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I spent several days last week at a conference on Somalia – the meeting was held in Nairobi for security reasons, which in itself says something. Somalia has been in the grip of a civil war for decades, and as of this writing Islamic militant group al-Shabaab is locked in an ongoing battle with African Union troops in the countryside throughout the south of the country.
Al-Shabaab has an organic relationship with al-Qaeda. Its goal is an extended caliphate on the Horn of Africa. Readers will recall the group’s attack on a large shopping centre in Nairobi, as well the massacre of students at a Christian college in northern Kenya. There are reports of substantial al-Shabaab activity in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, as well as Kenya and Somalia.
The killings last weekend in West Africa should make more people realize that terrorist threats are growing, not receding, and that fighting terrorists requires both imagination and unprecedented political will.
At a public meeting in Nairobi it was moving to hear many Somalis who were welcomed to Canada in the 1990s talk about their appreciation of our country’s hospitality, and how much pride they felt watching the welcome of Syrian refugees by Canadians, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the political leadership of the country.
That policy stands in marked contrast to the rhetoric and grim reality of politics in both the United States and Europe. The man leading the polls in the Republican presidential race wants to exclude all Muslims. The Danish government is prepared to seize the assets of refugees to pay for the costs of settlement. Every government in Europe is now facing a populist public opinion which is demanding restrictions, limits, deportations and a general sense of “enough already.” This is all taking place against the background of economies dealing with deep stagnation, high youth unemployment and a growing gap between rich and poor. This week’s World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland begins with the news that 62 people own as much of the world’s wealth as the poorest half of the entire global population. The collapse of oil prices, which was greeted as an unalloyed boon by people who should know better, has devastated many economies, with lost jobs, lost revenues and public sectors from Saudi Arabia to Venezuela to Alberta facing mountains of debts, while the public faces cuts and austerity on a scale unimaginable a few months ago.
One might have hoped that the world would have emerged from the crisis of 2008/2009 deeply chastened and so much wiser, but this is clearly not the case. The capacity of central banks to “solve the problem” is limited, and governments have put themselves in such financial straits that their ability, individually and collectively, to do what is required is simply absent.
Canada has, thankfully, been relieved of the excesses of right-wing populism that still dominate politics and opinion in many countries, but it cannot be spared the pain of extremist jihadi terrorism that is inflicting such cruelty on cities and countries around the globe.
Canada and its allies need to do far more to develop a coherent strategy that deals with the military strength of this terrorism, its global reach, the economic and social pain that helps breed extremism, and the festering radicalization that happens in every major city in the world, including our own. Nor should we be afraid to call out the problem: In the name of political correctness there is far too much politeness about what is actually happening. The politics of exclusion, with its talk of deportations, putting up walls and blaming an entire religion for the problems of the world, only provokes more conflict and hatred. But bromides won’t deal with it either. We have made the mistake of thinking that benign neglect and integration by accident would be enough to maintain multicultural peace and avoid conflict. Every level of government, indeed every citizen, has to be engaged in ensuring the safety and security of the country.
Ministers in Somalia’s fragile government – many with strong connections to Canada – made it clear to me last week in Nairobi that al-Shabaab recruitment is going on in Canada, and that more needs to be done to encourage the community’s leadership to address the issue. In the early 20th century, justice Louis Brandeis used to talk about sunlight being the best disinfectant. Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s “sunny ways,” or positive diplomacy, can be put to good use when combined with more astringent applications.