Commentary by: Phil Gurski in Ottawa
Sometimes, small things point to large changes.
During my short visit last week to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of that country’s leading political scientists to talk about terrorism and PVE – i.e. Preventing Violent Extremism, the newest iteration of CVE – Countering Violent Extremism.
We had a wide-ranging chat in his book-lined office and I also learned that he had studied at Carleton University in Ottawa just before I became a sessional instructor in linguistics at that institution. Small world indeed. Our conversation was very illuminating, especially when it came to the topic of a shift in Islamic influence in Bangladesh.
So, what was that ‘small thing’? You may see this as insignificant, but I think it speaks volumes. There is apparently a tendency in Bangladesh these days to replace the everyday phrase ‘khoda hafez’ (literally ‘may God protect you’ but colloquially used to mean ‘goodbye’) with ‘allah hafez’.
The difference, of course, is the substitution of the Arabic word for God (‘Allah’) for the Persian one (‘khoda’).
This tiny shift is nothing less than a sign of the invasion of conservative, intolerant Sunni Islam into the former East Pakistan (more on that later).
Bangladeshi Islam has traditionally been Sunni of the Hanafi school with an important influence from Sufi interpretations of the faith. The growing dominance of Salafi Sunnism is fairly recent and worrisome. Several terrorist attacks and assassinations have been attributed to Salafi jihadists in the past few years.
The victims have come from communities which the Salafis see as enemies (in truth, a very long list): Sufis, Shia, non-Muslims (Hindus, Christians), gays… Perhaps the most serious attack – in what has been called Bangladesh’s ‘9/11’ – was the July 1, 2016 massacre of non-Muslims at a cafe in Dhaka, an operation masterminded by a Canadian terrorist from Windsor, Ontario.
The uptick in violence has many Banglas worried. Everyone with whom I spoke – government agencies, the UN, academics – are all concerned about where this violence is headed.
And, it is not only among the Salafi jihadis that violence is being promoted. Political parties too are jumping on the bandwagon. It does not help that power in the country has been seesawing over the past decade between two female-led parties that routinely gang up on the other once in office. The current government, led by the Awami League, has also given in to some outrageous ideas by radical Islamists, such as a demand to remove a statue of Lady Justice from the grounds of the Supreme Court. This ‘dalliance’ with extremists is not helpful.
The apparent sanction of violence in the name of religion threatens to lead to more deaths.
Bangladesh faces a difficult decision in the run up to national elections next year. The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can continue to do deals with the Salafis in order to court their support, but this will only cause more hardship and maintain the transformation of tolerant Bangladeshi Islam to intolerant Salafism.
At the same time, the regime has to confront the serious Islamist extremist (i.e. terrorist) threat, but must do so while keeping human rights in mind. The elite Rapid Action Battalion, a counter terrorism body, has been criticised by some rights groups for extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
Bangladesh was born in a bloody civil war in 1971 when the former East Pakistan split from what we now call Pakistan. The powers that be in Islamabad were not too happy with the independence desires of the eastern half of a country – geographically separated by India in between – and engaged in a slaughter whose victims are estimated at anywhere from 300,000 to three million people.
In fact, trials of those responsible for the massacre are still being held these days. It would be truly tragic if another wave of violence is on the horizon.
But back to that change in ‘goodbye’. Salafis hate the Shia more than any other group and believe that the only good Shia is a dead one. Their intolerance has even extended to rejecting a Bangla phrase that contains a Farsi (Persian) word (recall that most Persians are Shia Muslims) for an Arabic one (NB linguistically this makes little sense: Bangla and Farsi are related Indo-European languages whereas Arabic is a non-related Semitic language).
This may sound silly and trivial, but sometimes we do have to pay attention to the small things in life.
Phil Gurski worked in the Canadian intelligence community for more than 30 years. His latest book, The Lesser Jihads, will be published on September 15.
Washington: A United Airlines flight from Washington to Denver, with 39 people on board, turned back when a passenger ran towards the cockpit shouting “jihad, jihad”, media reported on Tuesday. There was nothing, so far, in the man’s background to suggest that he was linked with terrorists, said a government official, according to CNN. No weapons […]
The Weekly Voice
by Graham Hudson in Toronto
The Conservative government tabled the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 – the latest in a string of legislative amendments aimed at protecting Canadian national security – this past Friday. The Act includes amendments to a suite of existing statutes, including the Criminal Code and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act. If passed, the incitement or promotion of terrorism (particularly through the internet) will be criminalized, while Canadian intelligence agencies will be encouraged to share information more frequently and freely, both with each other and with foreign partners.
Recent parliamentary debates concerning similar legislation provide a glimpse into the impetus behind the Act. On the same day as the Act was tabled before Parliament, the CPC’s LaVar Payne said that the government’s security agenda has been pushed to the forefront by the, “international jihadist movement.” Linking this movement to the October attacks in Ottawa and Quebec, he appealed to Parliament to prevent terrorists from bringing, “their barbaric, violent ideology to our shores.”
These words indicate a concern, not simply about the migration of people, but of ideas. Measures prohibiting the incitement or promotion of terrorism reflect the reality that, in the information age, terrorists are better capable of transmitting ideas and influence across borders. Methods enhancing domestic and international information-sharing are intended to better equip our police and security intelligence agencies to project counter-influences within and beyond our borders; as terrorists become more fluid, sophisticated, and transnational, so too must our security agencies.
While in this sense it is timely, the Act reflects a mindset that is timeless.
History repeating itself
Fear of foreign or external threats slipping past our borders and subverting from within is a recurring theme in the history of Canadian national security. The internment of Japanese-Canadians – many of whom were Canadian citizens – during World War II was justified on the dubious grounds that they were engaging in subversive, “fifth-column” activity. Similarly, the attacks on 9/11 contributed to the implementation of deterrent measures aimed at strengthening border control and reducing irregular migration. These measures were augmented again in 2012, shortly following the irregular arrival of Tamil asylum seekers aboard the MVs Sun Sea and Ocean Lady and unsubstantiated claims that the vessels were carrying terrorists.
The Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 is part of this broader historical process. By blurring boundaries between external and internal threats, it may have a disproportionately adverse effect on migrant communities. This, in turn, may have the unintended consequence of harming relationships, particularly when it comes to trust and cooperation, between these communities and the government, ultimately reducing the effectiveness of broader counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices.
The proposed advocacy or promotion of terrorism offence, for instance, will have a “chilling effect” on the communication of political and religious ideas within the Muslim community. While at first glance it may be seen as a net gain from the government’s perspective, fear of being associated with criminal activity may discourage community members from talking to each other about the issue of radicalization, interacting with high-risk persons in an effort to counter radicalization, or reporting information to police. This will negatively impact the internal social dynamics of communities, including the viability of community-based programs, self-regulation and other means of “collective efficacy” that have been shown to help counter radicalization and facilitate integration into broader social networks.
Like trying to hold water, the tighter one tries to grip ideas, the more they slip between one’s fingers. What about new laws facilitating the freer flow of security intelligence and other information?
On the whole, Canadian security intelligence agencies have done an excellent job protecting Canadian security since 9/11. They have done so on the strength of traditional intelligence arrangements (e.g. with the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand), as well as by learning to work with relatively new partners (e.g. Morocco, Syria) and technologies. They have been especially active in the context of migration and border control, playing a pivotal role in the screening and removal of migrants who have (allegedly) engaged in terrorist and other serious criminal activity.
Unfortunately, the free exchange of security intelligence has led to several cases of serious human rights abuse in the context of migration. Perhaps, the most prominent example would be the extraordinary rendition of Maher Arar – a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who was forcibly sent to Syria, where he was subjected to torture for approximately one year. Other similar cases include Abdullah Almaki, Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nurredin, and more recently, Sathyapavan “Sathi” Aseervatham.
In 2006, a Commission of Inquiry concluded that the extraordinary rendition of Arar was caused in large part by the under-regulated, international exchange of intelligence and other information. It stated that the integrity of our immigration and refugee system depends on more adequate oversight and review of security agencies. Thus far, parliament has not adequately implemented its recommendations, although there has been some movement within certain quarters of the intelligence community as well as within the Federal and Supreme Courts.
When placed in this historical and institutional context, the information sharing measures in the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 may further erode already fragile mechanisms for protecting the human rights of asylum seekers in Canada. It will also contribute to the increasing practice of labeling foreign nationals and permanent residents inadmissible to Canada. Finally, it will contribute to the denial of passports to perceived security threats and the revocation of Canadian citizenship from dual citizens, both pursuant to procedures that may infringe several Charter rights. It will be up to members of the intelligence community and judiciary to ensure that new powers are exercised in accordance with the rule of law.
Controlling ideas, not people
Above all else, the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015 is about the control of ideas. On the one hand, it aims to limit the transmission of ideas within migrant communities. On the other, it facilitates the control of migrant populations through the sharing of security intelligence and other information. In this sense, it indirectly helps solidify the control of geographical and ideological borders.
Will the Act make us more secure? Security is at once both a state of mind and a state of affairs. It is best when the two align, but sometimes the desire to make ourselves feel secure can actually make us less safe. I am concerned that the latest string of legislative changes belies a deep-rooted insecurity about our capacity to control borders. Frequent, rushed changes to legislation provide quick answers and the sense that something is being done. But true, material security depends on relationships of trust among our police, intelligence agencies and (migrant) communities. We don’t need, and we simply can’t afford, laws that threaten to fragment these relationships.
Graham Hudson is an associate professor and undergraduate program director in the department of criminology at Ryerson University. He is a participant in the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society. His research focuses on the intersection of national security, human rights and irregular migration.
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by Amarnath Amarasingam (@AmarAmarasingam) in Toronto
Events this week on Parliament Hill and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu (Quebec) have rocked the nation. It is hard to make meaning of it all and draw conclusions when we don't yet have all the facts. Yet, we asked Amarnath Amarasingam, an expert in the fields of both "radicalization" and "terrorism" to make some time for our readers and help us better understand both these acts of violence and the context in which they have happened.
1. Based on what you have seen and read, are you convinced this latest shooting in Ottawa fits the commonly understood definition of "terrorism"?
Terrorism has over one hundred definitions, so I'm not entirely sure. I try not to use the word terrorism at all, because it tends to only obscure what we are trying to understand. The commonly understood definition of terrorism is "a non-state actor who deliberately targets civilians for political purposes." Under this definition, and if everything said about [Michael Zehaf-Bibeau] Bibeau so far is, in fact, true, then sure you can call it terrorism. That still leaves the question: so what? The word reveals nothing about what he believed and why, where he may have picked up these beliefs, etc. It also obscures a variety of other factors that seem to be important here, like possible mental illness, drug addiction, and so on that the media is slowly reporting on. The word "terrorism" in this complicated context does nothing to explain what happened or why.
2. One of our political leaders (Justin Trudeau) explicitly called for greater understanding of the Muslim religion. Is it prudent, based on what we know, to make that link?
It may have been pre-mature at the time, but I think it is fairly clear now that both [Martin (Ahmad) Couture-Rouleau] Rouleau and Bibeau were converts to the faith. This again creates more questions than it answers. Why did they convert? Who did they turn to for learning more about their new religion? What kinds of things were they taught? When did they start reading and listening to jihadi discourses? Trudeau is right in that there is a fairly high level of religious illiteracy in Canada. People know very little about Islam, let alone the hundreds of years of legalistic tradition and debate. Canadians should begin learning this, but it would also help if jihadis themselves learned this, as it could help place their beliefs in context, and perhaps show them the error of their ways.
3. What possible political motive could this lone gunman have had?
If he was indeed associated with ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], and the jury is sort of still out on that, then it is quite clear: Canadian and American involvement in the campaign against ISIS would have seemed to him like a great violation against God and His community. It is a duty of every Muslim to respond. This is religious, but it is also deeply political. If, however, we learn that he has no connection to ISIS, then I have no idea what his political motivation could have been.
4. Do you see this shooting as Canada's wake up call? Can we possibly as a people/country be over-reacting?
It is time we stop seeing our country as some innocent place that does nothing wrong and always keeps the peace. The more we want to maintain this image, the more we will feel like we can remain complacent and unprepared. If you go to war as a country, there will be people who don't like you, and who will decide that revenge against you is just. I don't think facing the threat head-on is over-reacting. What I hope doesn't happen is we generalize ISIS to the entire Muslim community in Canada, and it starts to tear at the fabric of our society.
5. Some commentators have mentioned that an incident of this sort should be expected in a country that gets a quarter-million immigrants annually. Would there be any basis to that sort of reasoning?
The statement is a bit strange if it is not elaborated and placed in its proper context. On the one hand, the vast majority of immigrants remain peaceful and remain committed to Canadian society and Canadian values. On the other hand, we live in a transnational world where events overseas will galvanize communities in Canada to demand justice and international solidarity. We saw this during the Tamil protests in 2009 and the various protests demanding rights in Gaza. It is this sentiment, which I would argue is deeply Canadian, that is at play here as well. When a Canadian youth leaves to join the Nusra front and fight against the Syrian regime because it is committing injustices against the Syrian people, it is the same sentiment that led Tamils into the streets. The difference is that the individual who joined the Nusra front has decided that the world is not up to the task, and that he must do something directly. So the comment needs elaboration, otherwise it simply sounds racist.
6. Lastly, as a scholar, tell us the dots you are connecting: what are the key incontrovertible facts that you are connecting in the lead up to this incident? Please also share with us your working thesis.
We still know very little about Bibeau except that he was homeless for a time, is a convert, and so on. There is some rumour in the media that he may have had ties to ISIS supporters. Not sure yet. For Rouleau, his Facebook page was quite clear, and his commitment to ISIS was plain to see, from the words he used, to the pictures he posted, to the stuff he was reading. It was clear that he had swallowed whole the jihadi conception of the world. Bibeau I'm not sure about yet, and so I will refrain from commenting for now.
Amarnath Amarasingam is a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University. His research interests are in radicalization and terrorism, diaspora politics, post-war reconstruction, surveillance, social movements, media studies, and the sociology of religion.
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by Farouq Samim (@ghsamim) in Ottawa
Hamid Karzai arrived in Kandahar 13 years ago, as a relatively unknown man ready to topple the Taliban’s stronghold and lead the country towards peace and democracy. As he steps down from his presidency and makes room for Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, many around the world are left pondering whether or not he accomplished what he originally set out to do.
At first, for many Afghans, Karzai appeared to be no different than the communist president Babrak Karmal who was once brought to power on a Russian tank with the help of former superpower, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
But within no time, the citizens’ perception of him changed, and he became the most popular and beloved person in the country to many. Not only that, but when he came into office, he had lived in the U.S. making him the choice person amongst Americans to lead a country leaving behind over two decades of invasion and civil war. And of course, not to be forgotten, the Taliban movement had recently killed his father.
“His relatively successful transitional government and first term presidency had earned him popularity with the West, which later he began to lose after corruption allegation against his family and his lax stand against some of his corrupt cabinet members,” explains Mohammad Sediq, a recent Masters graduate from the University of Ottawa who explored e-governance in Afghanistan during his studies.
Despite his many deficiencies and shortcomings, it is fair to say Karzai made many strides during his tenure. He was the reason that once-rival Jihadi leaders, who fought each other during the 1990s, gathered around the same table to work for peace. Over seven million children, 40 per cent of them girls, go to school today while there were only one million male children who had access to a war-torn education infrastructure under the Taliban.
In a country where there were only 20,000 teachers, there are close to 200,000 teachers today, 30 per cent of them female, who teach in close to 5,000 schools. In a country where women were once no more than prisoners in their homes under the suffocating Taliban vice and virtue rules, they now have the opportunity to come out and become contributing members of Afghan society. Women are now members of parliament; they own their own businesses.
Thousands of miles of roads were built to connect the people in different parts of the country, both amongst each other and with the world beyond. There are 12 million people who own cellphones, compared to a time when people had to travel to a neighbouring country to make a phone call to a family member living outside Afghanistan. In a country where TV was once illegal to watch, there are now close to 100 private and state-owned channels, around 200 radio stations and 11 news agencies.
Karzai achieved all of this.
That being said, many problems persist. Complex issues such as insecurity and injustice have yet to be resolved. Human rights and women’s rights violation still howl in the country. Women are still raped and murdered. Child marriages haven’t stopped. The question of corruption lingers. Afghanistan is still the supplier of three folds of illegal drugs to the world (80 per cent of the global opium production, according to a UN Report). And addiction is a relatively new phenomenon following the return of Afghans who had fled to neighbouring Iran and Pakistan beginning in 2001.
The question remains: was Karzai part of the problem or the solution? In fairness, he did what he could accomplish as a fragile and inexperienced politician. At the time he was seen as a one-eyed-man among the blind. He was the only choice Afghans had after three long decades of crisis and sufferings. The alternative to him: warlords who once destroyed the capital and killed many civilians.
“If I had the experience I have now, I would have made different decisions in some cases, and I would have accomplished more than what I did within my 13 years as president,” Karzai said in a recent speech.
Some experts, like Sediq, disagree. “There would have been less problems if he hadn’t lost his grip over his leadership and dealt with the challenges like a good leader… To me, [his legacy is that of] a weak leader who wasted $120 billion of civilian aid, which would put an end point to any chaos in any country.”
How Things Went Sour
When the Americans first descended upon Afghanistan, no one doubted the strong ties between Kabul and Washington. After suffering for two decades from misery and devastation, Afghans breathed a sigh of relief because of this friendship. American soldiers actually sat in restaurants and ate side by side with ordinary Afghans with no security concerns. The westerners, particularly the Americans, were seen as liberators of the nation. There are still many Afghans who honour the number of American lives lost in Afghanistan. There is a strong support among the public for the U.S.
But in one of his last speeches, President Karzai warned the incoming government to be particularly cautious in its relations with the United States and the western world. Although his remarks came as a surprise to members of both the Afghan and international community, the tension between Karzai and the U.S. is neither new or for one particular reason.
It all started in 2009 when Karzai won against Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai strongly believed that the Americans intervened in the election, because they did not want him to be the president any more.
In addition, the issue of civilian casualty rates played a role in tarnishing the relationship between Karzai and the U.S. When the Taliban regrouped across the border in the tribal area of Pakistan and was fighting fierce battles in the south against the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) many civilians were caught in the crossfire. Thus, Karzai was put in the hot seat. He received much public criticism and felt enormous pressure, particularly from the Pashtuns in the south. To make matters worse, the Taliban raised public sympathy by using the issue of civilian casualty in a sophisticated, yet effective, propaganda campaign to recruit new forces.
Karzai cried out for help from the Americans, who tried to address the issue, but failed time and time again. Karzai made these failures by the U.S. known widely, and by doing so, made the two countries’ relations even worse.
Then came the Taliban negotiations, which both Washington and Kabul agreed to do. Unfortunately, the efforts weren’t unified and collaborative, which created a lot of distrust between the two governments. “Karzai called the Taliban – a fierce enemy of the U.S. allies – his brothers, and began to release them unconditionally from the prison without the U.S. consent. Some of [them] rejoined the fight against ISAF and the Afghan government,” said Sediq. This led the U.S. to rely more on cooperation from Pakistan than the Karzai government in its side of negotiations with the Taliban.
Sediq reasons that this was all part of a strategy at work. “[Karzai]’s popularity among the public had tremendously gone down because of corruption allegation against his family and some of his cabinet members [so] he cleverly started to shift the blame on the western allies particularly the U.S. He changed the perception of Afghans had about the U.S. from a savior of the country to a barbaric force that is there to kill innocent Afghans and destroy their country.”
The verbal clashes reached a boiling point. Karzai recently blamed the U.S. – once an ally in the war on terror – for fueling the conflict in Afghanistan. “If the U.S. honestly wants it, peace will come to Afghanistan the next day,” he said.
The Future: What's Next For Afghanistan?
Despite the long wait and public critics of the recent Afghan election result, many Afghans see the new power-sharing government as the best option. President Ahmadzai’s speech at his inauguration was full of hope and promises to many Afghans and foreign allies. Amongst his promises: justice system reform and a new administration with half its members being young generation or women.
His newly appointed chief of security council signed the pending bilateral security agreement with the United States, allowing almost 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country and continue to educate Afghan security forces. Many believe Ahmadzai is a much stronger president than Karzai. “If he walks his talk, he will overcome the challenges he inherited from Karzai’s era,” says Sediq.
While Afghanistan may not practice the kind of democracy that exists in Canada right away, it doesn’t mean that the country has to move as slow as it did during the Karzai presidency. A traditional society like Afghanistan needs time to change and won’t tolerate too much change at once. In order for change to happen, the people need to be educated in order to shift the mentality in the society, and there needs to be unity amongst the different ethnic groups, long disconnected due to ongoing conflict.
As Toronto-based Afghan journalist Breshna Nazari points out, Afghanistan needs one thing above all: peace. Many Canadians, who have followed the war on terrorism from the other side of the globe, particularly families of the nearly 160 soldiers who have lost their lives in the war, would likely agree. “To obtain that goal the Taliban needs to lay its arms down and reconcile,” Nazari says. “I am not optimistic that people like General Dostum, Mohaqeq and even Dr. Abdullah who used to fight Taliban, and now are in the unity government, will allow such resolution to happen.”
Farouq Samim is an Ottawa-based communications consultant, with a Masters in Communication from the University of Ottawa where he studied the Afghan conflict. For eight years (2001 to 2009) he worked as a freelance producer, reporter and human rights investigator in Kabul, Afghanistan contributing to Aljazeera English TV, the Chicago Tribune Newspaper and Human Rights First.
The threat of ISIS infiltrating Southeast Asia has increased exponentially over the past few months
Asian Pacific Post
by Lin Abdul Rahman (@linabdulrahman) in Toronto
Since the Israeli assault on Gaza began in early June, more than 600 people have been killed and thousands more have been wounded. Most of the victims were civilians, with children making up to about a third of the numbers.
Frustrated by the failure of their governments to condemn Israel’s continued aggression, thousands of protesters hit the streets in Toronto, Montreal, London, New York, Jordan, Jakarta, Glasgow, Paris and even in Tel Aviv.
Over a thousand people turned out for the protest in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of my home country Malaysia.
As someone with ties to multiple “homes” – Canada, Malaysia, the Muslim ummah (community) – moments like these bring about conflicting feelings and a divided sense of loyalty. Between asserting my personal values as a Muslim in Canada, claiming rightful membership as a Malaysian from afar, and carving out my own space within the Canadian cultural fabric, there is rarely a happy middle.
Sense of gratitude
As a newcomer to Canada, I am aware of the many benefits extended to immigrant families in an effort to help them settle down, get jobs and pursue their education. My family and I have been the beneficiary of all three, and we continue to be grateful for them.
Nevertheless, being a loyal citizen can be especially difficult given Canada’s direct or indirect complicity in conflicts where Muslims are directly affected, such as in Burma (Myanmar), China, Palestine, Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, on home turf, there is still much room for improvement in terms of the country’s relationship with minority, immigrant and Aboriginal communities.
How, then, can one be a grateful while acknowledging these faults?
Perhaps, these are some of the troubling questions faced by the young Canadian Muslims who were allegedly “radicalized” into joining the war Syria and Iraq.
Canada is reportedly seeing an increasing number of young Muslim Canadians joining militant groups abroad. Earlier this year, the CBC reported that Damian Clairmont, a young convert to Islam from Calgary, was killed by a faction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) during rebel infighting in Aleppo. Another Calgarian, said to be from the same study group as Clairmont, Salman Ashrafi, joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group which now calls itself the Islamic State. He killed himself in a double suicide bomb attack in Iraq in late 2013.
Ashrafi was subsequently glorified as a martyr and an example to other young Muslim Canadians by a fellow Canadian jihadist who goes by the alias Abu Dujana al-Muhajir. Al-Muhajir also calls on Canadians to warn their government against getting involved in “a war of attrition with the Muslims for decades to come.”
A similar wave of religious fervour is also sweeping across Britain. In a short documentary on VICE, a young Briton named Amer Deghayes was shown expounding on his role in the jihad in Syria; he had traveled there with two brothers to fight with the Free Syrian Army, FSA. One of his brothers had already been killed during a battle, but Degahyes was calm and clear-headed in explaining how it was his duty to fight with his Muslim brothers against those who oppressed them.
Warning from imams
The Canadian Council of Imams (CCI) [an imam is a Muslim religious leader] recently issued a stern warning against young Muslims travelling overseas to fight as Ashrafi and Clairmont had. The CCI stated unequivocally that, “No one should get involved in international wars on the belief and excuse that they are helping their Muslim brothers.” Muslims living in war zones and experiencing oppression, the Imams Council explains, have the right to bear arms in self defense; Muslims living in Canada do not have the same right.
What Canadian Muslims do have, however, is the right to use all the resources we have at our disposal.
Aid organizations like Islamic Relief have worldwide networks with experience in getting aid to the heart of conflict zones, such as in Gaza, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We can volunteer our time and energy in their relief efforts by packing and delivering aid, or supporting them with monthly donations.
We can also contact our respective MPs and call on them to pressure the Canadian government into taking action, either by withdrawing support from oppressive regimes, through diplomatic intervention or through humanitarian aid support. There are numerous peaceful protests and online petitions for us to sign and circulate to draw attention to the causes we care about.
Our uninterrupted access to the internet and social media are something we can take full advantage of. The hashtag campaign #letaymanreport is a good example of what the global online community can achieve. NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin was a veteran in fair and balanced reporting on issues in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. When the network pulled him out of Gaza, the online community responded in sharp criticism of NBC and launched a petition and a twitter campaign demanding that he be sent back to report from Gaza. Several days later, NBC announced that it was sending Mohyeldin back into Gaza to continue his work.
This goes to show that, even from a distance, there are multiple avenues through which Canadian Muslims can aid those in need without resorting to arms.
Like any other country, Canada is far from perfect. But as a newcomer to Canada, I know I’ve benefited tremendously from Canada’s systems of governance, welfare, social security and education. Nevertheless, a show of gratitude for these benefits doesn’t mean silent and unquestioned acceptance of Canada’s policies, be they good or otherwise.
Rather, I believe it’s my personal responsibility, in return, to be part of the system of checks and balances that helps improve the country from within its borders. This entails speaking up when injustices occur, be it at home or abroad, and encouraging other Canadians to do the same.
Lin Abdul Rahman is a Malaysian-born freelance journalist and social justice advocate based in Toronto, Ontario.
by Richard M. Landau
Last year we witnessed surprising riots and fire in the streets of Stockholm, largely perpetrated by young men whose families originated in the Maghreb region of Africa. This is in Sweden, where official multiculturalism has lived. It looked like something we had seen previously in the suburbs of Paris. Young people, mostly young men of non-European extraction taking to the streets and setting cars and property ablaze. This in a nation that has favoured one French culture.
But here’s the thing: three of the four London subway attackers on July 7, 2005 were born in Britain -- to parents of Pakistani origin. Some of the so-called “Toronto 18” were born in Canada. We are told that increasing numbers of young Canadian men have chosen to leave the comfort of home to join in the Syrian conflict.
Some call this "homegrown terrorism." Why are young men – often the children of compliant immigrants – taking up arms against the civilizations in which their parents have chosen to put down roots?
There are a number of contributing causes behind why the child of a hard-working immigrant family could so readily attack the adopted homeland of his parents. Many young European Muslims refuse the minority and marginal status their parents accepted.
It is not solely the children of immigrants who riot in the streets. In August 2011, riots in England were perpetrated by mostly mainstream youths. A majority of those who participated in the Vancouver hockey riot of June 2011 were drawn from the mainstream population.
However, there can be no denying that a malaise troubles second-generation Canadians – the children of immigrants appear to be fertile recruits for gangs of ethnic allegiance that foment violence or to go overseas and join someone else’s war.
Radicalized by the internet
In recent years, we have seen young people willingly sign up to support Al Qaeda and other such extremist iterations of Islam. We are told that these young people were radicalized by the internet. It must be a very susceptible brain that can be convinced to risk life and limb and to change religious practice simply based on an out-of-focus video from overseas and images of young men ridiculously calling out the name of the almighty while slaughtering others mercilessly. It takes more than an internet site and the words of a persuasive extremist to turn the heads of young men. No simple video is going to do that. As a TV Producer, I have to ask how a simple grainy video on the web can radicalize someone. There had to be fertile soil to start with.
Young men have always been susceptible to extremism. I recall when I was in university how many of my fellow students became involved or at the very least interested in the teachings of cults and extreme movements. Some of them changed their appearances and their names to follow the cults or to chant in the street. But none of them, as I recall, had a callous disregard for life.
We have young men eager to die over there or to risk everything to hatch a terror plot aimed at the institutions of Canadian society right here on our soil. ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) has recently paraded before us young Calgarians who have been drawn to their cause. In London, Ontario a young man of Chinese extraction and another of Greek Orthodox background joined with a fellow student who was a Muslim and the three of them went off to perpetrate acts of terror in North Africa in the name of Jihad. Two of them died. Meanwhile, a young man of French-Canadian extraction from Timmins Ontario forsook his home, changed his name, and found himself alone in the vicious Syrian theatre, where he lost his life.
The young men in France, the children of immigrants, are disaffected and disengaged and fall prey to a narrative of being disrespected in their cultures and their faith. Many of their parents immigrated to Europe and accepted low-paying and/or low-prestige jobs for an opportunity to provide a better life for their children.
However, the dropout rates in these communities are extremely high. As a result, a downwardly mobile second-generation underclass has formed. Not as docile or resigned as their parents, they expect more. Yet, they face economic hardship with no available exit. In America, these same types of conditions once led the impoverished to drug trafficking and criminal behavior.
At the other end of the scale, there are the children of immigrants who do indeed go on to higher learning and yet in the stale economies of the West may not find appropriate work. They might also be fighting for opportunity against an entrenched predominant culture (read: prejudice). So, in spite of having the credentials, they can’t get their piece of the pie. This is reminiscent of Britain’s angry young men in the 1950's. They had graduated from the new red-brick universities, but they had neither the pedigrees nor the old school ties that opened doors. This breeds bitterness.
There are still other factors. For example, a second generation that is neither fish nor fowl. They are regaled at home with stories of homelands that they do not know, and told that they are better humans and live more pious lives than the condemned non-believers with whom they must rub shoulders. Resentment grows.
All this ethnic and cultural tension is stretched over some age-old truths about youth. Young men of all cultures have long found attractive the lure of the freedom fighter and the distant war. The same gene that drives them into daredevil and extreme sports makes appealing the possibility of involvement in a distant conflict.
Canadian security officials have expressed concern about scores of young Canadians who are fighting the so-called holy war in Syria, and have joined Jihadist groups worldwide.
One thinks of the Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion (the Mac-Paps) of idealistic Canadians who fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Their activism pressured the government of the day into making it illegal for Canadian citizens to serve in the Spanish Civil War. However, unlike this new wave of Jihadists, the Mac-Paps never called for the deconstruction and demolition of the society from whence they came.
And here we have arrived at a dangerous intersection. While young men may find an international conflict exotic, I have seen enough disaffected youths drawn to religious cults and extremism to know that it, too, has a special idealistic lure. Young men, drifting and unaccustomed to lives of prayer, obligation and fasting, may find the rituals alluring. Ritual + an exotic overseas conflict + romanticism may equal something like catnip for young men who are not well grounded. Et voila, radicalization!
Yes, there are extremist pied pipers who prey upon the young, the lonely and disaffected, telling them they are being disrespected and that the society at large hates them. Extremists like the late Anwar Al Awlaki tell young men that they will finally find meaning in their lives when they take up arms against the West. Simple, uneducated minds buy this drivel. The Boston Marathon bombers had a cult-like belief they were doing the Almighty’s will. The thing about fundamentalism, be it religious conversion or political, is that converts have an unending reservoir of zeal.
So how should Western societies deal with the roots of homegrown terrorism? With only limited successes, they have tried three approaches for dealing with immigrant populations:
Multiculturalism: Promotion and financing of integration, and equality of opportunity;
Assimilation: Forced assimilation/melting pot that leads to resentment;
Avoidance: Laissez faire benign neglect that produces a Balkanized and segregated society.
Writing in a Foreign Affairs article “Europe’s Angry Muslims,” Robert S. Leiken observed: “Yet it is far from clear whether top-down policies will work without bottom-up adjustments in social attitudes. Can Muslims become Europeans without Europe opening its social and political circles to them? So far, it appears that absolute assimilationism has failed in France, but so has segregation in Germany and multiculturalism in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.”
It appears there is no simple, proven answer that will assuage the angry second generation. The answers may involve an amalgam of the three approaches and an educational system that addresses the issues of this generation head on.
Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992. He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. A leader in interfaith dialogue, Mr. Landau has consulted with the U.K. Home Office and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-based Initiatives. He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions. He is author of "What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue."
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit