What’s really behind Stephen Harper’s mask of hypocrisy?
Posted on November 18th, 2013

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Is the Canadian leader-â„¢s boycott of the Commonwealth meeting in Colombo yet another foreign policy decision that appeases the Religious Right?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announcing his decision to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) bandied the very familiar shtick of -serious human rights violations- against Sri Lanka, citing, among other things, the impeachment of chief justice Shirani Bandaranaike, extra judicial killings, and disappearances and the jailing of political opponents and journalists as specific reasons.

That supercilious pronouncement evoked a volley of editorials and opinion pieces highlighting the blatant credibility gap in the Canadian leader-â„¢s moral stance over rights issues. Even as Harper-â„¢s pronouncement was hitting news outlets, Canada-â„¢s First Nations people were holding protests alleging numerous rights violations, including -genocide,- while a new Press Index report measuring press freedom was showing Canada as having fallen 20 places in the past year. Besides, he has his own -war crimes- dossier — silence or a wink-and-nod approach to war crimes in other parts of the world, and tacit complicity in NATO and US-led military interventions that have killed civilians. In 2009, as a parliamentary committee was investigating Ottawa-â„¢s complicity in the abuse of Afghan prisoners in Canadian custody, including the role of senior Foreign Affairs officials such as Foreign and Defence Policy Advisor David Mulroney, Harper prorogued parliament effectively shutting down the committee and its investigation.

Harper-â„¢s litany of double standards is not just lengthy, it is more pernicious and of greater consequence than the impeachment of a judge in a small developing nation. It calls not just for the exposure of hypocrisy and decrying its immorality but for going behind the protagonist-â„¢s mask, for mining the intricacies, subtleties, and common threads that drive it.

In other words, what kind of a hypocrite is Stephen Harper?

Harper-â„¢s ill-disguised animosity and condescension towards the majority- Buddhist nation are often ascribed to an attempt to appease the large Tamil community in Toronto. The Tamil diaspora is of course applauding his boycott decision, but in reality the Tamil factor is hardly likely to be driving Canadian foreign policy. Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson criticizing the decision to boycott CHOGM as -naked self interest- adds: -Mr. Harper wants to cement Tamil support for his Conservative Party coalition.-

The emphasis here is not on the Tamil diaspora but on the Conservative Party coalition -” a heavily evangelical Christian alliance between Harper-â„¢s Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party. Harper-â„¢s harsh rejection of Tamil boat refugees citing security concerns is a good indicator of the level of influence wielded by the Tamil diaspora, a community that represents but a tiny voting bloc.
From all accounts, Harper-â„¢s decisions have been shaped by appeasement of his conservative Christian support base and driven by his religious convictions — an evangelical worldview that guides him in both internal and external policy making.

Award winning Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk who has been critical of the Harper administration-â„¢s handling of energy and environmental issues, including the pull-out from the Kyoto agreement, writes: -Almost daily, more evidence surfaces that Canada-â„¢s government is guided by tribalists averse to scientific reason in favour of Biblical fundamentalism -” or what some call -evangelical religious skepticism.-

Nikiforuk, a self-described -Christian and social conservative,- goes on to ask the critical question: -From where does the government-â„¢s extreme animus towards journalists, environmental groups, First Nations and science -¦ arise? The moment demands we take a close look at Stephen Harper-â„¢s evangelical beliefs.-

Add to that: where does his extreme animus towards Sri Lanka arise?

Harper has tried to keep his religious beliefs private, but it-â„¢s no secret the Canadian leader is an evangelical Christian, a longtime member of the Alliance Church of Canada. Heralding his rise to power, a leading Canadian Christian talk show gushed: -We-â„¢ve got a born-again prime minister.-

-There is a detail about Prime Minister Stephen Harper that is very mum in Canada, It is a detail that may and will explain every decision he has made to date and every decision he will make in the future,- says an article headlined -Harper guided by Evangelical Alliance Church- appearing on the website Canadian Political Scene.

Harper himself admitted religious beliefs might play a role in the making of policy in a 2006 interview with Faith Today, a publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). -Leaving aside the fact that the separation of church and state is an American constitutional doctrine, not part of Canada’s legal or political tradition, the notion of separation refers to the state not interfering in religious practice and treating all faith communities impartially. It does not mean that faith has no place in public life or in the public square.”

Another award winning journalist, Marci McDonald, who has been studying Harper and the evangelical movement, raised the alarm in her 2010 book, The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, warning that Canadians should wake up “to the realization that slowly, covertly, the political process is being co-opted by an extremist vision of Christianity.” The book, an extensive exposƒ© on the Christian right, details how Harper appeased the evangelical base with political appointments such as naming Douglas Cryer the former director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship to the Immigration and Refugee Board and high profile evangelicals like Preston Manning to commissions that have a say in shaping science policy. Other policy changes influenced by the conservative right include cutting the funds of Status of Women Canada by 40% forcing it to close down 12 of 16 regional offices and put the brakes on its lobbying for gender equality.

McDonald points out that nearly two years after taking over the Canadian Alliance, Harper laid out a blueprint for building a new conservative coalition calling it time to concentrate on the issues that mattered to the conservatives and the Christian right. Harper argued that the party should move beyond the usual conservative preoccupations about abortion and gay rights and expand its concerns to a raft of issues once considered irrelevant — such as defense and foreign affairs. An example of that is the dramatic shift in Canada-â„¢s Middle East policy from one of neutrality to openly supporting the -right of Israel to defend itself.- Canada was the only nation among forty-seven on the UN Human Rights Council to vote against a motion that condemned Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon that killed dozens of civilians -” another example that when it comes to human rights and war crimes Harper is only blowing a lot of convenient hot air.

Harper-â„¢s pro-Israel stance is worth a closer look. As with his Sri Lanka policy, on the surface it is seen as a desire to woo a local minority group for votes and campaign funds. But closer to the truth is the evangelicals-â„¢ interpretation of the Bible (Genesis chapter 12, verse 3) that -those who bless Israel and the Jewish people will be blessed, and those who curse them will be cursed.- Canadian political blogger Benjamin Berman theorizing on -why Stephen Harper loves Israel- points to several biblical points of contact between evangelical Christians and Judaism and says the upsurge in the evangelical community-â„¢s affinity for Zionist Jews is driven by self interest in seeing the promised second coming of Jesus Christ. He concludes: –¦ in the light of this well documented -ËœChristian Zionism,-â„¢ found in the doctrine of a great many evangelical churches across North America, and combined with the fact that Stephen Harper is a noted evangelical (along with several members of the Tory caucus), I am left to draw the conclusion that Stephen Harper has positioned Canada to be one of Israel-â„¢s closest and most unconditional allies based on his own religious principles and convictions.-

Berman-â„¢s argument is backed by Yves Engler who argues in his book The Ugly Canadian that Harper-â„¢s foreign policy moves and foreign policy towards Israel are determined neither by politics nor economic interests but by the key ‘principle’ of uncritical support for Israel that unites his Conservative Party base of right-win evangelical Christians and Zionists.

There is thus a mountain of evidence of an extreme religious agenda driving Harper-â„¢s hand, from which can be extrapolated the ideological determinants of his fiery Sri Lanka policy. Crusading for the personal salvation of -lost sinners- who are yet to -receive Jesus Christ- is the first among four foundational convictions of Harper-â„¢s religion and it puts his Alliance Church in daily direct conflict with resisting Sri Lankan Buddhist communities. It stands to reason that this issue would be of greater personal and political interest than the LTTE war that ended 4 years ago. This is where his huge Christian evangelical support base crosses swords with high-energy Buddhist activist groups like Bodu Bala Sena. Reports from that battlefield demonizing Buddhist monks, attacking the Sri Lankan constitution for giving Buddhism a preferred position, and claiming -persecution of Christians- and an absolute lack of religious freedom populate the labyrinth of websites run by a global network of rightwing Christian groups. One such statement issued last year, titled the -Colombo Statement,- called on all Canadian Christians to -stand with our persecuted family in prayer- and urged the worldwide church to pray -against the continued violent attacks on clergy and places of Christian worship.-

In creating the controversial Office of Religious Freedom (OFR) Harper has heard and answered that call. Having defunded several feminist groups leaving them without resources to challenge hostile government policy and cut funding of scholarly grants to silence environmental scientists, in 2012 Harper bankrolled the new office, a branch of the Foreign Affairs Department, to the tune of $ 20 million for a 4-year period. The rationale? -Around the world, violations of religious freedom are widespread, and they are increasing,- Harper said at the launching the office which is headed by Andrew Bennett, a Christian college dean . The OFR-â„¢s purpose would be to protect those freedoms.

Many critics see the agency as a ploy to further the Christian agenda. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaking at the Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington DC indicated as much: -Far too often those targeted are Christians. Christians in particular face persecution in countries in every part of the world.- The majority of the panelists invited to the closed door meeting held to discuss the establishment of the office were Christian and Jewish groups. Shia and Sunni Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus were left out, prompting an activist to ask: -If you ignore your own religious minorities in your own country, then what are you trying to promote in the world?-

Harper-â„¢s dubious interest in providing equal protection to all religious minorities is reflected in his administration-â„¢s cancellation of the contracts of all non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons forcing Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews to go to a Catholic or Christian chaplain for counseling. Some inmates are now suing the federal government alleging the constitutional rights of non-Christians are being violated by the new policy.

The ORF is the ultimate symbol of the merging of state and religion and presents a very troubling development, in particular for countries such as Sri Lanka where indigenous and traditional religious groups are putting up resistance to Christian evangelists and are being viewed as the aggressors. The agency-â„¢s mandate is broad — to protect and advocate on behalf of religious minorities (mostly Christians) under threat, oppose religious hatred and intolerance, and promote Canadian values of pluralism and tolerance abroad. As such it leaves a lot of wiggle room for interference in the domestic affairs of foreign nations, to be noted with concern in the context of Canada-â„¢s military buildup and its aggressive foreign policy. Harper-â„¢s support of a bloody military coup in Honduras, his negotiation of deals in Latin America for private mining companies accused of exploiting local populations and assassinating their activist leaders, and involvement in the breaking Brazilian -Ëœspy-gate scandal-â„¢ where Canada was caught spying to further the interests of its ruling capitalist class are among developments seen as adding up to a new imperialistic Canada.

Critics and observers have characterized Harper as vindictive, secretive, and mean-spirited. Combined with the above, his decision to boycott CHOGM apparently comes from a dark punishing place far removed from his professed commitment to human rights and freedom of conscience.

Back to the subject of hypocrisy and what lies behind Stephen Harper-â„¢s mask of power, there-â„¢s an apt quote from well-known English writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton: “The old hypocrite was a man whose aims were really worldly and practical, while he pretended that they were religious. The new hypocrite is one whose aims are really religious, while he pretends that they are worldly and practical.”

Given the numerous -holy wars- waged since the dawn of civilization, history has amply documented which one-â„¢s more dangerous.

Hassina Leelarathna is editor of LABeez.org, a multi-ethnic news forum. [email protected]

Hassina Leelarathna is based in San Francisco, California, United States of America, and is a Stringer for Allvoices.

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2 Responses to “What’s really behind Stephen Harper’s mask of hypocrisy?”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Harper is NOT driven by 2% Tamil votes for sure.

    But the real reason is to USE Tamils to divide SL.

  2. NAK Says:

    The Evangelical church is for ever interested in dividing Sri Lanka so that they can fish in the troubled waters.

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