Muslims hold key to fighting terror
Despite the credit, some self-proclaimed experts continue to pin collective blame on Muslims, citing the “radicalization” of the community. In fact, some Islamophobes who have the ear of the government have had the audacity to claim that 80 per cent of the mosques in Canada are incubators of “homegrown” terrorists.
There is no credible evidence to support such bald assertions. On the contrary, the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University released a study in February titled “Muslim-American Terrorism: Declining Further,” which concluded that Muslim terrorism was not a significant threat. It had claimed 33 lives since Sept. 11, 2001, compared with 200 victims of far-right terrorists and 180,000 murders. Moreover, the centre has documented the active role of Muslims in combating terror. I think an equivalent study in Canada would confirm the same.
Muslims must not be held collectively responsible for the alleged actions of criminals among them. No other community is put in such an unenviable position. Italians are not asked to condemn the actions of the Mafia, nor were the Irish asked to apologize for the actions of the Irish Republican Army. Canadians in general are not expected to take responsibility for the actions of the criminals who have vandalized mosques and discriminated against or attacked Muslims since the tragic events of Sept. 11.
The vast majority of Muslims condemn terrorism because even classical Islamic law explicitly classifies hirabah (terrorism) as a serious sin. In fact, indiscriminate killing and attacks are prohibited. Indeed, the Qur’an proclaims: “Anyone who kills a person it is as if he has killed the whole of humanity.”
Moreover, the Prophet Mohammed’s strict rules of engagement even in times of hostility were blunt: “Do not kill women or children or non-combatants.” Such nuances are lost on those with limited knowledge of their religion. Indeed, a 2010 United States Institute for Peace study of more than 2,000 people who were attracted to terrorism found that they “have an inadequate understanding of their own religion, which makes them vulnerable to misinterpretations of the religious doctrine.”
Muslims wonder why they must keep distancing themselves from something so antithetical to their world view. Even when they disown such conduct, it is under-reported or dismissed as a PR exercise. That said, as part of a civil society the Muslim community has a duty to the mainstream to address the perception — real or imagined — about the extremists within.
To its credit, the community has risen to the challenge. Many — including the imam who came forward — openly challenge jihadist ideology. A number of our clients have organized anti-radicalization events over the years and many have worked with counterterrorism officials in the interest of our collective security.
As part of the same civil society, the government also must do its part.
First, it must re-examine our foreign policy of blindly aping the U.S. It is high time to acknowledge that all innocent lives lost — whether to terrorists or to the “war on terror” — must be valued equally. Victims do not appreciate the difference between a pressure-cooker bomb and a drone strike. Disagree with their tactics as you may, it is undeniable that there are many people in the world who have legitimate grievances against our foreign policy, some of whom may allow anger to overshadow religious rules of engagement.
Second, at the domestic level, the Harper government has been on a witch hunt. Muslim charities are unfairly targeted, the niqab is unnecessarily made into an issue and intelligence harassment is rampant. Terrorist profiling often is based simply on guilt by association, which just adds to the vicious cycle of marginalization, distrust and blowback. Moreover, some even question the timing of the arrests (especially given that there was no imminent threat), which appears planned to push through the Combating Terrorism Act. This legislation seeks to bring back two expired provisions from previous anti-terror legislation — preventive detention for three days without charges and “investigative hearings” under which a suspect who refuses to testify before a judge could be imprisoned for up to a year — as well as restrictions on travel.
Third, government officials must be careful not to alienate the community by seeking advice only from those with an anti-Muslim agenda.
Fourth, the accused must be given their day in court in a fair, open and transparent manner. The trust and confidence asked of the community must not be squandered by resorting to the secret hearings and secret evidence provisions of the anti-terror act. Any attempt to deny due process and the rule of law will certainly have an impact on co-operation.
Finally, the government must understand that the majority of Muslims, who are neither secular nor ultra-orthodox, hold the key to any serious and productive bridge-building. If government agencies believe they can win the “war on terror” by undermining front-line soldiers, they had better think again.
Faisal Kutty teaches at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana and at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. He previously served as vice-chair and legal counsel to the Canadian Counsel on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN). Follow him at Twitter@FaisalKutty.
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