Amazing how the Internet forces us to confront our own demons.
Of course, I’m referring to today’s exposure by Wikileaks of the brutal and unprovoked murder of two Reuters cameramen, and two unarmed Iraqi civilians by the US forces in Iraq. Although I am not an American, I am sickened to my stomach to learn that people who are supposedly from the “First World” can chuckle about cold-blooded murder, especially when they bear an supposedly august flag, like the Stars and Stripes, on their shoulder.
Of course, the war in Iraq has nothing to do with being Canadian, as we have remained (except for the briefest of involvement by JTF-2) completely apart from the conflict, and it’s made me think about why I feel so compelled to see the people who committed this crime punished. And I now think I know the answer – because I feel like we should know better. The we isn’t “Canadian” or “American”, but instead, it is “Westerner”.
Since World War II, there’s been a collectivization of interest in a manner we haven’t seen since the days of Rome. NATO countries now contain at least a tenth of the world’s population but most of its industrial production, economic power, and military might, and they share a series of common governments with common protections. From the disunity of the Second World War, an overarching common culture is developing in the West.
This change from nationalism to collective interest has been formalized by the European Union and the NAFTA treaty, among others, and has seen the death of many old hatreds that lasted for centuries – the Irish and the English, the French and the Germans, the Dutch and the Germans, the Belgians and the Germans, the Polish and the Germans (it’s like the Germans did some bad stuff). Sure, they don’t like each other, but they work together, economically, militarily, and to an extent, culturally. I have European friends from the UK, Holland, France, Germany, something that was impossible a hundred years ago. We’re at the beginning of seeing a new strong country arise from two dozen nations who were at each others’ throats like 10 times in the last two hundred and ten years.
Similarly, the United States and Canada have gotten progressively closer, though less governmentally and certainly more culturally. Canadians and Americans watch the same television and movies, they go to the same universities, and they have the same opinions on many things. Of course, Americans tend to be more politically conservative, but we have teabaggers here, just as there are people who are rather favourable to the Canadian political or social systems in the States. I’m not saying we’re inseparable, but we are closer than ever.
The thing that made me start pondering the concept of collective Western citizenship was when the Middle East went apeshit over the infamous Mohammed cartoons published in Denmark in 2005. Denmark, a particularly small and progressive nation in Europe, mobilized everyone in the West when we considered the concept of freedom of speech versus insult of religion (AKA, blasphemy), and weighed how we felt about the subject. Most of the Middle East was united – blasphemous images of the Prophet should be punished, preferably by death, as the sanctity of the Qu’ran is considered to be more important than any other considerations, whereas in our society – Danish, Canadian, American – our central tenement is the freedom of speech, which, in this case, created two values at a complete impasse.
The fact that seven hundred million people would agree on a political point of view without religious encouragement is completely, totally unheard of in human history. We haven’t seen Europe agree on one single point since the Crusades! But in this case, they agreed that freedom of speech is more important than the possibility of blasphemy (except for the Irish, but that’s another story).
So I feel now like I am a citizen of something in its infancy, but growing: the concept of the West as the overarching cultural ideal. I feel like we have a certain collectivization of cultural values that we can all rely upon – freedom of belief, of religion, of assembly, the freedom to vote for who we wish and to seek political office, and we recognize this in each other, respect it, and most importantly, we are willing to support and fight for these values in each others’ cultures, which is why I think I care about foreign politics as much as I care about my own.
When I see something that violates these concepts, such as the brutal murder of four innocents by people who swore to defend our values, even if those murderers aren’t Canadians, I feel betrayed. I feel…soiled that I share these basic concepts. I feel cheated. And I feel like the only way we can grow past this is to bring these offenders to justice. Our justice: innocent until proven guilty, with due process of law.
The same protections all of the West offers to even its worst criminals. Guantanamo Bay excepting.