Thursday, October 9, 2014

Confronting ISIS: The NDP Has Lost its Way

It is very clear by now to anyone paying attention that the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is an extremely violent organization promoting a fanatical ideology and quickly expanding across the Middle East with the intention of reaching into Europe and beyond (it has already made explicit threats against Canada). ISIS is also allied with like-minded organizations from around the world, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Pakistan.

The threat posed by ISIS to the world and particularly the Middle East is urgent and undeniable. ISIS is known to engage in gruesome mass killings in an effort to ethnically cleanse groups that they consider undesirables, including Christians and including Muslims who do not abide by their brand of Islam. ISIS has two important elements that make it into a world threat that must not be ignored: its drive to massacre groups that it considers undesirable, and its drive to expand its empire to the whole world.

To find an equivalent organization in scope and extremism, we need to go back to Nazi Germany at the start of World War II. The main difference between them is that Germany’s first target was Europe whereas ISIS’s first target is the Middle East, but to anyone who considers that the lives of all individuals (Arabs or Europeans, Muslims or Christians) have the same value, this difference is hardly relevant.

No reasonable person would suggest today that Canada should not have been engaged militarily in the coalition against Nazi Germany, yet both opposition parties, while acknowledging that ISIS is a dangerous and criminal organization, stood in Parliament and voted against military involvement by Canada. They voted to let other members of the coalition do the work of combatting this threat, and they voted to not have Canada offer even the small symbolic military contribution that the Conservative government of Canada has offered as part of the coalition.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau left the door open to supporting Canada’s military involvement at a later date, presumably when it appears safe to do so without losing popular support. New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair went even further and left no door open. Mulcair made it clear that he has no interest in pursuing any military involvement against ISIS, now or in the future.

The opportunistic Liberal position does not surprise me because it is fairly consistent with traditional Liberal politics, although Bob Rae, a former New Democrat, was a temporary and far-too-short breath of fresh air. I am, however, surprised and disappointed that the party of David Lewis and Tommy Douglas refuses to stand up for the minorities who are under assault by ISIS and refuses to engage in a war that may determine the future of much of the world.

When faced with the threat of Nazi Germany, the NDP of the past (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, CCF at the time), firmly supported Canada’s war effort. Tommy Douglas, later to be the leader of the NDP, even enlisted in the army to fight the Nazis. Douglas stated the following in Canada’s House of Commons in 1939: “If you accept the completely absolutist position of the pacifist, then you are saying that you are prepared to allow someone else who has no such scruples to destroy all the values you've built up. […] if you came to a choice between losing freedom of speech, religion, association, thought, and all the things that make life worth living, and resorting to force, you'd used force.” (Stewart, Walter (2003), Tommy: the life and politics of Tommy Douglas).

Canada’s official opposition is essentially saying today that peoples of the Middle East should fend for themselves while Canada sends only humanitarian aid and sits tight while hoping for the best. The NDP did not take that stand when the peoples in a similar danger were Europeans, but today that peoples of the Middle East are losing “freedom of speech, religion, association, thought, and all the things that make life worth living” and often their lives as well, the NDP is content to do nothing.

One could argue that this is an indication of NDP discrimination against Arabs, but I think that it simply a sign that the NDP of today is not the same principled and forthright party as the party of Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, and M.J. Coldwell. The NDP is today, as it has been for the last two or three decades, a party dominated by radical leftist ideologues with little connection to average working people. Upon the election of Mulcair as leader of the NDP, there was much hope that he would move the party back to its principled roots.

Sadly, it appears that Mulcair has no will or no ability to stand up to the party’s radicals, and he has adopted without question the “absolutist position of the pacifist” which Douglas had denounced.The NDP was once the conscience of Canada while the Liberal party was widely known as an opportunistic party that would steal NDP ideas once they became popular. Today, the NDP is no longer anybody’s conscience; and it does not have the electoral appeal of the Liberal party either.

It is a party without a purpose and without a future, a party that is captive to ivory tower activists who think that supporting Arabs and Muslims is somehow the same as promoting hatred of Israel. Whether the war with ISIS brings an end to ISIS or not is still an open question, but it seems that it has already claimed its first victim in Canada: the relevance of the New Democratic Party.

Note: This blog was first published in New Canadian Media (

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