Spirit Quest on root causes

Spirit Quest

'We must be hard on our own sense of integrity and justice'

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

10 May 2013 — The term “Root Cause”  has taken on new currency since Justin Trudeau, the new leader of the Liberal Party, referred to it after the Boston Marathon bombing. Accolades and brickbats descended on him forthwith.

As expected, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, immediately took issue criticizing Trudeau for being soft on crime: “When you see this type of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes, you condemn it categorically and, to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible.”

Trudeau had insisted that “there is no question that the (Boston bombings) happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded ... our approach has to be, where do those tensions come from?”

Undoubtedly there will be many Canadians, not usually in Harper’s camp, who will agree with him on this issue. The crime was horrendous and it appears that the perpetrators were not at the end of their ability to cause more carnage. There were more pressure cookers at the ready. This fear has been especially enhanced here in Canada  with the arrest of two suspects planning to blow up a VIA Rail train. There is now much shaking of heads and agreeing that there is an evil foreign influence at work. Al-Quaeda rides again, even in Canada!

But Trudeau’s call for a probe of a root cause does not, at least in my mind, mean being soft on crime. He believes that we need to take a serious look at what precipitates such violence, not exonerating it.

There is much unrest in the world, much of it precipitated by western powers. I refer to the Iraq war which, thank God, Canada avoided and which Harper would only too readily have joined. The US forces quickly overran the country and Bush announced proudly “mission accomplished” while the country lay in ruins. Unrest has continued with daily bombings and loss of life. No one can claim that the American intervention has settled anything rather it has unleashed new and longstanding animosities. The return home of US forces will prove that without a doubt. The same can be said for the NATO intervention in Afghanistan which Canada did get involved in with much sacrifice of life.  Canadians and Americans and other countries have tried hard to extricate themselves from these quagmires. The USSR did so earlier with great loss.

There is no doubt that these two interventions have caused much bitterness among the people of those countries and may well contribute to the “root cause” of the bombing in Boston and of the aborted (thankfully) VIA Rail bombing. The ghost of Osama lives on.

By now I shall have been written off as being soft on crime and the enemy in general. Certainly this cannot be said for the Harper Conservatives who are busy building new and bigger jails, who have closed such rehabilitative institutions as the Joyceville penitentiary farm north of Kingston and have passed more security legislation that will undoubtedly curtail public freedoms. Pointing to Boston and to Toronto they have the perfect argument that security trumps freedom.

I fear that looking for root causes puts us into uncomfortable situations. The image of our so-called democratic society becomes somewhat tainted at least in the eyes of many of the world’s people and perhaps even in our own.

The West has painted itself into a precarious corner. Frankly, it is hard to know how we can change our image from that of warlords equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry and delivery systems to that of peacemakers and peacekeepers. Canada has totally given up on those roles. We are not trusted by many and thus some of the young  idealistic, impressionable, and, yes “fearless to the point of self sacrifice” are ready to take up violent means. The two brothers involved in the Boston bombing are signs of that.

Root causes are difficult to deal with, perhaps even impossible without a serious  rethinking of our position in the world. This does not mean being soft on crime or not pursuing the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, but it certainly means  stopping the justifying and celebrating our own acts of aggression abroad. How many civilians particularly children have we murdered with the use of drones in Pakistan? We must stop backing repressive military dictatorships and cease supporting those who exploit the poor at home and abroad.

Have we the will and the courage to question ourselves and our ways in the past? Have we painted ourselves too far into the corner to find a way out except to deny that we are cornered? Cornered animals are dangerous and so are we. In which case my sense of hope has been badly tarnished.

But I believe in a Spirit that leads us in ways hitherto unthought of, that hopefully may yet take us from violence to peace. This is not being soft on crime but hard on our own sense of integrity and justice. For that Spirit I dare to pray.