But where does the path lead?
It seems everyone from Minister of National Defence Gordon O'Connor to MCpl Russell Storring thinks Ezra Levant's decision to publish the cartoons that have caused so much offence to Muslims worldwide will put our troops in Afghanistan in greater peril.
Personally, I don't doubt it will. If even one Afghani or imported foreign zealot works harder to kill Canadian troops than they already are as a result of this - and if they're looking for inspiration, this will do - then the predictions of Levant's critics will have been on the money. I'd say it's a safe bet Canadian troops are at greater risk as a result of this, although how much greater is another question.
I just wonder how relevant that fact is in the bigger scheme of things.
Storring lays out the immediate dilemma in two paragraphs:
Having served two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the military, I have seen first hand how people often do not actually associate a flag with a nation. Rather, all western soldiers are viewed as exactly that – "western soldiers." Sure, once people had an opportunity to talk to us, they recognized that we were Canadian -- but the difference might be moot in a frenzied moment. When someone is looking for a target to hit, whether with an improvised explosive device, a suicide bomb, or something as simple as a well-aimed rock, they are looking for a "western soldier." Whoever generally matches their target ends up their prey.
I had hoped that Canadians serving overseas would avoid most of the brunt of this cartoon controversy as mainstream Canadian media opted not to run the controversial cartoons. Everyday life can often be risky enough for our soldiers (at least in Afghanistan).
On the face of it, Storring's position seems self-contradictory: either we're seen as 'western soldiers' - in which case it doesn't matter if the cartoonists or publishers were Danish or Canadian, our soldiers will be targeted for being lumped in with the wrong international crowd - or we're seen as Canadians - in which case the actions of a Canadian publisher have very real consequences on the ground in Afghanistan.
I'd argue that the truth is actually a mix of the two extremes: we're westerners, foreigners, infidels, and so we'll be targets, but we're also Canadians, and the actions of Canada as a nation and of individual Canadians also means we'll be targets. Confusing? You bet.
Prior to the September 11th attacks that galvanized much of the world against the threat of terror, Canada was seen as more of a base of operations - fundraising, recruiting, planning, and the like - than a target of direct terrorism. Our presence in Afghanistan, however, has put us directly in the crosshairs.
Could we have avoided the post-9/11 threat of extremist violence by making different decisions? Perhaps, perhaps not. At the very least, we would have had to completely abandon our allies in America, Europe, and around the world in their fight to eliminate a base of violent operations in Afghanistan. Simply being there is provocation, apparently - cartoons or no. But that probably wouldn't have been enough. Canada attracts the displeasure of radical islamist fanatics by banning known terror groups within our borders, by cooperating in preventative law enforcement and counter-intelligence operations with America and the world community, by eliminating sources of funding and support for extremist groups. In fact, Canada would have had to completely overhaul our international posture to appease these opponents, crawling into an isolationist hole, and hoping deseperately that would make all the bad people go away.
Fortunately, we did not pursue that option. Many of us would not have been able to bear the shame.
So, given that Canada decided not to shirk its international responsibilties, our citizens and especially our soldiers became specific targets. The question since then has been how to minimize the threat, while still accomplishing our goals. That qualifier - 'while accomplishing our goals' - is key. Our best chance to keep our people safe would be to abandon the fight against terrorism, to move away from our support of universal human rights, to forego our commitment to the spread democracy and the rule of law worldwide.
Our best chance to keep people safe would also involve not publishing inflammatory cartoons. But that's a very dangerous line to cross. Why?
Because it is one thing to accept that what we do outside our own borders endangers Canadians, and to govern our actions accordingly. It is entirely something else to accept that we must limit how we conduct our everyday lives within Canada's borders in order to placate those who see physical retaliation as a legitimate recourse to perceived insult.
Which parts of what makes Canada what it is are we willing to give up for the chance - because it's by no means guaranteed - that we might dispel a small fraction of the anger of the violent islamist fanatics? Freedom of expression, even limited as it is in Canada, exposes us to offensive content on a regular basis. Should we start applying standards unequally? Should we allow the views of Muslim mobs on homosexuality, on the rights of women, on tolerance of other religions to determine our course in Canada? What will that say about our national character? Where will that lead? And what will next be deemed offensive enough to a dangerous group to merit suppression?
That's why, for me, the burning question is not whether publishing the Mohammed cartoons endangers Canadian soldiers, but rather whether we can keep our soldiers safe without becoming something less than we are now.