ICYMI: Far-right targets Austria’s first refugee minister

Of note:

Less than a week after Austria’s new conservative-Green coalition took power, it has already become a target for far-right supporters, who have railed against the country’s first minister with a refugee background.

Justice Minister Alma Zadic, who was born in Bosnia and fled the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s with her family at the age of 10, has faced a wave of social media abuse — and even death threats.

The abuse has often appeared under posts from politicians from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) — a junior coalition partner until May — revealing racist attitudes some say were fostered by the party during its time in office.

“A criminal Muslim woman becoming justice minister. Sharia (Islamic law) is coming soon,” read one such contribution.

In response Zadic, of the Green Party, has received support from across the political spectrum.

Conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who also headed the coalition with the FPOe, vowed on Thursday to “fight online hate — whether from the left, Islamists or the right”.

“Alma Zadic and all others who are affected by this have my full support!” he tweeted.

– ‘Anything but pleasant’ –

Zadic grew up in Vienna’s multicultural Favoriten district.

She told the Kurier newspaper she did not speak a word of German when she arrived: “The teachers didn’t know what to do with me.

“My experiences were anything but pleasant for an ambitious young girl.”

Now, at 35 years old, she has reached the cabinet.

Austria has taken far longer to reach the milestone of minority representation at this level than many other Western countries.

As in neighbouring Germany, Austrian society traditionally saw immigrants as “guest workers”, according to sociologist Kenan Guengoer, who serves on an official expert panel on integration.

Historically, they were viewed as “people who are here temporarily and would go back”, Guengoer says.

Both “guest workers” and refugees made up the forerunners of today’s population of more than 530,000 who have roots in the former Yugoslavia.

But the reception to Zadic hints at other reasons that progress in Austria has taken so long.

– ‘Overachiever’ –

Austria’s Bosnian community is considered to be among the best integrated, according to journalist and former teacher Melisa Erkurt — who was herself born in Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo.

Erkurt describes Zadic as “an overachiever”.

After studying law in Vienna and at Columbia University in New York, Zadic gained experience at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia before going on to work for an international law firm.

She will need all of her skills to navigate a brief where the two coalition partners are expected to clash.

But some in the far-right FPOe, which left government after being engulfed in a corruption scandal, were unimpressed by her CV.

Their main gripe was a civil case in which Zadic was ordered to pay compensation to a student from a right-wing fraternity who had been photographed making a gesture some interpreted as a Hitler salute.

Zadic shared the image on Twitter with the words: “No tolerance for neo-Nazis, fascists and racists.”

The student in question insisted he was simply waving to friends. Zadic is appealing against the decision.

– Cautionary tale –

According to Erkurt, Zadic could serve as a much-needed role model for young ethnic minority Austrians whom she says have not traditionally been encouraged to aim for positions of power.

“I work with many young girls and I can say to a 14-year-old girl called Fatima: ‘You really can achieve anything in Austria, it’s not just a cliche,'” says Erkurt.

But at the same time, she says Zadic’s treatment could be a cautionary tale.

Zadic has been targeted “despite the fact she speaks perfect German, she has a doctorate, she doesn’t wear a headscarf”.

“In other words, you can do everything ‘right’ in Austria but still be met with racism,” Erkurt says.

Indeed, in defending Zadic the Green party felt it necessary to clarify she did not practise any religion.

Kurz also came in for criticism after he mistakenly said she had been convicted of a criminal offence then later tweeted a clarification, adding: “I know and value her and think she is qualified.”

Florian Klenk, editor of the left-leaning Falter magazine, accused him of offering a “half-hearted” defence his minister.

Kurz’s fate is “connected to Zadic’s future”, Klenk wrote, adding: “She has become a symbol for this government.”

Source: Far-right targets Austria’s first refugee minister

The 2010s’ grim legacy: the decade of the far right

Of note, and Canada to date remains an exception:

The past decade was the decade of the far right.

In January 2010, leftist and centrist politicians led three of the largest democracies in the world: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Brazil), Manmohan Singh (India) and Barack Obama (US). In December 2019, all three countries have far-right leaders: Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. In Europe, center-left parties have been decimated, while mainstream right parties mainly survive by adopting frames and policies from the radical right. Only Germany still has the same center-right leader, Angela Merkel, but that will probably change in the next year, too.

This political sea change is in large part the (delayed) consequence of demographic, economic and social shifts. After 9/11, the political debate in many countries shifted from socio-economic to socio-cultural issues. Even the Great Recession only changed this temporarily; once the dust over the bailouts had settled, immigration and security quickly replaced austerity and economic inequality as defining issues once again.

Source: The 2010s’ grim legacy: the decade of the far right

A Black Metal Festival in Ukraine This Weekend Is the Neo-Nazi Networking Event of the Year

Never knew of this disturbing genre of music but not surprised that the far right has a cultural aspect:

Hundreds of far-right extremists will converge on Ukraine’s capital this weekend for a “militant black metal” music festival that experts say has become a networking hub in the international neo-Nazi scene.

Asgardsrei, which will be held Saturday and Sunday in Kyiv’s Bingo Club, bills itself online as a black metal festival that has “grown into the largest (and certainly the most radical)” in the region.

“2 days, 14 bands, 1,500 places, 0 tolerance,” its website reads.

Researchers say the festival is a showcase for the explicitly neo-Nazi musical genre known as “national Socialist black metal,” or NSBM. The lineup features acts with violent anti-Semitic lyrics, referencing the Holocaust and swastikas, and featuring anti-Jewish slurs. One of the bands, Stutthof, is named after a Nazi concentration camp, while another, the French band Seigneur Voland, has a track titled “Quand les Svastikas étoilaient le Ciel” (“When Swastikas Light Up the Sky”).

Another act, the Greek band Wodulf, has a track with the lyrics: “Standards of Aryan might unfurl in triumph / Immortal loyalty to the swastika.” Footage from last year’s festival shows members of the audience widely giving the Nazi salute during performances.

“The organizers have been very clever in connecting almost the complete European neo-Nazi scene.”

Far-right experts say the festival, now in its fifth year in Kyiv, has become an important networking hub for the transnational white supremacy movement. The festival was organized by individuals linked to Ukraine’s powerful far-right Azov movement, the ultranationalist group that played a major role in the revolution and the war against Russian-backed separatists in the east. It also includes a mixed-martial arts “fight night” by an Azov-affiliated fight club on Friday night.

The festival has previously drawn extremists from groups including the U.S.-based neo-Nazi organization Atomwaffen Division, Germany’s The Third Path party, and Italy’s neofascist CasaPound.

“It’s established itself as the major festival of the national Socialist black metal scene,” said Thorsten Hindrichs, a musicologist at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz who specializes in far-right music subcultures.

He told VICE News that the festival provided an important point of contact for disparate far-right groups in their project “to build a pan-European community of right-wing extremists.”

“The organizers have been very clever in connecting almost the complete European neo-Nazi scene,” Hindrichs added.

Mollie Saltskog, an intelligence analyst at strategic consultancy firm The Soufan Group, said that festival organizers had boasted last year that they had “almost a thousand foreigners” at the event. Among them were members of Atomwaffen Division, including the leader of the group’s Washington State cell, Kaleb James Cole, who spent 18 days in Ukraine as part of 25-day trip through Europe.

“It’s likely that many prominent figures within the transnational white supremacy movement, both in and outside of Ukraine, will participate in the concert and surrounding activities this weekend in Kyiv,” Saltskog told VICE News.

“It’s an opportune moment for members of the transnational movement to meet up, network, forge international connections, and exchange tactics and experiences to bring back home to their own ‘fight.’” Saltskog continued.

Ahead of last year’s festival, she said, Azov had hosted an international conference of far-right ideologues, where they discussed topics such as “Nordic Paganism as Metaphysics.”

Hindrichs said Kyiv had become a “safe space” where events like Asgardsrei could take place without disruption from authorities or protesters. He said the festival’s growing importance on the international far-right scene meant it warranted closer attention from Western security services to monitor the contacts their extremists were potentially making in Kyiv.

“There’s horrifying things going on there,” he said. “It would be a good idea to try to stop people attending.”

A global hub

According to Haaretz, Asgardsrei was founded by Russian neo-Nazi Alexey Levkin, a far-right dissident who came to Ukraine in 2014 to support Azov, which has since actively forged links with like-minded groups elsewhere.

Levkin describes himself as an ideologist “who gives lectures in culture, history, and contemporary political thought” to National Militia — the paramilitary street wing of the sprawling Azov movement, which also has a regiment incorporated into Ukraine’s national army, as well as its own political party, National Corps.

As well as fronting his own band, M8L8TH, which will be performing at Asgardsrei, Levkin is also a key member in Wotanjugend — a Ukraine-based neo-Nazi group that has promoted a Russian-language translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. Saltskog said Wotanjugend was “originally established in Russia, but uses Ukraine as a base to operate and spread its neo-Nazi ideology and message of hate, under what appears to be the patronage of Azov.”

Levkin told VICE News that “only two or three bands on the line-up could really be considered NSBM” acts — including his own act, M8L8TH.

Levkin denied the festival had become a networking hub for the far-right and explained it was “first and foremost about breaking … taboos.”

“We respect any artists who dare to truly challenge the dominant narrative of the contemporary Western society,” he said.

And when asked if he considered himself a national socialist, he replied: “Yes, sure!”

Researchers said the event highlighted the way Ukraine, through the influence of Azov and affiliated far-right movements, has emerged as a global hub for right-wing extremists since the outbreak of war. In recent years, events like Asgardsrei have drawn foreign radicals to Ukraine to network with Azov-affiliated extremists, where they have documented their presence at far-right subcultural events like concerts and MMA tournaments on social media.

Meanwhile, Azov has pursued an outreach program to cultivate links with far-right groups internationally. Olena Semenyaka, international secretary for Azov’s political party who has strong ties to Levkin, traveled to meet contacts in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Croatia, and Portugal in the past year.

Last week, a far-right Ukrainian group even turned up on the frontlines of the Hong Kong protests, which sparked concerns they could be attempting to learn lessons from the pro-democracy demonstrations to use in violent street protests at home.

Far right’s poor leadership saved Australia from outbreak of populism, nationhood inquiry told

Of note. Once again, notable differences between Canadian and Australian political systems, parties and policies:

The major parties have been urged to put populist parties last on their how-to-vote cards and reject the myth of a “homogenous national identity” in submissions to the Senate nationhood inquiry.

Two academic experts, Glenn Kefford and Duncan McDonnell, have warned the inquiry that Australia may have avoided outbreaks of populism only because of poor leadership on the extreme right. Major universities have called for transparent and independent decision-making in government as a cure for voter disillusionment.

The inquiry – spearheaded by Labor’s Kim Carr and Liberal Amanda Stoker – was criticised by the Greens for its “bizarre grab-bag of issues” after it solicited submissions on all forms of extremism – from ecofundamentalism and postmodernism on the left to conservative nationalism on the right.

But despite initial misgivings that it could be hijacked by those with extremist views, the submissions published so far canvas a range of mainstream reforms including an Indigenous voice to parliament, allowing dual citizens to run for parliament and democratic reforms including term limits.

Kefford and McDonnell submitted that “radical right populism” had been a “marginal force” in Australia – with One Nation absent from the commonwealth parliament between 2000 and 2016 – while radical left and rightwing parties had increasingly become parties of government in countries such as Austria, Finland, Greece and Italy.

Source: Far right’s poor leadership saved Australia from outbreak of populism, nationhood inquiry told

Germany’s Far Right Tightens Its Grip in the East

Worrisome:

The far-right Alternative for Germany party on Sunday celebrated a strong showing in the former Communist East, more than doubling its support in a state election held two weeks after an attack on a synagogue that some tied to the party’s use of hateful language.

The party won 23.5 percent of the vote in Thuringia, according to preliminary returns, up from 10.6 percent in 2014. That left it in second place, behind the Left Party but ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The party, known by its German initials AfD, has no hope of governing, since all the other parties have ruled out cooperating with it. But its strong showing is likely to reverberate in other ways. The election outcome could further strengthen the power of Björn Höcke, the party’s leader in Thuringia and its most notorious figure.

Extreme-right misinformation is flooding Chinese media in Canada and observers say there’s virtually nothing stopping it

Ongoing:

Some of the posts suggest teaching sexual and gender identity in schools could cause an AIDS outbreak. Others warn Mexicans are streaming across the border to sell drugs or that hatred against Muslims is only natural. The articles are called misinformation by some and flat out hate speech by others.

They are but a sampling of the far-right rhetoric on Chinese-language websites and social media platforms like WeChat, often described as a cross between Facebook and Twitter. Observers warn that there’s almost nothing challenging a torrent of anti-refugee, anti-LGBT and anti “white liberal” literature spiking online.

“When this privileged group settled down in Canada, they will have an easy life without evening finding a job,” reads one article touching on Muslim refugees when discussing Chinese voters. It was written by contributor Feng Si Hai on Chinese-language news publication Lahoo.ca. in March 2019.

“What’s more, some of them could make trouble, break the law and even harm a child. It is natural that hatred toward them will arise. The religious conflicts will make the situation worse. How could our society be peaceful?!” reads the article.

Such sentiments have also popped up in Chinese political organizations and churches, according to community members. They worry that barriers to truthful information combined with conservative politics are leading to the exploitation of Chinese people by far-right elements and could hamper the ability of Chinese people in Canada to make informed decisions.

There are votes to be gained as Canadian political parties reach out to immigrants, and Chinese voters are one of the largest pools.

Chinese people represent about 20 per cent of minorities in Canada, according to Statistics Canada, with hundreds of thousands living in Vancouver and Toronto alone. In those cities, some ridings are more than 50 per cent Chinese.

They are increasingly being courted by far right content or outright misinformation created by writers who often use pen names.

For example, Feng, who has also written that a child being proud of having two mothers is a “scorn on human ethics,” is not the writer’s real name. In an interview with Star Vancouver, Lahoo editor-in-chief Lao Mai said Feng is a real person writing under a pen name for protection.

But prior to Lao’s explanation, other staff at the publication said Feng was actually a floating pen name used by a number of people. In the interview Lao insisted that isn’t the case and underlined he and his staff don’t necessarily agree with the opinions written.

“We have that freedom of speech,” Lao said through an interpreter.

In Feng’s 2019 column about voting, it’s alleged Justin Trudeau ignored the case of 13-year-old Marrisa Shen, whose body was found in a park in Burnaby in July 2017. In September 2018, a Syrian refugee, Ibrahim Ali, was charged in her death.

In January 2018 an 11-year-old girl in Toronto told police she had been attacked by an Asian man with scissors who cut off her hijab. Justin Trudeau tweeted his condemnation of the attack. Police investigated the alleged incident and determined that the events did not happen. The family of the girl who made the false claims later apologized.

Feng’s column accuses Trudeau of caring more about the Muslim girl in Toronto than he did about the Shen murder because Muslims vote more than Chinese people.

Lao said the article is being misinterpreted and it’s really just meant to encourage Chinese people to vote. He said that when columns by Feng are submitted, they believe what he writes and don’t feel the need to fact check them.

Lahoo also publishes straight news pieces and Feng is just one columnist, but the internet is flooded with Chinese-language misinformation from a number of sources.

Back in May, Chauncey Jung, a contributor for website SupChina, who once interned for the Liberal Party and has written about the issue, said there has been a steady increase of false news or misinformation in Toronto since the story about the Muslim girl who claimed to be have been attacked broke in 2018.

Chinese articles on WeChat raged against the girl and against Trudeau for tweeting his response to the incident before police said they had determined that the attack did not happen. But the incident caused a spike in “pure hate speech” written in Chinese, Jung said.

The tension was made worse later in the year when Ali was arrested and charged with Shen’s murder. His court appearance in Vancouver brought anti-refugee protests by demonstrators carrying Chinese signs.

Jung said it’s not just Muslims who are targeted. He said he’s seen stories on WeChat alleging hundreds of Mexican drug dealers are flooding into Canada since Ottawa stopped requiring visas for Mexicans and others claiming that Toronto police want to get children hooked on drugs.

“It’s going to be challenging for people who don’t have the access to the actual information,” he said. “If you don’t speak English, that’s going to be a barrier, if you don’t like to read things in English, that’s another barrier there.”

Kevin Huang of Vancouver’s Hua Foundation, an organization aimed at bridging cultural gaps between Chinese and other communities, said not only is there an increasing amount of Chinese-language misinformation targeting immigrants and other minorities, but nothing is in place to counter it.

“People are usually just overwhelmed by the fact this exists and not at a stage where we’re about to design and or think about how to counter,” he says.

Much of it stems from a history of Chinese voters being “ruled by fear” Huang said, adding that politicians and the media often use scare tactics to dissuade Chinese voters from supporting their opponents rather than presenting a positive alternative.

The 2015 election was full of it, he said.

“The literature was fear mongering attacks on Trudeau, prostitution, needles,” Huang said. “Is our community in general really only about just being fearful of these things?”

Huang says one possible solution would be for governments to distribute information in more languages than just English and French. If more government materials were written in languages like Chinese, those who speak it as a first language would at least have access to basic, credible information, he said.

“No one’s engaging them except for ‘do your taxes and fill out these forms for your benefits,’ ” Huang said.

One man in Surrey, B.C., isn’t waiting for the government to pitch in.

“Fake news brings people to the wrong direction; prejudice and hate,” says Jacky Jiao after tidying up a picnic table in a Surrey park before sitting down to talk, condemning whoever left it a mess. “Few people think, they just follow others.”

When he’s not scrubbing picnic tables, the real estate agent and immigration consultant is cleaning up the internet. Jiao says he spends about 15 hours a week on WeChat motoring through Chinese language media and writing articles debunking false information.

WeChat has become the premier source of information for Chinese people around the world and Jiao says that often misinformation from other countries, like the United States and United Kingdom, is spun to fit the Canadian narrative.

Much of what appears on WeChat is published elsewhere and simply shared there, similar to Twitter. Often the articles contain false figures such as the number of refugees allowed into Canada each year, he says.

Jiao says his attempts to combat the misinformation or far-right rhetoric online have led to a lot of pushback.

“In WeChat groups, I get a lot of attacks,” he says. “A lot of people are Trump fans. They always think right is right. They can’t distinguish the right and the extreme right.”

Jiao says the courting of the far right via Chinese social media happens at a time when similar efforts are being made through churches in Canada. Chinese immigrants hold Christianity in high regard, he says, reasoning that many of the world’s developed countries have Christianity as a dominant religion.

As a result, many are curious about the religion and become involved in churches, and some of those churches have strong views against homosexuality or taxes, says Jiao.

Combined with the misinformation and right wing columns on WeChat, he said it makes some in the Chinese community ripe fruit for the far right to pluck.

But even if WeChat didn’t exist, the far-right politics are hosted by other websites and the messaging would still seep through.

In 2018, a consortium of Chinese activists in Vancouver and Toronto formed the Let’s Vote Association, a group with a website in Chinese and English encouraging people to vote for right-wing candidates in federal, provincial and municipal elections.

The organization was in the news when some municipal candidates decried the endorsements in B.C. last year. It hasn’t made any endorsements on its website this year.

One of its founding directors is Yali Trost, sister in law of Brad Trost, who ran unsuccessfully for leader of the Conservative Party in 2017 and lost a nomination challenge for the riding he held in Saskatchewan last year. He is not running this year and told Star Vancouver he has no knowledge of or participation in his sister in law’s activities. Most of the association’s directors have donated to Trost’s political campaigns in the past, according to Elections Canada information.

The association’s main page features a link to a petition opposing the Vancouver suburb of Richmond’s plan to install a rainbow crosswalk, an initiative undertaken by many cities to support the LGBTQ community. Other articles praise Donald Trump, champion religious freedom and question the legitimacy of refugees.

Their electoral recommendations in the past have included evangelical Christian radio show host and People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, as well as Heather Leung, who was dropped as a candidate by the Conservatives earlier this month when a 2011 video of her making statements against the LGBTQ community resurfaced.

In the video, Leung says homosexuals are “perverted” and trying to “recruit” children because they cannot procreate.

In early September, according to her website, Leung went door knocking in her riding with Lindsay Shepherd, a controversial figure and free speech advocate criticized in the past for arranging an appearance by Faith Goldy, the white nationalist who ran for mayor of Toronto, at Laurier University.

Leung is still running as an independent and her campaign manager is Travis Trost, Yali Trost’s husband and Brad Trost’s brother.

Leung did not respond to Star Vancouver’s attempts to contact her, including a letter outlining what the interview would be about delivered to her home, outside of the Burnaby North-Seymour riding.

Star Vancouver requested the financial details of the Let’s Vote Association in accordance with the B.C. Societies Act.

As per the official process, Star Vancouver filed a request to the B.C. corporate registry asking that they compel the Let’s Vote Association to release the information. In a letter to Star Vancouver through the registry, the society said it would not release the information because it had not yet completed its accounting.

“Many immigrants to Canada and especially Chinese Canadians are reluctant to involve themselves in the political process in Canada because of bad experiences they have had overseas,” reads the letter, which goes on to accuse Star Vancouver of making them fearful.

But last October Yali Trost, a Vancouver resident according to Let’s Vote’s society information, involved herself in the political process physically when she got into an altercation with Burnaby School Board trustee candidate Larry Hayes after an all-candidates debate in a school gymnasium. According to Vancouver radio station News1130, Trost said she was confronting Hayes for calling another candidate an “idiot.”

A video posted to Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson’s Facebook page shows Hayes trying to push past Trost as she stands in front of him while holding a baby when he tries to leave the venue before she shoves him back. The police were called. The debate itself was shut down due to yelling from attendees protesting the province’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program in public schools.

Attempts to contact Yali Trost through the Let’s Vote Association were unsuccessful.

As Canada barrels toward its election Monday the affect the push by the far right could have on the Chinese community isn’t yet known, but observers are concerned what a sustained campaign could mean down the road.

Huang said politicians don’t make enough of an effort to conduct meaningful engagement with Canada’s Chinese communities. It seems politicians are only interested in stopping by for Lunar New Year banquets, he said, leaving a void that is filled by the far right.

The responsibility rests not just with Chinese people to speak up, Huang said, but with politicians who need to take the trend of misinformation seriously.

“Don’t treat our community as if we’re just being ruled by fear,” he said. “Lead us. Show us that we want to vote for you because you believe in the same values I do.”

Source: Extreme-right misinformation is flooding Chinese media in Canada and observers say there’s virtually nothing stopping it

Syrian family closes restaurant, confirms son was target of death threats after political protest

So unfortunate and a reminder that Canada is hardly immune from this kind of behaviour and social media stirred up hate:

Eleven days ago, Alaa Alsoufi attended a political protest in Hamilton wearing a face mask. Less than 24 hours later, a Twitter user in Ottawa identified the young man as a Syrian “terrorist” who reportedly harassed an elderly woman as she approached Mohawk College to hear the People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier speak at a fundraiser.

Social media users across North America and Europe ran with the narrative, launching death threats against the Toronto man, his parents and their business.

And so a downtown Toronto restaurant founded by Alsoufi’s family, which had been widely lauded as a success story of Canada’s refugee resettlement program, abruptly closed on Tuesday in the wake of escalating online attacks.

“We could not put our family members, staff and patrons in danger,” the Alsoufis said in a public statement on Tuesday night that defended their son as a humanitarian and the victim of a vicious, politically motivated smear campaign by alt-right crusaders.

The family of Dorothy Marston, 81, the woman at the centre of the viral video, came to the Alsoufis’ defence and condemned the vigilantism by “social justice warriors on both sides.” The video shows Marston using her walker on Sept. 29 when she is confronted by a wall of masked protesters blocking her way, some calling her “Nazi scum.”

David Turkoski, Marston’s son, said he was heartbroken and disgusted by the attacks on the Alsoufi family.

“I’m absolutely ashamed of anybody who called and threatened them. That’s how polarized Canada is becoming. We have lost our ability to see reason,” Turkoski said on behalf of his mother. “We don’t like war and persecution of anybody.”

The Alsoufis, who opened Soufi’s on Queen Street West in 2017, said Alaa “did not in any way verbally or physically assault the elderly woman” and “offered to apologize personally for not doing more” to stop other protesters from harassing Marston.

They said Alaa was physically assaulted on Friday, several days after the event, and doxed, an Internet-based practice in which social media users unite to expose a person’s private records and launch threats.

While the family expressed “deep gratitude” toward the “loving, welcoming people” of Toronto, they said “the magnitude of hate we are facing is overwhelming.”

In addition to physical violence, a torrent of death threats prompted their decision to close the popular restaurant.

Messages on Facebook and Twitter illustrated the attacks on the Alsoufis over the course of a week.

On Oct. 1, a Facebook user in Philadelphia, who describes himself as a former U.S. Navy Submarine Service employee, posted photos of Alaa to his personal page with a message inviting his friends to “Meet Alaa Soufi Dalua (sic), one of the antifa scumbags that harassed an elderly couple while they tried to cross a street. … We have everything on him. Everything!”

A user in New York commented on the post, writing: “Pay his parents a visit, make an example of them!”

From British Columbia: “Your (sic) going back in a box or not your going back.”

From Belgrade, Serbia: “Hey little muslim b—-h. You know you’re gonna get f—–d right.”

In an email to the Alsoufis’ restaurant, an anonymous sender writes: “Keep it up and your family, and those who defend your family’s terrorist actions will suffer immensely.”

Hamilton police told the Toronto Star its investigation of the Sept. 29 protest “remains ongoing” and stated in an email: “There is no information to support that the conduct of the protesters was in violation of Section 318 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada — Hate Propaganda.”

Toronto police would not confirm whether they were investigating or if the Alsoufis had notified them of the death threats.

Videos posted online show Alaa attending a variety of rallies in support of LGBTQ rights and protesting racism against migrants.

He was described in his family’s statement as “standing up for the rights of oppressed communities in Canada and worldwide.”

Husam and Shahnaz Alsoufi came to Canada after they and their three children were sponsored by a community group in 2015. The family opened the restaurant two years later, touting its Middle Eastern food as a culinary offering “from Syria with love.”

Soufi’s was among the restaurants profiled in a New York Times story last year showcasing the budding Syrian culinary scene in Greater Toronto. It has also been featured in Toronto Life, Now Magazine and the Star.

On Tuesday, staff at Soufi’s blocked the restaurant’s storefront window with printouts of the closing notice and the company’s signature yellow T-shirt while they were cleaning and clearing the premises as reporters gathered outside trying unsuccessfully to talk to the owners.

Members of the Queen West business community said they were shocked by the abrupt closing of the restaurant.

“Soufi’s has become a local staple. As a young business, it’s been growing and has a consistent following. It’s a success story,” said Zane Aburaneh, who runs a fashion and accessory boutique across the street and has hired the restaurant for catering. “It’s so unfortunate that someone has to close down their business because of threats.”

Julie Skirving, who operates Logan & Finley, a nearby eco-conscious general store, said she was a regular of the restaurant.

“They (the Alsoufis) are lovely people and must be devastated,” said Skirving. “It’s such a loss to the community.”

“This is horrifying and appalling. This is not Canada. There are rules of law. There are procedures to deal with situations like this,” added Jon Spencer, a patron of the restaurant, after leaving a heart-shaped note of support for the family that said “I’m so sorry to hear the awful news.”

Source: Syrian family closes restaurant, confirms son was target of death threats after political protest

In court documents, Trudeau defends decision to call out Quebec heckler for ‘racism’

Interesting case. PM comments come across as reasonable and thoughtful:

In the wake of Justin Trudeau’s blackface scandal, his comments in a recent lawsuit give an illuminating insight into how the prime minister thinks about racism.

In August 2018, Trudeau made headlines when he called out a woman for “intolerance” and “racism” after she heckled him at a rally in Quebec and asked him about “illegal immigrants.”

That incident led to an ongoing lawsuit that has received little public attention since it was filed by the heckler last December. In July, Trudeau was questioned in Montreal as part of the lawsuit.

In the court documents, obtained by the National Post this week, Trudeau said he believed the intolerance had to be addressed clearly and also pointed to a particular brand of Quebec nationalism he found troubling.

In videos that circulated widely of the altercation — during a speech Trudeau gave to Liberal supporters at an event in Sabrevois, Que. — the prime minister can be seen telling the heckler that “this intolerance regarding immigrants does not have a place in Canada,” and later that “your racism has no place here.”

At the time, commentators and Conservative politicians were quick to accuse the prime minister of berating an elderly woman without justification, a narrative that changed somewhat after it was revealed that the woman, Diane Blain, had connections to far-right nationalist groups.

In December, Blain filed a defamation lawsuit against Trudeau, demanding $90,000 for psychological distress and damage to her reputation and her right to freedom of expression.

Trudeau’s defence argues that it was “perfectly legitimate” for the prime minister to “note the intolerance expressed by the terms used by Ms. Blain.”

During his examination, Trudeau told Blain’s lawyer the context of her comments made it clear she was intolerant. But he also said he doesn’t believe Blain was a racist, despite having accused her multiple times of racism.

At the event, Blain called out multiple times from the crowd, asking, “When will you give us back the $146 million that we paid for your illegal immigrants?” Her question was in reference to the Quebec government’s demand at the time to be reimbursed for costs incurred by the influx of asylum seekers entering Quebec at Roxham Road, between official entry points.

In examination, Trudeau said he didn’t initially understand Blain’s question, but realized what she was asking when he heard the words “your illegal immigrants.” He told Blain’s lawyer that the way she asked the question, referring to “your illegal immigrants,” proved it was not in good faith. “It was a context in which the goal was to disrupt and push an agenda that was either anti-immigrant or that simply wanted to spark fear and concern about immigrants,” he said. “So for me, it was important to respond firmly and clearly.”

He also said he felt it was necessary to speak out swiftly because the crowd was very diverse and many of his supporters at the event were immigrants.

He went on to discuss Quebecers’ concerns about asylum seekers at Roxham Road, saying there are “very reasonable people” who worry about illegal border crossings. “But there’s a point where it goes beyond concern and (becomes) a desire to preserve a historic Quebec identity against immigrants,” he said. “And unfortunately, it’s not something we hear often, but it’s common enough to be part of a pattern.”

At the August event, Blain asked Trudeau if he was tolerant of “Québécois de souche,” a term that refers to white Quebecers who are descendants of the original French colonists. He responded by saying he was tolerant of all perspectives and accused Blain of being intolerant. Later, when she confronted him again as he was moving through the crowd, he told her, “Your racism has no place here.”

Blain’s lawyer, Christian Lajoie, asked Trudeau during the examination about Quebec nationalism, after Trudeau said he didn’t like the term “Québécois de souche” because of its “connotations of intolerance.”

Trudeau referred to René Lévesque, the founder of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, saying the former premier envisioned a “civic nationalism,” not one based on ethnicity. “I think a little bit for some people in recent years, we’ve been missing that desire to bring people together that Mr. Lévesque had,” he said.

Still, asked directly if he believes Blain is a racist, Trudeau said no. “I was speaking about her comments… that I associated with intolerance,” he said. “There’s a wave of thinking that has racist elements.”

In the days after the altercation, Trudeau stood by his response to Blain’s questions, telling reporters that “Canadians deserve to know that they have a prime minister that will always underline when these dangerous tactics are used in politics.” At the same time, media reports revealed that Blain had connections to far-right nationalist groups Storm Alliance and Front Patriotique du Québec and that she had once refused to be served by a Muslim woman at a dental clinic in Montreal.

In her lawsuit, Blain claims the event and subsequent media coverage caused “serious damage to her dignity, honour and reputation,” and that her family has been divided by the incident. She is asking for $90,000 in damages. She initially wanted an additional $5,000 for the pain caused by an RCMP officer grabbing her arm, but that has since been dropped. Blain did not respond to the Post’s request for an interview, and her lawyer declined to comment.

Trudeau’s defence claims that Blain came looking to confront him and his responses to her questions were reasonable under the circumstances. It points out that Blain identified herself as the woman in the videos after the fact, and has given several interviews about the incident. A spokesperson for Trudeau declined to comment.

During his examination, Trudeau indicated he believed his lawyer had approached Blain to try and reach a settlement. Blain recently told right-wing news site The Post Millennial, which has reported on the examination, that no settlement has been reached. According to court documents, preparation of the file will not proceed until November, after the Oct. 21 election.

Source: In court documents, Trudeau defends decision to call out Quebec heckler for ‘racism’

Community groups gear up to counter far-right propaganda in federal election

Of note. And encouraging, as reported, more dialogue and conversation-based than haranguing or labelling:

It worries Janice Folk-Dawson when the veteran union leader sees hate posters popping up on university campuses and far-right supremacist groups showing up in her community.

“It’s frightening to see small towns becoming the targets of hate groups,” said the president of the Guelph and District Labour Council. “Fascism started in small towns and the education system. We need to address the rise of the right and bust the myths they spread.”

Earlier this year, the 62-year-old, who is of Russian and Irish descent, enrolled in a workshop held by the Migrant Rights Network, a national anti-racism alliance that aims to help communities stand up against racism and the far right in the run-up to the federal election, when immigration and refugees are expected to be a wedge issue.

Formed last December to put migrant issues on the agenda for the Oct. 21 election, the alliance began canvassing migrant groups about the issues they were most concerned about. Almost everyone cited their fear of rising racism and xenophobia in Canada and asked for assistance in pushing back against the spread of far-right ideologies.

The alliance spent months developing training materials including a video and a tool kit, and since April has delivered more than 50 workshops training hundreds of volunteers — affiliated with unions, charities and community groups — from Squamish, B.C. to St. John’s, Nfld. The aim is to have them reach out to their local communities and have conversations with family, friends and colleagues about immigration and refugee issues, armed with the facts on policies to counter myths fuelled by propaganda.

The network has organized rallies across the country, including a number on Labour Day, and begun monitoring candidates’ campaign rhetoric and calling out those they feel are misinforming the public with racist and anti-immigrant comments.

A newsletter will be distributed to people who sign up to support the alliance’s work to keep them informed on issues and concerns raised during the campaign.

Karen Cocq, the alliance’s education co-ordinator, said political parties and politicians, to consolidate their support base, often draw attention away from their own policy failures and point fingers at “the others,” such as migrants.

Instead of blaming migrants for straining government services and pushing down wages, said Cocq, people should be asking politicians why they cut budgets and fail to properly protect workers with decent wages.

“We understand people are anxious about their future, about the economy and try to make sense of the problems they face. We want to focus on this climate of anxiety that allows scapegoating in our society,” said Cocq. “We try to provide everyday folks the tools they need to understand what’s going on and not get fooled by those who use racism to divide us.”

Ottawa climate activist Katie Rae Perfitt of Our Time, a campaign that engages young people to push for a New Green Deal in the upcoming election, said her volunteers often hear Canadians raising issues about migration when they are canvassing about climate change.

Born and raised in a farming community in the Ottawa Valley, Perfitt said far-right groups exploit the fears of people who worry for the future of their children, about jobs being taken away and migrants being a drain on existing government services and the health-care system. When she heard about the workshop put on by the Migrant Rights Network earlier this summer, she jumped at the opportunity.

Recently, she was canvassing on Sparks St., a pedestrian mall in downtown Ottawa, when she struck up a conversation with an older man about climate change and the chat quickly turned to the influx of asylum seekers in Canada via the United States land border over the last two years.

“We really clicked talking about climate change and the political action needed. It caught me off guard when he started talking about what he thought of the people who crossed the border,” recalled the 32-year-old. “I realized I had to pull out my migrant tool box.”

Perfitt started asking the man about his source of information and presenting him with the facts that refugees have the legal right to seek asylum here, and trying to calm his fear that Canada has lost control of its border.

“We did not agree 100 per cent, but we were able to centre our values, have a conversation and push back some of that fear,” she said.

Folk-Dawson said these conversations can be hard because it’s much easier for people to point at someone else for causing their miseries. Over the summer, she has used her own labour movement network to raise awareness of migrant issues and far-right rhetoric.

“A debate of facts is not a debate of opinions. We try to help people work through their feelings and experience to alleviate their fear. It can be uncomfortable and confrontational,” said Folk-Dawson, adding that even union supporters are susceptible to the myths that migrants are stealing jobs and pushing down wages.

In June, she was handing out flyers at the University of Guelph when a businessman in his 60s started complaining to her that border-crossing asylum seekers were queue-jumpers and immigrants were straining the health-care system. She explained to him that those refugees really have no queue to jump because they are ineligible for any immigration program and that migrants do contribute to Canada’s tax base but often have limited access to government services.

“At the end, the man said he would go back and have the same conversation with others. That’s one person we changed,” said Folk-Dawson gleefully. “We have to get to them before some other folks get to them first.”

Source: Community groups gear up to counter far-right propaganda in federal election

The myth of Eurabia: how a far-right conspiracy theory went mainstream

Good long read. Excerpt below:

Source: The myth of Eurabia: how a far-right conspiracy theory went mainstream