Thursday, February 16, 2006

But where does the path lead?

Babble on.

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.

Babble off.


At 4:54 p.m., Blogger Jack's Newswatch said...

Just a quick thought to add to what you have written.

Terrorists commit violent acts for one reason and one reason only - to defeat the will of the enemy to continue the battle and force them to withdraw.

That means doing nasty things and grabbing headlines - that's their business - and as we saw during the Vietnam War, it works.

My concern regarding the cartoons and our troops overseas is that terrorists will now make a point of selecting Canadians as a prime target. They will do that to grab headlines in this country and lower our will to fight back.

I ask myself how Levant is going to handle that problem when it arises. What is he going to say to the families of the injured or dead who became targets because he wanted to make a point?

Just asking...

At 5:19 p.m., Blogger PGP said...

It seems our minister of defense is quoting directly from the islamsts who offered the exaxt same quote to the media.
He should get it through his thick head that:
a) The islamists are looking to kill us anyway.
b) If we wanted liberal apologists in Ottawa we would have voted for liberal apologists.

At 5:32 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Jack, I hear what you're saying. Anytime soldiers are put in harm's way, there had better be a damned good reason for it.

But flip the problem around for a minute. What's the alternative? For our press to avoid telling a story in the way they would normally tell it? Why would we let fanatics outside our country determine what freedoms we should or should not exercise within it?

If we cave on this, we might as well bring our troops home, since the freedoms they're over there to protect obviously aren't worth a man's life.

I won't pretend that publishing the cartoons doesn't increase the danger to our troops - although I do wonder by how much. I just think the point Levant is making is important enough to justify it.

Of course, I'll freely admit it's 'easy' for me to talk, since I'm not the one with my tail on the line in Afghanistan. I say 'easy' in quotes, because I really do take this quite seriously.

At 6:06 p.m., Blogger Halfwise said...

Was 9/11 actually just a pre-emptive strike against cartoonists? Would someone please explain the exact level of incremental offense caused by these cartoons, over our current level of offensiveness to Middle East Muslims arising from, say, our gay-marriage Sex in the City Rap Video 24 hour Porn Channel society? Those who see the cartoons as intrinsically significant provocations have lost the thread. Were it not the cartoons, it would have been something else.

Personally I am against anything that shows disrespect to another man's religion. Our own media have much to answer for in their hypocrisy in the cartoon issue, because they have relentlessly attacked MY religion without caring about offending anyone. Of course, I don't burn things down, and some Muslims do, so the consequences of offending me are lower. Now THAT's acting on principle...

But one of the reasons we want to project what remains of our military power overseas is to protect that which our society has agreed is acceptable. The imams and their willingly obedient rioters should not be given the right to dictate to Canadian society.

Here's a suggestion for our beloved media: please spend the effort that you have devoted to distorting conservative attitudes towards immigration and gay rights, to publicising the truth about Muslim teachings about women and gay rights. Then the public can decide whose values they would prefer to have forced upon them.

At 6:47 p.m., Blogger TonyGuitar said...

There is no risk to our freedom of the press priveledge.

It is a question of timing.

There is more to gain by holding off for a time while reporting to and informing the Canadian public that the Emir of Quatar is promoting riots in the streets through his Al-Jazeera radio and TV networks.

Ezra is simply opportunistic and impatient, and is gambling with safety while he gains noteriety points for his Western Standard publication.

He is winning for now. He could never afford all the free editorial mention he has gained thus far.

On the other hand, if the Mullahs give extra incentive to their Jihadists to kill Canadians, then Ezra will have some baggage to carry.

To not feed the mullah inspired frenzy of the moment seems a reasonable thing to do.

Lots of opportunity to publish hate cartoons later. TG

At 9:04 p.m., Blogger Paul Kimball said...

Here's the thing - they weren't "hate cartoons". They were trying to make a point - the newspaper about self-censorship in the media, and the cartoonists themselves about how the Islamo-facists have corrupted Islam, and the message of the Prophet. Hence, the bomb in the turban.

No religion is above criticism, or even parody if it gets too sanctimonious. This was no different than the daily barbs tossed at evangelical Christians by guys like Jon Stewart (which I often find quite amusing).

That said, freedom of expression requires us to defend the right of someone to say what they want (and the cartoons are a form of speech). It does not require us to give them a platform from which to say it, or spread it (with the Internet, anyone can create their own platform these days). I'm against Levant's decision to publish the cartoons in the same way that I'm against Jeff Rense, a popular American talk radio host, providing air time for someone like Mark Weber of the so-called Institute for Historical Review. It is irresponsible. The news could certainly have been reported without showing the cartoons.

However, as to the central point of your post Damian, i.e. will this further endanger our troops, I doubt it - and I think the people that are lobbing that charge at guys like Levant are engaging in little more than grandstanding. Our troops are already targets of the Islamo-fascists. They've been targets since day 1. Wearing a maple leaf insignia on the shoulder, or not publishing the cartoons, won't make a whit of difference.


At 1:47 a.m., Blogger TonyGuitar said...

Most of what you say is correct enough.

Maybe for real results and progress on the ground we should commit a massive influx of troops and get the job done.

We owe it to those Iraqis who risked their lives and purple fingers to move towards democracy and a free and fair way of life.

Thrashing about with cartoons on paper seems to miss the target. TG

At 9:17 a.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Iraqis, Tony? I'm missing the connection.

At 9:25 a.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

Err...there was a connection wasn't there?

At 3:03 p.m., Blogger AwaWiYe said...

>What is he going to say to the families of the injured or dead who became targets because he wanted to make a point?

Why should he have to say anything?

Either we're at war or we're not. If we're not, bring the forces home.

If we're at war, and if it's an irregular (guerilla, terrorist) war, we might as well provoke the enemy into careless rage to draw them out and kill them in the open. Above all we show them we don't give a fig for them in the battle of wills.


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