Perhaps the bombing in tranquil Oslo and the massacre of young people at a Norwegian Labour Party retreat will help jar Canadians out of their slumber regarding precisely who is vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
Us, for example.
Why an attack on Oslo, the capital of a small country where the principal cause of international controversy has been its whaling industry?
It doesn’t take a PhD in political science from Harvard to figure that one out.
Oslo was a soft target. The British, the French, the Germans, the Americans, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Spanish have all suffered terror attacks. All have hardened their security in anticipation of more.
Then there are countries like Canada, way down the list of world powers but persuading themselves that because they are polite and progressive they must not be of much interest to terrorists.
Wrong. Canadians are of high value as terror targets, whether domestic or international in origin, precisely because so many of us don’t really believe we are.
A national survey of attitudes published in the Journal of Risk Research found in 2006 that only 13.3 per cent of Canadians actually thought terrorism posed a high risk, whether or not they lived and worked in a major urban centre. Few had thought about or prepared for the possibility of a terrorist attack.
In London, on the other hand, 86 per cent of the population thinks terrorism is a tangible risk and expects a future attack like the public transit bombings in 2005. Americans, too, think terrorism a threat and that there is a likelihood of another attack. Furthermore, about 20 per cent of Americans think of themselves as being at risk.
Canada wisely stayed out of the American folly in Iraq, but it has been involved in a decade-long war against Islamist extremism in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers have been particularly effective there, inflicting heavy casualties on Islamist terror organizations, sufficient cause to become a target at home. Canada has also been involved in the Horn of Africa, another hotbed of Islamist extremism. More recently, it’s involved itself through NATO in the civil war in Libya.
Osama bin Laden may be dead but his al-Qaida organization isn’t. The mastermind of the World Trade Center attack in 2001 – and other horrific events – had identified Canada as a “designated target” for terrorist action because our role in Afghanistan.
Although it’s unclear who was responsible for the Oslo atrocity – although reports point to a lone right-wing extremist – Islamist extremists remain in the spotlight right now because they’ve launched numerous attacks.
But Canada’s vulnerability is bigger than Islamist terrorism. The “us” which is vulnerable to terror attacks includes the vast majority of Muslim Canadians, too. And those who pose a threat include extremists ranging from homegrown white supremacists and anti-Semites to communities which harbour offshore nationalist or festering political agendas.
We’ve seen violence ranging from B.C.’s Squamish Five to wannabe bombers in Toronto, from neo-Nazi skinheads to Sikh extremists to animal rights fanatics.