Just a day ago a 25 year old man ran down two Canadian Forces soldiers, killing one. He was later shot dead by police. Today, CBS News says a 32 year old man mortally wounded a reservist at Ottawa’s War Memorial. In what follows I am making an assumption that young people are affected by recruitment efforts by ISIL/ISIS and why this may be so. In response I am investigating what other factors are at work. Also, the term “young person” is problematic. What I mean by that is disaffected women and men from late teens to early 30’s who may be excluded from the dominant political and economic narrative; that is to say, stuck in low wage work, disillusioned with life, and perhaps angry at the injustice and hypocrisy of the dominant leaders who wage war on others while building an unaccountable global economic system. A system that exploits the environment and other human beings. This includes the occupation of other lands rich in resources and/or are strategically important.
Thank God no one else has been killed in Ottawa today and I have genuine sorrow for the soldier who lost his life and yes, for his assailant engaged in violence as a solution. Yet, I ask, how can we be shocked at events in Ottawa? In our name the Canadian political establishment and its neo-liberal global allies (US, UK, France, and so on) have been at war in the Middle East for 13 years.
The Canadian political establishment has participated in handing over Afghan detainees to certain torture. It enables Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the said elites, to routinely torture, behead, and otherwise terrorizes its citizens. It more than enabled, it cheered on, the barbaric slaughter of civilians in Gaza by Israel. While billions of dollars are spent on creating mayhem in other people’s backyards, the same political establishment has carried on an economic war at home by imposing austerity regimes that deny basic needs for people: meaningful work, affordable housing, fully universal and accessible healthcare, gutting environmental and industrial regulations that cause global warming and the incineration of people in their own homes with runaway oil trains. Can we truly not see how wars abroad and at home are connected?
We have yet to see who the attackers were and what their motives were, but we already know that many young people are being attracted to taking up arms in support of so-called ISIL/ISIS. We also know that young people are being recruited by online propaganda. Absent in-depth working class politics in school, and low wage work experiences in dead-end jobs, where can young people learn of past organizing around economic and political injustices? The Internet for sure; yet, the information you want is a needle in a stack of needles, where you have to separate the chafe of conspiracy theories and hate mongering from useful, credible and researched fact and informed opinion. Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you that next to getting students to turn off cell phones, they have to explain that Internet sources are not all credible and proper research can only be as good as reliable sources. Teachers will also tell you their frustrations with helping adult students to earn credentials for jobs that don’t exist or are disappearing fast.
The whole rotten global economy is sputtering on empty while too many young people look on with dismay and wonder where the hell they are going to fit into this mess being created. Alienated and isolated online or perhaps in small groups, young people can fall prey to the reportedly sophisticated propaganda promoted by ISIL.
Professor Derek Cook, in a September CBC report asked “How could that be, that young people are being seduced to join a group of mass murderers that have an ersatz view of Islam, and really, are pretending to advocate religious ideology when they are advocating a political ideology?” he asked. “It’s a con game. It’s phony. They’re fooling people into joining them,” he answered. “This group needs to be confronted and identified for what it is: a variation on political neo-fascism, not a religious movement,” he said. ( I hope to interview Prof. Cook on The ShakeUp this Friday at 4PM to explore his comments further and a forum he led regarding young people enlisting in extremist causes)
Further, in June of this year Al Jazeera America reported on a 13-minute video, titled “There Is No Life Without Jihad”. In the video a plea is made: “To all my brothers living in the West, I know how you feel. I used to live there. In the heart, you feel depressed,” and “… Feel the honor we are feeling. Feel the happiness we are feeling.”
What young people are being taught is that local and world problems are solved by imposing terms on others, and if that doesn’t work we send in high tech weapons and kill with impunity.
A new book by Anand Gopal entitled “No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes” describes the horror of Afghanistan. Imagine the sheer hubris of western leaders who are dismantling our own states in the service of globalization to speak of “state-building” in Afghanistan and elsewhere and do it with guns. All that’s been created is some kind of global kleptocracy where wealth never trickles anywhere; rather, it gushes into offshore accounts or real estate in corrupt Gulf States, also allies of the Canadian political establishment.
So, certainly young people see all this and perhaps are unable to articulate the inevitable rage that will well up in any thinking, feeling human being and struggle to channel it. Then along pops up on a screen the cynical and craven “Jihadists” who, as Derek Cook pointed out, are neo-fascist operators themselves sowing their own brand of mayhem in order to carve out their own form of injustice in response to the same crushing global order I’ve described.
So what are solutions? First, there must be recognition that state violence is no answer for political and economic problems. The real solutions to problems of work, and full participation in society is for working people of all sorts: unemployed, underemployed, waged and unwaged must come together in a spirit of mutual aid, trust and solidarity to look out for each other and decide what must be done. Obviously the corporate/state apparatus that has been imposed on us since at least the years of the Free Trade Agreements does not exist to promote the common good and welfare of citizens. A whole new way of organizing ourselves around the needs we have and how we are going to fulfill them will answer the question of what must be done, and then the will to take that challenge on will become apparent. Shouldn’t that kind of peaceful resistance and community building leading to the renewal of our spirit and a just society be far more fulfilling than ending a young life on a Quebec highway or the halls of parliament in a hail of bullets in a vain attempt to challenge the system?
To disaffected young, old, and in between women and men I say consider this a plea for solidarity and for a coming together beyond the violence, mayhem, and Islamophobia you may see all around you. A new future is possible but it won’t come by violent acts and it won’t come from the political and economic elites. It can only come from brave and committed people of good will with a yearning for a just world and the ability and will to achieve it.
More on these thoughts of future organizing soon based on my experience at the New Work New Culture conference in Detroit this past weekend.