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Remembrance should temper any over-reaction

In marking the deaths of corporal Nathan Cirillo and warrant officer Patrice Vincent, victims of crimes linked to Muslim extremism, it’s important to remember the cause for which many soldiers died: freedom.

Canadians naturally recoiled from what smacks of terrorism on our own soil, identifying the killings as an assault on our values and way of life. There was an emotional outpouring, and empathy for the families of the two men.

It’s essential, however, to avoid any overreaction when it comes to security measures, as our civil liberties have been eroding at an expanded pace since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. With Remembrance Day approaching, we would be well advised to reflect on the sacrifices of those who served in the wars, especially the freedoms and advances both preserved and won that helped shape our society.

Both killers were Canadians not raised as Muslims, apparently radicalized by Islamist ideology. That’s what elevates the threat and leads to the widespread use of the word “terrorism.” And increased scrutiny of the Muslims already here.

Beyond the immediate reactions, we do need to understand the root causes of such acts. Some will point to radicalization as an inherent part of Islam. Others will mention the history of Western colonialism and ongoing interventions in Muslim countries. Then there’s the issue of support for Israel, an issue at the heart of all Middle East affairs.

Those issues are not going to go away anytime soon, as there’s too much money and ideology tied up in the status quo. What can be addressed, however, is how we react to terrorism and the fear it breeds. There are vested interests with financial and other incentives to call for beefed up security, military spending and even more restrictions to our civil rights and liberties.

Canadians were quick to spot the opportunistic move by the federal government in attempting to push through changes to Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act following the Boston bombings. You can bet events of the last couple of weeks will be used to justify more intrusions into our collective privacy. How will we react?

Certain types have always had the urge to spy on people; in the post-9/11 world, the paranoid and dictatorial have found new ways to curtail public freedoms. Their attempts to play on current fears have many precedents – think of McCarthyism and the state police of hundreds of oppressive regimes.

Those who would take your freedoms argue such measures are little grief if only one terrorist is thwarted or one criminal swept up. The argument holds no merit, as taking away the rights of everyone to round up a few smacks of a bad deal – as Benjamin Franklin noted, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

Information gathered will do nothing to deter real crime, but would serve as an excellent vehicle for public control. Misuse would be rampant. Throw in a lack of data security and the perils become even greater.

With computers able to crunch vast amounts of disparate data, we would be wise to provide government, agencies and businesses with increasingly less information about ourselves. Preventing more intrusion on our lives is where the real battle lies.

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