Briefs News

World in Brief: Al Qaeda claims fatal shooting, SuperBowl Sunday and National Emergency in Somalia

The Islamist militant group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) allegedly claimed responsibility for the fatal shooting that happened last December in Pensacola, Florida. A Second Lieutenant from the Royal Saudi Air Force undergoing training in the naval base opened fire at American soldiers before being killed, reported The Concordian. The claim was made on a leaked audio recording, but the militant group did not provide evidence, reported Reuters.

France declared it was sending more military troops to the Sahel desert amid increasing violence from jihadist groups. French military presence will increase from 4,500 to 5,100 soldiers by the end of February in the border zones of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Defence Minister Florence Parly said in a statement on Sunday that the operation was to increase “pressure against ISIS-GS,” the ISIS group of the Greater Sahara. According to an article in Al-Jazeera, there have been more than 4,000 reported deaths in 2019.

The Kansas City Chiefs were crowned champions of the 54th Super Bowl on Sunday, in Miami. The National Football League team played against five-time winner San Francisco 49ers, who were designated favourites by most oddsmakers initially. But Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of the game and brought the team to victory, 31-20, over the 49ers. This year’s halftime show was performed by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira after other artists such as Jay-Z and Rihanna turned down the offer over NFL racism controversies.

On Sunday, Somalia declared a national emergency over a major locust infestation. The Desert locust is a grasshopper species that rapidly devastated huge amounts of crops in the region. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Unions, a locust swarm of one square kilometre can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. This puts the upsurge at an even more worrisome level, as the East African country is already experiencing an alarming level of food insecurity.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Briefs News

World in brief: London Bridge attacks, climate strikes against Black Friday and investigation into Malta’s murdered journalist

A stabbing attack on the London Bridge took the life of two people, leaving three injured on Friday afternoon. Governmental officials have since referred to the stabbings as a terrorist act committed by 28-year-old Usman Khan. Khan was a known, convicted terrorist who was released last year from prison, only halfway through his 16-year sentence, reported the Independent. Videos show evidence of Khan, wearing a fake suicide bomb, tackled by the public before being fatally shot by the police. Both victims, identified as Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, were in their early twenties and were involved with Learning Together, an organization for prison rehabilitation.

Black Friday was kicked off with climate strikes and overconsumption protests taking place around the world. Protesters targeted Amazon in France, while a widespread “Black Friday Strike” from Los Angeles to New York was called by a group of young people, reported CBC. In Madrid, where the UN climate summit will be taking place from Dec. 2 to Dec. 13, a giant banner reading “Consumerism = climate crisis” was hung by Geenpeace. The various protests mainly accused Black Friday of promoting overconsumption, accelerating the environmental crisis. Canadians were expected to spend more than $29 billion this year during the sales, according to Finder statistics.

Malta’s Prime Minister announced his plan to step down amid potential involvement in the 2017 car bomb killing of a journalist. Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed while she was in the middle of investigating corruption among the country’s political and business elite, as reported by The Guardian. On Saturday, the murder inquiry charged a businessman in the case with alleged ties to the government. It fueled the ongoing national protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat over his mishandling of the case for the past two years. Muscat said he will resign in the upcoming month and called for the process of choosing a new leader by Jan. 12, 2020.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


“No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here”

Vigil for Quebec City shooting victims unites more than 1,000 people

Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Azzeddine Soufiane—those are the names of whom a crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered for outside of Parc metro station. It was an act of solidarity against terrorism, racism and discrimination.

Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Azzeddine Soufiane—those are the names of whom a crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered for outside of Parc metro station. It was an act of solidarity against terrorism, racism and discrimination.

These six men fell victim to an act of terrorism committed at a mosque in Quebec City where many community members had gathered for an evening prayer on Sunday, Jan. 29, according to the National Post.

The demonstration, organized by the Association des Musulmans et des Arabes pour la Laïcité au Québec, began at 6 p.m. on Jan. 30.

“Tout le monde déteste les racistes, tout le monde déteste les racistes,” the crowd chanted, over and over.

Claire Caillat, a participant at the vigil, said the large crowd validated the fact that many Canadians and those living in Canada are strong and determined to fight against racism. “This is proof that racism cannot divide us,” she said.

Mohammed Ahmed, another participant, said diversity is an important component of what makes Canada the nation it is today. “Without it, Canada would be tasteless,” he said.

Photo by Savanna Craig.

“People from all over the world come here to contribute to society,” said Ahmed. If we separate Canada in terms of race and culture, Canada will no longer be Canada, he said.

“I’m not surprised that people support the Muslim community because a vast majority of Quebecers do not hold intolerant views towards these minority groups,” said Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Green Party of Quebec and Concordia student who attended the vigil. “It’s really a fringe element of society that holds these discriminatory views.”

Tyrrell criticized the media for providing a presence for and profiting off of intolerant, extremist, right-wing views. “They’re often writing columns against trans people, against women, against minority groups,” said Tyrrell, using the example of journalists Mathieu Bock-Côté and Richard Martineau. “They’re constantly fanning the flames of these issues.”

I think that that’s something that needs to change as quick as possible because we see what kind of impact these have,” said Tyrrell. “There has been many other hate crimes that have been committed in Quebec over the past few months and years.”

Photo by Savanna Craig.

As some participants began to disperse around 7:30 p.m., many others gathered around a large red tapestry that read “Make Racists Afraid Again.”

“No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here,” chanted thousands of participants in unison during the vigil.

Photo by Savanna Craig.

Sentiments of peace and acceptance filled the air throughout the evening, voiced by a crowd made up of all different races, backgrounds and religions.

The crowd later dispersed from outside Parc metro and moved East along Jean Talon.


Dealing with terrorism and empathy in a climate of fear

Are Middle Eastern lives worthless in the eyes of the Western world?

On New Year’s Day, 2017, a gunman entered a nightclub in Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district. Seven minutes later, 39 people lay dead and the attacker escaped into the crowd.

I learned of this attack through Twitter. However, I was hard pressed to find any other concrete information from major news sources. A Canadian even died in this ISIS attack and yet barely a passing glance was made.

Why is this? Why is an attack in Paris “an attack on all humanity,” as President Obama called it, while attacks in non-Western nations barely make it out of the newsroom? The answer is complex.

One could assume that Turkey, a country seen as a nexus between the East and West, perhaps shares the perceived characteristic violent connotations of its Middle Eastern neighbours. This, I think, is only half right. It is certainly true that Turkey has a history of terror attacks—primarily from Kurdish rebel forces—an ethnic minority who’ve been pushing for cultural and territorial independence for decades.

ISIS has recently been wreaking havoc across the nation, as the Syrian civil war spills across the border, with 415 Turkish civilians and soldiers having been killed since June 2015, according to The New York Times.

Yet, Turkey is also considered by many to be a “Westernized nation,” the strongest member of NATO next to the U.S. and a secular democracy. So why aren’t acts of terror in Turkey and other non-Western nations treated like world-shaking events as they are in Paris, Brussels or Berlin?

As Molly Crabapple of The Guardian wrote, the West is conditioned to perceive Middle Eastern lives are “cheap.” To a certain extent, I am inclined to agree with this perspective. For instance, on November 12, 2015, two suicide bombers killed 42 people in a Beirut market. This attack was reported by western media but focused on the fact it was an “explosion in a Hezbollah stronghold,” rather than an ISIS attack against innocent civilians, according to The New York Times.

Presenting this attack and countless others in the Middle East as routine incidents of sectarian violence has the effect of normalizing violence in that region rather than showing us what it truly is: a robbery of innocent lives that is worthy of our attention.

However, the responsibility for this normalization is not solely at the feet of the mass media—the public plays a part in effacing the significance of these attacks. Social media is a perfect example of such a disparity in empathy. The Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks in Paris in 2015 both elicited mass public outcry.

This sympathy manifested itself in the hashtags #jesuischarlie and #jesuisparis. In addition, attacks in Brussels and Berlin in 2016 garnered similar responses. But where was the outcry and mass public support following terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, many of which occurred within weeks or days of the Parisian and Belgian attacks?

I asked this exact question on social media—Facebook specifically. What was surprising to me is the fact that all of respondents acknowledged the lack of media and public sympathy for non-Western victims of terror. They almost unanimously felt the reason for the lack of empathy was that they could see parts of themselves in Western nations but not in others.

For example, Paris is iconic and romanticized in the West. One respondent said she could imagine herself at the Bataclan the night it was attacked, in much the same way she could see herself at the Metropolis here in Montreal. But why doesn’t the New Year’s attack at an Istanbul nightclub elicit a similar response? Surely Turkish people enjoy music, friends and life just as much as Parisians and Montrealers.

The reasons behind such a lack of empathy are many and hard to capture in an article of this length. However, I believe that thinking about these questions is a good exercise for broadening our worldview and opening our hearts and minds beyond what is familiar and comfortable to us. In other words, this an opportunity to cultivate a sense of empathy for those deemed different from us.

With ISIS committing atrocities on what seems like a weekly basis, lack of empathy and a belief that violence in the Middle East is “just how things are over there” are a threat to the values we claim to hold and the lives of those fleeing places like Syria and Iraq. Such beliefs only feed the rhetoric which equates Muslims with terrorism. We owe it to ourselves and our fellow human beings to be cognizant of such gaps in our empathetic compass, and to directly address these issues. If not, how can we truly deny that we consider Middle Eastern lives “cheaper” than our own?

Graphic by Florence Yee


One year later: How the Paris attacks changed the world

Marking the one-year anniversary of the horrific terror attacks in the French capital

On a dark and blustery November evening, I remember being on the train, making my way home to the sleepy suburbs from our bustling metropolis. The train had just left Lucien L’Allier when my phone illuminated with multiple notifications from the BBC, saying a bomb had gone off outside Stade de France in Paris.

Then my phone flashed again with another update, saying multiple gunmen had open fired at citizens in a bar in the 10th arrondissement of the French capital. Minutes later, another notification came in, saying a restaurant was under siege. My heart began to race, as I knew something sinister was unfolding in the city of lights.

By the time I got home, another suicide bomber had detonated himself at a restaurant, and Le Bataclan—a popular concert hall—was besieged by multiple gunmen who sprayed countless bullets on the unsuspecting crowd. I spent the rest of the evening with my family huddled around the television watching CNN, as the images and reports shocked the entire world to the core.

Nov. 13 marked the one-year anniversary of the Paris attacks, where 130 individuals lost their lives as several Islamic State (ISIS) militants brought an onslaught of violence and chaos. The bloodshed and terror was a symbolic and ruthless attack against the western world, as Paris—in my opinion—is the epitome of occidental culture, and has represented western ideals since the French Revolution in the 18th century.

It’s been twelve months since the attack, and the world has drastically changed beyond recognition. ISIS has launched more terror attacks in multiple countries including Belgium, Germany, Turkey, the U.S and France once again, just to name a few. Anxiety and fear has spread like the plague, and several right-wing political parties have gained a lot of popularity in Europe and America.

Look no further than our southern neighbours who’ve just elected a man who has publicly made xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-immigration comments towards American citizens.

People are scared to leave their houses, to travel and to enjoy their lives as they did before. A 2015 poll commissioned by the New York Times/CBS News revealed 79 per cent of participants believed a terror attack would be imminent. These aforementioned figures are higher than post-9/11 statistics, according to the International Business Times.

We’re not immune over here in Canada either, as the RCMP has foiled multiple terror plots within the last year. This includes Aaron Driver, a 23-year-old from Strathroy-Caradoc, Ont., who was in the final stages of planning a bomb attack before he was discovered by the authorities, according to the National Post.

ISIS even declared “our wolves will come to you,” in a chilling propaganda photo circulated widely on the Internet, which pictured downtown Toronto burning in the background.

By submitting to fear, we are succumbing to these terrorists who seek to disrupt and embed terror into our lives. Yes, tragedy may strike at any second, but now is the time to remain defiant in order to protect our autonomy and our rights.

This also means we cannot buy into extreme right-wing politics that seek to marginalize, isolate and eradicate minorities and those on the fringes of society. The upcoming year will no doubt be challenging for the western world to say the least, as several European nations are set to hold elections, with each country having a right-wing political party vying for power.

Photo of another vigil held in Montreal. Photo courtesy of Andrej Ivanov.

There’s no doubt ISIS is spreading fear amongst the general population. Citizens want to feel protected and see their liberal governments as incapable of dealing with this threat. Therefore they react by supporting right wing political parties, who pander and extort their fears, whilst also promising immediate action against the threat.

The same parallels can be seen right after WWII, when socialist parties suddenly appeared in several countries around the world. Socialist ideology pandered to their darkest anxieties, and the people were tired of the old system, which brought war and devastation to their front doorstep.

Let Paris be a reminder to all that our freedom is constantly being challenged, from both outside and within. We may be battling ISIS, but we must also gather the courage and strength to tackle another ferocious foe: fear.   

Student Life

Over one hundred days as an Al Qaeda prisoner

Former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations Robert Fowler discusses his “season in hell”

Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Fowler, spoke about his experience as a prisoner of the Al Qaeda terrorist group at Concordia’s DB Clarke theatre on Sept. 25.

In his presentation, “Sleeping with Al Qaeda,” Fowler discussed his 130-day experience of horror, as well as his thoughts on curbing radicalism, terrorism and violence in the regions of Africa where he was captured.

It was December 2008. Fowler, along with his colleague Louis Guay, were chosen by the United Nations’ secretary general to help defuse the tense political situation in Niger during a citizen-led rebellion against the government. Following a meeting with Niger’s president, Fowler and Guay were ambushed and captured by a group of radical terrorists, and smuggled into Mali. It was the start of what Fowler called “a season in hell.”  Fowler would later go on to publish a book about this experience in 2011, which he titled Season In Hell: My 130 Days in the Sahara with Al Qaeda.

Fowler explained that he and Guay were considered prisoners of war, and were treated as such. They were hated.  “Every moment was filled with fear,” said Fowler.

The men who captured Fowler and Guay were militant Salafist terrorists—conservative extreme radicalists who believe in violent jihadism. “[They] hated everything we stand for… our most cherished concepts of liberty, democracy, equality and free will,” said Fowler. “They were the most focused, most selfless, most single-minded and least horny group of young men I have ever encountered.”

In the depths of the Sahara Desert, Fowler experienced first-hand the mentality of these violent, extreme radicals. “The whole issue of free will is wrought with horror for them … In their view, nothing is man’s choice—it’s God’s choice … They wanted paradise. It didn’t matter when. If they died in jihad, it would be theirs.”

Fowler described a time during his imprisonment when he was assigned to a small area—the foot of a tree in the middle of a field, with a single guard keeping watch. The man was clearly upset—he was gnashing his teeth, pacing and mumbling angrily to himself. Eventually, the man thrust his gun in Fowler’s face and told him: “Just kill me, I want to go to paradise!”

Photo by Ana Hernandez

After 130 days, the Malian and Canadian governments finally negotiated Fowler and Guay’s release. The “season in hell” came to an end, and Fowler said the experience convinced him these jihadists could not be reasoned with.

Despite this, Fowler doesn’t think all-out military action is the solution. “It is about diminishing the jihadi threat to the point the Africans can handle it. It is not about turning Niger into Alberta,” said Fowler. He cited the violence and poverty that continues to this day in areas like Mali and Niger as an example of how little Canada and the rest of the western world have done to help. “The Canadian senate published a paper called ‘Forty Years of Failure’ because we haven’t fixed Africa,” he said.

Press photo.

Fowler said he believes that the solution to the problems in Africa is to keep funding and supporting UN peacekeeping missions in areas where jihadism continues to cause problems. Fowler gave the example of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The mission consists of about 15,000 military personnel with a current budget of just under $1 billion. Rather than attacking with all-out force, MINUSMA carries out security-related tasks and helps defuse violent situations, while protecting and promoting human rights in Mali.

While Fowler has high hopes for programs like MINUSMA, he said he realizes that the conditions in places like Mali and Niger have not improved significantly since the time of his imprisonment.  He recalled a time in the 60s, after he finished college, when nearly every one of his friends had traveled to culturally diverse countries like Niger. Nowadays, Fowler said, “it’s just too damn dangerous” for people to explore many parts of Africa.

Fowler’s discussion was the first in a series of speeches and panels organized by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, titled “Assaulting Cultural Heritage: ISIS’s Fight to Destroy Diversity in Iraq and Syria.”  The series was held at Concordia on Sunday, Sept. 25 and Monday, Sept. 26.


The absurdity of terrorism: shots fired in the Twittersphere

Japan’s “ISIS Crappy Photoshop Grand Prix” is exactly how we should react to terrorism

Why did the ISIS militant cross the road? For $200 million.

Except on the other side was Japanese private security consultant, Haruna Yukawa, and journalist Kenji Goto. And the road? A hostage situation.

Yukawa and Goto were captured by ISIS militants in August and October, respectively. On Jan. 20, ISIS released a video demanding Japan pay $200 million to secure their release on a 72-hour deadline. Japan, understandably, does not negotiate with terrorists. Yukawa is believed to have been decapitated, and Goto is believed to have been killed this past weekend. The ransom has been dropped.

Are you surprised? Probably not. By this time we are, unfortunately, more than used to hearing about radical ISIS behaviour. And maybe it’s that nonchalance that has led the Japanese people to respond to the hostage situation with the first annual (well, hopefully not annual) “ISIS Crappy Photoshop Grand Prix”. The phrase is roughly translated from the hashtag and has been tweeted over 124,000 times.

The festive memes that took over Twitter this past week satirically mock the hostage situation using photoshopped images of Yukawa, Goto and their captor featured in the video that are intentionally ridiculous. Or just silly. Or adorably defiant.

An ISIS/Dr. Evil spoof, with the figure’s pinky photoshopped to the corner of his mouth. The ISIS militant photoshopped holding his knife to a spit of Shawarma meat. The two hostages and the terrorist altered to be holding mugs of beer. The memes openly defy the seriousness of the action. And it is the best thing ever.

The reaction isn’t what most would expect—but isn’t it kind of exactly what’s needed? ISIS is absurd. The whole concept of terrorism is absurd. So isn’t the best reaction to mock the absurdity, and give it no real value?

Call it the Japanese version of a candlelit vigil. The hordes of defiant tweets bond a nation through a general sentiment of “fuck you, terrorism”.

One tweet—with an anime avatar—from @jlist says “The message of [the hashtag] is ‘You can kill some of us, but Japan is a peaceful and happy land, with fast Internet. So go to hell.’”

Not all of the memes make sense, like one where the terrorist is pasted into outer space or has a plant growing out of his head, but who cares? Freedom of expression means that what you tweet doesn’t have to make sense. And what makes the Japan ISIS meme trend exceptionally brilliant is that it comes in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. An entire nation is mocking the terrorists through a medium that, while it may not be as refined as pen and ink cartoon, is a form of free speech.

Terrorism is no laughing matter, but by giving in to demands or letting your nation be shaken, you give power to the terrorist.

It’s sad that Yukawa  and Goto lost their lives. As well as James Foley, Steven Sotloff and thousands of civilians. But taking ISIS seriously can only result in more power for them and more deaths for us.

I think it’s brilliant to mock ISIS, or to mock any bully.

If you stop laughing, stop living, the terrorists win.


For those that came before, and those who will follow: remember

Lest we forget: terrorism does not define us

Recently, Montreal-area schools have cancelled field trips to various cenotaphs on Remembrance Day following the murder of two Canadian soldiers in the month of October at the hands of radicalized individuals. The change put in place has been declared to be in the name of safety and caution.

They are sending the wrong message.

Remembrance Day is when we come together as a nation to pause and pay our respects to the countless brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and anyone who answered the call to arms and defended the ideas of liberty and democracy that we so cherish. It is a day during which we are reminded that we are part of a society which will not cower in the face of tyranny and oppression. More importantly, it bears witness to the fact that we, as Canadians, will not sit idly by as those around us are trampled and beaten.

How are we supposed to demonstrate this to future generations if we allow terrorism to paralyze us and have us hide in fear, on the one day a year we should stand ever so proudly? We should not let such people define how we go about, or cause us to question our daily safety. Our nation is equipped with a military and an internal security apparatus which does a highly effective job at keeping our borders and the Canadian population safe. As we all know, these incidents are rare and should in no way reflect on the daily lives of citizens. Every day that we walk out of our homes and function as a society, it is a victory in the face of terrorism and an act of defiance towards the fear it tries to instil.

The schools are failing to show just that, and maybe it’s time that citizens remind school boards what it is to be Canadian. Kids should be taught that we never surrender our civic culture to savage acts of terrorism and the individuals or groups who commit them. If we show those students that we can be pushed around by this, how will they react when their generation is faced with violence? Might we inspire them to act out of fear or will we just be remembered as having folded when we needed to hold our heads up high? Who knows, but as Abraham Lincoln once said: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next”.

So on this Remembrance Day, buy a poppy and take a moment on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to show that we are grateful for those who serve and have served. If you have the time, give your school boards a call and voice your opinion on their policy regarding this important day. It is vital to not sit idly by when today’s actions and reactions can have such an impact on our future. Most importantly, let us remind the world what it is to be the True North—strong and free.

Lest We Forget.

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