If there is one thing that is true about all Islamist extremist groups is that they are full of hate. They hate other Muslims. They hate the Shia. They hate the Sufis. They hate non-Muslims. They hate LGBT. They hate choice. They hate everything in their warped world view. Hate. Hate. Hate.
One other thing that they hate is democracy. You see this a lot in extremist messaging. For them, democracy means more than allowing people to choose their own governing systems, it means allowing people to be led by their peers and to have those peers make laws. And to an IS or AQ terrorist this is akin to thumbing your nose at God. In their mind, the only legitimate system of government is hakimiyyah – government by God by following His laws. No country really embraces that ideal – Saudi Arabia comes close – but that is their demand and they will kill to impose it. Muslims have been threatened with death if they opt to vote in elections and even here in Canada pamphlets have been distributed outside mosques saying that democracy is haram (forbidden) in Islam. It isn’t actually and I have an excellent story to share with you on how Canadian Muslims have not only embraced the democratic principle but cocked a snook at IS at the same time.
But first we need to talk a bit about the narrative. This is the term that has been used to describe the universe as the terrorists see it and how they justify the use of violence. There has been an awful lot of thinking about what to do with that narrative. Do we counter it? Do we ignore it? Do we create our own? What is the best strategy?
I remember a line from my old Latin lessons – acta non verba (deeds not words). We can talk all we want and strategise and plan but the fact remains that there is so much terrorism all over the place that we really have to start doing something more than thinking and talking about it. And this action has to go beyond our use of military force. It has to involve normal, everyday people. I am delighted to report that a group of citizens in Canada is doing just that.
Last Wednesday I was invited to an Eid (end of Ramadan) dinner held in Vaughan, the north end of Toronto. There were more than 600 people in attendance and a bevy of politicians, including the Minister of Immigration. The event was sponsored by The Canadian Muslim Vote, an organisation created a few years ago to encourage Muslim engagement in the Canadian political process, especially among the youth. It is through their efforts that the percentage of Muslims who voted in the 2015 federal election was 79%, and 88% in the ridings targeted by the group. Those are impressive numbers indeed! I have seldom seen such a gathering of keen young people (boy, did I feel ancient!).
So what does this have to do with terrorism? Everything! Not only did Canadian Muslims show that they are part of our national fabric, and not only will Muslims who were elected as MPs enhance the work of Parliamentarians, but they basically shattered the empty messages of the terrorists. Contrary to the views of narrow-minded extremists, you CAN vote and you CAN be Canadian and Muslim. That is the message you shared with your fellow Canadians. I can think of no better demonstration of how a simple act – our right to vote – can do what years of ruminating have not. I have not seen any messaging by the extremists on our election (I know that even for terrorists Canada is usually an afterthought), but I can’t imagine them being too happy about it.
Congratulations to The Canadian Muslim Vote and to everyone who exercised their democratic duty. My advice to those who may have voted for the first time is to stay active and even though we will have our differences, I see a lot of blue skies ahead for our country. Continue to be part of the process of continuing to build the success story that we are.