The Colour of Terrorism

ottawa guman michael zehaf bibeau

Canadians are understandably on the edge of their seats in the wake of this week’s events.

This morning, a gunmen opened fire in Ottawa killing one solider. The gunmen was subsequently fired upon and was also killed in the attack. The latest reports suggest that authorities are in pursuit of a second assailant. Earlier this week a driver ran over two soldiers, killing one, in what was reported to be a targeted attack. Canadians, to put it lightly, are not used to this level of violence at home.

cnn vs cbc ottawa shooting
(Coverage of the Ottawa shooting, in one very revealing screenshot)

I admire Canada’s relatively responsible coverage of this event as it has unfolded (especially when compared with American cable news coverage). The fact of the matter, however, is that the post 9/11 world contains interesting dichotomies in the way that we react to violence. A work colleague earlier this morning inquired as to whether or not the RCMP has determined that this was a terrorist attack. This inquiry raises a very important question: Given the current information available – gunmen kill’s soldier while stampeding towards parliament hill, leading police to shoot and kill the gunmen – what additional information do we require in order to determine that this was terrorism?

Knowing how the event unfolded should be enough information for every individual to determine whether or not this is an act of terrorism. It is obvious, sadly, that anyone asking this question is really asking one thing, ‘was the attacker a Muslim’?

Whether the attacker was a Muslim, Christian, Jew, or Atheist should not be a variable in determining how we classify the event.

And yet, this is precisely how we will label this event. A good example of how this double standard is applied is the way the international media responded to the mass shooting in a Nairobi mall last year (where the attackers were Somali Muslims), versus the way we interpret literally every school shooting (carried out, overwhelmingly, by Non-Muslim white males).

Even in cases where non-Muslims and terrorism appear in the same headline (Timothy McVei, and Andres Brevik, for example), there seems to be a concerted effort to determine the root cause of their motivation to commit acts of violence (which usually results in the same conclusion, ‘they’re crazy!’); Needless to say, the benefit of context is not universally applicable. As you read this, Canadian Muslims patiently await the inevitable backlash that will ensue if it is determined that this event is, in fact, terrorism.

Bassam Abun Nadi
Bassam is an educator with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and is currently working on his Masters of Education. He has worked for several years in education, consulting on projects ranging from adult workforce development to the integration of culturally specific curriculum into primary education. Bassam is passionate about Politics – municipal, regional and transnational – learning, and the relationship between the two. On his spare time he enjoys reading fantasy novels and spending time with his wife and son.