‘Terror’ in SJR: Irresponsible Canadian media help promote irresponsible military mission (updated October 22, 2014)

Militaires happés à Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu: l’oeuvre d’un homme “radicalisé”
La Presse Canadienne, 20 Octobre, 2014

PMO says man in attack against Canadian Forces members had ‘become radicalized’
The Canadian Press October 20, 2014
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La menace terroriste est «bien réelle» au Canada, affirme le ministre Blaney
The Canadian Press October 21, 2014

Blaney says terrorist threats in Canada are very real
La Presse Canadienne, 21 Octobre, 2014

Questionnés par les journalistes, les deux ministres n’ont toutefois pas révélé de détails sur l’enquête afin de ne pas miner son intégrité.

Translated: Questioned by journalists, the two ministers refused to disclose details of the investigation so as not to undermine its integrity.

Despite the titles suggesting the English and French stories are the same, they contain different details. The English version omits the phrase translated above – no confirmed information, kind of an important detail. The French title lacks the “PMO says” qualifier to indicate it was just a political statement and not a confirmed fact – also kind of an important detail.

All that’s known at this point is there was an incident involving two Canadian military service members. They were struck by a driver, and one of the military service members was killed. The driver fled after an altercation with police, had an accident and subsequently died. That’s the actual story so far. Insinuation and speculation may merit a mention at the end of such a story, until further details emerge. Instead, insinuation and speculation were the story ledes. It’s the definition of irresponsible journalism.

Since the suspect is dead, it’s a sure bet that the truth about his intentions will never be known. A perfect opportunity to fabricate a back story, to retroactively justify a questionable military mission on the back of a possibly troubled and now deceased individual.

The incident took place in sleepy Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, with some reports naming an individual who happened to be an area resident as the driver. If that’s the case, the chances that s/he was Arab or of Islamic faith – two things incorrectly used interchangeably by The Canadian Press, despite a significant share of Canadians of Arab origin being Christian – are practically zero (actually, 0.1%). There are no mosques in the area to demonise for ‘radicalising’ the individual.

[Likely story: It was the Internet. Also useful for justifying even greater incursion on Canadians' privacy and civil liberties. In a recent virtual interview with The New Yorker, Edward Snowden addressed the popular retort, "Well, if you don't have anything to hide, it doesn't affect you," by explaining the statement's an inversion of how rights work.]

Canada’s had a lot of fabricated ‘home-grown terrorism since the current government took office. The earliest – taking place mere weeks after the government was sworn in – and most famous episode was that of the Toronto 18… who turned out to be the Toronto 4… maybe. That the whole affair was a police set-up of, complete with agents provocateur supplying both the arms and the ‘bomb’ material (fertilizer) to, a bunch of disaffected youth who’d otherwise have gotten nowhere with their delusional fantasy, was conveniently ignored by The Canadian Press. If it wasn’t for alternative media efforts, Canadians would have been left completely in the dark about the farce. See Parody of Justice: Toronto 18 Suspects undergo Trial by Media, Global Research April 3, 2008.

As the referenced piece notes, the Toronto 18 episode did not make Canadians any safer, as there was never a plausible threat to begin with. All it did was serve to fuel suspicion, fear and loathing of Islam and, by extension, of Canadians with roots in countries where the religion is widely practised.

This media-imposed ignorance and prejudice was recently and impressively rebutted by US scholar Reza Aslan on CNN: “We’re using two or three examples to justify a generalization. That’s actually the definition of bigotry.” CNN fired back, labeling (libeling) Mr. Aslan, who exercised extreme patience all things considered, hostile: “His tone was very angry. So he wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it.

Such ignorance and prejudice also fuels racist incidents, like the recent one involving no less than Canada’s Multiculturalism Minister, who was assumed to be an unemployed ne’er-do-well based on his appearance. As Mr. Aslan pointed out, bigotry is an unfortunate generalization based on arbitrary facts or anecdotes. In Canada, someone of Minister Tim Uppal’s background is in fact more likely to be unemployed, in no small part due to prejudice against individuals with Southeast Asian roots, where Islam is widely practised — despite the fact most people from the region, including Mr. Uppal,  are not of Islamic faith (and most of the faith, as Mr. Aslan noted, have nothing to do with the racist caricature presented by the media). In effect, such prejudices are self-perpetuating.

Mr. Uppal, serving as a Minister in a government with a penchant for fomenting these unfortunate prejudices and stereotypes to further its policy agenda, refuses to address them, even as he personally experiences their effects. His personal page is plastered with pro-Israel sloganeering, with a couple of anti-Russian/pro-Ukranian notes to break up the monotony. It’s unfortunate that in the rare instance Canada finds itself with a Multiculturalism Minister who happens to belong to an ethnic minority group, one that often faces racial discrimination and prejudice, he turns out to be just as useless as his predecessors.

A closing note on the ill-defined and ill-conceived military ‘mission’. A mission usually has a mission statement. Other than the vague ‘defeat terrorism’, how will Canada determine when it’s ‘mission accomplished’? Speaking of Mission Accomplished, it’s worth noting the same Canadian government now sending its forces to war in Iraq (and Syria), is the same one that in 2003 supported the US-led Iraq war that Canada wisely avoided. That dishonest effort helped create the threat that the latest attack is supposedly going to vanquish. There isn’t even a basic internal consistency to it.

One of the strongest arguments made for the attack is that it will put an end to the genocide undertaken by this latest vague Islamist threat to Kurds, Christians and other religious minorities in the region. It’s here that the media has once again dropped the ball. While certainly not a defence of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was arguably the most progressive, secular state in the region; Iraqi women attended and taught in its universities,  served in its government and otherwise enjoyed most of the rights western women did. Religious minority rights were fiercely protected; no less than Pope John Paul II, despite being barred from visiting during his 2000 Jubilee tour of the Middle East, commended its protection of Christians. This was a primary consideration in the Vatican’s decision to oppose the 2003 Iraq invasion. Which, to repeat, Canada’s current government, then sitting in opposition, supported.

Details matter. Unfortunately, more often than not Canadian media, in large part owing to the lackadaisical effort of its national new syndicate, ignore them. In this instance, some likely down-and-out, troubled individual from rural Quebec who may have either had a gripe with the military or been violently opposed to the ill-conceived and ill-defined military mission will be made out to be the gravest terrorist threat Canada’s ever seen. And despite the unlikelihood s/he was either of Arab or Southeast Asian descent, or of Islamic faith, these communities will be further stigmatised by the media coverage.

Update (21/10/2014)
A couple of comments received took exception to the link between the Saddam Hussein regime and the current Islamic State thing. Apparently the Canadian media’s done such a lousy job of reporting, that Canadians are unaware of even the basic facts behind the situation its military’s been sent to face.

Saddam’s Ex-Officer: We’ve Played Key Role In Helping Militants
National Public Radio, June 19, 2014

Military Skill and Terrorist Technique Fuel Success of ISIS
New York Times, August 28, 2014

…leadership team includes many officers from Saddam Hussein’s long-disbanded army.

This isn’t even ‘news’, reported months ago in the US and most of the rest of the world.

Update (22/10/2014)

Latest CP article, sensationalistic title aside, provides more actual details. Unfortunately, it doesn’t present a story.

As expected, the CP article notes Canadian authorities blamed the Internet, what governments are increasingly refering to as “self-radicalized”. Nevertheless, reference is made to an “imam at the mosque he went to.” As noted there are no mosques in or near SJR – the nearest a 40min drive (2+hr bus ride) away. For all we know, the troubled young man may have tried reaching out to a mosque, whose imam tried to help talk him down after becoming “self-radicalized”. Instead, the way it’s presented without context suggests some nefarious involvement, casting aspersion on the Islamic faith for the actions of a troubled young man.

The CP article also fails to connect a couple of facts presented: that police could find no reason to hold the young man yet proceeded to confiscate his passport. Presumably, anyone who’d had such an interaction with authorities would have been upset. For a disturbed, so-called “self-radicalized” young man that would have been more than enough to trigger the event that transpired.

The article notes the young man was one of 90 who Canadian authorities presumably had no grounds to hold but nevertheless may have treated like criminals (questioning, passport confiscation, etc). If the government started watching these individuals in the first place because of negative views they may have expressed on social media about the government or military, then proceeded to justify those views — it’s not unreasonable to conclude the state may be aggravating the situation.

The frightening prospect is what legislation the current Canadian government may justify introducing in light of this event. Will it authorise the detention of anyone who expresses negative views of the government as a precaution?

Update 2 (22/10/2014)

This Globe and Mail article is better. It looks into why/how the young man came to adapt extreme views: He had family and financial issues, which led his adapting anti-government, anti-military, and eventually extremist views. Basically, his personal situation was similar to that of many other struggling young adults in rural Quebec, as well as much of the rest of Canada. In the rush to blame Islam, Arabs, etc and further restrict Canadians’ civil liberties in the name of security, little to no attention will be paid to that key point.