The world didn’t begin on September 11, 2001. But for many Canadians, it sure feels that way.
The massacres that happened on that day were wholly senseless. But no one expects terrorism to make sense. However, our government’s reaction to the events of 9/11 did not make sense either — and that was not expected.
Within less than four months of September 11, 2001, the federal government managed to draft, refine, and approve one of the most oppressive laws of any modern democracy — Bill C-36. Against an unmistakable background of American pressure, it was rushed through, without consulting the Supreme Court, and without a free vote in the House of Commons.
I have written extensively about how C-36 is affecting Canadian Muslims in both spirit and practice; how it has resulted in widespread racial profiling, the compromise of religious freedoms, the subjection of whole communities to police harassment and intimidation, the breakup of families, the loss of jobs and employment opportunities, loss of self-esteem among the young, etc.
But here I want to address one issue that hits particularly hard at the core of our democracy — the criminalizing of political dissent.
In September 2002, the RCMP invoked C-36, with the help of CSIS, to obtain a search warrant to raid the residence of two First Nations activists in British Columbia. The raid was carried out by the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET). You didn’t know that Canada had such a group, did you? INSET is a direct creation of C-36.
Throughout the 1960s, the social activist slogan QUESTION AUTHORITY was popular among North American university students and many lived by it, often very vocally. So why is it that Canadians and Americans, including those who call themselves "children of the sixties," can only demonstrate their patriotism with closed mouths?
Are we supposed to thank our lucky stars that civil liberties in this country are still better than those of the developing world? Are we supposed to be grateful to our government that it has not yet (in this century) opened detention camps for political dissidents — or for Canadian Arabs and Muslims?
And why is C-36 not being taught, debated, questioned, and researched in our law schools? Aren’t those schools supposed to form the best legal minds of tomorrow?
A Canadian university journalism student was doing a term project on a Canadian citizen being detained without charge as a "terrorist suspect" by the government of his country of birth. The student interviewed the detainee’s lawyer in Toronto, who asked if she would like a telephone interview with her client. "No thanks, I might get into trouble with the law," said the student.
Fundamentalisms of different stripes are alive and well in our world. Osama bin Laden wants to liberate his homeland from American influence by killing Americans in the U.S. And George W. Bush bombs Afghanistan and Iraq as part of his ongoing war on terrorism. After a while, it can seem that the differences have blurred.
Washington certainly did a good job using 9/11 to sell Americans on the doctrine that the Bush administration is "absolute and infallible." But why are we Canadians also buying into it?
Could you imagine upper management in even a mid-sized American company suffering no repercussions after allowing many of their valued employees to be killed senselessly?
Of course not! American productivity and competitiveness will not allow it. Share values would fall, and to save the company, the Board would have to at least fire the CEO.
So why haven’t George W. and his administration been grilled about where the true fault for 9/11 lies? There should have been questions asked — questions and more questions.
Isn’t questioning government the lifeline of democracy?
And why did we Canadians yield to American political pressure of the moment following 9/11? Why did we seem to become more American than America and abandon our bill of rights in the rush to hunt down terrorists?
We’ve seen George W. invade Iraq and deposit some 150,000 troops there in order to make the world safer for Americans. Since official hostilities ceased, at least one American is killed every day in Iraq. Iraq was not a threat to the U.S. before the invation, but George W. has now made it a killing field for Americans. Does this make sense?
But such is the chopped logic of fundamentalism.
It’s a dogma that’s not supposed to make sense except to those who practice it, their spin doctors, their followers, and to those opportunists who know it doesn’t make sense, but support it anyway for reasons of short-term self interest..
Bin Laden’s logic is horribly similar. It reads: "If Americans are subjected to the same suffering that their own government imposes on Muslims globally, then their government can be coerced into treating Muslims better."
It is a naive, dangerous, wrong and evil dogma. And it is no more logical or ethical than what George W. is preaching and practicing.
Why have those voices who were trying to understand exactly what happened on and after 9/11 become silent and so quick to back down? Why are Muslims, along with many others seeking the truth about 9/11, being singled out as "non-patriotic"?
In its February 2003 report, CSIS identified violent fringes of the anti-globalization movement as an ongoing "security concern" for Canada.
No wonder so many Canadian university students today are afraid to sign petitions, any petition. Why bother? Why take the risk? These young people were born long after the scourge of McCarthyism, but many study it and fear they are now living in its reincarnation.
What makes the challenge of true patriotism even more difficult, however, is that there is as yet no groundswell movement for the victims of repressive legislations like C-36. Their numbers are still few and most have been caricatured as "a bunch of foreigners," "terrorists," "terrorist sympathizers," and of course as "anti-government trouble makers."
Our government had to send its new legislation redefining marriage to the Supreme Court to determine if it is compatible with Canada’s Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but not Bill C-36. Isn’t compromising the civil liberties of Canadians as important as redefining marriage?
The best way for Canadians and Americans to free themselves from the shadow of 9/11 is to walk tall and, like that memorable T-shirt slogan of the sixties, keep on "questioning authority" and demanding that governments come clean.
Today, as never before, we can no longer afford to practice "silent patriotism."