Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Breath of Fresh Air in a Sea of ....

On Monday, Christie Blatchford, a columnist for The Globe and Mail, cut right through all of the politically correct reporting and spin doctoring that the RCMP, Toronto police, and much of the media have been doing since the arrest of seventeen terrorist suspects in Ontario last weekend. Finally, a breath of fresh air in a sea of... well, I let you decide what after reading this column:

Ignoring the biggest elephant in the room

I drove back from yesterday's news conference at the Islamic Foundation of Toronto in the northeastern part of the city, but honestly, I could have just as easily floated home in the sea of horse manure emanating from the building.

So frequent were the bald reassurances that faith and religion had nothing -- nothing, you understand -- to do with the alleged homegrown terrorist plot recently busted open by Canadian police and security forces, that for a few minutes afterward, I wondered if perhaps it was a vile lie of the mainstream press or a fiction of my own demented brain that the 17 accused young men are all, well, Muslims.

But no. I have checked. They are all Muslims.

Barely two days after the nighttime raids that saw 15 of the accused arrested (the remaining two, in Kingston, conveniently were already in the joint on gun charges), the great Canadian self-delusion machine was up and running at full throttle.

Why, it's not those young men -- with their three tonnes of ammonium nitrate and all the little doohickeys of the bomb-making trade -- who posed the threat. No sir: They, thank you so much, are innocent until proved otherwise and probably innocent and, if convicted, it's because of the justice system.

It's those bastard vandals (probably crazed right-wing conservatives, or maybe the Jews) who yesterday morning broke windows at a west-end mosque who stand before us as the greatest danger to Canadian society.

As Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who came to the building to offer his assurances that Muslims and Muslim institutions will be protected, said at one point: "Hatred in any form and certainly in its expression in violence and damage to property will not be tolerated."

Thank God: Windows everywhere in Canada's largest city are safe, especially windows in mosques. The war on windows will be won, whatever the cost.

Such is the state of ignoring the biggest, fattest elephant in the room in this country that at one point Chief Blair actually bragged -- this in answer to a question from the floor -- "I would remind you that there was not one single reference made by law enforcement to Muslim or Muslim community" at the big post-arrest news conference on Saturday.

Indeed, law-enforcement types there took enormous pains to say just the opposite: The arrested men are from a diverse variety of backgrounds ("They're students, they're employed, they're unemployed" one official said, which is akin to running the gamut from A to oh, C); they come from all parts of Canadian society; blah, blah, blah.

Even before I knew for sure that they're all Muslims, I suspected as much from what I saw on the tube, perhaps because I am a trained observer, or you know, because I have eyes.

The accused men are mostly young and mostly bearded in the Taliban fashion. They have first names like Mohamed, middle names like Mohamed and last names like Mohamed. Some of their female relatives at the Brampton courthouse who were there in their support wore black head-to-toe burkas (now there's a sight to gladden the Canadian female heart: homegrown burka-wearers darting about just as they do in Afghanistan), which is not a getup I have ever seen on anyone but Muslim women.

And from far outside the courthouse, if the Muslim question wasn't settled, there was the likes of Scarborough Imam Aly Hindy telling the Toronto Star that: "Because they are young people and they are Muslims, they are saying it is terrorism."

Now look, of course it is a good thing that Chief Blair, who is a wonderful guy, made the trek out to Scarborough yesterday.

It's even good that he told local Muslims that their places of worship will get extra patrols and that if anyone wearing traditional beards or the hijab is hassled, the police will investigate and treat it seriously.

The chief is right that now, as in the aftermath of 911 (talk about property damage), that all of us have to be particularly tolerant of one another.

And he is also right that there is a distinction, though in my view it may be a distinction without a difference, between terrorism motivated purely by religious zealotry, and terrorism, as was the alleged case with these 17 mostly young men, motivated by political ideology -- even if the ideology seems to have been nothing more than the ideology of rage fuelled by overseas conflicts.

And it should go without saying -- but it never, ever can in this country, and must be shrieked at every turn -- that this whole business is as at least as distressing to the vast majority of good, peaceable Canadian Muslims as it is to everyone else.

But what came clear at that meeting yesterday, which was an odd mix of community venting and news conference, is that many of those people who went to the microphone to ask questions, and some of those who answered them from the podium, are far more concerned about a possible anti-Muslim backlash to the arrests than they are about the allegations that a whole whack of their young people were bent on blowing something up in the city; that they are generally worked up about Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and the Americans in Iraq, and that even as they talk about Islam being a religion of peace, they do not sound or appear particularly peaceable.

Only one question from the floor, this from a young man, really dared to depart from the convention of deploring the supposed coming anti-Muslim backlash and the idea of Muslim as victim.

He asked what the imams were doing to ensure that the sort of violent views that allegedly motivated the homegrown terrorists were not allowed to "become entrenched in our community."

Sheikh Husain Patel answered him. "It is important we educate our young brothers," he said.
He mentioned a series of conflicts overseas, including Iraq and Palestine, then said: "You cannot justify a legal goal by using illegal means. The politics of overseas should not be addressed in a violent manner in Canada."

That did not ring in my ears as a renunciation of violence per se, but as a renunciation of violence in this country.

I wondered if the answer had satisfied the young man who asked the question, but I lost him in the crowd afterward.

The war on windows, though -- that goes well.

No comments: