How to wage war on Muslim terrorists without maligning and alienating Muslims, especially those in the West whose cooperation has been found to be essential in combating radicalism at home? That challenge hung over Stephen Harper and his Conservatives in joining the war on the Islamic State.
Many core Conservative supporters believe that terrorism is Islamic and that all Muslims must take responsibility for the relatively few. This well-organized and well-funded constituency spans Canada, the United States and Europe. It consists of not only Islamophobic and xenophobic bigots but also those who push for and benefit from wars, as well as evangelical Christians, extremist Zionists and others who, sadly, equate supporting Israel with waging cultural warfare on Muslims.
Harper himself avoids Canadian Muslims except for a selected few, such as the minority Ismailis. The prime minister and his Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney have pointedly courted those who’ve come to Canada fleeing persecution in Muslim lands — Christians and Ahmadis from Pakistan, Christians from Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, Bahais from Iran, etc. Some openly spit hatred at Muslims, yet are cosseted by the Harperites.
Contrast this with Barack Obama and David Cameron of Britain who do extensive outreach to Muslims, at home and abroad.
And unlike Obama who speaks knowledgeably and confidently about how terrorism violates Islamic principles, Harper has been clumsy, speaking instead of “Islamic terrorism.”
But he is learning.
Last month in opening the Aga Khan Museum, he said:
“The Aga Khan has devoted an extraordinary amount of time, toil and resources to the ideals of Islamic culture and history. In doing so, His Highness has greatly contributed to demystifying Islam, throughout the world, by stressing its social traditions of peace, of tolerance and of pluralism. This is a vision of Islam of which all Canadians can be proud especially when a contrary and violent distortion of that vision so regularly dominates the news.”
A few days later, speaking in New York, Harper went against the holy grail of Islamophobes, that terrorism emanates mostly from mosques. Speaking of radicalized youth, he said:
“Our experience in Canada has been that their connection to the Muslim community is often extremely tangential. A surprising number of these people have no background in Islam whatsoever. They’re individuals who for whatever reason drift to these kinds of causes. Even (those with) backgrounds in Islam, they’re often people who are not participants in mosques . . . They’re off on kind of a radical, political fringe.
“Our security and intelligence people would tell you that a good relationship with our Muslim community has actually really helped to identify a lot of these threats before they become much more serious.”
Similar notes were struck during the House of Commons debate on joining the war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, Islamic State in Iraq and Levant.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay: “This is not a war against Muslims. This is not a fight between Christianity and Islam. . . ISIL has shown equal disregard for Muslims and Christians alike.”
Junior cabinet minister, Gary Goodyear: “No god, including Allah, condones this behaviour. No religion, including Islam, supports this behaviour.”
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt: There’s “a myth that ISIL is desperately trying to keep alive, that its opponents are enemies of Islam. This is false. Several Muslim religious leaders are raising their voices against ISIL. ISIL’s war is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, nor is it between Sunnis and Shiites. Its opponents are a growing number of countries and peoples, including Sunni-majority Muslim countries.”
But old habits die hard.
Foreign Minister John Baird couldn’t emphasize enough how the Christian and Yezedi minorities have been victimized by the Islamic State.
Kenney launched into what sounded like a clash of civilizations speech, citing “my friend, the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic church, the largest Christian community in Iraq,” and Father Sarmed Balious, of the Canadian Chaldean Catholics. The war against the Islamic State, as also the “armed jihad that we see from West Africa, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to al Shabaab in East Africa, through the various Salafi-Jihadi forces, through Yemen, the Levant, Daesh (the Arabic name for IS) itself, and al-Nusra, al Qaeda, the Deobandi, and Taliban militias in Pakistan, all the way to the southern Philippines” constitutes a “civilizational struggle for all civilized people.”
Contrast that with the sophistication of Obama. For example, addressing himself directly to young Muslims: “You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.”