Canada-Iran - Who’s Demonizing
The return of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo, Canadian Islamophobia, and
a trip by a native leader to Iran make Harper’s human rights award an
embarrassment, says Eric Walberg
After 10 years in Guantanamo, former child soldier Omar Khadr, the last
Western national being held there, was finally repatriated last week
after years of mistreatment. The illegality of the procedures used against
Khadr from day one mean that the Canadian government faces a multi-million
dollar law suit for damages. Various court cases against the government
failed to convince it to expedite his return, until the US government
finally pulled the plug, forcing the Canadian government to take him
after his plea of guilty to various charges, clearly made as the only
way to end his ordeal and give him hope of eventual release.
At the same time, Egyptian Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmud has
issued arrest warrants for Canadian Egyptians Nader Fawzy Jacques Attalla
of Montreal, claiming they were involved in the production of the film
"Innocence of Muslims", which defames Islam and led to the death of
dozens including the US ambassador to Libya, and the closing of Canada’s
embassies in Egypt and Libya (since reopened). Of course, both Coptic
Christian activists insist on their own "innocence". Attalla asked for
police protection, claiming he and his family in Egypt are now targets
of potential violence, calling the arrest warrant issued by the prosecutor
general a "fatwa". As if to confirm his own guilt, Attalla said, "Egypt
was exporting civilisation before and now it's exporting terrorism and
killing and hatred." It will take some doing for the Conservatives to
finesse this diplomatic tangle.
To top it all off, there are the ongoing ramifications of the breaking
of relations with Iran last month, disrupting the lives of thousands
of Iranians in Canada and making it virtually impossible for Canadians
to go to Iran. One Canadian who is willing to defy the government action
is former chief of Manitoba’s Roseau River First Nation Terrance Nelson,
who is travelling to Tehran (via Switzerland) as part of an exploratory
mission to discuss resource development and human rights abuses in Canada.
Nelson said Iranians and Canada's natives have a lot in common as victims
of European colonialism. The Indian Act was passed in 1876 by the Parliament
of Canada, confirming the expropriation of native lands that had taken
place since the first white settlers came, and the relegation of natives
to "reserves" under the federal government's authority. In Iran at that
time, Western capitalists were bribing the corrupt Nasser al-Din Shah
to allow them to control the entire Persian economy. A century of invasion,
subversion and rule by more Western-backed shahs finally ended in 1979,
when Western domination came to an abrupt end, but in the process turned
Iran into the West's bete noire, demonized in the mainstream media ever
The First Nation leader was grilled by the National Post in a joint
interview with Iranian-born activist (and former Miss World Canada)
Nazanin Afshin-Jam, who also just happens to be the wife of Defence
Minister Peter MacKay. She called Nelson's trip "a real insult to Iranians,
Canadians and the entire international community" and accused Iran of
wanting "to use him for the purposes of demonizing Canada in forums
such as the UN Human Rights Council".
When asked to condemn Iran on human rights abuses, Nelson pointed out
that there are serious human rights abuses in Canada which are not given
prominence in the mainstream media. He complained that the hysteria
in the media made it very difficult for him to pursue his efforts to
gain recognition for Canada's native people. "What the western media
says is not always true. Nobody gave a damn about half-a-million children
dying in Iraq in 1998."
When it was suggested that the Iranian government would enlist First
Nations to perpetrate violence against Canada, he laughed. "When have
First Nations people ever bombed anything? The worst we’ve ever done
is make the white man late for lunch when we do our protests in the
city street." He accused the West of perpetrating insidious violence
against countries it victimizes through sanctions, including against
both Iraq in the 1990s and Iran today.
He said his hope was to break down the unjustified bias against Iran.
“We know what demonization is all about because we’ve been demonized
in our own land.” Nelson praised Tehran for raising the human rights
issues of indigenous people in Canada and called for the Non-Aligned
Movement, which Iran now presides over, to address the plight of Canada’s
As for Afshin-Jam's claim that the Iranian government was using native
Canadians to blacken Canada's reputation at the UN, there is no need,
as there is lots of evidence of Canadian government negligence of human
rights under the current Conservative regime. At the top of the list
is the defunding of five renowned human rights NGOS -- the International
Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, the Canadian Human
Rights Commission, Kairos, Status of Women Canada and the Court Challenges
Program -- affecting tens of thousands of Canadians and victims of violence
around the world. Furthermore, Harper prorogued Parliament twice, becoming
the first prime minister ever to be found guilty of contempt of Parliament,
and flagrantly ignores freedom of speech by muzzling senior bureaucrats,
withholding and altering documents, and launching personal attacks on
whistleblowers. There is an ongoing investigation into voting fraud
perpetrated by the Conservatives in the last election.
Despite Harper's notoriety, he was chosen 2012 World Statesman of the
Year for his work as a "champion of democracy, freedom and human rights"
by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (set up by Rabbi Arthur Schneier
in 1965). He chose to boycott the UN gathering of heads of state taking
place just down the street in New York (perhaps afraid of criticism?).
Instead, in his address at the Waldorf Astoria, he accused the UN of
wooing dictators with an "appalling record of human rights abuse", implying
of course the Iranian leadership.
But he should consider his own "appalling record of human rights abuse".
And answer Terrance Nelson's question: "If the Iranian government is
willing to take our case forward, that is fine. Why isn't the German
government, or the American government, or the English government, or
the French government doing it? Why hasn't the Israeli government said
anything? Have they condemned Canada?"
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly <http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/>http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/
and is author of Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games
You can reach him at <http://ericwalberg.com/ >http://ericwalberg.com/
Photo Terrance Nelson nationalpost.com