This is a sad day in Canada, presaging even sadder ones to come.
Today, an as-yet-unidentified man shot a soldier near Parliament Hill, and then rushed further, armed and aggressive, into the halls of Canadian government. He was then shot and killed himself.
Two days ago, another man—a recent and very superficial convert to Islam—rammed and killed another Canadian soldier with his car.
I do not know the real political affiliations of either of the attackers, but clearly among their personal intentions we can list the intent to commit suicide. You don’t expect to survive if you kill a soldier and then, by rushing into the seat of government, practically guarantee hero status for whoever shoots you.
In other words, both of these men sought a way out of this mortal coil, and decided that the best and most dignified way to get out would be to go on a killing spree against strangers in uniform until someone else killed them in return.
Whether or not these attackers were in any way authentically associated with ISIS or Muslim terrorism, politicians, newspeople, and the common man at his dinner table will associate them with it. The steady spread of plausible, self-confirming rumour about the evil of Islam will grow and accelerate.
Like all acts of Muslim-branded terrorism hitherto committed on North American soil, although the casualties are numerically miniscule, the symbols are profound.
Because the terrorists attacked soldiers and politicians, the very embodiments of Canadians’ self-identification with the state, Canadians at large will feel that the terrorists have attacked them personally. Canadians will feel frightened and vengeful. We will find it psychologically very easy to dehumanize Muslims and Middle-Easterners. And we will feel more ready to kill them.
This is only one of the early incidents in a long and self-perpetuating cycle of vengeance, quasi-racist and quasi-religious xenophobia on both sides, and death, death, death for everyone.
Canadian politicians will shake their fists at the shadowy foe, and promise to send more brave Canadian soldiers, and especially more nice, clean bombs to go and kill the enemy.
Even if the enemy (ISIS? Militant Islam? Middle-Eastern sexist violence?) could be well-defined, when those bombs fall, they will kill and maim noncombatants, innocents, and children too.
Then the vengeful victims and their kin and those who feel some symbolic self-identification with them will cry out for more murdering.
And some new mentally unstable Canadian will adopt their cries for vengeance as a way to escape his own muddled life in a sudden act of purifying suicidal glory. And that mentally unstable fellow (almost always, it is a man) will kill some more Canadians, numerically insignificant but symbolically profound.
Killing some more of those Canadians will let you escape your life with glory, they say to their audience on Twitter and YouTube. Killing some more of those Arabs will bring peace to us and them, we whisper to our children as we tuck them into bed.
In the spiral of bloodshed into which we are now descending, the Canadian public at large may succumb to historically illiterate self-congratulatory neoliberalism (“We just have to go over there, bomb those sexists, and educate some girls; and then then they’ll all be ready for the gift of democracy.”) Or the public may succumb to implicitly genocidal self-congratulatory neoconservatism (“We just have to kill the bad guys until there aren’t any more of them, and then the Middle-East will be safe again and send us their oil in return for the gift of democracy.”)
Either way, if collectivist violence continues to be accepted as a wise and honorable pursuit, the blood will flow until the sands of time blot it over with some new catastrophe.
There is, as far as I know, only one hope for peace. And that is the humble recognition that other humans are people too — not nations we can rescue or demons we can destroy. Just people.
Both of this week’s amateur terrorists are dead. We can exact no further vengeance upon them for the fear they have struck in our hearts by attacking our symbols. If the politicians want (and they probably do), they can issue orders to have some more Canadian people kill some more Syrian or Iraqi or Turkish people. But that cannot resurrect our dead or erase our fears or refute their religions or save their nations.
It can just kill more people.
A decade ago, when I marched along with thousands in the protests against the Iraq War (2003 edition), I wept in the beauty of our songs (“Give Peace a Chance”). I laughed with the cleverness of our placards (“Who Would Jesus Bomb?”)
This year, weary and engaged more in fatherhood than in politics, I did not march to protest Canada’s involvement in the latest vaguely defined bombing of Middle-Easterners.
And this morning, I have no tears or laughter. I have only sadness and sympathy for all those people who will wave the flag of a nation or a religion and kill other people, and die themselves.
Image courtesy of the National Post. More details certain to be forthcoming.
Also posted on Liberty.me.