Why I am not going to “Francophile” my Facebook status…

Over the past 24 hours or so I have watched the world “Francophile” itself in support and recognition of the awful events in Paris. Monuments have been illuminated in red-white-blue and Facebook profiles now consist of once familiar friends peering out between ribbons of colour.

Story Bridge in Brisbane, illuminated in solidarity.

The Story Bridge in Brisbane tonight, illuminated in solidarity.

I am very fond of France. I have many French friends, wonderful memories and few could argue against Paris being truly one of the iconic cities of the World. Indeed, Paris is one of those incredibly special cities that simply cannot belong to just France, it really belongs to people everywhere. Thus, when such unthinkable acts of terror are committed, they are committed against us all.

The problem is that to give credence to ISIS, to call the Paris atrocity an “act of war”, is to do nothing more than further entrench the notion of ISIS’ caliphate (statehood). Only one sovereign entity’s act of aggression against another can establish an “act of war”. By determining those innocent lives lost to be an “act of war”, we simply give ISIS what they want : legitimacy, and implied sovereignty.

Moreover, despite the awful events in Paris, there was no less tragic loss of life in Lebanon, in Kenya. But we did not stop and mourn for those lives because they did not fit within our mental “Champs- Élysées”, the perfect and idyllic boulevards of our western minds. We did not paint our faces those colours. We have not owned the fact that the turmoil and instability in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, is the direct result of decades of self-interested meddling, artificial borders drawn across tribal boundaries and covertly-financed (and not so covert) bipartisanship. We probably didn’t create it, but we made it worse. A lot worse. Those innocent people in Paris didn’t deserve to die – but it can also not be said that there is never a consequence to our actions. For example, it cannot be said that when our own youth flock to Syria to join the ranks of ISIS, that we were not responsible for youth disengagement, for unemployment, for lack of opportunity in our own countries.

We should be defiant, be we should also take responsibility.

This even extends to the idea that we would somehow attempt to “demean” our oppressors by calling them “Daesh“, like taunting a bully in the playground. It is a dangerous game. It is one thing to stoically go on with life and refuse to alter our daily lives in response to terrorism (correctly so), but it is another to mock one’s enemy.

The purpose of this commentary is not to attribute recognition to ISIS. Although, in my opinion, to pretend that it is an artifice is a huge mistake. Similarly, to reduce ISIS to merely a violent hybrid of religious fundamentalism and terrorism is also a mistake, a gross simplification. In the 21st century, we are being forced to reconsider what statehood means and how we respond to “acts of war”. It started with 9/11 and it is – tragically – far from over with Paris (#2).

This is why I will not change my Facebook profile to “tricolour”. Defiance and mourning for our freedom should be muted, and devoid of banners. Only terrorists wave banners, and I personally cannot bear to change the hue of my face again tomorrow.


 

The (now) iconic feature image by Jean Jullien…

 

Rethinking Citizenship

Two concurrent events have recently had me thinking a great deal about what citizenship really means. The first has been the horrifying events surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis, most notably the tragic loss of life on the shores of Turkey, and heart-breaking footage of children washed up on desolate beaches. Those images have profoundly affected me and I find it difficult to look at my three year-old son and not superimpose the mental image of a similarly aged boy lying face down on the beach, almost as if asleep, but never again to awake.

The second has been an incredibly disappointing and “un-Canadian” turn events with the recent amendments to the Citizenship Act (Bill C-24), enabling citizens (notably, dual-nationals) to be “stripped” of their Canadian citizenship if implicated in acts against the state, including acts of terrorism. The language of the act opens a serious crack in the door of the ‘robust’ notion of citizenship and gives government considerable discretion over how it chooses to repeal the grant of citizenship.

I’m a Canadian-Australian dual national. I was born in Calgary and have maintained close ties to Canada all my life. I return to Canada regularly to be with friends and family. I own property in Canada. I take interest in Canadian political and national affairs. I identify with Canada’s multicultural and international reputation for fairness, freedom and institutional integrity. Yet, this change in Canada’s stance on what it means to be “Canadian” is truly shocking, especially at a time when sovereign identity and the role of the international community needs to be balanced with the basic human needs and rights of the displaced.

There are four fundamental flaws with the Canadian Government’s changed notion of citizenship. The first is that is destroys the true sanctity of the definition of citizenship, and what it means to achieve it. The vast majority of people that become a Canadian citizen do so through hard work, commitment and an often difficult journey to become part of something great. In creating the potential for the discretionary revocation of citizenship, with fairly wide purview, the absolute meaning and aspiration of citizenship is diluted. For example, how could we ever allow Syrian refugees to become Canadian “conditionally” after everything they have been through (don’t get me started on Canada’s political and military intervention – or lack thereof – to begin with).

The second tragedy of this law is that it effectively creates a second class “citizenship”. It establishes a class of citizens that remain vulnerable to the discretion of government. Governments make mistakes, governments over-reach their authority, and this law opens the door for all kinds of abuse and corruption that has the potential to permanently threaten vulnerable segments of the populace. Canada’s institutions may be more robust than that of many other countries, but no executive branch of government is flawless.

Thirdly – and somewhat related to the second point – is the disappointing side-effect that it is no longer acceptable to be Canadian and “something else” as well. I always thought that one of the great things about being Canadian was that it was ok to be a Canadian-Pakistani, or a Canadian-Afghan. Unlike the USA, where I would argue cultural identity is constantly pressured and subjugated to the “ideal” of America (you are, first and foremost, American goddammit), with considerable racial tensions that result, Canada always seemed to more peacefully allow multiple identities to co-exist. This legislation will threaten Canada’s multi-cultural tolerance.

However the worst – and most ironic – thing about this legislation, is that it will effectively make Canada less lawful on the international stage. The upstanding moral compass, the “decency”, Canada’s hard-earned international reputation for fairness, integrity and freedom is threatened by this legislation. Why? Because in stripping individuals of their Canadian citizenship, they are no longer subject to Canada’s extraterritorial laws. Let’s take a hypothetical example – you have a Russian-Canadian dual national that decides to go and fight for ISIS, and Canadian citizenship is repealed. Instead of being able to subject that individual to Canada’s terrorism laws, the government effectively wipes their hands and leaves them to the jurisdiction of the “other” nationality. If that other country has a weaker legal system, then less control and less recourse is able to be exerted.

For example, Australia has extra-territorial laws regarding pedophilia. If an Australian goes abroad Thailand on vacation and has sex (consensual or otherwise) with a minor (by definition of Australian law) they are subject to prosecution in Australia upon their return. It doesn’t matter that the offense was committed offshore, it is an illegal act of citizenship. In my opinion “statutory rape” is just another kind of terrorism, no different than the barbarian acts of ISIS – often committed against women and children.

Instead of stripping Canadians of their citizenship, the government should be holding them ABSOLUTELY to the standards of Canadian citizenship at home and abroad. That would not only strengthen and define what it means to be Canadian, but it would serve to project the power and integrity of Canada around the world.

Mad Planet

I had some long-haul travel this week and finally in one of those white-noise, time-zone agnostic moments where sleep and relaxation are utterly defeated by an uncomfortable plane seat and dehydration, I decided to write.

I have not written since April. There are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, I partially blame Facebook. I could hardly characterize myself as a social media junkie, I just don’t have time. But over the last couple of years because of various semi-professional activities, particularly in relation to the World Economic Forum, I had found that I had amassed a large number of “friends” most of whom have comparatively interesting lives (to me) and are very active on social media. Lately, I found myself – at idle moments – “dialoging” about things and to be honest I think it took the bandwidth away from me that I would normally have dedicated to writing a blog.

Two things about Facebook that have worn me out. The first is that I am all “news flowed out”. More on this in a second but to summarize, I found that my network of “friends” and the nature of their lives really amplified the events of the world around me. I’m completely burnt out on gender issues, race issues, asylum issues, religious hatred, forays into war zones and human rights. I started to find myself getting irritated and even on a few occasions scrapping with people about things precisely because I got tired of someone’s 28th post on “why all entrepreneurs are male chauvinist pigs” or someone’s well-structured and defiant rant on why “It’s ok for Israel to continue to annex land in Golan Heights.”

The second matter relates to Facebook’s little “behavior modification” studies under the auspices of apparently being allowed to arbitrarily mess with my head under some kind of purported “informed consent” as part of my user agreement. I’m reasonably well versed in the ethics of patient-centric research and I think they overstepped the mark. I don’t know if I was a guinea pig or not – in fact, it doesn’t matter because there has been so much negativity in the world the last few months, my newsfeed was pretty bleak even without Facebook’s meddling. But I object to what they did and it has permanently tempered my trust and willingness to engage with Facebook.

So a few weeks ago, I unfriended everyone that I do not consider to be a true friend (yes, I know, I have done a similar purge in the past but this was not a mere prune). Sure, unfriending people is a socially grey area and not a precise science. I know I offended some people and I actually miss certain people’s thoughts and reflections about the world (you know who you are) but now – thankfully – my news feed is mostly pictures of babies doing cute things, family vacations, interesting recipes for vegan food, selfies and one of my old friend’s slightly amusing tendency to post provocative pictures of herself in different contorted yoga poses.

In short, life has returned to normal in my social media world and as such – I am no longer really all that interested in it. It is pleasingly bland and I only check in once a week. This in turn may have freed my mind and my fingertips to waste time on my blog instead. (note: that doesn’t read very well but you get the drift).

The second vitiating factor in my lack of appetite to blog is just the world itself at the moment. The couple of times I sat down and tried to write a reflective piece I found that I really didn’t have much to say that wasn’t utterly bleak. I’m not a journalist so writing a second-piece about ISIS or Israel or Ukraine doesn’t add much to what you have already heard from the BBC or CNN. I’m not above political commentary but there isn’t much inspiration there at the moment either.

An earlier blog post – In Defence of Mother Russia – seems hopelessly naïve and almost ridiculous given that a mere 10 days later apparently Russia invaded Ukraine. This is in fact something that is deeply dividing in my family at the moment and with my wife’s family in Donetsk Oblast, a reality that we are concerned with every day. Extremely disturbing.

A couple of months ago we had a management retreat at a beautiful resort in Palos Verdes and I remember sitting there watching my news feed and all of sudden getting two simultaneous posts on Israel sending tanks into Gaza and MH17 getting shot down. It completely consumed my attention and the remains of my emotional reservoir that day. That night I think I drank too much, not just to hit the “steam release” from a long and stressful day but because notwithstanding a fine Southern California evening, the world just felt particularly sinister … and not just because Facebook was possibly manipulating my newsfeed.

Lastly, work. Work work work and more work. ImaginAb is going through that teenage phase where you start to see the great promise of adulthood and your “child” shows potential, but there is still a lot of attitude problems, temper tantrums and acne. You get one bit of smooth skin and then a boil appears in the middle of your forehead just before prom night. It’s both inspiring and exhausting – and typical of a company as it transitions through that 40-50 employee barrier. Relationships get replaced by processes, policies replace convention and early members of the team start to hit their Peter Principle. It’s tough.

I have also had to adjust, not just in my personal life and work-life balance but also my own attitudes toward corporate governance and being part of a grown-up management team. I’m reasonably happy with this and in some ways it’s a great evolution to be part of because it means you are really creating something that is capable of proper execution. But it is also a long way away from the years of the relative freedom of being an entrepreneur where you “live and die” by the sword on a daily basis. Interesting times… but all consuming.

Max doesn’t get to see his Daddy so often these days, something that I certainly struggle with.

Anyhow, I can’t promise that all of a sudden I will be saturating the blogosphere with brilliant and insightful writing but to all those who asked me “where are you?” – particularly Jean-Luc, Edna and Sue – thanks for the reminder that I started blogging because I love to write and part of my life has been missing the past few months.

It will also have to wait until Max is in bed.