“To totalitarianism, an opponent is by definition subversive, democracy treats subversives as mere opponents for fear of betraying its principles.”
- Jean Francois Revel, How Democracies Perish, 1983
Since the appalling carnage of the Second World War and the arrival of the military-technical superiority of the Western nations, conflict has taken on different forms as aggressive and belligerent parties have sought to find alternative ways of waging war. At the same time, since the nineteenth century and the advent of political and economic systems hostile to liberal democracy, ideologues have had to find new ways to sap the structures of nation-states so that they can re-order societies along new lines.
One solution for both problems has been a resort to the techniques of subversion.
Liberal democratic societies must be open societies with a wide degree of freedom of expression and belief among their citizens. This has always meant vulnerability to subversion. Many democratic nations have a great deal of difficulty recognizing the existence of subversion, let alone specifically identifying its presence and finding a way to counter it.
It is important to note that while terrorism is always illegal, subversion can run the gamut from complete legality, even acceptance and promotion, to the promotion of actions that in and of themselves involve illegal acts.
Subversion, even when legal, can be a threat to a democratic society and to nation-state authority. What is it? How is it done? More importantly, how is it countered without endangering core democratic principles and the legitimacy of authority?
Subversion: Noun, derivative of the verb ‘subvert’; undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution): an attempt to subvert democratic government. Late Middle English: from Old French subvertir or Latin subvertere, from sub- ‘from below’ + vertere ‘to turn’ -- Oxford Dictionary.
Subversion is inherently divisive; its purpose is to weaken a society. It does so by engaging in the de-legitimization of the societies’ authorities and institutions and/or by cutting out and isolating elements in the wider society. Sometimes, however, because these actions can be indistinguishable from much of what passes as normal political or even commercial discourse, the difference must lie with intention, and this can be very hard to prove.
Members of the political and intellectual elite constantly belittle one other, often in the harshest terms. This is normal and - so long as they can work quietly together when they have to - there is no reason to be alarmed. The subversive represents a viewpoint from outside the conventional framework of politics and seeks to supplant or distort the normal political process with something else.
It is generally understood by those who have written on the subject that subversion is:
Ideological in motivation in that adherents of a largely political mindset will seek to transform a society to accord to their precepts.
Clandestine or deceptive, in that subversives usually tend to conceal some or all of their intentions, organization and methods.
Persuasive rather than coercive, at least until such time as those engaged in it start to take control of the levers of power.
Revolutionary or transformative, the subversive is seldom interested in change (reform, for instance) except as it furthers the goal of a radical transformation of society.
Corrosive in that subversives intend to weaken or undermine existing power relationships and institutions in a society so that they can overthrow it.
Early descriptions of subversion rose out of the study of revolutionary theory, particularly given the pervasive influence of Marxism-Leninism and its related doctrines during the Cold War. Eric Hoffer and Arthur Koestler were leading essayists on the totalitarian movements of the mid-twentieth century and both had an intuitive understanding of how revolutionary theory and subversion worked. Hoffer’s slender book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1951) remains a classic on the psychology of ideology. Koestler is best remembered for a number of works such as his novel Darkness at Noon, the two volumes of his autobiography Arrow in the Blue and The Invisible Writing, and a collection of essays in The Yogi and the Commissar.
After Senator Joseph McCarthy gave anti-communism a foul reputation in the early 1950s (and provided an illustration of the hazards of countering subversion in an atmosphere of witch-hunting), it took some time before the subject of subversion could be revisited. A more clinical and dispassionate look at the phenomenon came from Paul Blackstock’s The Strategy of Subversion: Manipulating the Politics of Other Nations (Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1964) and Frank Kitson’s Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping (Faber and Faber, London, 1971).
Subversion is also similar to terrorism in that it is also hard to define but easy to describe. Like terror, subversion can be an adjunct in warfare (as an element of psychological warfare and propaganda) as a tool of authoritarian government, and as a method in itself, which is discussed here. Again, there are properties and characteristics of subversion that relate to other activities - some of which are legitimate and others much less so.
It is a bad Canadian habit to imagine that such exotic threats as terrorism or subversion are alien to our peaceful society. In the past two hundred years, we have experienced some American-born settlers in Upper Canada who strove to undermine resistance when American invasion loomed in 1812; and we detained a number of German, Italian, and Japanese fascist organizers and supporters who had been active in Canada prior to the outbreak of WW-2. Canada’s Communist parties were deep into subversive activities, ranging from the legal such as forming ‘Peace’ groups aimed at weakening Western military preparedness up to and including espionage. Subversion attended the rise of Quebec nationalism as well as some aspects of the off-and-on aboriginal blockades and demonstrations that have bedevilled Canada for several decades.
The partisans of some of today’s more fervid causes could easily stray into dangerous territory if they are not careful, particularly if they feel the orthodoxy of their beliefs trumps all other concerns.
Subversion is not pleasant. It is, in fact, a form of indirect warfare short of actual open conflict. It can represent a dimension of psychological warfare undertaken by private actors for their own revolutionary aims or by the agents of another nation-state. Subversion can have a major influence on a nation-state’s will to defend itself.
The fundamental difference between terrorism and subversion rests with violence. Terrorism is inherently coercive - the terrorists’ attack implicitly threatens a wider audience and the attacker hopes that fear will compel acquiescence from that audience. The subversive is not inherently coercive; he or she is trying to be inherently persuasive. Therein lies the vast difference that makes the terrorist a criminal while his ideological comrade enjoys in Western countries (although not in all others) a wide degree of latitude.
For the past fifty years, the most successful and therefore most dangerous subversive movement in Canada has been the on-going attempts by the French-speaking supporters of an independent Quebec to break away from Canada. The dismantling of the constitutionally-derived Canadian nation-state remains the goal of those who seek such independence.
Indigenism or Indigene collectivism lies at the heart of the conflict between individual-based liberal democracy and what Canadians call “First Nations”. The two systems are inherently incompatible, hence the creation of aboriginal “reserves” where collectivism could remain dominant. The current attempts by Indigene activists, supported by some Canadian courts, police inaction and a portion of the political class, to impose Indigene collectivist goals on the existing exterior society, is by definition subversive to the existing order.
The same is true in regard to Islamist attempts to transform Canadian culture and law in areas such as free speech, open courts, family values, and religious freedoms to make them compatible with Sharia law, itself incompatible with liberal democracy. Such subversive activity is quite legal, of course, and part-and-parcel of the daily political discourse that is inevitable when various settler cultures collide in an immigrant-based society such as Canada.
Some formerly important subversive groups, such as Marxists committed to the establishment of the socialist state to replace liberal democratic Canada, became extinct with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, their supporters moving on to other “isms”, especially extreme environmentalism and some of the creeds mentioned in this essay.
A much narrower form of subversion still exists among various ethnic groups from homelands where the existing power structure insists on exercising command and control over individuals descended from immigrants or themselves recent immigrants of that country. This is aimed less at the destruction of the existing nation-state, in this case Canada, than at making Canada amenable to the desires of its overseas masters. In the 1930s, they were called “fifth columnists”. In the age of the Soviet Empire, the label was “fellow-traveller”, meaning an apologist for the Soviet regime. Today, probably the foremost practitioner is China, the influence of which over Canadian decision-makers has been decried during parliamentary testimony by CSIS Director Dick Fadden. Khalistan Sikhs and Tamil Eelam adherents and Iranian government operatives are other examples.
The Victim Strategy
Claims of victim status allows subversives to assume the moral high ground, excuse some of their behaviour, and lay the foundations of a heroic narrative, wherein the subversive only seeks natural justice and redress. Compelled, and sometimes even shamed, by the narrative, those who are targeted by the subversive find themselves at a defensive disadvantage.
Quebec separatists have continually described themselves as “oppressed” and “martyrs”, a “colony” of Anglo Canada, from Pierre Vallières’ powerful 1968 manifesto The White Niggers of America to Premier Jacques Parizeau blaming of the referendum loss in 1995 on “money and the ethnics”. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, French separatists believe the French language is constantly in danger of extinction.
Islamists denounce “Islamophobia” at every turn, much as Soviet fellow travellers decried “imperialists” and “capitalists” with numbing frequency, solely as a tactic to belittle and label their opponents and cause them to cease questioning the tenets of both Islam and Islamism.
Indigenes talk the language of deprivation and oppression, reaching the extremes of “genocide” when the reality is an aboriginal population boom and courts and governments willing to bend over backwards to accommodate their demands.
The Deceptive Approach
Subversives tend to be either clandestine or at least deceptive about their greater aims, some much more so than others.
Even separatists in locales like Quebec, Scotland and Catalonia like to couch their goal of independence in less threatening code words such as “sovereignty” (Quebec), or in untrue claims that remaining in the European Union after independence would be automatic (Scotland and Catalonia). They make questionable financial claims, such as that Quebeckers are net financial contributors to the Canadian federation or that the senior level of government is not giving them their fair share (Scotland and Catalonia). However, not all separatists obscure their goal. Slovak nationalists made a peaceful exit from Czechoslovakia without prevarication or incident. In democratic systems, the need for deception appears to be partly a reflection of whether obfuscation is necessary to win an independence referendum.
Some are out-and-out liars.
Hitler gained power as the man to fix Germany’s economic and social problems with a program of national socialism. His real goals, seldom publicly mentioned, involved the radical transformation of German society through an extended war, the theft of territory from other nations, and the extermination of the Jews.
Communist parties throughout the West were all agents of the Soviet Union (although, in later years, some aligned themselves with China). While it is true party members might not always have known that their party leaders were under Soviet direction (Christopher Andrews and Vasili Mitrokhin’s The Mitrokhin Archives contains much on this point), it seems there was a widespread understanding and commitment to the practices of subversion among many Western communist party members well into the 1980s. Other non-Soviet Marxist Leninist factions were similarly engaged - as Richard Clutterbuck’s 1973 book Protest and the Urban Guerrilla pointed out about British Trotskyites. Communists joined many non-Communist groups - the Popular Front approach - with the aim of influencing them to further the subversion of the societies to which they belonged.
Islamism learned from both the Nazis and Communists. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has been around since 1928, is widely considered the most successful Islamist subversive organization. It adapted not only the best practices of the mass movements of Nazism and Communism but their clandestine networking techniques. The 2004-2008 Holy Land Foundation trial in the US saw considerable material admitted into evidence on the networks and popular fronts of the Muslim Brotherhood in the US and of its goals of replacing liberal democratic society with Sharia Islamism.
The practice of Taqiyyah, a principle of “misdirection” that Muslims are allowed to practice if they feel threatened about their faith, should be mentioned here. The Jihadi element among Islamists takes the view that systemic misdirection is entirely permissible for all supporters of Jihad or holy war. For more on this one could consult Raymond Ibrahim’s “How Taqiyyah Alters Islam’s Rules of War”, The Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2010.
“Legislative extinction” (a term seemingly coined by Professor Pam Palmater of Ryerson) and “genocide” (Professor Taiaiake Alfred of University of Victoria) are among the charges laid against the status quo by the academic champions and media admirers of Indigenism. These claims clash with the reality of government policies and programs and practices of accommodation. However, Palmater and Alfred’s claims are only among the most extreme. All problems on reserves are always credited to other levels of government, especially the federal, allowing aboriginal groups to avoid the hard questions about failed communalism, financial accountability, kinship demands and sharing, and an often delusional environmentalism.
Use of civil protest campaigns
Subversion can be part of a civil protest campaign and this represents the murkiest frontier between what is legitimate, even wholesome, and what is dangerous. A prolonged protest campaign may also draw its partisans into subversive processes without their even recognizing the ramifications of new tactics and measures that they adopted while in pursuit of what they believe to be a common good.
Protest and civil unrest are meat and drink to subversives - a graphic display of success in gaining traction in wider society and the creation of events which ‘prove’ their concerns are real ones to more people. Even if they do not instigate civil unrest, which they sometimes do, they invariably hitchhike on any protest that looks like it may help in their goal of destabilising liberal democratic society. It is hard to think of any set of ideological actors that has refused to make use of protest as a recruiting tool, for publicity, to gain influence, and to seek ‘Dane geld’ (being bought off to reduce the threat of further disruption).
Crackdowns on protests are also sometimes valuable to boost support for the subversive. Those who bear the brunt of a crackdown - particularly if innocents get caught up in it - attract sympathy and support, erode the legitimacy of authorities, and reinforce ties among different components of an ideological community. This has been a common tactic on innumerable occasions. Even when the police are well behaved, complaints will be inevitably generated to prove ‘wrong-doing’. The complaint is its own truth, and that is enough for the ideologue.
The use of propaganda
Propaganda is a widely misunderstood function and an often misused charge. Jacques Ellul’s 1962 Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes made the point that propaganda is needed to instil conviction in the individual, and to get him to take an action (or in some cases to deliberately take no action); thus luring the individual like a fish on the line to the subversive’s cause. The subversive is invariably a propagandist.
Ellul pointed out that propaganda must be total and encompass the individual from every point. Subversives who have all the elements they need to engage in total propaganda have already won; they are in control of their target society. Secondly, subversives who wish to propagandize individuals must be able to understand them, and their messages and images should resonate with them.
However, the subversive is not always a good propagandist. Hitler, Khomeini, and Hugo Chavez were able to capture and keep the attention of the “man on the street” (the hypothetical ‘ordinary man’ that Ellul describes as the best target for propaganda), but many other ideologues have often failed completely. The Occupy Movement’s recent attempt to present itself as representing 99% of the American public has failed entirely. Perhaps the critical point of failure is that ideologues who hope to reinvent their hypothetical ‘ordinary man will’ always fail, while those who whisper in his ear and capture his worst instincts can sometimes succeed.
Even so, propaganda works, particularly when in concert with the results of entryism (see below). Institutions like student bodies and labour union headquarters that few people (even university students and union members) pay attention to can lend authority to propaganda. When propaganda is accompanied by specific actions - such as the contemporary drive to delegitimize Israel - it can entrench the subversive in a stronger position and encourage greater efforts. This is why it is prudent to pay attention to subversives under all conditions.
The subversive may be any or all of the following:
An agent of an unfriendly state: This is most common when ethnic or ideological attachment makes a person subservient to the wishes of the foreign government. The examples above include working for the Soviet Union in its time, and today, operating on behalf of the government of China (especially for commercial espionage), Iran (political loyalty), and other regimes.
A member of a legitimate or underground political party or ideological movement that seeks to transform the existing society in such a way that it no longer exists. This runs the gamut from purely political transformations such as those most modern separatist organizations trumpet to a total reorganization of the social institutions and values of a country as part of the implementation of some kind of New Order or New Jerusalem of perfection and peace. The Parti Quebecois is a classic example of the former; the Islamist and Indigene collectivist revolutionaries examples of the latter.
The sympathizer or fellow traveller. These are people who broadly agree with the ideologue and work to the same general ends without belonging to the ideologue’s organizations. The sympathizer can express support in many ways, some of which are detailed in the many works of Paul Hollander (in such books as Political Pilgrims and The Survival of Adversary Culture). Fellow travellers often give legitimacy to what would often be seen as self-serving. Academia in particular hosts subversive sympathizers in no small numbers.
Social campaigners who reach the conclusion that the existing social or political structures block the achievement of the aims of their social campaign might engage in subversion of authorities and institutions to facilitate achievement of a greater good. This is particularly true if the campaigners feel a profound moral superiority to the existing order and resent restraints upon the aims of ideological compatriots. At least some Indigene revolutionaries and Islamists fall into these categories, but it can even include Scientologist infiltration of government departments in Canada and the US in the late twentieth century.
The danger that a combination of these types of subversives can present is perhaps best illustrated by the widespread Iranian demand for the repatriation of the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, or in Fidel Castro’s coming to power in Cuba. In both cases, the real faces and agendas of the dictators was hidden or part-hidden while ideologues, fellow travellers and social campaigns all helped produce the popular widespread support that allowed subversives to gain power and totally overthrow the existing order.
In Canada, something similar was happening during the FLQ crisis of 1970, when the kidnapping of James Cross and then Pierre Laporte by the Front de Libération du Québec, followed by the revolutionary rally at the Paul Sauvé arena and fellow traveller domination of the electronic media, froze the Quebec government into inactivity. Some believe only the prompt action of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his imposition of the War Measures Act reversed the psychological collapse of the forces of the status quo. This did not happen in Iran in 1979 or Cuba in 1958 where firm leadership was lacking.
The tactics of the subversive types include:
Entryism: One of the oldest and most effective tactics is that of ‘entryism’ (a term, like fellow traveller, pioneered by Leon Trotsky) or infiltration. Soviet-allegiance Communists, Trotskyites, New Leftists, Islamists, Indigene collectivists, Quebec separatists, Animal Liberationists, ethnic nationalist organizations like the Tamil Tigers, cults like Scientology, and even Quebec’s biker gangs have used and are using this tactic to further their aims and subvert existing political and social structures in whole or in part. They can target government departments, labour union offices, academia, media organizations, even protest organizations and interest groups - anywhere influence can prove useful to the cause. To take just one example: every federal government has complained about the near-monopoly separatists have in the news bureaus of the federally funded French-language CBC (Radio Canada).
Note that while such subversion can be centrally organized (a conspiracy), it is far more common to instead encounter the effects of networks of activists working for a particular cause in myriad ways as their careers advance. Conspiracies are much more rare and difficult to coordinate.
For an ideologue engaged in subversion, entryism might prove as dangerous as adopting organized crime is for a terrorist. For a terrorist, organized criminal activity is very useful for paying the bills, but eventually the criminal activity becomes more important than the cause itself. Entryism is not a one way process - the institutions that the ideologue infiltrates can slowly change their perspectives as well. For example, there are a number of former Communist Party of Canada members engaged as municipal councillors in several Canadian cities… none of whom seem the least bit interested in preparing the way for a proletarian revolution anymore.
Intelligence gathering: It is espionage when foreign governments are involved, whether it be the former Soviet Union, current China, Khomeini’s Iran, or, it is said, even the French government when Charles De Gaulle was stoking Quebec independence. For others, the aim is dual - passing on information to one’s ideological partners, as well as attempting to influence the direction that the infiltrated organization is going, or how it reacts to exterior events. One classic technique in Western societies is the selective news leak to friendly media with the intent of forcing a government to do what it does not want to do.
Propaganda: This is an adjunct to exerting influence. A fact may be a fact, but how it is spun makes all the difference. The subversive will do so in a way most damaging to the existing social and political structure. Ideologues of all stripes have thought that their cause justifies being economical with the truth.
Terror can be a technique used as a practice in warfare, as a tool of authoritarian government, and as a form of conflict in itself - which is the conventional interpretation of the term. Terrorism is hard to define but there is a general consensus about its description, about the properties that outline terrorism and make it more distinct from other activities with which it sometimes intersects. (Those who are interested in this description may wish to consult the Institute’s study Other People’s Wars from 2003.
The terrorist and the subversive are very often comrades in arms, sometimes by design. They often seek identical ends and can be impelled by the same ideology. The twentieth century is rife with examples that have inspired both terrorism and subversion. Fascist and right-wing creeds, various forms of Marxism Leninism, sundry ‘National Liberation’ movements like the Tamil Tigers, and now the Salafists and Wahhabis of Islam have inspired both terrorism and subversion. What makes them different is the commitment to violence.
The terrorist often betrays a fundamental personal need to inflict violence while the subversive often lacks that appetite. For example, while “separatism” within a nation-state is by definition subversive to the continued existence of the larger state entity to which it belongs, violence is not necessarily a component of separatism. The frequent and bloody terrorism that attended Basque, Sikh, and Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism was not mirrored by Scottish, Slovakian, or Catalonian separatists. Canadians will recollect that the cause of Quebec separatism has seen little terrorism since the end of the FLQ Crisis in 1970.
As a result, the terrorist might sometimes display a contempt for the subversive as someone who lacks his own personal commitment to the cause (a difference one of the authors first noticed in photocopied ‘how to’ tracts from the Animal Liberation Front from the 1980s). On the other hand, the subversive often expresses a message best described as we-do-not-approve-of-violence-but-understand-why-they-did-it. In short, they have their cake by decrying the atrocity of the terrorist, and yet eat it too by then retransmitting the terrorists’ message from behind a façade of legitimate reserve. It may also be that some who engage in subversion genuinely deplore acts of terrorism undertaken by their ideological partners, but feel compelled to defend the goals of the terrorists.
It might also be noted that the first target of terrorists can sometimes be subversives with whom they agree about everything but the salience of violence. The Basque ETA, the Babbar Khalsa and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, among others, all murdered fellow travellers who disputed the need to resort to shootings and bombings.
Subversion can be a part of the revolutionary process, running both independently and in tandem with the work of the terrorist and the guerrilla, to either create the conditions for a revolution to occur or to sustain one that is already underway. Careful notice should be taken that while the subversive and the terrorist may share a common ideology; their methods often imply a major distinction between individual personalities and motives.
Carlos Marighella’s 1969 Mini-Manual for the Urban Guerilla was the definitive guide on revolutionary theory for many years. Marighella’s original work was published underground (he was not just a theorist; he was also a Brazilian Communist revolutionary who was shot to death by police in 1969). Marighella saw subversion as an adjunct to terrorism in that the insurgent needed subversion to prepare the ground for his assault on the state, and to support the struggle once it began. At the very least, almost every terrorist organization that has existed in the last century has had to rely on a larger number of ideologically motivated supporters, for whom engagement in subversion may come more easily than direct participation in violent acts themselves.
The ideological underpinning of both the terrorist and the subversive is again betrayed by their shared hope for a revolutionary or transformative result. Eric Hoffer and Arthur Koestler both noticed that the Nazi and the Marxist revolutionary were alike in seeking to submerge themselves in a larger cause; to lose an unwanted individual identity in a great dramatic process. To perhaps illustrate the point a little more crudely, imagine gang-members who know at some level that their own attainments are weak and flawed, and so identify themselves with the fear of the larger gang to compensate… seeking collective importance to compensate for their individual unimportance.
Thus the coming of the “Thousand Year Reich”, the building of a properly Communist society, the triumph of the Ummah or whatever New Jerusalem the separatist sees when the goal of “national self-determination” or “sovereignty” is reached justifies violence to the terrorist, and deceit to the subversive. All sins will be washed away as the glorious end completely justifies whatever sordid means were used to achieve it. Based on the body count alone, this is perhaps humanity’s most dangerous delusion.
If a country is to have defences against subversion, it is best to carefully examine potential threats and prudently weigh possible counter-measures in a calm and deliberate manner. Implementing counter-measures during a time of an active threat or, worse still, an imagined one is far more dangerous.
A Warning Nugget from History: Anthony Comstock, the hyperactive American moralist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, is a case in point of the need for balance. His own campaign against “vice” (as he defined it) became subversive in itself and caused harm to American society when he even managed to dissuade the US Postal Service from delivering anatomy texts to medical students. His railing against birth control put him on a collision course with early pioneers of public health like Margaret Sanger and some of the first American suffragettes. More to the point, Comstock’s crusade and his quasi-official appointments helped to give the US Postal Service new powers to screen communications and lay charges against those who used it to distribute “vice” - which included essayists, artists, and social campaigners. In general, while governments and their agencies do need powers to investigate and counter various threats to the public weal, ceding such powers without carefully describing and limiting them is always hazardous.
Much of the time, Western societies ignore subversion. However, just as an opportunistic infection can cause serious harm when an individual’s immune system is weaker than normal, a combination of factors can expose a larger society to an opportunistic political infection. During economic downturns, especially, it is not unusual to see ideologues springing out of the woodwork. The historical examples of subversion in Germany, Iran, and Cuba have already been mentioned. Today, Golden Dawn in Greece may represent the rebirth of European fascism, the Freeman of the Land movement has spread well beyond its radical right-wing American roots, and the Occupy movement in the fall of 2011 made a strong attempt to capitalize on the situation that led to the growth of the Tea Party. In addition to the political radicals, Islamists seem to be pushing the envelope with some success on aspects of Sharia such as inhibiting criticism, dress, and finance. Separatist movements have used the economic crisis in places like Scotland and Catalonia to wheedle referendums aimed at breaking away from a perceived failing centre.
Germany is an exception. The modern German constitution places a strong emphasis on individual freedoms but limits legal political involvement by any party that does not clearly endorse the democratic principles of the German state. A party, which does not adhere to an anti-subversive agenda, can expect to be stripped of its status by the Federal Constitutional Court, which has the power to ban political parties and has done so.
Canada is highly unlikely to go so far, since it accepts subversion within non-violent and non-illegal parameters as legitimate. However, when subversion crosses over into illegal activities, such as arson or extortion, it may be possible to checkmate the subversive element in a tactical manner.
An Object Lesson: A Canadian law-enforcement entity broke the power of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in their Toronto power-base by openly disrespecting the Tigers during one of their biggest rallies in 2008. Attendance at the event was ordered by the Tigers and thousands of Canadian Tamils turned up - but many fled when the news circulated that police were filming license plates in the parking lot. Later, up on the stage as the Tigers assembled for their formal observances, police in raid jackets joined them and “dissed” the LTTE quite openly in front of the audience. Proponents of civil liberties might decry the tactic, but it was very clear from the next day that the hold the Tigers had over the Canadian Tamil community was broken, and information about LTTE abuses came flooding in to police. In sum, personal freedom was enhanced, not reduced, by the police resort to this tactic.
While occasionally useful, such tactics should be applied sparingly. Many instances illustrate the folly of doing so hastily, without care and forethought, or without good cause. The German Federal Constitutional Court has many of Germany’s best legal minds in it, and the entity that broke the LTTE in Toronto had been studying them closely for years. Success can only come from careful deliberation and good intelligence.
Public information and public discourse are also necessary. It might be useful to have a complaints-driven mechanism available to expedite political, police and judicial interest in groups whose purposes are inimical to Canadian society as a whole. This would best come with a proviso that the object is not to underscore or sap constitutionalism but to safeguard it. Stanford’s Bassam Tibi, in his book Islamism and Islam, laments the absence of Islamology departments in universities that could function similar to the Cold War institutions of Sovietology, with their emphasis on analysis and explanation.
Candid discussion should also be public discussion. Some institutions appear to be spending far too much of their time on sundry causes, rather than on the core interests of the student bodies or workers they claim to represent. Students and workers whose dues pay for these groups need to be more aware of where their dues are going, which the recent bill passed by Parliament may help to hasten. It should be noted that front organizations for the LTTE and key members of the Babbar Khalsa in Canada were being financed by Canadian governments’ immigration and multicultural programs for years because much of it was done, not secretly, but in the shadows.
The object would not be to debar the presence of anti-democratic elements. It is more useful to give them enough freedom to congregate openly so that they can be observed. However, it would also be better to be more vigilant than we currently are, and to keep such elements weaker than they are now. Booster shots to the immune system of the body politic cannot be a bad idea at any time.
John Thompson has been working with the Institute in many capacities for over 20 years. Former President, John is now Editor Emeritus and spends his time writing for the Institute as well as other publications.