On October 22, 2014 a lone gunman, jihad on the brain, murdered a young reservist standing honour guard at the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa before storming the Gothic Revival heap of Centre Block, home to Canada’s Parliament. He was taken out – after a firefight made all the more gripping by the fact that it took place in the lofty and resonant marble Hall of Honour – by one bad ass Sergeant-at-Arms, an old guy who, not to put too fine a point on it, ROCKED it. This in a week that began with another loser would-be terrorist running down two Canadian soldiers – one of whom died of his injuries — in a parking lot outside Montreal.
Disturbing, untoward events, but ones in which Canada acquitted itself remarkably well. I was proud of the measured and unified way our Leadership responded to the crisis, how our media covered the events without resorting to American-style woo woos, how ordinary Canadians, far from having the fantods, stood calm — grieving yet resolute, shocked but not awed.
That day Canadians were glued to our radios, phones, computers and televisions waiting to learn whether there was another gunman or maybe two. Downtown Ottawa was cordoned off. Parliament was in lock-down. Ottawa schools closed, as did military bases and the constituency offices of Members of Parliament across the country. No one wanted to take a chance that something larger and more apocalyptic was afoot. After all, the unthinkable had happened – a madmen bent on mayhem had invaded the beating heart of our democracy with murderous intent. This does not happen in Canada, a country with a land mass second only to that of Russia, but a population less than that of California . . . a country where people, by and large, use guns to shoot deer and moose and ducks rather than each other.
In the end, the killer turned out to be just another rootless, disenfranchised young Canadian who had been “turned,” whose sense of not belonging had been weaponized against us by Islamic extremists. Canada might be one of the better countries in the world in which to live, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our fair share of “lost boys” — boys who can’t get it together, who fall through the cracks, who are depressed and self-destructive, who can’t get or keep jobs or girlfriends, who in their restless quest to find something . . . anything wander off the deep end and into the clutches of extremists.
Radical Islam promises these boys an identity other than “loser,” moral certainty, power over women, an elevated sense of their own manhood, revenge on imagined enemies, and maybe even a kidnapped teenage sex slave for a wife. It allows them to experience the “glory” of war, video-game style, and, Allah willing, a martyr’s death, complete with gift basket, swag and more virgins than you can shake a stick at. The killer’s mother blames his actions on despair. I disagree. Despair is jumping off a bridge. Despair is unloading a shotgun into your mouth. What her son did was a whole order of magnitude greater than despair.
On October 22 we lost two Canadian boys – one in the full dress uniform of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, the other wearing a draped head scarf reminiscent of the kufiya worn by Palestinians. We mourn Reservist Nathan Cirillo, but we would do well to also spare a thought for his killer. Cirillo had everything to live for, his assassin, nothing and, into that great howling nothing, he was determined to drag others with him.
We have to watch out for those with nothing to lose — particularly boys and young men. They are and ever have been our most clear and present danger.