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Is it better to debate Steve Bannon or to ignore him?

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Backlash is mounting over a planned debate in Toronto this week featuring Steve Bannon, the controversial strategist that helped U.S. President Donald Trump win the 2016 election.

Calls to cancel the Friday debate are being met with outrage over what a cancellation might mean for free speech.


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But this is not just a free speech issue, says Maya Menezes, media contact for a coalition of organizations that came together to urge the cancellation of Friday’s Munk Debates, in light of the attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue last weekend that killed 11 people.

“We don’t have space for violent rhetoric that emboldens white supremacists.”

Bannon, who was axed from his job as Trump’s strategist in August 2017, is most often associated with Breitbart News, an alt-right website known for publishing fake news. The website once accused President Barack Obama of bringing “more hating Muslims” into the country and routinely attacks organizations like Planned Parenthood. The site also compared abortion with the death of millions of Jewish people: “Planned Parenthood’s body count under Cecile Richards is up to half a Holocaust.”

In court documents obtained by the New York Daily News, Brannon’s ex-wife said he didn’t want their daughters to attend a certain Los Angeles school because of “the number of Jews that attend.” More recently, Brannon continues to make headlines for his views. He is currently working on launching a far-right revolution in Europe, through a foundation called “The Movement.”

The Munk Debate isn’t the first time Bannon has been invited to speak at a high-profile event. Last month, the New Yorker announced an on-stage interview at its annual festival between Bannon and New Yorker editor David Remnick. The proposed interview was lambasted by the public and New Yorker staffers alike, with other guests threatening to cancel if Bannon attended.

His appearance was cancelled.

WATCH: Steve Bannon says populist ‘torch’ has been passed to Italy







People everywhere are grappling with how to handle people like Bannon, a right-wing nationalist who told a National Front crowd in France to embrace being called a racist: “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists.”

In Canada, there is a balance between hate speech and freedom of speech. A legal provision that provided more avenues for dealing with hate speech was removed by prime minister Stephen Harper in 2013, over criticism that it was too broad. As a result, one lawyer said, Canada is left with an “impoverished system for preventing hate speech.”

“We believe we are providing a public service by allowing their ideas to be vigorously contested and letting the public draw their own conclusions from the debate,” Munk Debates chair Rudyard Griffiths said in a statement.


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History already makes it clear what happens when these types of ideas are given broader platforms, Menezes says.

“We know the type of violence that incites,” she says. “We don’t think that the maintenance of a platform for white supremacy is actually going to create a safer society or a more just society.”

It’s unsurprising that people are angry that Bannon was invited, says Cara Zwibel, director of fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. But the context in which Bannon has been invited to speak, she says, matters.

The debate is about the rise of populism, with Bannon arguing that the future of western politics is populist, not liberal.

WATCH: Stephen Harper says populism will ‘grow worse’ if people’s concerns are not addressed







“He is what populism looks like right now, at least in North America,” Zwibel says. “That context is really important because he’s not in a venue where he’s going to be celebrated, not challenged. It’s a venue that’s intended to challenge and debate and question.”

Still, Zwibel says, “I’m not sure he should have been invited.”

Remnick also mentioned context in his note announcing the cancellation of Bannon’s New Yorker Festival appearance. While the magazine does not pay for interviews, it does pay an honorarium for the festival, as well as travel and lodging. Upon reflection, Remnick wrote, “There is a better way to do this.”

He went on to say, “if the opportunity presents itself I’ll interview him in a more traditionally journalistic setting… not on a stage.”


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Critics call for cancellation of Toronto debate featuring former Trump strategist, Steve Bannon

In Toronto, Bannon will face off against conservative David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, who also worked for President George W. Bush and wrote the book, Trumpocracy.

Frum welcomed the debate format.

“Liberal democracy is founded on the belief that free people can be inspired to make wiser choices by words and ideas,” he said in a statement.

“Mr. Bannon comes to the prestigious Munk platform because he believes his words can persuade people to follow him. I will face him there because I believe democratic ideas can defeat him.”

The fact that Frum is speaking is also part of the problem, Menezes says.

“Having someone far right and even farther right debate each other as two sides of the spectrum is a really sad day for organizations that say they foster conversation.”

WATCH: U of A political scientist on the rise of populism







Zwibel says that’s actually what makes the debate interesting to her, since they’re less likely to “talk past each other” than they would be if their viewpoints were more divergent.

In any case, Zwibel says, to cancel now would do more harm than good.

“It turns him into a martyr for free speech, it lets him point to liberals as the enemy and it just feeds into the kind of narrative that he’s already espoused,” she says. “Frankly, it will probably give him a bigger platform than he would otherwise have.”



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FOREIGN NEWS

Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

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Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali

Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.

In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.

“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.

“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”

“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.

Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”

Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”

“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.

He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”

As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our

country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.

The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”

On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.

Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA

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Harris accepts VP nomination

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Harris accepts VP nomination

Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”

Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”

“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”

Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

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Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself

The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.

In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.

“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m

The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.

But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.

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