July 10, 2006

A Tale of Two Accused Terrorists

A tale of two accused terrorists
Contrary to popular belief, 17 alleged terrorists are Canadian

When sensationalist arrests of 17 young Canadian alleged terrorists first hit the papers, I couldn't help thinking about the accused terrorist who crashed on my friend's couch for a few weeks back in 2003.

No, the couch surfer accused terrorist wasn't from the Middle East. He didn't think his actions would score him 70 virgins in heaven or whatever the anti-Muslim stereotypes may be on any given day; he wasn't motivated by religion of any creed.

He was and is Michael Scarpitti aka Tre Arrow: a white skinned former high-school wrestling champion from Florida considered the most wanted domestic eco-terrorist by the FBI for allegedly burning a couple of logging trucks in Oregon to protest clear-cutting.

Arrow hitchhiked through the Maritimes in 2003 staying in various communities, before heading back West, eventually getting nabbed on shoplifting charges in Victoria, B.C. He's currently in a Victoria jail fighting extradition to the United States.

According to FBI, Arrow and others light milk cartons full of gasoline under the trucks to burn them; hardly a sophisticated terror operation.

In similar haphazard fashion, many of the people recently arrested were seen by Mike Côté, a resident of the rural Ontario Ramara Township, who told the Toronto Star he watched a gang of wet, cold, bedraggled city boys shooting guns near his property and promptly informed the police.

Osama's highly trained box-cutter brethren certainly wouldn't be so silly or obvious.

As the Star's Thom Walkhom notes, "They apparently didn't realize, or perhaps didn't care, that large groups of brown-skinned urbanites dressed in camouflage are not a common sight in rural central Ontario." These 'homegrown' terrorists have more in common in their approach and inspiration with other 'homegrown' terrorists: mainly urban college- educated white kids, like early 1970s Weather Underground in the U.S., and other alleged miscreants like Tre Arrow, than with semi-sophisticated networks like Al-Qaida or hardened thoroughly oppressed organizations like the marxist Tamil Tigers or Islamic Jihad. Thus, they should be dealt with as such: careful police work within historically acceptable legal parameters.

There is no need or justification for Kafkaesque legislation like 'security certificates' which allow for the indefinite dentition of non-citizens and deny accused parties the right to see the evidence against them.The Ontario 17 weren't caught thorough draconian, anti-democratic legal changes.

Canadians, fortunately, aren't yet totally wrapped in the xenophobia which grips our southern neighbours and haven't written a blank check for an eternal war on terror. And before the actions of 17 incompetent men and boys, representing the dark side of young idealism, change our world or skew our perspectives we should consider a few facts.

Terrorism, in the commonly understood definition- non-state actors attacking civilians or other innocent parties to influence the behaviour of a more powerful party, usually a government- is a fairly minor problem globally. Brutal, sadistic, irritating and- frankly- pathetic, but certainly not the most pressing issue facing the global community.

It's never a pleasant business to rate injustices against each other in terms of their ghastliness, but it can be useful for providing perspective.

The crimes against humanity at the World Trade Center killed 2,752 people.

Fifty thousand people, including roughly 30,000 children, die each and every day from poverty. There is almost universal acceptance that the ecosystems which sustain life itself are under attack. When does terror become structural?

The war in Vietnam killed at least 2,000,000 civilians. By conservative estimates, the illegal invasion of Iraq has killed 100,000 civilians.

Like their white-skinned Weather Underground cousins, the Ontario 17 had plenty of legitimate grievances. Images of horror, deprivation, carnage and murder in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Palestine will (and really ought to) inspire outrage across cultural and geographic lines, Canadians and Americans included.

When napalm was burning the faces off Vietnamese children and agent orange spraying was poisoning the unborn for generations to come, many Americans didn't stand by ideally watching.

They protested by the tens of thousands.

The Weather Underground thought the campaign was ineffective, as the war continued, so they started blowing things up.

The vast majority of the world was against the invasion of Iraq. More than 10 million marched across the globe, prompting the New York Times to call international public opinion the "second superpower". The war still happened and the worst predictions of the anti-war movement are now an ever present reality, in Iraq and beyond.

Feelings of powerlessness, anger and desperation can lead idealistic kids of any ethnicity or religion to commit serious crimes, forget the value of every human life, and allow the ends to justify the means.

Innocent or guilty, the Ontario 17 are Canadians, not foreigners and not just 'Canadian born', whatever that means. Whether we like it or not, we created them.

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