Monday, June 12, 2006

A Far Greater Threat to Toronto

If what's in the offing is any indication, it seems that American tourists need reassuring, through a public concert, that Toronto is a safe place to visit. In the wake of the arrest earlier this month of 17 suspected terrorists in and around Toronto, the same people who were behind the massive SARS concert that brought the Rolling Stones to the city in 2003 have now come up with the brilliant idea for a ludicrously-named I Am Not Afraid event. Buttons bearing the same affirmation are also being prepared for brave Canadians (and hopefully brave American tourists as well) to wear.

One of the organizers admits to having been inspired by a website that had been launched days after the London bombings in July 2005. But wait—wasn't there an actual attack in London, with real bombs going off and real people being murdered? Why is it that every time the word "terror" is mentioned at home or abroad, Toronto feels the need to attract attention onto itself, as if it feared being left out among the world's would-be preferred targets for terrorists? After Madrid and London, Canadians were being hammered day in day out with stories about how a similar bombing would affect Toronto, or whether Toronto was safe, prepared, vulnerable, a target or not. Both the authorities and the media had a hand in this, needlessly exacerbating fears that the metropolis could be next. Given the hype (apparently it's cool to think of oneself as a potential target), I can half-expect someone at City Hall sending a postcard to Osama Bin Laden and friends in Afghanistan with a note reading something like "Dear Osama et al: what about us? Are we not important enough? We want to register, too. After all, as our tourism brochures and commercials incessantly inform the world, we're a world-class city. Didn't you know that we have the world's tallest free-standing building? Flip the postcard and you'll see it."

What about when, not so long ago, innocent bystanders in that very same city were being gunned down by various Toronto-based gangs? Where was the concert then, or the buttons, for that matter? Is imagined fear more powerful than the fear of something that truly exists?

The truth of the matter is, there was no attack in Toronto—and in fact, it's still far too soon to even hint that one might have been in the preparatory stage. Once again, panicky people are putting the cart before the horse, pretending to know more than the security agencies charged with determining the true nature of the threat, if a threat there was in the first place.

To me, this looks like an attempt on Toronto's part to cash in on the siege mentality that has existed in the U.S. since September 11, 2001. We're like you now, Toronto shouts across the border. Visit us—it's safe—but please come share the pain with us. We know what you feel like; we're one of you. Welcome home.

This moronic display of public fearlessness is also an affront to the cities of this world where terror is part of everyday life. Does anyone in Jerusalem, Bogotá, Baghdad, Kinshasa or Kabul, to give but a few examples from an alarmingly long list, feel this urge to demonstrate—by organizing concerts and wearing stupid buttons—that they're not afraid? Of course they're afraid, and for good reasons. But they go on, without a concert, and certainly without a button. How can a safe, advanced metropolis in a stable democracy like Canada ever presume to be in the same league as those cities? First things first, let's give the authorities enough time to determine if there indeed was a threat. In the meantime, we should all wear a button that says "I'm Not Afraid of Being Hit by a Car When I Jaywalk on Front Street." If we're to think in terms of probability, that's a much likelier threat to any resident of that city than anyone of the al-Qaeda persuasion, real or imagined, will ever represent. (Toronto Muslims facing acts of misdirected hatred, violence, and vandalism are also more threatened, for that matter.)

As the organizers of the concert start endeavoring to make us all feel safe, I suspect that the greatest threat to the City of Toronto isn't terrorism. It is plain stupidity.


wildnutsintaipei said...

This is a rather harsh blog. Toronto was just trying to live up to the reputation of being US's idiotic cousin. It is simply not enough that we now have a belligerent Prime Minister. On the provincial and municipal level, the civilians must to do their part to be internationally recognized by all, big and small, terrorists. I mean, what is a big city without some poisonous gas incidents or some bombings, eh? Air India didn’t even go off on our soil! We need to have a couple of soldiers dying overseas and some civilians being hurt to prove ourselves. Isn’t that how it works, the definition of a world-class city? Maybe on the surface, this I-am-not-afraid thing looks stupid, but it is affording whoever wants to harm the multicultural and lovely Canadian a great opportunity. Sure, the gang shootings aren’t big enough to get ample attention for a concert of any sort. I suppose something that localized deserves only the domestic attention since it does not have any bearing on the definition of a world-class city.

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