Grievances are legitimate, violence is not

This piece appeared in The Hill Times on March 26

I do not really want to flog the Jagmeet Singh/Sikh extremism story ad nauseum – many others  have done that – but there is one thing that the leader of the NDP does that concerns me and needs to be addressed.  In truth he has become like every other politician I hear on the CBC – can none of these people answer a simple question without ignoring it and resorting to carefully crafted messaging given them by their minders? – but his tape recorder-like repetition of the ‘suffering’ of Sikhs has perhaps unwittingly given succour to terrorist rhetoric.

In sum, Mr. Singh never fails to talk about the ‘pain that lingers‘ in the Sikh community, their systematic persecution by the Indian government and indeed the ‘genocide’ carried out against them.  It is a fact that thousands of Sikhs were killed at the Golden Temple in 1984 – although Mr. Singh and others curiously ignore the fact that Sikh extremists had stored thousands of weapons there – and in the massacres that followed the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (by a Sikh bodyguard).  These deaths must be condemned and those responsible should have been held accountable.  The slaughter of civilians is never ok, and on that front I agree with Mr. Singh.

The NDP leader, however, makes a huge error in failing to realise that by constantly raising these grievances and continuing to appear on stage with those who want to resolve those grievances through violence he is in reality giving support to these groups, no matter how many times he says  he rejects terrorism.  By doing so he opens the door for every group who owns a cause to justify the use of force to achieve their goals.  Here are but a few examples.

  • The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on forever it seems and there is no question that Palestinians have suffered grievously.  That still does not make it ok for Palestinian terrorists to target Israeli citizens.
  • The Rohingya have been forced to leave Myanmar by that country’s army and the litany of massacres and rapes is almost beyond belief.  Does that justify terrorist attacks in Yangon?
  • The desire for a unified Ireland is still strong among many and the centuries of stories of Catholic inequalities in the north are beyond doubt.  Does anyone want to go back to times of The Troubles?

All these people have legitimate reasons to want to see justice for what has happened to them or to right wrongs.  We as Canadians should also support causes that have merit.  But that support has to be conditional on the insistence that the resolutions are peaceful and do not countenance or turn a blind eye to the tiny minority who are convinced that using violence is the only way to resolve their issues.  Every time Mr. Singh shows up at a meeting where convicted or dead terrorists are praised for their actions he feeds those movements.  Worse, as a man who wants to become Prime Minister, he gives the semblance of official sanction, whether he intends to or not.

There is a time and place for violence in our world but that time and place is heavily constrained: in the domain of self defence in a situation of immediate and direct personal threat to life and when a nation declares war.  Outside of those limited circumstances we treat the use of violence as a criminal act, as we should.  And when groups embrace violence as the means to an end we call those groups terrorists, as we should.  No matter how heinous the suffering, we cannot allow individuals to decide when and where to use violence against innocent people.  That is exactly what happened on June 23, 1985 with the bombing of Air India flight 182, resulting in the deaths of 329 people who had absolutely nothing to do with the alleged rationale behind the terrorists’ mindset: avenge the deaths of Sikhs by the Indian government by targeting a state-owned airline.

Mr. Singh’s position on Sikh extremism is hard to discern since a simple answer to whether he supports it or not seems to be beyond him.  A man who cannot clearly and consistently denounce terrorism, especially when it is committed by members of his own ethnic group and religious sect, does not deserve to become the Prime Minister of Canada.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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