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Oh, brother

Make no mistake: the Taliban are not our brothers. Maryam Monsef’s phrasing may have been well-intentioned, but still warrants an immediate apology.
Feeling a bit isolated. (royal_indiana /

This morning, Liberal cabinet minister and candidate Maryam Monsef referred/spoke to “our brothers in the Taliban.”

Understandably, emotions on this subject will run high, so let’s do this backwards. Instead of starting with the conclusion, let’s get there by making a set of safe assumptions, one step at a time.

  1. Maryam Monsef is not sympathetic to the Taliban, and vice versa.

Whatever her other mistakes (and we’ll get there), can we all agree she doesn’t admire the Taliban?

This suggestion is so stupid, it barely warrants mentioning, but if you’ve suffered enough recent head trauma to entertain this idea, consider this: if she was trying to say she’s “one of them,” it’s a good disguise. After all, she’s a woman who isn’t covering her head, and in a position of power. The Taliban are infamously terrified of both.

  1. She probably thought she was helping.

From all reports, the situation in Kabul is grim. The Taliban will seize control of the airport on September 1st, if not before. There’s nowhere near enough capacity to airlift friends, allies, coworkers, and anyone who doesn’t want to live in a violent sub-mediaeval theocracy.

Appealing to the Taliban is almost certainly a waste of time and dignity, but it’s literally all that’s left to us.

  1. We shouldn’t ignore the cultural component here.

Though born in Iran, Monsef is Afghan-Canadian. I won’t pretend to be an expert on everyday Afghan cultural practices, but I’m willing to accept that referring to fellow Afghans and/or Muslims as brothers only sounds odd to North American ears.

  1. All the above said, it’s a stupid thing to say.

The Taliban are not Canada’s brothers. They are, quite literally in every sense of the word, our enemies. More than 40,000 Canadians served there. 158 died, all so the worst regime on the planet could no longer harbour terrorists, or prevent girls from going to school.

Imagine being a veteran, or the family of one of those wounded or killed there, and hearing a cabinet minister use these words. It’s particularly staggering coming from the Minister of Women and Gender Equality.

It’s even worse in the context of a federal election, where Monsef’s Liberals are doing everything possible to vilify the Conservative Party. It’s fair to wonder if Monsef would refer to Erin O’Toole as her brother, in any context whatsoever.

  1. Yes, this is a problem for Justin Trudeau.

In an election campaign, oxygen is a valuable and finite resource. When your leader is excusing, explaining, or even acknowledging a candidate’s blunder, that’s time you don’t get back.

Every leader would much rather talk about their latest terrific announcement, or how non-terrific the other guys’ plans are, and score some points. Instead, you’re suddenly playing goal-line defence, where the best case scenario isn’t scoring points, but limiting the damage.

Whether or not you think it’s fair, Justin Trudeau will have to respond and answer to this. So will other, much less well-coached, managed, and practiced candidates – and this is often the real danger.

Trudeau and his experienced team are likely to craft a passable response, and the issue could pass in 24 or 48 hours. But when a random Liberal candidate in, say, Saskatoon honestly (and accurately) says they were offended and Monsef should apologize, it’s right back in the news, and Trudeau has to burn even more oxygen explaining and addressing that.

  1. The best strategy: apologize immediately, and move on.

There’s really no winning this one. The Taliban are quite literally the worst people on earth, and as they stop playing nice for the cameras in a few days or weeks, there will be horrific stories and images. Don’t let this stick.

If I were advising Monsef, I’d urge her to apologize. Say she misspoke in real time; this happens to us all. Say she’s understandably emotional about this issue – she is Afghan-Canadian, after all.

In Canadian politics, apologies are remarkably effective. But they need to be quick, and utter.

Until then, “our brothers in the Taliban” will be a liability.

Maclean Kay is Editor-in-Chief of The Orca