Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Al Qaeda’

A brief guide to the ideological roots of Islamic terrorism

Posted by sanityinjection on August 21, 2017

It is hard for most Westerners to understand how Islamic terrorism fits into the spectrum of Muslim theology. We are told, accurately, that terrorist fasadis like ISIS and al-Qaeda represent a fringe extremist view that most Muslims disavow. But where does this view come from, and what has caused it to become more popular and prominent over the last few decades?

First, let’s recall that most of the Muslim world is divided between the two major dominations, Sunni and Shi’a. (There are other minority sects that don’t fall into either category, but their influence on politics is minimal.) The Shi’ites are fewer in number and their political power is mostly restricted to Iraq and Iran. Most Muslim countries, both in the Middle East and elsewhere, are predominantly Sunni.

Within Sunni Islam, there is also quite a bit of variation in views on both religious and political matters. The particular strain of thought that today’s terrorist groups generally arise from is called Salafism, and it began as a reform movement over two centuries ago. Salafism is essentially a form of Islamic fundamentalism, which holds that the oldest forms of Islam practiced by Muhammad and his immediate successors are the most pure, and any modifications that have occurred within Islam since that time are errors that should be corrected.

It should be noted that there is nothing inherent in Salafism that requires political involvement or necessarily endorses violence. The first Salafists were mostly concerned with stamping out what they saw as idolatrous veneration of Islamic saints and places of worship. (ISIS’ habit of destroying historic monuments is an extreme manifestation of this viewpoint.) There are many Salafis who advocate staying out of politics, and many politically activist Salafis who do not condone violence. But this is the larger ideological context that most violent Sunni groups fit into.

Salafism as a political force first came into its own in Arabia, when the founder of a sect called Wahhabism made an alliance with the tribe of ibn Saud. The Wahhabis agreed to support the Saudis politically, and the Saudis agreed to promote Wahhabism as the correct form of Islam. The Saudis kept that bargain, and when they became masters of most of Arabia after World War I, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and subsequently became rich from Arabia’s oil, they began to have a major influence on the Islamic world. Saudi oil money paid for mosques, Islamic schools and charities, all of which dutifully spread the Wahhabi version of Salafism. Conservative even among the fundamentalist world of Salafism, Wahhabism is responsible for the many cultural restrictions on dress, music, and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and the fact that slavery wasn’t abolished there until the 1960s. The terrorist groups’ adoption of these cultural restrictions can be traced directly to the Saudi-funded schools and mosques where they were educated.

However, the real shift occurred with the victory of Islamic groups over the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1989. This effort was heavily backed by Saudi money and many of the jihadis who fought there espoused Wahhabi beliefs. The lesson was that violent jihad against the enemies of Islam was not only appropriate, but could be successful. The prestige of Wahhabism, previously viewed among the Muslim world as more of an Arabian oddity, increased dramatically.

A final group that must be mentioned is the Muslim Brotherhood. Based in Egypt, the Brotherhood is an international coalition of political Islamists, generally Sunnis but not tied to any particular orientation, instead stressing the need for Muslim unity. The Muslim Brotherhood is devoted to the goal of establishing Islamic government and sharia law, by democratic means if possible. However, they have at times engaged in violence. (The US continues to debate whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, as Russia and Saudi Arabia have done; many experts argue this would be neither accurate nor helpful.) The Muslim Brotherhood has specifically disavowed any support for ISIS or al-Qaeda, but it was a Brotherhood leader, Sayyid Qutb, whose anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic writings influenced the founders of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Saudi Arabia was once a supporter of the Brotherhood, but they fell out as a result of the Gulf War and now are confirmed enemies. However, both the Saudis and the Brotherhood now find themselves unhappily dealing with the fallout of these terrorist groups they helped to inspire. (Ironically, within the past year the Saudi monarchy has been moving to liberalize Wahhabi cultural restrictions, both to improve the country’s image and to try to curb the power of Wahhabi clerics and reduce potential support for jihadi groups within the Kingdom.)

To sum up: Today’s terrorist groups were birthed in the 1990s amid a soup of Saudi-financed Wahhabi fundamentalism and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamist politics, and inspired by the success of violent jihad in Afghanistan.

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Middle East Update – Qatar, Iran and terrorism

Posted by sanityinjection on June 9, 2017

I find that it’s rather difficult for those of us in the US to find quality, up-to-date analysis of what is going on in the Middle East. As it has for thousands of years, what happens in this region disproportionately affects the rest of the world. So I’m going to try to post periodic updates summarizing what you need to know with my own analysis.

SAUDI – QATAR SPAT: Perhaps the biggest story this week was the intra-Arab diplomatic spat between the small but wealthy Persian Gulf state of Qatar and a group of countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. These countries not only have suspended diplomatic relations with Qatar but have cut off land and air travel access and ordered Qataris to leave their territory. This creates a serious problem for Qatar since they import most of their food from these countries and will now have to rely on Iran and Turkey for help. The seriousness of the Saudi-led group’s intentions can be understood from the fact that the Saudis will also suffer from the diplomatic break: Qatar supplies natural gas for the Saudis and other countries in the region, and the Qataris have been kicked out of the coalition military forces fighting the Houthis in Yemen. That war is not going well for the Saudis, so you can tell they are pretty pissed if they are willing to weaken their forces there over this dispute. So what is really going on?

Basically, Saudi Arabia and the other states believe that Qatar is not only too soft on Iran, but too cozy with Islamist groups like Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Shiite groups in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The Qatari media outlet Al-Jazeera has been a long time thorn in the side of the other Arab monarchies. But the last straw came recently when Qatar paid ransom money to both Iran and al-Qaeda, which of course will be used to fund more terrorism in the region.

Ultimately, the dispute amounts to an inconvenience for the US, whose military Central Command is based in Qatar. But if the Arabs are successful in pressuring Qatar to move away from it support for Iran and other groups, that could be a positive development from the US perspective. There are reports that a minor exodus of Hamas operatives leaving Qatar has already begun.

TERROR ATTACKS IN IRAN: Also this week, the Iranian capital of Tehran became the latest victim of terrorist attacks. The timing is somewhat suspicious, coming in the wake of the Saudi media campaign linking Iran with Islamic terrorism. What better way to prove that Iran is not in bed with Sunni groups like IS and al-Qaeda than for it to be attacked by them? I’m not going so far as to claim that Iran staged the attacks as a false flag operation on their own people, but I wouldn’t put it past the terrorists to have expedited plans to attack Shiite Iran (whom they view as heretics, in many ways worse than infidels) as a way of trying to counter the Saudi propaganda effort. It’s worth noting that these attacks are the first major terrorist attacks in Iran in over 25 years.

BATTLE OF RAQQA: In Syria, US-backed coalition forces have begun their assault on the IS capital of Raqqa, even as progress continues to be made in driving them out of their other stronghold of Mosul in Iraq. Most analysts expect these campaigns to be successful in essentially ending IS as a “caliphate” or territorial power in Syria and Iraq. However, IS-affiliated groups continue to operate freely in places like Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, so the threat of terrorist attacks is far from over.

PALESTINIANS CARE MORE ABOUT JOBS AND DEMOCRACY THAN FIGHTING ISRAEL: A poll conducted last month of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza produced surprising results suggesting that public opinion among Palestinians may be more open to compromises for peace than the Palestinian leadership would like to admit. Basically, the results showed that Palestinians are more interested in being able to find good jobs and having an honest, responsible government than about issues like whether the US moves its embassy to Jerusalem. From Israel, Palestinians most want freedom of movement and more job opportunities from Israeli companies more than they care about Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Perhaps most astonishingly, 62% of Palestinians in Gaza agreed that Hamas should quit calling for Israel’s destruction and accept the idea of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

These poll results may provide some ammunition for US efforts to broker a new agreement, by calling into serious question the claims of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas that they would face a popular backlash if they compromised with Israel on their positions.

For more info on these and other Middle East developments, I recommend the Washington-based Al Monitor website. You can find there up-to-date reports from each of the regions within the Middle East as well as some of the most insightful and objective analysis to better understand what is really going on underneath the spin.

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UNICEF needs Tony Lake now!

Posted by sanityinjection on February 18, 2010

The Obama Administration is supporting Tony Lake to be the new Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund – better known as UNICEF. I cannot state strongly enough that I am 120% in support of this nomination!

For those not familiar with Mr. Lake, he is a long-time leftwinger who served as the National Security Advisor under President Clinton fron 1993 to 1997. Yes, Mr. Lake was the single American primarily tasked with safeguarding the security of the United States of America during the years when Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Iran, and North Korea were allowed to increase their weapons capabilities unchecked by American action. In fact, it was Lake who was primarily responsible for the failure to adequately follow up on the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. To the extent that there is one individual who bears the most responsibility for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks, it is Tony Lake.

That’s why I am proud to support Mr. Lake’s candidacy for the important position of Executive Director of UNICEF. I have full confidence that Mr. Lake will do a much better job look after the welfare of children around the world than he did looking after the security of the people of the United States. Furthermore, I expect that his duties as head of UNICEF will take up enough time and energy that he will be unable to offer any of his wisdom on national security issues to anybody from now on.

UNICEF needs Tony Lake….but possibly not as much as the rest of us need UNICEF to need him.

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Yemen’s Saleh: A Diem for our times?

Posted by sanityinjection on January 11, 2010

Newsweek’s Kevin Peraino and Michael Hirsh paint a disturbing portrait of the man America is relying on to fight our proxy war against Al Qaeda in Yemen – that country’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Although they never identify the reference, they paraphrase what Lyndon Johnson famously said about then-President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem: “He may be an SOB, but he’s our SOB.” In other words, we’re stuck with him because there is no better alternative.

In fact, the parallels between Saleh and Diem are striking. Both were elected democratically, albeit in elections that were widely viewed as corrupt. Both sit perilously at the head of governments that are tottering, but have been successful in maintaining their power. Both are happy to take US aid and use it as they see fit – even if that means suppressing domestic political opponents rather than fighting the common enemy. Both are the kind of person you would never choose to jump in a  foxhole with unless you have to.

And yet, we do have to. We saw what happened in Vietnam when the Kennedy Administration silently supported the coup that removed Diem from power and replaced him with a military regime. The South Vietnamese regime became increasingly unstable and never again held any sort of legitimacy in the eyes of the Vietnamese people. Similarly, replacing Saleh would be a disaster. None of the opposition or rebel factions are particularly pro-Western, for one thing, and there’s no reason to think that an alternative candidate would do a better job of juggling Yemen’s mishmash of tribal and Islamic politics.

The other alternative is to send in ground troops, which nobody wants to do right now, the vision of a second Afghanistan looking all too clear. So we settle for remote air and sea strikes against Al Qaeda targets and increased CIA activity. And we pray that we don’t end up with a second failed state in Yemen directly across from the one we’ve already got in Somalia.

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Rethinking Afghanistan

Posted by sanityinjection on October 30, 2009

I was struck by the recent decision of Foreign Service Officer Matthew Hoh to resign his post in Afghanistan in protest of what he believes to be a failed strategy. While disgruntled personnel or peacenik protesters are nothing new, Hoh exemplifies neither of those stereotypes. In fact, his record as both a  Marine and a diplomat is exemplary enough to earn him the right to have his comments taken seriously even by Afghanistan hawks. (It is significant that not one of the people interviewed by the WashPost who knew Hoh has anything even remotely bad to say about him, whereas normal institutional practice is to trash the reputation of anybody who steps out of line.) 

Hoh’s fear is that our current military activities in Afghanistan are doing more harm than good.  Speaking from his personal experience on the front lines of the Afghan provinces, Hoh argues that much of the rebel activity is locally based and not particularly affiliated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, apart from being willing to take their money. He describes the Pashtun tribes as being extremely xenophobic and not at all happy about the continued presence of American and other foreign troops.

Normally, I would dismiss this sort of thinking as liberal bloviating. But Hoh isn’t a liberal, an isolationist, or a defeatist by nature: “There are plenty of [Al Qaeda and Taliban] dudes who need to be killed. I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys.”

Hoh’s main point seems to be that we need to get the Pakistanis and Afghans to do the lion’s share of the work in eradicating Al Qaeda, and that the US’ close ties to the corrupt and ineffective Karzai government are proving to be a liability rather than a strength. Perhaps the upcoming Afghan runoff election could inject some new legitimacy if challenger Abdullah Abdullah manages to topple Karzai. But Abdullah is a northerner and even less likely to command the loyalty of the Pashtun tribal leaders.

I don’t know what the answer is. But it seems clear that pulling out of Afghanistan is not the answer any more than continuing with the status quo. The Obama Administration needs to come up with a new plan, and the time to do so was weeks ago.

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Latest Al Qaeda video not intimidating, just embarrassing

Posted by sanityinjection on September 23, 2009

It was only a few years ago that the release of a propaganda video from Al Qaeda would have been an event of significant concern around the world. In addition to the frenzied speculation over whether it was Osama bin Laden in the video and if he was alive and healthy, nations would increase security in the assumption that the video presaged a significant new attack was imminent.

How things have changed – and it shows the progress that has been made in the war on terror. The video released by Al Qaeda today will probably go little remarked upon and excite little distress in Western capitals. In fact, several aspects of the video may prove embarassing to the terrorists.

First of all, the video is intended to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – yet they couldn’t mange to get it online until today.  If posting a video on the Internet (something 11 year olds are proficient at) is a challenge that requires two weeks to accomplish, that doesn’t fill one with respect for Al Qaeda’s ability to coordinate a new terrorist attack.

The video is full of the usual denunciations, but this time they have cast a wide net. Al Qaeda apparently is unhappy with George Bush, Barack Obama, the Saudi royal family, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,  the Fatah Palestinian faction, other Arab leaders, and Israel (of course). One wonders who is left in the Middle East that they *do* like, other than themselves.

Then there’s the terrorists’ attempt to take credit for the world financial crisis by attributing it to the results of 9/11 and the war on terror. Although the cost of the war on terror certainly was one factor among many that placed strain on the US economy, I think one would be hard pressed to find an economist (Paul Krugman does not count) who would back up this claim.

The funniest part is when they complain of torture committed by US troops in Afghanistan. Seriously?? The guys who behead journalists and blow up civilian women and children are outraged by military interrogation techniques? If their warped notion of jihad tells them they can do pretty much whatever is necessary to nonbelievers in the course of their struggle, by what possible rationale would they expect us to abide by a higher standard? (The fact that we hold ourselves to a higher standard is not the point. The firebombing of Dresden during WWII by the Allies may have been a violation of the rules of war protecting civilians, but if the person complaining was Adolf Hitler, sympathy was unlikely to be forthcoming.)

It is a truism that propaganda tends to get more shrill when the people who produce it feel they are losing. The wider Al Qaeda casts their net of condemnation and the more brazen their complaints against the US, the more it indicates that the terrorists are on the defensive. Which is good news for everybody else.

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We have met the enemy, and this is them.

Posted by sanityinjection on August 3, 2009

Americans are tired of war and military intervention in foreign countries. Some no doubt cast their vote for President in 2008 in part with that frustration in mind. And the weariness is understandable. No one can be blase about young American soldiers coming home in body bags.

It’s understandable, then to question why we are fighting. After all, it’s been almost a decade now since America was attacked by terrorists. Is the threat really still that serious?

It’s important to remember the nature of the foe we are facing. Unlike Americans, the terrorists do not weary of the struggle, because they do not have Xboxes and swimming pools and American Idol to go back to. They are not concerned with whether their goals can be practically achieved, because to them dying in the course of struggle is preferable to not struggling at all.

With this in mind I offer this article on Boko Haram, a homegrown Nigerian al Qaeda that unleashed five days of terror on a northern province of that country until federal authorities intervened. Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful,” and this is a brief glimpse at their program for mankind:

“He was taken from his house by Boko Haram. They stabbed him and he was losing blood…They insisted he was to convert to a Muslim. He refused, so on that basis they killed him.”

This philosophy at least has the virtue of simplicity.  Groups like Boko Haram do not spend much time and energy agonizing over ethics or human rights, or arguing about when violence is justified the way we do. In fact, they must enjoy quite a serenity after being brainwashed: the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, if you will.

Let’s recall that Nigeria is not a Middle Eastern country, and indeed is predominantly Muslim. This action had nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians or US troops being in the Middle East. This was very simply a case of religious fanatics trying to violently impose their beliefs on fellow Muslims and non-Muslims alike in their own country. But it is in no way different from the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Lashkar in Pakistan, or any of the assorted Islamic terrorist groups. Let the point be underscored: These people cannot be appeased. They cannot be bought off. They cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be negotiated with. America’s abandonment of its international responsibilities and national security interests would not pacify the Boko Harams of the world. On the contrary, it would embolden them and spur them on to greater violence, knowing that the one consistent champion of peace and freedom in the world is out of the fight.

So if you wonder why we must send our troops overseas to fight in strange lands, here is my answer: So that it will not be your father getting the knife in the side of the stomach.

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Irony, thy name is Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Posted by sanityinjection on June 22, 2009

Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups in Iraq have said all along that they are fighting to end the American occupation of Iraq. This is the excuse they use to justify their barbaric terrorist attacks not only on US soldiers but on Iraqis themselves (the lives of the innocent are equally to be sacrificed for their glorious cause.)

So, with US troops on schedule to pull out of Iraqi urban areas by June 30 as part of the larger withdrawal plan, one might logically assume that the bombings and attacks would decrease with the removal of the provocative US presence. Indeed, this has been the essence of the anti-war argument offered by Western liberals: The US is to blame for terrorism because of its presence in the Middle East, and if we would just pull out and leave the region undefended, everyone would be happy and play nice. And Al Qaeda has echoed that line of thinking in their statements, since it works to their advantage.

In fact, though, we are more likely to see an increase in terrorist attacks in Iraq accompanying the US pullback. There are two reasons for this. One is that the removal of US forces simply makes it easier for the terrorists to carry out their attacks, and it’s only natural for them to take advantage of the opportunity. But the second, and more fundamental reason, is that in fact the last thing Al Qaeda in Iraq wants is for the US to leave – because it would remove their excuse for existing there. With the US gone, Iraqis will have little sympathy for Al Qaeda attacks on Iraqis. But in fact, Al Qaeda still wants to bring down the democratic government of Iraq and replace it with an Islamofascist theocracy.

The hope of Al Qaeda and their allies is that by increasing their attacks, they will force the US to reverse its pullback and keep our troops in Iraq, so they can continue to justify their existence and kill more of us and more Iraqis. Precisely the opposite of what they claim to want.

This is important for the Western defeatists to understand. Yes, the terrorists hate the US because of our presence in the Middle East, but not because it offends them. They hate us because we are the only force that has both the capability and the will to prevent them from establishing their Muslim caliphate. If we were to shrink back into our shell and leave the Middle East, the terrorists wouldn’t pack up and go home. They would renew their struggle with greater energy, knowing that the path to victory and the religious enslavement of the Middle East was now clear.

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Afghanistan: What the Left really thinks

Posted by sanityinjection on April 2, 2009

There is a common misperception that most of the Left in America supports the war on Afghanistan, and that it was only the war in Iraq they opposed. While this is true of some Democrats, most of the Left only focused on Iraq as the more obvious target. With the Iraq issue now essentially resolved, hardcore leftists are now turning their sights to Afghanistan in opposition to President Obama’s plan to slightly increase US forces there.

There is no more hallowed or respected liberal political journal than The Nation. And there is no left-winger with credentials more solid than Tom Hayden – founder of Students for a Democratic Society, member of the Chicago Seven, and former state legislator from California. Hayden is intelligent and articulate, and he cannot be dismissed as a crackpot of the Cindy Sheehan/Code Pink variety. Thus, his piece in The Nation last week deserves some attention as an authentic representation of the thinking of a sizable chunk of the American Left.

Hayden makes a number of interesting points, the first of which is his assertion that adding 20,000 American troops in Afghanistan will not prevent additional terrorist attacks. I have to say that I agree with Hayden, but only in the sense that I could agree with him that the earth will continue to revolve around the sun. The purpose of the troop buildup is not to eliminate Al Qaeda’s ability to plan a terrorist attack – there is no way to do that completely. The purpose of the buildup is to stabilize Afghanistan so that it will no longer be a haven for Al Qaeda or any other adical groups. Hayden actually undercuts his case by suggesting that Al Qaeda may be spurred by the buildup to launch an attack or “risk complete destruction, an American objective that has not been achieved for eight years. ” So Tom, if you believe that the troop buildup could finally result in the complete destruction of Al Qaeda, isn’t that a great argument for doing  it?

Apparently not. Hayden argues that the US should maintain a “deterrent posture” – whatever that is – “while immediately accelerating diplomacy to meet legitimate Muslim goals, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir. ” That’s a dumbfounding statement. First of all, it suggests that Al Qaeda exists in order to pursue “legitimate Muslim goals”. Al Qaeda’s objective is a worldwide Islamic state under sharia law, and even Hayden wouldn’t call that a legitimate goal. Second, it suggests that the Palestinian quest for statehood is fundamentally a Muslim issue, which it isn’t – many Palestinians are Christians. Finally, the idea that there is a unified “Muslim” political agenda – can you imagine if someone started talking about a “Christian” or “Jewish” foreign policy agenda? Ye Gods!

Fundamentally, Hayden’s position is that Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks are provoked by our actions, so we should stop provoking them and giving them what they want – the total withdrawal of US military and economic interests in the Middle East. With bold naivete, Hayden actually suggests that this would make the world more stable than it is today.

He goes on to drag out the usual “Afghanistan is Vietnam” analogy, unfazed by having made the same argument about Iraq and having been proven wrong. He ends by asserting that the war in Afghanistan is likely to last throughout Obama’s Presidency, which I also agree with. (Hayden is way too smart to be wrong about *everything*.)

Again, let me reiterate: Hayden is not some wacko DailyKos type with no credibility. He’s practically the Godfather of the Left. So don’t be fooled – now that they have proven wrong on Iraq, the Left is undauntedly pushing the same tired arguments on the next most opportune target, Afghanistan.

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Canadian to Border Patrol: Manners cost nothing

Posted by sanityinjection on March 4, 2009

The Canadian National Post brings us the tale of Desiderio Fortunato, who was pepper-sprayed by US border patrol agents for refusing to obey their orders unless they said “Please”:

http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=1351216

My first comment is that I see no reason why Border Patrol agents should not be polite and use words like “Please” and “Thank You”.  However, as some of the comments posted on that story stated, ultimately the Border Patrol is issuing orders, not requests. If you find fault with their manners, you can complain to their superiors, but you can’t refuse to do what they say.

Furthermore, I think America’s patience with folks like this self-admitted “stickler for courtesy and respect” has worn thin after terrorists rudely and discourteously murdered thousands of our citizens. Perhaps if Mr. Fortunato were a stickler for tough immigration controls in Canada itself, the US-Canadian border wouldn’t need to be as vigilantly guarded.

My final suggestion is that we make use of Mr. Fortunato’s expertise in the area of politeness and good manners by sending him on an all-expenses paid, one-way trip to Al Qaeda headquarters in Pakistan, so that he may educate the terrorists on how to more politely and respectfully blow sh*t up. But first, in order to prepare him for that, we should send him to French-speaking Canada so he can learn what real rudeness is like!

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