The U.S. Secretary of State came to show his support for Canada after what it went through last week. The next question was what it was, and what can be done about things like it.
Was this terrorism? Yes, John Kerry said, "by common-sense standards", an attack on a soldier and Parliament by a man who armed himself with a rifle is an act of terrorism – whatever else investigators decide it is.
As he spoke to reporters in Ottawa, he termed the fight against this terrorism in an unusual way: "We will defeat the advocates and practitioners of terror, expose their hypocrisy, and we will win the battle of ideas."
It's unusual, because the U.S. is leading a campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State. But Mr. Kerry, the United States' chief diplomat, preoccupied with questions of international security, framed this first and foremost as a battle of soft power, of convincing people of a better idea. His host, Canadian foreign affairs minister John Baird, called it a matter of winning hearts and minds.
It seems hard to believe, but the western world is in an image struggle with extremists, murderous fighters who behead captives, slaughter religious minorities, and impose extreme laws.
It's not just those fighters trying to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. It's also their appeal to westerners, including Canadians, who might go to join Islamic State, or take up its cause here in Canada, somehow, like Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. And there is some kind of allure, a fringe fashion. Islamic State recruitment videos are sometimes deliberately made to look like video games and its operatives sometimes tweet in lingo from Call of Duty. In other words, this is an organization trying to make jihad cool. Lorne Dawson, a University of Waterloo sociologist who writes about radicalization, said Islamic State does have an excitement and appeal for some that al-Qaeda never had.
So Mr. Kerry spoke about engaging Muslim communities around the world to "delegitimize" the religious foundations of Islamic State. He talked about countering it on the internet, with a "global response" to its recruiting propaganda – although he declined to say whether he was talking about opposing their message or disrupting the websites with cyber-warfare. Mr. Baird talked about "digital diplomacy" initiatives, among other things, "to try to fight back against the propaganda, and myths that they seek to perpetrate."
Those kinds of things were, in fact, part of the U.S. strategy when they started pulling together a coalition to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State. But they were lost in the shuffle in Canada when the Conservative government made its case for joining the military mission.
It's noteworthy that when the foreign ministers of both countries met after attacks in Canada, that military mission seemed secondary – though both described it as important, and Mr. Baird argued it was part of a "battle of values."
"The evil and brutal regime committing barbaric attacks in large swaths of Syria and Iraq, that challenge must be responded to, and that's why Canada, Canadians, our government, are prepared to do our share of the heavy lifting in that regard," he said.
Does the military mission have an impact on attacks like those last week? Both shooters appear to have cited extremist views as inspiration, related to Iraq.
Fen Hampson, Director of the Global Security and Politics Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, said taking part in the military mission does make it more likely Canada will be a target for terror attacks, but that isn't a reason to avoid it, if larger interests are at stake. But he said it's also not clear that airstrikes on Islamic State will have a great impact on deterring attacks in Canada. There doesn't appear to be a full U.S. military commitment to eliminating Islamic State, as Washington is wary of deploying ground troops, he noted.
That also means that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's vow to increase the government's resolve to fight terrorism abroad isn't likely to translate into a bigger Canadian military mission, Mr. Hampson noted. There isn't really scope for a bigger Canadian contribution. Instead, it's more likely to lead him to renew the mission when the current six-month mandate ends next spring.
But there is a renewed zeal now to fight that soft-power battle, over ideology and propaganda, in both the U.S. and Canada. That's the part of Islamic State that's already struck in North America.