A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for November 2014

[URBAN NOTE] “The Jihadists of Suburbia”

I’ve followed the aftermath of an alleged 2013 plot by two Canadian Muslim radicals to derail a VIA Rail train. I linked to various articles on the plot soon after it was revealed by the police, noted that the concerned father of suspect Raed Jaser came forward with his concerns, and noted the eccentricities of Tunisian-born Chiheb Esseghaier who insisted on finding a lawyer who would defend him according to Islamic law. In Toronto Life, Naheed Mustafa has an article taking a look at the lives of the two men. They both seem to have been sadly disconnected from their environments.

Raed Jaser was 15 years old when he and his family arrived in Toronto in 1993. During the Gulf War, his Palestinian parents, Mohammed and Sabah, had been forced to leave the United Arab Emirates. Mohammed worked as an ad sales rep at a newspaper and had refused to give in to Emirati government agents’ demands that he spy on other Palestinians. To avoid persecution, the Jasers headed to Czechoslovakia, then to Germany and finally to Canada. With them were Raed’s younger brothers, 11-year-old Nabil and 10-year-old Shadi. And Sabah Jaser was some five months’ pregnant with another boy. The immigration officer who interviewed the family noted in their file that their refugee case should be sorted out as soon as possible, before the baby was born.

The Immigration and Refugee Board didn’t believe the family’s story and rejected their claim, but four years later they were accepted under a now-defunct program that allowed refugee claimants to stay if they were stateless and therefore had no country to be deported to. Raed, however, didn’t qualify: while his parents were navigating the refugee system, he’d earned a criminal record. In 1997, he was convicted of fraud offences totalling more than $15,000, for various big-ticket items, including a gas oven and sound equipment. He ignored the order to leave the ­country. Two years later, still living in the GTA, he was arrested again, this time for uttering a death threat to a manager of a Richmond Hill pub. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and fined $1,000.

[. . . Raed Jaser] spent most of his spare time at suburban mosques, including the Jam’e Masjid in Markham, which is colloquially known as Middlefield for the road it sits on. The mosque is large and white, with arched windows and traditional domes and minarets. The people who attend it are mostly middle-class South Asian–Canadians who live nearby.

At Middlefield, Jaser would often spend his free time proselytizing to other Muslims. It seems an odd thing—preaching to those already praying—but it’s not uncommon among devout Muslims. You may already be an observant Muslim, but you can always use a boost to stay on the right track. When he wasn’t proselytizing, he’d watch YouTube lectures given by celebrity scholars and preachers like Abdur Raheem Green, Bilal Philips and Farhat Hashmi. Their lectures are not unlike the kinds of sermons a conservative Christian might hear at a megachurch—a mix of scripture and motivational talk about how to live a moral life by applying religious principles to everyday problems. Part history lesson, part advice, part fear of God’s wrath, all wrapped up in a slick production.

In 2010, Jaser met a man at Middlefield who shared his obsessions. Chiheb Esseghaier, then a 28-year-old Tunisian doctoral student at the Université du Québec, specialized in nano­technology and biosensors. He had a full beard, an intense gaze behind metal-rimmed glasses and the withdrawn ­personality of a bookworm. Even though they came from very different backgrounds, they fell into long conversations about religion, politics and Esseghaier’s studies.

Esseghaier began visiting Jaser in Toronto, often crashing at his home. He never spoke to Jaser’s wife even though she was in the apartment. (Which isn’t that unusual: in Jaser and Esseghaier’s strict interpretation of the Muslim faith, men and women who are unrelated simply do not interact.) The men talked about how they believed Muslims were oppressed by the West. They talked about how wrong it was that Canada had troops in Afghanistan with the NATO mission. NATO, in Esseghaier’s view, was intent on colonizing the country and forcing secularism upon Muslims.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 9:03 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO covers Spacing’s new Toronto store.
  • Crooked Timber has a measured response to the death of mystery novelist P.D. James.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper modeling the development of river deltas on Titan and on Earth.
  • Far Outliers notes the awkward advantages of Japanese-Koreans in North Korea.
  • Joe. My. God. features a guest post from Carl Siciliano, operator of a shelter for GLBT youth.
  • Language Hat notes a recent study suggesting that even forgotten languages are not truly forgotten by humans once exposed to them.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at the complications of France’s 35-hour work week.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes the Hajnal line dividing European population and observes the return of natural increase in Russia.
  • The Signal has a fascinating interview about the complexities of digital art preservation.
  • Transit Toronto notes John Tory’s order to restore cut bus service to dozens of routes, including my Dupont bus.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Chinese dams might dry up Kazakhstan’s Lake Balkhash and examines the consequence of Russia’s stripping expatriates of their citizenship.

[PHOTO] “But they weren’t doing much, so we killed them all … ?”

"But they weren't doing much, so we killed them all ... ?"

This May 2013 photo was taken as I was walking with my father down the former course of Garrison Creek, along Bathurst Street near Fort York. On the side of a stairway leading from the street towards the fort, builders had erected a wall with a potted history of the Toronto area, the only entry relating to native peoples being a notation that First Nations settled the area circa 9000 BC. Below that entry, someone had scrawled some graffiti: “But they weren’t doing much, so we killed them all … ?”

First Nations erasure is a major problem in Canadian history. In this particular case, the graffiti artist missed a singular point about Toronto’s pre-European history, that there were no mass killings of indingenous peoples by Europeans, that the main mass killings were conducted by other indigenous peoples. The mid-17th century Beaver Wars fought for control of the North American fur trade ended up seeing the dispersion of the native groups indigenous to south-central Ontario, notably the Huron. C.M.W. Marcel’s 2006 Counterweights essay goes into interesting detail about the ephemeral Iroquois colonization of the northern shores of Lake Ontario. This settlement included two villages in modern Toronto’s boundaries, Teiaiagon on the eastern shore of the Humber River in west-end Toronto and Ganatsekwyagon in east-end Toronto on the Rouge River. That first village later hosted the Mississaugas, an Algonquian-speaking Ojibwa group that has since been displaced from the area. (Wayne Roberts’ 2013 NOW Toronto essay is recommended.)

History is interesting.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 10:27 am

[LINK] “U.S. income gap a danger to Canada: TD”

The Toronto Star‘s Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew describes a recent report from TD Economics, The Case for Leaning Against Income Inequality in Canada, suggesting that rising income inequality in the United States poses a threat to Canada. High levels of economic inequality in the United States can easily be catching.

Income inequality has been relatively flat since 2000, but that may also be as a result of the boom in resources and real estate prices. These forces, Alexander believes, have been keeping incomes and wealth for middle-income Canadians buoyant.

“I’m worried that if the real estate and commodity booms don’t persist – and we know that booms don’t last forever – that when that dissipates, we’re going to see middle-income Canadians under more pressure.”

Because our economies are so closely integrated, Canadians companies face increasing pressure from employers in the U.S., where some workers are paid much less, the TD report said.

“When our employers sit down and think about their wage scales for the coming year, they look at their competitors in the United States and they can see the cost of doing business there is much lower. What’s an employer to do? They have to stay in business and it creates really pressure,” Alexander said.

New investment in the automotive sector, for instance, has gone to the southern U.S. and Mexico, where workers earn less than their Canadian counterparts.

At the same time, the persistence of low productivity in Canada’s economy means that incomes aren’t rising as quickly as they could be, the report notes.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:58 am

[LINK] “Greenlanders Vote as Oil Price Slump Kills Independence Dreams”

Bloomberg’s Peter Levring describes how falling oil prices are undermining the economic rationale for Greenland’s independence.

Less than half a decade ago, Greenlanders were imagining the riches that would follow an oil bonanza as the price of crude approached $150 a barrel. That wealth was supposed to buy the island independence from Denmark.

Today, with oil trading at less than $75, well below levels that would make exploration off the world’s largest island profitable, Greenlanders are casting their votes for a new home-rule government after the previous administration collapsed amid an expenses scandal.

“People in Greenland always ponder how to achieve economic independence from Denmark,” Ulrik Pram Gad, a post doctoral political scientist at the University of Copenhagen, said in an interview. “People are just realizing that things will take longer; nobody knows how to fund the economy without oil and mining.”

The hyperbole around Greenland’s prospects of becoming a commodities exporting nation that would turn its citizens into millionaires has come and gone in cycles. Explorers approached Greenland after the oil crises of the 1970s, only to abandon the island for three decades. In 2010, Cairn Energy Plc (CNE) returned but didn’t make any commercial finds after spending more than $1 billion during two years of drilling.

“It’s safe to say that oil and mineral prices have to rise a lot from the current levels before something happens,” Torben M. Andersen, a professor of economics at the University of Aarhus and head of Greenland’s Economic Council, said in a telephone interview. “Oil exploration could produce a lot of revenue for the Greenlanders, but it’s so far into the future it’ll be dangerous if that promise blocks out other issues.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:54 am

[LINK] “Hungary Retreats From Putin as Orban Rediscovers Germany”

Zoltan Simon of Bloomberg notes how the Hungarian government of Viktor Orban is hastily back-pedalling away from pro-Russian rhetoric, at least partly out of a desire to placate Hungary’s major investor Germany and the European Union to which Hungary has belonged for a decade. Illiberalism has its limits.

Hungarian premier Viktor Orban is trying to keep his balance as the geopolitical ground shifts beneath him, and that means taking a step toward Germany and away from Russia.

Orban has made a point of cultivating ties with President Vladimir Putin, criticizing the sanctions imposed on Russia and negotiating a $14 billion loan from the Kremlin. This month the Hungarian leader sent different signals when he voiced support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, called Germany his “compass” on foreign policy and visited NATO troops stationed in Lithuania.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and Hungary’s no. 1 investor, is calling for ties with Russia to be “remapped” as the standoff over Ukraine is pressuring countries from Azerbaijan to Moldova to choose sides. While Orban says there’s no need for Hungary to do so, he is creating distance from Putin and celebrating ties with Germany as Chancellor Angela Merkel urges “patience and staying power” to overcome the crisis.

“Orban’s done a 180-degree turn on Ukraine,” Manuel Sarrazin, deputy chairman of the German-Hungarian group in the Berlin parliament, said by phone. “He realized with some prodding by Merkel that he’d seriously underestimated” the conflict and “he profoundly underestimated Merkel and the position Europe was taking behind her.”

That recognition moved Orban to invest time and effort to burnish Hungary’s image as a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while keeping Putin, who as recently as last week called Hungary a “key partner,” at arm’s length.
‘At War’

The conflict in Ukraine, which borders Hungary, shows no sign of abating. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told parliament Nov. 27 the country is “at war,” while the United Nations last week cited a “total breakdown of law and order” in the east and linked Russian fighters to human rights violations there.

[. . .]

Orban’s charm offensive is focused on Germany, the driver of EU policies and Hungary’s most important economic partner. More than a quarter of all foreign direct investment in Hungary last year came from Germany, according to central bank data. Russia, the source of 80 percent of Hungary’s gas consumption, represents less than a 10th of a percent.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:50 am

[LINK] “Opportunists take advantage of east Ukraine leadership confusion”

Sabra Ayres at Al Jazeera America describes the alarming fragmentation of the Ukrainian east under separatists. Leaving aside the failure to unite the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, power seems to be devolving to individual communities and military commanders inside these republics. This, needless to say, does not bode well for an economically devastated region.

The armed camouflaged men and women immediately stand to attention when Ataman Nikolai Kozitsyn enters the salmon-hued hall of the Soviet-era House of Culture he uses as one of his three offices.

At just over 6 feet 2 inches tall with a protruding belly, Kozitsyn commands a presence, and his Cossack soldiers stare straight ahead as he addresses one of his female troops.

“You’re too skinny,” he boomed. He then turned to the young woman’s husband, who stood by his side with an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder. “Aren’t you feeding her enough?”

Kozitsyn bellowed a laugh, and the dozen or so in the room laughed nervously. Most of them wore the traditional Cossack fighter’s cap, black fur with a red center. Their hats were no match for Kozitsyn’s headwear, which was about three times the height and twice the circumference.

He has been the de facto ruler of this small mining city about 25 miles southwest of the rebel-held city of Luhansk since July. He and his Cossack fighters from Russia’s Don River basin came to the aid of the pro-Russian separatists when the Ukrainian forces fighting the rebels controlling the area began to gain ground.

In a matter of months, he has turned Perevalsk into his fief. He said he has brought stability back to a city that had been ransacked by a corrupt government “calling itself Ukraine” and took credit for getting the city’s main services back up and running, including water, heat and electricity.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 4:46 am