A delightful little post on marriage that comes out of my reading of John Crowley’s Little, Big was scheduled to post this afternoon. With the Ottawa terror attacks in play, I decided it was time for a more sober reflection, even if I don’t have all the answers. As I write this, people in Ottawa are staying away from windows. Children are hiding beneath their desks at school.
Terror attacks are nothing new. 9/11 has shaped our generation, and Lower Manhattan still seems a bit empty to me. There are other dates like this: 7/7 in London, 13/7 in Mumbai, and 22/7 in Norway, the July bombings. An earlier American generation was formed by 11/22/63. Perhaps today will become 22/10 or 10/22. I don’t know. The attack may not be over yet. Someone on the radio just called it “Canada’s 9/11.”
It’s too early to tell why multiple shooters attacked Parliament Hill. On Monday, a radicalized Muslim convert mowed down soldiers in Quebec with his car. Yesterday Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent died of his injuries. The suspect in this attack had his passport suspended because authorities were concerned he would join ISIS forces in the Middle East. Instead, he served his cause closer to home.
It could be that today’s acts of terrorism are from a similar base of politicized Islam. Bombings rocked Mumbai not just on 13/7, 2011, but also in 1993 and 2008. In 1993, the Blind Sheik attempted the first bombings of the World Trade Centre. While largely unsuccessful, terrorists did succeed in the 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans, and the Aug 7, 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. In those coordinated attacks of Kenya and Tanzania, at least 224 died and thousands were injured.
While media since the first Gulf War has most frequently drawn out elements of Islamic terrorism–and they are certainly there–this one stream of the world’s second largest religion does not have a monopoly on terror. My childhood memories are haunted by IRA bombings, laced in my imagination with a U2 soundtrack. It is hard to ignore the Oklahoma Bombing or the Tokyo Subway Sarin Gas Attack, both in 1995.
There is danger all around.
The soldier shot on Parliament Hill was just pronounced dead.
I have taught a number of classes on religious and anti-religious extremism. Without fail, students want to know why. Why do people radicalize? How does a human life of less value that a political or religious idea? How does a middle class kid from Denver, CO or Lockport, NY or St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC set down textbooks to take up arms?
I have never had an answer for my students.
There are many social reasons why people radicalize. The social conditions in the Palestinian Territories or among Iraqi minorities is ripe for extreme solutions to unsolvable problems. Revolutions begin this way, but it is also the way that terrorist organizations flourish.
There is also the question of mental illness. I brought up this question in my post, “What if He is Actually Evil?” Too often social conversations turn to language like “insane,” “mad man,” and “psychopath.” I think this leap does real damage to people with mental illness, and it leaves no public space for the question of good and evil. It also doesn’t help the radicalized individuals or their victims. On Monday I posted a pithy quote from a Terry Pratchett character who talks about evil, and how humans have no good except what evil they prevent. Perhaps he’s right, though I hope not.
So I have no answers.
All I can really do try to redeem that public cliche. “Thoughts and prayers,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper is offering to our country. “Thoughts and prayers,” President Barack Obama is offering to our Prime Minister and all of Canada. This phrase can slip out of our mouths without much thought or any intention to pray. It has perhaps come to mean nothing as we say it when we have nothing else to say.
But it is a good phrase, a sentiment that can rise above the cliche.
My thoughts and prayers, as meager as they may be, are with the victims of terrorism and the citizens of Ottawa.