Reactions were immediate. Some Muslims denounced the acts unequivocally. Many, equally well-intentioned, hastened to reassure Canadians with the familiar refrain about Islam being a “religion of peace”. Not being a religious scholar, I'm not in a position to dispute this, but I’m pretty sure not all Muslims got the memo. Other Muslims sounded an unfortunate, but predictable, note of defensiveness, finding more to lament in the exposure of radicalism in their community than in its existence.
Mr. Omar Kalair, of Brampton, Ontario, was prompted to write this letter, published in Monday’s National Post.
At such a time, it is important to remember that terrorists come from all backgrounds. And no matter who may have been arrested on June 2, the Canadian Muslim community as a whole is not to blame. When the Irish Republican Army bombed innocent people, no one named all Christians as bombers. Nor did they blame all Christians when the KKK, the Branch Davidians and anti-abortion extremists committed their murders. Nobody equates Christianity with terrorism. No religion in the world condones the killing of innocent people.
Moreover, there are many grievances that would drive individuals to take unilateral decisions toward violence. A few of the reasons could be the daily news of innocent Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, Pakistan and other nations dying at the hands of Western, Christian nations. Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine is another contributing issue: The West threatens sanctions against Iran while Israel's nuclear program is ignored.
Mr. Kalair makes the comparison between jihadist Muslims and radical Christian groups and wonders why, despite the existence of these groups, “nobody equates Christianity with terrorism."
The IRA is composed almost solely of Irish Catholics, so the appropriate comparison would be between the Muslim community and the Irish Catholic community. In both cases, radicals enjoy (enjoyed, in the case of the IRA) widespread support for their cause, if not their tactics, in the form of both public opinion and financing. The IRA relied on substantial support in predominantly Republican, working class parts of Northern Ireland for concealment of weapons and persons as well as recruitment of members, and much of its funding derived from the Irish Catholic community in the United States.
Similarly, polls have repeatedly shown widespread support for Osama bin Laden among a significant percentage of Muslims, and, in some Muslim countries, a majority. Likewise, jihadist groups have been extensively financed both directly by Muslim states such as Iran and Syria, and indirectly through private and Saudi-backed contributions to organizations operating under the guise of Muslim charities.
Regarding abortion clinic bombers, the KKK, and Branch Davidians, here the parallels are not so clear. All these groups are regularly and vocally denounced by the Christian community, who, by doing so, has succeeded in marginalizing and effectively neutralizing them. Moreover, all recent acts by such groups have been isolated ones, confined to a tiny geographical region of that inhabited by Christians globally. By contrast, radical jihadi ideology is a phenomenon that spans virtually the entire globe. There are few countries left in the world today with a sizable Muslim population within its borders that can boast of being unaffected by it.
Mr. Kalair then lists some of the “many grievances that would drive individuals to take unilateral decisions toward violence.” Despite the unfortunate connotation, Mr. Kalair undoubtedly did not intend this to constitute an apology of such acts.
Regarding specific grievances, it is beyond the scope of this article to debate their individual merits, beyond noting that in the countries cited by Mr. Kalair, innocent Muslims dying at the hands of Western Christians are far outnumbered by their equally innocent compatriots dying at the hands of other Muslims. It is, however, worth noticing that many ethnic groups harbor similar legitimate grievances that do not impel their members toward violent acts. Outstandingly, in this category, the award goes to a people who, despite their lands having been brutally occupied by a repressive regime since 1949, have never had occasion to resort to acts of violence – that is to say, the Tibetans.
But even granting that a grievance against the policies of what Mr. Kalair refers to as “Western, Christian nations” were allowed to be a legitimate factor in pursuing violence, would this not constitute the very stereotyping that Mr. Kalair rightly insists that we prohibit when directed against the Muslim community? The West is not a monolithic entity. It does not have a single, unified policy toward Muslims, and its citizens, which include Muslims, represent a broad assortment of religions, ethnicities, and political views.
In any case, cries of victimization from a people who collectively sit on the vast wealth of two thirds of the world’s known oil deposits fails to be compelling, just as calls to sympathy for the injustices endured by Muslims at the hands of Christians must be tempered with concern for the Christians and other religious minorities – not to mention fellow Muslims – who suffer far greater persecution in the lands of Muslims.
Mr. Kalair’s desire to absolve the Muslim community of all responsibility in his fear that it will also entail retribution is, while entirely understandable, hardly helpful in eliminating the radicals in their midst. Only when the Muslim community takes active ownership for the actions of those who claim to speak in their name will we have a chance at eradicating terrorism.