Sometimes it is preferable to sound ridiculous than to speak honestly about political Islam.
In the first post-Ghomeshi edition of Q last week, Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank tied himself in knots when speaking of the attacks on Canada’s military and Parliament by avowed jihadi terrorists.
Both shooters were “nuts” and nobody should take “nuttiness” seriously, Cruickshank said, and both shooters acted rationally and logically in response to Canada’s “aggressive” foreign policy. “If we go out and bomb people there is no way they can fight back, so they have to come to Canada to fight back,” he said.
Both arguments might have merit, but not when argued simultaneously.
In Canadian media circles generally, speaking openly about political Islam remains taboo, and avoiding a taboo can push a speaker into absurdity. No radio or television panel can begin: “This morning, in light of the assault on Parliament, we will examine the doctrine of Islamic jihad,” or “Today, we will look at Islam as a faith versus Islam as a political ideology.”
Cruickshank’s nonsense offers a good example of the dangers of such self-censorship.
The Star publisher was appearing as part of a regular media panel on the CBC Radio show that until that day had been hosted by the now disgraced Jian Ghomeshi. The panel also included National Post Comment editor Jonathan Kay, rabble.ca founder Judy Rebick and substitute host Piya Chattopadhya.
The panel addressed both attacks. On the Monday before, Martin Rouleau-Couture deliberately rammed two Canadian soldiers with his car in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, killing one soldier and injuring the other. Police shot and killed the attacker. On the Wednesday, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot two soldiers at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, killing one soldier and injuring the other. He then entered Parliament’s Centre Block and shot a guard in the foot before being killed in the main corridor.
The prime minister called both events “terrorist attacks.” Asked to comment, Cruikshank ridiculed the notion.
“Hit and runs are a really ineffective way of creating terror across the land, right?” he said. “It’s absurd. We have two people who have severe mental injuries of some sort or other. I mean obviously they are not in their right mind.
“They were not actually focused on terror,” he said. “They attacked soldiers. I’m not sure you can ever say that an attack on a soldier is a terrorist attack. Terror has to do with attacking civilians.”
“Let me note that in every age craziness takes on a particular complexion, right?” he said. “Just as people go to Jerusalem and they begin to think they’re Jesus Christ, and people go to Iceland and think they’re Bjork, right? I mean that’s the kind of thing that happens, and right now we’re in a period when the kind of craziness leads to people thinking that they are terrorists supporting ISIL. For us, if we take that seriously we’re simply taking the nuttiness seriously, we’re taking crazy seriously, and we’re telling people that this is on all fours with an organized attempt to create terror among the population and subvert our society. This is not what’s happening here.”
Host Chattopadhyay asked the panelists how they interpret the word “undaunted” when the prime minister said, “Canada will remain undaunted.” (In fact he said, “Canada will never be intimidated.”)
Kay said he took the statement to mean that such attacks would not affect Canadian foreign policy.
“That’s exactly what it means,” Cruickshank jumped in, “and it’s a terrible, terrible thing, because this is precisely the time to be asking whether we should be dropping food rather than bombs.”
Reacting to Canadian foreign policy through terrorism is logical and rational, he suggested.
“Our face to the world is now so aggressive,” Cruickshank said. “We are now a military face instead of a peace-maker, and now we have even more reasons to fear at home because, you know. Look, if we go out and bomb people there is no way they can fight back, so they have to come to Canada to fight back, because we are essentially playing a video game with people’s lives in the Middle East.”
Nobody pointed out Cruickshank’s contradiction. After all, he had followed Canadian Media Rule No. 1: Tie yourself in knots if you have to, but avoid talking about political Islam.