Amira Elghawaby: Putting ‘radicalization’ in context
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In a January 3 news item, the National Post profiled a Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) report released under the Access to Information Act. The report concludes that Islamist extremists are radicalizing Canadians at “a large number of venues.” The heavily redacted document offers a few general examples of “non-traditional venues” where this radicalization allegedly is happening — including prisons, and within families.
However, what we do not find is any evidence to justify these sweeping statements, nor are we privy to any of the research that has led to such conclusions. There may be context in the unredacted CSIS report. But more than half of the document was blacked out before release, so we have no way of knowing.
Unfortunately, one of the effects is to engender fear and suspicion toward Canadian Muslims. The message is that anywhere Muslims gather — even when at home with their families — there is a possibility they may be transformed into hateful, violent radicals bent on destroying Canada. One web site commenter, for instance, opined: “Hey, we allowed [these people] in. Now [we’re] paying the price. I often wonder whether the guy working out next to me in the gym is saying to himself ‘Buddy, soon enough you’ll be bowing to me and calling me master.’”
Remember that the mass killings perpetrated by Norway’s Anders Breivik in 2011 were not the work of a Muslim, but rather an anti-Muslim radical who was convinced that Islam was a threat to Western civilization. Recent incidents in the United States also show us where fear-mongering can lead — including the murder of an innocent Hindu man, Sunando Sen, by a woman on a subway platform who said she hated Hindus and Muslims because of 9/11. Or the Indiana man who said he set fire to an Ohio mosque after watching coverage of wounded soldiers overseas (authorities said he’d carried a gun into the mosque, but no one was inside at the time).
Canadians are not immune to this. Reports of vandalized mosques, and threatening behaviour toward Muslim men and women on the streets and at workplaces continue across the country.
The Ministry of Public Safety writes on its website that “citizens need to be informed of the threat in an honest, straightforward manner.” Indeed. However, the release of this latest CSIS report and its ensuing coverage is not “straightforward.” Rather, it speaks more to the saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
There have been countless studies that offer context and background to our understanding of radicalization. Demos, a UK-based think tank, produced an in-depth study in 2010 based on interviews with British and Canadian convicted terrorists and religious radicals. One of the study’s conclusions pointed out that holding radical ideas did not necessarily lead to violence, and that in fact “religious radicals” are distinct from terrorists, and can even be key allies in the fight against those who would promote the use of violence.
The U.S. Department of Defense released a study in 2010 that concluded: “Identifying potentially dangerous people before they act is difficult. Examinations after the fact show that people who commit violence usually have one or more risk factors for violence. Few people in the population who have risk factors, however, actually [commit violent acts].”
Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Centre has indicated that “while Islam can be used to justify acts of terrorism, radicalization is not caused by Islam” (as chronicled by academic Deepa Kumar, in her book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire).
In other words, context is key. In a world fraught with fragmented information, we need it now more than ever to safeguard against violent radicalization of any kind.
Amira Elghawaby is the human rights officer at the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations based in Ottawa.
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