Hey Harper - Want to stop promoting terrorism? Stop calling them 'jihadists'

After 14 years of the “war on terror,” more of the same isn’t cutting it. It’s time to stand up against terror, instead of giving in to our fears.

Harper has lied about the war on terror, and there is nothing to suggest this time he is telling the truth

Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes an announcement in Richmond Hill, Ont., on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Harper spoke about a newly tabled anti-terrorism legislation that would give Canada's spy agency more power to thwart a suspected extremist's travel plans, disrupt bank transactions and covertly interfere with radical websites. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada’s spy agencies and police need “sweeping new powers” to fight Islamists and jihadists, and the worldwide movement that hates our open, tolerant and free society. 

Enough already.

Harper’s Chicken Little act is getting tired. Time and time again we’ve been lied to about the war on terror, and there is no reason to suspect that this time we are being told the truth. 

Canada’s security agencies have already been granted “sweeping new powers” twice: once after 9/11, and again after the Conservatives won a majority. 

Harper himself must think they didn’t make a difference, otherwise he wouldn’t want more. But if they didn’t work the first time, why would anyone expect more of the same to be any better? 

Again and again, we’re told some group poses a terrible risk, and it turns out to be a total bust: 

  • We were lied to about Osama bin Laden having Bond-villain-style fortresses in hollowed-out mountains in Afghanistan. (Yes, this was a thing).
  • We were lied to about all the reasons to go to war in Iraq in 2003. We were lied to about Saddam Hussein having uranium, or weapons of mass destruction, links to al-Qaeda or 9/11. 
  • We were lied to when officials said the U.S. doesn’t torture.
  • We were lied to when officials claimed that torture worked, or that it led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden.
  • We were lied to when we were told that the U.S. and Canadian governments weren’t spying on citizens.(That part where people said that 9/11 was done by al-Qaeda? That was true). 

What about Canada? 

  • In 2003, Stephen Harper believed all the lies about Iraq, and in a speech plagiarized from Australian Prime Minister John Howard, urged Canada to join the U.S.  
  • Rather than hear about Canada’s role in the torture of prisoners in Afghanistan, the Harper government prorogued parliament.
  • In Canada, we are being lied to about our role in fighting ISIS in Iraq. We were told it would be limited to air strikes from CF-18s. Now shots are being fired on the ground, but we’re being told that that’s not what “combat” means. 

Why are we at war in Iraq with ISIS? Because we’ve been told they are “too extreme for al-Qaeda,” and they want to create an Islamic state that will take over the world. 

ISIS propaganda is terrifying and so is its brutality, but that isn’t a reflection of its true military threat. The Rand Corporation estimates that they may have as few as 10,000 fighters. 

There is a strong argument to be made that Mexican drug cartels are far more dangerous than ISIS. They have killed more people than ISIS — cartels killed 16,000 people in 2013 and 60,000 between 2006 and 2012.

Cartels are every bit as brutal: they have enslaved thousands of people to work in plantations or as sex slaves, they recruit child soldiers, and they have beheaded hundreds of people. 

The cartels are a clear and present danger to the U.S.: 500 Americans have been killed in Mexico, 5,000 more in drug-related murders in the U.S.

Yet while we are sending troops and fighter jets to Iraq, we are still booking vacation charters to Mexico. 

The fact is in Canada, the threat of terror is nowhere near what Harper claims it is.

Terrorist groups make all sorts of outrageous claims and threats to make themselves appear much more scary and dangerous than they really are. Of course they are scary: they are terrorists. 

But that doesn’t mean we should believe them, much less take them seriously or repeat their propaganda and lies about being “holy warriors” as if they were true. 

Repeating and amplifying terrorist propaganda is exactly what Harper and his ilk have been doing since the war on terror began. 

By calling terrorists “jihadists,” Harper reinforces, instead of rejecting, the idea that terrorists are “holy warriors.”

When Harper talks about “the West” and “Islam” being in some life-or-death battle for global supremacy, he is playing into the hands of al-Qaeda and ISIS recruiters, who use those very arguments to recruit new members. 

That is how those groups radicalize and appeal to angry, aimless young men: they offer them a purpose in life — be holy warriors in a global war between good and evil. 

Terrorists are not holy, and they are not warriors. They are criminals. Some are murderers, rapists, thieves, blackmailers and extortionists. The uncle of the Boston Marathon bombers called his nephews “losers.”

After 14 years of the “war on terror,” more of the same isn’t cutting it. It’s time to stand up against terror, instead of giving in to our fears. 

Dougald Lamont is a writer and strategic communications consultant in Winnipeg. He has worked on many political campaigns and in 2013 ran unsuccessfully for leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party.


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