The role of religion in counter radicalisation

The Canadian Council of Imams has announced that it intends to launch a series of deradicalisation clinics in the Greater Toronto Area this summer.  Describing the move as “proactive”, Imam Hamid Slimi noted that “nobody wants to see another Brussels or Paris” in Canada.  No, we don’t, whether we are Muslim or not.

The CCI should be commended for this move.  It is consistent with my experiences with the body, one with which I had several meetings a few years back.  I want readers to know that the Canadian Muslim population, and the CCI, have, in general, stopped being in a state of denial about the scale and danger of violent radicalisation in this country.  Yes, there are still those who prefer to put their heads in the sand over this phenomenon, but we are leagues ahead of where we used to be. And that is a good thing.

A few challenges remain, however, even with this proactive stance.

What exactly will the clinics do?  Will they limit themselves to those already radicalised or will they also deal with individuals just tipping a toe in extremist ideological waters?  Will they do just de-radicalisation or include counter-radicalisation, counter/alternative narrative and early intervention?  Will they develop a multi-faceted approach to violent extremism or will they focus largely on religious responses?  Who will they work with outside Muslim communities? How will they determine whether their efforts are successful?  Will they feel confident in involving security and law enforcement agencies in cases where there is a real threat to national security and where intervention is not working?  I raise these issues not to undermine the noble CCI effort but to spell out just how complicated de-radicalisation is.

I am very pleased to see that a religious approach is being adopted in Canada, and one that is the initiative of Muslim leaders and not the State.  Far too often we hear that terrorism and terrorist groups like the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Islamic State “have nothing to do with Islam”.  This is a fundamental and egregious error of analysis.  In the interests of political correctness or reluctance to insult the faith of over a billion people those who eschew the religious angle of Islamist extremism miss the essential nature of this form of violence and hence fail to come up with realistic solutions to the problem.  No, terrorists do not represent mainstream Islam but yes they see themselves as ideal Muslims and act in concert with what they truly believe Islam calls for (up to and including divine obligation).  Yes, alienation, disenfranchisement and poverty are sometimes present (less often than you would think actually, at least in Canada) but addressing only these aspects of social dysfunction are not panaceas to the issue.  Nor, on the other hand, is a religious response always going to be the best one.  As with everything in life, and terrorism/radicalisation is no exception, it depends.

So we should congratulate the CCI on their decision.  Regardless of whether they solve every case of violent radicalisation, two things are clear.  First, intervention and de-radicalisation are so much cheaper than investigation and arrest (remember that failed interventions may lead to coercive action at the end of the day), and while money is not everything, it does count for something.  The less expensive something is the more times you can do it.  And secondly this effort will most likely be seen in a good light by Canadian Muslims as a sign that there is some hope for change short of trials and incarceration.

I will watch the progress of the CCI actions with great interest.  They are beginning down a courageous path, one that will be subject to successes and failures.  But they are to be saluted for taking the chance.

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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