H/t Toronto Star
The events of yesterday were undeniably tragic. A young man, Nathan Cirillo, died. As I noticed on a Facebook posting by my cousin's wife, Nathan was a friend of their son with whom he played organized hockey. Six degrees of separation and all that, I guess.
Nonetheless, I have to confess that when I heard the news on CBC radio, my first thoughts were twofold: how these events could work to Harper's electoral advantage (I could immediately envisage the attack ads juxtaposing Harper's "strong leadership and stand against terrorism" against Trudeau's talk about searching for the "root causes" of terrorism), and how this could very well provide a pretext for further erosion of our civil liberties. Like frightened mice, many people aid and abet anyone or anything to ensure the comforting illusion of security.
Fortunately, I found a measure of balance in two Star columnists this morning, Martin Regg Cohn and Thomas Walkom. Cohn's words
bring some much-needed perspective to terrorism:
For terrorists, killing people is merely a means to an end. By far the bigger objective for terrorists is to terrorize — not just their immediate victims, but an entire population.
A soldier lost his life Wednesday. And parliamentarians lost their innocence.
But the nation must not lose its nerve.
Public shootouts or bombings are carefully choreographed publicity stunts that require audience participation to succeed: If the public gives in to fear, and the state succumbs to hysteria, then the shootings or bombings have hit their mark. If the audience tunes out the sickening violence, the tragic melodrama is reduced to pointlessness.
And he quickly gets to what, for me, is the heart of the matter:
The risk is that we will overreact with security clampdowns and lockdowns that are difficult to roll back when the threat subsides.
Terrorists will never be an existential threat — our Parliament and our parliamentarians are too deeply rooted to crumble in the face of a few bullets or bombs. The greater risk is that we will hunker down with over-the-top security precautions that pose a more insidious menace to our open society.
Thomas Walkom, while acknowledging that events such as yesterday's have a very unsettling effect, reminds us
that Canada is not exactly in virgin territory here:
In 1966, a Toronto man blew himself up in a washroom just outside the Commons chamber. He had been preparing to take out the entire government front bench with dynamite. But it exploded too early.
Other legislatures have had their share of trouble, most notably Quebec’s national assembly, which was attacked in 1984 by a disgruntled Canadian Forces corporal.
He shot and killed three as well as wounding another 13 before giving himself up.
In 1988, another man was shot after he opened fire with a rifle in the Alberta Legislature building.And no one who is of a certain age can ever forget the FLQ crisis of 1970 which led to Pierre Trudeau imposing The War Measures Act, which effectively suspended civil liberties across the country, a measure that was widely embraced at the time.
Walkom ends his piece on an appropriately ominous note:
We seem headed for another of those moments of panic. The fact that the gunman attacked Parliament has, understandably, spooked the MPs who pass our laws.
It has also spooked the media and, I suspect, much of the country.
The government wants to give its security agencies more power over citizens. The government wants to rally public support for its war in Iraq.
On both counts, this attack can only help it along.If we are not very careful and vigilant, the real
threat will come, not from terrorist attacks, but from our putative political leaders.