ON TARGET: Media circus over Canadian ISIS clown

Last week there was a brief furor in the media after ISIS released a video with a clear Canadian connection. Local Ottawa boy John Maguire left Canada a year ago for Syria with the intention of joining like-minded foreign converts to Islam who are waging a self-proclaimed holy war. Now known as Abu Anwar al-Canadi, this scruffy looking clown talked on camera about his Canadian roots and how he used to be a regular guy who enjoyed playing hockey.

The gist of his message was to encourage other “lone-wolf” attacks against symbols of authority, similar to Zehaf-Bibeau’s Oct. 22 one-man shooting spree on Parliament Hill. Contrary to what some hysterical media reports might have hinted at, al-Canadi’s mention and praise of Bibeau does not make the criminal crack addict an operative of ISIS. It was also al-Canadi’s assertion that, because Canada is participating in the allied airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, Canada, and by extension, Canadians will be singled out for retaliation. In other words: “be afraid, be very afraid.”

What is puzzling is the fact that the national media would play into the hands of the ISIS propaganda machine. If not for all the mainstream coverage he received, how many Canadians would have researched and watched the original ISIS video? It is like we, as Canadians, are so eager to feel relevant and involved in the ISIS crisis that we throw perspective out the window when dealing with the slightest nuggets that mention Canada by name.

Does anyone really believe that scrawny-looking al-Canadi, with his scruffy beard, talking to a video camera in the middle of Syria, is a clear and present danger to our national security? Will his words of encouragement inspire other hockey-playing young Canadians to renounce their creature comforts, convert to Islam, become radicalized, and then mount a suicide attack against high-profile targets? I sincerely doubt it. But if that is even a remote possibility, why give him a far wider audience?

In a number of high-profile hostage-taking incidents involving diplomats or journalists, authorities have asked for a media ban in order to assist in their negotiations for release. In all cases, the media respected such requests out of consideration for the individuals’ safety. Would a similar ban on disseminating ISIS propaganda also not serve the national interest by reducing the level of fearmongering?

Another case in point was that of the Western fighter who made a point of burning his passport upon arrival in Syria in April, and then went on to warn Canada and the international community that he and his fellow ISIS fighters were “coming to get them.” One has to be thankful that ISIS is attracting morons such as this into their ranks, as it seems a no-brainer that he would have a better chance of actually “coming to get us” before he burned his passport.

That being said, there is no question that the barbarism — including mass beheadings carried out by ISIS — has had an impact on the collective Canadian psyche. The majority of our population still supports the decision to employ combat aircraft in support of the American alliance against ISIS. The problem with that campaign is that there seems to be a paucity of discernable targets for our pilots to engage.

In more than a month of combat operations, our Kuwait-based contingent of six CF-18 Hornet fighters, two Aurora patrol aircraft, and a C130 Hercules refueller have mounted a total of 175 sorties and missions (as of a Dec. 8 update from the Canadian Forces). In all of these hours of flying, we have thus far destroyed a bulldozer, a dump truck, an alleged bomb-making factory, a bunker, and just this past week, an ISIS roadside checkpoint.

Given that such checkpoints usually consist of nothing more than a means to slow traffic, such as portable speed bumps and armed gunmen, I’m not exactly sure what our pilots would have blown up with their 500-pound bomb. Even more difficult to believe is the claim that no civilian deaths resulted from the attack. Presumably, ISIS is not so dumb as to stop traffic where there is none, and it is unlikely that they would be stopping anyone but civilians.

However, while having no boots on the ground to identify targets poses a huge challenge for launching a successful air campaign, having no independent eyewitnesses on the ground also makes it irrefutable that our pilots are maintaining a 100 per cent precision success with absolutely no instances of collateral damage.