Could a young, radical black activist be the next mayor of Toronto? This week on Intercepted live in Toronto: A recent poll puts Desmond Cole in prime position to win. We talk to him about Canada’s stop and frisk, the brutal assault of Dafonte Miller, and how Cole would change Toronto. Journalist Naomi Klein warns that the Trudeau and Trump brands may have more in common than expected. And returning Iraqi-Canadian hip-hop artist and director Yassin Alsalman, better known as Narcy, gives a powerful live performance and debuts a unique spoken word for Intercepted.
Jeremy Scahill: Hey everybody it’s Jeremy, and we are on week three of our Intercepted membership campaign. We continue to be blown away by the level of support that so many of you, our listeners, have offered us to keep this show going strong, to keep it on the air and to keep it free for the vast majority of people who listen to this program.
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Will DiNovi: Let’s give it up for Intercepted.
[“Having an Average Weekend” by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet]
Edwin S. Simon (Canadian Bacon): Good evening, Edwin S. Simon reporting. NBS News has obtained Pentagon documents that show our neighbor to the North, the sovereign nation of Canada, has embarked on a military program aimed at the United States.
Donald J. Trump: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy Canada. It’s a disaster. We’re not going to let it continue with Canada. It’s a disgrace.
[“Take Off” by Bob & Doug McKenzie with Geddy Lee plays]
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill coming to you from the Hot Docs Podcast Festival in Toronto, and this is episode 32 of Intercepted.
All right, as you’re listening at home or in your devices wired to everyone’s head, you can hear that we have a fantastic live audience here in Toronto, Canada, at the Hot Docs Theater. Let’s hear it from the audience to everybody listening at home.
We have an incredible, incredible lineup of guests, and I was trying to conceive of this show as kind of an educational session for people in the United States about some of the stories in Canada that don’t often make it on to our news media. And we have Desmond Cole in the House tonight.
JS: As Trump would say, we have somebody I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about lately, named Naomi Klein.
JS: We have the hip-hop artist, formerly known as The Narcicyst, now just Narcy, who’s going to be performing for us and joining us.
JS: Before we get started, I want to just say a few words about the state of the United States and the world in this Trump moment.
As many of you know, we have this very colorful president — actually, just one color, he’s orange. But, he is a very dangerous individual on a number of levels: We have the threat that Trump keeps tweeting and stating of wiping the country of North Korea off the map. It’s a country of 25 million people. Trump just stripped the ability of millions of poor people in the United States to have health care. They are trying to take away access to abortion from women, because his vice president Mike Pence is a theo-conservative, he is a Christian jihadist, who is a Christian supremacist and actually he does call his wife, “Mother,” Mike Pence.
And within this administration you have some very sophisticated neocons that believe in the redrawing of maps, combined then, with a predator toward women, who is a reality show host, who is one of the thinnest-skinned humans walking the planet.
And that combination — this is not just, “Oh, it’s so funny, look at the stupid thing that Trump said recently or tweeted recently.” There’s a lot of that. And it would be easy to get sucked in the vortex of just laughing our way through the misery. But the stakes are so high for every country in the world.
And in our political context in the United States right now, the Democratic Party, and its most prominent members, are engaged in a rebranding of some of the most dangerous entities in the U.S. government: the CIA, the FBI, the military, the National Security Agency. The Democrats are doubling and tripling down on this idea that the deep state or these intelligence entities or the military is going to protect the Republic from Trump.
At the same time you have Trump who has no political experience, has no idea how the Congress works. In fact, I want to reporter some time to ask Trump to name any amendment to the U.S. Constitution except the Second Amendment, and describe what it says. Because I actually think, he probably would misstate the First Amendment, he would know it was something about speech, but I guarantee you, he doesn’t understand that it’s restricting the government from going after the freedom of speech of the citizens. Second Amendment, of course, is the one that makes us a country of gun nuts. None of the other amendments that have to do with, you know, search and seizure, or, — he may know about taking the Fifth, you know, because he may have to do that at some point.
JS: But you have this guy who truly does seem on some levels to be an imbecile, and does not engage in any sort of effective oversight from the executive branch of these entities: the CIA, the FBI, etc.
He’ll criticize the FBI because they’re investigating him. He didn’t like James Comey, because Comey, ultimately at the end, wouldn’t go along with the agenda, but let’s be clear here: The FBI ran the COINTELPRO Program in the United States that was targeted black activists, targeting the antiwar movement, trying to destroy grassroots movements. That FBI today is still engaged with racial profiling, tarring people with the brush of terrorism, maintaining watch lists, harassing people at their homes, conducting night raids, engaging in fictitious terror plots that then result in the arrest of vulnerable people — that still remains the FBI. Those are not the protectors of the Republic.
So, on the one side, you have the Democrats pouring praise into the bucket of the national security state in the United States, and, on the other hand, you have a president that has no idea how to oversee anything they’re doing, and talks all the time about how he loves the generals — he just loves his generals.
This is a golden era for the CIA, the U.S. military and the FBI, thanks not just to Donald Trump, but also to the Democratic Party in the United States. And we’re going to talk about some of this with our guests, and also see if there is any analog in Canada to some of what we’re seeing unfolding right now, with His Royal Orangeness.
The first guest that I want to bring on is a very dear friend of mine, her books “No Logo” and “The Shock Doctrine” both exploded like the moral equivalent of a bomb in taking on powerful corporations and powerful government institutions and going after vultures who pray on the most vulnerable people, nations, and communities. And her latest book is called “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.” Please join me in welcoming Naomi Klein. [Audience applause]
JS: We had wanted Chelsea Manning to be here, but the Canadian government will not allow her to come in to Canada.
JS: I want to begin by welcoming Naomi Klein, who is speaking out in an effort to try to get Trudeau to change that policy so that Chelsea Manning can come here. But first, welcome to Intercepted.
Naomi Klein: Thank you, Jeremy. And welcome to my hometown. It’s so great to have you here. Yeah!
JS: Just your thoughts on this. Trudeau is portrayed as, you know, sort of this liberal and the conventional wisdom would have been, “Oh, of course he would welcomed someone like Chelsea Manning into Canada.” I mean that was, I think was a large part of the perception in the United States. What’s behind Trudeau saying, “No,” Chelsea Manning, — who is a whistleblower that had been sentenced to 35 years in prison and had her, a large portion of her sentence commuted by President Obama — why would Trudeau do this?
NK: Well presumably because they don’t want to antagonize Trump. You know, I think it shows a moral cowardice on their part. Especially this week you know, you said Jeremy, how high the stakes are. They seem to get higher every week. But for us as Canadians watching Justin Trudeau just sit quietly by as Trump threatens to pull licenses from broadcasters. Meanwhile, he seems to think that flirting with Ivanka Trump is a foreign policy.
And, meanwhile Canada has barred entry to Chelsea Manning, who wanted to be in this country, wanted to be speaking, having meetings, doing human rights work, speaking out for trans rights. She has served her time. She is not a threat to public safety. It would actually not be that courageous a move to let her come here. Obama determined that she deserved her freedom, and that freedom should include coming to Canada and speaking on stages like this.
So, I think it’s to our great shame that she was not invited here. But I think that, for Canadians, it’s not all that shocking, right, from what we have seen from this government, which is a lot of memes, right? A lot of marketing. You know Trudeau and Trump, they have very different brands, but frankly, they’re both all about the brands. They both really like photo-bombing weddings. They have stuff in common.
JS: Just one other note on Chelsea Manning, it’s not just Canada that is not allowing her in. Harvard University had originally offered her a fellowship and then after Mike Morrell, who was the former acting director of the CIA, and is at a separate program at Harvard, Mike Morell writes this letter saying that he’s resigning and goes on a tirade against Chelsea Manning and Harvard: in an almost real-time instant takes away the fellowship from Chelsea Manning and yet gives one to Sean Spicer, the former propagandist for, and current — well, he’s still a propagandist for Trump but he used to be the official propagandist for Trump. Now he’s the unofficial propagandist for Trump.
But this is part, and this what I want to ask —
NK: It’s worth reminding people, Jeremy, how important Chelsea’s bravery was and continues to be. I mean she blew the whistle on the targeting of civilians, on the targeting of journalists. It was a very, very specific act.
JS: And the dirty deeds that the U.S. State Department was conducting across the globe: hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and they’ve never been able to pin a single loss of life on anything that was leaked by Chelsea Manning. But the people who did the torturing, who were part of the torture programs, are getting posts at universities in the United States.
General Stanley McChrystal the former head of JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, is at Yale University. John Brennan, former head of the CIA and an apologist for the torture program and career CIA, is at both the University of Texas and Fordham.
Admiral William McRaven, another JSOC commander, runs the University of Texas system. David Petraeus, the list goes on and on and on.
And so, you expose torture, you get disinvited from the elite university —
NK: You commit it!
JS: But you commit torture and it’s like, “Welcome on board the faculty, the staff lounge is over there, General.”
NK: Yeah and Harvard apologizes for momentarily acting in good conscience, and with morality. And it’s extraordinary, right? My understanding is that the reason why Chelsea has not been allowed to travel to Canada is because they said that if she had committed these acts in Canada it would be treason. Right?
You know, for me this is particularly painful because this was not treason, this was an act of tremendous courage, of whistleblowing, of war resistance. And I think it’s worth remembering that Trudeau’s father, who I don’t want to hold up as this absolute hero, but he did say that Canada should be a refuge from militarism, that Canada should be a refuge of militarism, he said that during the Vietnam War. And it was under that banner that thousands of Vietnam War Resisters were able to come to this country, including my parents. [Audience applause]
NK: So, things are getting less courageous with time and I think it’s a reminder that we do have options. You know, I think a lot of Canadians are accepting this idea that all we can do is just roll over in the face of the kind of atrocities that we’re seeing from the Trump Administration, because we’re so weak. But it wasn’t always this way.
JS: Well, and also in the world that we live in right now and the nature of technology and warfare, Canada cannot say that its hands are clean of the bloodletting that the U.S. is engaged in around the world. I saw the recent reports of Canadian military assistance and support going to Saudi Arabia, you know, Saudi Arabia is in the process of obliterating the nation of Yemen. It is one of the most anti-Democratic nations in the world, and it is being militarily supported by Trudeau’s government. By Canada. Canada participated in the U.S. kidnapping and torture of Maher Arar at JFK Airport, and never really has fully, no one’s been ever held fully accountable for the kidnapping and torture of Maher Arar.
Canada is deeply involved with American wars across the globe, through these various partnerships with the NSA, with the U.S. military, and just because Canadian boots are not on the ground doesn’t mean that the blood of people across the world isn’t on the Canadian government’s hands, as well.
NK: And the boots, the boots are often on the ground, as they were in Afghanistan, and, you know, even the example that I cited, which is an example I think that as Canadians we should be proud of, it’s not a complete story, because Canada was producing and exporting massive amounts of Agent Orange, even as we were claiming, “Well, you know, we’re not participating in this war.”
So, Canada’s record is, you know, Canada’s marketing pretty consistently doesn’t live up.
JS: I want to bring another guest into this conversation. I know that, to this crowd here, our next guest is a household name. For those of you following along at home, Desmond Cole is a journalist, he’s an activist, he may be the next mayor of Toronto? [Audience cheers and applause]
JS: Desmond Cole, come up and join us here. [Audience cheers and applause] Desmond, of course, is the writer of a very popular column at The Toronto Star — Oh no. No. Wait! [Audience laughter.] He’s not a columnist at The Toronto Star. Desmond, first welcome to Intercepted, and why aren’t you, why aren’t you a columnist at The Toronto Star?
Desmond Cole: Yeah, welcome indeed! I left. I quit. And I quit because I staged a political protest at a police services board meeting, the police oversight for our city police force. I staged protest in April. After I did that I received a message from my boss saying he wanted to talk to me at The Toronto Star. I went in to talk to him and he said that the protest that I had staged was against The Toronto Star’s rules for all writers, including freelance columnists like myself. They did not say they were going to have any consequence for what I did. They did not even say what the consequence would be if I did it again. The piece of paper that was printed out for me, helpfully, by my boss at the time, Andrew Phillips, stated that you can be fired for these things.
So, the message, Canadian style, was very clear. [Laughter from the audience]. This is how we say “shut up” in Canadian.
And I didn’t want to be told to shut up. I was very proud to write for a year and a half for the Star. I think I did some good work there. I know I definitely brought a big following to their newspaper. But I won’t be bullied for standing up for myself and other black people in this country. So, I left. [Audience applause].
JS: You know, Desmond, I’ve been following your work and you are the best kind of disruptor of the so-called good order that we have in humanity, the kinds of people who are not afraid to be the person in the room that everyone is saying, “Why is this person ruining our good time at the press conference?” [Audience laughter]
DC: It’s never a good time though, is the funny thing, right? You see them sitting sour faced at these police services board meetings, like they don’t even want to be there, and then they act angry when you bring a little spice to the thing, you know? [Audience laughter]
JS: So, for people that don’t know the inside joke here between you and the audience about the Canadian media, there is a very serious issue that is at the core of why you’re doing this, and I think that this may come as news to a lot of people in the United States: That in Canada there are similar conditions faced by black and brown people in this country with law enforcement, with the police, with surveillance, with lack of accountability when people are assaulted, wrongly.
One of the cases that actually resulted in, not an officer’s arrest but your arrest, happened this July, when you disrupted one of these meetings. And I want to give you an opportunity to explain to everyone the case that spurred you to disrupt this meeting and what happened when you were elected — arrested. Elected? We’re, we’re going to get to that in a minute. Trust me.
When you were arrested. So, lay that out, Desmond.
DC: When I got arrested, I get arrested a lot at police headquarters. So, oh, by the way for everybody listening in America, in Toronto, the police oversight meets inside the police headquarters, it’s really interesting. And then it’s really easy to arrest you there.
JS: Don’t give Trump any ideas.
DC: Yeah, I know, right? I want to get to that theme later, though, that Americans could actually, and do, learn a lot about how to repress people from us. Because that’s, that’s how we flip the script, right? That’s what’s really going on a lot of the time. But when I got arrested in April, I was protesting a police practice called “carding.” We colloquially have given it that name in the communities because it’s like, “Where’s your ID card?” So, it’s police officers in our country, in the province of Ontario here, and in Toronto, everywhere in the surrounding Toronto area, it’s the practice of police officers, stopping people, who, according to them are not suspected of any crime. There’s no probable cause here, there’s no, “we saw you doing this or that,” stopping these individuals and requesting that they give identification, “carding,” and then taking that information and storing it in police databases.
This activity really started to ramp up after what’s colloquially called the “Summer of the Gun” in Toronto in 2005, where the strategy was: there’s a lot of shootings happening, there were a couple that were quite fatal, a lot of casualties. And the response from police in Toronto was: let’s flood these areas with police, let’s have the police presence off the charts and these are mainly areas where black and brown people in the city of Toronto live.
This turned into a practice of, well now that we’re here, let’s start mass collecting information and keeping it so that we know who it’s like all about the gangs, right? So, the gang members need to be tracked, so if we know who their sister is, if we know who their best friend is — heck, if we know who is around them in kind of this fear that we can create like, Wire-style, where we have the pictures posted up on the board then we can get to these folks.
Now, you suck up all of that information and you get people who have absolutely nothing to do with the minuscule group of so-called gang members that you claim that you’re going after. In Toronto, you ask police: “How many gang members are there in Toronto?” “Oh, about two or three thousand.” “But how many people have been carded?” The police collected about 1.2 million of these contact cards in the span of, I believe, three years, when this practice was at its height. Like, are you going into baby strollers? Like, who are you asking for identification?
JS: What data is included on those cards?
DC: Everything collected under carding, including your name, obviously your physical stats: How much do you weigh? How tall are you? But then we get into the stuff like your associations, so they actually had a section on this form that said “young person information,” where they knowingly documented the information of minors, including whether or not their parents were married or divorced. And I believe that that particular field was, again, this idea of we can track your parents’ last names, if your parents have different last names, we know everything about you. Right? They are doing this to children, but they’re primarily doing this to you young black men in the city of Toronto.
There’s lots of groups who are being over represented in this activity. People with disabilities, people with mental health issues, indigenous people in the city of Toronto, people who generally living in poor neighborhoods, racialized people of different backgrounds. But black men, black men, there are estimates and stats from The Toronto Star that in some neighborhoods, you would have actually collected more contact cards than there are black men in the neighborhood, between ages of about 18 and 35.
So we’re all in these databases.
Our current mayor promised, after supporting this effort for years, promised that he was going to fix things. He referenced my name the day that he said he had changed his mind. And I went and stood up in April, because that practice continues in an altered form, in an altered way and the police still have in their possession years, and years, of data on innocent people who they can then refer back to this information at any time for God knows what.
And we know that people have lost job opportunities over these kinds of information being shared through background checks for employment and things like this. We know that people have been turned down opportunities at school because they want to work with a vulnerable sector, and, again, this information comes up.
And it’s like, “We didn’t say you did anything criminal, but just to be safe now that we have all this documentation about you, we say no.” I’ve written stories about people who lost their jobs this way.
I protested in April because that was going on. It hasn’t stopped. Our media is asleep. Stalling tactics really, really work in this city and in this province and in this country, as they do everywhere, and when you say you’re going to do something and it doesn’t affect a great many people’s lives who have power and authority, they just believe you and let, let it go and then months later when you see me with my fist up in the police station, people are like, “Well, what’s he on about?”
That’s why I protested in April. I protested in July and got arrested for real. I only got escorted out by four armed police officers in April. I got arrested in July, because July was the first police services board meeting after one of the most appalling discoveries of police collusion over an incident of brutality that we’ve ever seen in this city.
A young man by the name of Dafonte Miller, 19 years-old, is going through the neighborhood of Whitby, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto,, with two friends on an evening in December. They walked by the residence of a senior Toronto police sergeant, I don’t know if he’s a sergeant, senior Toronto police official, let me put it that way, this official works in the Toronto police service, his house is in Whitby. And his job among others is to make sure that if somebody hurts a member of the public who is a police officer or is believed to have hurt a member of the public, his job as a Toronto police officer is he calls the provincial oversight and they start investigating.
So, these three boys walking by that police officer’s house. His son, who is also a police officer, and his other son, are sitting in the garage. These two white men, seeing these three black kids walking by them start asking a whole bunch of questions about where they’re going. This man is a cop, but he’s off-duty. The kids, after a while, are like, “We don’t have to talk to you, we don’t know who you are, we’re going on our way.” These two men get out of the garage and chase these three kids, two of them get away, Dafonte Miller does not. These men are armed with a pipe, a metal pipe, and they beat Dafonte, breaking bones in his jaw, breaking bones in his upper body, damaging his left eye so badly that it has to now — is scheduled to be removed from his face.
The Durham police force, where this occurs, arrive, and see this young man beaten so very badly and see two white men standing there saying, “He tried to attack us.” And they lay five charges on Dafonte Miller and let these two men go home. The Toronto police were alerted by the Durham police that night, and they let this man Michael Theriault, go back into the streets of Scarborough to police a neighborhood full of black people and gave him his gun and said, “Go.”
And it was only seven months later, after the Dafonte Miller’s lawyer contacted the oversight because, circling back to the dad whose house this all happened in front of, somehow the Toronto police didn’t call the SIU, the oversight, to say a police officer hurt someone and you need to investigate. Somehow the father of these two young men who were involved in this crime, who have now been charged, and the charges on Dafonte dropped — somehow he and his colleagues didn’t alert the oversight.
And, of course, now there are allegations that the father was actively involved in covering up his son’s crime. Surprise, surprise.
So, I got arrested. Because it occurs to me that you can call me a journalist, you can call me an activist, these distractive conversations, like, so we don’t have to get to the issue. I don’t care what you call me. Someone has to stand up when, in July, after we learned that, the police services board in Toronto has a meeting, and that’s not on the agenda. And that’s why I went there, knowing that I would probably get arrested and I was, And I was told, “You’re trespassing on a public property. And if you come back to the public property, we will arrest you again.” And I said, “Here are my hands! Put the cuffs on me if you need to, and I will be back.” And I was back in August with 150 people and it was interesting how I walked in the door.
But, I don’t know what we’re going to do, whatever we call ourselves, if we’re not willing to stand up to an oversight, a so-called police oversight, that can see these things happening, and not act, not raise the alarm, say “we’re looking into it,” and then again, nothing for months now, we haven’t heard about Dafonte Miller from this board.
I do disrupt when I see that questions like these are not being answered. I’m putting myself at risk, I guess, but I could be walking down the street and have this happen anyway. And it’s been me many times. It’s been many of people in our community many times.
I’ve gotten to a place in my career, even though I am no longer a Toronto Star columnist, where I can use the influence that I have to dare them to treat me the way they’re not afraid of treating so many of us. And I don’t think it’s going to end well for me, I honestly don’t. Like, I can’t win this fight the way I’m doing it but, when somebody comes up with a better idea I’m listening. [Audience applause and cheering]
JS: We’re going to be joined by the musical artist that is now going to make his words known in a different kind of a way. His name is Narcy.[Audience applause]
[Narcy — “We Are on The Verge.”]
Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman: How’s everybody feeling tonight? Make some noise for The Intercept, everybody, make some noise. Naomi Klein, Desmond Cole, Jeremy Scahill. My name is Yassin, I’m a Montrealer, it’s good to be in Toronto tonight. And I believe in a better world. You know? I recently had children and, I have no choice but to believe in a better world, as hard as it may be. A world war-free. We appreciate your eyes and your ears and your hearts and your time for being with us. This next song is called, “Free.”
[Narcy — “Free”]
One day, One Day, One Day, One Day, One Day. Free! Free! We are free. Free. Worldwide!
Yeah, we immigrant youth, North American roots, supernatural proof, international truth, super hero salute, all of my people aloof.
What do you choose? A bullet or noose? Why do we live and pollute, then clean and remove?
Forgive me, I lose track, most of my people are under attack. Trying to breathe, smothered in gas, working a shift, pumping your gas, driving a cab, paying a tax, laying their countries flat, open a Laundromat, what’s wrong with that?
Everything’s relative, self in development. Right? And he’s steady been digging the plan, give him an inch, and he’s taking the land. Everyone scared to be sticking the Man. Must be that taste of Freedom, what do you think it takes to beat him? He’s the cheater, there’s no trust in that. I don’t even think this country loves me back.
So, I believe.
For our children’s children.
One day, we are free. Free.
We are the native sons and daughters, we are the brave and hunted.
We are the same, we are amazing, we are the hated, we are the favorite, we are the change, we are the sacred, we are the strange, we either came on a boat or a plane, both of them harbored the pain. We are the master, we are the slave, cast out in the rain, we selfless, and helpless, and vain, and selfish, the pain, the shooter, the victim, we are the home, we are the drone, we are the fear, we are the near, because we’re the reflection in the mirror. Yeah!
We are the people, we are the equal, we are the past, we are the sequel, we are the never, we’re there forever, we live in hell or we’re living in heaven, honestly can’t even tell you the difference. Cause and effect, ’cause we blessed. I also believe that we should be the best.
So I wanna hear you on the count of three, say it with me, say free. I said, “One, two, three.” Free.
I need to hear everybody in the room say it like you mean it. Free!
For our children’s children’s children. Free!
Worldwide! We will be free.
[Audience applause and cheering]
YA: We are the native sons and daughters, we are the brave and hunted. We are the same, we are amazing, we are the hated, we are the favorite, because we are the change. We either came on a boat or a plane and both of those harbored the pain. We are the master, we are the slave, we are the cast out in the rain. We are the selfish, we are the helpless, we are the vain. We are the selfless, we are the pain. We are the shooter, we are the victim, we are the home, we are the drone. We are the fear, we’re the reflection in the mirror. Yeah! We are the people, we are the sequel, we are the past, the present. We are the never, we’re the forever. We live in hell or we livin’ in heaven. I honestly can’t even tell you the difference. See, we are the cause and we are the effect. But I also believe that we could be the best. And one day, we may be free. Thank you, guys. [Audience applause and cheering]
JS: Alright, that is Narcy, also known as Yassin Alsalman. In addition to being a hip hop artist, Narcy is also spearheading a multimedia effort that’s a collective called The Medium. He also, in his spare time, he’s a professor at Concordia University, and he’s a Juno-nominated music video director. And he, there’s an amazing video, it’s one of my favorite semi-current videos that Narcy directed that features, A Tribe Called Red, and Yasiin Bey/Mos Def. And it’s some of the most brilliant storytelling through music and visuals that I’ve seen of late and so, you know, big gratitude to you for the work that you’ve done.
YA: Thank you, thank you man. Big gratitude to you, man.
JS: And welcome to Intercepted.
YA: Thank you for having me.
JS: So, I want to ask you about the different worlds that you kind of straddle: The academic world, the hip-hop world, but also navigating life in a post-9/11 world, and in an environment where Muslims, Arabs, like Desmond was talking about, the situation of black people in Canada right now, with the carding.
You also live an existence where you, too, are a target regardless of which side of the border you’re on, between Canada and the United States. Can you talk about the navigation of those worlds and the struggles.
YA: I just shave my beard wherever I go, so I don’t get in trouble. But I mean, I think that it’s necessary to hit on all angles, which is one of the main reasons why we put the collective together. Everybody in the collective comes together like Voltron. We all do something different, so together, it’s the whole gamut of creation, right?
But, as an artist, I started in 2001, with a group called Euphrates, we’re three Iraqis that came to Canada around the same time. And I was studying political science and then 9/11 happened and I got really disillusioned with the department so I started doing communication studies, and we all went into that department and started recording late night. And when the music really picked up, obviously, you know, being Iraqi and the war, they started covering us a lot more in Canadian media. But it was really like, “These are the safe — look at these Iraqis, they can make music.” You know? It wasn’t like it was in a dissection of the music. It was the story, right?
So then when I started going to the States, obviously I’ve been detained at borders, I’ve done a video about it, it’s a very regular occurrence in our community, but what blows my mind is that wherever I land and once I get out of that border office, an Arab guy or an African guy picks me up and takes me to the next location. You walk out the cinema, they’re selling falafels. Like, we’re everywhere. You know? You can’t really catch us anymore. [Audience laughter]
YA: So, I just navigate it, man. I mean it’s really become a part of what I do and just let it inform the work and the way you give it back to people is to code it with a bit of humor or sarcasm for people to go — “Oh! Oh. That’s just kind of —” you know, like to feel weird about how they feel, right?
JS: We premiered a Narcy track on our podcast earlier this year, about —
YA: That’s what got him fired, by the way.
JS: Yeah, that’s why Steve Bannon is no longer in the White House. And you can you can check that out, too, on the podcast website. That was a big hit with our audience, too, and, well, let’s just say for purposes of this discussion, you’re the one that forced Steve Bannon out of the White House. Let’s see who comes after him, though, and if they are any better or worse.
Right now, you have Donald Trump saying that, you know, he’s in the process of destroying ISIS. Your native country of Iraq is being — parts of it are being obliterated, in the U.S.-led war that’s supposedly against ISIS. You also have sectarian groups that have been empowered by the post-U.S. invasion realities in Iraq that are also acting like murderous thugs, and, sort of, gangsters and some of them built up by the United States.
We have massive outpouring of refugees, people fleeing their home countries and trying to make their way to Europe or other places where they feel that they can have safety. When you watch what’s happened to Iraq from the Saddam era, where the U.S. was selling him weapons, when he was at his most brutal, to the sanctions imposed by Clinton, you know, that was economic warfare against the people of Iraq, to then the invasion, and occupation, and then the encouraging of sectarian division, and now this war with no heroes, no good guys, that the U.S. is continuing to pour fire on.
It seems like no end in sight, but what is it like for you as you watch this, what are you paying attention to? What are the feelings that it stirs up in you? I’m sure a lot of diaspora people are feeling like: Hopeless.
YA: Well, you know, back when I believed in the Illuminati, you know, I used to do a lot of research. When the Internet was slower.
YA: And I discovered this thing called the PNAC, The Project for a New American Century. And back then, you know, you look at the map and the way they drew out the Arab world and all these plans that they had for the Arab world, which felt very farfetched at the time. Right? but then as you as you watch the last decade and a half pass by, it became a reality. Right? They just did it really slowly and like, you know took their time with it, changed faces, put on different gloves.
So, at first it felt like a whirlwind of emotions. Right, it’s anger, sadness, you want justice. And then as I got older, I realized, you know, this might just be some sort of a universal karmic moment. Like, our region had its time during the Mesopotamian era, and they weren’t great either, but maybe we’re just watching this change happening in the region slowly. But now, as I watch it now, you know, everything is gone. What do we have left, besides the Gulf? And why is the Gulf still there? You know, you’ve got to ask yourself these questions.
It’s a lot to process so I try to just know that, you know, there’s a bigger plan and it’s like a 20, 30-year plan, and we’re watching it unfold slowly, and to not jump on every boat that passes by and just really inform myself from people on the ground, journalists, creatives on the grounds, filmmakers on the ground. Like, what is really happening back home? How can we get involved? And really just hand to hand with kids and help kids that need surgery, and, you know, that’s really all we can do at this point. It’s just been a 30-year war, you know?
JS: Naomi, you wrote and excellent article as you first started covering Iraq called “Baghdad Year Zero,” and you were talking about, just to echo some of what Yassin is saying, these economic neoliberal policies merging together, with war profiteering, with that neo-conservative agenda, with the ideas that were laying around from the University of Chicago school of thought about these issues. As you look back now on when you first embarked on covering Iraq and looking at what the consequences of the U.S. invasion were going to amount to, what’s your current analysis of what’s happening there?
NK: I think having that history is so important, especially because, and this is something you’ve talked about recently on the show, is the way in which some of the architects of the Project for a New American Century have now reinvented themselves as Never Trump-ers and have been embraced by liberal elites in the United States.
JS: Including the proud Canadian David Frum, who gave us the “Axis of Evil” speech.
NK: Who gave us the “Axis of Evil” speech. And we are in their architecture, right? I mean, you know, whether it’s North Korea, you know, or Iraq and I think we need to remember that because there is this incredible ahistorical narrative that everything around Trump reinforces this idea of exceptionalism. Right? Which is in some way why he is the perfect American president, right? You know, because this is a country that stands for exceptionalism and impunity through wealth and power and isn’t that Donald Trump’s brand?
And there is this way in which is, they are a perfect fit. Right? I have impunity on my mind right now. And I feel like it’s the crime that unites all crimes, whether it’s sexual abuse of women and harassment, whether it is theft of indigenous lands, whether it is the mercenary armies that you write about, Jeremy. I mean, it is all about these, mostly men, who believe that because of their sheer brute force and wealth, and maybe their celebrity, they get to grab whoever, wherever, whatever they want. You know?
Donald Trump, you know, he talks about grabbing women’s pussies, he also talks about how we should have grabbed Iraq’s oil. And I guess for me, when I look at this and when I look at my earlier work on Iraq, one of the things that I think we didn’t concentrate enough on was the climate implications of all of this, right? We knew it was a war that had a lot to do with oil. We knew Iraq wouldn’t have been invaded if their, you know, major export was asparagus — who said that, was it Greenspan? I mean they always admit it after the fact, right?
But I think what’s happening now in the region is that we see so clearly, or we should see so clearly, right, we live in this era of overlapping and intersecting crises. We can’t pry them apart, right? And the major driver of militarism around the world has been the quest for fossil fuels in the modern era, and that is the major driver of climate change. And now we have this cruel irony that the area has been looted for its fossil fuels also happens to be one of the driest areas on Earth, right? So now we have the added layer of the climate change kicking in that is the impact of stealing all that oil. And so that becomes a driver or an accelerant, right? It’s not the reason for civil war in Syria, but it certainly was an accelerant — having a million and a half people on the move in the midst of a historic drought.
JS: Desmond, you mentioned before the break that the United States also has learned lessons from Canada in some of the ways that it operates at home and around the world. What did you mean by that?
DC: I mean I really agreed with Naomi’s earlier comments about the branding and about how we are all about creating this image of ourselves, it’s almost, it is a meme, it’s a stereotype, it’s joke, but then there are so many like, really sinister things that are going on underneath.
And I guess when I think about that, I just think of like the way that Canada and the United States over the years have traded strategies for repressing black people, strategies for oppressing indigenous people, that this isn’t just like a — and not just America, so like, where did South Africa get its ideas around Apartheid. By looking at the way that we had segregated, and created residential schools for, and dispossessed indigenous peoples here of their land, and saying “we can use these kinds of ideas.”
Canada it is not this puppy dog that everybody wants to pretend that it is. It’s not this — it’s weird to have kind of one of your symbols of your country be like, this big burly white guy who was a police officer, but like we’ve managed to turn even that into this like, charming, cute, you know, the Mounties are this symbol of something of a joke, when they cleared this land of indigenous peoples who were here before them.
So, I just think that there’s an exchange maybe it’s clear to say that there is an exchange of all of these ideas, and colonialism and white supremacy, going on between Canada, the United States, Britain.
DC: Israel. Australia.
You know when we talk about our immigration stuff that’s going on right now, right, like we are watching things like, “OK, Muslim ban in the United States, right?” And, as Naomi said, we’re kind of just looking, and being like, “Oh, that’s interesting. It’s not happening here! If you’re Muslim and you’re from Canada, we will exempt you from this horrible person’s policies. We won’t challenge him on the policy. No. That’s not our job. Our job is to — I don’t know.
But certainly, the world is going to end if we challenge Donald Trump. That’s the idea. That’s the underlying idea, no matter who’s in power here, is that we don’t really have any agency to intervene and yet in those moments where we decide to take a completely different track from the United States, like, Canada doesn’t get blown up.
And ICE officials come over to Canada and train our immigration officials about how to intimidate and terrify people in this country — there is an exchange going on here. It’s not about, now with the Trump business, everything is, “Oh, well, that’s going to come across the border to Canada and infect us like the plague,” as if we haven’t been doing this for two centuries plus on this land already, to black people, to indigenous people, to other racialized groups of people, Japanese internment in Canada, Chinese head tax in Canada, Sikhs not allowed to come in and be immigrants in Canada and turn back from the Komagata Maru.
We’ve been doing this. We know how to do this. And the idea that the Americans need to teach us is ridiculous.
NK: I know that, you know, you guys in the U.S. have your hands full with your own problems right now, but I think that it’s important to understand that one of the ways in which Trump is a menace is the way in which he lowers the bar internationally, right?
He’s so awful, that anybody looks good by comparison.
JS: I mean, anything short of him like actually throwing his own feces at a crowd is like, “He looks mighty presidential!”
NK: Exactly. So, I mean you’re experiencing that in the U.S., but we experience that outside the U.S., as well, right, where our leaders get away with murder just because they’re never going to be as bad as Trump, but that’s just not good enough. Right? I mean you see this with Macron — [Audience cheers]
So, you know I’ve been trying to challenge folks where Michelle Obama had that great line at the at the DNC, where she said: “When they go low, we go high.” Right? She was talking about tone and I don’t care at all about tone, I could care less, as you can tell. But I do think that we should be applying that not to tone, but to deeds that, as the U.S. goes rogue, as Washington goes rogue, everywhere these guys don’t control we need to use our maximum power and demand so much more of ourselves and of our governments. Right?
NK: And whether that’s climate change, refugee rights, you know, anti-racism indigenous rights, and also, within the U.S., right? In cities and states that Trump does not control. And there are plenty of them. We have to do more, right? And so, this is what the way in which I think we need to be really holding the Trudeau government to account. Sorry, sending out a meme that says refugees welcome is not good enough when they’re not. You know?
DC: But exactly, so that got sent out and in the wake of all of this panic, I’d say about immigration changes in the United States, Trudeau capitalizes by sending out a message saying, “If you want to come here, you’re welcome!”
So, one of the big groups that have been coming here by the hundreds, are Haitians who are afraid of provisions of the their being able to stay in the United States, which are about to expire. And so, Haitians, among others in the world, hear our prime minister’s message: You can come here, you can be safe. And they’ve been coming by the hundreds across the border, in a place near Lacolle, Québec. They’ve been coming for several weeks now. Not only Haitian immigrants, but many of them Haitians.
Little do they know, however, that a moratorium under, that’s right, the Harper government that stopped deportations back to Haiti has been lifted by the current government.
So Haitians, ironically, are running here thinking that it might be safe because of messages from our Prime Minister and you see in the media this idea, that, “Oh, well, they must be spreading false information amongst their communities.”
No, you’re prime minister. This is his brand. This is how he sells it, even if he doesn’t mean it. Because, what’s going to happen is, Haitians will have a chance to be deported from Canada, instead of having a chance to be deported from the United States.
That’s basically what’s going on right now. So like, this branding exercise is so dangerous, and that’s why I resent this light, fluffy harmless Canada thing that we keep wanting to try to do, because it’s so dangerous. [Audience applause]
JS: So, I was reading this poll that indicated that you would do pretty well in a mayoral race. [Audience applause and cheers]
JS: I’m not going to be that guy who’s going to waste people’s time by trying to have a back and forth about: “Are you going to run?” If you decided to run for mayor, what would you run on, what would your platform be.
NK: Totally hypothetically.
DC: Between me and you and the hundreds of people in this room and the probably hundreds of thousands of your listeners. But only us!
JS: Yeah. Just us.
DC: Because, I’m just working on this stuff, I don’t know. I don’t want to give you some kind of platform, because I honestly don’t know. I don’t — I don’t, what I want to say is.
JS: Why would you do it and what would you be about if you were doing it?
DC: I would do it because I would like to, and people have asked, “Well, why don’t you run for council instead of running for mayor?” which I’m not that interested in.
If I was to do it, it would be to try and challenge the limits of courageous reform in municipal government and just to see what happened. I can’t believe how satisfied we are with these one-candidate elections where you always have to vote for candidate A, and you can never vote for candidate B, because Candidate C is sitting right here waiting for the two of you to duke it out and sneak up the middle. And the candidate who always gets asked to sit out: Olivia Chow, My friend Karen Sun, when she ran for office four years before, a woman of color, a Chinese woman, wait two years for Jagmeet Singh, who maybe your listeners have never heard of yet, but he’s the new leader of our new Democratic Party, which is the third party in government here.
JS: I think a lot of people saw the video where he had a racist woman that was, that was verbal assaulting him. But then it went all over the place because he said, “ love is the way, we love you.”
DC: I actually might get back into that, too, but like. Because that was, that was a thing, that was a thing, that was a thing.
JC: I’m just reminding people that, that was that video.
DC: I’m saying that in two years that’s what’s going to happen to Jagmeet Singh is that people are going to say, “Well you can’t vote for Jagmeet Singh, because then the conservatives will win.”
So we always have these situations, where Mayor Tory got in that way, where Justin Trudeau benefited from that dynamic, where the so-called centrist candidate is always the only person you can vote for to prevent the worst from happening.
Where I want to present a real agenda, completely away from all that kind of politics, I want to present an agenda that puts people who are being left behind right now in — everywhere — I want to put them first and I want to see what it would look like.
So I’m talking about things like our current mayor can find millions of extra dollars to patch a highway, the Gardiner Expressway, that is crumbling and that is just soaking up more and more of our money every year in repairs. I want to find that same amount of money and say, “So we have an upgrade happening to all of our transit right now for accessibility.”
And it’s going very slowly. And I’m wondering if you can pour millions of dollars into a highway that is ultimately going to fall to the ground, I would take that same money and I’d speed up the accessibility stuff so that more people can ride the public transit. Right? Like these are the kind of priorities that I want to push and I believe we can do it. But I want to go back into the Jagmeet thing, because it ties into another reason why I’d like to run.
JS: Can I just insert one thing and we only have a few minutes left, and I’m going to let you do that, but I wanted to just point out that in the U.S. right now you do have in a number of municipalities radical or progressives winning mayoral races in pockets across United States, and it actually is one of the ways that slowly some of the American political landscape is being transformed.
So it’s, I mean, you would be in the company of people in this hemisphere that are fighting for big picture change.
NK: And internationally. The mayor of Barcelona, a former housing rights activists who was squatting buildings a few years ago, Ada Colau, and now Barcelona is becoming this laboratory for how much you can do municipally. So, it’s exciting. [Audience applause and cheers]
DC: Yeah, it is. And that relates to my other point, because if the way that Americans know Jagmeet Singh, is that fact that he was at a campaign rally, this is a man who is of the, it’s often pronounced “seek” but I keep being corrected that it is “sick,” he is of the Sikh religion, an Indian minority, and he wears a turban, and so that’s a very visible sign of his faith, and a woman came up to him at a campaign event and began screaming at him about Sharia law — wrong religion. They never care, you know. But what was so sad was that everybody was like, “Wow look how patiently this man whose literal life was at risk by a person who nobody knew and was right in his face, look how calmly and patiently he dealt with her. Look how much he talked about love and about we need to be together on this.”
I’m not criticizing Jagmeet Singh, he had very few options in that scenario that could have gone anywhere near well for him. And if she just decides to outright physically attack him, we’re not talking about how he was loving. OK? Because he wasn’t safe. But those folks who were in that room who were running with a man who is now the first nonwhite leader of a political party in Canada, they needed to know what to do in that situation to protect him and they didn’t know.
That’s going to happen to me when I run — if I run. [Audience applause and cheering]
JS: We got it!
DC: Just as it happened to Olivia Chow three years ago, people standing up at debates and telling her to go back to China. And I want to run in part to build on all of the grassroots stuff that’s happening here in Toronto now. That is talking about how we fight back against these repressive forces, so that it’s not actually about me standing up and putting on a cape. It’s actually about having a community, having a set of communities, who we’re all in consultation, we’re all in lockstep, we’re all going out and supporting each other’s messages, supporting all these interwoven causes from climate to transit to racial inequality. We’re all walking in lockstep, we’re talking, we’re chatting, we’re checking in with each other, we’re protecting each other when somebody comes for one of us. I want to run so that we can start to weave all of those things together in a way that will build something lasting for our city. If I run.
[Audience laughter, applause, and cheers]
JS: I think it would be incredibly exciting if you did run and I think it would be transformative. And so I hope you do. [Audience applause, and cheers]
DC: Ten seconds, can I level with y’all, just ten seconds. I just want to be honest.
JS: What were you just being?!
JS: That’s real politician talk. “Let me just be honest here.” Go ahead.
DC: I’m scared. I honestly fear the amount of naked racism and anger that is allowed to present itself in public in what we call the most multicultural city in the world. I’m scared for asking other people to come and work for me without us having strategies about how we’re going to deal with the emotional, the psychological, the spiritual warfare, I take that really seriously. So that does give me pause.
This is not a sales pitch. I didn’t put my name out there on this poll. They did it. And I have been thinking about this for a long time, but I do it with pause because it’s a lot of collective responsibility that we all have to look after one another. Because if we run a campaign and half of us come out of it with half of ourselves missing, it wasn’t worth it.
JS: Well, I appreciate your candor on that, and given all of the work that you’re doing, you do know the risk. And I’ve really admired the way that you have put yourself between the police force and their conduct and try to say, “This is going to stop or you will be held accountable.” Because there are many people in many societies around the world that do that and I give you a lot of credit for being that person here in Toronto.
DC: Thank you.
JS: We really have to wrap up I want to give Yassin and Naomi a quick moment for closing thoughts, I won’t ask Naomi if she’s going to run against you.
DC: Don’t split the vote.
JS: We’ll start with Yassin, just brief closing comment.
YA: I think just listening to everything we’ve been talking about, you know, what we’re all realizing is that we view nations as separate histories and nations they get deleted as though their history is being deleted, and not ours. But really, whether you take the example of Iraq or any other country, it’s world history that has been deleted and our children will inevitably suffer from that.
And I think what’s happening now in the world and the way power’s being exercised and called out and — they’re just afraid because the so-called minority is now the majority and they can’t win. We’re bigger than everybody. [Audience applause and cheers]
YA: So, come try to get us. We’re just going to form together, and it’s gonna, you can’t control it anymore. You know, so.
JS: Naomi, brief closing comment.
NK: I think when we tell the truth, as you do, on the show, and as The Intercept is commited to, and don’t play party politics, it can feel grim. But the flip side of it is exactly what we’re hearing: There is a new spirit out there, a rising spirit out there, that is committed to truth telling and is committed to fighting for what we actually want, you know?
And you see this, I think it is global, I think it is powered by a generation of young people that didn’t grow up as ideologically indoctrinated. They came of age post-2008 financial crisis where all the neo liberal ideologues have been running for the hills. And they’re like, they wan to fight for all of it, you know? And that is a really powerful moment and I think we can sometimes forget that as scary as what is happening on the right side of the political spectrum is, there are some really exciting things happening on the other side of the political spectrum, too, and we have to give ourselves some credit.
[Audience applause and cheers]
JS: I want to thank my wonderful, excellent, super, super smart guests for joining me here. Yassin Alsalman, also known as Narcy, thank you for being with us on Intercepted.
YA: Thank you, man.
[Audience applause and cheers]
JS: Desmond Cole thank you so much for being with us, and I hope you do run, and I hope you win.
[Audience applause and cheers]
JS: And Naomi Klein, my dear friend, I always say that she is my sister from another mister, thank you for all of your work and thank you for welcoming me so many times here to Toronto
YA: Ok. Make some noise Toronto. Thank you guys for coming out tonight. It’s been a wonderful night.
YA: Make some noise for The Intercept, everybody. Thank you.
[Audience applause and cheers]
JS: And that, that does it for this week’s show.
Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro. [Applause] And our executive producer is Leital Molad. Rick Kwan, we call him “The Chef” mixed the show. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our production assistant and makes all the graphics on our website. Our music, as always, is composed by DJ Spooky.
A special thanks here to the local crew in Toronto, Canada. Thank you to everybody at Hot Docs: Will De Novi. JP Robichaud, did I say that right? Laura Lillepruun, Reem Farag, and Derek Vanderwyk. Our musical guests this week, were Narcy and an incredible duo here, RJ Sachithununthun and Tara Kannangara.
[Audience cheers and applause]
JS: Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill. Thank you very much, Toronto, thank you Hot Docs, thank you to my guests. [Applause]