middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Jumping the Gun on Operation Samosa

Published on:
Dissident Voice, September 7th, 2010 (http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/09/jumping-the-gun-on-operation-samosa/#more-21573)

On August 26th, 2010, Hiva Mohammad Alizadeh (30), Misbahuddin Ahmed (26), and Khurram Syed Sher (28) were arrested (and detained) in the culminating point of the RCMP’s Operation Samosa investigation. All three are charged with conspiring to facilitate terrorist activities in Canada, as well as aiding terror abroad.

A fourth individual by the name of Awso Peshdary was also arrested (and re-arrested after posting bail) on unrelated domestic abuse charges, has since been released on bail. Peshdary’s connection to the alleged plot is not clear. Trials for the three suspects have not started yet, no formal evidence has been presented, and no convictions have been confirmed. Yet, it seems that the Canadian media has already freaked out.

The Toronto Star published an editorial one day after the arrests that warned Canadians not to be “complacent about perils close at hand.” It then went on to quote the Tarek Fateh-founded Muslim Canadian Congress on how the “perverse ‘doctrine of jihad [which simply means struggle]’” still appeals to some Muslims (technically, the simple act of fasting during Ramadan can be said to be jihad). Once again, before the public has even grasped the gist of the situation, alarm bells are going off about Islamic extremism.

Before the courts have issued their judgments, the discourse has already focused on the seemingly exclusive and hermeneutic relationship between terrorism and Islam. Terror is discussed like the drug that Islam can’t seem to kick, no matter how hard it tries to. Canadians are immediately warned about the “home-grown” version of the dangerous symbiosis of “Islamic terrorism”. Like the Toronto Star editorial, which largely skips over the fact that due process has yet to occur, most corporate media do not seem to want to ask the all-important “why” question.

Once asked about the causes of “Muslims rage” in a PBS interview, American Shaykh Hamza Yusuf replied with the term “humiliation.” He was referring to the protracted experience of Western colonialism and foreign occupation in the Muslim and Arab world. When bomb plots and terror cells are supposedly foiled by law enforcement in Canada, the story is typically given the front page, but always without this crucial context. Factors like “humiliation” and “occupation” are an afterthought, since factoring in these political elements would require an examination of Canadian foreign policy. It’s far easier to isolate the case, sensationalize its parameters, and point to how utterly irrational some Muslims are (and will continue to be, so “beware!”).

The images are similar enough: brown skin, bushy beards, and that glossy if sinister look in the suspects’ eyes. The suspected always look so out of step with “regular Canadians.” But soon after Khurram Sher’s arrest, a YouTube clip of him as a contestant on Canadian Idol aired around the world. It seemed absurd, but the video indirectly revealed a familiar and even humorous side of a “potential terrorist”. It made Sher appear, however faintly, as someone one could actually relate to–a “regular Canadian”.

Michelle Shephard (who has done some fine work on child soldier Omar Khadr) of the Toronto Star referred to this paradox as terrorism’s “theatre of the absurd” in her article “The Danger of Dismissing the Absurd.” But she did not utilize this superficial inconsistency to illustrate that “Islamic terrorists,” however horrific, are nonetheless human beings. Instead, Shepherd warns us against terrorism’s “theatre of the absurd.” In other words, it may seem inconsistent for someone as scary, bearded, and suspected like Sher to appear jokingly on Canadian Idol, but such an inconsistency doesn’t rule out the fact that Sher may be guilty. We shouldn’t simply laugh off this case, Shephard seems to be saying because terrorism is still a serious problem and we don’t know much about its nature.

True enough: terrorism is serious—but it’s not an impossible enigma. Nor is it particular to our era—9/11 is not the beginning of terrorism. Prominent academics and writers who study political Islam such as Vali Nasr, Robert Pape, and Reza Aslan (amoung countless others) have all recognized the factors of humiliation and foreign invasions/occupations as a primary cause for “radicalization.” In order to “defang” these frustrated elements (thus ending “homegrown terror”), it is essential to give them an outlet to channel their anger. It means giving Muslim youth a chance to act upon their frustrations through the mechanisms of civil society. Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, having now been incorporated into their respective national political processes, do not use the same “radical” rhetoric and tactics as often as they used to. The same process can work for those who live in the West.

Instead, articles like Shephard’s reference psychologists and political scientists from academia like Michael King (a PhD candidate from McGill) who claim that “there seems to be a personality characteristic that predisposes people to radicalize—and that is sensation-seeking [my emphases].” So is the problem at least partly genetic or physiological?

“The daily drudgery of working in dead-end, low-paying jobs helped create an intellectually stunted environment, continued King. “Internet jihad videos became more exciting and their causes more urgent.” Thus, personal occupation and social surroundings must also play a part in “radicalization” as well. This may very well be a perfectly legitimate point. However, how many men out there are working dead-end jobs in “intellectually stunted” environments, and why haven’t they all conspired to blow something up? Is it because they are not Muslim? Or is it because they are not subjected to the experiences of humiliation (via military occupation) that so many Middle Eastern Muslims endure and witness?

Maybe it’s time to stop beating around the bush by referring to the demented psychology or “intellectually stunted” environments that are apparently inherent to potential terrorists. Maybe, just maybe, frustration can arise out of a feeling of impotence while witnessing the chaos and death unleashed by a foreign invasion. Maybe a Muslim in the West, when watching their “brothers and sisters” in Afghanistan, Baghdad, or Gaza disintegrate in war and occupation, is allowed to feel some anger. Surely, this anger doesn’t justify violence, but it certainly is sufficient in explaining why some may consider it.

muslims, politics, war on terror

Canada’s Disturbing “Solution” to Alleged Islamic Extremism

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Not a terrible lot has been written about the global consequences of 9/11 on Western Muslim communities. For example, almost immediately after the deadly events of September 11th 2001, Canada adopted its own version of the Patriot Act: Bill C-36, the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act. This piece of anti-terror legislation is so broad in its scope and language that legal experts had difficulty picturing exactly how such legislation can and will be applied.

That all changed after 2006, when several suspects in a high-profile case dubbed the “Toronto-18 Case” were convicted under the act. Of the eighteen men and youth arrested, several had their charges dropped/stayed while other pled guilty and are awaiting sentence. Of those convicted, one has been sentenced to life in prison. Indeed, there was a bomb plot planned, but the more sensationalist slogans like “beheading the Prime Minister”, so often proliferated by Canada’s corporate media, were nothing more than “big talk”. These events made Muslim communities in Canada doubly paranoid. On the one hand, they feared the dangerous stereotyping of their religious identity and practices by the “outsiders” that were sure to be a result of this case. On the other hand, they have been “forced” to keep an eye out for the “extremists” in there midst, as if scouting out lepers.

In an effort to tend to the latter (and overrated) paranoia, numerous community leaders and security agencies in Canada have come up with a solution to “de-radicalize” young “Muslim extremists”. The idea has now come into fruition thanks to the work of Sheikh Ahmed Amiruddin of the Al-Sunnah Institute in Toronto, Canada (his mosque is the Masjid El-Noor). Commonly known as the “Islamic Ideological Detox” program, Amiruddin has supposedly devised an effective twelve- step “de-radicalization” program aimed at turning angry Muslim youth away from the path of “extremism”. The initiative much resembles a kind of self-help guide for alcoholics in its structural make-up. By now, the Canadian intelligence agency, or CSIS (Canadian Security and Intelligence Services), has shown interest, as well as another Sheikh Robert Heft of “Paradise4Ever”, a Muslim organization that helps Muslim converts settle into their new faith-based lives.

As rosy and good-hearted as this all sounds, the very idea of a theology-based “de-radicalization” program is problematic. The worldview that underscored this “ideological detox” program is congruent with the tiresome post-9/11 tendency to put extremism at the centre of any potentially substantial discussion. The alleged and much touted subject of “Islamic extremism” becomes de-contextualized politically, and all suggested solutions point to the perceived problem as being completely borne out of religion. In fact, there is nothing “Islamic” about them at all. As stated by numerous studies around the world, the phenomenon of committing violence in the name of religion is usually borne out of political indignation. Robert Pape of The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism has done more work than most on the subject of suicide bombing, and has concluded that imperial ambitions by world powers precipitate backlash, some of which take the form of terror in the name of religion.[see his new book here] Despite much (undeserved) publicity, Canada has exhibited only one case that remotely exemplifies such a case: members of the “18” were outraged by Canada’s participation in the Afghanistan war, among other things. The root of their anger was deeply political, and pertained specifically to policies carried out by their government. This is true for all NATO allies, especially the United States.

As individuals who were unfamiliar with the avenues of political activism (something their mosques and role models should have provided for and invested in), the “18” took matter into their own hands, and began to search for interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah (way of the Prophet Muhammad) which were akin to Osama bin Laden’s worldview. In other words, the political woes and the “jihadi rhetoric” that dually inspired the “18” should not be viewed as detached influences. The former reinforces and lends false credibility to the latter. The post-9/11 “West” is so obsessed with the apparently Islamic iconography used by “extremists” that they often forget to look at the bigger picture. Any solution that seeks to invest in so-called “terror-prevention” must realize this vital point. Unfortunately, Sheikh Amiruddin’s twelve-step “ideological detox” program falls terribly short of such a realization.

Another sinister characteristic of the “de-radicalization” program pertains to how exactly such a program would play out on the ground. The details have yet to be hashed out, but the way in which a program like this functions as a pre-emption to terror is worth discussing. Let’s pretend for the moment that so-called “Islamic extremism” is actually a problem in Canada. Presumably, members of a certain community will be asked to be “vigilant” about their fellow community members. If they notice any suspicious activity or behaviour by an individual/group, they will be asked to report, or “red-flag” the person(s) involved. Those reported will then be recognized and marked off by CSIS for later “treatment”. This logic in itself is questionable, with the obvious question being exactly what “behaviour” constitutes a need for suspicion. Moreover, how would such a program deal with dishonesty? If a person is reported by another individual simply out of spite and not for any substantial reason(s), what would the safeguard be? These unaddressed queries constitute concerns regarding civil liberties that will inevitably arise.

By now, the alleged problem of “Islamic extremism” has been positioned as a central concern in the 21st century. Of course, prevention of violence in the name of Islam is in everyone’s interest. However, Western democracies must realize that these problems will not be solved through Guantanamo-styled strong-arming, or through the on-going stereotyping of Muslims in society. It will be vital in the future to realize that if “extremism” is to be avoided, one must first de-fang those involved by giving them nonviolent and activist avenues to vent their anger. If such a program can be devised with the help of security agencies, participating governments must guarantee the rights and liberties of all those who are involved.

While the Anti-terror legislation came into being under the previous Liberal government, the civil liberties-bashing Conservative Harper regime has continued to hunt for “terrorists,” such as the Toronto-18 case. The regime, like much of Canada’s media, has tried very hard to inculcate a climate of fear. The government-media nexus has engaged in a campaign of demonization aiming to insert into the Canadian psyche that “deradicalization” is needed, and that an “Islamic Detox Program” will solve the problem. This ill-informed and racist position will produced unworkable and problematic policies. “Islamic extremism” is not the problem, despite what the current discourse suggests. Insofar as society wants to prevent “Islamic extremism”, the root of the problem must be hacked at: foreign and imperial ventures undertaken by Western regimes must stop at once.