The face of the enemy

by Theresa Wells

It wasn’t a surprise to learn this week that terrorists from a place far away suggested a target for terrorism much closer to our own soil. Terrorists, who prey on places where large numbers of people gather, suggest and select their targets with care, focusing on those places where the most “terror” can be wrought, meaning places like shopping malls – in this case, the West Edmonton Mall – often catch their attention.
It was perhaps more of a surprise to me to realize that others found it a surprise, as it seems a “logical” target, at least logical in the minds of those who seek to instill fear and harm as many as possible in a terrorist attack. But the other great surprise to me was who how willing some people are to see this kind of threat as a reason to give in to terror – and turn on our own neighbours.
I am willing to bet that the vast majority of those reading this column have ancestors who came here as immigrants. There often seems to be some forgetfulness of this fact, some degree of wilful ignorance that most Canadians will find their ancestry in foreign lands. Sadly this ignorance and lack of memory seems to surface most often when terrorist threats are made or, even worse, acts of terror carried out in our country and some choose to blame immigrants to our country for these issues in our world.
How quickly we forget incidents like the bombing in Oklahoma City that claimed over one hundred lives and injured over 600, including children, an act carried out not by an immigrant to the United States but by a young, white, American-born man. How much easier it is to point the finger at others, seeing only the differences – colour of skin, religion, country of origin – and blame them for these problems, conveniently ignoring the homegrown acts of terror. Bombings and other acts of terror have been carried out by terrorists from places other than North America, it’s true – but so too they have been planned and executed by terrorists who were born right in our countries.
It is difficult to acknowledge that terrorism is not an issue about “someone else”. It is in fact incredibly difficult to accept that it is not an issue of religion or country but an issue of humanity, a fundamental flaw in some of those who share our world. It saddens me to the core to see racism, bigotry and hatred flare every time there is a threat or terrorist act because that racism, bigotry and hatred are exactly the kind of fear the terrorists hope to generate – and by doing so we allow them to win.
This is a country founded by immigrants. The multicultural diversity of our country is a thing of beauty, but it is not always easy. It is on occasion difficult to understand the cultures of others, to find a way to navigate the waters of diversity and difference, but it becomes far easier when we recognize and understand that what makes us similar is far greater than what makes us different. Strip away the religion, the country of origin, the colour of our skin and what do you have? People, just people who love their children, who seek a good life and who want to feel part of a community, like they belong – like they are neighbours, in fact.
It is when we turn on our neighbours because we perceive them to be different that we allow the terrorists to win. It is when we begin to place blame on those who have done nothing to earn it, when we begin to dwell on the differences instead of celebrating the diversity, when we fail to see what makes us similar and instead focus on what makes us different, that we allow terror into our hearts and minds.
And so it is with sadness and dismay I read the comments online after the revelation that a terrorist group had mentioned a shopping mall many of us have been to as a potential target for terror. The true terror isn’t in the shopping mall or even in the possibility of a terrorist attack occurring there, but in the dissension I saw and in the words of hatred, bigotry and racism. Terror isn’t just found in bombs and in rifles, but in these words that divide us and hurt us. Terror is created in the minds of those who wish to focus on the differences, and who want to make neighbours build their fences higher because they fear their neighbours. We cannot allow the terrorists to win. They cannot win if we stand united in their face, telling them that we will not give in to the fear they wish to spread – but we can only do that if we refuse to give in to our own fear, and find understanding and peace instead. That is the real way to defeat terror, and it is up to each of us.
Follow me on Twitter @mcmurraymusings