Saturday, 28 January 2017 19:02

Whose Voice is it Anyway?

Commentary by Mayank Bhatt in Toronto

I published my debut novel, Belief, in Canada last year.  It’s the story of an immigrant family’s struggle to integrate into the Canadian mainstream.

Just when everything seems to be falling into place after nearly two decades of struggle to survive in an alien land, facing constant rejection, the family discovers their son’s apparent involvement in some sort of terrorist plot. Hurriedly, they consult their neighbours, who put them in touch with a police officer known to them.

The novel explores the family’s trauma following the son’s arrest.

The family’s Muslim identity is central to the story. It deals with the manner in which people of colour who are adherents of Islam are generally (and often unconsciously) treated in a society that they adopt as immigrants.

This is an important issue because in their desperation to grab eyeballs, the mainstream news and entertainment media often forget to make it clear that Islam is not a monolith and all Muslims are not the same.

In writing my novel, I set out with a simple objective – that there is little to distinguish between people on the basis of their beliefs.

Parental dilemma

The other issue that I wanted to examine was this whole business of radicalisation and terrorism. It’s important to underline that such a phenomenon doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Young men such as Rafiq, the main character in my novel, go astray in an environment where they are unable to make an emotional or a material connection with society at large, and this leads to many complications for them, for their families and the society.

From the family’s perspective, how different would a son’s radicalisation and subsequent involvement in terrorism be from drug addiction?

I’m not saying that there is no distinction. Society will definitely distinguish between the two, and weigh down heavily on radicalisation and terrorism while condoning drug addiction, and we can argue that this has a lot to do with race, but that really is a different debate.

I’d still want to believe that it would still represent an enormous crisis from the parents’ point of view. I don’t know whether the parents of a son who’s a drug addict would take comfort from the fact that their son is “only” dealing with a drug problem, rather than being radicalised as a terrorist.

Being Muslim

The other challenge I dealt with while writing the novel was that I’m not a Muslim. This is a sensitive matter. Would I be able to portray with accuracy and empathy the life of a Muslim family, the family dynamics, and the inner turmoil?

I was born in a Hindu family. However, but for my grandmother, nobody really practised the religion regularly or ritualistically. But I grew up and lived in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood for more than three decades in cosmopolitan Bombay (now Mumbai).

Also, as a journalist in Bombay, I covered religious violence that wreaked havoc on Bombay in 1992-93, witnessed first-hand the callousness of the state in bringing justice to the survivor victims of these riots, and recorded the adverse long-term effects of official neglect that Muslims in India have suffered.

And perhaps, most pertinently, I’ve been married to a devout Muslim for over two decades.

Cultural appropriation

Yet, to construct a novel was a grave responsibility. In recent years, there have been intense debates in the literary spheres about ‘cultural appropriation’.

Lionel Shriver let loose a veritable storm last year when she defended her right to write about anything that she as a writer wanted to (Read her speech here, and Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s response here).

Closer home, our own Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden has been hauled over the coals for claiming to be Aboriginal; his defence is that he feels like one, even if he may not be one genetically.

Well-meaning Muslim friends of South Asian origin cautioned me that my attempt at depicting a Muslim milieu in Canada would lack authenticity and suggested that I abandon the “misadventure”. I was, of course, not going to do that, mainly because I believe that imagination and craft could be better substitutes for experience.

I believe that a novelist’s primary responsibility is to tell a story competently and responsibly. Innumerable novelists have created a world in their novels that are palpably real without ever being even remotely connected to the world they create.

I have done so in Belief and I’ll leave it to the reader to judge whether the novel succeeds in portraying the complexity of being a Muslim in Canada.

Mayank Bhatt’s debut novel Belief was published in 2016 by Mawenzi House. Read our review here - Novel Explores Road to Radicalization

Published in Books
Monday, 16 January 2017 16:37

Novel Explores Road to Radicalization

Book Review by Phil Gurski

Belief is a novel by Mayank Bhatt, a Mumbai-born resident of Toronto.  It tells the story of the son of Indian immigrants to Canada who cooperates with terrorists to identify Canadian places to bomb, in part to avenge the death of Muslims in Afghanistan by Canadian soldiers. 

The book parallels to a certain extent the 2006 case of the “Toronto 18”, a terrorist cell that planned to explode truck bombs in Toronto and at a military base in eastern Ontario to punish Canadians for the decision to deploy the Armed Forces in Afghanistan after 9/11.

This work of fiction is billed as a look into what “makes young people give up their sheltered, secure lives and take up causes that are sure to lead to catastrophe, for others as well as themselves”. 

It does not quite achieve that goal, but does contain a good look into the effects of terrorism on a family. We see the devastating effects on the mother and father, immigrants who fled violence in India to seek a new home in Canada, but had to struggle to make a new life in a new land.  We see the anguish of a pregnant sister whose husband’s promotion may be canceled because of Rafiq’s actions.

We see a South Asian police officer, Ravindar, who tries to help the family but who is not trusted completely, perhaps because of his role as a representative of the law.

The book does delve slightly into what has often been put forward as the ‘causes’ of radicalization to violence in Canada.  There are references to the slaughter of Muslims in India and to discrimination and bias against immigrants in this country.  

Neither theme is developed in this novel. It also does not explore other reasons why individuals go down the path of radicalization.

The mastermind

Early in the novel the author includes excerpts from emails sent by the terrorist ‘mastermind’, a man named Ghani Ahmed, to Rafiq, the young man arrested and accused of participating in a terrorist plot.  These excerpts are full of the rhetoric most commonly associated with terrorist recruiters: innocent Muslims are being killed and no one is doing anything to stop it.  Ahmed appeals to the faith of Rafiq and tries to convince him that fighting back is a religious obligation.

Ahmed is an intriguing character and more could have been written about him.  Who was he?  Where did he come from?  Who else was involved in his plot?  How did he identify Rafiq as a willing participant? .

The one character who remains an enigma is Nagma Khala, a woman who runs a Muslim crèche and who had an extraordinary influence on the young Rafiq.  She is deeply religious, but it is never clear whether her faith contributed in any way to Rafiq’s openness to radicalization.

Flashbacks to India

I welcomed the introduction of two officers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), although their portrayal is superficial and unsatisfactory. It would have been interesting to introduce a main character from CSIS and show how that person was trying to understand the scope of the terrorist plot and Rafiq’s role in it.  That may have been beyond the author’s expertise, though.

The book contains many flashbacks to life in India and provides interesting background into the lives of the protagonists, although the link between these episodes and Rafiq’s decision to become a terrorist is not obvious.  They do provide insight into the circumstances behind the parents’ choice to leave India, but these are tangential to the book’s primary plot.

Throughout the book the author seeks to present Rafiq as an unwilling dupe whose involvement in terrorism is peripheral.  While Rafiq regrets his choice, he also seems to minimize his role. 

It is only at the end of the novel, when Rafiq learns of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (in 2008 – a real event) that he grasps the enormity of what he was part of in Canada and (spoiler alert!!) tries to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.  The author’s attempt to paint Rafiq as a character to be pitied does not come off strongly, even when he writes of the bullying Rafiq received at the Maplehurst Detention Centre in Toronto.

Overall, the book flows and reads well, with the exception of the flashbacks. These occur at times at unexpected intervals and detract from the story.

The book does a good job at showing the destruction of a Canadian immigrant family when one member becomes involved in terrorism. The emotional responses of the characters are believable and compelling. 

As long as the reader does not see this novel as an actual book on homegrown terrorism in Canada it is a good read.

Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

The book Belief  is published by Mawenzi House

Published in Books
Monday, 03 October 2016 23:36

The Bullet or the Ballot

Commentary by Phil Gurski  

Rarely in life is there a stark choice between two polar opposites.

On most occasions, responses to a problem or an issue can be weighed along a range of options, from soft to hard, easy to difficult, or popular to divisive.  The ways in which we have elected to deal with violent radicalization and terrorism would fall into this bucket.

Terrorists, of course, do not see variation and they do not do nuance.  For them, the world is cleft into black and white, right and wrong, divinely-mandated and sinful.  They portray themselves as the white hats inspired by Allah (at least in the case of Islamist extremists) to impose His will on earth.

Since there is no choice of what we should do, there is no need to consult the masses on the direction to take. Ergo there is no need for democracy.  Why should we ask people who should govern them when it has always been and will always be God who rules?

Tool of persuasion

As the ballot is not an option and as most people fail to understand that the terrorists have their best interests at heart (why won't they just listen?), the bullet (or the bomb or the knife) has become the tool of persuasion.  And, we have seen all too often the resort to violence to cow populations into subservience.

(There is, of course, another set of scenarios where bullets outweigh ballots. When nations are not allowed to vote – say in dictatorships – or believe that their votes count for little, they may resign themselves to using force to obtain what they cannot do so democratically.  But that is not the topic of discussion here.)

Fortunately, at least  in the West, there is a better way.  We may get frustrated – and cynical – at times over whether or not our votes make a difference, but we nevertheless have that option and there are many examples where the citizenry, ripe for change, did overthrow governments that had been comfortably at the wheel for years. The 2015 federal election in Canada was one such example.

And, as I blogged earlier this year, a particular group of Canadians were desperate to see the backs of the Conservatives and voted en masse to bring about the desired result.  I am speaking of the various Canadian Muslim communities and the efforts of The Canadian Muslim Vote

Now, U.S. Muslims are coming to the same realization. 

Mobilizing the "Muslim vote"

According to a story in the Toronto Star, US Muslims are worried about a possible Donald Trump victory in the November presidential elections and are mobilising their communities to get out and vote.  U.S. Muslims, like their Canadian counterparts, were not keen voters historically and some used to say that democracy was un-Islamic (which is exactly what the terrorists say). 

The spectre of a Trump presidency, however, in which Muslim immigration will be banned and the families of terrorists are killed, seems to have galvanized them into action.

This is indeed a very good story and one that all Americans (and Canadians) should celebrate.  When a country's citizens realize that they have the power to change the government, with all that entails, by merely marking an X on a piece of paper, they not only serve as an example for others worldwide but they undermine the terrorists's message. 

More ballots are always better than more bullets.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/
Published in Commentary
Sunday, 11 September 2016 13:46

What are “Canadian Values”?

Commentary by Phil Gurski 

A very odd thing happened Saturday in Canada.  A poll appeared to show that a majority of my fellow citizens support the screening of potential immigrants by giving them some sort of “values test“, in keeping with a suggestion by a wannabe Conservative leadership candidate, Kellie Leitch.  Canada thus appears to be following in the footsteps as countries like Denmark which are putting similar proposals forward.

My first response to the poll results was “it is far too early for April Fools Day” followed by “ok, what have you guys done with my Canada?”  The country I know and love does not subject potential citizens to a “values” test and I would have thought that the Canada of my fellow citizens didn’t either.  I am wrong, it seems, and so I want to take up this issue.

There is no doubt that extremists of every type reject our values.  I spent 15 years studying one particular type of extremism – the Islamist type – and I have written extensively about what it is about us that they reject.  It turns out that the list is long: democracy, rule of law, gender parity, minority rights, differences of opinion and everything in fact that does not fit within their very narrow band of beliefs.  We do  have to stand up for our way of life against these extremists and I think we do a very good job of that in Canada.

It is also reasonable to assume that we as a nation do not want to import more extremists (the truth is, however, that the vast majority of those who radicalize to violence were born or raised here and did so from within our country: i.e. they did not arrive on our shores as flaming radicals).  There is very little evidence, however, that we are allowing extremists in and I’m sure there are studies that show that the vast majority of all immigrants – and especially their offspring – adapt to our societies very quickly.  

Yes, there are exceptions and there always will be but let us not over-exaggerate the problem.  When those exceptions become a threat to us we have the institutions – and very capable ones at that – to deal with them.

A values test

But the very nature of a values test bothers me.  I will leave aside who administers it and who evaluates it and how we determine how truthful the responses are  – all very good questions by the way – because there is a more fundamental issue: what is a Canadian value?

I think I might know (I should, right, because I was born and raised here?) and it strikes me as reasonable that Canadian values should include:

  • a commitment to the rule of law
  • a commitment to the democratic system
  • a belief in equality of all regardless of who they are (age, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability)

But beyond that, what would qualify as a set-in-stone value?  Dress?  Food?  Hobbies?  Ethnicity?  Do you see how impossible this becomes?  Do all Canadians accept gay marriage?  I think not.

Furthermore, each of the fundamental values I listed above are relative and not universal in the sense that each has changed over the decades.  Do you want concrete examples?

  • for the longest time it was not a crime to beat your child or wife, or at least it was not enforced – so much for the rule of law
  • for the longest time women could not vote – so much for the democratic system
  • for the longest time minorities (Chinese, Jews) had few rights and homosexuality was a crime  – so much for equality of all

Existential menace

We have to recognize that values change over time.  They did historically and they will do so in the future.  The Canada of 1916 bears little resemblance to that of 2016 and a 100 years hence people will look back at us today in amusement.

We are not threatened with an existential menace from those seeking to come here and undermine our societies.  Immigrants come here because of who and what we are, not what they want to make us into.  Again, when serious and violent exceptions crop up we will deal with them.  And for those who do not dress like us or think like us, what better way to get them to see that there is a different (not necessarily better, just different) way then to expose them to it?

This country was built on immigration and will continue to grow because of immigration (can any of you claim not to be a son/grandson/great granddaughter of an immigrant?). Yes, immigration patterns have changed and so has Canada.  We need to be more open to bringing the world’s diversity to our shores, not less.  And we need to jettison this harebrained idea of subjecting those who want to live here and become Canadians to a test that is clearly without value.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

Published in Commentary

by Mohamad Jebara in Ottawa, Ontario

I’m a Canadian Muslim — proud of my faith. I feel privileged to be counted among those who share a belief system that has brought spiritual fulfillment, purpose and meaning to billions over the past 1,400 years. I feel that my Canadian identity is also an integral part of who I am.

As with any major faith, Islam has a myriad number of interpretations, sects, denominations and schools of thought. We have our ‘saints’ … our ‘satans’ as well.

The issue of identity lies at the core of every individual’s journey of self-discovery and self-realization. While many want to ‘fit in’ and be accepted into the society in which we’ve been raised, we also feel a yearning to connect with our roots, our heritage and the culture of our ancestors. For many Muslims in the West, the balance between the freedom to express one’s personal identity and the need to be accepted by parents who come from another time and culture can be precarious.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Many cultural factors influence how we behave — and religion is interpreted as reflection of the culture in which it is observed, not the other way around. [/quote]

When I heard of the massacre in Orlando and learned something about the background of the gunman, I knew — before hearing any details — what the story was about. The young man evidently was struggling with a conflicted sense of identity. He was, apparently, gay himself. He felt ashamed of who he was and struggled to reconcile the conflicting — yet undiscussed — duplicity inherent in the ultraconservative religious culture of his family’s native Afghanistan.

His religious or political views may have had nothing to do with the tragedy; the professed vehement homophobia of his family’s culture most certainly did. When the father claimed that he was shocked by his son’s appalling act of violence, it was apparent to me that he — like too many other parents — had ignored how his son’s self-hatred had been the catalyst for his so-called “radicalization”.

It’s important to separate Islam, the faith, from the tribal systems that tend to be intertwined with it — tribal systems which consider their particular culture and habits to be indistinguishable from Islam itself. (It’s really not much different from the case of Americans affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan who consider their world-view and ideology as vital parts of their ‘Christian’ identity.)

I have witnessed several cases of young men coming from the same background as Mateen who had homosexual inclinations — young men who came from families that publically supported extremist groups, spewed anti-Western rhetoric online, in public and in the community, and supported extremist interpretations of Islam that embrace the execution of homosexuals, rampant misogyny and other self-destructive and violent forms of behaviour.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Rather than supporting generalizations against all Muslims, we should treat the various manifestations of violent extremism as we would any other mental health problem or crime[/quote]

These families espoused these views because of the tensions created by the clash between their native cultures and their adopted one. Luckily for those young men, they learned to reconcile their religious identity with a candid assessment of their cultural identity, helping them divert themselves from the sort of mental and psychological breakdown that might have led them to violence.

Many cultural factors influence how we behave — and religion is interpreted as reflection of the culture in which it is observed, not the other way around. Most known extremists and terrorists are anything but spiritual and devout individuals. They tend to be broken people — empty shells with weak personalities and low self-esteem, carrying emotional baggage from childhood, from growing up in unbalanced families.

So what’s the solution? Rather than supporting generalizations against all Muslims, we should treat the various manifestations of violent extremism as we would any other mental health problem or crime. Steps should be taken to train and equip parents to recognize signs of mental illness, as well as the subtleties of unstable behaviour patterns, and to take the proper measures to have their child’s condition diagnosed and treated.

Fearmongering and victimization are counterproductive — they amount to sticking our heads in the sand regarding the effect of cultural pressures and alienation. Recognizing the influences of the various cultures from which we come can circumvent the development of more fringe psychotics and prevent future acts of heinous violence.

On that note, I would like to add that the “scholar from Iran” who spoke at a mosque outside Orlando about three months ago — who described the “killing of homosexuals” an act of “compassion” — is someone whose views are deeply disturbing to me, especially considering the cool, calm way he talks about mass murder. I would say his demeanor reminds me more of the killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s’ Psycho than of any learned Islamic scholar.


 

Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

Published in Commentary

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Quebec’s relationship with religion must be considered in local efforts to prevent radicalization, say experts. 

“Public displays of religion or publicly practising religion are seen as not part of what Quebec is about,” says Amarnath Amarasingam, a post-doctoral fellow from The Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University. 

He explains that this secularism impacts Muslims in a particular way, especially those who are “openly Muslim,” such as women who wear hijabs or men who wear traditional clothing. 

The need for Quebec to confront Islamophobia was the focus of an op-ed piece Amarasingam co-authored in December with researcher Hicham Tiflati in The Toronto Star. 

Amarasingam says anti-Muslim sentiments, especially against youth, can lead to critiques of the West like those propagated by terrorist organizations. 

“Simple things, like not being able to have a Muslim students association or discrimination at the campus-level get amplified and tied into broader ISIS propaganda which says, ‘You as Muslims will never be included in the West,’” he says. 

Many Quebec readers accused the authors of “Quebec bashing” in the op-ed and Tiflati was subsequently dismissed from his position at the Centre for Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence in Montreal. 

TIflati says he was surprised by the centre’s response, but that there were other events that precipitated the dismissal like when he was labelled an ‘Islamist’ in November by the website Poste de Veille. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The way religion is looked at is a bit different from how religion is transformed and interpreted in the rest of North America.”[/quote]

The op-ed piece added to the social pressure the centre felt around Tiflati’s employment, he explains, adding that the decision for him to leave was somewhat mutual. 

Tiflati admits that because the centre is semi-public, adding his name to the op-ed made it appear as though the organization supported the same views. 

Despite this, he says he does not regret writing the article and is worried about the implications it poses for academics who want to share their research. 

"I was trying to project how youth feel in Quebec,” explains Tiflati. “The way religion is looked at is a bit different from how religion is transformed and interpreted in the rest of North America.” 

He says this was the conclusion of a 2008 report issued by the Bouchard-Taylor commission, which examined the impact of religious accommodation on Quebec's identity and values. 

Quebec’s unique position

“There is a unique history in Quebec in relation to secularism,” says Rachel Brown, a PhD candidate at Wilfred Laurier University and visiting research fellow for the Centre of Studies in Religion and Society at the University of Victoria. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Islamophobia tends to ebb and flow in Quebec.[/quote]

“We can’t take away the history of Quebec and the Quiet Revolution, and how that would affect Islamophobia in that context, which is unique and distinct form the rest of Canada.” 

She adds that the Quiet Revolution, a period in the 1960s during which the government took control of sectors like health care and education away from the Catholic church, is fairly recent and that many people in Quebec remember the struggle to separate state and religion. 

She explains that Islamophobia tends to ebb and flow in Quebec. Periods of tension are marked by events like the proposed Charter of Values and the attacks in Paris in November. 

“The article could have been contextualized a bit more,” says Brown, adding the authors should have stressed that Islamophobia is not only a problem in Quebec, but that Quebec’s experience with it is unique. 

“The article was meant to engender trust in the Muslim community, to look at the centre as an ally, but the response supported [the community’s] suspicion,” says Amarasingam. 

He says Muslims feel distrustful towards the centre because of its community surveillance aspect. He says many people call the centre with complaints about things not related to radicalization, such as their neighbours praying next door. 

The Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence did not respond to requests for comment. 

Prevention needs multi-pronged approach 

Jocelyn Bélanger, a former professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal who now teaches at New York University Abu Dhabi, agrees that Islamophobia is not unique to Quebec, but a Western problem caused by global conflicts and the media’s response to them.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Some Muslims, rightfully so, feel excluded from society or prejudiced against and alienated."[/quote]

“Radical groups target innocent civilians so people develop an animosity to the Muslim community,” he says “Some Muslims, rightfully so, feel excluded from society or prejudiced against and alienated and as a result the narrative of oppression of Daesh or the Islamic State resonates more profoundly with them.” 

Bélanger helped with the launch of the centre in 2015 and created a toolkit that sheds light on myths of radicalization and de-radicalization, and what the public can do. 

“Raising awareness through education is a key element because research indicates that in terms of homegrown terror, about 60 per cent of cases can be detected by family, peers or friends,” he says. 

Tiflati says intercultural dialogue between youth can help prevent Islamophobia and radicalization, while Amarasingam adds community-based, grassroots programs like those for gang prevention and intervention can give youth a sense of belonging. 

"In terms of preventing radicalization, we shouldn't just put everyone in the same basket,” says Tiflati. “It is treated case by case.”

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Top Stories

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

Swiss-born Muslim academic and author Tariq Ramadan told an Ottawa audience that governments and the public should recognize the equal dignity of all human beings, regardless of whether they are citizens of Paris, Beirut, or any other place.

At a public lecture on November 22, Ramadan said the principle behind “Je suis Paris” should be applied with equal consistency to all victims of terror attacks. The recent attacks in Beirut, Mali and other places outside the Western world got nowhere near the same level of attention and expressions of sympathy that the November 13 shootings and bombings in Paris generated, he added.

Ramadan was the featured speaker at an event organized by the Montreal-based Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), a non-governmental organization that advocates for justice and human rights in the storm centre of many of the world’s conflicts.

Not religion, but perception

Invited to speak about refugees, wars and the fears and fanaticism of our age, Ramadan spent much of his hour-long address deconstructing the roots of the problem, which he firmly denied was a “clash of civilizations” or religions.

“It is a matter of the geo-strategic and economic interests of the governments and transnational corporations involved in this,” he said, adding that it was a “clash of perceptions” rather than of religions.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Where there is no justice, there is no peace.[/quote]

He commented that religion is used by Middle Eastern leaders as an instrument to manipulate Muslims, while their Western counterparts use “values” such as “democracy,” “human rights” and the “liberation of women” for the same purpose to secure the support of a secular public.

Ramadan said this has resulted in the current destabilization of the Middle East, with  lethal consequences for the entire world – such as terror attacks, the curtailment of civil liberties in the name of security and the deaths of thousands of refugees as they try to flee across borders.  

Ramadan emphasized that the blame for the “mess,” as he described it, must be shared equally by Western governments for their aggressive, militaristic foreign policies, and by their allies, the corrupt regimes of many Middle Eastern countries whose economic interests are aligned with those of the West.

“Where there is no justice, there is no peace,” he said, pointing out that the American government’s unconditional support of Israel has ignored the rights of Palestinians, and this has incensed Muslims everywhere, causing some of them to become radicalized.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We (Muslims) too have a responsibility in this clash of perceptions and need to be self-critical.” [/quote]

Violating the dignity of Palestinans is not often covered in the media, he said, adding that the protection of Israel has resulted in so much conflict that it has had consequences for ordinary American and French citizens.

For example, the Patriot Act in the U.S. has diminished the civil liberties of Americans, and the French government is doing the same thing in the name of security.

“Thanks, Canada, for not choosing the worst of these measures,” he said, and complimented Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees. “About 2,800 migrants died in the Mediterranean within three years, but we didn’t react until we saw a photo of Aylan Kurdi,” he said, referring to the image of the three-year-old Kurdish refugee boy, who drowned last September.

Cautioning people against “indulging in emotional politics,” he advised Muslims living in the Western world to speak up against violations of human dignity everywhere. “Don’t indulge in victimhood,” he warned.

“We (Muslims) too have a responsibility in this clash of perceptions and need to be self-critical,” he stated, adding there is no unity within the Muslim diaspora, and no space for intellectual discussion.

He noted that Muslims from various countries tend to isolate themselves from one another, even if they live in the Western world.

“We need unity, not uniformity, so don’t import your divisions from your home countries,” he said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Because of recent events in Paris, I feel that people are not so welcoming of refugees as in the past.”[/quote]

Canadians’ fears and concerns

Asked for her reaction to Ramadan’s speech and if she had any of her own fears and concerns about the fallout from the Middle Eastern conflict, Patricia Jean, office manager of CJPME and a relatively recent convert to Islam, said: “As a veiled Canadian, I am concerned about the reactions of other Canadians to Muslims. Because of recent events in Paris, I feel that people are not so welcoming of refugees as in the past.”

Kamiliya Akkouche, a student of International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa, said: “I agree that people should not react in an emotional way, and should address their fears by holding to account all the governments in the West and in the Middle East that are responsible.”

Kenya-born Sarah Onyango, a resident of Gatineau and host of the radio program Afrika Revisited, commented: “Kenya has received the world’s refugees, and my concern is not that refugees are coming to Canada but that we don’t have the resources to support their integration, and their communities will become breeding grounds of frustration and alienation. This will result in some of them becoming radicalized.”

Vicky Smallman, a community activist, stated that she would not want to see political parties and campaigns exploit the racism that lies under the surface. “I don’t want to see any group targeted,” she said. 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Politics

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

Among the Liberal campaign promises that are facing closer scrutiny now that the party is forming a government, the party’s vow to “prioritize community outreach and counter-radicalization, by creating the Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Coordinator,” is raising questions among experts who want to know how the position would work on the ground. 

The challenges, say security and radicalization experts, will lie in defining exactly how the office would work with regional actors: namely, whether it will act as a bridge or a driver.

“Is this going to be driven top-down by government or will it be government supporting more grassroots initiatives?” asked Michael Zekulin, a terrorism researcher at the University of Calgary. “I think most people would agree that it cannot be government-driven because part of the narrative is that government is part of the problem.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he critique given most often by terrorism researchers was that [the anti-terrorism bill] ignored the need to nip radicalization in the bud, before individuals become inspired to commit violence.[/quote]

During committee hearings on C-51, the Conservatives’ controversial anti-terrorism legislation, the critique given most often by terrorism researchers was that the bill ignored the need to nip radicalization in the bud, before individuals become inspired to commit violence.

Yet nothing in the legislation provided any kind of a plan for doing that.

The RCMP also promised to launch their own $3.1.-million program — initially called the Countering Violent Extremism Program but later changed to the Terrorism Prevention Program — which then-Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney admitted had no designated timeline and relies on “leveraging existing resources the RCMP already has in place, including frontline police officers, Integrated National Security Enforcement Team members and outreach coordinators.”

Coordinating various nationwide initiatives 

At this point, there are few details available about what the Liberals would plan to do differently or how a national coordinator would work with existing programs already being implemented by regional bodies.

There are various initiatives being launched by police agencies and local governments across Canada, said Lorne Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][A]ny coordinator will face the added challenge of having to earn the trust of organizations who may be skeptical of working with the government.[/quote]

In September, the City of Montreal was the only Canadian city out of 23 from across the globe that signed on to the Strong Cities Network, a forum for leaders to share best practices and community-based approaches for tackling violent extremism, while the Edmonton and Ottawa police departments are rumoured to be planning their own counter-extremism initiatives.

The York Regional Police are also in the process of hiring a “Counter Violent Extremism Subject Matter Expert” and just two months ago the Calgary Police Service launched ReDirect, which aims to prevent youth from becoming radicalized after several high-profile instances of local youth leaving the country to join ISIS.

One of those young men was Damian Clairmont, who died in January 2014 after going to Syria to fight with ISIS.

His mother, Christianne Boudreau, became an active proponent for stronger initiatives to prevent youth from becoming radicalized and in addition to launching her own family counselling network, Hayat Canada, also helped launch the Extreme Dialogue video campaign earlier this year.

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3zTtkummxk[/youtube]

Boudreau says it’s essential to have someone who can coordinate efforts nationally and help integrate global best practices into domestic, community-based approaches. But she cautions that any coordinator will face the added challenge of having to earn the trust of organizations who may be skeptical of working with the government.

“I think the biggest difficulty is the diversity of the various organizations and helping them connect — there’s inter-faith, there’s the authorities and everybody else involved, and right now [there’s] the trust factor with the authorities, with the government,” she said, noting that any national coordinator should also be prepared to work with international partners as well as domestic ones to learn and adapt best practices.

“It’s integral to help bring the groups together to help cross those barriers, to help foster the diversity that’s there and help everybody get along.”

Deciding focus of the office

One of the other challenges will be defining exactly what the program would focus on: would it dedicate the bulk of its resources towards the hot topic of Islamist-inspired extremism or spread resources more evenly across the spectrum to include domestic right-wing and left-wing extremism as well.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“A counter-radicalization person would have to go through the numbers and point out what is the real issue the government must give priority to.”[/quote]

“The radicalization of different groups all have different answers and solutions — they’re not the same,” said Kyle Matthews, senior deputy director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, who also runs the #No2DigitalExtremism project. “A counter-radicalization person would have to go through the numbers and point out what is the real issue the government must give priority to.”

Zekulin agreed, saying each community will have specific challenges and approaches for dealing with violent extremism that will need to be taken into account by any national coordinator. 

Above all, he stressed the role won’t be a solution for the problem but rather could act as an amplifier and bridge for the initiatives communities are already launching on their own.

“Dealing with this challenge is going to require the efforts of multiple stakeholders at multiple levels,” he said. “This probably has to be more grassroots than government driven.”


Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Politics

In 2003, Canada opted out of the coalition that pummeled Iraq back into the Middle Ages. Now, Canada has joined the coalition to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that emerged out of the U.S.-led invasion.

In this three-part series, Firas Al-Atraqchi, a member of NCM's editorial board, frames the Iraq quagmire, traces the evolution of ISIL, and how the Islamic State has come to dominate large areas of Iraq and Syria. Before they elect a new government, Canadians need to weigh the pros and cons of taking the fight to ISIL. Here are the current party positions --
Conservatives: Committed to bombing ISIL positions from the air in Iraq and Syria and deployment of troops in a non-combat role. NDP: End bombing campaign and pull out all military personnel from Iraq and Syria; boost aid to help refugees affected by ISIL as well as investigate and prosecute war crimes. Liberals: End the bombing campaign but keep military trainers in Iraq; boost aid to help refugees and allow more into the country from Iraq and Syria. Greens: Ensure responses to terrorism are consistent with international law.
 
This is the third installment in a 3-part series. Read the first installment here, and the second installment here.

by Firas Al-Atraqchi in Cairo, Egypt

A man who set himself on fire in Tunisia sparked the spirit of revolution in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria.

By 2012, Syria was in the throes of a brutal and bloody civil war. Islamist forces backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France and others were violently trying to overthrow the government of Bashar Al Assad.

 Eastern Syria fell into lawlessness and the Islamic State in Iraq took advantage of the already porous borders to push a constant stream of its Nineveh-based fighters into Syria.

There, they were able to enjoy the funds and materiel that a number of nations provided to various anti-Assad groups.

 ISI now again renamed itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Sham) - ISIL or ISIS, an indication of what the group was intending to do. By including the Levant in the moniker, it was telling the world it would reach through Syria and into Lebanon.

This differed from previous Al-Qaeda strategy; here, ISIL was carving out the foundations of a state from which it could declare a caliphate, something Al-Qaeda never dreamed of doing.

Anarchy in Baghdad

Meanwhile, political implosions were increasing in Baghdad as yet another general election was to be held in April 2014.

In 2013, Sunni frustrations with the central government erupted in a continuing wave of violence that mimicked the sectarian tit-for-tat massacres in 2005 - 2007.

ISIL was well aware that greatest threat to the Islamic state did not come from the Shia-led government in Baghdad, from neighboring Iran or the U.S.-led Coalition, but from within.

Sunni forces such as the Baa'thists and other national entities represent the greatest threats to the Islamic State because they offer alternatives.

In that respect, the government in Baghdad has played a significant role in inadvertently helping ISIL strengthen its hold on northern and western Iraq.

Most Sunnis in Iraq do not agree with the Islamic State and if offered a choice would prefer an inclusive system of governance.

No amount of weapons deliveries or air raids against ISIL positions will resolve the current crisis in the country.

How does ISIL rule?

While it is important to understand how a system functions it is perhaps more important to understand why a system functions.

Why did the Islamic State come to dominate and hold its grip on such large areas of Iraq and Syria?

The ISIL leadership has fashioned a mechanism of governance that relies on four major principles: political opportunism, exploitation of the lack of viable alternatives, fear and propaganda of the spectacular.

Sunnis living in ISIL-controlled territory understand that only if they toe the line will they be able to survive. ISIL leaders have beheaded rapists and opportunists -- those who would extort money from families at checkpoints or during security raids.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Sunnis living in ISIL-controlled territory understand that only if they toe the line will they be able to survive.[/quote]

They have beheaded members of their own forces who didn't follow orders who appeared to be an existential threat.

Their carefully filmed footage of horrific burnings and beheadings, coupled with the destruction of centuries-old heritage sites is part of an outreach campaign that is mean to prove they can do what they want, where they want and remain unchallenged.

Indeed, the world has been unable to lift a finger to prevent the destruction of historic temples and cities in Palmyra, Syria or Nineveh, Iraq.

A human exodus ... and tragedy

All of this recent history brings us to the dilemma facing Canadians today: their air force is bombing ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq, while thousands stream out of these multiple-front battlefields in search of asylum in western European nations.

Civilian populations living under ISIL's control have been subjected to barbaric punishments for breaking rules around some of the simplest pleasures – a ban on smoking and watching soccer games.

Entire societies from Iraq to Syria to Libya -- and any territory that is under ISIL control -- live in fear of flogging, torture, and decapitation. They also fear the bloodbath that is likely once a serious military push is made to liberate areas under ISIL control.

As a result, people have been fleeing with their families in hopes of finding sanctuary elsewhere.

It is no coincidence that the exodus of hundreds of thousands of civilians from their home countries across the Mediterranean to southern European shores peaks at the same time that ISIL is making an entrance on the global stage.

The more the Islamic State penetrates into Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the larger the migration of desperate people risking life and limb to reach Germany, the United Kingdom or anywhere where they do not fear the persecution of extremist Islamist forces.

Not a coincidence

It is also no coincidence that these refugees are seeking shelter in the very countries that supported military intervention in Middle Eastern states.

The hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean are an unfortunate and tragic lesson in the futility of military intervention.

If Europe, Canada, the United States and their allies are serious about helping refugees then they surely must find the will to implement a political, and not exclusively military solution, to the plague that is ISIL.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is also no coincidence that these refugees are seeking shelter in the very countries that supported military intervention in Middle Eastern states.[/quote]

In 2003, Canada opted out of the coalition that pummeled Iraq back into the Middle Ages. It looked before it leapt.

It was the U.S. invasion and subsequent ill-prepared post-war administration that created the perfect storm of conditions which paved the way for ISIL's rise. The US created a political nightmare in Iraq and is trying to deal with the aftershock through military means.

Now, Canada has joined the coalition which lacks the fortitude to demand political reforms (enfranchising the Sunnis in an inclusive process) and is unable to pressure Baghdad to provide an alternative to ISIL.

It leapt before it looked.

What do we do?

Ottawa needs to understand that the fight against ISIL and the mass migration of Arab refugees to Europe are interminably linked.

These refugees are aware that their homes, streets and villages have become battlegrounds where the coalition, including Canada, is waging war against ISIL.

They now not only fear ISIL but the kind of collateral civilian casualties that have all too often come with wars of liberation.

A new post-election government must carefully weigh this equation before again hastily committing military resources without a parallel political initiative.

{module NCM Blurb}


Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Canadian journalist of Arab descent who has covered the Middle East since 1992. A former senior editor with Al Jazeera's English-language website, currently he teaches journalism at the American University of Cairo as an associate professor.
Published in Commentary

by Naved Bakali in Brossard, Quebec

“Lawfare” is a term that combines “law” and “warfare.” It describes how the law can be used as a weapon to punish and prosecute citizens.

It also describes how fear of Muslims is manufactured, through terrorism cases involving agent provocateurs and the entrapment of economically desperate and mentally ill Muslim men with radicalized political views – a phenomenon well-documented in the recent report “Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Pre-emptive Prosecution.”

In Canada, the term is becoming ever more relevant, thanks to a slew of recent bills and proposed legislations by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

New legislation unfairly targets Muslims

With a majority government over the past four years, the Conservative Party legislated Bill C-51, a law that broadens Canadian security agencies’ mandates and enhances their powers.

Critics of the bill argue that it gives CSIS broad and sweeping powers with little oversight, in the name of national security and combating terrorism. Even the United Nations has spoken in opposition to it, claiming it can result in mass and targeted surveillance without legal protections for individual citizens.  

The Tories also introduced a new Citizenship Act that can strip away Canadian citizenship of dual citizens found guilty of terrorism-related offences. In practice, the law creates a two-tier system, where some can have their Canadian nationality contested, while others can take their citizenship for granted.

This law becomes even more problematic now, as terrorist activities, from the Conservatives’ perspective, seem limited to acts committed by Muslims or in the name of Islam.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The threat of Islamic extremism is an overly exaggerated crisis in Canada that doesn’t warrant the resources, time and taxpayer funds that have been wasted by the Harper government.[/quote]

For example, the Canadian justice minister, Peter MacKay, recently claimed that an attempted Valentine’s Day shooting spree in February 2015 was clearly not a terrorist activity because the alleged plotters did not have any cultural affiliations. Although he did not specify “Muslim culture,” he made specific reference to groups like ISIS when discussing how such an action could have been classified as an act of terrorism.

In relation to the new Citizenship Act, immigration minister Chris Alexander felt it necessary to single out Muslims when discussing the law, claiming it was designed to confront the threat of “jihadi terrorism.”

In addition, the Senate recently drew up plans for an imam certification process to prevent dissemination of extremist ideology through Muslim religious institutions.

The Harper government is irresponsibly wading into murky waters with these bills and proposed laws, given its fairly open anti-Muslim bias and pro-Israeli political stance.

Reputable scholars such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, as well as human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have described the Israeli government’s aggression in operations Cast Lead and Protective Edge as war crimes and manifestations of state-sponsored terrorism.

Would material support of the IDF result in losing one’s citizenship?

Should pro-Israeli religious leaders who encourage members of their congregation to join Israeli offensive operations require state policing and a certification process?

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In contexts where “terrorism” is defined by the cultural and religious affiliations of the perpetrators – as is becoming the case in Canada – the law can become a tool to discriminate and marginalize certain groups in society.[/quote]

An exaggerated threat

In my study of anti-Muslim racism in Quebec and Canada, I have found that the biased application and enactment of laws and the one-sided nature of political debates can be traced back to a broader narrative of fear and suspicion of Muslims.

This narrative is an outgrowth of the 9/11 attacks and the “War on Terror.”

As my research and that of others have found, the threat of Islamic extremism is an overly exaggerated crisis in Canada that doesn’t warrant the resources, time and taxpayer funds that have been wasted by the Harper government. 

There are approximately one million Muslims in Canada. Authorities estimate that up to 130 have been involved in terrorist activities abroad. This represents less than 0.02 per cent of the Canadian Muslim population.

If the Conservative government was genuinely concerned about public safety and well-being, perhaps a more efficient use of resources would be in drug- and alcohol-abuse campaigns, which affect far more Canadian youth than the “Islamic jihadi threat.”

In contexts where “terrorism” is defined by the cultural and religious affiliations of the perpetrators – as is becoming the case in Canada – the law can become a tool to discriminate and marginalize certain groups in society.

With careless attempts to gain consensus on the “dangerous Muslim threat,” Harper’s politics of fear create a state of exceptionalism and make Muslims into a sub-citizen class.

In short, the proposed and recently passed laws are becoming tools to punish Canadian Muslims through lawfare.  


Naved Bakali is a researcher, activist and educator. His research focuses on the experiences of race and racism of Muslim youth in Quebec in the context of the War on Terror. He can be reached at www.navedbakali.com.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary
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