Are Muslims really standing on the sidelines when it comes to terrorism?

If there is one issue that is quite controversial and sensitive when it comes to our discussion about terrorism it is the relationship between Islam and violent extremism.  As with a lot of subjects there are views that are extremes on either end, ranging from ‘Islam is a terrorist faith’ to ‘Islam, as a religion of peace, has nothing to do with terrorism’.  And as with most things, as I have written very frequently, the truth is somewhere between those polar opposites.

Linked to this is something I read and hear a lot – just today in fact: Muslims are not active enough in denouncing terrorism and terrorists, especially when the perpetrators happen to be Muslim, self-styled or otherwise.  For some, this lack of response is more nefarious and is evidence that Muslims either do not see terrorism as wrong or may even secretly support it.

This debate reached a new level today when Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, in the aftermath of what certainly looked like a terrorist act by a Montrealer in Flint, Michigan, stated “Unfortunately, you cannot disconnect this type of event – terrorism – from Islam in general…it’s also your responsibility to act on the theological front, to explain to your people that this (terrorism) is not part of the religion, that it is contrary to the teachings of the religion. There is a dual responsibility.”

The statement is both a belief that there is some link between Islam and terrorism and that Canadian Muslims are not doing enough to stop it.  Both parts require comment but I will focus on the latter more than the former as I have dealt with the former already on many occasions.

Are Muslims speaking out enough?  More importantly, must they?  This second question is not rhetorical since at a very fundamental level no person or community has a moral obligation to account for or apologise for the actions of a person who may or may not share their views or even be part of their milieu.  We don’t demand that people who are ____ apologise when someone else who is _____ does something bad.  If we did we would all be apologising all the time for everything (although that would be very Canadian!).  For  instance, I self-identify as: male, a husband, a father, a (not very good) beer-league goaltender, an intelligence analyst, a J.R.R. Tolkien fan, a third generation citizen of Polish-Ukrainian descent and a very proud Canadian.  I do not feel any compulsion when a member of any or several of those categories kills someone.  Why would I?  Even if he did so in the name of all (not very good) beer league goalies.

In fact, many individual Muslims and community representatives REGULARLY denounce terrorism that we label Islamist extremist in nature.  It happens so frequently, whether or not it is required as I have just argued, that it is a little odd that the belief is so rampant that it does not.  This may be for two reasons:

a) Muslim communities are very diverse in this country, as they are in pretty well every part of this planet, and it is next to impossible to get all members to coordinate on anything, let alone messaging.

b) A lot of Muslims I know in Canada are also not the savviest when it comes to PR and self-promotion.  Other groups are much better at this and at lobbying and perhaps Muslims might ask themselves how they too can improve on this front.

The bottom line is that Muslims in Canada have come a long way over the last decade in not only recognising that there is a small, albeit serious, problem with radicalisation to violence within their communities but also in working with government, the RCMP and even CSIS to confront this scourge.  That was not always the case and I saw denial first hand in certain pockets when I had meetings across Canada with a wide variety of Muslims.  But they are speaking up and out and they are keen to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

This is a reality I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears.  No, it is not perfect but it is improving more and more all the time.  We need to give credit where credit is due.

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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