‘Blaming all Muslims, or Islam or multiculturalism is just a McCarthyesque witchhunt against a rather powerless minority community in Canada’

No easy answers

Toronto Star, 8 June 2006

By Haroon Siddiqui

Blaming all Muslims, or Islam or multiculturalism, is just a witchhunt against a rather powerless minority community

Dalton McGuinty said it best. He found the alleged Toronto terrorist plot to be both “unsettling and reassuring,” the latter because law enforcement agencies have done their job, removing what has been described as Canada’s greatest terrorism threat.

Now the courts will decide whether that’s what it was.

Let the rule of law prevail, in fair and transparent trials.

If we are hearing some skeptical voices about the dramatic charges, there is a reason. Similar claims made in 2003 against 22 Pakistani and Indian students — that they had planned to topple the CN Tower and the Pickering nuclear reactor — proved to be utterly false.

That episode of incompetence, coupled with the Maher Arar tragedy and the ongoing detention of four terrorism suspects without charge on security certificates, devalued the moral currency of the law enforcement agencies — always a liability in a democracy.

This time, however, authorities seem to be on firmer ground.

They monitored the suspects for nearly two years, as The Star’s Michelle Shephard has reported.

They methodically followed leads at home and abroad, including the pursuit of two extremists in Georgia who have since been arrested on terrorism charges.

Officials at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP and other police forces worked in tandem, unlike in the bungled probe into the 1985 Air-India bombing.

Investigators kept their civilian masters, the politicians at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, well-briefed.

It was also reassuring to hear that police did not use the sweeping powers of the Anti-Terrorism Act. While some of the 17 people arrested have been charged under provisions of that act, most of the investigative work was done under the old rules, without violating the rights of the individuals involved.

The day after the Friday night arrests, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and others met Muslims at the Islamic Foundation, Canada’s largest mosque.

Blair was right to condemn the smashing of windows at another mosque by hooligans and to promise full protection.

In short, officials have been a model of responsible behaviour.

That, however, has not stopped others from fear- mongering or offering facile, racist explanations.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, responsibility for terrorism was laid at the doorstep of madrassahs, especially in Pakistan, and more amorphously at Wahhabism, the Saudi version of conservative Islam.

But the bombers of Bali and other spots were not products of such schools. Nor were they all Wahhabis.

Those who carried out the 2004 Madrid bombing and the 2005 London bombings were Europeans. Three of four British attackers were second-generation British citizens. The ringleader had studied business in university and been a teacher.

The 17 arrested Canadians are products of Canadian public schools and universities.

One of the British bombers was a con-vert, as had been a Belgian suicide bomber who went to Iraq to conduct her evil mission. Two of the 17 Canadians are said to be converts.

As in Spain and Britain, the alleged Canadian terrorists had no ostensible connection to Al Qaeda.

The Spanish, British and Canadian culprits came from varied ethnic backgrounds, offering few clues to their developing deviancy.

Like the friendly murderer from the neighbourhood who leaves everyone baffled, these young men have shocked not only their acquaintances but also their own parents, some of whom are middle-class professionals.

The common denominator among them has been that they are Muslims, some rationalizing their irrationality in warped Islamic terminology.

But what are we to make of that any more than that most white-collar criminals happen to be Jewish or Christian? Or that many members of the Mafia have been Catholic?

Laying collective guilt on all Muslims is as unhelpful as blaming multiculturalism for what has transpired.

Spain does not have a multicultural policy; in fact, it actively discriminates against its Muslims. Britain is semi-multicultural.

The United States takes a decidedly different approach than Canada, assimilating rather than integrating newcomers.

Yet, none of that has made a whit of difference to the terrorists.

Increasingly, security experts are pointing to geo-politics for the widening phenomenon of terrorism.

An official British report on last year’s bombing concluded that the culprits were “ordinary British citizens with little known history of extremist views.” They were radicalized and motivated by “perceived injustices” committed by the West against Muslims.

Similarly, speaking of homegrown second- and third-generation Canadian terrorists, CSIS’s Luc Portelance said: “Clearly they are motivated by some of the things we see around the world.”

Even that does not provide a full answer.

Most of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, as many others of all faiths, are infuriated by the wars and mass killings of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and other trouble spots.

But only a handful are channelling their anger into violence, as had members of the Red Brigades and the Basque separatists.

There are no easy answers. Blaming all Muslims, or Islam or multiculturalism is just a McCarthyesque witchhunt against a rather powerless minority community in Canada.

While we collectively ponder the best way forward, all Canadians must extend full support to security and law enforcement agencies to ferret out the rest of the estimated 300 potential troublemakers who are being monitored across the country and to bring them to justice.

No group of citizens would be more eager for such an outcome than Muslim Canadians.