If anyone thinks that Trump’s campaign for the white house has not been given a big boost by the Belgian terrorists who struck yesterday morning in both the subway system and the nation’s airport, killing nearly three dozen and injuring another 150, with reports still coming in, they are living under a rock. One reporter on CNN echoed the phrase “shaking the hornet’s nest’ as the metaphor used by Belgian authorities as they anticipated some kind of violent response to the arrest of the Paris terrorist.
Can we, in North America, conceive of ourselves as Belgians, or Parisians, or Nigerians, or even New Yorkers (after 9/11) in our identification with the victims of the Islamic terrorist scourge? What would it be like if this story were focused on Pearson airport in Toronto, or Trudeau airport in Montreal, and our neighbours and possibly our friends were no longer alive? While we all know that that is not the situation this morning, we also know that there is no reason to be complacent that we are not potentially under threat of an attack. It would seem that the most important difference is that there is no public statement from our security apparatus indicating that attacks like these in Belgium or those in Paris are imminent in Canada or the United States. Single acts of violence by disturbed men, as Canada witnessed last year, while not wreaking the kind of havoc that the people of Brussels are going through this morning, are harbingers and warnings to each of us.
And while Canadians like to consider ourselves “nice” and hospitable and just and fair, and for the most part we are, nevertheless, it will grow increasingly difficult for many Canadians, as well as Americans and Europeans who also think of themselves both individually and collectively as hospitable and fair, to remain unmoved, and also tolerant of this kind of violence, and the implications that arise naturally from consideration of its source. Radical Islam, (even if Islamic scholars repeatedly tell us that this terrorism is not representative of the true nature of their faith) is a blight for which neither our police nor our military have been prepared. Individuals or even gangs who seek to carry out acts of violence, drug deals, bank heists, and more lately cyber crime, while troublesome, are not normally motivated by the depth and breadth of hate, and religious fervor that drives this sinister movement of men (and a few women). And their acts and the prospect of more violence do not leave only dead bodies and pools of blood, broken families and destroyed buildings in their wake; they also, and possibly even more importantly, leave every witness in a different state of mind, an elevated state of anxiety, and a significant elevation in the propensity to bully even among what are normally civilized people. Simply put, we live out our lives differently than before we were confronted by this political/military/intelligence monster, driven by their perverted, distorted, thalidomide-like mis-shapen aspiration for an after-life for themselves and a caliphate for their troubles.
The theft of intellectual property, one of the more visible signs of contemporary culture, (think China’s vacuuming of corporate and military and possibly even political intelligence) is also accessible to the terrorist effort. They have and use the most secretive and quickly erased messaging technology, making the efforts of our security forces to trace their behaviours and their plans virtually imposible. So they can be legitimately dubbed both strategically successful (Brussels is the home of both the EU and NATO) and tactical, in that they use the most primitive and the most sophisticated of available resources, from nails and batteries to eraseable and highly secret software. And our airports, for example, have not been planned and built on the premise that security checks were required immediately upon entry; they were reserved for the gates to the boarding gangways. Now the experts are arguing for a wider circle in all airports, making billions of public funds necessary for such a change.
And through both the residual impact on all of us, anxiety, depression, even anger, and the massive impact on our public policy and government spending decisions, a little terrorist violence goes a long way to destabilizing many things. Obama rightly maintained his schedule in Cuba (the U.S. was not attacked) and all leaders, including both Trudeau and Obama defiantly repeated that the terrorists will not ‘win’. And the people of Belgium have shown their own defiance in their public gatherings and memorials in the public square in Brussels. And the whole world supports those attitudes.
Nevertheless, there have been 6 such attacks in the last year, and from the expressions on many ‘talking heads’ one has to conclude that there will be more. And as Jonathan Capehart, columnist at the Washington Post, speaking on MSNBC, put it, alienating the Muslim community is the best way to remove their help in this ubiquitous conflict. We need all moderate Muslims (and we have repeated this plea many times in this space over the last few years!) to bring the ‘monster’ in their midst to heel. All the bombs and all the missiles and all the arrests and the convictions will not, by themselves, eradicate this cancer. And all of the security apparatuses that we construct will not detect and thereby prevent more tragedies like this one in Brussels. This is not to say that we should stop all of our efforts in both regards: military and homeland security. It is, however, to argue that increased collaboration and co-ordination between and among all the national security and intelligence forces is required, something that apparently, is not the normal way of operating for those professionals. Pride, both national and personal, cannot and must not impede our pursuit of the intelligence and the perpetrators. However, given the state of international relations, and the level of distrust that underlies all diplomatic efforts, including those among “friendly” nations, and the increasing disregard for the United Nations among too many nations and practicing political leaders, the effort to enhance the strength and the credibility of international bodies like the International Criminal Court, and the United Nations initiative on Climate Change and Global Warming, the world is right to be sceptical of much progress in efforts to bring the world together in one conjoined initiative to do anything, even to eradicate Islamic terrorism.
And the ironic aspect of this political and diplomatic ‘sin of omission’ is that there is no country in the world that does not face the prospect of becoming the target of these attacks. However, if we look at the history of the world’s collaboration over the last half century to combat climate change and global warming, (Suzuki tells CBC’s Peter Mansbridge in his recent interview celebrating his 80th birthday this week, we are further behind than we were forty years ago) we cannot not have much real hope or expectation that a scourge that leaves material evidence of an unequivocal nature in its wake (the evidence of climate change and global warming has been disputed, as has human participation in its generation from the beginning), will meet with concerted and unambiguous and persistent collaboration from all the world’s powers, and the world’s Muslim community. What we do not need, and certainly cannot even countenance are the kind of moves coming out of the mouth of candidate Trump: torture terrorists and consider withdrawing from NATO, or from the mouth of candidate Cruz: police patrol in all Muslim neighbourhoods. We cannot even countenance either of these men actually attaining the Republican nomination for the presidency.
So, while we all mourn and pray for the victims of the Brussels attacks, and we wring our hands that these urban IED’s will explode on our city streets around the world, and we watch dedicated civil servants and law enforcement personnel commit to their protective duties, nevertheless, we all lose a little more hope, and little more innocence and a lot more confidence in the kind of future we will leave to our grandchildren, on both the terror and the environment fronts.
And these “voices crying in the wilderness” (like this one) will merely be dismissed as “bleeding heart liberals” who are not in touch with the real world.
And the power and money of the “right” will exert an inordinate amount of political muscle in the decisions by world politicians.
Terrorism and climate change are not politically ideological ‘files’: they are both, in their own way, existential issues demanding our common human sharing, and the sooner we ditch the distrust and the pride in our attempts to address both and all sing from the same song sheet, the better.