[Sheema Khan is chair of CAIR-CAN. SEE: http://caircan.ca/ ] On Monday, Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan sounded the warning bells. “I don’t believe that Canadians are as psychologically prepared for a terrorist attack as probably we all should be,” she said, adding that we have a misguided sense of complacency. According to Ms. McLellan, lack of participation in the Iraq war does not render Canada immune from the madness of terrorism. The New York Times reported on Sunday that an operative of a Moroccan terrorist network (connected to al-Qaeda) has told investigators of sleeper cells prepared to mount synchronized bombings in Britain, France, Italy, Belgium and Canada. And Ward Elcock, former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, has warned that a terrorist strike on Canadian soil is not a question of “if,” but “when.” Perhaps these snippets should snap us out of our imagined cocoon of safety. Yet, if there is one segment of Canadian society that has lived with the constant fear of terrorist attacks, it is Canadian Muslims and Arabs. They know they will bear the brunt of the fallout. Already, the fear-mongering is in full swing, with columnist Margaret Wente warning us yesterday that “your average terrorist is likely to look and sound a lot like the guy next door.” Some have placed the onus solely on Muslims to rein in extremists in their midst or risk retribution. If they don’t, writes Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, “the West will do it in a rough, crude way — by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent. . .” We can only wonder what legislative and policy changes are in the works should an attack occur in Canada.
Given Mr. Friedman’s comments, Muslims have every right to fear the impact. Is internment in the works? Mass deportations of non-citizens? Limits placed on individual rights and freedom of movement? Are there plans to protect Muslims against the ensuing backlash? Our government has been conspicuously silent on its contingency plans. Poll after poll has shown that Canadian Muslims are viewed with suspicion by their fellow Canadians, more than any other group. And yet, no level of government has drawn up a plan to lessen this invisible division, let alone acknowledge this fact. It’s worth mentioning that Ms. McLellan herself has been dismissive of concerns about racial profiling. When our Public Safety Minister is in denial, what else can this lead to except alienation on the part of Canadian Muslims and Arabs? Left unchecked, this alienation will not help in our common fight against extremism. Prime Minister Tony Blair set an example by affirming his support for British Muslims and Islam. Our leaders, meanwhile, have for the most part been silent. Our security agencies have done little to reach out to the Muslim community. Even Jim Judd, the new CSIS director, has acknowledged that his agency could do more by way of outreach. And while the RCMP has initiated community round tables, the Arar affair has left many distrustful of the Mounties. Yet, it is in the best interest of all to engage in frank discussions, and to work toward effective means of co-operation. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary. Our common security depends on it. The Muslim community must also look within, and exercise vigilance against hateful rhetoric that masquerades as religion. Greater emphasis must be placed on the universality of Islamic teachings, and the duty before God to work for the welfare of humanity — first locally, then globally. Finally, all members of the community must contribute toward building an ethic of citizenship based on a foundation of civic responsibility.
Islamic teachings emphasize that Muslims are to be a source of security and safety for their neighbours. And, of course, repeat our faith’s prohibition against the killing of innocent civilians time and time again at community events. We live in an age of fragile security. But the Muslim community should not be seen as part of the problem, but as partners in the fight against a common enemy — extremism. We have unanimously condemned last week’s bombings in London, joined in interfaith prayers and offered condolences to the families of victims. And yet, the burden we face is greater, because we are a community under suspicion. We are part of the Canadian fabric, choosing to live in a land envied by many. We are professionals, students, workers, parents trying to raise families. We are your neighbours and co-workers. Any terrorist attack, God forbid, will not differentiate between me and you, between Muslim and not. We are not the “other.” Let us join together in our common humanity to stop this madness.