A radical idea

As more and more Canadians are identified trying to leave the country to link up with terrorist groups such as ISIS, more and more programs are being put forward to deal with the underlying radicalization problem.  Quebec is the latest jurisdiction to announce such an initiative (see link here).

What are the elements to consider in an anti-radicalization program?  Well there are several.  First and foremost, it probably should not be run by a government – of any level (municipal, provincial or federal).

Why not?  It all boils down to credibility.  When it comes to radicalization, government has little (by this I do not mean to disdain the work done by the dedicated civil servants at Public Safety Canada with whom I had the honour of working).  It’s just that there is a lack of trust between communities and government for a variety of reasons (I’ll leave it at that for now).

Governments can play a role, however, in fostering and sponsoring grassroots efforts.  For it is at this level that programs probably have the best chance for success.  Communities (parents, friends, teachers, health care workers, religious leaders, etc.) are in the best position to identify people at risk of radicalization and determine what the best course of action is.

But it is in the religious realm that communities alone can address what may be the most significant driver.  In each case, there is a faith element that plays a role ranging from minor to significant.  And government is simply not in a position to challenge dogma.

The second element is to have the right understanding of radicalization from the outset.  And it is here that we are still dealing with simplistic modeling and unsubstantiated theories.  I heard some of these in the car this morning while driving from Ottawa to Grimsby.  It was on the CBC radio show C’est la vie (see link here).

The usual suspects were lined up: lack of integration, high unemployment, victimhood and systemic discrimination against Muslims in the province of Quebec.  Now I am not in a position to argue whether any of these are prevalent in la belle province (you can measure unemployment but how do you measure low integration?) but I do know that none of these are sure-fire drivers of radicalization to violence.  I am not aware of any empirical study that shows this either.

If the program’s administrators get the radicalization inputs wrong, there are lower chances at getting successful outputs (i.e. diverting people from radical pathways).

All in all, efforts such as these should be applauded and it is encouraging that communities are now addressing the issue (there were many groups in a state of denial for years).  But don’t expect easy answers to what are difficult questions.  It will take time to measure success (this is the hardest part of any counter-radicalization strategy).

So hat’s off to the attempt – or as they say in Quebec “Chapeau!”

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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