Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder

Should a man who believes he’s being chased by the devil, shape pubic policy and guide international relations?

Dave Bathurst was a friend of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau — the gunman whose brief shooting rampage yesterday led to the Canadian capital city, Ottowa, getting locked down for several hours.

The Globe and Mail reports:

Mr. Bathurst said he met Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau in a Burnaby, B.C., mosque about three years ago. He said his friend did not at first appear to have extremist views or inclinations toward violence – but at times exhibited a disturbing side.

“We were having a conversation in a kitchen, and I don’t know how he worded it: He said the devil is after him,” Mr. Bathurst said in an interview. He said his friend frequently talked about the presence of Shaytan in the world – an Arabic term for devils and demons. “I think he must have been mentally ill.”

Nevertheless, Mike Morell, CBS News senior security contributor and former CIA deputy director, seems to believe that Zehaf-Bibeau represents a threat to the United States:


Unlike Morrell, I’m much more concerned about what his own reaction reveals about thinking inside the CIA than what Zehaf-Bibeau reveals about Canada.

In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million), 2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including yesterday’s).

The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can lay their hands on a gun.

It’s often hard to be clear about what should be described as terrorism. What’s much easier to discern is hysteria.

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Comments

  1. Public display of hysteria is regarded as an essential sign of patriotism in the US. Watching the tube, you can see the commentators longing almost explicitly for the Canadians to go appropriately nuts.

  2. “Should a man who believes he’s being chased by the devil, shape pubic policy and guide international relations?”

    Another way to frame the question might be this: how often does such a man shape public policy? — or at least provide the actual shapers with what they want? One thinks right away of Gavrilo Princip, Marinus van der Lubbe, — and even Osama wasn’t exactly a model of mental health.

    A broader inquiry might try to differentiate the kind of reactions these events inspire. In the US, the ’60’s were basically shot down by Oswald, Sirhan, and Ray (or somebody). Yet there was no massive institutional reaction. The assassination of Lincoln, a historical disaster of unprecedented scope, was not followed by efforts to punish the South. The question now is whether the Canadian right will be able to take advantage in the way the US right did, jettisoning the entire 21st century. Common sense may yet prevail.