I have, thankfully, never been on trial. My appearances in Canadian courts have been limited to a brief stint as a court interpreter many, many years ago and my role as an expert witness in several national security certificate cases. I have never been charged with an offence for which I would find myself before a judge and I intend to keep things that way.
If, however, I were to be involved in a proceedings where my future liberty was in the balance I would certainly pay attention to the arguments made and play an active role in my own defence. After all, no one has a more vested interest in my well-being than myself, right?
So, if this is true, then what is up with jihadis in Western courts?
At an ongoing trial in Brussels of Salah Abdelslam, a suspect in the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks, the alleged jihadi is playing a curious game. He is remaining more or less silent, aside from the odd outburst about inequalities in the Western justice system for Muslims. One scholar says his defiance is linked to a long history of Muslim dismissal of French courts going back to the Algerian colonial days. I disagree: there is something much more fundamental happening here.
We in Canada have been here before. During the 2015 trial of Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, both later found guilty of plotting to derail a train in the Niagara corridor, the former engaged in behaviour some saw as weird. He demanded to be tried based on the Quran and refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the judge. Mr. Esseghaier’s antics are very similar to what Mr. Abdelslam is doing.
Jihadis hold a very narrow view of religion and society. We usually call them Salafi jihadis since the particular version of Islam that they adhere to is a branch of Salafism – a very conservative interpretation of Islam that claims that all Muslims need to run their lives is the Quran, the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH) and the teachings of the earliest Muslim generations. Anything else is bida’a – innovation – and must be rejected, by force if necessary.
Their dogma includes what law they follow. The only laws they see as applicable and genuine are those that Allah gave through the Quran. Laws made by humans and contained in the legal codes that govern most modern societies are to be ignored. A ‘true’ Muslim, as defined by the Salafi jihadis, must actively spurn all laws not part of the Quran and the Sunnah (tradition). Hence the behaviour of Messrs. Esseghaier and Abdelslam. That either man may or may not have been seen as particularly devout or even religious by others is irrelevant. What matters is that they believe deeply that their faith mandates the total and complete exclusion of the tenets of Western civilisation, including our legal systems.
In the end it will not matter if Mr. Abdelslam elects to participate in his trial: it will continue and reach a verdict with or without his active part. It is very important that it do so as what is really being judged here is whether a small group of religious fanatics can dictate to the rest of us how we live and what we wear and whom we worship. The court must not give in to Salafi jihadi charades. Their goal is to destroy our way of life and we cannot allow them to enjoy a victory, no matter how small.
Sorry, Mr. Abdelslam, you tried to cow us, make us tremble through your act of indiscriminate violence and cause us to fear so much we would bow to your intolerant creed. The irony here is that the very society you sought to defeat is now responsible for determining your fate. You have lost to the enemy you thought you could beat. That is a small victory we all should celebrate.