Narrative and the defeat of IS

If there is one thing that terrorist groups like the Islamic State are good at doing, it is getting their message out.  Videos, blogs, tweets, online magazines like Dabiq,  photos and other social media promote the group’s goals, strike fear in the hearts of many and at the same time draw Westerners and others to its cause.

One frequent message is their contention that Muslims cannot continue to live in the West and must make hijrah (migration) to the Caliphate.  Countries like Canada and the US are inherently inimical to Muslims and prevent them from practicing their faith and living out their lives as true Muslims.  Better to come and join us, IS says, and live in a state of pure Islam.  That way you’ll avoid discrimination and hatred.  Canada doesn’t want you anyway.

In the wake of the Liberal election victory last night in Canada, I can safely say that IS hasn’t a leg to stand on.

There is no doubt that some Muslim Canadians, as evidenced by letters to the editor, op-ed pieces and personal talks I have had, were increasingly concerned during the campaign about the language used to describe them.  Women in hijabs and niqabs were compared to terrorists, convicted terrorists (all Muslim with one exception by the way) were told that they were no longer Canadian citizens, and “barbaric” practices had to be stopped with neighbours snitching on neighbours.  I read countless stories where fellow citizens stated that the Canada they knew and loved was now foreign to them.  They no longer felt safe in their home country (in fact, a few women were attacked for wearing hijab).

So, as a result, thousands of Canadian Muslims bought tickets to Turkey to join IS, right?  Wrong.  They joined millions of other Canadians to reject the politics of hate and fear and division.  They exercised their democratic right (NB IS and other groups HATE democracy and claim that it is un-Islamic – wrong again!) and voted for change and hope and a return to what Canada stands for: openness, a welcome to strangers and the embrace of difference (a shout out to that galvanised Muslim communities to vote: in previous elections many had not done so).

Kamran Bhatti, a Hamilton software engineer and a leader in the Canadian Muslim community (and a dear friend who has worked tirelessly along with lawyer Hussein Hamdani to bridge the gap between government and ordinary Muslims), told me that there will be a lot of stories coming out in the next days and weeks about how the majority Tories became the majority Liberals.  I have no doubt he is right.

To me, the overarching story is this: participants in the ongoing experiment that is Canada showed once again that we reject a society where paranoia and mistrust of our neighbour (because of a difference in faith or skin colour or dress) dominates (I know, I know, things aren’t perfect, but..).  We have created this wonderful nation based on our diversity, not in spite of it.   We will continue to build our country and benefit from everything that people from the four corners of the world bring here.  And we can be proud of that.

IS says democracy is bad and that Muslims cannot be part of it.

Well, Canadians sure showed them, didn’t they?

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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