While everyone watched in muted horror, Paris was added to the growing list of Western cities attacked by Islāmic terrorists. You could even argue that Paris is a two-time member of this bloody club after the Charlie Hebdo murders last January. Paris joins Madrid, London, New York and probably a dozen others that have slipped popular memory.
Canada is not immune. Heads were bowed coast to coast to coast and flags flew at half mast October 22nd to observe the year that had passed since Corporal Nathan Cirillo had been murdered while standing guard over Canada’s national War Memorial in downtown Ottawa. But there was a not-so-subtle streak of hate insidiously buried among the elegant words and moving tributes. The toxic whispers and hushed hate were aimed at Muslims everywhere, particularly Syrian refugees.
Shameless hatred was being shouted at the top of too many lungs before the ashes had even stopped burning in Paris, racism smeared across social media and fingers of blame pointed at the entirety of the Syrian exodus fleeing the endless violence in the Middle East (France, it should be noted, had one of the lowest levels of refugee resettlement while Germany, who hasn’t had any attacks, had the highest). Politicians from Europe to America were already exploiting the massacre for talking points (there were no shortage of Canadians jumping on the Internet blaming new PM Justin Trudeau for an inevitable terrorist attack in Canada since it plans on offering asylum to 25,000 refugees). Poland was the first (of likely many) to close its borders to Syrian refugees and these attacks have jeopardized global plans to address the world’s current migrant crisis. The hate will become deafening over the coming days.
Hate is the easy way. It takes no effort and demands no understanding or sacrifice. Every Canadian was filled to the brim with good old fashioned, biblical contempt when Ottawa was locked down last year just the same as the entire world seethed following the shock of Paris. The idea that it’s our capacity to love that makes us human is a fairy tale we tell ourselves to sleep better at night. It’s our capacity to hate, and our eagerness to give in to that hatred, that makes us human. But it’s our ability to rise above that emotional venom that makes us civilized, that has carried us from the Stone Age to the day when we can wonder what we’ll find on neighbouring planets when we inevitably arrive there. Yes, hate is the first thing we feel, but it should also be the first thing we abandon in the sober moments that follow.
If we allow hate to win out, if we allow it to poison our decisions and rob us of our compassion, then the murderers and the terrorists have accomplished their mission. Violence is not the true language of the terrorist; regardless of whatever fanatical agenda they claim to fight for. No, the true currency of the terrorist, whether it’s ISIS or a lone gunman or a white supremacist hoping to trigger a race war, is hatred and fear. And at the end of the day, no matter what rhetoric or hyperbole you dress it up in, hatred is the coward’s way.
We’ve seen too much of that kind of coin lately. For a few weeks Canada’s national conversation was dominated by faux outrage over the niqhab, a conversation that lifted one party substantially in the polls while spelling another’s electoral doom. Shortly afterwards, election signs belonging to some ethnic candidates were vandalized with racial slurs, vandalism that was met with some support on social media. And if you stop by the comments section of many media sites today, you won’t have to look far to find the kind of hatred and intolerance that terrorists hope to inspire by their acts. Terror preys most often and most successfully on the weak and the foolish, and unfortunately it’s the fools who have the loudest voices.
But if we truly want to honour the victims of these attacks, from Cpl. Cirillo to the more then 120 Friday in Paris to the countless lives lost in daily attacks in the Middle East (who the West ignores because they’re Muslims), if we truly want to pay adequate tribute to their loss, we will need to do more than name parks after them while starting unwinnable wars in their name. We need to rise above the worst instincts the murderers awaken in the ugly part of our hearts. After all, heroes rise above, and rising above is perhaps the best way we have to honour the fallen.