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Would it not be more useful in understanding the actions of a small number of young men to place those actions in context? It can be objectively argued that Canada (and the “West” in general) is pursuing what can be interpreted as a campaign of violent intervention in Muslim-majority countries

It is impossible not to be touched by NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee’s cry of anguish following news of the death of another Canadian in a suicide attack in Iraq (June 4, 2014).
Links provided by the NCCM statement give access to the stories of several young Canadian Muslims who have died in similar circumstances in Syria, Iraq and Russia. But the NCCM’s call to Canadian Muslims to combat the message of violent extremists raises more questions than it answers.

Would it not be more useful in understanding the actions of a small number of young men to place those actions in context? It can be objectively argued that Canada (and the “West” in general) is pursuing what can be interpreted as a campaign of violent intervention in Muslim-majority countries, either directly as in Canada’s “mission” in Afghanistan, or indirectly, through the Canadian government’s unconditional support of Israel, its endorsement of the military coup in Egypt that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Morsi, or its inclusion of the Palestinian organization Hamas on the list of “terrorist entities” following the latter’s electoral victory in internationally-monitored elections.

The crushing of the Spanish Republic in the late 1930′s by the forces of General Franco provided motivation for many young Canadians to travel illegally to Spain and take up arms against fascism in that country.
Though these young men (and women) fought and died in battle, and suicide bombings and killing of non-combattants were foreign to their experience, their motivations may well have been similar: powerfully emotional, and driven by the personal and ideological imperative to “do something” meaningful with their lives.

The NCCM statement indirectly raises the question of the role and responsibility of the Canadian security services. It is well-known that there are informants in every mosque. What precisely the function of such informants is remains open to question. Is it possible that, like the FBI in the United States, the security services may be aiding and abetting young men who feel impelled to translate their understanding of religion into violent immediate action, both at home and abroad?

Do the Canadian government and the Canadian security services consider those who fight the Syrian government with gun in hand, and carry out suicide operations in Syria, to be “terrorists”, given Ottawa’s declared opposition to the current Damascus government? Or, like the United States and other NATO countries, has Canada countenanced the ideological indoctrination, travel and military involvement of young Canadian Muslims abroad? Likewise, given their penetration of Canada’s mosque infrastructure, are the security services totally unaware of the vectors of radicalization and unable to take action against them? Given the history of the RCMP, particularly in Québec before, during and after the October Crisis of 1970, it would not be surprising to learn that the security services may be more than idle onlookers and may actually function as provocateurs.

Are young male converts to Islam particularly susceptible to indoctrination by promoters of violence in the name of “Islam”? While no clear pattern seems to emerge, it does appear that a certain kind of susceptibility may predispose young men to accept the apparent certainties offered by “Islam”, by means of which they can then suppress their conscience and renounce responsibility for their acts.

These acts are presented to them by their shadowy handlers as submission to “God” and their violent death, as it brings death to other innocent people, will be praised and justified as pleasing to “Him.” Worse, many of the violent acts catalogued have been inflicted upon other Muslims, whose only “offense” consisted of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or belonging to the “wrong” confession and thus outside of Islam.

What is the connection between the radicalization process and the message of preachers of violence widely available on internet? What is the doctrinal space created for such individuals within the fold of self-styled “orthodox Islam”, with its insistance on viewing Islam and Muslims as overpoweringly positive and all other belief systems as irredeemably negative; on its self-assigned monopoly of Truth, which disqualifies the experiences, aspirations and beliefs of others? What, finally, are the mechanisms that have allowed this version of “Islam” to become the dominant discourse in Canadian mosques?

Abhorrent ideology and heinous acts, indeed! But neither has arisen in a vacuum. They have emerged within the broad context of a hyper-conservative, litteralist interpretation of Islam that has, in our day, transformed the dispensation of Mohammed (PBUH) into the “laughingstock of nations.”

Is it too late? How can Canadian Muslims rid their mosques of the culture of blind acceptance and binary reasoning that create such fertile ground for that ideology and those acts?

Insha’Allah the NCCM will launch a broad debate on this very question soon.

“Unfortunately, one of the effects is to engender fear and suspicion toward Canadian Muslims. The message is that anywhere Muslims gather — even when at home with their families — there is a possibility they may be transformed into hateful, violent radicals bent on destroying Canada”

 

 

In a January 3 news item, the National Post profiled a Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) report released under the Access to Information Act. The report concludes that Islamist extremists are radicalizing Canadians at “a large number of venues.” The heavily redacted document offers a few general examples of “non-traditional venues” where this radicalization allegedly is happening — including prisons, and within families.

However, what we do not find is any evidence to justify these sweeping statements, nor are we privy to any of the research that has led to such conclusions. There may be context in the unredacted CSIS report. But more than half of the document was blacked out before release, so we have no way of knowing.

Unfortunately, one of the effects is to engender fear and suspicion toward Canadian Muslims. The message is that anywhere Muslims gather — even when at home with their families — there is a possibility they may be transformed into hateful, violent radicals bent on destroying Canada. One web site commenter, for instance, opined: “Hey, we allowed [these people] in. Now [we’re] paying the price. I often wonder whether the guy working out next to me in the gym is saying to himself ‘Buddy, soon enough you’ll be bowing to me and calling me master.’”

Remember that the mass killings perpetrated by Norway’s Anders Breivik in 2011 were not the work of a Muslim, but rather an anti-Muslim radical who was convinced that Islam was a threat to Western civilization. Recent incidents in the United States also show us where fear-mongering can lead — including the murder of an innocent Hindu man, Sunando Sen, by a woman on a subway platform who said she hated Hindus and Muslims because of 9/11. Or the Indiana man who said he set fire to an Ohio mosque after watching coverage of wounded soldiers overseas (authorities said he’d carried a gun into the mosque, but no one was inside at the time).

Canadians are not immune to this. Reports of vandalized mosques, and threatening behaviour toward Muslim men and women on the streets and at workplaces continue across the country.

The Ministry of Public Safety writes on its website that “citizens need to be informed of the threat in an honest, straightforward manner.” Indeed. However, the release of this latest CSIS report and its ensuing coverage is not “straightforward.” Rather, it speaks more to the saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

There have been countless studies that offer context and background to our understanding of radicalization. Demos, a UK-based think tank, produced an in-depth study in 2010 based on interviews with British and Canadian convicted terrorists and religious radicals. One of the study’s conclusions pointed out that holding radical ideas did not necessarily lead to violence, and that in fact “religious radicals” are distinct from terrorists, and can even be key allies in the fight against those who would promote the use of violence.

The U.S. Department of Defense released a study in 2010 that concluded: “Identifying potentially dangerous people before they act is difficult. Examinations after the fact show that people who commit violence usually have one or more risk factors for violence. Few people in the population who have risk factors, however, actually [commit violent acts].”

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Centre has indicated that “while Islam can be used to justify acts of terrorism, radicalization is not caused by Islam” (as chronicled by academic Deepa Kumar, in her book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire).

In other words, context is key. In a world fraught with fragmented information, we need it now more than ever to safeguard against violent radicalization of any kind.

Originally published in the National Post

Amira Elghawaby is the human rights officer at the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations based in Ottawa.

 

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