It may be crass to ask which Canadian politician benefits most from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But it is necessary.
In the short run, and with an election scheduled no later than October, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is the clear winner from this grim affair.
Of the three main federal party leaders, he has taken the strongest line against Islamic radicals.
Over objections from the opposition Liberals and New Democrats, Harper has already committed Canadian fighter planes to war against such radicals in Iraq.
He presided over most of Canada’s 12-year-long war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
His government has passed legislation allowing it to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens, including those born in Canada.
That’s clearly aimed at Muslims the Conservatives deem radical
Given popular revulsion over the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, Harper will find it politically easier to pass new laws aimed at beefing up security — even if they whittle away unnecessarily at individual civil liberties.
Conversely, the Liberals and New Democrats will find it politically more difficult to oppose such laws or to criticize Canada’s participation in the latest Iraq war.
“The international jihadist movement has declared war,” Harper said Thursday, hinting strongly that Canada would respond in kind.
In the sorrow and anger that surrounds this latest slaughter, it is easy to forget nuances. But they are there.
First, at one level the international jihadist movement does not exist.
Like the so-called international communist conspiracy of the Cold War, radical Islam is beset by differences in aims, tactics and strategy.
Public professions of faith (to Marxism in the Cold War, to Islam today) can disguise real differences.
In the Cold War, there were many kinds of communism — Soviet, Chinese, Yugoslav, Vietnamese. Those differences became clear when, for example, the Vietnamese and Chinese communists fought a war against one another.
But it was always easier, for both sides in the Cold War, to pretend that communists were united in a common front against world capitalism.
Today, too, there are differences among the various wings of radical Islam. Al Shabab is primarily concerned with Somalia. It did famously commit atrocities in neighbouring Kenya, but only after Kenyan forces involved themselves in the Somali civil war.
Similarly, Libyan Islamists are focused on Libya while Afghanistan’s Taliban concerns itself with Afghanistan.
In Syria, Islamic radical groups have taken up arms against one another. Even Al Qaeda has criticized the Islamic State as unnecessarily brutal.
Second, the causation of what Harper presents as an all-encompassing struggle is more complicated than the prime minister suggests.
The Islamic State, for instance, declared war on Canada, the U.S. and other Western nations only after they declared war on it.
The brutal beheading of journalist James Foley did not lead to U.S. military involvement in Iraq’s war against the Islamic State. American military involvement led to his beheading.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Western countries shouldn’t involve themselves in Middle Eastern wars. But if we do, we should not be surprised when the other side brings that war home to us in hideous ways.
At this point, it is still unclear which group, if any, was behind the Charlie Hebdo attack. A witness reports that the assailants identified themselves as Al Qaeda. Indeed, in its careful planning and execution, the attack in Paris does resemble Al Qaeda’s 9/11 outrages.
What does seem clear is that whomever was responsible was attempting a classic terrorist gambit known as propaganda of the deed.
The aims here are to show potential supporters that direct action against real or perceived grievances is possible and to cause the authorities to overreact.
Will Canada be one of those that overreacts? And, if so, by what degree?
So far, the Conservative government’s exact intentions are unclear. But the sheer horror of Wednesday’s attack will make it more difficult for sane voices to be heard.