Creating the Other: Canada’s problem with homegrown terrorism

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Today, the shocking events that happened at the National War Memorial on Parliament Hill,  in Ottawa terrified the nation. Like an electric current, the tension, the fear, and some sort of uneasiness in the air could be felt as far away as here, in Montreal. Canadians from all walks of life are trying to get in touch with their loved ones, to make sure everything is alright. Phone lines were jammed in the Ottawa region. Unfortunately, one of those calls will never be picked up. Tragically, a soldier was shot while guarding the memory of his fallen sisters and brothers in arms. My thoughts are with his family and loved-ones in this, their time of mourning.

In the past three days Canada has been shell shocked by two attacks, which have, both claimed the lives of Canadian soldiers. The media, looking for shortcuts to what is rather a very complex and rather complicated matter, have decided, without further ado, to amalgamate both events under the umbrella of “Islamic terrorism,” which is very problematic because it sets us sliding down a very slippery slope.

The synchronicity of both of these acts are yet to be confirmed; the motivations behind the shooting in Ottawa are unknown; the identity of the killer is yet to be confirmed. All of this means that the perpetrator’s religion, ideological affiliations and ethnocultural background are unknown. And yet several media outlets and one prominent Conservative cabinet minister have decided to point to “Islamic radicalism” as the cause; because, obviously, behind every act of terror is a Muslim for Mr. Jason Kenny.

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The same coverage was applied for Monday’s incidents that took place near the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu military base in Quebec. The perpetrator there was not a criminal. He was a terrorist, and had acted upon “general” directives form ISIS. When a few months ago, 24-year-old Justin Bourque went on a rampage in the town of Moncton, NB, killing three RCMP officers and severally injuring 2 others, the media did not talk of “terrorism” even for a second. Justin Bourque was mentally ill, whereas Martin “Ahmad” Rouleau was radicalized. In this case, mental illness excludes any possibility of radicalization, and that is what’s fundamentally wrong with the media portrayal of these two events. In many ways mental illness, when considered as a taboo, and repressed can be a launching pad for “radical” acts such as committing murder.

But, this is a form of estrangement, or the creation of an “other.” It has been put forward by the media, pundits and commentators across the board, either in order to gain despicably traction from such tragic events, or to fend off any criticism of Canada, or of Canadian society. Martin “Ahmad” Rouleau is the “other,” and through this rhetoric, the “otherness” and radicalization go hand in hand. Martin “Ahmad” Rouleau can’t be considered as some everyday Joe, who has serious mental health problems, which lead to the tragic events that occurred Monday. He is portrayed as a foreign fighter, at war with Canada.

The problem with such a rhetoric is that the ISIS phenomenon is as much of a problem inherent in our Western societies, as it is in Islam, given the massive numbers of Western youth that have filled ISIS’s ranks. But through the xenophobic portrayal of events by the media, it becomes too easy to focus on the radical interpretation of Islam, and not on the actors that have become preys of such an ideology. Homegrown terrorism, as European countries have experienced in Spain, the United Kingdom, or France among many others, is not a phenomenon that is entirely fueled by Islam, unlike many would like us to believe — You know, the sort of idiotic rhetoric that says “Islam’s just a backwards religion.”

Homegrown terrorism is the main symptom of the disease that affects our Western societies.

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The radicalization process, as put forward by the media today, is as simple as picking up the Koran, reading a few verses and voila! You’re ready to jump on a plane, and join ISIS. This sort of over-simplification is part of a more general web of camouflaged racism and systemic xenophobia, when a white Canadian kills 3 RCMP officers in Moncton he’s mentally ill, but when one Canadian Muslim kills one military officer in Quebec, he’s a terrorist.

In the wake of the events in Ottawa and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, it is time now, more than ever, to take a good look at ourselves, as a country, as a society and to ask ourselves not merely why this happened in Canada, or why foreign enemies would want our harm. In these dire times it is imperative for us not to create an ”other” and pin it all on them. So, let us rather ask, what are the conditions in Canadian society that have given rise to such tragic events?

The problem is not one that is outside the limits of Canadian society. It is very well within its boundaries. Systemic racism, the taboo of mental illness, the inadequate treatment of those that suffer from mental illness, and care for their loved ones, the sensation of marginalization and alienation… These are issues that we must tomorrow morning address.

We’re living in delicate times. In the weeks and months ahead,  two types of discourses that go hand in hand will surface, as they always do in these kinds of circumstances. First, the discourse that in the name of freedom, we must move towards sacrificing civil liberties — a ridiculous argument. Jointly with this argument, the xenophobic case will be made to create two separate tiers of citizens through the Conservative government’s promotion of Bill C-24. Through the implementation of Bill C-24, some Canadians would be more equal than others. Judging from the way the media treat some sections of Canadian society well… It’s pretty obvious within this framework which Canadian communities would get the short end of the stick.

Today a soldier was shot and murdered while guarding the memory of those that fell before him; who were upholding the basic principals and values, of tolerance, of openness, of solidarity and of humanism which are the foundation of our democracy. It is obvious that organizations such as ISIS, and, for that matter, organizations of any religious denomination that offer a radical interpretation of their faith are at odds with such values, but there exist also so called “secular” forces and vestiges of past oppression that are also threats to our democracy.

In the wake of these tragic events, we must not barricade ourselves in fear behind a wall of xenophobia or give up our rights and freedoms in the name of “security.” The only way to create a secure society is to build a society where justice reigns for all and no one is left outside.

A luta continua.

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