Thoughts on what happened in Toronto

I want to take a break from my usual 40k content to write about something serious. In case any have you been following the news, a few days ago someone deliberately used a van to run over pedestrians in downtown Toronto, killing ten people and hospitalizing fifteen. It made international news, provoked outcry from the public, the media and international leaders alike, and in general terrified and shocked in equal measure.
It happened not too far from where I live.

For some context, the intersection of Yonge and Finch, where the attack began, is where I board the subway every day to get to work. Beyond that, the section of Yonge from Finch down to Sheppard is an area I’m quite familiar with: I’ve passed by there countless times, whether by bus, by car or even on foot. Seeing the news happening two days ago, of this van attack and of people dying in an area so close to home, was shocking to say the least. To be, things like these had always happened to other cities, to other people. As I write this, even now, it’s hard to process that, yes, ten people were murdered just outside of my everyday bus stop.


I’ve caught glimpses of it on my daily commute. At first it was empty, save for the flash of patrolling police cruisers. I don’t know if traffic on that stretch of road has resumed now: I admit I’ve stopped looking.

I’ll be honest, when I first saw the news at my office, a part of me was really scared that it was a terror attack. After all, van attacks like this one had already happened in places like London, Nice and New York, so why should Canada be immune? As the day stretched on, and the reports came in of how the perpetrator had been captured, I was less and less inclined to believe it was the work of some would-be jihadist, but the fear that it was the handiwork of IS still lurked in the back of my mind. I dreaded this for two reasons: firstly, it would mean that we would no longer have the illusion of safety and security that we had been living with all these years, and second, it would irreparably damage the framework of Toronto society in the long term. Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, but despite this (or perhaps because of this), it has been grappling with the issue of Islamophobia for quite a while (especially in the last two or so years). An actual terrorist attack by IS would have made that problem a a lot worse, and would have pushed a lot of otherwise well-meaning people towards more extreme and more angry viewpoints.
It was for this reason that I was partially relieved when it turned out the attacker was not a jihadist. Instead, he was something arguably just as bad– an angry young man who, acting on feelings of rejection and loneliness, was enacting a violent vendetta against women. I also know that it was clearly an attempt on his part to commit suicide by cop, given that he shouted for the arresting officer to kill him– an attempt that failed spectacularly thanks to the restraint and discipline of that officer.

By this point it is fairly common knowledge that Alek Minassian was an incel, that he idolized Ellliot Rodger (the scumbag who killed nine people in California four years ago), and that he was primarily targeting women in his vehicular rampage. It’s easy to get angry about this, to view his massacre as a rampage borne out of a wounded sense of entitlement, out of a misogynistic hatred of women for seemingly conspiring to turn him down. If his Facebook post is anything to go by, he was essentially declaring war on women (and on sexually active men) everywhere, and running people down as a sick emulation of Elliot Rodger.


Anger is easy, understanding is hard. The thing is, a part of me understands this guy’s pain. It wasn’t until my very late twenties that I finally entered into a relationship; before then, I was convinced that I was going to die alone. I know what it’s like to live through that soul-crushing loneliness, to see yourself as inherently inferior and undesirable, and to be painfully aware of the fact (especially in high school) that everyone is getting laid but you. It breeds nothing but frustration, self-loathing, and no small amount of resentment. For a while, I saw myself as doomed. I remain forever thankful that I did meet someone, and that through her I did realize that I am none of those things.


The difference is, even at my worst, I never once fantasized about revenge against everyone who was enjoying a happy relationship but me. I never blamed the entire female sex for my own unhappiness, and I never once decided to hurt other people to mitigate my own pain. And that is why I cannot, try as I might, wrap my head around why Alek Minassian did this. I can understand that he must have been at a low point in his life, and that he was driven to want to end it all, but I cannot understand how it got to the point where he wanted to take a lot of innocent bystanders with him.


Maybe this is something I’ll never get because I’m not part of that culture, just as I cannot understand why many incels, whether out of trollish glee or genuine, twisted delight, are actually cheering at this. My take away is that incels may have started out as a group for lonely, rejected people to share their woes, but like any insular group, quickly devolved into an “us versus them” mentality. I want to believe that misogyny and hatred do not exist in a vacuum, but the extent to which we can blame a society in general for fostering this vicious mentality that “you’re no one if you can’t get laid/women are evil if they reject you” is a question I am not qualified to answer.


Ultimately, as much as I ask “Why,” I know I’m not going to get an answer. There is little solace I can take from this horror show, save that Minassian is alive, and will have to answer for what he has done. Even then, it doesn’t change the fact that something has just been altered forever about my hometown, about my little sphere of existence. I don’t think I will be able to go through that stretch of road again without seeing it as a little more empty.

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