Canada Calling – Canadian Foreign Minister Condemns Iraq Sanctions But Chretien Backslides on Palestine Neutrality
By Faisal Kutty – Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy made headlines in April after speaking out against the continuing sanctions on Iraq. In doing so he has added his voice to the growing movement—including 71 U.S. congressmen—calling for an end to the devastating embargo.
Axworthy’s attack on the sanctions followed a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report, tabled in April 2000, calling on the government to address the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Axworthy also announced a $1 million humanitarian aid package to the beleaguered nation to be channeled through UNICEF and the International Red Cross.
Both announcements came after his presentation to the Security Council on the ineffectiveness of the U.N.’s sanctions policies. The report, titled “The Sanctions Decade: Assessing U.N. Strategies in the 1990s,” was prepared with Canadian funding by the New York-based International Peace Academy. Axworthy also made it clear that the American focus on punishing the regime is ignoring the humanitarian catastrophe that has resulted.
The Liberal minister told the Council that the “unintended humanitarian impact of these measures has been borne by the Iraqi civilians, rather than the Baghdad regime.” Indeed, in the continuing tussle between Iraqi President Saddam Hussain and the equally obstinate Western powers, the desperate plight of the civilians caught in the middle has been virtually ignored.
Unfortunately, the media have done little to publicize the humanitarian crisis. And while politicians and intellectuals—from both the left and right of the political spectrum—openly voiced concern about innocent Serb victims of NATO bombings, very few have come to the aid of Iraqis who have suffered similarly for the past decade.
The average Iraqi, who has no say in the policies pursued by the government in Baghdad, faces extensive food and medical shortages, hyperinflation and rampant urban unemployment. The chaos has contributed to the growth of the black market, where prices are so exorbitant that more and more people have become too heavily dependent upon government food rations, which provide only a fraction of the necessary caloric and nutritional requirements, leading to malnutrition and resulting diseases.
In most parts of the country, water and sanitation systems are not functioning at full capacity, resulting in outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, gastroenteritis, malaria, hepatitis, meningitis and other infectious diseases. The situation is so critical that UNICEF officials announced years ago that there was a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Do you withhold food from hostages to entice them to overpower a madman?
It should not have taken a rocket scientist to conclude that the sanctions would have such a profoundly negative effect, particularly given that Iraq imported almost 70 percent of its food prior to the Gulf war. In fact, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization warned as early as July 1993 that pre-famine conditions existed in the country. Moreover, according to UNICEF, more than 1.5 million Iraqis reportedly have died due to the sanctions. Deplorably, the sanctions have an inordinate impact on the most vulnerable—the children. More than 4,500 children under the age of five die each month, as opposed to 700 before the war. The mortality rate among those older than the age of five is now 6,500 per month, compared with 1,800 per month before the war. Even if one chooses not to accept these figures at full face value, are any innocent lives disposable?
The Iraqi government directs the accusatory finger at the United Nations and the West—the U.S. and Britain in particular. Western nations, in turn, blame the Saddam Hussain regime. Baghdad’s lack of concern for its citizens is clearly evident from its rejection of Axworthy’s offer of humanitarian aid. For their part, the U.S. and U.K. point to this kind of behavior on the part of Saddam to show that he is more to blame. But it must be asked, when you have an armed madman holding unarmed hostages, do you withhold food from the hostages to entice the hostages to overpower the madman?
Prime Minister Jean Chretien Sides with Israel
Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s 12-day visit to Israel, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia was a major media event in April 2000. “Chretien Planning to Tread Carefully on Mideast Trip,” proclaimed a headline in the Globe and Mail the week before his departure, quoting government officials. But it seems that no one briefed the prime minister on what was supposed to be his strategy. Instead the first-ever trip to Israel by a Canadian prime minister revealed clearly how successfully the Zionist lobby has exerted its influence on him.
How else can one explain Chretien’s rewriting of Canadian foreign policy on some controversial issues on his own, to the embarrassment of officials in Ottawa?
The story began with the prime minister’s arrival in Jerusalem. He visited the western (Israeli) part of the city but not (Palestinian) East Jerusalem. Understandably, Palestinian officials were upset that Chretien found the time to meet Israel’s president, prime minister and Supreme Court president, and Jerusalem’s mayor, without finding any time for Palestinian officials.
“It is an insult for the peace process,” said Faisal Husseini, the former Palestinian negotiator who now functions unofficially as the leading Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem. “The role of other states will be hurt in the peace process if they do not adopt a balanced policy between East and West Jerusalem,” he told the Canadian Press. “Yes, this can hurt us. Yes, this can offend us.”
In fact, the issue of Jerusalem transcends the Palestinians. By favoring the Israeli position Chretien ignored no fewer than 11 Security Council resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the long-standing Canadian reputation for neutrality on this issue. He also ignored the closely held religious attachment to the city of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. They do not contest the Palestinian Authority’s right to negotiate on all issues involving not only the Palestinians, but on the question of Jerusalem the entire global Muslim population claims a stake.
Chretien also threw in his two cent’s worth on the tense situation between Israel and Syria by siding with Israel on its claim over the Sea of Galilee. He said that Israel has the right to keep the entire area captured from Syria in the 1967 war. Interestingly, nobody even asked his opinion on this issue—one upon which Canada had never taken a position until his remarks.
Another big victory—however short-lived—for Tel Aviv came in Chretien’s rumored offer to accept 15,000 Palestinian refugees. The alleged offer, leaked by Ehud Barak’s officials to the Israeli press, caused a storm not only among Palestinians, but back home in Canada. A stunned immigration minister denied any such plans. Later, Chretien also denied any such commitment.
Such an offer would play right into Israel’s hopes of washing its hands of the refugee problem without letting Palestinians return to their homeland. In moving away from Canada’s long history of neutrality, Chretien had no similar concession for the Palestinians, although many in the media and the Zionist lobby sought to depict his concession that the Palestinians have the right to declare independence unilaterally if the peace process falls through as a major shift. In fact, however, Chretien already had articulated this position when Yasser Arafat was contemplating the declaration of statehood on May 4, 1999 and traveled the world to gauge international reaction.
At that time Canada, along with a number of other nations, neither endorsed a May 4 unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state nor continued Israeli procrastination in the peace negotiations that followed the signing of the Oslo accord in September, 1993. At that time, in response to the question whether Israel can block statehood forever, Chretien said: “It is the policy of this government that we have to do it through negotiations, but it cannot be blocked forever.…It has to come eventually to a resolution.”
There is no difference, therefore, in what Chretien said in the summer of 1999 and what he said during his visit to Israel in April 2000.
Interestingly, at that time the Zionist lobby was up in arms. The Canada Israel Committee (CIC) wrote a letter to the prime minister’s office stating that by acknowledging that a Palestinian state will be the result of negotiations, the government had prejudiced the outcome. The group even called Chretien’s position “a fundamental deviation from traditional Canadian Middle East policy.”
Contrary to what Zionist spin-doctors and some in the media are saying now, Chretien’s most recent comments merely confirmed his earlier commitment. Sadly, most of the country’s Muslims and Arabs who vote—like the rest of the immigrants—cast their votes in favor of Chretien’s Liberal Party unconditionally. They do not hold the party accountable for Chretien’s break from Canada’s established policy of neutrality, and from United Nations resolutions on the question of Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee.
A clarification also is in order on the question of refugees. Indeed, Tarek Fatah, a leading community activist and former communications director for the provincial New Democratic Party (NDP), called on Muslims and Arabs to mobilize and make known their extreme disappointment.
Chretien’s other stops were mostly uneventful, although he attracted some flak from the media for calling Syrian troops in Lebanon “peacekeepers.” His office also took some heat for a memo on Saudi Arabia issued to his entourage and the media accompanying him. The memo advised women to cover their heads and not to leave the hotels unaccompanied by a man. It also advised men and women to cover their arms and legs at all times, to wear dark colors and to stay away from the color green, as it was the color of Islam. The Saudis reacted strongly and accused the prime minister’s office of projecting a “negative and distorted image of Saudi Arabia and Islam.”
Symposium Explores Past, Present and Future of Islam in Canada
Five Toronto-based Muslim organizations sponsored a daylong program titled “Islam in Canada: Symposium 2000” on April 29. Its stated objectives were: to initiate a forum for issues of major significance to the Muslim community; to foster cooperation and tolerance among Islamic organizations; to re-establish a sense of moderation and mainstream Islam among the population; and to allow for socialization of Muslims with different organizational affiliations.
Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star delivered the keynote address. He spoke about the need for Canadian Muslims to get actively involved in the greater society. The columnist, who is well known for his incisive commentaries. told the audience to be doers rather than focusing on the community’s growing numbers.
He said that even though it is larger than Canada’s Jewish community, the country’s Muslim community is less effective. He outlined a number of steps that the community must initiate, ranging from getting more involved with the media to political participation.
Siddiqui suggested, for instance, that all mosques and Islamic centers must have a media relations committee as a start, with capable spokespersons to get their voices heard.
Imam Khalid Abdul Fattah Griggs, a religious leader from the U.S., then spoke about the need for youth to be at the forefront in shaping Islam in North America. He warned the audience that it will be a lot more difficult to be a practicing Muslim in the coming years, and that Muslims therefore should be prepared. Imam Griggs also exposed the lack of communication within the community when he asked the audience how many were aware of recent incidents in the U.S. of significance to Muslims. Very few people were aware of the arrest of Imam Jamil Al Amin or the numerous raids conducted on Imam Siraj Wahaj’s Masjid Al Taqwa.
These two talks set the stage for four workshops dealing with activism, social work, youth and networking. Panelists led participants in raising the issues, brainstorming, identifying problems and suggesting possible solutions or areas of improvement. The interactive and small-group setting was very conducive to bringing out the best from both panelists and participants.
Following the workshops, Shaikh Ahmad Kutty, a local scholar, talked about “Restoring the Middle Path.” He called for rejection of any form of extremism—be it literalism, misguided spirituality, secularism or humanism.
The organizers hope to compile and make available the recommendations from the workshops and intend to follow them up.
The symposium was the idea of the Islamic Institute of Toronto (IIT) and was co-sponsored by the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), Somali Youth Association of Toronto (SOYAT), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association (CMCLA), Muslim Educational Network for Tutoring and Out Reach Services (MENTORS), and Young Muslims of Canada (YMC).
Information on IIT activities is available at its Web site www.islam.ca.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and columnist for iViews.com
Note: First Published: JULY 2000, pages 36, 64
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