Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who came to our attention as the conduit for Edward Snowden’s Wikileaks cache, has a theory on why members of the Canadian military have been killed in terror attacks like the one last week in Ottawa. They died for the sins of Canada’s foreign policy.
Greenwald wrote a piece after the incident in Quebec on Oct. 20, in which two soldiers were run over – Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent fatally – in a deliberate attack. Greenwald’s article was rerun at rabble.ca on Oct. 22, apparently posted to the site about the time another attack was taking place on and around Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
“It is always stunning,” Greenwald wrote, “when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country.”
Greenwald shifts blame for the soldiers’ deaths from their murderers to Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, Canada’s newly announced air support for the Western battle against ISIS, and on Canada’s being “an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist War on Terror abuses perpetrated by the U.S.”
The article has been shared around social media and similar assertions have been made by other commentators.
It needs to be said that both of these incidents, in which the perpetrators themselves were also killed, were apparently “lone-wolf” attacks. Also popping up in social media are demands for greater attention to mental illness in Canada, the implication being that mental instability may have trumped ideology for one or both of these perpetrators. This is an important issue to consider.
Greenwald anticipates the inevitable comeback to his argument – that Islamists are not driven by reaction to our foreign policy but by hatred of our values. That is, they hate us not for what we do, but for who we are.
“They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms,” wrote Greenwald. “Those fairy tales are pure deceit. Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others.”
It’s not a stupid idea, but it’s simplistic in the extreme. It suggests not only a self-deception about the ideology driving worldwide terror, but an almost understandable, desperate hope for safety: if we just stop provoking the terrorists, they will leave us alone.
What his position ignores – though it is shared by many – is that the perpetrators are fundamentalists, seeking the destruction of the existing order not only in Syria and Iraq, but worldwide. The deceitful fairy tales are those told and believed by those who refuse to acknowledge evil when they see it beheading people on the internet.
Greenwald’s position, in fact, is a version of the Western colonialist mentality. The actions and worldview of ISIS and other extremists are not born of ideology or theology. No, they are solely a reaction to our actions. It’s all about us. It’s a weirdly imperialist view in its own way.
But even if he is correct, even if the attacks we saw last week and those endured by other democracies including Israel in recent years, were motivated by government actions and policies, his solution is suicide.
Even if there were proof positive that terrorists were motivated by our policies, rather than the fact that we like freedom, equality, an after-dinner drink and mixed-gender dancing, the solution would still not be to change our policy.
For a country to base its foreign policy on whether or not it will be liked or hated by ideologues who scythe off the heads of innocents is a map to self-destruction. The idea that terrorists will target our soldiers and civilians because our government is engaged in far-off conflicts is not completely outlandish, but its corollary – that we should change our foreign policy to one more agreeable for the worst elements in the world – is horribly wrong. That is, to use a hackneyed and ridiculed phrase that is nonetheless spot on, how the terrorists win.