Toronto The Good

April 30th, 2018

Toronto’s diversity offers a degree of immunity during times of terror

By: Martin Regg Cohn, Queen’s Park Columnist, Toronto Star, and Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University’s Faculty of Arts

Terror in Toronto is unlike terror anywhere else.

The impact here is more piercing, for we Canadians imagine ourselves to be exempt from terror — at a safe distance from the geographical and political hot spots that make targets of global cities. Yet we are blessed with a collective defence unique to Toronto.

The difference is that we are different — for our diversity offers immunity, at least partially, from the bigotry and blaming that erupt in times of trouble elsewhere.

Stop for a second, look and listen to what happened, who it happened to, how the city responded. Who were these people?

The victims, eyewitnesses, police and paramedics on the scene were all Torontonians, yes. But the names and faces featured in the news reports, and producing the news reports — eyewitnesses like Ali Shaker, Amir Bahmeyeh, Ham Yu-Jin, Amir Farokhpour; Deputy Chief Peter Yuen — remind us that we are, uniquely, a people from around the world.

From every place, every race, every faith. Which means that while the terror hurts all of us, most of us are in no rush to demonize any one of us.

In Toronto, everyone is a target yet no one is a target. We are so many people that we are almost indivisible, or at least indecipherable.

The old slogan, unity in diversity, is here a reality. If only because we are today too melded to be divided.

The old terminology of terrorism may or may not apply to what befell Toronto this week. The difference between terror (overwhelming fear and anxiety) and terrorism (the calculated use of violence and “terror” to achieve defined political goals) is a clearly defined distinction.

We won’t know whether the motives were to merely terrify, or to achieve terrorist goals, until police disclose the results of their investigation. But the effect on the victims — the dead, the wounded, the grieving, the traumatized — is little different whether the motives were political or criminal.

You can’t massacre 10 people on a city’s main street — and you can’t be a copycat killer mowing people down in a van in much the same way as terrorists have in Britain and France — without having a colossal impact. Terror and terrorism have different motives but similar methods, and Toronto’s resilience is likely to be much the same regardless.

Consider how Canada’s multicultural reality helps mute the backlash against a massacre, and also makes us a less obvious target for terrorists trying to make a statement. For who do you kill when you kill Canadians, if we are everyone and no one — by which I mean, no one particular people?

As a foreign correspondent, I had to cover suicide bombings in the Middle East with a recurring rhythm: A thundering explosion would shake the ground, followed by the cacophony of wailing sirens, and the sight of dismembered bodies strewn across food markets, or buses, or residential neighbourhoods, depending on that day’s terror target.

In Israel, the victims were largely Jews (only sometimes did the terrorists miscalculate when their victims were Arab Christians or Muslims killed as collateral damage). The target was obvious, the method unmistakeable, the terrorism undeniably brutal for the victims and appealing to the perpetrators.

Message sent and received.We are a world away from the conflict zones, but not insulated from the fallout. The latest death toll reminds us that the world has changed, leaving no one at a safe distance.

For today’s internet is the ultimate enabler, linking every loner to global epicentres of terror — directly or indirectly. Individual plotters no longer require collaboration from terror cells to forge intricate conspiracies that required complex explosive devices and specialized knowledge.

Now a man with a plan in a van is all it takes to mow people down with deadly certainty. In Europe, vehicular terrorists have been lone wolfs who were kindred spirits; in Toronto, the terrifying killer may have been a crazed spirit alone in his thoughts.

Either way, it is the new terror, everywhere unstoppable — for no amount of metal detectors, pat-downs, computer searches or water bottle bans can prevent a determined driver from mounting a sidewalk to kill pedestrians, whether on a London bridge or a Toronto street.

Anyone behind a steering wheel now wields a potential weapon of mass destruction, anywhere at any time. The difference is that here in Toronto he can kill people but not turn them against one another.

That is our unique strength. Canadian multiculturalism is a model to the world, an experiment in integration that remains unrivalled.

Now it is being tested, not by the conventional strains of immigration and resettlement, but the unpredictable trials of terror and terrorism — which rely on provocation for a reaction, that we might turn against one another.

That is not who we are, nor who we will become.

#TorontoStrong 

 Source: Reprinted with permission from the author. “Toronto’s diversity offers a degree of immunity during times of terror,” April 24, 2018, Toronto Star

Martin Regg Cohn writes the Ontario politics column for the Toronto Star. A foreign correspondent for 11 years, he was chief of the Middle East and Asia bureaus, then Foreign Editor, and a world affairs columnist. He has reported from more than 40 countries, from Afghanistan to Yemen, and been nominated five times for the National Newspaper Award. He previously covered national politics from Ottawa. He is also a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University’s Faculty of Arts.

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