O Canada, where art thou?
Montreal Gazette, Tuesday, October 02, 2001, B3
|Newspaper and Journal Articles-Written||When U.S. President George W. Bush
addressed Congress about the dastardly terrorist attacks,
he neglected to mention Canada. Many Canadians bristled,
as the White House backtracked. Unfortunately, as the
shock from the murders wears off up here, the reaction
developing among the Canadian leadership class suggests
that the snub, though probably unintentional, might have
been well deserved.
The response of the Canadian man and woman on the street to the horrors visited on the United States has been overwhelming. The flags waved, the prayers offered, the money donated, have demonstrated sincere friendship. The millions who stayed glued to their television sets throughout that awful week, the 85,000 Canadians who gathered in Ottawa on Sept.14, all demonstrated the American-Canadian bond. To the masses, the expression "we are all Americans" was not empty rhetoric. Most recognized the attacks on secretaries and securities wizards, on firemen and financiers, as a vicious and irrational assault on all Westerners.
Thinkers on different path
And yet, despite this common-sense reaction from "commoners," too many Canadian leaders and thinkers are hewing a more nuanced path. Too much of Canadian identity is invested in not being American, in criticizing America and in deviating from American policy, somehow, some way. One wonders why it took Jean Chrétien, the Western leader living closest to Ground Zero, two and a half weeks to visit. His response has been correct but hardly effusive.
Moreover, too many Canadians are projecting their condemnations of American foreign policy onto Osama bin Laden and his psychopaths. For example, the 33 per cent of Canadians - including 40 per cent of Quebecers - who in a La Presse poll blamed the mayhem on "American policy in the Middle East" ignored the fact that planning for this atrocity began long before the Palestinian riots against Oslo. This knee-jerk reaction also overlooks bin Laden's stated hostility toward Western decadence.
The lethal hatred Islamic extremists harbour toward all Westerners - reflected in their targeting of the World Trade Centre - mocks the delusion that Canadians can avoid the crossfire. The question one CBC interviewer posed, "If we get involved will we also become a target," disrespects the memory of the dozens of Canadians buried in the Twin Towers debris. "We" have already been targeted, and too many of us, along with hundreds from 80 different countries, have been murdered for the crimes of wanting to do a job, make some money, build a good life.
More broadly, Canadian critics of the United States articulate, validate,and elaborate the terrorists' agenda. In a careful essay, "It's time for the U.S. to ask 'why' ", (Gazette, Sept. 29), Richard Logan says Americans were responsible for so many deaths in Vietnam, Central America and Iraq. No one can deny that. But it is hard to believe that extremist Islamic xenophobes like the bin Laden gang care that much for Vietnamese or Central American "infidels." And for all the care in his essay, Logan neglects to mention that the Americans entered the Iraqi war to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, at the head of an international coalition which included Canada. Such an oversight perpetuates the impression of the big, bad, bloodthirsty U.S. getting what it deserved.
Yes, of course, vigorous debate is necessary, and there is much to criticize in the foreign policy of any country, including the United States. But, this rush to attribute the attacks to some American behaviour helps make an irrational and unacceptable act appear rational and permissible.
Shifts the Focus
More disturbing, such speculation shifts the focus away from the true criminals - and their co-conspirators. Co-conspirators include all those who justified terrorist attacks against office buildings, pizzerias and shopping malls, for whatever cause, be it the Irish Republic or the liberation of Palestine. Has anyone uttered a mea culpa saying, "I was wrong, condoning terrorism in one area helped create conditions for this unfathomable atrocity. I will change my behaviour."? Co-conspirators include all those who funded the terrorist network, be it rogue states or Canadian and American Muslims funneling money to the murderers via some Islamic charities. The United States can only do so much to follow the money trail individuals and institutions who are guilty need to take some responsibility and police themselves, and their own people. Co-conspirators include all those who indulged in the world-wide sport of demonizing and scapegoating America, be it the many Egyptians who condemn the United States while taking $3 billion U.S. in annual subsidies, or the many Saudis who blast America while enjoying her protection.
For too long, all Western countries, including the United States of America, allowed the scourge of terrorism to fester. Placing countries like Syria on a watch list, did not stop business as usual. The monstrous murders of over 6,000 individuals, depriving 15,000 children of one and sometimes two parents, have drawn a line in the sand. Prime Minister Tony Blair and his people have made it clear just where England stands. Canada must do the same by vigorously hunting down the murders, and demonizing this crime to such an extent that all good people throughout the world do what they can to cleanse this scourge from our midst, while ensuring that this kind of atrocity does not become a new standard to which all self-proclaimed. "freedom fighters" aspire.
- Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University.
Copyright 2001 Montreal Gazette
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