Canada has been the victim of two terrorist incidents this week. The first, on Monday, was an incident in Quebec where a “radicalized” man ran over two uniformed servicemen with his car. One of these servicemen later died.
The second incident was this morning, when one or more gunmen murdered a uniformed reservist standing ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial. At least one gunman then moved to Parliament Hill, entered the Centre Block, and died during a brief firefight with Parlimentary security.
Caution: Graphic footage.
At this time much of Ottawa is still under lockdown as the number of shooters is currently unknown, and it is unclear whether the situation is ongoing. The identity and motive of the shooters is still unknown. There were also a number of reports that a third shooting occurred at the Rideau Centre mall, just down the street from the War Memorial, but police later denied that. The situation, still ongoing, is very uncertain and unclear.
But what is clear is there have been two attacks on uniformed military personnel in this country just two days. Clearly, there is a serious issue happening here. The question is whether these incidents are related… and whether further incidents are going to occur.
I’ve been watching these events for hours, and it’s hitting home pretty hard: A year ago today The Wife and I were on Parliament Hill as part of our honeymoon. It was a day just like this, and we walked from our hotel at Albert and Bay, down Wellington Street, across the lawn at Parliament Hill, and past the War Memorial and the Château Laurier, and over to the National Gallery for a day looking at art. On our walk back to the hotel, we stopped at the War Memorial and did some shopping along Sparks Street. It was a lovely (if chilly) day and we were quite footsore by the time we returned to our hotel before meeting some family for dinner in the east end. It’s a fond memory, and it was one of the high points of the trip. Against those memories, today’s images are jarring in the extreme.
I’ve also been reminded today of how many friends — even family — I have who live and work in downtown Ottawa. A distant relative caught in the lockdown at Parliament Hill; a sister whose apartment is only a few blocks from the shooting; friends Tweeting and Facebooking their status as “safe, but locked down”, and other friends replying their relief.
And then the anger started.
Comments began on social media about how folks hope the shooters are caught, or are glad a shooter is dead, or how the government has to crack down on “these people”, in varying tones of outrage… some of which began shading into outright racism. And then people started making assumptions about who “these people” are: I’ve heard Muslims blamed; I’ve heard Natives blamed. Bear in mind that, as I’m writing this, there is no official confirmation of the motives or identity of the attacker or attackers in Ottawa.
The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to history as as V.I. Lenin, said that. Both Stalin and Mao quoted him as saying that, they were correct, and they would know. The purpose of terrorism is to create terror, fear and uncertainty… and to provoke a over-reaction by the victims of terror. This is called asymmetric warfare. Simply put, one side isn’t strong enough to beat the other, so they have to manipulate the stronger side into beating itself.
Whomever these attackers are — Monday’s attacker was an identified as a Canadian who became a “radicalized Muslim” and today’s attackers are still unidentified — they can only have one purpose: to manipulate the Canadian government and people into some kind of fear-based crackdown. That’s how terrorism works — you force your enemy into oppressing a population in order to build sympathy for your cause within that population and against the government.
To put it plainly: terrorists, whatever their flavour, are trying to force us into acting like the bad guys, because that makes them into the good guys.
What distresses me is how many people don’t understand this extremely basic fact about terrorism: Even if you kill the terrorist, the terrorist can still win if you do what he wants you to do. These are not people who are particularly afraid of death (the gunman who rushed Parliament Hill must have known that he wasn’t going to survive his actions, since downtown Ottawa and the Hill probably hosts the largest concentration of firearms in the entire country) but they are prepared, for whatever reason, to die in order to further the political objective of increasing oppression on their own kind, in order to grow support for their own cause.
The worst thing that we, as Canadians, can do is to allow our fear and uncertainty to be turned into rage against innocent people. If these attackers are “radicalized Muslims”, we must not restrict the freedoms of innocent Muslims in this country; if the attackers are Native, we must not increase the oppression of the Native population of Canada in response. Prudent caution and a reasonable increase in security is one thing — taking punitive measures against innocent people is entirely another. Our watchword must be justice, not revenge.
I understand the anger. I am angry. I’ve got friends in uniform, some of them are in the area; I’ve got a future brother-in-law who walks down that street every day to get to work. I’ve walked those streets myself, recently. I hate that these things happen in places I know, to people I know.
But I understand that we must not let the terrorists succeed: As a nation, as a people, we need to react to these attacks calmly, reasonably and with the solemn understanding that we are not only being attacked physically, we are the victims of a cynical attempt at manipulation. The physical attacks have failed, as the physical attacks of asymmetric warfare always do; we cannot allow our emotional reaction to these threats to play into the terrorists’ hands. Quite simply, the purpose of terrorism is to terrify us: if we refuse to be terrified, to be manipulated, then we win and they lose, both in the short term and the long run.