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Thursday, 23 October 2014

A National Tragedy

Yesterday much of downtown Ottawa was shut down by a violent attack. It's the second violent incident this week. I know many people who work near parliament hill and my thoughts were with them yesterday. My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the deceased as well as everyone else injured during the incidents. For the purpose of this post, I will be writing about the attack in Ottawa yesterday, though I recognise that the events of Monday are more than merely peripheral.

The alleged killer was born Michael Joseph Hall, but later changed his name to Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. He grew up in a relatively affluent family in Laval, Québec. A white Canadian who happens to be a Muslim convert, much attention has been placed on is religion as a factor leading to the violence. He attended private school and afterward had a spotty criminal record. Beyond these glimpses into his personal life, there have been numerous unconfirmed reports that he was suffering lately from serious mental health problems.

Given that we don't have a clear picture of the alleged attacker, it's best not to put too much into it. Instead, I think it's a good idea to talk about whether or not what happened yesterday was in fact terrorism. Depsite the fact that it is logical to define the parameters of a loaded term like this before proceeding, I've noticed that terrorism often seems to merit no introduction. The notion of terrorism, or perhaps more specifically terrorists, conjures up myriad images, many of which are deeply entrenched in our mass conceptualisations of violent, radical Islam. If you're unsure, just perform a google image search. Terrorism, which by the way refers to acts that are motivated by ideology to produce mass fear, are committed overwhelmingly in the United States by non-Muslims, according to the FBI. I can't say with any certainly if he was a terrorist, but I do believe that the purpose of the attack was to create fear. Hopefully there will be a lot of discussion about this and that you will participate.

On a related note, I found the media coverage of the event to be quite fascinating. Whereas American television and online media were promoting fear and panic, Canadian outlets were more subdued. Terrorism was a word thrown around rather liberally on CNN and Fox while I noticed that the CBC made a conscientious effort to use words like tragedy and ongoing events in place. Moreover, I found Canadian media analysis to be more thoughtful. In listening to live radio coverage, and later watching The National, I noted that reporters and moderators were prone to avoid making assumptions or jumping to sensational conclusions. The same, sadly, was not true of American media.

Try as I might to be content with our rather careful reporting, our prime minister and the conservatives have continued to advance the hardline response to terrorism. The morning Harper was quoted saying:

But let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated. In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home, just as it will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores. They will have no safe haven.

Much of the wording here is frightening, if not offensive and incendiary. I agree that Canada shouldn't be intimidated, by why should we turn our grief into revenge? Attaching the acts of an individual to other unmentioned terrorists is a leap. Not to mention that words like brutalise and savagery are mired in colonial and racist overtones.

I think it's definitely helpful to remember that Canada has been at war (and an unpopular one) for the better part of the last fifteen years. Intervention in the Middle East as well as strengthening of a zionist policy often breeds malcontent. So much like in the United States and other modern militarised democracies (or aspiring ones) Canada is left open to certain undesirable, though not unpredictable, effects. I don't mean to minimise what has happened or to take away from the grief of a nation, but remember that this absolutely did not occur in a vaccuum.

The most important question now is in regards to where we go from here. The threat of ISIS, radical Islam, and related violence is real. Seemingly we can prepare to further entrench ourselves in this costly conflict. I'd prefer that we think more carefully about how Canada can return to being a broker for peace in the world. Someone who garners respect from all sides for listening and lending a hand. Some may reduce this to a dream, but I say let's not forget Jack Layton's dying hope - that love is better than hate.

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