Sins of the (grand)father

Whenever an act of terrorism occurs in the West there is an immediate flurry of questions and panic.  How did this happen?  Who was the perpetrator?  Why did he (or, more infrequently, she) do it?  Where did they get radicalised?  Is this another self-radicalised lone wolf (perhaps the most inaccurate label out there)?  What do we do????

So for an answer we turn to the tried and true reasons.  The terrorist attended a radical mosque/madrassa/halaqa in Pakistan/Iraq/Indonesia.  He was a constant consumer of jihadi Web sites.  He came from a disadvantaged/alienated/marginalised/disenfanchised background.  His father/uncle/brother/best friend was killed by the Israeli Defence Forces/a US drone/Bashar al Assad’s military.  And so on and so on.

Sometimes, you know, the answers to all these questions can be found closer to home  A lot closer to home.  Like, right inside the home.

Meet Meir Ettinger.  This Jewish extremist was arrested by Israeli police in the wake of that horrendous arson of a West Bank Palestinian house which caused the death of an infant and serious burns to his parents and 4-year old brother.  It is unclear whether Mr. Ettinger was behind or involved in the attack, but there is little doubt what this terrorist believes in: religious “redemption” through attacks on Christian sites and Palestinian homes (Christian churches have also been firebombed – see article here).

So far, this criminal sounds a lot like members of groups such as the Islamic State.  Except he’s Jewish.  Now where could he possibly have learned to embrace such hatred for his fellow man, albeit of a different faith?  Did he attend a radical yeshiva?  What about his Web browsing?  Why??

Answer: how about Grandpa.  Mr. Ettinger is the grandson of US-born hate-spewing Rabbi Meir Kahane.  Mr. Kahane has, if my knowledge is not incorrect, the (dis)honour of being one of the few individuals whose name gave rise to a movement listed as a terrorist entity in the US.  There is so much about Kahane and his movement that speaks to hate, intolerance and violence that I cannot do it justice here.  You can google him.

It is often been said that a boy who observes his father beating his mother will also become a wife-beater when he grows up.  Why should terrorism be any different?  A child raised in a home where extreme ideologies are propagated runs the very high risk of living that ideology as he matures.  It simply stands to reason.

But we here in Canada are fortunate, right, because that kind of situation does not occur?  Wrong.  The Khadr family is a prime example of how a father passed his hatred to his children, at times while living in a terrorist (Al Qaeda) compound in Afghanistan.  Whatever you think about Omar Khadr, and I know that there are dozens, if not hundreds of positions on him, there is no doubt that he came by his extremism through his family.

With all this talk about countering radicalisation by intervening with people at risk, or providing alternative interpretations of religion, politics or history, we are faced with a conundrum when it comes to families where extremism is bred in the bone, often out of sight of others.  Short of removing the individual from the family (interestingly, some have argued that Omar Khadr should be kept away from his family to prevent re-radicalisation), there is not much that can be done.

While I do know that Israeli society is struggling to deal with extremism within its very bosom, an extremism that can’t be blamed on the Arabs/Muslims, I don’t know what will become of Mr. Ettinger. Whatever happens to him, it is highly unlikely he will embrace tolerance and difference any time soon.  To do so would be a betrayal of his family.

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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