Canadian terrorists who live forever in infamy

It was the US artist Andy Warhol who once said “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”, a phrase that seems to have underscored a universal desire to get noticed.  There is no question that it is much easier in a world of 24/7 news to have one’s story told: recall the rocketing to fame of Saskatchewan gas station worker Dick Assman back in 1995 (his candle lasted four months before flickering out).  Of course some people remain famous for much longer periods of time: Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, is still everywhere as a recent ad for yet another Elvis commemoration in an Vancouver newspaper extolled.  And then there are those who are simply famous for being famous – the Kardashians are a fine example.

Terrorists too can try to earn eternal glory.  There are many Web sites that will praise the sacrifices that suicide bombers make, posters and murals that adorn walls and even financial compensation for the families of those who made the ultimate choice (former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used to give $25,000 to the parents of Palestinian ‘martyrs’).  All of this is to raise the profile of the assailant and, one would suspect, encourage others to take similar action.

Canadians who have taken part in terrorist acts are not forgotten either.  The most recent issue of Rumiyah, the primary online organ of Islamic State, makes reference to ‘heroes’ that have attacked the West, including Canada’s own Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau.  Bibeau was the terrorist who shot Corporal Nathan Cirillo to death at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on October 22, 2014 before dying himself in an ill-advised attempt to rush Parliament while Rouleau was the terrorist who ran down Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu two days earlier and was killed by police when he rushed at them with a knife.  Both men have been cited for their easy to copy terrorism through the use of readily available tools like shotguns and cars.

And then we have Andre Poulin, a.k.a. Abu Muslim.  The Timmins-born jihadi converted to Islam and made his way to Syria where he joined up with IS before dying in a ‘battle’ in Syria in January 2014.  In that he was not exceptional and his life and death would most likely have gone largely unnoticed had it not been for a posthumously-released IS video.  In that recording Poulin narrates how he was ‘born again’, how he hated Canada and everything it does – including attacks on Muslims – and called on others to follow in his footsteps to the IS ‘utopian society’.  He is then shown rushing an enemy position where he dies.  His corpse is shown and he is described as having returned to his Creator.  The last shot of him is strategically back lit to suggest that the so-called martyr is now in Paradise.  The video was produced in a very professional way, together with the haunting nasheeds (instrumentless chanting) in the background.

It is hard to measure just how much influence these online magazines and videos have on the next generation of potential terrorists.  One would assume that terrorist groups keep producing this material because they think it works, or perhaps because they want to keep poking the West to demonstrate that they are still relevant and dangerous.  Whatever the reason, there is little chance that terrorist organisations will stop doing so.

It is equally difficult to determine whether any one terrorist kills himself with the  intention of becoming famous.  I have read of the so-called ‘quest for significance’ argument as an explanation for why people turn to terrorism and found it sorely wanting.

As consumers of media we have a decision to make.  Does the newsworthiness of a terrorist story outweigh the propaganda victory it gives to extremist groups?  Should we take down Web sites that feature such material or do our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies need them to find who is intent on carrying out acts of terrorism?  What do we say to the families of dead terrorists who had nothing to do with the unfortunate choices made by their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters?

We live in a world where at times celebrity culture seems to be everything.  I do not see a way around that but there is perhaps a small consolation.  In emulation of US President Roosevelt who said of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941 ‘this is a date that will live in infamy’, maybe we should describe the Bibeaus, Rouleaus and Poulins of our societies as infamous rather than famous.  No, this does not make those whom they killed come back but it does rob them of any praiseworthy recognition after their heinous acts of violence.  We need to stop handing kudos to the terrorists.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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