To fight homegrown terrorists


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The rising threat of homegrown terrorism to Canada and its allies was dramatically underlined by terror-related arrests in Ottawa on Wednesday.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/08/2010 (4414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The rising threat of homegrown terrorism to Canada and its allies was dramatically underlined by terror-related arrests in Ottawa on Wednesday.

But in addition to arresting those who actually plot mayhem, we need a strategy for fighting the ideas that lead to it, delegitimizing terrorism among vulnerable groups before it becomes a matter for law enforcement.

We are not just in a fight. We are also in an argument. And we must win it.

Since 2001, too many cases of Islamist terrorism in Europe, North America, and Australia have involved naturalized immigrants, residents, and citizens of the targeted countries, including shoe bomber Richard Reid, the Madrid and London bombers, the Fort Hood shooter and 11 of the “Toronto 18.”

To call this terror “homegrown” is not to suggest it has no foreign entanglements. Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, and the Tamil Tigers have long relied on diaspora communities for support. And while Westerners have also travelled overseas to join such organizations, these groups increasingly now recruit young Westerners, train them abroad then send them home to wreak havoc. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews warned in March that Somalia’s al Shabaab was “actively recruiting within the Somali-Canadian community.”

Such threats are a police and intelligence problem. But it is also important that we seek to delegitimize violent Islamist ideology abroad and at home. It is customary to denounce terrorism as “criminal, inhumane, unjustifiable… and repugnant” as the G8 does. But it’s no good preaching to the choir. We need to take this argument to potential recruits. We need a counterterrorism plan that actively criticizes the legitimizers of terrorism and offers a counter-narrative.

One analyst wrote that “terrorists lack moral strictures against the use of violence.” In fact, they have moral strictures in favour of it. Groups like the Taliban and al-Qaida rely on religious decrees to justify suicide, otherwise blasphemous under Islamic jurisprudence. The vast majority of Muslims reject this interpretation. We need to use this rejection of terrorism in our fight for hearts and minds.

Fortunately, prominent Muslim leaders have lit the path, issuing edicts against terror. Notable examples include Tahir ul-Qadri’s 600-page religious rejection of Islamist violence (2010), the Canadian Imams’ fatwa against terrorism in North America (2010), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’s recantation of terrorism (2009), Sayyid Imam Sharif’s treatise shunning political violence (2007/8), and former Jemaah Islamiyah leader Nasir Abas’ total rejection of terrorism (2005).

So what should we do?

We should reiterate and publicize the personal and community-level consequences and general human suffering that result from terrorism.

We should promote anti-terrorism norms developed from within the Muslim community and promote ideological competition and dissension within the jihadist community by advocating anti-terrorism voices.

We should actively disseminate Fatwas, recantations, and rejections of terrorism within and beyond the G8 community and coax Western media outlets into more thoroughly covering the Muslim anti-terrorism movement.

The core of my message is straightforward — Islamist radicalization is the linchpin of homegrown terrorism in the West. We can fight the results through military and police methods. But in this area, an ounce of intellectual prevention is worth a ton of military cure. And since the core of radicalization is the internalization of a set of beliefs, worldviews and assumptions that legitimize violence in the name of a given cause, prevention must accomplish the opposite from within the same intellectual framework of the intended audience.

When Islamist terrorist organizations lose their religious justification, legitimacy, and popular patronage, they will be seen as thugs and heretics by the communities in whose name they purport to act. Their support will evaporate.

When that happens, foreign terrorists will have a harder time locating and recruiting Westerners. And we’ll all be safer.

Alex Wilner is a fellow with the

Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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