In Disaster, We Fear Silence

Although I’m sure more details still have to come out, it seems like, on Sunday, a suicidal man walked into the men’s washroom of a Toronto Tim Horton’s, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. While it is hard to contemplate a more horrible way to go, there appears to have been no bombs, no explosives, and no wires beyond what were already in the walls.

That hasn’t stopped the tinfoil hat crowd from jumping on this as the first Canadian suicide bomber they’ve been eagerly awaiting, just so they can say that they told us so. Ian Scott of Ianism has a lengthy list of some of the most inane comments I’ve seen, and a lengthier debunking.

Is it my imagination, or do we jump to conclusions faster than we used to? When faced with disaster, the thing we seem to fear most is silence, followed closely by acknowledged ignorance. We don’t wait for all the facts to materialize, we pounce on every rumour. Our minds find conspiracies where none exist.

I’ve got to admit, though, that when the 2003 Blackout hit, and I drove slowly home past the citizen volunteers directing traffic, at the back of my mind I wondered: was this a terrorist strike? Had a bomb destroyed a power plant or a key node? I didn’t blog about my suspicions, and I certainly didn’t report my suspicions as facts, but perhaps the biggest reason I didn’t blog was because I couldn’t access the Internet while the power was out.

And in that disaster too, politicians were jumping to conclusions, blaming Canada, New York City or any other convenient target (we eventually figured out that the problem started in Ohio, although the aging infrastructure around both sides of the Great Lakes didn’t help). The order of the day seems to be to say anything, anything at all, except “I don’t know.”

I know, in all likelihood, that it is not a matter of “if” there will be a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, but where and when. Let’s be honest here. In the aftermath of the London Underground bombings, TTC Chairman Howard Moscoe downplayed the treat, saying that we weren’t a target because we weren’t in Iraq. It was one of the most startling displays of naivite that I’ve seen in a politician, and I follow politics. We’re in Afghanistan. We are a close American ally. We’re a target. And I have a pretty good idea of where they’ll hit.

But what can we do to prevent such a thing, other than to be vigilent, and report unattended packages? We are already committed to Afghanistan. Do we try to police the world ourselves? Or erode civil liberties to uncover the terrorists in our midsts? Do we move out of our cities and take up quiet lives in hermitages outside Iqaluit?

At some point the fear of one incident, which may occur tomorrow or twenty-five years from now, ruins the happiness we’ll receive from the tens of thousands of days we will experience in between where no such incident occurs. If fear of terrorism rules our lives, makes us make stupid decisions, forces us to deny ourselves the exercise of our liberties, replaces vigilence with paranoia, then we fit the definition of having been terrified.

And at that point, the terrorists will have won without firing a shot.

The Cancer Quarter

Dino of the Blogging Party of Canada writes with a good challenge. Now that the Canadian Mint is releasing a quarter promoting the efforts to fight breast cancer, he wants us to donate two quarters to the Canadian Cancer Society every time we encounter one in our change. Andrew Anderson notes that as these special quarters tend to be taken out of circulation pretty quickly, perhaps we should consider donating a toonie or two instead. That’s what I will do.

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