We should remember yesterday’s lessons in tomorrow’s war

The situation in the Middle East with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its offshoots has the world community scrambling, confused and finally, realistic, realizing that something has to be done.


by Audrey McLaughlin

The situation in the Middle East with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and its offshoots has the world community scrambling, confused and finally, realistic, realizing that something has to be done.

I have had the opportunity to work in many Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including a number of missions in Afghanistan, the Balkans and Iraq. As the current situation unfolds, my heart goes out to the many wonderful people I met in those countries.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided that Canadians don’t really need to know what we are doing regarding the international coalition and doles out information through foreign reporters, ignoring Parliament. This is unacceptable, undemocratic and an affront to all Canadians.

This arrogance is unnecessary, and so here is my advice to Parliament. Perhaps this is my own arrogance, but I think I do know from the accounts of many with whom I have worked what it means to experience war, to be a refugee, to have no security, to have your home and your community simply taken over by others.

Firstly: ISIL and its offshoots are not true Muslims. While I cannot speak as a Muslim, many have made this clear. We need to work with the Islamic community here in Canada to help combat the recruitment to terrorism. And I can assure you that that is happening and has been for at least a decade.

Second: unfortunately, these are not people with whom one can negotiate. They do not care for anything but power, and the ability to frighten others into submission. Canada must participate in the coalition using force against these groups.

But we must do so with no illusion that force will solve the issue. Just picture a group coming into Whitehorse or Teslin, entering your home and business and simply taking everything, threatening you with your life if you did not wear what they decreed or join their brand of “religion.” These are not folks who negotiate. In participating through some limited military contribution, we should be under no illusion that we are a superpower or that that is our strength.

Third: Canadians have demonstrated that we have genuine strength in promoting the rule of law, community and economic development and humanitarian aid. The Conservative government’s ideologically based, narrow definition of this is not working.

We know that it is easier to destroy than build, and Iraq post-2003 and Afghanistan demonstrate this dramatically.

There are far more refugees than combatants, so we must contribute to relevant United wNations organizations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others that provide immediate aid. If the countries receiving refugees are not assisted, we only contribute further to regional in stability.

We cannot lose sight of the strengths which exist in all of these countries. There are many people who know exactly what must be done and we have to listen to them and help them exercise their strengths. This includes aid to those organizations which help to build functioning legislative institutions, the rule of law and promote the role of non-governmental organizations.

Yes, we have done all of this in the past, but there is a tendency to contribute for a period of time rather than recognize that no good results are achieved by ill-thought-out one-shot deals, no matter how well intentioned.

Whatever Canada decides, there will be a war, it will be long and it will be difficult. We cannot be naive: what is happening is not the Iraq of 2003, there are bad people out there, and they use religion as an excuse for violence.

A three-pronged strategy by Canada of limited military participation, a much larger sustained contribution in humanitarian and legislative aid and working with Muslim groups in Canada to combat recruitment here will be a substantial contribution to a world which we do all wish for ourselves and others.

Above all, let us remember that there are many people in the region and in other regions who have experience with war and we need to listen to them. Surely, after these many conflicts, we can learn some lessons from the past.

Audrey McLaughlin served as Yukon’s MP from 1987 until 1997. She lives in Whitehorse.