‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence

Disturbing if not surprising:

What might otherwise be the usual mudslinging around a student election has turned into a political firestorm on a Toronto university campus, where a newly-elected student president is raising questions about the source of pro-China attacks against her.

On Saturday morning, Chemi Lhamo, 22, learned she’d been elected student president at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC).

By noon, her phone was buzzing incessantly with notifications. But instead of messages of congratulations, Lhamo — a Canadian citizen of Tibetan origin — realized a photo she’d posted on Instagram for the Lunar New Year was attracting thousands of hateful comments, most rife with anti-Tibet sentiment, some threatening.

“China is your daddy — you better know this,” read one comment.

“Ur not gonna be the president of UTSC,” read another. “Even if you do, we will make sure things get done so u won’t survive a day. Peace RIP.”

That wasn’t all. A petition calling on Lhamo to step down had amassed nearly 10,000 signatures.

And there was a message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president.

The message, posted by the account Ladder Street, said: “The U of T student union is about to be controlled by Tibetan separatists.” The message also says Lhamo shouldn’t benefit from the millions of dollars brought in each year by Chinese students.

A message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat is making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president. (CBC)

“At first, of course, it takes you aback,” Lhamo said in an interview with CBC News.

“As a leader within the community, it’s heartbreaking to see sometimes that your constituents or your students that you are so passionate about serving are upset about you.”

Foreign influence ‘beyond plausible’

Beyond that, Lhamo said she is worried about her safety and took her concerns to the University of Toronto. On Monday, the students union made the decision to close her office due to security concerns.

The onslaught of hate also has Lhamo questioning whether larger forces might be behind the harassment.

That’s something Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior CSIS official for the Asia-Pacific region, said would be entirely consistent with what he observed during his 40 years in the intelligence service.

“I would have expected such a thing … particularly because she’s a young woman who has been actively involved in her circle of free Tibet,” said Juneau-Katsuya, acknowledging he didn’t have definitive proof of foreign influence in Lhamo’s case.

Lhamo’s participation in groups supportive of Tibetan independence from China would have made her a threat in the eyes of the Chinese intelligence services, Juneau-Katsuya said.

Asked if Chinese government forces might be at play in the campaign against Lhamo, Juneau-Katsuya said, “it’s beyond plausible.”

“The university centres have always been a great pull of attraction for either stealing intellectual property or trying to influence politically,” he said.

Academic cautions against ‘hyped-up’ allegations

As an example, Juneau-Katsuya cited the Confucius Institute, a Beijing-run cultural organization which has been criticized as an attempt by the Chinese government to conduct surveillance and extend its political influence.

Over the years, several Confucius Institute programs across Canada and the United States have closed amid concerns about their aims, with the Toronto District School Board voting to end its partnership with the organization in 2014.

“It is their strategy to try to undermine, to try to mute any form of opposition or dissidence that could at one point or another gain access to a mic,” Juneau-Katsuya said.

But at least one academic cautions against making assumptions about the source of the vitriol.

Lynette Ong, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said that in the wake of the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and subsequent arrest of two Canadians in China, “public opinion has shifted significantly against the Chinese community.

“It is of utmost importance to separate Chinese students, individuals, companies from the Chinese government,” said Ong. “Given the tense bilateral Canada-China relations now, any hyped-up allegations without firm evidence does no good to any parties.”

Chinese embassy doesn’t respond

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa didn’t respond to questions about the extent of its involvement with student groups on Canadian campuses or whether it has a position on Lhamo’s election.

The Ladder Street, a student group at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, did not respond to inquiries about whether it was behind the WeChat message or whether it receives support from the Chinese government.

Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Asked if the University of Toronto was investigating the source of the online vitriol against Lhamo, spokesperson Don Campbell said, “We continue to be in touch with the student. The extent of our focus is on making sure she feels safe and is aware of university services available to her.”

Lhamo said she would like to see more action from the university, including a formal investigation.

For now, she said she sees the online attacks against her as an opportunity to put the values she said she was raised with into practice.

“This is my chance … to test myself whether or not I can be patient and have compassion for other entities that don’t necessarily feel the same way towards me.”

Source: ‘China is your daddy’: Backlash against Tibetan student’s election prompts questions about foreign influence

Five Saudi Students Accused of Rape and Murder Have Vanished Before Trial: Updated with Canadian case

Yet another example of bad behaviour by the Saudi government:

New legislation introduced by Oregon senators aims to punish Saudi Arabia following shocking allegations that the kingdom has whisked as many as five young men facing criminal charges, ranging from rape to murder, out of the country from that state alone.

Speaking publicly for the first time Thursday, the parents of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old victim of a hit and run by Saudi student Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah in 2016, said they were horrified to learn their daughter’s alleged assailant had disappeared two weeks before his trial with the help of the Saudi government. Noorah was charged with manslaughter, felony hit-and-run, and reckless driving in the teen’s death. He faced a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.

Federal investigators confirmed to the Oregonian/Oregon Live that a private lawyer hired by the Saudi consulate posted $100,000 of a $1 million bail for the 21-year-old and apparently arranged for a dark SUV to pick him up shortly after he left jail. His severed electronic bracelet was found at a nearby gravel yard. Authorities believe he was given a forged passport, since his was sequestered by Oregon authorities, and flown back to Saudi Arabia on a private jet. He was seen back in his home country a week after he disappeared.

“It’s like the laws of physics go out the door,” Fallon’s mother, Fawn Lengvenis, told Oregon Live on Thursday. “And it all starts from the beginning again.”

The teen victim’s father, Seth Smart, said he cannot help obsessing about his daughter’s killer. “The imagination runs wild,” he said. “Is he just leading his normal life somewhere? Does he even think about it? Does he even care?”

The cases of Saudi students disappearing from Oregon justice are hauntingly familiar. In 2014, Abdulaziz Al Duways was arrested on accusations that he drugged and raped a classmate in Monmouth, Oregon. He, too, disappeared after the Saudi consulate helped secure bail. Four of the young men who vanished have been represented by the same attorney, Ginger Mooney, according to local court documents.

The new legislation introduced by Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden would allow the federal government to actively investigate alleged disappearances and make it more difficult for foreign nationals to be granted bail arranged by consulates.

“When anyone within our nation commits a crime, they need to be held accountable—especially when that crime results in the death of an innocent teenager,” Sen. Merkley said in a statement “Saudi Arabia’s blatant disrespect for international norms cannot be allowed to stand. We should all be able to agree that any nation that helps their citizens escape from the law needs to be held fully accountable.”

Around 1,000 of an estimated 60,000 Saudi students currently studying in the United States live in Oregon, according to a recent report in Gulf News, which estimates that only 8,272 are self-sponsored. The rest are on stipends provided by the Saudi kingdom. Disappearances of Saudi nationals facing criminal justice have also been reported in Ohio and California as well as Canada.

Source: Five Saudi Students Accused of Rape and Murder Have Vanished Before Trial

Information on the Canadian case can be found here: Saudi embassy helped accused rapist flee Canada | Toronto Sun

Trudeau is delivering the foreign policy Canadians deserve: David Mulroney

Good commentary by our former Ambassador to China (and former foreign service colleague of mine). Not unique to Chinese and Indo-Canadians, comparable issues arise with respect to Ukrainian Canadians and Canadian Jews with respect to foreign policy:

The best that can be said about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India is that it may prompt a review, if not a complete rethinking of a Canadian foreign policy that appears to be seriously off the rails. We have some hard lessons to learn.

At the very least, the Prime Minister’s debacle in India should encourage smart people in Ottawa to zero in on what isn’t working.

Most worrying is a fundamental and puzzling failure at the level of policy implementation, something that appears to be compounded by the Prime Minister’s own impetuosity. Flying to India before the big meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the bag, much like heading off to Beijing on a free-trade themed visit without any reasonable expectation that a deal was doable, exposes Mr. Trudeau to a degree of prolonged public skepticism that comes to define the visit itself.

Ottawa’s obsession with exotic photo-ops is a less likely candidate for serious review, given its long and undistinguished lineage through such past devotees as Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien. But we can at least hope that the Trudeau version of this practice may get dialled down. Through his rapid succession of exotic costume changes, Mr. Trudeau managed to do to his own image what Alec Baldwin does, through similarly comic exaggeration, to Donald Trump’s on Saturday Night Live.

Even harder to banish will be our obsession with diaspora politics. No one is denying that we derive wonderful advantages from our multicultural society. But other multicultural countries, such as the United States, Australia and Britain, are far less inclined to view their international interests so completely through the prism of diaspora communities. We need to understand that Canada’s interests in India are not entirely the same as those of influential portions of the Indo-Canadian community or of the Sikh-Canadian subset of that community. Worse, our continuing insistence on the political importance of diaspora groups makes it more likely that their countries of origin – and this is particularly true of China and India – will be inclined to interfere in Canadian affairs.

These persistent problems point to an inconvenient truth: The problem isn’t with politicians, it’s with all of us. We’re getting the foreign policy we deserve. We seem unable to grasp that our engagement of countries such as India and China ultimately needs to be about something more than reminding them of how much they admire us.

India isn’t our friend. It is a rising regional power beset with a range of domestic problems, including serious human rights issues. It takes a prickly approach to global issues that is often at odds with traditional Canadian policies in areas ranging from trade policy to nuclear disarmament.

The Indian diplomats I worked with could be wonderfully pleasant after the official day was done. But, for the most part, they brought a formidably ruthless precision to their pursuit of India’s interests in the world. While they might ultimately agree to grant Canada a concession, this was always a product of hard and often heated negotiations. They never conceded a point because they liked us or because we are home to a large Indo-Canadian community.

My experience with Chinese diplomats was entirely similar.

Long before the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, it should have been clear to us that the world is changing in ways that do not align with traditional Canadian views, interests and values. If we’re smart, the rise of countries like China and India can certainly contribute to our prosperity, and with hard work, we should be able to find common cause on important issues such as global warming.

But the rise of these assertive and ambitious Asian powers will almost certainly challenge global and regional security. Both will also continue to reject traditional Canadian notions about global governance and human rights, and neither will be particularly squeamish about interfering in Canadian affairs.

The Trump era should convince us that we can no longer rely entirely on the protective cover of a globally engaged America. We need to be smart and hard-nosed when it comes to promoting and defending our own interests. Photo ops and costume changes won’t cut it any more.

via Trudeau is delivering the foreign policy Canadians deserve – The Globe and Mail

Macron Gets Serious About Stealing from U.S.—And Trolls Trump Again

Clever branding and communications:

French President Emmanuel Macron is upping his global trolling of U.S. President Donald Trump, launching a French government website this week with the url, www.makeourplanetgreatagain.fr.

Just over a week ago, moments after Donald Trump announced his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, France’s newly-elected president Emmanuel Macron offered American climate scientists refuge in France in an earnest video broadcast on social media.

Directly addressing the camera in English (a move practically unheard of in France), Macron called on American scientists and other innovators to decamp for France.

“To all scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, responsible citizens who were disappointed by the decision of the president of the United States, I want to say that they will find in France a second homeland,” he said in the video.

The video created an Internet buzz, racking up hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook and tens of thousands of retweets. As of June 9, a little more than a week after it was posted, the video had been viewed 13 million times.

Peter Frumhoff, the director of science and policy at the Cambridge Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists told The Daily Beast that he thought Macron’s video message was gracious and timely.

“At a time when science and scientists are so much under threat in the United States, I thought it was an apt thing to say and I appreciated it.”

“I think many American scientists under any conditions would welcome an invitation to come work with French colleagues at European research institutions, he continued. “There is a lot of good work there and science knows no boundaries.”

However, Fromhoff also said he didn’t know of anyone in the scientific community who took Macron’s statement to heart.

“I don’t know that his speech was intended to be followed through with any particular funding specifics or research collaboration support, and obviously that would be relevant to where people go to do their work. I didn’t see any details about that.”

“Obviously, most people just can’t pick up and leave,” he added.

He is right. Relocating to France is easier said than done, and would-be American expats (I was one of them) typically face mountains of paperwork and red tape with often-contradictory and baffling requirements. However, on June 8, a week after the video aired, the Elysée Palace launched a new website in English aimed at foreign scientists, entrepreneurs, and others who are interested in working in France, suggesting that Macron’s invitation may have been more than a symbolic, goodwill gesture. And in naming the initiative Make Our Planet Great Again, a nervy take on Trump’s campaign slogan, the French president also appears to be taking a swipe at Trump and his globally unpopular stance on climate change.

The site opens with the same June 2 video message from Macron. Users are then directed to another page, where they can select a profession—researcher, teacher, entrepreneur, NGO, student, or other—and their country of origin, followed by a brief series of questions regarding their interest in climate change. The site then promises interested parties that they will be contacted with more information within three working days. The site also offers information on grant applications for researchers—a senior-level researcher, for instance, is eligible for a €1.5 million four-year grant.

According to the French daily Le Monde,the site functions as much as a presidential promotion tactic as it does a recruitment tool, calling Macron’s efforts a “media counter-offensive,” and noting that several questions remained unanswered.

Source: Macron Gets Serious About Stealing from U.S.—And Trolls Trump Again

Address by Minister Freeland on Canada’s foreign policy priorities: Diversity and inclusion aspects

Given the efforts by Global Affairs Canada and others to define an international agenda for the promotion of diversity and Inclusion, these excerpts from Minister Freeland’s speech yesterday are of interest:

Likewise, by embracing multiculturalism and diversity, Canadians are embodying a way of life that works. We can say this in all humility, but also without any false self-effacement: Canadians know about living side-by side with people of diverse origins and beliefs, whose ancestors hail from the far corners of the globe, in harmony and peace. We’re good at it. Watch how we do it.

We say this in the full knowledge that we also have problems of our own to overcome—most egregiously the injustices suffered by Indigenous people in Canada. We must never flinch from acknowledging this great failure, even as we do the hard work of seeking restoration and reconciliation.

Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world, Mr. Speaker. No one appointed us the world’s policeman. But it is our role to clearly stand for these rights both in Canada and abroad.

…For we are safer and more prosperous, Mr. Speaker, when more of the world shares Canadian values.

Those values include feminism, and the promotion of the rights of women and girls.

It is important, and historic, that we have a prime minister and a government proud to proclaim ourselves feminists. Women’s rights are human rights. That includes sexual reproductive rights and the right to safe and accessible abortions. These rights are at the core of our foreign policy.

To that end, in the coming days, my colleague the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie will unveil Canada’s first feminist international assistance policy, which will target women’s rights and gender equality. We will put Canada at the forefront of this global effort.

This is a matter of basic justice and also basic economics. We know that empowering women, overseas and here at home, makes families and countries more prosperous. Canada’s values are informed by our historical duality of French and English; by our cooperative brand of federalism; by our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic citizenry; and by our geography—bridging Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic. Our values are informed by the traditions and aspirations of the Indigenous people in Canada. And our values include an unshakeable commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law.

Source: Address by Minister Freeland on Canada’s foreign policy priorities – Canada.ca

How the Liberals’ alleged support of Sikh separatists is fuelling Canada-India tensions

More diaspora politics and the impact on foreign policies.

All political parties court the Sikh Canadian vote given their concentration in a number of ridings (Surrey, Brampton) and their political activism:

When Prime Minister Trudeau headed to the stage at the Sikh-Canadian community’s annual Khalsa Day celebration last month, he was thronged by a cheering, photo-seeking crowd.

It was little surprise, given the Liberal leader is not only a staunch supporter of multiculturalism but also has four MPs of Sikh origin in his cabinet.

Thousands of kilometres away in New Delhi, however, Trudeau’s appearance struck a decidedly more sour note.

The appearance was the latest irritation for an Indian government reportedly worried that the Liberals are too cozy with a peaceful but “growing” Sikh-separatist movement in Canada.

It came three weeks after the Ontario legislature passed a private-member’s motion — introduced by a Liberal MPP — that called the 1984 Sikh massacre in India an act of genocide, a politically explosive label.

India’s Foreign Ministry has issued separate protests to the Trudeau government about each episode, as the Liberals’ traditional politicking among a vote-rich community, combined with the sub-continent’s fraught history, throws a wrench into the two countries’ burgeoning friendship.

“All of those things add up (and) present a picture that isn’t particularly pretty when India is looking at it,” said Anirudh Bhattacharya, Canadian correspondent for the Hindustan Times newspaper. “There was always a concern (in New Delhi) that this particular government would be somewhat beholden to the gatekeepers to the Sikh community, to some of the more radical groups.”

Tossed into the mix have been unsubstantiated allegations by Amarinder Singh, Punjab state’s newly elected “chief minister,” that Trudeau’s Sikh ministers are themselves separatists; and a thwarted terrorist cell in Punjab with alleged Canadian links.

Indian media reports suggest New Delhi was livid about Trudeau’s appearance at the Khalsa Day event April 30, though the public language was more circumspect. “We have taken it up with Canada in the past and the practice has not been discontinued,” said Vishwa Nath Goel of India’s high commission in Ottawa.

Balraj Deol

Balraj DeolFloat in Khalsa Day parade touting Ontario legislative motion on 1984 Sikh “genocide”

Quoting a Foreign Ministry statement, he was more blunt about the Ontario legislature’s Sikh genocide resolution on April 6.

“We reject this misguided motion which is based on a limited understanding of India, its constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process,” said Goel.

But a spokesman for the group that organized the event Trudeau attended — and which backs the Ontario motion — said it’s only natural for the prime minister to appear at such functions, regardless of the religion.

Source: How the Liberals’ alleged support of Sikh separatists is fuelling Canada-India tensions | National Post

Magnitsky bill advances with a strongly Ukrainian flavour

Diaspora politics have always been part of modern Canadian politics.

The Ukrainian Canadian community, given its numbers and long history in Canada, has played a major role in recent history (e.g., former PM Mulroney recognizing an independent Ukraine in 1991).

So it is less about the personalities involved than the fundamentals about the history, size and influence of a particular community:

The “Magnitsky Law” is a piece of Canadian legislation, not yet enacted, that seeks to hold governments and individuals to account for human rights abuses.

It’s named after Russian businessman Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail in 2009 after accusing officials of tax fraud. It could help to bring sanctions to other rights abusers in other countries.

In late 2012, the United States adopted the so-called Magnitsky Act, which imposes travel bans and financial sanctions on Russian officials and other individuals believed to have been involved in Magnitsky’s death.

But there’s something about the way the bill is moving forward in Canada that should perhaps give pause to legislators.

Two versions exist: a Commons version written by Conservative James Bezan, and a Senate version written by Raynell Andreychuk. That second version yesterday obtained the support of Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who says the Trudeau government will help to push it through the House.

What do Bezan, Andreychuk, and Freeland all have in common?

All three are active members of Canada’s Ukrainian community. And all three happen to be among the 13 Canadians sanctioned by Russia for their supposed hostility to the country.

Diaspora politics

The situation may allow the Kremlin to tell its citizens that the bill is not really about rights abuses, but rather part of a campaign motivated by ethnic animus towards Russia.

Pro-Kremlin news media and bloggers often portray Canada’s Ukrainians as this country’s version of Miami Cubans, a community calling the shots of Canada’s foreign policy on the one issue that obsesses it.

Last year Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Canadian government of “blindly following the demands of rabid representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.”

Canada’s response perhaps did little to defuse that Russian suspicion.

“We will not tolerate from a Russian minister any insult against the community of Ukrainians in Canada,” then-Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion responded in the House of Commons. “Ukrainian Canadians, we owe so much to them. We will always support them.”

Magnitsky Bill not just about Russia

Human rights groups have welcomed the Magnitsky Bill, and it has enjoyed support from Russian dissidents Gary Kasparov and Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

It’s also intended to reach far beyond Russia, says MP Bezan.

“This will apply to all countries, whether it’s organ-harvesters in China who are falsely imprisoning Falun Gong practitioners to harvest their organs and tissues for sale around the world, whether it’s people in the Iranian regime that are denying justice and freedom to their own citizens, or even in the case of Saudi Arabia, where they’re targeting people who’ve tried to speak out against the government, this law has global application.”

Source: Magnitsky bill advances with a strongly Ukrainian flavour – Politics – CBC News

Globe editorial on the what they see as the overly broad reach of the Bill: Globe editorial: Senate’s proposed Magnitsky bill needs a rethink

Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

Fasten one’s seatbelts (again):

CNN reports that top White House adviser Stephen Miller is drafting the speech on Islam that President Trump is slated to deliver in Saudi Arabia later this week. As you may recall, Miller was also at the center of crafting and defending the administration’s controversial immigration ban, which has been blocked by the courts because it unconstitutionally bars people from entering the country based on their religion.

Miller’s role perfectly captures the problem with this speech: Trump and his top advisers captivated his base by engaging in the worst Islamophobic rhetoric, perpetuating slurs about Muslims in the United States and around the world. But if Trump uses this speech to make amends for his past statements, he’ll alienate the very base of supporters who were the targets of this anti-Muslim strategy.

The administration is suggesting that he will, in fact, try to make such amends. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who is also helping to write the speech, told reporters that it will be “an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world.” McMaster further promised that the speech will “unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization” and “demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners.”

But experts I spoke with today warned that this speech is so fraught with pitfalls that they are surprised Trump is even attempting it. They say handling such a nuanced topic as religion is a challenge even for the most learned minds and skilled orators. Yet Trump faces that problem and the additional challenge of striking a balance that is unique to his political situation.

Should Trump deliver the speech McMaster promises, it might briefly please his Muslim audience in Riyadh, but anger his right-wing base at home — something Trump seems unlikely to risk given his current precarious political and legal circumstances. On the other hand, if he were to say something to irk his Muslim audience that might satisfy his domestic base, he could sabotage the purpose of the trip and the speech itself: to solidify cooperative partnerships between the United States and Muslim countries to jointly combat terrorism.

“I would shy away from giving a talk like this in this country, much less in Riyadh,” McCants added.

Trump faces all manner of pitfalls. His first test will be whether he says or does anything to erroneously suggest that Saudi Arabia, a repressive regime that enforces Wahhabism, an extreme version of Islam, is representative of the faith. “Much of what Saudi Arabia encourages as proper Islam is not what many Muslims in the West would accept,” said Daniel Byman, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a terrorism expert.

The risks are heightened for Trump not just because of his unpredictability, but also because of his — and his inner circle’s — anti-Muslim track record. It’s hard to imagine that Trump would back away from a posture that earned him so much adoration from his base, or from his defense of his immigration ban, in which he has invested substantial domestic political capital.

“I don’t see President Trump as someone who’s going to walk away from that, “said John Espisito, director of the Bridge Initiative, a project at Georgetown University that studies Islamophobia. “He’s not someone who says ‘I got it wrong.’”

But even if Trump were to try to backpedal from his anti-Muslim rhetoric, it still might not necessarily be credible to his audience in Riyadh. As Espisito pointed out, the Trump team’s Islamophobia runs very deep: His top advisers have claimed that Islam is not a religion, but rather a dangerous political ideology. Trump himself has said, “I think Islam hates us” and that the Koran “teaches some negative vibe.” Top strategist Stephen K. Bannon has compared Islam to Nazism, communism and fascism. Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka has refused to say whether Trump himself thinks Islam is a religion.

Beyond this, Trump would have to actually reverse policy — for example, by dropping his immigration ban— to render any possible conciliatory rhetoric even remotely credible. “If the president extends an olive branch but then doesn’t implement any policy changes,” said Byman, “that’s going to send a louder message than a speech.”

Indeed, the risk is that Trump’s speech could make things worse. Byman warned that if Trump commits an accidental misstep or, perhaps worse, is derogatory— which can hardly be ruled out — his speech could potentially further a widespread perception in the Muslim world that the United States is “hostile to Islam.”

Most crucially, said McCants, Trump’s speech could undermine the United States’ relationship with the countries that have agreed to partner with it in combating terrorism. “He doesn’t have to say happy things about Islam to sell them on the partnership,” said McCants. But if he says anything to alienate Muslims, it could “make it harder for Muslim countries to partner with us.”

And that, in the end, could make it harder to achieve Trump’s own stated goal of defeating what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism” than if he had not given a speech on Islam at all.

Source: Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

Telling friend from foe: The Trump team is dogmatic on Islam, but Russia is more pragmatic | The Economist

Interesting Trump/Putin contrast – telling:

WITH every passing day, there seems to be fresh news about the Islamophobic sentiments harboured by people close to Donald Trump. It’s not so much that anything fresh is being said now. Rather, the ideological backgrounds of some senior individuals close to America’s new president are being studied ever more closely as they settle into power.

And at the heart of their declared ideology, it seems, is an essentialist view of Islam: in other words, a view that the religion itself, as opposed to some nasty misinterpretation, can push people to violence and is therefore to be treated as dangerous.

As one obvious example, Stephen Bannon, Mr Trump’s chief strategist, has spoken with utter contempt of the two previous occupants of the White House because of their optimistic insistence that Islam, in its heart, is a peaceful faith.

You would expect the former boss of Breitbart, a far-right news service, to be scornful of Barack Obama’s ideas about the Muslim faith. But as people are now recalling, Mr Bannon was equally dismissive of George W. Bush, who a few days after the 9/11 attacks insisted that Islam was “a religion of peace.” Such naivete, in Mr Bannon’s acerbic opinion, was to be expected from a “country-club” politician whose faint-hearted view of the world was little better than the Clintons’. In truth, Islam was a religion of submission and therefore it could not be a force for peace, he insisted.

One of Mr Bannon’s lieutenants, a former Breitbart writer who now has a job at the White House, takes a similarly Manichean view. That is Hungarian-born Sebastian Gorka, who will report to Mr Bannon as a member of his Strategic Initiatives Group. An ex-soldier and military lecturer, he was quoted by the Washington Post as saying he “completely jettisoned” the idea that the causes of terrorism were complex: on the contrary, what mainly inspired anti-American terror was the martial messages delivered in certain parts of the Koran.

To see a third strain of Islamoscepticism, take Ben Carson, an ex-presidential candidate and Mr Trump’s nominee for the job of housing secretary. A fundamentalist Christian with an apocalyptic streak, the retired neurosurgeon has espoused the view that Islam is not really a religion at all but rather a “life-organisation system”. It follows, he thinks, that no adherent of that faith should ever be president.

Whatever the intellectual merits of these arguments, one striking comparison immediately occurs. Although some of his Western admirers might be surprised to hear this, it is virtually unimaginable that Vladimir Putin or any of his well-disciplined team would allow themselves to make such a generalised critique of Islam or any other global faith.

If anything Mr Putin grows more insistent over time in following and even outdoing the Bush-Obama school: respectful of Islam as a religion, determined to give his own Muslim citizens a decent existence as long as they obey him, and open to geopolitical co-operation with Islamic countries. And in the regions of Russia where Islam prevails, loyalty to Mr Putin sits comfortably with an increasingly conservative religious culture.

In a news conference last December, Mr Putin firmly told a questioner he did not like to hear Islam “wrongly linked to terrorism”. Earlier last year, the president said that “in Russia, Islam will always find a reliable ally, prepared to cooperate in solving world problems.” Opening a mosque in Moscow in 2015, he excoriated the Islamic State terror group for “discrediting a great world religion”.

Does this mean that he or other powerful figures in Moscow have pored over the Koran and come to conclusions which are different from those of Mr Trump’s zealous advisers? Of course not. It simply means that the Russian state, like any confident geopolitical player in a diverse and volatile world, wants to keep its options open. To commit yourself unconditionally to supporting one global religion against another is an act of irrational self-limitation. Such a one-track approach would be, to use a favourite Russian word, netselesobrazno (“inexpedient”).

The same sort of flexibility (call it ruthless pragmatism if you like) characterised 19th-century Britain and France when they battled to support the Muslim Turks against Christian Russia. A similar approach was taken by American cold-war strategists who forged deep alliances with Muslim powers such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia.

By contrast, some of Mr Trump’s people talk as though they really do put religious or cultural differences above all else in the way they analyse the world and plan America’s course. Mr Bannon, for example, thinks present generations should be inspired by the example of their forefathers and their “long history of the Judeo-Christian West [and its] struggle against Islam.” But the truth is that those forefathers were often more utilitarian in their choice of friends and foes than we might imagine.

In contrast with America’s new masters, Mr Putin’s Russia is closer in mentality to Lord Palmerston, the British statesman who said in 1848 that in matters of diplomacy, “we have no eternal allies and…no perpetual enemies, [only] our interests are eternal.” Whatever their own affiliation, single-minded strategists usually apply the same principle to religious diplomacy too.

The Significance of ‘The Salesman’ Director Asghar Farhadi’s Absence From the Oscars – The Atlantic

For those interested in movies and Iran, good long interview with Hamid Naficy of Northwestern University’s School of Communication (I saw The Salesman at TIFF and well-worth seeing even if not quite as good as A Separation): 

While Hollywood has been loudly critical of Donald Trump since the early days of his presidential campaign, that relationship has only grown more adversarial with the former reality-TV star’s assumption of office last month. As my colleague David Sims noted Monday, the current awards season has seen many filmmakers, performers, and others in the industry calling out Trump, whether for his behavior toward women and minorities or for moving ahead with campaign promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico or to keep Muslims out of the country for professed national-security reasons.Then, on January 27 came a confusing and messily enacted executive order that, in part, temporarily bars citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. It quickly emerged that the order would likely mean that at least one important face would be missing from this year’s Oscars: the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman is nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film award. A few days later, Farhadi confirmed to The New York Timesthat he wouldn’t be attending:

“I neither had the intention to not attend nor did I want to boycott the event as a show of objection, for I know that many in the American film industry and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are opposed to the fanaticism and extremism which are today taking place more than ever … However, it now seems that the possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me even if exceptions were to be made for my trip.”

In addition to celebrities condemning the executive order, which also bars refugees, the film industry has expressed its support for Farhadi. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called the travel ban “extremely troubling,” and on Tuesday, the American Film Institute praised Farhadi’s work while saying, “We believe any form of censorship—including the restriction of travel—to be against all values we cherish as a community of storytellers.” Immediately after the order was announced, one of The Salesman’s stars, Taraneh Alidoosti, said she would be boycotting the ceremony and called Trump’s move “racist.” Others have reportedly also been prevented from attending.

To get a better sense of the cultural and geopolitical context of Farhadi’s recognition by the Oscars and his eventual boycott, I spoke with Hamid Naficy, a professor at Northwestern University’s School of Communication and the author of several books on Iranian culture and media, including A Social History of Iranian Cinema. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Cruz: Can you describe the cultural exchange between the U.S. and Iran in recent years, and how that relationship might change moving forward?

Naficy: …It’s in that context that you have this very complicated diplomatic, media, and cultural dance between Iran and the U.S. As part of this anti-American cultural diplomacy in Iran, American films were banned in the country after the Iranian Revolution, but a whole active underground market developed for them.On the one hand, the government of Iran declares that there is a cultural invasion of Iran—that Americans are trying to win the hearts and minds of Iranians, not through force but through culture. On the other hand, Iranian cinema, in particular arthouse cinema, has after the revolution become quite a credible presence in international film festivals and in commercial cinema. Those films are valued because they’re so artistic and interesting, but also partly because the view they represent of Iran is almost diametrically opposed to the view the Iranian government presents of itself and that the Western media presents of Iran.These films show Iranian people to be normal like everyone else. They love their children, their children fight with each other, they’re jealous, they’re loyal. There are all kinds of humane stories that I think make people sympathetic to Iranian society and culture. So you have these kinds of competing visions of self and other that are taking place in the two film industries.

Hollywood, from the hostage crisis onward, has produced a huge number of films that basically sort of exploit the enmity between the two countries. I guess the last big one was Argo, which was about the rescue mission of the Americans by the Canadian embassy. (Although I must say, the Canadians didn’t get a lot of credit in that film and neither did the Iranians, but that’s Hollywood.)