Monday, October 27, 2014

The Shooting in Ottawa: Discerning Motives, Meanings, and Responses

A Canadian soldier is shot dead at the National War Memorial before the assailant runs to Parliament and is shot by the Sergeant-at-Arms and dies on the doorstep of the House of Commons.

http://cdn.theatlantic.com/newsroom/img/posts/2014/10/CAN_TGAM/201783cf6.jpgBased on those circumstances, one might be forgiven for interpreting the incident in terms of national security, situating it within a battle of political ideologies and the war on terror. But it matters that we reflect carefully on such things. Our interpretation of the event goes a long way in determining our short- and long-term responses; our cultural and societal attitudes.

Thus it is with interest that I read two articles today, probing deeper into motives and meaning:

A heart-wrenching letter from the mother of the Ottawa shooter, which doubts he "acted on behalf of some grand ideology or for a political motive."

A statement from the RCMP that they are examining "persuasive evidence that [the] attack was driven by ideological and political motives."

The question I raised elsewhere and am simply recording here is this: What exactly is at stake in proving one thing or the other?

Prompted further, I'm lead to think of 'terrorism' as this name we give to things that fall outside the usual terms of war--such as premeditated but surprise attacks on civilian turf. Whether we like to take the long-term view and admit it or not, these are usually (rightly or wrongly or maybe a bit of both) in response to some grievance against the people who call that turf home.

The main weapon in terrorist acts is the fear they initiate, and the main motive is probably to strike back at that perceived enemy with an impact that exceeds one's actually ability to counter them force-for-force.

What complicates matters is that when we've gone off on a 'war on terror' (rightly or not), we possibly exacerbate the conditions that might invite that kind of terror even more. Depending on the terms of engagement and the location of the terrorists, we may even duplicate that terror on foreign soil (inadvertently or justifiably or not).

What complicates matters in this case, I suppose, is that even if this man was caught up in ideological or cultural-political motives, his (possible) mental illness and criminal history may well be as big a catalyst for what he's ended up doing as any kind of battle he perceived himself to be fighting.

I guess my concern is the speed with which the incident was coloured in nationalist, terrorist overtones, even before a proper investigation could be had.

Why? Because by labelling it simply and only a terrorist act we may set our sights and spend our funds on nationalist security issues (not to mention prompt anti-religious rhetoric) when more (or as much) attention might be warranted by the social conditions and infrastructures at play within our nation itself.

In other words, the enemy is demonized and the us/them narratives are exacerbated while underlying issues may not only go unaddressed but perhaps even get perpetuated.

That's not to suggest this killing is to blame on the judicial or penal systems which served as this troubled man's primary places of engagement with the government he would later attack. It is simply to say that if we want to get to the bottom of the underlying problems we may do well do avoid the entrenchment of battle lines that set us up in postures of attack and defence in return.

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