Powell River, British Columbia.
I expect that the reaction of most Canadians to the deadly attack on Parliament Hill (the home of our Parliament Buildings which house both the Senate and the Commons) was similar to mine: a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, a reaction that was not political but just human. My next reaction was: it has finally happened, as if I knew it had to in these days of the ‘war on terror.’ Given Canada’s recent role in the Middle East it is a miracle it hasn’t happened before.
All sorts of clichés seem to come to mind in moments like this – a “loss of innocence” being one of them. And to some extent this is accurate. Those who have visited Ottawa and the Parliament Buildings will remember by how quiet and benign is the sensibility of the place – with a huge stretch of lawn separating the street from the magnificent stone edifice, dominated by a soaring tower. It is almost bucolic. People regularly picnic on the lawn and play Frisbee. They also engage in demonstrations against the government of the day, or for some policy they care passionately about. There has been a deliberate attempt over the decades to make people feel that this really is their place (even if in terms of progressive public policy it rarely has been).
I think that what makes such terrorist incidents so profoundly disturbing is that they involve ordinary Canadians who suddenly transform into killing monsters effectively willing to commit suicide. For what? Sudden shootings never seems quite so disconcerting when the person is clearly unbalanced or somehow provoked by circumstances. But someone killing for a religion is new and inexplicable. It leaves people off balance.
But the loss of innocence this is only partly accurate because it is now increasingly a myth and the “ownership” of the place even more of a delusion. While not exclusively the fault of the current prime minister, Conservative Stephen Harper, many will put the largest part of the blame on his efforts to transform Canada from a moderate, middle power with a history of virtually inventing UN peacekeeping, into a shrill, warmongering nation ever ready to rattle its (insignificant) sabre at any opportunity. It’s not who we feel we are, but it’s what have become in the world
We may never know whether this attack has anything to do with ISIS and Canada’s decision to join the bombing campaign (six fighter bombers for six months) and send military advisors to Iraq. But just last week another Islamist convert ran over and killed a Canadian soldier in Montreal (injuring a second soldier) – and he did so explicitly as revenge for Canada’s role in fighting ISIS. The demonic nature of Islamist terror is that the now-dead terrorists didn’t have to have any actual connection with ISIS. All they had to do was “believe,” listen to and read the ISIS propaganda and take matters into his own hands. These are sleeper agents that the mother ship doesn’t even know exist.
Stephen Harper is a man with undeniable psychopathic tendencies and as such he is very likely the biggest risk-taker in Canadian political history. This plays itself out at every level and his recklessness, while it too often pays off, can also have severe blow-back. A few commentators have pointed to Harper’s recklessness and rhetorically asked just why no one in his government seemed to take seriously the ISIS threat to take the fight to Canada. According to a report in the National Post, on September 21st, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani “…urged ISIS supporters to kill Canadians, Americans, Australians, French and other Europeans…Rely upon Allah …Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict.”
Harper, in what has become a standard adolescent response to events in the Middle East, bravely declared he would not be “cowed by threats while innocent children, women, men and religious minorities live in fear of these terrorists.” In a to-hell-with-the-consequences determination and despite a laughably minuscule force, off we went to war yet again. And all for domestic political consumption. To their credit the opposition parties in Parliament, the NDP and the Liberals, voted against the mission for most of the right reasons: what was the mission, what were the expectations of success, how was success even being defined, and why six months when virtually all analysts suggest the ISIS threat will be with us for a very long time. Not one of these questions was answered and instead the questioners were treated to the usual contempt from our narcissistic prime minister.
We are supposed to learn as children that actions have consequences so I suppose we are left to conclude that current leaders of the Anglo-industrialized countries (in particular) were badly neglected by their parents. A monstrous and catastrophic failure of imagination on the part of the West has led us to this point. The first failure belonged to Zbigniew Brzezinski one of the key architects of the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Before the US armed, financed and trained the then-handful of religious zealots opposed to the godless Soviets, they were a threat to no one.
In an interview that appeared in CounterPunch in 1998 Brzezinski revealed his limited imagination when asked if he regretted creating Islamic terrorists: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”
The answer is in.
And the failure of imagination is replicated year after year in the White House and in the Strangelovian world of NATO – and now Canada. Imperial hubris, willful ignorance and breathtaking incompetence accompany it on its journey to permanent catastrophe. And Stephen Harper has, as he likes to say, been punching above his weight in this dance of idiots. He enthusiastically bombed Libya, handing over thousands of tonnes of sophisticated weapons to another branch of radical Islamists, he gives Israel absolute carte blanch in its savaging of Palestinians (In the last invasion of Lebanon, Israel deliberately targeted a UN bunker with over a dozen bombing runs, killing a Canadian soldier. Harper refused to comment.) and he tweaks the tail of the ISIS tiger.
The more frightening interpretation of Harper’s mentality relates to his determined expansion of the security and surveillance state in Canada. His efforts to equate environmentalists with terrorism and treason, his abuse of power in targeting of dissent from any quarter, his relentless attack on the institutions of democracy suggest that he may just welcome the political aftermath: a population more willing to give up its civil liberties, more prone to stay home rather than demonstrate and a Parliament more willing to increase funding and authority to security agencies. A member of Canadian Security and Intelligence Service our CIA equivalent – said in response to the shooting: “This will change everything.” He was a little too eager in his pronouncement, perhaps anticipating a greater role, more resources and new laws to control dissent.
And, of course, he didn’t mean it would change our irresponsible foreign policy. Every effort will be made to portray an amateurish attack, facilitated by a stunningly incompetent security service, as a game changer. We will see in the months ahead if Canadian citizens are up to the challenge of rejecting this self-serving police state rhetoric.
MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years. He now writes a bi-weekly column for the on-line journals the Tyee and rabble.ca. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org