RCMP officers outside the Toronto home of one of the two men accused of plotting a terror attack Monday. Chris Young / CP Photo
I was in a shawarma shop last week where the wall-to-wall TV coverage of the Boston manhunt provided the soundscape for lunch.
The gentleman behind the counter and I exchanged words of sadness. It was before the April 22 revelation by the RCMP of an alleged plot to bomb a Toronto VIA Rail train, so we were mostly mourning Boston and lamenting the sickness infecting those who would commit the kind of violence we saw there.
The Boston attack, he said, "reminds me of growing up in Lebanon. Every day during the war, bombs like this would go off all the time." Hundreds were indiscriminately killed there. As he spoke, I couldn't help thinking about those killed this past week in Iraq by car bombs, and in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen by U.S. air strikes.
As the lunch hour went on and the stenographers to power struggled to fill the airwaves with commentary, the inevitable question arose: What drives a person to attack civilians?
"Why did these young men who grew up and studied here as part of our communities and our country resort to such violence?" asked Barack Obama on Friday night.
It is a testament to the self-censorship of the global media that Obama can ask such a question without a hint of irony and without a single voice asking the same question of the Harvard-trained Constitutional lawyer himself, who two days earlier had signed off on the latest of his daily kill lists, resulting in the extrajudicial murder of two individuals in the town of Wessab, Yemen.
Writer Farea Al-Muslimi, in an Al-Monitor editorial, My Village Was Attacked By U.S. Drones In Yemen, describes a sense of bewilderment that Wessab could be the scene of such an attack. His feelings must have mirrored the sense of outrage felt by Bostonians when their trademark marathon was bombed.
"The peacefulness of such a place," Al-Muslimi wrote, "makes you believe that no one has ever heard of it, let alone that it [would be] bombed by a U.S. drone strike at night. The ominous buzz of the drones terrorizes communities. Where will they strike? Will I be next? These are the questions youngsters now grow up asking. The ‘collateral damage' of drones cannot just be measured in corpses. Drones are traumatizing a generation."
That nagging question about who would do such things arose again during a White House press briefing. A very brave McClatchy Newspapers correspondent, Amina Ismail, put it plainly: "I send my deepest condolence to the victims and families in Boston. But President Obama said that what happened in Boston was an act of terrorism. I would like to ask: do you consider the U.S. bombing on civilians in Afghanistan earlier this month that left 11 children and a woman killed a form of terrorism? Why or why not?"
White House spokesflak Jay Carney's answer was typical bafflegab, and the rest of the reporters fell in with softball questions more befitting the narrative of the day.
Meanwhile, editorial pages lit up with the not unexpected think pieces. Canadian national security industry spokesman Wesley Wark struggled to understand how "seemingly well-integrated young men can come to take up the cause of mass casualty violence and terrorism."
Wark and others might benefit from a brilliant piece of 1970s research by Dane Archer and Rosemary Gartner called Peacetime Casualties: The Effects Of War On The Violent Behavior Of Noncombatants.
This analysis begins by stating the problem that is largely dismissed as part of the "root causes" argument: "Violence by the state is strangely absent from discussions of violence."
Homicide rates in a majority of nations involved in wars, the authors write, increased significantly compared to nations not involved, revealing a "linkage between the violence of governments and the violence of individuals. This linkage is mediated by a process of legitimation in which wartime homicide becomes a high-status, rewarded model for subsequent homicides by individuals."
Instead of asking why young men "radicalize" and commit to violence against North Americans, perhaps the real question is why do U.S. officials so hate civilian populations around the globe that they carry out atrocities against them?
Or in the same vein, why did officials from CSIS and the RCMP knowingly set up Canadian citizens like Abdullah Almalki and Ahmad El-Maati for torture in Syria and Egypt. Or why did Canada's military brass knowingly transfer Afghan detainees to prisons where it was clear, as former diplomat Richard Colvin testified, they would face torture?
And why wasn't the coverage accorded the Boston explosions and two Canadians' alleged terror plot equalled by media attention to Globalizing Torture, a report released in February that found that 54 nations - including Canada - provided assistance to the U.S. rendition-for-torture program?
As people around the globe, from Boston, Massachusetts, to Wessab, Yemen, and the Kunar province of Afghanistan, remember the dead and care for the wounded, all victimized by acts of terrorism, it remains our collective task not only to seek accountability, but also to recognize that terrorism is committed with our tax dollars, by our governments, in our name.
Matthew Behrens is a social justice advocate who coordinates the Homes Not Bombs non-violent direct action network.