Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reflections on a day of infamy in Canada's capital

Ottawa became the centre of the western news machine on Wednesday this week, when a reservist, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, standing unarmed while guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was shot and killed in cold blood. Words like senseless, horrific, cowardly and even despicable have been used to attempt to characterize the event which became prelude to another exchange of bullets inside the Hall of Parliament, perpetrated by the same shooter at the War Memorial. Early reports attribute the death of the terrorist to the Sargeant-at-Arms, the man charged with protecting parliament and parliamentarians, with the help of both the RCMP and the Ottawa police.
Canada lost whatever innocence still remained on Wednesday. We were mostly content to act as if the troubles in the Middle East, while distasteful and even tragically dangerous, as well as those in Afghanistan in which Canadian soldiers were fully engaged, could and would be “contained” in those theatres and would not likely be something we would have to face on our home soil. There have been hints of trouble when the ‘gang of 18’ were arrested and tried for a plot to attack parliament and behead the prime minister. There were also news stories of those who allegedly were planning to attack the rail system between Canada and New York city. However, having a history and a culture that demonstrate a relatively weak military, a public image of “politeness” in the extreme, including the penchant for apologies when we might have cause the slightest of offense, we had cocooned our national psyche from having to confront both our own national anger and the potential that others, both inside and outside our borders, could and would harbour enmity to our people and our institutions.

Even our most heated discussions and debates, within our government and in the public media are restrained when compared with both the exchanges in the U.S. and in Great Britain. We pride ourselves in our “likeability” a trait both over-rated by too many Canadians who prefer its co-dependent features and who believe that by not confronting an offender we are keeping the “peace, order and good government” enshrined in our constitution.
However, we have been deluding ourselves, for decades, if not more than a century.  And the current government of Stephen Harper, a neo-con who has been compared with the United States’ Tea Party for his extreme conservative law and order agenda, is aggressively pursuing a policy of deep engagement in the battle against ISIS. Our F-18 Fighter Jets will begin flying within days in the skies over Iraq, bombing whatever ISIS targets they can find, We are a nation of bountiful resources, large tracts of land and the most fresh water of any country in the world. Our land is filled with minerals, among the most abundant anywhere; our land grows enough grain to elevate our country to the top of the list of exporters of wheat; we grow our own meat and many of our vegetables and fruits in a relatively short growing season. We are deeply engaged in trade with the United States, with approximately $2 billion in goods crosses the largest undefended border in the world.

Reflecting on this event that shook Canada to the core, it could easily seem that all national borders have become irrelevant if not evaporated, when considering the potential “containment” of the radical Islamic agenda of a world-wide caliphate.
No matter the previous injustices experienced by people like the perpetrator of yesterday’s slaughter, and no matter whether his radicalization came at the invitation and nourishment of others, or was consummated in the seclusion of his own private encounters with the nefarious sources on the Internet, he still became the “martyr” in his own life tragedy. The convergence of private anger, even hatred and contempt for all things “western” including the admitted “hypocrisy” of which other jihadists often complain, and a publicly articulated global jihad that hints of self-righteous moral indignation and reeks of the most profound evil known to human history, came bursting out of that rifle in Ottawa yesterday.

What has been unleashed in too many countries is the unrestricted, increasingly well-funded, highly disciplined and extremely inhumane poison of a dangerous chemical cocktail of narcissism, anger, bigotry, alienation and the opportunity to achieve infamy, when all normal and mature and responsible and even spiritual avenues appear to have closed. The tiny window of “engagement” through which three women from Denver slid in their race to join ISIS in Syria, a race thwarted by the concern of their parents to the authorities who arrested them in Germany on Wednesday, and hundreds of other wannabee jihadists have flown mostly under the radar of the most massive intelligence apparatus in history, is the window all western nations are attempting to close.
However, unless and until we dig deeper into the profound and inexcusable angst on which this jihad feeds, and continue at least on the public radar to engage primarily in open hostility with the forces of Islamic jihad, we will find ourselves with more ugly headlines like those coming from Ottawa yesterday, and more dead public servants, with higher and higher profiles granting the perpetrators a moment of infamy and a personal martyrdom, while also enriching the recruitment efforts of the Islamic jihadi movements, in all of its faces and forms.

This human “virus” is deadly, and morphing into whatever form it needs to stay alive and is galloping across the most “friendly” lands, outside national boundaries, outside the world of public institutions and threatening to cripple our most treasured values and institutions.
The Prime Minister has often parsed "sociology" from "criminology" in a vain attempt to reduce his government's responsibility to the enactment of punitive laws, imprisonment through longer and more strict sentencing without even a nod to the conditions of individual human lives which too often culminate in acts of violence, whether they can be characterized as terror or not. The culture of violence, including excessive cyber-bullying that too often results in adolescent suicide, the widening gap between the have's and the have-not's, and the society's growing capacity and willingness to render the "misfits" as a criminal problem rather than one demanding the attention and resources of multiple agents, including but not restricted to law enforcement, while much more complex than would be addressed by the passage of laws, nevertheless has to be considered when attempting to grapple with "terrorism" from a national perspective.

We all know and expect that this government will peremptorily enact more strict laws on "prohibitive arrests" with a view to nipping terror in the bud. We also know that some enhanced security measures will be in force in the near future on parliament hill. However, as a nation that has and will continue to hold both individual freedom and respect for the individual, as well as profound respect for our national institutions, we have to be vigilant, as citizens, in our "oversight" of the actions of parliament, especially one that could and would readily seize an opportunity provided by this event to tighten the law enforcement "fist" that would ensnare us all.

We are never going to eliminate the psychologically unstable from our society; nor are we ever going to tolerate fully mental illness as we do physical illness given the complexity and mystery that clouds much of our "understanding" of mental illness. It was the New York Times in an editorial that differentiated a political ideology as motivator of this terrorist from a "scaffold" to contain an unravelling life. Highly sophisticated discernment is something we have come to expect and appreciate from this highly respected news organ. And so long as a free and articulate and courageous fourth estate is able to operate without government or corporate warping to an imposed ideology, and so long as a people continue to grow both a consciousness and a willingness to participate in the daily even hourly events taking place within their borders, we can have some confidence that, while we will not even ensure complete safety from such heinous acts, we will keep their number and their severity low enough to maintain a healthy balance between individual liberty and national security, even in a period of history in which those in government might wish to over-reach in the discharge of their constitutional duties.

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