Terrorism in a post-9/11 world

What is the answer for immigrants: assimilation or integration?

Samaa Khan, ArtSci ’08
Samaa Khan, ArtSci ’08

The recent arrests of 17 men on allegations of being involved in a Toronto “terror cell” triggered a rude awakening for many Canadians, including myself. Putting aside my immediate shock, I realized that I had fallen prey to a comfortable naiveté in believing that our country was immune to the threats faced by the United States and others across the globe.

Now acutely aware of my misplaced assuredness, I was unprepared for what was to come.

Although some level of sensationalism was to be expected, I thought that the news coverage painted the suspects guilty until proven innocent. Yet again, this was a misguided correlation that I believed we had put behind us in a post-9/11 world.

Further, in what was arguably the most irresponsible journalism in years, medial outlets went to the homes and communities where the RCMP arrested the suspects and exploited their families While all Canadians support our security forces in their efforts to protect this country, none can claim that these men are less entitled to due process of law, the essence of which is the presumption of innocence. They must be afforded their right to a fair and transparent trial, and more importantly, to be prosecuted in the courts rather than by the public and the media.

While we have yet to see whether these individuals did indeed plot attacks on Canadian targets, we would conversely be ignorant to overlook the fact that Canada is not immune to such threats. Radicals could be everywhere, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that they may also be found in Canada.

Acknowledging that such mentalities have pervaded our society and possibly our own youth (most of the accused in this specific case are under 25, two as young as 19), the next inevitable question is “why?” Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered one suggestion, which dominated the media both nationally and internationally.

He said, “We are a target because of who we are and how we live, our society, our diversity and our values —values such as freedom, democracy and the rule of law— the values that make Canada great, values that Canadians cherish.”

Others, such as David Harris, a former Canadian security official, have pointed the finger at our national security, arguing that our open immigration policies are to blame.

Harris’s solution? Increased surveillance and revoking more of our civil rights, much in the same manner as the security certificates currently being challenged at the Supreme Court. With respect to minorities, they also advocate a doctrine of assimilation.

Accordingly, Canada could follow in the footsteps of the Netherlands’ to propose a ban on the burqa and the niqab.

This would deny some Muslim women their cultural traditions and religious expression because they don’t conform to Dutch norms. Yet one may wonder whether this approach, isolating the problem as that of the Muslim community alone, truly resonates with Canadian values.

One could step up, speak out against the media coverage and claim that diversity has failed in Canada.

One could call for renewed efforts towards integration. This means that minorities would retain their cultural and religious diversity while simultaneously taking part in the broader Canadian framework.

Alienation also comes into the picture; people fall to ideologies that espouse terrorism, just as others fall to gang violence and delinquency. There is no doubt that the consequences are more severe, yet the root causes are strikingly similar.

Detached and frustrated, some people search for any means to express their political grievances (whether misplaced or not is beside the point). In lacking the tools to participate in the socio-political process, they become more susceptible to radical inclinations.

This does not justify their alleged actions in any way—a crime is a crime is a crime. Canadian Muslims have come forward with fellow Canadians to denounce terrorism in all forms, and everyone agrees that Canada’s safety is paramount. Understanding this perspective on the issue, however, may help determine an appropriate solution.

So what is the answer, assimilation or integration?

One would think that in a country that has often prided itself on its reputation as a multicultural mosaic rather than a melting pot, it would be obvious. Yet as our policies and procedures, and even our government’s public comments are seemingly more and more inspired by an obvious foreign influence, it’s no longer quite that simple.

Inevitably, Canada’s response here may very well determine its future. Will we strive to uphold our standing as a moral role model among the nations of the world or will we fall in line as a copycat younger sibling to our American neighbour?

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