On September 27,  2014 an unlikely trio of organizations published a handbook entitled United Against Terrorism: a Collaborative Effort Towards a Secure, Inclusive and Just Canada. Its three collective authors include the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, a national Muslim defense and advocacy group, and—surprisingly—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Not only Muslims, but all Canadian citizens concerned by increasing state encroachment upon civil liberties in the name of “combating terrorism”, should welcome the initiative. The issues the handbook raises can only be fully addressed through open and informed discussion and debate. United Against Terrorism should be welcomed as a contribution to a debate that is just beginning.

But at the same time, United Against Terrorism arguably raises more questions than it answers; questions of editorial and even of political judgment.

One question heads the list: by what logical contortion did the RCMP, which the late Frank Scott once described as the “greatest enemy of human rights in Canada,” become a co-signatory to a booklet that levels serious implicit criticisms against it?

Have United Against Terrorism’s two other organizational authors chosen discrete silence over historical accuracy in their reluctance to alienate the Mounties? For the history of “anti-terrorism” operations in Canada, before and particularly after the events of September 11 2001, reveal deep and persistent connections between the RCMP in the arrest and detention of terrorism suspects and the manipulation and/or intimidation of alleged participants in “terror plots” if not direct involvement in these plots.

The most egregious—and outrageous—example of such behavior remains the case of Maher Arar. The 2006 O’Connor report, which cleared Mr. Arar of any wrongdoing and resulted in a full apology and a substantial financial indemnity paid to him by the Canadian government, found that the RCMP had unfairly identified Mr. Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, as “Islamic extremists” with links to al-Qaeda.

On the basis of misinformation provided by the Mounties, Mr. Arar was kidnapped by American authorities and rendered to Syria where he was violently abused for ten months before being released, largely due to the unremitting efforts of his wife.

In the immediate post-9/11 period, a culture of impunity arose in both Canadian and American law-enforcement agencies. Both were given carte blanche to track down and neutralize “terrorist threats.” This culture of impunity created in turn an atmosphere of suspicion directed at Muslims in both countries, resulting in aggressive programs of surveillance that often mutated into entrapment and provocation in the attempt to soothe a frightened population–and justify draconian restrictions of civil liberties.

[Readers with longer memories will recall the findings of Québec’s 1977 Keable Commission, which revealed direct RCMP involvement in criminal and/or terrorist acts—including arson and the use of explosives--designed to incriminate the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ), which in 1976 formed the government of the province. Although its mandate did not extend to the events leading up to the 1970 October Crisis, testimony before the Commission pointed to RCMP involvement in those events.]

Historically, Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal law-enforcement agencies have never refrained from the use of violence, intimidation and even blackmail to coerce or manipulate potential “terrorists” or to discredit dissidents, either as individuals or groups. The two Muslim contributors to United Against Terrorism should have been aware that, far from being friends of civil liberties in Canada, police agencies, and particularly the Mounties, have long been at the forefront of restricting and repressing those liberties. This they have done at the behest of unscrupulous politicians, from Pierre-Elliott Trudeau to Stephen Harper.

The booklet’s editorial shortsightedness is also on display in its uncritical reference to a New York Police Department (NYPD) definition of “terrorism.” This from the same New York Police Department that worked hand in glove with the notoriously Islamophobic Clarion Fund to screen a “training film” called “The Third Jihad” to more than 1500 NYPD officers in 2011 and carried our large-scale domestic spying program that monitored every aspect of Muslim life and created databases on where Muslims eat, shop, work and pray in the city.

To the credit of the booklet’s two Muslim contributing organizations, United Against Terrorism produces a checklist of precautions entitled “What to do I do when approached by the RCMP or CSIS?” The list, which cautions that cooperation with CSIS/RCMP is voluntary, undermines the RCMP’s self-serving claims that it serves and treats all Canadian citizens equally when it clearly does not.

The list also curiously states that lying to a law enforcement officer is a crime, while remaining silent on the lies of law enforcement officers to entrap or incriminate innocent people. What constitutes a lie can only, in fact, be decided by a court of law, and never by a law enforcement officer or agency.

The handbook’s final section, “How do we act proactively to avoid crisis,” calls on Muslims to encourage and develop trust between your communities and RCMP. “Invite them to your events and encourage youth to see RCMP as a career option,” it advises. Recent events and the historical record of RCMP activity in Canada would indicate that this is exactly the wrong course of action for Muslim communities to take. The RCMP has done little to merit the trust of Canadian Muslims—not to mention that of Canada’s First Nations and of all Canadians in general. Until clear evidence of a radical shift in policy emerges, this particular recommendation should be dismissed as wishful thinking.

Muslim organizations would be far better advised to follow the lead of the NCCM and vigorously challenge slanderous allegations directed against individuals and organizations by the country’s highest political authorities, including the Prime Minister’s office. RCMP and police policy toward Muslims, as toward other dissenting groups in Canadian history, has been shaped by political considerations, and by ideologically driven, power-hungry politicians.

The Canadian Muslim community’s efforts to defend its good name should begin with a refusal to be intimidated, and with an uncompromising defense of civil liberties for itself and others. United Against Terrorism should have been much more forthright in pursuing this approach.

In a second article, I will address the question of what Muslim community organizations can do to combat “terrorism.”

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.

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