canadians, including more Conservative Canadians, when Harper took 250 people to Israel in a sort of homage to Bibi Netanyahu. All the papers in Canada were aghast at that move.

PERIES: Ariel, thank you so much for joining us today.

SALZMANN: Thank you for having me, Sharmini.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Ariel Salzmann is Associate Professor of Islamic and World History at Queen's University in Kingston Ontario. She has taught History and Middle Eastern Studies in the Canada and the United States. A founding members of the Middle East and Islamic Studies Department of New York University, her scholarship focuses on the political history of the Middle East and interfaith relations in Europe and the Mediterranean. In Canada, she has been frequently called upon to comment on contemporary Middle East topics for local, Ontario-wide and national radio (CBC) , TV (CTV), and newspapers (Toronto Star, Globe & Mail).