The British government is warning citizens to brace themselves for another terror attack this year.
The Christmas season is a particularly vulnerable time, and a subway train or a major department store filled with holiday shoppers would be a powerfully symbolic target.
So far, Canadians have received no such Yuletide message from Ottawa.
For Canada, another year has come and gone without a terrorist attack on our soil since the planting of the Air India bomb, and the best that we can say is, so far so good.
We are now among the highest profile members of the so-called War on Terror, and the only one not to have suffered attacks on our own ground.
Public support for the war in Afghanistan is tepid in Canada, but so is public objection to it.
It would appear that most Canadians, though not entirely in favour of our troops joining the Great Taliban Hunt, aren’t terribly engaged in the subject either.
It’s almost as if the country is waiting to see how it all works out before deciding if we approve or not. Some of this is due to the success of the government’s campaign of either information or propaganda, depending on your point of view.
General Rick Hillier, purportedly Canada’s military chief of staff, spends much of his time on PR tour these days, carrying the message that in order to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure, it is necessary first to kill all the bad guys so they won’t blow it up as soon as it’s built.
Hillier hasn’t had to face much stand-up debate on this guff, so it passes unchallenged in many quarters. He hasn’t had to discuss the fact that some of Afghanistan’s nastiest characters are on our side. Nor is he often challenged on the way he lumps the Afghan resistance together under the name Taliban, in defiance of the facts.
Be that as it may, the constant message that Canadian troops are putting their lives on the line to protect a poor and desperate people from religious fanaticism has no doubt helped to keep opposition to the war from growing as much as it might have. A more important factor would seem to be that we haven’t been asked to make much of a sacrifice yet.
So far fewer than 50 Canadians have died in the war in Afghanistan. More of our people will die in traffic accidents over Christmas than those who gave their lives in war this year.
We are more than 30-million souls scattered over most of a continent; the truth is 50 deaths doesn’t touch the national consciousness all that much.
We may honour our troops, whatever that means, but their flag-draped coffins are not causing any great outrage just yet. On the other hand, I wonder how 50 deaths on the Toronto subway would affect the picture?
There was a time when a country could go to war against a much weaker and very distant enemy with no threat whatsoever to the folks back home.
Neither the Zulu nor the Beothuk were well equipped for a revenge strike against the British Isles. Even the Sioux, who defeated the US in battle, were never able to carry the fight back East, to give the good citizens of Washington DC a taste of the misery of war.
Those days are gone, and no degree of national security will change that fact.
Today, when a rich Western country makes war on a poor Eastern country, there’s a very good chance that someone will find a way to bring the war home to the West. You may give up your toothpaste at the airport check-in, submit to body searches at the mall, or buy a passport to visit your cousin in the States, but you will not keep war out. Even if a national border could be sealed, which it can’t, it’s too late.
No matter whose home you bomb, no matter where in the world it is, there’s a good chance that somebody already in Canada sympathizes with those bombing victims more than with the society that bombed them, no matter how welcoming that society thinks it is.
Civilians die every day as a result of the War on Terror, but here in Canada it’s hard to raise much dust over the deaths of civilians on another continent and from a very different culture, who are also dirt poor and brown. The other side knows this. They know what it takes to get our attention.
Hillier and his government masters would like to leave this fact out of the war debate. For them Afghanistan is a war on foreign soil. A few thousand barefoot strangers die, a handful of Canadian families weep for lost sons and husbands — this is the sacrifice Canada has been asked for, and has made with a shrug.
Let’s tell the truth: today it’s not some stranger’s life you’re putting on the line when you support foreign wars, or simply don’t bother to oppose them. It’s your mother’s, your best friend’s, your doctor’s, or your child’s. It’s your own. Still sound worth it?