10/26/2014 06:39 EDT | Updated 12/26/2014 05:59 EST

5 Reasons To Quit Calling These Guys Terrorists

Andrew Burton via Getty Images
OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 23: Flowers and wreaths are left in memorial of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo of the Canadian Army Reserves, who was killed yesterday while standing guard in front of the National War Memorial by a lone gunman, on October 23, 2014 in Ottawa, Canada. After killing Cirillo the gunman stormed the main parliament building, terrorizing the public and politicians, before he was shot dead. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

This week Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo were murdered. Their Canadian-born killers (who won't be named here) appear to be recent converts to Islam. They don't (as far as we know) seem to know each other, or to be part of a co-ordinated offensive on military targets.

Cirillo's murderer was known as a crack cocaine addict on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, where he suffered mental health issues and had penny-ante run-ins with the law. His last offence, in 2011, involved attempting to rob McDonalds with a sharp stick, but the employee at the counter wouldn't give him any money.

Vincent's killer was born and raised in Quebec, yet underwent such a dramatic physical transformation during his conversion that neighbours who'd known him for a decade didn't recognize him.

Both killers were profoundly troubled in their social circles and families. It's possible they were both influenced by ISIS calls for adherents to attack targets in their home countries. Both have been called terrorists, or associated with terrorism.

But we should quit calling these guys terrorists, and here's why:

1. We're not terrorized

Canadians are shocked, shaken, distraught, and anxious for an uncertain future. But we're not terrorized. Terror is irrational panic, defined as "sudden uncontrollable fear, often causing wildly unthinking behaviour." But that's the opposite of the triumph of discipline we saw on display in Ottawa.

Our law enforcement, public servants, media and ordinary Canadians acted swiftly with distinction and honour, chief among them being Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers. Citizens ignored danger and rushed to aid or our mortally wounded hero, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. He gave up his life accompanied by solemn prayers and expressions of love from Canadians.

We are a wounded nation, not a terrorized one.

Canada may have a benevolent exterior, but we all understand the steel at our core. We know that freedom exacts a steep price, because we've paid it before. And we know, as we enter military hostilities to confront ISIS in Iraq, that it won't hesitate to exploit the stupid, the gullible and the deranged as a means of attacking its enemies in their own lands.

If we weren't prepared for that on Monday, we should be now. And even without spurs from ISIS there's no telling what these same people will do (or have done) on their own to bootstrap themselves into Canada's history books.

Let's not be their victim.

2. It encourages attackers

The word "terrorism" promises grandiose glory, transgressive glamour, and an international brotherhood to young people who are otherwise seen as "failures" and misfits. By driving public fear and mass panic, we amplify the rewards of radicalization. That attraction is a heady intoxicant to someone who's been marginalized or scorned his whole life, or who suffers mental illness.

From what we've seen so far, the homegrown "converts" to some kind of violent extremism aren't highly trained lethal combatants seeking to destabilize Canada from within, but rather gullible, suggestible or delusional young men. There will probably be more.

We should honour the sacrifice of Cpl. Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent by refusing to bestow their attackers with a name that accords them prominence and stature. Let's dial this back several notches and call this phenomenon what it is: violent treason. And the mental health aspect cannot be dismissed. Our focus should be soberly fixed on appropriate security, not obsessing over unstable individuals who are by their nature unpredictable. There will always be lunatics with guns and knives. Investigating them is a police matter.

3. It distorts the threat

The word "terrorist" needlessly alarms Canadians without informing them of anything important. What we need is information about real risk, but the word "terrorist" is just scary. As RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson stated in his news conference following the Ottawa attack, Canadians aren't in danger. He outlined in significant detail the salient facts of Wednesday's attack. Tellingly, he did not use the words "terrorist" or "terrorism," nor did he need to. They're wholly extraneous.

Mass shooters, killers of our missing and murdered aboriginal women, gangsters and drunk drivers are vastly more lethal to the public than the so-called terrorists we seem to fear much more. While we're in no danger of political upheaval or revolution, on rare occasions we will be exposed to increased localized risk from irrational and radicalized individuals. We can minimize that by toning down the rhetoric -- see #2.

4. It weakens us

Pumping terrorism is divisive, serving the interests of outsiders. The word "terrorism" heightens suspicion of minorities and feeds hysteria against innocent and law-abiding communities. This danger has already emerged and itself feeds violent extremism.

In the long run (and there's always a long-run), overplaying the domestic terrorist angle raises the stakes and potential rewards for all political parties -- accentuating divisions that hurt the public interest. We do a terrible disservice to our fallen soldiers by point-scoring bombast, which is almost guaranteed by amped up language.

5. Inflammatory language is dangerous

Canadians know that incendiary language and thinking have their own power. We watched as phantom "WMDs" and a non-existent "mushroom cloud" led to the catastrophic U.S. invasion of Iraq and regional conflagration in which we too are now enmeshed.

Canadians saw ourselves at our very best this week, and there was so much to be proud of. We are strongest when we wait for the evidence and respond in a calm and resolute manner to facts we know to be true. Fortitude and resolute commitment to democratic principles should guide us .

Terror has no place in our government, our homes, or our language. Let's deny it entry.


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