Corrupt elevations: killers of Canadian soldiers and the Jian Ghomeshi scandal
Is Canada at war?
This is not the simple question it once was. We have witnessed the steady degradation of language, as Orwell predicted, so that “war” has been cheapened by repetition. War on poverty, war on drugs, war on diseases, etc. have left us jaded about the meaning of war.
War on terror is another such phrase with meaning so diluted it can be stretched to cover a multitude of acts, ideas, words and thoughts. Yes, in 2014, even your thoughts might be evidence of a war, if you act violently and your motive can be interpreted and selectively packaged to look like part of a conspiracy. Or so I conclude from what is happening in the story of Zehaf-Bibeau, murderer of a Canadian soldier at the Ottawa war monument.
During the Cold War – which oddly was not called “the war on communism,” as it could have been described – I was a socialist and a communist. I never did anything violent. No one ever gave me strategy for armed action to destroy capitalism, subvert government, build socialism.
If I had acted on my own, and then my membership of socialist groups became known, I know I would not have been held up for vilification in media as a warrior in a crusade “ordered by Moscow.” The politicians of my youthful days did not label us, socialists and communists who were born-in-Canada, bona-fide Canadian citizens, who had never left the country, enemy warriors or conspirators in “Canada’s war on communism.” Merely because we had ideas we absorbed from books or university studies or left-wing publications, we weren’t “self-radicalized.” This stupid word, self-radicalize, ought to be banned from our vocabulary.
The politicians of my youth showed good sense. Today politicians are not showing the same wisdom in re-telling the story of Zehaf-Bibeau for the public. Some of them are calling him a jihadist and an agent of “the enemy” in Canada’s war on terror.
Motive, idea, intent and self-identification
Ideas are not conspiracies. Ideas may motivate action. Just because a killer says his motives originate in ideas, written and spoken by other people he has never met, from people he never communicated with, the ideas of people he does not have any connection to other than knowledge of the common ideology, then, certainly — he is not part of an armed conspiracy on our soil in a war between Canada and a foreign enemy. He is a murderer. He is not waging war. He is in all meaningful ways an individual acting alone, murdering alone. I think this is lucidly clear. I will break it down slowly.
The killer has a motive, or motives. He says his intention was to act in accord with an idea or ideas that he believes demanded that he take some action. The action is murder.
This person murders someone. By definition he is a murderer and a criminal. Is he a combatant in a war? No. He acted entirely alone.
In current media labelling practice, Zehaf-Bibeau is a “lone-wolf” killer, belonging to no group. His ideas are held in common with others. He does not know who agrees with him, not as individual persons. He merely knows that other people, people he knows only from the news media, agree with the ideas he says are “his ideas.” He reached his own conclusion, to murder.
How can such a person, how can his act of murder, be transformed by politicians’ argument into an enemy soldier in a war Canada is waging?
How can Canadians be brought to agree that this murderer proves Canada must have more, tougher laws, and confer more legal power on our law-enforcement authorities, and fight more military actions abroad against enemies outside the country?
To these questions I say, “I do not know how.” But it seems our Prime Minister feels he can indeed turn the murder of soldiers by “lone-wolf” killers into a narrative to justify a right-wing law and order agenda. More, he can turn it to justify a more aggressive Canadian foreign policy and military policy in certain select parts of the globe, but not everywhere.
Sadly, I observe some of my fellow Canadians are responding to the illogic of the “Canada-is-at-war-on-terror” argument. Conservative politicians are trotting this out in Parliament and in public media; in their fond dreams of our future, Canada will act more like big powers and “throw our weight around” on the world stage, as the UK, France, Israel and the USA have been accustomed to do. Quiver and shake, Mr. Putin, Mr. Assad: Canada is calling you out.
Uniformed men as targets: is this evidence of a war being fought on our soil?
Last, one must consider the fact that the men murdered, in Ottawa by gunshot, in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu by vehicular manslaughter, were soldiers of the Canadian military. They were in uniform, and they were members of our country’s “security forces.” Police, members of CSIS and border guards are other members of our security forces, and wear uniform on duty as a typical part of their workdays.
Because the victims in these two murders wore uniforms, is there more truth to the Prime Minister’s assertion that the killers are enemy soldiers in a war we are fighting against terror? I totally fail to see Harper’s logic in that.
Justin Bourque in New Brunswick has been convicted of murder for his killing of three RCMP. No one has called his action an act in a war of Canada against terrorism. He has been correctly treated as a murderer, his motivation has not been tied to some narrative of war.
Zehaf-Bibeau should, posthumously, get the same treatment in politics and media as Bourque received in the courts. He should not have his action elevated into the tale of the West’s war against terror, and his counter-story of glorious Islamic jihad against the satanic West and its aggressions. He might have wanted the celebrity and notoriety of being called a jihadist, a fighter for Islam and the Caliphate, as an IS soldier might very well imagine himself to be. Zehaf-Bibeau might wish to see himself as important and memorable, and to leave a legacy in history. We do not owe it to him to endorse his self-glorification, to inflate his ego and his pathological notion of his identity. Why would we treat his mental delusions as reality?
Yet Conservative politicians and their media fellow-travellers seem set to do so.
The man who murdered John Lennon said, as soon as he saw Lennon fall down dead, that no one would ever forget him; he would go down in history as the man who shot John Lennon. And if we use his name in any story about Lennon, we would help him achieve his goal. Similarly, we should quickly cease to treat Zehaf-Bibeau as he wanted to be remembered. He did not strike a blow in any real war. He was a mentally-unbalanced murderer, full stop.
Jian Ghomeshi and the social pathology of celebrity
I have to be brief or I will defeat my own purpose. I fervently wish to kill the phenomenon of celebrity culture. By writing about Jian G. I defeat my purpose. I only want to say, shut the f__ up about the story.
It is “a story” only because of celebrity. He is not important. You do not know him. If he were a nobody, this would be a no story. If you let an insignificant person symbolize an important issue of violence against women, you accept he signifies more than you, and he can stand for an issue in a way that you cannot. And that is wrong. He is not significant in any way more than you are. JG is radio host, pop musician, style-setter: his private behaviour is not more significant than yours or your friends and relatives. His alleged crimes, to be proven in the usual court proceedings, have no more intrinsic interest than the crimes of any other people you do not know personally.
Who is significant? People with power to rule you. Prime Ministers, law-enforcement officers, army generals, CEO’s of mighty corporations — all these come to mind. Why? They are people who have force (ultimately, force in weapons and money) to coerce obedience, people whose words and acts set other people in motion to enact massive physical movements that will touch your body, your home, your employment, your loved ones.
Cultural creatives and brilliant artists are not significant in this way. What a show-biz celebrity has done to his lovers is not more important to other people than what you have done. If “celebrities” are criminal, they are criminal in the ordinary way. Breaking the law is not made more significant because a celebrity did it. It is more significant if a public servant, a ruling politician, a law-enforcement or military person, is a law breaker. Crime is banal. It may be sordid and tawdry or violent and spectacular. It is still just bad, often harmful, behaviour. Or, if the law itself is merely lies and falsehoods, “crime” might not even truly be crime.
Kill the celebrity culture! Don’t try to be a celebrity in the cyber-world and social media yourself. Don’t pay any attention to the egos who think they are celebrities. Be entertained by all means, by their artistic merits, but leave all other aspects of their lives alone. Let privacy revive.
Parting shot: Elizabeth May and Margaret Atwood, you demean yourselves and lower your dignity by expressing any opinion about the media frenzy around this phenomenon. You imagine that your opinion matters because you imagine your position is influential. Your influence on my opinion extends only where you have credible special insights, in politics for Ms. May, in literature for Ms. Atwood. Otherwise, I prefer my own opinion. And about JG, I have no opinion the public needs to know.
“People’s feelings are not disturbed by fact. They are disturbed by opinions about the facts.” — Epictetus, Stoic philosopher
“What we hear is not Truth, but opinion. What we see is not Truth, but perspectives.” — Marcus Aurelius, ditto
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson=based writer. The previous edition of Arc Of The Cognizant can be found here.