The Quebec Mosque Attack Is a Lesson to Us

In spite of Canada's reputation as a beacon of openness and multiculturalism, anyone who has been paying attention knows that lately those signature traits have been showing signs of fatigue. At least six innocent lives have now been senselessly extinguished, jarring us from our naive assumptions. Let us be complacent no longer.

A cold-hearted realist could chalk this kind of thing up as the regrettable but inevitable growing pains of a diverse society. One might take the cynical perspective that multicultural projects like ours by definition involve placing people with divergent viewpoints next to one another; the human frailty that we are all burdened with makes tragedy a fait accompli. Still, even if the cynic is technically right, there is much more to the story.

Hate crimes are unique in that by attacking a person of a specific profile, the assailant is attacking ideas of which the victim is symbolic. Among its other characteristics, terrorism is a hate crime on a grander scale. Alexandre Bissonette presumably perceived the Muslims living in his community as representing a growing encroachment on his own imagined standards of what Canada ought to look like. Heinous actions like his may be rare in Canada, but sadly it seems that his erroneous logic is not.

Fear is the foundation of all hatred. It is an easy and persuasive instrument to wield, which is why a certain brand of pundits and politicians have taken to the air waves peddling every version of it. For this reason I do not hesitate to call out Member of Parliament Kellie Leitch for her reckless rhetoric and facile political strategy. She may not have the blood of these victims on her hands, but that is not the same as absolution.

During the 2015 Canadian election campaign, she was one of the obedient disciples who made a Faustian bargain by promoting a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline. While dogs fled the high-pitched whistle emanating from televisions everywhere, the rest of us wondered what evidence that policy proposal was based on. As it turns out, it was based on the evidence that fear sells – as long as one is willing to stoop low enough.

After briefly seeming to display remorse for being party to that blunder, she soon jumped back on the wagon when she realized that expediency offered her the best chance of relevancy. She has not quieted since, insisting that each and every new immigrant be tested on their “Canadian values,” a policy prescription whose incoherence is matched only by its foolishness.

There is apparently a fear in some quarters that Sharia law is creeping into our country. Instead of discouraging such a baseless idea, her proposal indulges it. In any case, any crime it could precipitate would be dealt with sufficiently under the existing criminal code. As far as acts of terrorism go, how would her values test have prevented crimes like Bissonette's? Leitch has much explaining to do.

The only Canadian value is liberal democracy. It was built deliberately as a large house with many rooms, whose pillars are 1) pluralism and 2) equality under the law. At their core, these minimalist principles demand only that we respect one another's right to safety and dignity. Human ideation is too complex for multiculturalism to flourish in any other way. There are plenty of examples of multinational states that have not succeeded. Attempting to define and formalize specific Canadian values means taking our hard-earned success for granted, and exposes a cotton-candy understanding of why the Canadian model works at all.

There are no bad people, only bad ideas. Violent people of all stripes certainly exist, sometimes because their toxic beliefs are unshakable, and they must be stopped. But they must also be understood. Donald Trump and Kellie Leitch seek to capitalize on fear for personal gain, rather than investigate its causes in good faith. They are not sages, they are carnival barkers. The “alt-right” has gained supporters, anti-immigrant groups like the Soldiers of Odin are proliferating across Canada, and terrorism has now been committed here in the name of what appears to be white nationalism. Retrogrades who speak the thinly-veiled language of nativism want to benefit from the reaction is stirs, but cower from the responsibility to bear the baggage it entails. They cannot have it both ways. For as Hannah Arendt once wrote, “politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same.”

The true enemy is intellectual laziness. Those who serve it must be held accountable, lest they jeopardize that which makes our society great. Canada is only worth admiration if we are proud of it for the right reasons.