Mak­ing sense of the mas­sacre in our midst

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - MARTIN REGG COHN Martin Regg Cohn’s po­lit­i­cal col­umn ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

The Que­bec mas­sacre re­minds us that ter­ror can erupt any­where, at any time. From any­one.

And the pub­lic re­sponse has be­come a mus­cle re­flex: In­sis­tent de­mands that Mus­lims at home con­demn, own and atone for the sins of their so-called co-re­li­gion­ists wher­ever they strike. Fol­lowed by the usual cho­rus in­sist­ing that so­ci­ety call it what it is — Is­lamic ter­ror­ism. Ex­cept when it isn’t. This home­grown at­tack isn’t “them” against “us.” It’s us against us — a Cana­dian is ac­cused of killing fel­low Cana­di­ans for the ap­par­ent sin of bow­ing their heads in prayer at their lo­cal mosque.

This time it’s dif­fer­ent. But it’s not the first time in­no­cent Mus­lims have been slain in a house of wor­ship, for none are ex­empt from ex­trem­ism that thrives in in­tol­er­ant en­vi­ron­ments.

De­hu­man­iza­tion is the pre­req­ui­site to ter­ror­ism. And de­mo­niza­tion of Is­lamic dress is a pre­cur­sor to de­hu­man­iza­tion.

It’s worth not­ing that for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper con­demned — com­mend­ably — the Que­bec mas­sacre as “bar­baric.” But that’s the very same word he used in the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion, when his Con­ser­va­tives an­nounced a “bar­baric cul­tural prac­tices” snitch line en­cour­ag­ing us to re­port, anony­mously, any­one guilty of fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion — a harm­ful prac­tice linked in the pub­lic mind to Mus­lims (though it pre­dates Is­lam and is still widely prac­tised by Cop­tic Chris­tians across Egypt).

Harper also used his prime min­is­te­rial pul­pit to con­demn and try to out­law Is­lamic face cov­er­ings in cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies. That cam­paign was an echo of equally odi­ous at­tempts by the shame­lessly tribal Parti Québé­cois to profit from la­tent anti-Is­lamic sen­ti­ment by propos­ing bans on the burka or niqab.

This is a time for in­tro­spec­tion, not re­crim­i­na­tion. Our politi­cians might re­flect on whether they have stoked the de­mo­niza­tion of Mus­lims in this coun­try by fetishiz­ing Is­lamic dress and politi­ciz­ing “bar­baric” acts (linked to Is­lam).

But that is in the past. The ques­tion now is how our lead­ers, and opin­ion lead­ers, will show the way in fu­ture.

Re­frain­ing from the de­mo­niza­tion of Is­lamic dress would be a good start. And an ex­am­ple for our neigh­bours to the south as they go fur­ther down the road of de­hu­man­iza­tion.

Despite U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s claim that Chris­tians are be­ing ex­e­cuted in droves in Is­lamic coun­tries, most of the vi­o­lence takes the form of Mus­lim-on-Mus­lim mas­sacres. As a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent, I wrote about Sunni fa­nat­ics at­tack­ing wor­ship­pers from the ri­val Shia sect whom they deem “in­fi­dels” — de­hu­man­iza­tion by another name.

But the news from Que­bec re­minded me of another mosque at­tack that shook a so­ci­ety to its core: In 1994, a Jewish set­tler named Dr. Baruch Gold­stein walked into a mosque in He­bron, in the oc­cu­pied West Bank, and mowed down 29 Pales­tinian Mus­lim wor­ship­pers at prayers.

Is­raelis were hor­ri­fied by his ter­ror­ist act. But ex­trem­ists ex­alted Gold­stein’s mas­sacre, build­ing a shrine at his tomb in an ad­join­ing Jewish set­tle­ment — a con­tro­versy I had to cover dur­ing my Mid­dle East post­ing in the late 1990s.

The ter­ror­ist shrine was vis­ited by another Jewish ex­trem­ist, Yi­gal Amir, who drew in­spi­ra­tion from Gold­stein’s tomb be­fore go­ing on to as­sas­si­nate then-prime min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin in late 1995. Amir and Gold­stein were out­liers, but they were not alone.

To their credit, Is­raeli par­lia­men­tar­i­ans ul­ti­mately passed a law or­der­ing the dis­man­tling of this per­verse shrine, but it took five long years.

Canada is a world away from the ten­sions and com­pli­ca­tions of the Mid­dle East. And yet, to­day, Cana­di­ans are try­ing to fathom an equally fa­nat­i­cal act — a mas­sacre in our midst.

Ter­ror can strike in any place, at any time. No com­mu­nity is im­mune. But our so­ci­ety can lead the way by learn­ing the lessons of his­tory, and hu­man­ity, at home and abroad.

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