Living in one of the most peaceful and affluent countries in the world makes it hard to realize how quickly that peace can be shattered. No doubt the citizens of Paris and San Bernardino felt the same way about their own security as they celebrated a rock concert, ate a meal, or watched a soccer game. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.
As it does for those killed in northern Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Just as the world was transfixed by the little body on the beach, our attention turns quickly to what we do now about the violence that continues to take thousands of innocent lives.
Justin Trudeau was mocked a couple of years ago when he suggested it was important to understand the causes of the conflict. But now most security experts are saying exactly the same thing. And Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister of Canada.
In an extraordinary new development, the Pentagon has identified a new contributor to security threats: Donald Trump. In a blaze of brutal self-promotion, Mr. Trump called for a “complete and total” ban on entry by Muslims into the United States until people could “figure out what the hell is going on.” The U.S. Department of Defence said that this announcement, and the accompanying rhetoric, would only play into the hands of the Islamic State, demonstrating that there is no room in the United States for all the members of a worldwide religion.
Mr. Trump’s ideas are not simply “outrageous,” “ridiculous,” or “unacceptable.” He is a purveyor of hate, racism, and deep prejudice. This goes beyond ignorance and pandering, and take us to a different level – the ugliness to which Europe descended in the 1920s and 1930s, and which has unleashed genocidal attacks in our own time.
There came a point in the McCarthy hearings in 1954 when the trial lawyer Joseph Welch interrupted a bullying assault on his client by asking the question “Have you no shame?” But it is weak to ask this of Mr. Trump. He not only has no shame. He and his message have to be fought tooth and nail by any public leader seeking to gain the confidence of the American public, or any public. How can the Republican Party accept his continued candidacy?
As the world continues to shrink, we need strategies that deal with both the crisis abroad and the challenge closer to home. There is emerging a more tough-minded and cohesive approach to destroying the Islamic State “government.” In that context, it is entirely appropriate for Canada to assess how its contribution can be most effective. It is better if local armies can be trained and helped to do the job, and tougher steps need to be taken to cut any and all supply lines fuelling the Islamic State regime. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and neighbouring Middle Eastern governments need to be talking face to face on the state of military progress on a daily basis. There is no alternative to a military victory in this battle.
But this is only part of a broader challenge in a region that has become a seething cauldron of rivalries between religious sects, governments, and hundreds of millions caught in a vice of poverty, prejudice, inequality and violence. The complexities of all this lead many to throw up their hands and say “a plague on all your houses,” but this won’t work. From Pakistan west to northern Nigeria, the forces of hate and extremism have captured many hearts and minds and intimidated and bullied many more.
The conflict with Islamic State and within Syria are the most difficult at the moment, but eruptions can come anywhere, any time. This extends well beyond purely military thinking, and whatever economic and social steps are taken will dwarf the Marshall Plan.
At home, we need to embrace our own diversity in a way that explicitly rejects extremism wherever we find it. Assimilation and integration are not the same thing, and as we find more ways to celebrate the things we have in common, we need to prevent small ghettos of hate from festering in the margins of our society.
I have written before about events in my own life that have affected my thinking on these issues. While on a flight between Belfast and London in the summer of 1974, a bomb was discovered that failed to go off because a single coat of paint blocked the electric charge. My work on governance and conflict has taken me to many difficult, violent, and recurring conflicts. And my review of the Air India bombing convinced me that the worst act of terror in the air since the Second World War could have been prevented by greater vigilance and imagination. The idea that Canada is somehow immune from the dangers of the world we are in now has not entirely left us yet, and that in itself is a problem.
In its review of Canada’s security and intelligence system, Parliament needs to find the right balance. While intrusions into private communication need to continue to be limited, and must be authorized by law, we need to appreciate robust intelligence and policing. And these same agencies have to accept the need for robust review, scrutiny, and accountability.
As we embrace the arrival of refugees and immigrants from the Middle East and elsewhere, let us celebrate that we are in the world and the world is in us. And let us continue to reinforce the values and institutions, at home and abroad, that ensure we live in safety and freedom.
Photo By Simon Hayter