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Stephen Harper's Paris speech proves that nations have no permanent allies--or enemies

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2013

Many readers would be offended if someone were to suggest the Roman Catholic Church was a former terrorist organization with cult-like attributes.

Still, wouldn't terrorism be a fair description of the Inquisition, the brutal effort to root out heresy carried out from the 12th to the early 19th centuries by what was effectively a non-state actor, as we say in the bland militaristic bureaucratese of the 21st Century?

And isn't the idea of excommunication for whatever reason, even if it is not much practiced any more, the sort of behaviour we associate to this day with religious cults?

I ask these questions only as a sort of back-handed defence of Stephen Harper, the former Conservative prime minister who obviously has far too much time on his hands these days, for travelling to Paris last Saturday to give an apparently well-compensated speech to a "Free Iran" rally sponsored by an Iranian exile group Harper's own government classified as terrorists as recently as 2012.

And 2012, alert readers will grasp, isn't as long ago as the 12th Century. But that was then and 2018 is now, and not just as far as Harper is concerned.

Mojahedin-e Khalq, the group in question, often referred to as MEK and also known as the People's Mujahadeen, was declared by various Western governments to be a terrorist group in 1979, back in the days it wanted to overthrow the Shah of Iran, a geopolitical ally of the United States.

The same year, as it turned out, someone else overthrew the Shah. Eventually, MEK ceased to be officially branded a terrorist group. This was probably because, over time, it began to talk instead about overthrowing the Shia Islamic religious government of Iran, which is emphatically not a geopolitical ally of the United States.

While Mojahedin-e Khalq doesn't seem to have repeated the assassinations and terrorist attacks it perpetrated in the 1980s, it continues, by all accounts, to be a rather unsavoury organization that has a weirdly cult-like structure. This makes it quite unlike the Catholic Church, which, by comparison, nowadays plays a largely positive role throughout the world.

Given its new status as a non-terrorist cult-like organization, it must be said, Harper is entirely within his rights to address the MEK rally in Paris. No laws were broken.

It's likely, moreover, that he was well compensated for his histrionics, as MEK is reputed to pay North American politicos sums in the order of $50,000 U.S. to address its gatherings for a few minutes. We all have to make a living.

Plus, the restless former MP had company. Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen, former Harper Era foreign affairs minister John Baird, and Liberal MP Judy Sgro all trooped to the podium in Paris with him. Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, confidants of U.S. President Donald Trump, also addressed the group, and posed for photos with Harper and MEK leader Maryam Rajavi.

I'm sure Harper won't mind if we refer to him henceforth as, say, "Mojahedin Steve." After all, it was under Harper's leadership in 2006 that the Conservative Party of Canada smeared the late Jack Layton, leader of the NDP in Parliament, with the sobriquet "Taliban Jack" for daring to suggest that what was really needed in Afghanistan was "a comprehensive peace process … to bring all the combatants to the table."

Layton was excoriated as naive at best and treasonous at worst. He was accused by the then-nascent online Conservative Rage Machine of failing to support Canada's soldiers abroad and giving comfort to people who were shooting at them.

The Conservatives have never apologized for this, and never explained themselves. Meanwhile, however, the world has moved on and, nowadays, even the U.S. armed forces gingerly talk to the Taliban, which we mostly recognize is an important part of a coalition that enjoys considerable support from Afghanistan's Pashtun ethnic majority and will someday probably return to power.

This illustrates the point made by Lord Palmerston, twice prime minister of Britain in the 19th Century, that "nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests."

For the moment, the interests of the United States and those of Mojahedin-e Khalq align, and therefore it is OK for Harper to take MEK's money and give them a nice speech about freedom, with a little arm waving thrown in, no matter how unmoved the sentiments he expressed may actually have left the organization's leaders.

Will the day come when it is acceptable for a Canadian Conservative politician to give a speech to a freedom rally in a nice Western capital put on by the Islamic State, better known as ISIS? This may seem unlikely right now, but never say never.

There's been evidence that Western military forces mucking about in Syria were willing to let ISIS fighters go, as long as they directed their terroristic attentions at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom the Americans would like to topple. Assad's Russian allies, at any rate, have accused the Americans of that, and worse.

Indeed, this may present a future business opportunity that Harper & Associates -- whose spokesperson defended Harper's Paris speech on the grounds he didn't endorse a MEK government for Iran -- for that time in the future when the West has a self-serving public Road to Damascus moment about the nature and intentions of ISIS.

In the meantime, he might be smart to stick to meetings of the International Democrat Union, the right-wing Internationale he heads.

As for the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, it changed its name and doesn't seem to have executed anyone for heresy since 1826.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Flickr/mmmswan

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