Please, everyone, let’s just calm down a little. Let’s try to have a sense of perspective. Let’s try to think about the big picture. I know that’s very difficult when someone you never met dies, but let’s try to be bigger than knee-jerk reactions this one time.
On Monday, October 20, 2014, in a suburb of Montreal, a Canadian man waited for hours in a parking lot to run over two Canadian soldiers with his car, one was killed. Though this was a hit and run, it was immediately labeled as a “terrorist” incident by various politicians and members of the media. There are numerous problems with calling this incident a “terrorist attack”, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out.
On Wednesday October 22, 2014, a man shot and killed a soldier at the National War Memorial. The same man (as far as we know) then went to Parliament Hill and opened fire, inside the Centre Block. He wounded one guard and was later killed. Ottawa was immediately locked down and government offices across the country were also shut.
Both incidents are tragic for the families involved and the communities. However, it is important to remember at this moment, when seemingly everyone has their patriotism on their sleeve and everyone wants something – anything – to be done to prevent these incidents, that both vehicular homicides and gun homicides happen all the time in Canada. All the time:
- In 2011, 2,158 people died in Canada due to some kind of incident with a car. Yes, the absolute vast majority of these were not deliberate attempts to injure, but rather alcohol-, phone use-, and tiredness-related, but how many of those has the media covered ad nauseum?
- 172 people died from being shot with a gun in 2012, and far more people were nearly killed by firearms that year. (That is to say, guns are far more often used in the commission of attempted murder – i.e. failed murder – than they are in successful murders. ) Again, how many of these incidents have been broadcast around the world and obsessed the media?
Let’s have some perspective. People die in Canada due to incidents with cars every day. They die by gunshot every other day. Most of these people are not known to the rest of us. It is, of course, a tragedy for the families, friends and communities of anyone who dies, especially if they are murdered. But why are we giving these incidents more attention than normal?
These incidents seem to be bothering people for a number of inter-related reasons:
- Canadian soldiers were deliberately targeted (this should rule out the use of the word “terrorist” in both attacks);
- To my knowledge, nobody has ever opened fire within the Parliament Buildings in Canadian history, and such an event has far more symbolic power to far more people than, say, a school shooting or a shooting at a mall in another city;
- As far as we know, both attackers were Muslim converts and at least the driver of the vehicle in Monday’s attack attempted to travel to Turkey, ostensibly to participate in fighting against the U.S. presence in the region;
- The Conservatives have, from the first moments of learning about the attack on Monday to this present moment, used language that engenders fear;
- Many if not most media outlets are treating these incidents more thoroughly than your average hit and run or murder and are, in many cases, repeating the Conservatives’ fear-laden language in their discussion of these events.
I think the main point to take away from this is that these incidents serve two agendas – sometimes these agendas are at odds with each other and sometimes they are not.
The first “agenda” is that of television news, which has relied on fear-based ratings for decades at this point (if it ever did not). This should not surprise anyone, but the fact that we fall for it to this day – in our curiosity, in our sympathy, or in whatever other emotions we fall for it – always surprises me. I am tempted to wax philosophical about the human need to be “part of something” but I won’t do that here. We want to keep up with current events, we want to know what is going on, we are inherently curious – especially of tragedies – and we are also very, very into anything that seems remotely symbolic, especially when that symbolism can be patriotic. And our media outlets know about this and exploit it. Some of them exploit these behaviours less than others – and it would be negligent of a news outlet to not cover these stories, obviously – but exploit these behaviours they do.
I don’t know what appropriate coverage of these events looks like – in part because I too have been absolutely hammered by fear-based media coverage – but I suspect it looks somewhat like what happened with Monday’s incident. Now that something “bigger” (and far scarier) has come along to replace it, it’s hard to find mention of it on the home page of Canada’s biggest newspaper.
But the point is that the media has been treating this latest attack as something worse than the shooting at Dawson, or the shooting at the Eaton Centre, or any number of other incidents in Canada since the dawn of 24-hour news coverage. I guess because of the symbolism.
The second agenda is that of the Conservative Party of Canada, who have been just desperate to find something to justify Canadian intervention in Iraq and ever-more surveillance measures. For example, they tried to use the “Via” plot to drum up support for stricter “anti-terrorism” measures. Just weeks ago, they jumped on a faulty report about ISIS activity in Canada as justification for air strikes in Iraq, a conflict which we initially wisely avoided.
The Conservatives are going to use these two events to further erode our rights and freedoms, they will implement a ridiculously over-the-top reaction, likely in the form of another anti-terrorism bill. As a colleague of mine pointed out, though they were really struggling in the polls this summer, the Conservatives are now front-runners in the next election, merely by virtue of the supposed truism that Conservatives are better at security than everyone else. I, for one, do not look forward to the new legislation that will be introduced to “protect” me from people in the Middle East.
What these agendas forget, or actively deny, is that these two men did these things because they were disturbed. They were not part of some kind of coordinated attack on Canada – certainly, if they were part of a coordinated attack, it was a pathetic attack if there ever has been one. Rather they were lonely, angry and undoubtedly disturbed and they clung to the easiest, most available crutch that angry young men can cling to these days, radical Islam. As someone I know pointed out earlier today, had this been a different time, they might have clung to Marxism or Nazism instead. Just because both of these men found radical Islam as a means to vent their anger against society doesn’t mean there is some kind of ISIS plot to overthrow the government. (And, again, if there was a plot, what a pathetic plot it was.)
The Conservative Party, in their willful ignorance of evidence in general, and sociology in particular, and the media, in their willful ignorance of the complexity of life, ignore the obvious: these men were marginalized.
Why were they marginalized? Well, maybe they were both mentally ill. But maybe, must maybe, part of the “radicalization” stems from economic issues in Canada – the Conservatives’ economic record is far less wonderful then they’d have us believe – and domestic politics. But such an understanding would be too difficult for us peons to grasp.
The other thing I think we are all failing to grasp is that the incident on Monday claimed one life and the incident on Wednesday claimed another. 2 people died. The gunman’s “attack” on Parliament Hill failed utterly. Utterly. How many of us believe this man’s goal was to wound a guard on the Hill and then die? We are treating an event that should relieve us as as something that is terrifying and hugely symbolic of some kind of external threat, or internal rot, or both.
The unthinking, crass patriotism that is everywhere these last few days just goes to show that no one really wants to think about these things. We just want to react. We just want to feel righteously angry that Our Country is under threat, even though these acts were committed by Canadian-born citizens. I saw a post today on facebook saying “Let’s take back our country.” I mean, who is the “them” in this scenario, anyway? These two men were Canadian.
As Canadians ourselves, we have a choice.
We don’t have to be irrationally terrified that some crazy man in a car ran down two soldiers in a city most of us have never been to.
We don’t have to be irrationally terrified that some crazy man shot a solider and a security guard in the capital, a city that, yes, many of us have never been to.
We can calm down and try to think about this semi-objectively.
We can reflect on what would cause these men to do the things that they did (or attempted to do).
And we can reflect on the social situations that would make these people feel so angry, so desperate so violent, rather than giving in to the simple, easy “Muslim Extremists are a Danger to Canada” narrative that the Conservatives want us to follow.
We can be thankful that neither man was able to inflict more injury on other people. And we can be thankful that we live in a country where a man firing a gun off in the seat of Government is truly shocking.
And we can demand better from our federal and provincial governments, demand that they put more money into mental health and into understanding what exactly causes people to “radicalize.”
Or we can post a Canadian flag on facebook or instagram, demand that someone please save our country from these Others, and let the Conservatives overreact in every way they can imagine, all in the name of Safety and Canada.