Faith leaders urge Christian response to terrorism
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN) — Anti-terrorism experts warn terror attacks involving lone assailants are likely to increase, but faith leaders urge a Christian response to ensure Canada remains an open society.
“This is a time of profound national sadness for all Canadians,” said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher Oct. 24 in response to the attacks in Ottawa Oct. 22 and in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Oct. 20 that each killed a Canadian soldier and left several people injured.
“We worry that the horror of terrorism is taking root in our soil, so long a land of peace, co-operation and inter-cultural collaboration,” said Durocher. “God created us to experience the fullness of life and love. This outbreak of violence contradicts God’s intention for each one of us.”
Catholics at all levels remain committed to dialogue with Muslim communities across Canada, he stressed. “We recognize that violent distortions of Islam are causing misunderstanding and suffering in the world and in Canada for peace-loving Muslims as well as non-Muslim communities.”
“Openness, trust and sharing are ever more essential between our faith communities to help build understanding in this challenging environment,” said Durocher.
Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) executive director Joe Gunn said two of his staff were trapped for 10 hours on Parliament Hill after a gunman rampaged through the halls of Centre Block, an “incredibly violent event,” after shooting Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial.
CPJ’s initial response was prayers and condolences for the two soldiers, the others who were injured and all the families that were affected, Gunn said. “It’s come to a time where we really need to put our thinking caps on and think of what this means from our Christian values,” he said. “Civic participation is worthwhile, and should go forward; people should feel free to discuss, to disagree.”
“Civil liberties and public safety, we need both,” he said. “They don’t need to be counter-posed.”
“I know we’re going to have debates in the House now about getting tough on crime, getting tough on terrorism, of course,” he said. But organizations like CPJ will continue to bring Christian values forward. “Let’s get tough on social injustice in Canada, too.” Gunn, however, did not link the attacks to any roots in social injustice.
Canada’s security forces need to be beefed up to enforce existing laws, said Toronto-based terrorism expert John Thompson with the Strategic Capital Intelligence Group.
Before the recent attacks, the Mounties and CSIS had admitted that 130 Canadians had gone overseas to fight for the Islamic State (ISIS) and 90 individuals were under watch. “That’s a number that’s been growing steadily for the past 10 years,” Thompson said. People on the inside, responsible for security, are “overtaxed and under-resourced and having a hard time keeping up with a dramatically growing threat.”
“Terrorism has changed,” Thompson said. Al-Qaida and its franchises have had a hard time launching a big attack like that of 9/11. Plots have usually been discovered before they are activated.
“They are retooling their approach,” he said. They are setting out to recruit individuals to serve overseas or to act as a “lone wolf” and to become “self-sponsored, self-activated and self-trained within our society.” That’s what Canadians saw the week of Oct. 20, he said. “You can’t tell me two incidents within 72 hours is a coincidence.”
There’s a long history in terrorism regarding deranged individuals, he said. European and North American anarchists used to get upset if someone threw a bomb without bothering to get involved in the anarchist movement, he said. It was embarrassing to be associated with crazy people, and groups would disassociate themselves.
This has changed, Thompson said. Jihadist propagandists are encouraging lone individuals acting on their own, and providing them materials via the Internet to tell them how to attack. “Instead of being embarrassed by the mentally unstable, they are encouraging them.”
All across Europe, North America and Australia, “the threat is growing beyond our ability to contain it,” he said. “We’re going to have to change the rules, no doubt about that.”
At the same time, Canadians should worry about the militarization of the police and responses that can be heavy-handed, he said. “Bear in mind, if we grant police and military extraordinary powers, those could turn around and damage us in new ways we don’t expect later.”
“I prefer debate where everyone recognizes the severity of the threat, and then thinks of what we want to do in response,” Thompson said. As a Catholic, he said, “No one ever said we had to be dumb regarding our own self-defence.”
On Oct. 27, Parliament Hill returned to normal, allowing public tours to resume and reopening the public galleries in the House of Commons.
“Parliament will remain an institution that is both open and secure,” said House Speaker Andrew Scheer in an Oct. 26 statement. “After consultation with security officials, an additional measure that has been taken is that RCMP presence will be maintained at entrances to buildings in the Parliamentary Precinct.”