There will be far more speculation than actual facts in the immediate aftermath of the arrests this week of terrorism suspects in Ottawa.
That’s to be expected, as this is no ordinary crime. Since the events of Sept. 11, anything linked to terrorism and Muslims has been under intense scrutiny. From kudos for the beleaguered RCMP and CSIS agencies to calls for a crackdown on Muslims, public reaction has been swift and vocal.
Some of the hysteria will pass, of course, but the arrests do bring home a growing problem more often associated with European countries with much larger influxes of Muslim immigrants: assimilation into the population and the radicalization of younger people, even those born in the host countries.
The as yet-unknown plot alleged in the charges laid this week evoked the 2006 arrest and subsequent convictions of some of the so-called Toronto 18. Those would-be terrorists were accused of planning to detonate bombs in Toronto and Ottawa, with further plans to storm buildings, take hostages and murder political leaders, including the prime minster. The goal was to create havoc, sending a message about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
The plot brought to light this week is said to have ties to al-Qaeda, the very mention of which adds another dimension to the backlash.
It’s going to be a tricky time for Muslims in this country. Already under a general blanket of suspicion, they face increased scrutiny. Many Canadians will be watching for a strong condemnation against the plot from mainstream members of that community.
The arrests also shine a light on Afghanistan, where Canada’s part in the occupation is winding down to a planned withdrawal next year.
Canadians have had issues with the military adventure since 2001. Most oppose the occupation and Canada’s role in it. This was never a good situation. There’s nothing to be “won,” and history has shown the effort will have no effect on the state of affairs in that troubled country: we’ll continue to pour lives and money into a country unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
The occupation is all about taking control of strategic territory. That’s the one and only reason foreign troops are there. Yet we’ll hear nothing but platitudes about democracy and freedom.
At the end of the day – and sooner or later there will be an end – we’ll have nothing to show for it but gravesites and a tremendous tab.
Aside from the obvious wrong of occupying an independent country, there is a purely pragmatic argument to be made for leaving Afghanistan: the financial cost of billions of dollars with absolutely no return.
The federal government estimates the cost of the mission, from 2001 to the current withdrawal date of 2011, at $11.3 billion. That doesn’t include some figures such as equipment depreciation. Nor does it include the ongoing disability and health care costs for veterans.
The war there has helped push Canadian military spending to highs not seen since the Second World War, outstripping the Cold War era.
There are far better reasons to get out of Afghanistan than the threat of terrorism.