Musings on Contemporary Waffle

Ottawa: October 22, 2014


Parliament Hill

Living in Canada means something very different today than it did before yesterday morning. Not only do I live in Canada, but I live in Ottawa, where yesterday – on a typically cool yet pleasantly sunny late-October day — a person killed an unarmed reserve soldier who was ceremonially guarding a statue commemorating soldiers who fell during the wars in which Canada fought alongside the US and the UK, soldiers who were either never found or never identified.

Whether the gunman, who himself was later shot to death as he meandered through the hallways of the nearby main Canadian Parliament building firing his rifle, did this in the name of Islam may never be completely clear. But it seems to be the most likely reason.

This man was a native Canadian who appears to have become convinced that Canada’s support for the fall of the former dictator of Libya did harm to a personal space in his head represented by his Libyan ancestry that his new-found belief in radical Islam may have sensitized.

If anyone wants to understand Canada, they can begin by appreciating how many stories about struggles with identity must exist in this land of immigrants and wonder that actions such as this man’s are so exceedingly rare here, though not rare enough.

I spent 12 hours yesterday watching on the CBC the few scenes captured of the events within Parliament shown over and over. The country’s leaders dispensed with their professional facades and expressed instead a startlingly genuine sorrow at what has essentially been a vicious breach of faith in who we Canadians believe we are. The Prime Minister seemed almost on the edge of tears.  

To realize that this attack on a venerable place, open to all, accepting of most, and soaked in the perception of its benevolence, was carried out because Canada took a stand to remove a despot from limiting his peoples’ attainment of the freedoms that we take for granted here, and for which we are willing to continue to take a stand in the face of an ever-increasing radical Islam, is too much for most Canadians.

That such a despot or radicalized organization may represent some kind of stability to their communities despite these abuses of rights is a blind spot for us that we cannot get around.

The world is simple for us that way. We speak freely every day, associate freely every day, strive for equality and respect among men and women every day, and listen to divergent views with patience and equanimity, almost every day. We Canadians are known for being a little boring that way, and often more than a little naïve about what others may be capable of when they disagree with us. 

But we will be less of those things after today.

Canada is like a mini United Nations, with cultures and languages of every kind practiced in the privacy of our suburbs and high-rises away from our common places. Most of us live in two worlds: the one at home, where we speak our old languages, and the one outside, on the street, where we try to fit in and get along — lest we disintegrate into chaos. 

We are an imperfect experiment in social cohesion that works, so far.

We see this experiment as working when other places remain in unremitting turmoil; places that have their own blind spots and cannot accept divergent versions of the same faith, cannot come to terms with women’s’ voices, and refuse to educate their underprivileged, and so on, and so on.

Though most of Canada’s 35M are from somewhere else and have parts of our personal spaces permanently assigned to elsewhere, we nevertheless see the folly of the lost creature who caused so much havoc today in Ottawa; who proved nothing and accomplished nothing, except that we see no reason to go back on the principles that brought so many of us here in the first place and where we have our own version of stability for which we will also fight.

An unknown soldier has been found and identified in all of us here today.

Much to our sorrow, anger, and horror.

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