“It seems the only way to gain attention today is to organize a march and protest something”.
– Billy Graham
While online today, I was invited to sign up for an upcoming rally opposing the implementation of Bill C-51, the federal legislation that will expand the powers of various agencies tasked with combating terrorism, ostensibly in an effort to make the country safer. According to the invitation, I would be attending an event designed to oppose the Harper government’s intention to establish a “secret police” force within our borders. I have no plans to go.
I do, however, have questions myself about the efficacy of C-51, this latest salvo in the “war against terror” here in Canada, but I am equally unimpressed by this group that wants a “national day of action”, as though a bunch of people waving placards and chanting (no doubt) a variety of slogans is the best public response to just about anything they don’t like. As I remarked to a friend this morning, what chance for discussion is there when those opposed to something have already branded those they oppose as Canada’s version of the Gestapo?
It’s a sad day, really, but it has been a long time coming. The impatience that society seemingly has with anything that requires subtlety and careful attention cannot be overstated. Simply put, it is much easier to attend a rally and carry a sign than it is to take the time to read and understand a proposal or, for that matter, to just think about it for a while without jumping to conclusions or following whoever has adopted a resolute response before you. Never underestimate the power of the bandwagon effect.
Please note that the federal government is essentially employing the same tactic in their approach to seeing that the bill is passed. Riding a wave of popularity as the result of their perceived hard-line in the face of terrorism, the feds are pushing ahead with the bill in its current form more, I suspect, to reinforce their image as strong and resolute than because of any deep and abiding conviction that C-51 is the best possible way to confront whatever threat might exist within Canada.
I use the word “might” conscious of the impact it could have. In the current atmosphere surrounding this topic, I’m liable to be singled out by some as an apologist for terrorists, as though, again, anything other than enthusiastic support for dramatic and tangible opposition is equivalent to being an ISIS sympathizer. Outrage tends to be what makes the news after all. Few are those who want to pause and reflect and subsequently seek out other opinions in order to develop a more nuanced and careful approach to any topic. “Us” vs “them” is the paradigm that dominates discussion (or conflict that passes for discussion) of just about any overarching issue these days.
We shouldn’t be surprised when we see this tactic employed. My experience has convinced me that the average person pays little attention to things beyond the purview of his/her day-to-day living. As a culture, we have become so “busy” that we have very little time to pause, to survey, to consider and to reflect upon the issues that we face. For that matter, the speed with which technology advances doesn’t allow us time to assess the most recent “next big thing”. Within six months of its introduction, that next big thing is largely obsolete, more often than not.
When politicians and groups seeking public support for a position appeal stridently for the simple yes or no, arguments are inevitably reduced to the “us” and “them”, namely, those who support our position and those who oppose it. Rarely are even the simplest of things readily reduced to such terms. We might, for example, establish clear boundaries for our children but the process of growing up is an unfolding story of prohibitions being qualified, changed and, even, abandoned altogether. When dealing with our kids, we realize that maturity brings deeper and subtler understandings of many things.
How I wish we could apply a similar standard to our understanding of the larger issues of our day. In the case of C-51, I’m not sure what the answer is. By and large, Canadians are concerned about radicalized Islam, especially when ISIS and al-Qaida go out of their way to identify Canada as a prospective target. Add to that events over the last year, and fear is to be expected. At the same time, do we need a national lockdown and expanded powers for our national security agencies? I don’t pretend to have the strategy to address either the situation or the questions it raises. I do, however, believe that we need to do something. The federal government has chosen to move in a particular direction that causes me unease, but, as I said earlier, I won’t be attending the protest on the weekend.
More than anything, I wish we could find a way to engage people that didn’t demand such oppositional posing. In a world where so much information is available, you might think that being informed would be easier. Unfortunately, the sheer volume is problematic but, even more, the indiscriminate nature of the information itself is the greater challenge. How does one distinguish between the pertinent and the irrelevant when a search on Google reveals 171,000,000 hits on C-51? Is it any wonder that people are so often content to focus on the concerns of their individual worlds? Eventually, though, the larger world will inescapably intrude. We need to be ready for such eventualities, even if we must continually challenge just what being ready means. Contrary to what the “no” voice shouts so frequently and so persistently, Canada remains a democracy. However imperfectly that concept might manifest itself here, to borrow from Robert Frost: “I don’t know where it’s likely to go better”.*