Glenn Greenwald on Canada: War and occupation makes violence more likely

October 26, 2014
A Canadian soldier on patrol in Kandahar province in 2008.

A deranged gunman, Michael Zehab-Bibeau, shot dead a soldier at the Canadian war memorial in Ottawa before being shot dead while trying to storm parliament on October 22. The motive for the actions, if there was a clear one, remains unknown.

The attack came two days after two Canadian soldiers were hit by a car in Quebec. The car was driven by Martin Couture-Rouleau, a 25-year-old Canadian who had recently converted to Islam. One of the soldiers died, as did Couture-Rouleau when he was shot by police upon apprehension after allegedly brandishing a large knife.

After the Quebec incident, but before the October 22 shooting, independent journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote an article on the context for the attack and its aftermath. It is abridged from The Intercept below.


The right-wing Canadian government wasted no time in seizing on the October 20 incident in Quebec to promote its fear-mongering agenda over terrorism. This includes pending legislation to vest its intelligence agency, CSIS, with more spying and secrecy powers in the name of fighting ISIS.

A government spokesperson asserted “clear indications” that the driver “had become radicalised”.

In a “clearly prearranged exchange” during parliamentary question time, a conservative MP asked whether this was considered a “terrorist attack”.

Canada's public safety minister Steven Blaney pronounced the incident “clearly linked to terrorist ideology”. Newspapers predictably followed suit, calling it a “suspected terrorist attack” and “homegrown terrorism”.

CSIS spokesperson Tahera Mufti said: “The event was the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings.”

Mufti added: “That something like this would happen in a peaceable Canadian community like Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu shows the long reach of these ideologies.”

In sum, the national mood and discourse in Canada is virtually identical to what prevails in every Western country whenever an incident like this happens: shock and bewilderment that someone would want to bring violence to such a good and innocent country.

This is followed by claims the incident shows how primitive and savage is the “terrorist ideology” of extremist Muslims, followed by demand for still more militarism and freedom-deprivation.

There are two points worth making about this. First, Canada has spent the past 13 years proclaiming itself a nation at war.

It actively took part in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and was an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist “war on terror” abuses perpetrated by the US.

This month, the PM revealed “Canada is poised to go to war in Iraq, as [he] announced plans in Parliament to send CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to battle Islamic extremists”.

It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to several countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country.

Regardless of one's views on the justifiability of Canada's lengthy military actions, it's not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.

That is the nature of war. A country does not get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it does not happen more often.

The issue here is not justification ― very few people would view attacks on soldiers in a shopping mall parking lot to be justified. The issue is causation.

Every time one of these attacks occurs ― from 9/11 on down ― Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business.

They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

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.

The statements of those accused by the West of terrorism, and even the Pentagon's own commissioned research, have made clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world's Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims.

The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism.

Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the US has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the US in that region before that.

Second, in what sense can this incident be called a “terrorist” attack?

As I have written many times over the past several years, and as some of the best scholarship proves, “terrorism” is a word devoid of objective or consistent meaning. It is little more than a totally malleable, propagandistic fear-mongering term used by governments to justify whatever actions they undertake.

As Professor Tomis Kapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in the October 20 New York Times: “Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of ‘terrorism'.”

But to the extent the term has any common understanding, it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends.

But in this case in Canada, it was not civilians who were targeted. If you believe the government's accounts of the Quebec incident, the driver waited two hours until he saw a soldier in uniform. In other words, he seems to have deliberately avoided attacking civilians, and targeted a soldier instead ― a member of a military that is now fighting a war.

Again, the point is not justifiability. There is a strong argument that non-deployed soldiers engaged in normal civilian activities at home are not valid targets under the laws of war.

The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism”.

But, at this point, “terrorism” means little more than “violence directed at Westerners by Muslims”. When not used to mean “violence by Muslims”, it usually just means violence the state dislikes.

The term “terrorism” has become a rhetorical weapon for legitimising all violence by Western countries and delegitimising all violence against them, even when the violence called “terrorism” is clearly intended as retaliation for Western violence.

At this point, “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin sceptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it.

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