Islam vs. The West? Canada Is Different, Not Here

Flag of Canada
Flag of Canada

"Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war."

Since the dreadful attacks in Brussels, there has been a barrage of pundits and political figures throughout the western world suggesting that perhaps it's time to declare societal war with Islam.

Some are labeling the Brussels attacks - which have come in such seemingly rapid succession of the Paris attacks of 2015 - a turning point in the relationship between the West and Islam; that this ghastly tragedy marks a now clear-cut "clash of civilizations" between the two.

The German Foreign Minister has declared that these attacks "aim at the heart of Europe", while French Prime Minister Manuel Valls - after a crisis meeting called by the French president following the Brussels attack - has gone as far as saying "we are at war," and that "we have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war".

Some are now calling for a re-examination of not only how Islam and Muslims are perceived in western countries, but even how they ought to be treated by Western governments.

In France, Britain, Germany, Sweden and other parts of Europe, the drums for social confrontation against Islam boom louder seemingly every day. The tension in France and the U.K is particularly high as large Muslim populations have been tainted by small pockets of extremist-leaning Imams who cause rallies vilifying the governments and cultures of those respective countries. Whereas, seemingly everywhere else in Europe these days, the migrant crisis has spawned the rise, and popularity, of right-wing extremist parties who say that Islam is enemy number one.

Accordingly, those countries have seen the rise of apprehension toward Muslims, leading their governments to enact legislation aimed at muting the presence and "threat" of their Muslim populations.

But in Canada, we need to remember that Western attitudes need not be monolithic on their views of Islam and Muslims, and on how Muslims should be treated and what role they have in the social fabric.

We are the new beginning, the fresh start. Why must we then make the same mistakes of the parent nations whence this nation was born?

Why burden ourselves with the social discord that other nations have festered over centuries?

In the wake of the Paris and Brussels attacks, there's been a marked rise in the amount and severity of sentiment from some commentators and politicians in Canada, echoing the chorus of reaction from other western nations, in calling for a change - a toughened and less accommodating approach - in governmental and social attitudes towards Muslims.

But for those who shape the opinions and views of Canadians, they are, to some extent, the custodians of our social order, and so they have a responsibility to exercise great care and good judgement so that they bring insight that is free of incite.

We shouldn't squander the freshness of our country - which is itself the biggest promise we have. Canada today is a model for the whole world, a living example of immigration and multiculturalism that has flourished and become the envy of all.

That said, it is true that we are now faced with one of the greatest issues of our generation, a new and shadowy foe in the form of radicalization, and we will be judged not by how we did when times were rosy, but rather when times got tough.

The battle against home-grown extremism is multifaceted and so too should our approach be. First and foremost, there's nothing like on-the-ground intelligence gathering. Recently, I was approached by someone conducting a study on radicalization to sit down for a discussion. A few seconds after we started dinner, the man notified me he was a CSIS agent trying to gather information on the subject. I was taken aback, but during the course of that discussion, I realized just how effective this type of intelligence gathering - not from remote recordings and distant data collection, but from practical on-the-ground efforts - can be to get a true heartbeat on the situations and people at play.

Just as importantly, to be able to properly identify at-risk individuals and develop grass-root means to tackle radicalization, there are many aspects to what this type of support and facilitation could entail, but one of the prime areas is informational awareness campaigns that help to correct wrongly-held notions about concepts such as "jihad" and "holy war" and "caliphate" which are leveraged by ideological recruiters to misguide susceptible youth. The other important aspect of this information battle, is the online frontier. That's where most of the recruiting and proliferation of radical ideology is happening, and we need to know how to not only track, but engage and counter the forces in the online battleground we call social media.

In the end, this all boils down to who can win the war of information that this whole phenomenon of homegrown extremism centers on, because ultimately, it's not about guns or surveillance, it's about the ideas.

Adopting and promoting harsh attitudes towards Muslims in general is not a solution. In fact, it's the anti-solution, because that will only further fuel the arguments used to recruit the minute handful who are susceptible to being radicalized, and create an atmosphere where more Canadian Muslims will feel alienated and frustrated by constant blame.

As an Ahmadi Muslim whose family migrated here in the 1980s, I know that the kind and warm embrace from the Canadian people is what melts the hearts of all immigrants, including Muslims, and imbibes a spirit of gratitude, loyalty and love for this country within their hearts, making them proud to be Canadian.

We give everyone respect, and that's what makes it work here like nowhere else.

We have the right recipe in Canada, and what has worked wonders for us must continue, no matter ho harsh the storm gets around us.

There is no other way for us.

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "we must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools".