Canadian Muslims should accept full political responsibility as citizens: loyalty to their country, critical of its policies

Just as I was about to write a follow-up to an earlier article on the anti-terrorism handbook published jointly by two Canadian Muslim organizations and the RCMP, a recent convert to Islam killed a member of the Canadian Armed Forces in Québec and, one day later, a shooter apparently self-identified as a Muslim attacked Canada’s House of Parliament in Ottawa. Muslim organizations were quick to denounce the attacks in the strongest terms.

Such disclaimers, while undoubtedly sincere, are no longer adequate to the security-obsessed political atmosphere that has been created in Canada. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada is once again a belligerent in a Middle-East war. Its avowed enemy (though it may have other adversaries it prefers not to identify) is the hyper-Islamist faction ISIS, also known as the Islamic State or Da’ish, its Arabic acronym. This organization, if we are to believe media accounts, clearly intends to carry the war to the enemy, wherever he might be. Including Ottawa, we may presume.

Muslims in Canada, who have lately been going to extraordinary lengths to dissociate themselves from what has been correctly labeled as an “ideology of violence”, may soon run out of workable options. The unanimous declarations of Canadian imams condemning Da’ish and its works as un-Islamic do not appear to be having any effect on either the Harper government’s determination to bomb far-away Muslim countries as part of yet another colonial-imperialist coalition, or on the hot-headed, single-minded and often deeply troubled young men prepared to act on the call of the group’s leaders to strike their foes wherever they find them.

Put bluntly, Canada’s Muslims are caught in a bind. Trapped between the shrill propaganda of the Harper government and its policy of punitive expeditions on the one hand, and the equally shrill call for jihad, seen as sanctified combat against the enemies of Islam on the other, what plea for moderation can prevail? In fact, the extreme nature of both positions ensures that extremism will prevail. Would Stephen Harper soon channel Pierre-Elliot (“Just watch me”) Trudeau of War Measures Act fame?

We need not have held our collective breath. Prime Minister Harper announced the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu attack in the House of Commons in response to a set-up question from an obscure backbencher. He then introduced legislation to strengthen Canada’s security services. These services—the RCMP and CSIS—already notorious for their disregard for, and hostility to, civil liberties, will gain draconian new powers to monitor, detain and arrest on suspicion or “reasonable assumption.”

What should Canada’s growing Muslim population do now? Public statements by individuals and organizations, while properly expressing abhorrence of crimes committed in the name of Islam, should be expanded to describe the current political context that the Harper government (and its arch-secularist Islamophobe allies in and around the Parti Québécois) has shaped. Muslim grass-roots organizations, while declaring their abhorrence of the crimes committed in the name of their religion, should be equally firm in demonstrating their loathing for the atrocities (known as “collateral damage”) committed by their government—and the coalition of which it is a member—in their name. Canada, they might well point out, has no United Nations mandate to bomb Syrian or Iraqi territory in whatever capacity. The country to which they as citizens owe allegiance is thus a party to aggression as defined by the UN Charter.

Citizen-based organizations and anti-war movements in Québec and the rest of Canada have already taken to the streets to protest Ottawa’s policy. Muslims should join such demonstrations and make their voices heard. They cannot afford to surrender their rights as citizens. Their determination to speak out against Canada’s policy of militarism should be as bold and forthright as their condemnation of the violent acts perpetrated in the name of their religion.

No more than they should accept collective responsibility for the acts of a handful of fools, petty criminals or, at best, misled young men.  Muslims in Canada cannot abdicate their duty as citizens to call their government to account for shaping the international climate that has fostered the rise of groups like Da’ish. Indeed, the finger of accusation should be pointed straight at Ottawa for its unconditional defense and support of Zionist crimes in Palestine and, by extension, for the oppressive and unjust status quo that prevails throughout the Middle East and stokes the fires of sectarian strife.

While it is a crime for Canadians to travel abroad to join the ranks of Da’ish, the Israel-based Lone Soldier Program benefits from tax-deductible status through the Ne’eman Foundation in Toronto. This program recruits mercenaries to serve—and fight–in the Israeli army against its Palestinian “enemies.”

None of these measures, however, should allow Muslims in Canada to avoid some communal soul searching. While they can and must reject collective guilt, they cannot remain indifferent to the exclusionist language that has, over the years, become accepted as religious discourse in mosques and, worse, in informal discussion groups and on the internet. The issue is less one of financial support of institutions by Middle Eastern sponsors of violence and obscurantism, and more that of legitimizing a retrograde political ideology—Wahhabi Salafism—that masquerades as religion. Curiously, while Da’ish has been identified as the enemy of the day, the sources of its political/religious program do not appear to bother either Washington or Ottawa, both of which maintain excellent relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its principal state purveyor.

Canadian political leaders, and their security services, enjoy instructing Muslims in the steps they must take to head off religiously inspired violence. They should be politely requested to keep their advice to themselves and go about their information gathering without the willing cooperation of Canadian Muslims. If state surveillance and monitoring tools and skills are as well developed and extensive as Edward Snowdon’s revelations show, does the political police really need help from us?

Ultimately the task of Muslims in Canada should be to deconstruct the pseudo-religions ideology that has enabled extremism to carve out a niche in their midst. Only Canada’s Muslims themselves can do the job. At the same time they should accept full political responsibility as citizens: loyalty to their country, critical of its policies. Especially when those policies perpetuate the climate of sectarian violence now wracking the Middle East.

We thank the following people