The recent arrest of four young men in Ottawa has been portrayed by the media and by some security analysts as a brand new threat: the radicalization of youth. The typical terrorist is no longer a sombre looking foreigner or an immigrant with a heavy accent immersed in martial arts -- instead he is a middle-class family man, funny, "well integrated," and well educated that you can never detect or almost never...
First of all, this trend in the portraying of "Muslim terrorists" is not new. In reality, it has been in circulation for many years by North American security analysts; after all, didn't we forget that most of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack were from middle- to upper-class families with university educations and who entered the U.S. with legal paper work? What about the 18 young men arrested in Toronto in June 2006? Weren't they all young men fresh out of high school or attending university, weren't they born and raised in Canada? Didn't we speak at that time about the "homegrown terrorists?" And who were the persons who committed the London Underground attack? Weren't they good family men with young children?
So what changed this time? Why do we have the impression that this time it is a new type of presumed terrorist that we have deterred? Aren't we simply trying to make the net a little bigger by including with each arrest a new sort of individual? In January 2003, Time magazine ran a story about the different sort of terrorists in Canada. I remember two of them very well: Maher Arar, a Canadian telecoms engineer who ended up being cleared, and Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian refugee whom the government was unable to prove to be a threat to the security of Canada seven years after his arrest, and who is still awaiting a decision about his case.
What I found misleading and quite dangerous to our social cohesion is this simple reduction of a complex and ambiguous problem: that is to reduce terrorism to a simple journalistic attempt to convince us of the existence of a rational portrait of "the terrorist."
This atmosphere created by the hype will definitely lead to an increasing mistrust and suspicion between Muslims as well as to more suspicion with the rest of the society. This will also create more division inside the Muslim community where the dichotomy will be even stronger between "good" Muslim and "bad" Muslim. The recent appeal from the public safety minister, Vic Toews, is no more than a nod in this direction. He suggested that leaders from Muslim communities should approach the government if they have information that threatens public safety. As if the leaders of the Muslim community have more powers for spying on young people than the RCMP or CSIS, or as if he is insinuating that the Muslim leaders are not doing enough to discourage their young members of being involved in terrorist acts.
The radicalisation of youth can't be understood and then stopped if we continue to see it as a Muslim problem. It is a globalized phenomenon affecting most countries. Our government didn't take any concrete steps since the arrests of the trial of the Torontonian men. Did they create a youth centre to educate Muslim and non-Muslim men about the danger of terrorism? Did they fund programs to speak against terrorism and present alternative models to follow for young men? Unfortunately, for now the government seems to be only interested in investing more money on spying on its citizens and spreading suspicion.
Monia Mazigh is a human rights activist. She is the author of "Hope and Despair: My struggle to free my husband Maher Arar." She lives in Ottawa.
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