Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Muslim forum to probe youth radicalization

Parents, teens, RCMP taking part

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Parents and teens, RCMP and religious leaders are gathering tonight in Winnipeg to stand united against terrorism.

The forum at the Grand Mosque, dubbed Stand United Against Terrorism, is for community members to ask questions and get the answers they need to fend off Internet influences out to radicalize the young.

"We send out statements and condemnations, but there is very little information available that is constructive and helps parents and youth," said Shahina Siddiqui, head of the Islamic Social Services Association, one of the event's organizers.

"How do they deal with groups pretending to be Islam and giving out hate? Parents don't hear those hateful messages until something terrible happens."

Recent events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the radicalization of youth from London, Ont., leave real Muslims reeling.

'We spend so much time responding to what the media is saying, our own community is... confused and suffering'

"We forget our own community when we deal with crises," she said. "We spend so much time responding to what the media is saying, our own community is questioning and confused and suffering."

The concern is for vulnerable young people hearing propaganda that abuses the principles of their faith on one side and people blaming Islam for the criminal acts of terrorists on the other.

"We thought it's time we have a discussion in the community and answer the questions youth have," she said.

"It's a healthy way of dealing with it. If you leave children with questions, they're confused and you leave them open to negative influences."

The Muslim community is taking action and getting some help, she said. "We can't do it alone."

RCMP officers are part of a legal panel that will walk people through "problematic websites and social media that pose a threat to the healthy development of our youths," a Stand United Against Terrorism poster says.

The RCMP have studied the radicalization of youth and have experience conducting workshops on gangs and warning signs parents should look for, Siddiqui said.

For parents, the forum is a chance to get up to speed on the Internet routes used to try to radicalize their kids.

For youth, it's an opportunity to ask questions about their faith and get honest answers, said Imam Yusuf Badat, with the Islamic Foundation of Toronto.

"Every verse of the Qur'an has historical background," said Badat, an expert in Islamic religious text who is taking part in a panel discussion challenging extremist messages of violence at the Winnipeg seminar. "We have to put verses into the proper context."

The forum is for Muslim community members only, so they can feel safe asking questions and speaking openly, Siddiqui said.

"At the end of the evening, people will walk away with enough knowledge to feel empowered," she said,

It wraps up with a discussion about rights -- specifically, what to do when the Canadian Security Intelligence Service comes calling. "We get calls from youth at university saying CSIS wants them to come and talk to them," Siddiqui said.

"They feel that if they don't, they will be considered guilty," she said. "There's a lot of concern: 'Am I being watched? Am I being profiled? Why me?' "

They feel their reputations and livelihoods may be at stake when the CSIS shows up at their workplaces, she said.

"There's a lot of fear."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2013 A14

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