I don’t know quite how to ask this question, but I suspect that a lot of Americans are about to, so I’ll put it as directly as I can: Are Canadians stupid?
A recent poll found that a majority of Canadians, including a whopping three-quarters of Quebecers, believe that U.S. foreign policy was the root cause of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This shouldn’t be so shocking; their previous prime minister, Jean Chretien, said practically the same thing a few years back (which I wrote about in NRO here.) In other words, they believe that the Americans brought 9/11 on themselves.
What makes this such a jaw-dropping finding, and prompts my question about the intelligence of the average Canadian in general (and of Quebecers in particular), is that it comes only a few months after Canadian authorities broke up a conspiracy among Islamic extremists in Canada in which a dozen men and five minors were arrested. They were apparently planning to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Canadian parliament, storm the national public-broadcasting building…oh, and they were going to behead the Canadian prime minister, too .
How can anyone in Canada, knowing this — and I assume it was news published there both in English and French — still believe that foreign policies, American or any other, have much to do with terrorism? How many such plots need to be broken up before the Canadians, or at least some Canadians, get the point? Do these same Canadians who think U.S. foreign policy is generating terrorism also think that Canada’s foreign policy would be to blame if their prime minister were decapitated on live television? Canada, after all, has over the past several years gone to no small lengths (especially under Chretien) to distance itself from the United States, and publicly opposed the war in Iraq. (As did Germany, by the way…but that didn’t stop Islamic terrorists from plotting to blow up two trains in Germany this summer, either.)
So let me for a moment address our Canadian friends (and I swear, I still do still think of them as friends), and try to state the obvious one more time. Unfortunately, I don’t speak French, but I’m sure some helpful Canadian colleague will translate this for me: It’s not about foreign policy, it’s about who we are. As long as we are a secular, tolerant, open, and free society — and by “we” I mean all of us in the West, including Canada — the terrorists will continue to strike, because everything we are, our very way of life, is repellent to them, and they are going to do everything they can to destroy it completely.
Is that clear enough, or will it finally sink in only when pieces of the Canadian parliament are falling out of the sky in burning flinders?
On the other hand, let’s not be too hard on our friends to the north. We have plenty of people down here in the Lower 48 who believe the same silliness about how this or that policy — and, of course, support for the Israelis — caused 9/11. (A small number of Americans are even so reality-deprived that they think the Bush administration pulled off 9/11, despite tapes shown this week on al-Jazeera of some of the hijackers meeting with Osama bin Laden and training for the attack.) And let’s face it: If we’re going to get into a “who can say stupider things than whom” contest with the Canadians, we have to acknowledge that Michael Moore is an American, which would give us an unfair head start right away.
The real problem here is that the Canadian poll results are just another example of a kind of denial that has set in among certain people, both inside and outside of the United States, over the past five years. These people desperately want to find some reason, some issue that can be solved, as the mainspring behind Islamic terrorism. Otherwise, they would have to confront the terrible reality that there is nothing we can give the terrorists that will stop the killing. We can change our policies, but we can’t change our culture or beliefs–or at least change them enough to suit the Islamic fascists who would turn the world into one big Taliban-run Afghanistan if they could. And so rather than face the fact that we’re at war with a relentless enemy with whom no negotiated peace is possible, such people retreat into fantasies about how the whole thing could be settled somehow if we could only figure out how to stop doing whatever it is they don’t like.
Blaming America, and American policies, might bring many Canadians a sense of comfort (and to some, no doubt, that smug feeling of superiority that too many Canadians seem to exhibit regarding Americans), but it is a foolish and only temporary escape from reality. The terrorists are going to continue to try to kill Americans, Canadians, Frenchmen, Germans, Russians, Australians, and anyone else they can get their hands on who won’t bow to their impossible demands.
Instead of ignorantly pointing fingers at U.S. foreign policy, the Canadians — citizens of our sister nation — should join the Americans in an attempt to lead the Western community in defending our common values of tolerance and liberalism, extolling them in one voice in the face of our would-be oppressors, and cooperating with each other to find, capture — and if need be, kill — the kind of people who would blow innocent men, women, and children to pieces for the sake of their own demented ideology. Any other course of action would be…well, stupid.
– Tom Nichols is a professor of strategy at the U.S. Naval War College and a senior associate of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs. The views expressed are his own.