‘Birth tourism’ articles in Vancouver press

Two articles on my recent release of the 2019-20 CIHI non-resident self-pay birth statistics (Birth Tourism: Non-resident births 2019-20 numbers show steady increase).

Starting with Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun:

The number of women coming to Canada to give birth, which automatically bestows citizenship on the baby, is expanding much faster in British Columbia than the rest of the country.

Richmond Hospital is the centre of the trend, often called “birth tourism.” New data released this week shows one out of four births in the past year at the hospital in the Vancouver suburb, which features many illicit “birth hotels” advertising their services in Asia, were to foreign nationals.

St. Paul’s Hospital and Mount St. Joseph’s Hospital, both in Vancouver, are also fast turning into hubs for birth citizenship, with the two hospitals experiencing a 38 per cent rise in births by non-resident women, one in seven of the total.Virtually no country outside North and South America provides citizenship to babies solely because they’re born on their soil.The newly released figures show there were 4,400 births in Canada in the past year to non-resident mothers, an overall hike of seven per cent. Ontario doctors still preside over the most non-resident births, 3,109, with one hospital in Toronto, Humber River, having a sudden jump of more than 119 per cent.But Ontario’s volume of privately funded procedures has not risen nearly as fast as in B.C., which had a total of 868 non-resident births. That’s a six-fold increase from 2010.

Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information/Andrew Griffith

The new data, compiled by Andrew Griffith, a former senior director of the federal Immigration Department, comes from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which captures billing information directly from hospitals up until the end of March. It doesn’t include births in Quebec.

Birth tourism has recently been strongly condemned by Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, Liberal MLA Jas Johal (Richmond-Queensborough), former Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido (Richmond East), the head of Doctors of B.C. and others.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which controls immigration policy, has been silent on the matter. Former Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer said in 2018 he would end birth tourism. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has accused those who raise the issue of being guilty of “division and hate.”

In February, Richmond council sent letters to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, to leading B.C. politicians and to Vancouver Coastal Health. Council called for “permanent changes to immigration laws which would end automatic Canadian citizenship being bestowed on babies born in Canada to non-resident parents who are not citizens of Canada.”Last week, Mendicino’s department finally responded, saying the minister is aware “of the increase in births by non-residents in Canada” and promised to “monitor” it.“All levels of government are trying to pass the buck” on birth tourism, said Au. He acknowledged Richmond was itself failing to combat the dozens of shadowy birth hotels and agents in the city, which help women give birth in Canada for fees in the tens of thousands of dollars.Ads aimed at women in China who want to have babies in Canada tout luxurious accommodation, birthright citizenship in the “world’s most livable country,” 12 years of free public education, university fees just 10 per cent of those paid by foreign students, free health care and eventual family reunification for the parents of the baby who obtains the passport.Au said Richmond officials could be cracking down on underground birth-tourism operations because they don’t have proper business licences. But council and staff, he said, haven’t yet come up with an effective way to do so.

Au is also suspicious that hospital administrators and the few doctors who perform full-fee deliveries for foreign mothers are not countering the problem for financial reasons. “We don’t want our hospitals dependent on this income.”

Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information/Andrew Griffith

In a piece on his website, Multicultural Meanderings, Griffith says figures provided by the Canadian Institute for Health Information show all “non-resident births” in Canada, which includes women who give birth while here as foreign students or temporary workers. Griffith estimates about 50 per cent of the total are full-blown “birth tourists.”

After Griffith wrote a 2018 piece on the subject for Policy Options, three female academics responded by saying those who want to end birthright citizenship are “demonizing pregnant migrant women,“ “encouraging violence against stateless people” and “fuelling discrimination.”

Nevertheless, the academics supported Griffith’s call for better data. He lamented this week, however, that the federal departments that previously promised to link health care and immigration data to monitor non-resident births have “stalled.”

David Chen, the former Pro Vancouver mayoral candidate, has publicly expressed concern about birth tourism. He said Thursday that granting citizenship to anyone born on Canadian soil “poses problems on several fronts.”

As a child of immigrants, Chen, who is now a vice-chair of Vancouver’s NPA party, said it “shortchanges those who went through proper channels only to see people with much more disposable cash jump the line and have an easier route to Canadian citizenship.”

Australia, Britain, New Zealand, France, Germany and South Africa have all, in relatively recent times, altered their citizenship laws to discourage birth tourism. More than 150 nations do not permit it.

While recognizing the issue is complicated, Au, a nine-year member of council, said he believes he understands the views of most Richmond residents, where the fast-changing population is now 53 per cent ethnic Chinese, 24 per cent white, seven per cent South Asian and seven per cent Filipino.“Ethnic Chinese feel the same as everyone else in Richmond,” he said. “They’re concerned.”

Source: Douglas Todd: ‘Birth tourism’ jumps 22 per cent in B.C.

Graeme Wood in Business intelligence for BC:

It was another record year for birth tourism in B.C., according to new data released by health officials.

The province saw a 21.9% spike in non-resident births between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, as 868 non-residents of Canada – the vast majority of whom are understood to be Chinese nationals on tourist visas – paid to give birth in local hospitals in order to garner automatic citizenship for their newborns. The prior year, 712 non-residents gave birth in B.C.

“Vancouver area hospitals continue to have the largest percentages of non-resident births, with an active cottage industry supporting women coming to give birth from China,” said researcher Andrew Griffiths, who first reported the new annual data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The epicentre of the budding industry is Richmond, where an annual record of 502 births to non-residents took place, up from 458 in the year to March 2019 and 474 in the year to March 2018.

Those 502 newborns represent 24% of the 2,094 total newborns at Richmond General Hospital. That is the highest total and share of non-resident births at a hospital across Canada. Meanwhile, Vancouver’s St.Paul’s Hospital is second in the nation, with 14.1% of all births being to non-residents. There, 203 babies were born to non-residents.

Non-resident births also peaked across Canada, with CIHI reporting 4,400 newborns to non-residents in 2019/2020, up 7.3% from the previous year’s total of 4,099, excluding Quebec.

B.C. figures do not include international students, who are enrolled in the public healthcare system. As such, Griffiths said B.C.’s figures are a more accurate indication of birth tourism (those non-residents who fly to Canada for the explicit purpose of obtaining citizenship for their newborns).

Griffiths, a former director general of the Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch, Department of Citizenship and Immigration, said he estimates about half of the non-resident births outside of B.C. to be tied to parents on tourist visas. However there is no reportable data along those lines, as a federal review of the issue, first announced in November 2018, appears stalled.

“Hopefully, the work to link healthcare and immigration data will resume shortly, not only to provide more accurate numbers with respect to birth tourism but to improve our understanding of healthcare and immigrants more generally,” said Griffiths.

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Non-resident births by hospital, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. Figure by Andrew Griffiths

Glacier Media requested information on non-resident births tied to patients on tourist visas but Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said such data does not exist and the task to obtain it from paperwork would be too onerous – although such data is what the federal government stated it would acquire in its review.

Canada is one of two Western countries, along with the United States, to offer birthright citizenship – a concept also known as jus soli – meaning babies born to two foreign nationals on tourist visas are granted automatic citizenship.

It remains unclear exactly what the federal government is doing to enact policies to curb the practice. To date, no enforcement measures have been announced, unlike in the U.S., which has convicted “baby house” operators of money laundering and fraud in 2019.

The U.S. State Department further cracked down on birth tourism in January, with a new rule that “travel to the United States with the primary purpose of obtaining U.S. citizenship for a child by giving birth in the United States is an impermissible basis” for a tourist visa.

The lack of action to address birth tourism, which is widely perceived by the public as an abuse of Canada’s immigration system, has frustrated Richmond community activist Kerry Starchuk, who has documented dozens of “baby houses” in the Vancouver suburb offering accommodation and doula services for Chinese nationals, who typically arrive three to four months prior to giving birth on a six-month or extended tourist visa.

“It’s a joke. It’s so blatant you can see it. They’re advertising this in China,” said Starchuk.

In a written response to Starchuk, dated July 8, 2020, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said it was “aware of the increase in births by non-residents in Canada.”

IRCC said, “While statistics indicate that birth tourism is not widespread, IRCC is researching the extent of this practice, including how many of the non-residents are short term visitors.”

Birth tourism is technically legal in Canada, in so much that nothing bars a pregnant woman from entering Canada to give birth, so long as they are honest with border agents.

“Providing false information or documents when dealing with IRCC is considered misrepresentation and has immigration consequences.  However, non-residents giving birth in Canada is not considered fraud under the Citizenship Act,” stated IRCC.

“Additionally, under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a persons are not inadmissible nor can they be denied a visa solely on the grounds that they are pregnant or that they may give birth in Canada,” wrote IRCC.

Starchuk said the federal Liberal government has dragged its feet on the matter.

“I’m not interested in writing any more letters. I want action,” she said.

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Non-resident births in Canada by year. Figure by Andrew Griffiths

Richmond Conservative Members of Parliament Kenny Chiu and Alice Wong have proposed a hybrid jus soli policy that would bar those on tourist visas from obtaining citizenship for their newborns. Newborns of non-resident international students, for instance, would continue to obtain citizenship under their proposal.

Griffiths said birth tourism businesses in Richmond are at a stand still with COVID-19 flight restrictions and visitor visas from China down 72.2% between January and March, and down 99.79% by June.

A poll from Research Co. in February, 2019 showed almost three in four (73%) believe it is time to end automatic citizenship for people born in Canada (adopting rules used by most Western countries). An Angus Reid poll in March, 2019 showed 60% of Canadians want the law changed.

Immigration Minister Marco E.L. Mendicino declined to be interviewed on this matter.

Source: Record-setting year for birth tourism in B.C. prior to pandemic

Richmond Hospital set to deliver over 500 possible ‘anchor babies’ in one year

From the epicentre of birth tourism, a good profile on Richmond and the associated issues:

Births to non-resident foreigners at Richmond Hospital and Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital have risen significantly in 2019, according to the latest interim data released by the facilities’ respective health authorities.

Both hospitals are on pace to well exceed their prior annual records of non-resident foreigners who, based on available data, are likely to be nearly all Chinese nationals engaged in a birth tourism arrangement – although it is not known explicitly.

Since 2011, in Richmond, non-resident births have risen from a few dozen per year to the point where local residents and hospital staff are voicing concerns about healthcare delivery and immigration fairness.

Over the past five years, just over 2,000 so-called “passport babies” may have been delivered in Richmond from non-resident, non-Canadian parents.

Various services are provided to prospective parents via transnational maternity businesses utilizing local rental homes as so-called “baby houses” in Richmond.

The B.C. Ministry of Health claims it is now inspecting these houses and scrutinizing diversion rates from Richmond’s busy maternity ward.

Canada is one of two Western countries, along with the United States, to offer birthright citizenship – a concept also known as jus soli – meaning babies born to two foreign nationals on tourist visas are granted automatic citizenship.

It remains unclear exactly what the federal government is doing to enact policies to curb the growing industry. To date, no enforcement measures have been announced, unlike in the U.S.

Richmond Hospital is now on pace – for the year ending April 1 – to deliver 549 newborns to non-resident parents.

From April 2019, the start of the hospital’s fiscal year, to late August 2019, Richmond Hospital delivered 221 babies from non-resident patients not enrolled in the provincial healthcare system, according to Vancouver Coastal Health. The annual average over the previous five years is 390 babies from non-residents, or 18.6% of all births.

The interim 2019 numbers show a total of 863 newborns delivered in Richmond, meaning 25.6% of births at the hospital were to non-residents. Last year (2018-19), the percentage of newborns from non-residents was a record 23.1%.

Meanwhile, St.Paul’s Hospital – B.C.’s second most popular hospital for non-residents giving birth – is on pace to deliver 177 babies from foreigners, according to Providence Health Care data from April 2019 to August 2019. That would break a record of 139 new Canadians from foreign parents set the previous year.

Nationality isn’t routinely tracked but a tabulation by Richmond Hospital officials in 2016 showed Chinese nationals accounting for 98% of non-resident births. According to some birth house operators, Richmond is a popular location for Chinese nationals due to the city’s multilingual services and proximity to China as a Western country that allows such automatic citizenship.

Former Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido decried birth tourism as “an abusive and exploitative practice” in a July 2018 petition to Parliament. Peschisolido promised action from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; however, its minister has made no announcements on policy reform. The ministry is now studying the matter.

Prior to the Liberal petition, Conservative MP for Richmond Centre Alice Wong asked for stronger action in 2016 via her own petition to end birthright citizenship.

The Conservatives still have ending jus soli in their official policy book (adopted in 2018); however, the party remained silent on the matter during the 2019 federal election. Wong and newly elected Conservative MP for Steveston-Richmond East Kenny Chiu (Peschisolido’s replacement) stated before the election that they oppose birth tourism but support birthright citizenship. Last week, when asked to clarify his position, Chiu said his pre-election response for a debate questionnaire should have been qualified. He said those on tourist visas should not have their babies granted citizenship and the government must tread carefully to ensure people in transition to residency are not labelled as birth tourists. He acknowledges concerns over establishing a bureaucratic process, but he says many Western nations, such as Australia, have made the transition in the past.

Among respondents to a March 2019 Angus Reid poll, 64% believe children born to parents who are here on tourist visas should not be granted Canadian citizenship and 24% said they should.

Ending birthright citizenship outright in the U.S. would be more difficult as it is enshrined in the Constitution. In the 1990s, it had bipartisan support but that has waned. U.S. President Donald Trump has voiced his opposition to the practice but has only chosen stricter enforcement measures to date.

The Trump administration cracked down on baby houses in Southern California as recently as January 2019 when authorities arrested 19 people with crimes such as immigration fraud, money laundering and identity theft. The charges stemmed from evidence baby house operators helped Chinese tourists lie to border agents.

As of last month, the State Department plans to amend its regulation on temporary visitors in the “B non-immigrant visa classification” to provide that a temporary visit “does not include birth tourism.”

This will allow U.S. border agents to deny entrants if a birth tourism arrangement is suspected. In Canada, a border agent has no such powers, particularly if the person entering is honest about the arrangement and can prove sufficient funds during their stay, according to Canada Border Services Agency.

Critics – such as Megan Gaucher, professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University, and Lindsay Larios, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Concordia University studying reproductive justice – have recently likened birth tourism media reports as “dangerous discourse” that may be predicated on longstanding racist and sexist immigration legacies that “perpetuate the criminalization and surveillance of racialized pregnant non-resident women.”

They say the non-resident birth data is unclear as it doesn’t discern between a wealthy birth tourist and a vulnerable temporary resident whose motives may not be so explicit.

Indeed, while national numbers on non-resident births are on the rise, it is not known explicitly how many are due to birth tourism, since motives are not known.

Discharge data obtained from the Canadian Institute for Health Information by researcher Andrew Griffiths shows uninsured, self-paying non-residents accounted for 4,099 births in Canada in 2018, whereas they only accounted for 1,354 in 2010. Ontario accounted for 2,917 such births in 2018 whereas B.C. accounted for 712.

Other than Ontario’s large population, the high number of such births there could be because a non-insured, non-resident could be a temporary foreign worker before being enrolled in public healthcare or an international student. But in B.C., international students are included in the Medical Services Plan, unlike in Ontario, meaning non-resident birth stats in B.C. are likely more reflective of explicit instances of birth tourism than in Ontario.

B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix says he’s been asked a number of times what he is doing about the increased number of foreigners into maternity wards in Metro Vancouver.

Dix says he’s opposed to the practice but is mindful the numbers remain relatively small about 2% of all births in the province are to non-residents.

“Primarily, the birth tourism question is an immigration question,” Dix said.

“People get frustrated when I say that.”

He said his role as health minister is to ensure healthcare is delivered properly.

The Ministry of Health told Glacier Media, that it has investigated baby houses in Richmond, only to find no violations.

“Vancouver Coastal Health Authority inspectors have inspected presumed birth houses and found that there was no licensable care being provided, as defined under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act,” said ministry spokesperson Jean-Marc Prevost.

Dix said, “On the birth house question, if they were providing healthcare services there and not just accommodation services … they need to comply with the Community Care and Assisted Living Act – but they’re basically not” providing such services, asserted Dix.

Another concern raised by healthcare workers, such as nurses in the maternity ward, is the non-payment by non-residents.

The health authority says recovery rates are getting better now at 92% of $5.4 million collected in the 2018-19 fiscal year at Richmond Hospital, for instance.

Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal has suggested the health authority charge a prohibitive fee for non-resident births; however, according to Prevost, this would be contrary to Section 10 of the Hospital Insurance Act, which “only allows health authorities to recover the costs of providing non-beneficiaries medical services; it provides no mechanism for charging for profit.”

That said, while fees are set on a direct cost-recovery basis, according to a ministry spokesperson in March 2018, such fees do not account for things such as the capital costs to build new hospitals (Richmond needs a new acute care tower) or the countless hours public officials and communities have put in over the decades to build a safe and regulated healthcare system.

As it stands, Vancouver Coastal Health charges $8,200 for a normal vaginal delivery and $13,300 for a C-section surgical delivery to uninsured patients.

Dix said charging above cost recovery, if it were permitted by law, would have unintended consequences, such as overcharging a person awaiting residency status and healthcare coverage or a non-resident Canadian citizen (which is rare since only one or two Canadians pay to give birth in Richmond as non-residents each year, on average).

“What you want to do is charge the cost of the care across the board and ensure that you collect the cost of care,” Dix said. “If you impose special taxes and fees, that has implications for the whole healthcare system.”

The minister also voiced concern about calls by some, such as Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, to license and regulate the industry.

“The problem you have if you want to regulate that sector is effectively you’re officialising the role of these places, which we absolutely are not going to do – I am against this, birth tourism, and we’re dealing with it because we have to and we’re an open society and people come here – but if we want to deal with these questions you have to deal with it at the federal level.”

Nurses in Richmond have told Glacier Media, and more recently the CBC’s Fifth Estate, that non-resident patients are receiving better care. One stated to CBC this month that scheduled C-sections for non-residents are never re-scheduled, whereas local residents’ are.

Dix dismissed the allegations as well as concerns over diversions due to an overbooked maternity ward in Richmond.

“On diversion, in general this is not a significant issue” in Richmond, he said. “The biggest diversion issues I’m dealing with are in Fort Nelson or in First Nations communities.”

Vancouver Coastal Health says between April 2018 and September 2019 there were 16 diversions from Richmond Hospital and 15 diversions to it. In 2019, the authority conducted a staffing review that found the Richmond Hospital maternity ward is “staffed appropriately,” said Prevost. “They have had no capacity issues for labour or delivery in recent years.”

The health authority, via freedom of information requests, disclosed that in a six-month period in 2019, hospitals received $514,476 in cash from $3.25 million worth of maternity related charges. The health authority has been asked whether it reports to FINTRAC when receiving sums of cash over $10,000. Glacier Media has not received a response.

Source: https://www.vancourier.com/richmond-hospital-set-to-deliver-over-500-possible-anchor-babies-in-one-year-1.24058984 

Letter: The Trouble With Staying Silent on Ideological Extremism

Omer Aziz responds to Graeme Wood’s earlier piece in The Atlantic (After Christchurch, Commentators Are Imitating Sebastian Gorka). Good debate and discussion between the two.

And yes, needs to be said, ideas, words and speech matter:

After the tragedy at Christchurch, New Zealand, Graeme Wood wrote recently, a funny thing happened: “Everyone discovered, all at once, that ideology matters.” But just as important as this recognition, Wood argued, is the ability to differentiate on an ideological spectrum. To fail to do so “leads to catastrophic blunders”: In The New York Times, for instance, “Omer Aziz accused the neuroscientist and atheist Sam Harris, as well as the Canadian psychologist and lobster enthusiast Jordan Peterson, of complicity in mass murder for objecting to what they argued are overbroad applications of the word Islamophobia.”

“If we cannot distinguish Harris and Peterson from Richard Spencer, let alone Brenton Tarrant,” Wood wrote, “then our problems are bad indeed.”


There are several points I take contention with in Graeme Wood’s essay on the Christchurch massacre, which names me and two other writers for failing to make important ideological distinctions between the New Zealand killer and others who, strictly speaking, have nothing to do with him. Set aside the irony of taking writers to task for not making important ideological distinctions and then lumping in three diverse writers together, thereby failing to make those distinctions yourself. Wood’s major claim in the piece is that after Christchurch, “everyone discovered that ideology mattered”—white-nationalist and fascist ideology—and this was in contrast to the politically correct liberal response to jihadist violence, in which presumably these very same writers adequately distinguish Islamist terrorism from Muslims tout court.

Other writers can speak for themselves. In my case, I have written about the role that ideology and religion play in jihadist violence. Indeed, I have been influencedby Wood’s own work on this, and have discussed it with him, multiple times, in private and in public. I believe that there is always an ideological spectrum with respect to extremist violence, and the various shades of that spectrum ought to be interrogated, even if it makes people feel uncomfortable. That goes for Islamist violence, as it does for white-nationalist terror.

Wood takes especial issue with my mentioning of the neuroscientist Sam Harris in my piece for The New York Times. The exact words from that piece were:

People with millions of online followers have been incessantly preaching that Islamophobia is not the problem; Islam is. The Canadian intellectual Jordan Peterson has said that Islamophobia is a “word created by fascists.” The neuroscientist Sam Harris has called it an “intellectual blood libel” that serves only to shield Islam from criticism.

Note that there is not the slightest intimation here that Peterson or Harris shares liability, responsibility, or guilt for the New Zealand massacre. It simply acknowledges the salient fact that prominent thinkers have been in Islamophobia-denial for a long time, even after Muslims were specifically targeted because of who they were and for no other reason.

Jordan Peterson is more complex, and his thinking about Islam and Muslims requires its own separate treatment. But Harris has been propounding vicious misinformation about Muslims for a decade. Does Wood not have an opinion on someone who warned about the “ominous” Muslim birth rates in Europe and published misleading statistics about them, the very same birth rates that the New Zealand killer was so tormented by in his manifesto? (And why would it be “ominous” if there are more brown people in Europe? For what it’s worth, at maximal levels of immigration, Muslims would account for 14 percent of Europe’s population in 2050, according to Pew. Those worried about the coming hordes of brown bodies can relax somewhat.)

It is not wrong to call out people who have been denying that a particular form of racism exists when this very racism becomes the central motivation of a live-streamed lynching of vulnerable people. By the logic of Graeme Wood’s own piece (that ideology matters) and by the logic of Sam Harris’s own ontology of Islam (that there are concentric circles of extremism, with jihadists in the middle and their enablers on the outer rings), the ideological spectrum of Islamophobia ought to have been probed more thoroughly. Instead, Wood is silent, dismissing all this as self-evidently not worth mentioning. A spectrum of ideology for thee, but not for me.

If casual Islamophobia is not on the same ideological spectrum as violent Islamophobia, why not? Are overt warnings about Muslim birth rates and “deranged” Muslims so acceptable now that they fail to register as extreme? Yes, Islamophobia is an imperfect term; that does not alter the reality the term describes, which, like anti-Semitism, is a particular form of racism. The methodology of Wood’s piece—of transposing words to highlight hypocrisies—might help here. Swap Muslim with Jewish, and you get Harris warning about Jewish birth rates in Europe, calling the Jewish world “deranged,” and claiming that anti-Semitism is a made-up word. Anyone using such language would be rightly condemned as anti-Semitic. I wonder whether Wood would still be silent then.

There are many enablers of Islamophobia today, Harris among them, and their consistent propounding of anti-Muslim myths has put Muslim lives at risk. Of course, there is no causal link between the intellectual enablers of Islamophobia and the New Zealand killer. To my knowledge, no serious writer has sought to draw such a link. Again: We are not discussing culpability; we are discussing an ideological spectrum in which subtle bigotry toward Muslims has become mainstream. These ideological enablers create a permissive environment for more dangerous ideas to fester. Calling them out is not a controversial idea. It’s applied to Muslims all the time.

“To fail to differentiate leads to catastrophic blunders,” Wood writes. I heartily agree. And an even greater moral disaster is the willful blindness toward an ideological spectrum when a white man is the one pulling the trigger. When you are silent on the ideological extremism of your friends, you inevitably aid the violent extremism of your enemies. In this case, it is not your voice that gives them license, but your silence on matters that you have deliberately overlooked.

Source: Letter: The Trouble With Staying Silent on Ideological Extremism

After Christchurch, Commentators Are Imitating Sebastian Gorka

Interesting and sophisticated take, and good call for greater understanding of the differences within and between ideologies and perspectives:
After the 2015 Paris attacks by ISIS commandos, Donald Trump’s counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka wrote these notorious lines, blaming the ideology of “radical Islam” for the atrocity:

These attacks are the latest manifestation of a growing and globalized ideology of radical Islam that must be addressed at its source—which includes the mainstream imams and media personalities who nurture, promote and excuse it … They were inspired by a thriving online ideological structure that recruits and radicalizes mostly men to save “the caliphate” from “the kuffar [infidels]” … The threat we’re facing isn’t just individual terrorists. It’s the global ideology of radical Islam. We have to take it seriously, and call out imams, academics, and media personalities who give it a platform under the guise of exploring both sides, fostering debate or avoiding political correctness.

Except these words weren’t by Sebastian Gorka at all. They were written in The New York Times by Wajahat Ali, hours after the massacre of 50 Muslims at prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15. I swapped white nationalism for radical Islam, politicians for imams, and Western civilization for the caliphate.

A funny thing happened after the tragedy of Christchurch: Everyone discovered, all at once, that ideology matters. Four years ago, commentators were contorting themselves to attribute jihadism to politics, social conditions, abnormal psychology—anything but the spread of wicked beliefs that lead, more or less directly, to violence. Ideology for thee but not for me. Imagine the contempt any thinking person would feel for someone whose reaction to Christchurch was to wonder whether a few Muslim street hoods had once roughed up the shooter, or if during his trip to Pakistan the authorities had given him a hard time at the airport. Did he have trouble getting a job? Feel unsettled by modernity?

In dismissing these tendentious explanations so breezily—so breezily that they receive not even a mention—Wajahat Ali is absolutely right. So are the countless other commentators, Muslim and not, who have belatedly come to the conviction that if bad ideas permeate communities (virtual and real), their effect is not incidental but decisive. Ali has, in fact, been direct in his acknowledgment of the role of belief in some contexts. Others have treated it as an embarrassment, especially in their own communities. In the neighborhoods that were targets of recruitment by ISIS, community leaders emphasized nonideological causes publicly. But they all knew, on some level, that ideas mattered, and any parents who detected a whisper of ISIS ideology in their household understood that it was as deadly as bubonic plague.

Almost two years ago, I opined, meekly, that Sebastian Gorka was not wrong about everything. I complimented him for noting the role of jihadist ideology, and then roasted him for botching the particulars of that ideology. Gorka’s view of jihad is monolithic; he believes, erroneously, that “radical Islam” is a vast and united front against which the next patriotic generation should prepare to fight. In fact, jihadism is a complicated network, with mutually antagonistic elements (Hezbollah and al-Qaeda, say) and even some elements that aren’t violent at all.

I regret that the commentators post-Christchurch are imitating Gorka’s main virtue as well as his signature flaw. The transposition is astonishing. Gorka treats Hezbollah like al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood like Hizb al-Tahrir—all different Islamist groups, with salient resemblances; his post-Christchurch doppelgängers seem ready to treat Tarrant like Trump, and Trump like Tarrant. In The New York Times, Omer Aziz accused the neuroscientist and atheist Sam Harris, as well as the Canadian psychologist and lobster enthusiast Jordan Peterson, of complicity in mass murder for objecting to what they argued are overbroad applications of the word Islamophobia. C. J. Werleman, a columnist for Middle East Eye, tweeted last weekend that “ISIS appeals to roughly 0.0000001% of Muslims,” whereas “right-wing extremism represents the views and attitudes of roughly 30-40% of white people.”

If we cannot distinguish Harris and Peterson from Richard Spencer, let alone Brenton Tarrant, then our problems are bad indeed. (Among those problems is arithmetic: 0.0000001 percent of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims is 1.8 Muslims, a substantial undercount of ISIS’s adherents, even when you round up to a whole number.) Harris and Peterson seem to think America under Barack Obama was a good place and getting better; this view is not compatible with fascism. To support Donald Trump (which Harris and Peterson in any case do not) is not to support the slaughter of Muslims in New Zealand. Just as there are many, many steps between believing in Sharia law and following ISIS, there are countless shades of difference between, say, supporting a border wall and wanting to snipe at Mexicans along the Rio Grande. If sharing a cause with ISIS or Tarrant makes you uncomfortable, perhaps it should. But it does not make you guilty of every crime they committed.

To differentiate on an ideological spectrum is hard. But to fail to differentiate leads to catastrophic blunders. If you blindly swat at enemies, and blindly extend courtesies to friends, the predictable result is that your friends get swatted and your enemies indulged. They may not send thank-you notes, but I promise they are grateful.

Source: After Christchurch, Commentators Are Imitating Sebastian Gorka