On October 3, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the Royal Canadian Air Force will very soon begin combat operations in Iraq and likely Syria as well.
The deployment, to last a minimum of six months, will be debated in Parliament beginning Monday (October 6). (The matter of scheduling a debate after a decision on war has already been made is a topic for another post.)
Harper has so far only communicated the mission to the public in the vaguest of terms. But we know that it has something to do with combatting a group of radical extremists who call themselves the Islamic State (previously the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS] or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL]).
A majority of Canadians support Harper's decision to commit the country to a combat role in the war against ISIS. According to a recent Global News/Ipsos Reid poll, almost two-thirds, which is a greater degree of support than former prime minister Jean Chrétien had in 2001 to begin his war in Afghanistan.
ISIS has done some truly horrible things as it has taken control of large areas of northern Iraq and Syria. It has murdered thousands of innocent civilians, tortured and crucified people, and taken women and girls as slaves. It's even attempted to commit genocide against the Yazidi people, a Kurdish religious minority whose members number less than one million.
But lots of truly horrible things are happening all of the time. The death toll for the civil war in Syria is approaching 200,000. Closer to Canadian borders, drug wars in Mexico have left roughly 50,000 dead since 2006.
I suspect that most Canadians' support for the deployment of Canadian soldiers to Iraq and Syria might have more to do with a smaller group of people murdered by ISIS: four white men who were beheaded in propaganda videos uploaded to YouTube. (In reverse chronological order, those are Alan Henning from Britain, David Haines from Britain, Steven Sotloff from the United States, and James Foley from the United States.)
The barbarity of those beheadings combined with the online availability of ISIS's videos has made this war an easy sell for the U.S. and Canadian governments.
There is another group in the Middle East that uses beheadings as a preferred method of execution. That is the government of Saudi Arabia.
Canada is entering this latest war in the Middle East as part of a U.S.-led coalition of which Saudi Arabia is a member.
Saudi Arabia is a Canadian ally and Canada's largest trading partner in the Arabian Peninsula. Here's a link to a government website about Canada-Saudi relations. It describes the country as a "priority market". In 2013, Canada exported about $918 million in goods to Saudi.
Also in 2013, more than 79 people were beheaded under the authority of the Saudi monarch.
According to an Amnesty International report, that number is consistent with previous years. In 2012, Saudi Arabia beheaded at least 79 people, and in 2011, it saw 82 people killed that way.
Below is a video of three of those beheadings. (Warning: the footage is of poor quality but still graphic).
This is a Canadian ally in its war against ISIS.