Dropping bombs and sending thousands of soldiers in a foreign country isn’t always the only viable solution when it comes to protecting your country against terrorism. While I am actively in favour of sending Special Operations soldiers to train and advise foreign soldiers, we have to work harder on our counterterrorism efforts here in Canada. A strong deradicalization program would prove a very effective counter-terrorism tool and would also greatly help with the respect of the Muslim communities.
A combined effort between national deradicalization program, and a military presence against ISIS abroad is the way to go. While we fight ISIS abroad, the Canadian government should work closely with the Muslim communities to draw a strong dynamic and effective deradicalization plan. That said, deradicalization won’t defeat ISIS without any type of military intervention. However, it will help tremendously with the homegrown terrorist issues, and the radicalized lone wolves such as Michael Zehaf-bibeau and Martin Ahmad Rouleau.
Deradicalization, a word that is commonly used these days. The definition is pretty simple: the practice of encouraging those with extreme and violent religious or political ideologies to adopt more moderate views. Radicalization doesn’t automatically mean Islam extremist, though. Groups like white supremacists (KKK and Neo Nazis gangs), bikers (Bandidos or Hells Angels), and street gangs (Muslim London Patrol) are also considered radical groups. People have to understand that deradicalization programs aren’t only for the “potential Muslim terrorists” but for large groups of criminals. However, this article is about radical Islamists.
The shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa reopened a debate about whether the deradicalization programs are working or not. Canada is far behind when it comes to these type of programs, creating an almost safe haven for the future generation of jihadists. For some reason, I am wondering if the current government is more willing to go bomb ISIS than working towards a strong program for the Canadian citizens.
Denmark created a superb program for returning fighters. CNN has published an article about that program: “Here’s how the program works: Any returning fighter is eligible for help getting a job, a house, an education, and psychological counselling—just like any other Danish citizen. Those returning must be screened by police, and anyone found to have committed a crime will be put through the courts and possibly prison.” The program has been pretty effective and mostly called a crime prevention program with a focus on jihadis. Canada could study this program and create his own based on the effectiveness of the Danish program.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Islamic Social Services Association wrote a handbook called: United Against Terrorism, challenging extremist messages of violence through the Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) was also a partner in the booklet but pulled its support from it due to an “adversarial tone.” In fact the CBC wrote that an RCMP statement stated: “After a final review of the handbook, the RCMP could not support the adversarial tone set by elements of the booklet and therefore directed RCMP Manitoba not to proceed with this initiative,” the statement said.
However, Andrew Swan, a former Manitoba Justice Minister fully supports the initiative and was even present at the launch. As a matter of fact, he told the media: “I’ve had a look at the booklet, and again, it’s in many ways very similar to the way we’ve tried to make parents and communities aware of the risk of gangs.”
Granting the benefits of such a booklet, the real deradicalization programs are run by the local mosques. It is through the teaching and hadith that we can achieve a successful program. While the government has to offer both its help and support, it is the imam’s job to successfully run a deradicalization program in his community and be on the lookout for the first signs of radicalization.
A great example is Mohammed Shaikh, director of the Masjid el Noor mosque in Toronto. Mr. Shaikh is the father of Mubin Shaikh, whose work contributed to the imprisonment of 18 convicted terrorist—most commonly known as the Toronto 18.
The radicalization of Canadian Muslims is a priority issue in today’s world. A good part of the problem comes from radical Islamic scholars who are actively spreading the wrong messages. Initiative such as the “Detox” program will greatly strengthen the message against the radicalization of Muslims in Canada, and should be adopted by all true Muslims.
Here is the Masjid el Noor’s 12-Step Extremist Detox Program:
- Who is Allah: His Mercy to all.
- Using verses from the Holy Koran that speak of peace and good conduct.
- Who is Muhammad: His mercy, kind manner, humble attitude, wisdom, patience.
- Using hadith: Commentaries that provide ethics and other moral training.
- Using stories of companions: A knowledge-based life of academic pursuit.
- Stories from history: contexts and underlying factors, not always glory of God.
- Islamic scholarship: What it seeks for the individual to know, and how.
- Abrahamic Faith: The Interconnectedness of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
- Other faiths: Common ground, not fighting ground.
- Open society of Canada: What it means for the majority (how to reconcile dogmatic idealism with pragmatic realism).
- Seeing the whole as one: Global challenges affecting us all.
- Advocacy: Actively countering extremist ideology through education, public speaking and writing.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of Canadian Muslims are “moderate”, a small group of radical Islamists is raising hatred and disdain on the law-abiding Muslims.
An option could be to establish a strong connection between the different communities. Having different community leaders working together could ease the tension between the non-Muslims and the Muslims. Since 9/11, most people ignoring the real definition of Islam became racist or repulsive of the different Muslim communities. If we could reveal the true side of Islam by involving them in our own communities, the barriers created by pure ignorance could be broken. The same apply for the Muslim to accept the other religions widely present in Canada. It works both ways and the Canadian Muslim communities have to show the rest of Canada that ISIS’s ideology is not the true Islam.
Cooperation is also essential between the different communities and the law enforcement authorities. In reality, a strong and trusting partnership would bolster the willingness to share suspicious information with law enforcement and thus creating a safer environment for everyone.
Having said that, there is a step that has to be followed before achieving a good deradicalization program—disengagement. This step entirely focuses on changing someone’s actions and altering the behaviour. In fact, the Danish deradicalization program is pretty simple: you can BE an extremist but you just can’t DO extremist actions.
By changing the actions and behaviour of an already radicalized Islamist, you can then work on the deradicalization process—to change beliefs. This takes time, and the environment around this radicalized individual has to be favourable and tolerant. Disengagement is a great step towards a decrease of terrorist operations.
Everyone is entitled to their beliefs and that is why Canada is such a great country. However, to be a law-abiding citizen doesn’t mean you don’t have a more extremist viewpoint. Ultimately, it would be preferable to completely negate the extremist angle, but we first need to concentrate on the security of the population by eliminating further attacks at home or abroad.
There are many examples widely available of people who went through disengagement and achieve deradicalization. One of them is my friend Mubin Shaikh. After following the Jihadi path, he was disengaged and completely deradicalized in Syria by an imam who made him understand the Qur’an in a whole different perspective. When he came back home, he then decided to work with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) against a terrorist cell in the Toronto area, commonly known as the Toronto 18. His book—Undercover Jihadi—is a must read and is available from Amazon on Kindle and hardcover. Anyone who wishes to understand what goes through the mind of a young Muslim and how the perception of Islam can be altered by his entourage needs to read this book. He did work deep undercover for 2 years including foreign assignments in classified operations before he was sent into the T18. Seeing how great, we have it in Canada really helped him keep focused on what was needed to keep us safe.
But let’s get back to Denmark’s deradicalization efforts. Canada could very well inspire their policymakers with what the Dane has achieved through this program. Great deal of efforts are invested in the youth. The project gives, “the individual young person the long-term support and advice that is needed in order to break with and stay out of extremist circles.” Basically, the project gives the youth a chance to attain great achievements outside to the extremist circles. They are easily influenced and will do whatever it takes to impress the older members of their community, making them an easy target for extremists. The Danish project will offer them enough support so they can take the best decision for themselves.
The Canadian government could very well work with the Muslim communities on the youth programs. Having the young Muslims involved in sports, arts and other hobbies related or not to religion would greatly benefit them. As a matter of fact, involving any at-risk kids in sports and arts could keep them off the streets. They should also be playing with kids of their age from different backgrounds and religions.
Preaching tolerance and having the kids from different backgrounds playing together would contribute to a better open-mindedness of different religions. That being said, it would be harder for the extremist to plant their ideology into the youth’s mind. This would also work the other way around as the Christians would become more aware of Islam and respect other religions.
Given the fact that the new generation of kids are media savvy, the government should also use some influence activities to convince the Muslim community and other groups that it is their interest to behave in certain ways and it is to their detriment to behave other ways.
However, the government cannot dictate how someone should live and behave, outside the laws. It is through a good entourage and a solid community that young kids will gain confidence and learn how to live in a multicultural society. It is also the responsibility of the parents to create an anti-racism and open-minded environment for their kids.
The Canadian government could create viable online content such as anti-radical websites where the younger generations could get more information and tools necessary to keep them away from the radical ideologies.
Canadians would certainly be supporting such a project where videos would be made to influence the younger generations of Muslims to become law-abiding citizens and to fully integrate Canada’s multiculturalism society. We all know how kids are heavily influenced by what they see on the internet, it is time for the Canadian government to act accordingly.
An initiative taken by a mother who lost her son early in 2014 called Hayat Canada Family Support is exactly what the government should work on. She should even get some funding as her project will keep a lot of young persons from going into Islamic extremism and go fight abroad.
Hayat has three main goals:
—Do anything possible to make them voluntarily refrain from travelling to Syria;
—If they are in Syria, stop fighting and return;
—The youth is supposed to return into a safe and controlled positive social environment.
Hayat has a network of partners on different levels including the police. Hayat sees itself as a bridge between family and all institutions relevant (e.g. police, courts, employers, schools, social services) and moderates between all sides with a comprehensive goal directed towards the concerned person. It is a pretty new project but I fully support it.
Another great project in the deradicalization efforts is to work with the detainees. While being in prison, inmates are at high risks of being influenced by radical and extreme positions.
In the Denmark’s deradicalization effort pamphlet, we can read that: “The aim of this project is partly to reduce the risk of inmates who are either convicted under the Danish anti-terror legislation or involved in extremist environments, to relapse into illegal behaviour or recommence the contact to extremist networks. In order to reduce the long-term risks, individual support will be offered to inmates through mentoring schemes as well as involvement of families and social networks who can play a key role in supporting and reintegrating the person/group in question into the society.”
Having imams who are willing to work with detainees on disengagement and the deradicalization would clearly help with the future reintegration once the sentence has been purged. Giving longer sentences without any type of rehabilitation programs is like sending a convicted felon to jail where he will only meet new people who are like him and will learn from them, making him better at his crime when he gets out. It is VERY important to have strong rehabilitation programs and the necessary staff and funding to give the inmates a chance to become law-abiding citizens.
Once again, the Canadian government could very well establish a program based on the Danemark deradicalization efforts. Terrorism is an international issue and every country willing to establish a durable counterterrorism plan should work together and share information.
In conclusion, the Canadian government has to increase the deradicalization programs for the new generations of Canadian Muslims, give more funds and a clear mandate to CSIS and support civilian initiative that support disengagement and deradicalization. I cannot stress enough that both the government and the Muslim community have to start working together on a daily basis. Muslims also have to understand that they live in a multi-ethnic country where they will be accepted as long as they accept the others.
The Canadian government has the opportunity to talk with countries such as Denmark to successfully implant a strong deradicalization program and become a world leader in deradicalization programs.