“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
When President Roosevelt uttered these words in his 1933 inaugural address, the US was in the depths of the Great Depression. Millions could not find work and despair was everywhere. Despite the President’s words, it was many years before the country found its feet again. And also despite these resounding phrases, fear does raise its ugly head all too often.
Politicians of course resort to fear when it suits their purposes. We see this in countries around the world right now. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump rails against immigration from Mexico by saying that those seeking to enter the US are rapists. Hungarian President Orban has compared the current wave of refugees to the Ottoman control of Europe. And just about everything Geert Wilders, Pamela Geller and other Islamophobes utter can be reduced to fearmongering. Muslim kids taking clocks to class and Muslim Presidents (thanks to Republican presidential wannabe Ben Carson) are also seen as major threats to our security.
Alas, Canada is no different. Two recent statements by Conservative hopefuls remind us that knee-jerk fear is all too easy to resort to.
First up is Dianne Watts in the BC lower mainland. She has distributed a brochure warning of the threat of terrorism in Canada (the leaflet says “ISIS URGES JIHADISTS TO ATTACK CANADA: YOU WILL NOT FEEL SAFE IN YOUR BEDROOMS” (all-caps, hers)). She also tweeted that IS has orchestrated the refugee flow out of Syria. Predictably, she paints her party as the only one tough on terror (see Vancouver Province article here).
Not to be outdone, Don Valley North Conservative candidate Joe Daniel sees an “agenda” to move Muslims into Europe (he hints at Saudi help) and states that he “does not want that to happen here” (see Toronto account here). The irony that he is an immigrant from Tanzania seems lost on Mr. Daniel.
We could dismiss these as the usual campaign chaff: after all it would be impossible for a candidate not to say something stupid during electioneering. And, after all, as this is the longest campaign in over a century, there is plenty of opportunity for a gaffe or two.
But there have been enough statements of this nature to suggest that these are not slips of the tongue but rather deeply-held beliefs. We have been bombarded with warnings from the PM on down that IS represents the greatest threat to Canada and that only by staying with Mr. Harper can Canadians feel safe.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: IS-inspired terrorism is a real threat and our security and intelligence agencies are likely going flat out on the investigation front. But there is nothing to suggest that the threat is overbearing. We did not see a wave of attacks after the pair last October (this is not to say that more attacks are not possible), but I find it instructive that the only arrests since last year involve wannabes trying to get to Syria (i.e. they weren’t plotting here). Canada is not perched on the edge of the abyss of terror and will likely never be.
Former PM Trudeau told Canada decades ago that the government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Perhaps Ms. Watts should pay attention as she shrieks of IS monsters hiding under said beds.