Friday, November 07, 2014

So, Just Who Is The Terrorist Here?

In 2014 in Canada, we have had several incidents involving people attacking various institutions and symbols of government.

Consider the following list:

The two in October has been deemed "terrorist actions", the first two have never been called that.

GGYesYesVeteran's Affairs Office
Justin BourqueYesNoRCMP Officers
Martin RousseauNoNoCanadian Forces Member
Michael Zehaf-BebeauYesNoCanadian Forces Member & Parliament

Looking the surface of these, I don't see a whole lot of difference between these various events.

The first two involved people who were upset with the government for various reasons, as did the last two.  The last two have been dubbed "terrorists".  What's the difference?  Oh, well, allegedly the last two were "converts to Islam" and had been "radicalized".

All four involve a great deal of anger with the government, and arguably 3 of the four involved ideological differences with the government.  The case of GG seems to be more of a case of frustration with Veterans' Affairs, although given the current government's "Veterans as Photo-ops" approach to Veterans' Affairs, one could argue that there is a causal connection.

In the story around GG at the very least we are talking about PTSD and Depression (both significant mental illness conditions requiring treatment).  Michael Zehaf-Bebeau is known to have sought help for significant mental health issues unsuccessfully.  We don't know enough about Martin Rousseau, although there are hints in the story of possible depression and the act itself seems to be more one of opportunity rather than anything planned.  Justin Bourque is a little harder to pin down on this front, and I don't think there's enough evidence to be certain about his mental health.

Objectively, three of the four cases reflect people struggling with potentially serious mental health issues that were largely untreated.

So, why are the cases of Martin Rousseau and Michael Zehaf-Bebeau dubbed "terrorism"?  Frankly, it's nothing more than an arbitrary connection of these people's religious affiliation.  Both men had converted to Islam somewhere along the way in their lives.  This is not a crime.  In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that each of us has the right to follow whatever religion (or lack thereof) that we choose.

There had been much talk in the news about "radicalized" youth travelling to Syria to fight with ISIS in the months prior to the October events.  The events of this past October got dubbed "terrorism" because a couple of people who were arguably dealing with untreated mental illness happened to be converts to Islam. 

I'm not saying that there are not violent factions within Islam.  There unquestionably are.  However, mere association with Islam should not be seen as an affiliation with terrorism.  The individual acts of two men, both apparently suffering from serious mental health problems, should not be considered "terrorism" on the basis of their choice of religion.  Even if they had posted violent threats online, we have to consider those in the full context of their lives.

The use of the label "Terrorist" has become one of political expediency.  We need to be much more judicious in applying such labels.  As a public, we need to be even more skeptical of the motives of a government that uses that language about people who are now dead and cannot be objectively examined.

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