Friday, August 5, 2005


Written by Mark Sun

A loud, frightening noise. Screams, smoke and mind-scrambling confusion. Precious lives wiped away. Defiance then, inevitably, a creeping pervasive fear. Terrorism is crude, yet effective. The terrorist bombings in London have prompted a good deal of resolute rhetoric in the press. Articles and reports of Britons’ famed ‘stiff upper lip’ abound. Mayor Livingston and Prime Minister Blair have defiantly stated that democratic societies will not be scared into compliance by such cowardly actions.

Canadian media outlets have reported from a Canadian perspective which generally waffles between worrying about the ‘when, not if’ aspect of a terrorist attack or the belief that, implausibly, terrorists keep score of how often Canada participates in peacekeeping missions and, therefore, not worrying at all. A recent front page graphic of Dose, a free Toronto newspaper daily, showed a modified logo of the London Underground with the text, “We Are Not Afraid,” presumably to show solidarity with the British but also ostensibly to point out that Canadians are not afraid for themselves. But, just how accurate are such statements? I spend a significant amount of time in downtown Toronto and on its public transit system. If there were to be an attack in Canada, it is likely that I will have been at that location previously, given Toronto’s prominence. Is it not then appropriate to be at least a little bit afraid?

A conventional answer would be, no. To be afraid would allow the terrorist enemy comfort, encouragement and a small but important victory. To cede any ground to the terrorists, conventionalists say, would be tantamount to abandoning Camelot after the first volley of arrows. While it is true that terrorism is possibly the most despicable and horrific form of blackmail and control, I do not believe that banishing fear to join the other skeletons in our closet is something we need to do at the moment. It should be noted that there has been a severe misunderstanding of what ‘understanding the terrorists’ motives’ lately. Of course terrorist acts are utterly unacceptable by any standard whatsoever. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with understanding and registering those concerns as legitimate or otherwise, particularly when voiced by those who are not terrorists. As effective as Mr. Blair is at making speeches, this piece of logic seems to elude him.

Courage, not fearlessness, is what is needed right now, but not just as a reaction. The problem is, though, the average person does not want to be courageous to go shopping, use public transit or work. Indeed, it is a relative fearlessness that contributes to our high standard of living. Now that this may no longer be the case, how should we proceed? At its most impressive, courage is a proactive affair. Merely packing the double-decker bus the day after a terror attack, while useful, is hardly enough. A similar courage must be summoned for citizens to to uphold privacy, civil and human rights in the face of calls for heightened security and anti-terror efforts. Harrassment of individuals based solely on their race, skin colour and/or gender, even in the name of security, runs counter to a fundamental part of our nation’s being. Security for many at the expense of the rights of the few is nothing more than a threat of imprisonment for everybody. A stronger courage must be called upon to stand up and speak out amongst your family, friends and community about the need for understanding and constructive action. Old, white politicans attending prayers at mosques as a means of reaching out to those communities will not be enough. Education, exposure and a move beyond tolerance to comfort and a firm embrace of different cultures, sensibilities and sensitivities is required. The best way to do this is by making new friends but just how quickly can you make friends with someone you feel uncomfortable with? Quickly, I hope, with a little bravery.

The most robust courage required is the one needed to re-evaluate and criticize oneself and one’s opinions, particularly when they are wrong. This polarization into right, left, liberal, conservative, hawk, dove, hard, soft seems to have swept all of that kind of courage away. This, unfortunately, leaves us only with fear, of which everybody could do with much less. To be fearless would be to ignore the fear and its sources; an ignorant approach at best. To be courageous, well, I do not think we have a choice.

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