Aug 27, 2016

Mark Bourrie: Deprogramming the jihadi

Mark Bourrie, Special to National Post | August 25, 2016 


To those who are involved and listen to this movie, this is in retaliation for Afghanistan and because Harper wants to send his troops to Iraq. So we are retaliating, the Mujahedin of this world. Canada’s officially become one of our enemies by fighting and bombing us and creating a lot of terror in our countries and killing us and killing our innocents. So, just aiming to hit some soldiers just to show that you’re not even safe in your own land, and you gotta be careful.

So, may Allah accept from us. It’s a disgrace you guys have forgotten God and have you let every indecency and things running your land. We don’t, we don’t go for this. We are good people, righteous people, believers of God and believing his law and his Prophets, peace be upon them all. That’s my message to all of you in this, Inshallah, we’ll not cease until you guys decide to be a peaceful country and stay to your own and I — and stop going to other countries and stop occupying and killing the righteous of us who are trying to bring back religious law in our countries. Thank you.

— Michael Zehalf-Bibeau in his video message to Canadians, filmed a few minutes before he shot up Parliament Hill.

It’s such a Canadian thing, to say “thank you” to the people you tried to murder.

Kristel Peters was pushing her nine-month-old baby past Canada’s National War Memorial on her way to visit her husband at a downtown Ottawa construction project when the world went crazy. “I saw a man who seemed to me dressed in black,” she told a reporter many months later. “He had a big rifle. I thought that it was a show until I realized that a person fell at the time.”

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was standing over Canadian army reservist Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, firing bullet after bullet into his back. Cirillo, wearing the kilt of Cameron Highlanders, was a ceremonial guard at the memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at its base. The Canadian military had opposed the idea of posting unarmed guards at the monuments, saying they would attract this kind of attack, but Stephen Harper’s government had insisted on it after a drunk had urinated on the War Memorial during a Canada Day street party. Cirillo could not defend himself and his partner, also carrying an empty rifle, could not save him. The wounded man tried to crawl away and find shelter at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but Zehaf-Bibeau kept following and firing into the corporal’s back. When it was clear Cirillo was dying, Zehaf-Bibeau turned toward the Langevin Block, the building that’s home to the Prime Minister’s office, and shouted the word “Iraq.” Peters, the 35-year-old mother, finally realized what was happening, turned in terror and ran toward a place she thought would be safe: Parliament Hill.

Canada was lucky that the man who attacked the nation’s parliament was as inept as Zehaf-Bibeau. He had scouted the Parliament building before his attack, but he didn’t really know his way around. When he did storm the building, he ran in the one direction where there are rarely politicians: toward the library. If he had come an hour earlier, he would have stumbled across almost every member of Parliament and senator as they walked into two giant meeting rooms for their weekly caucus meetings. He would also have come across a mass of reporters trying to “scrum” the politicians.

There had been no increase in the level of security on Parliament Hill after the murder, just two days before, of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent by Muslim convert and self-styled jihadi Martin Couture-Rouleau. He and another soldier were run over near the military base at St- Jean-sur-Richelieu, just south of Montreal. Both these attacks were inspired by the call sent out through (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s) propaganda machine to attack the West. It’s likely Bibeau and Couture-Rouleau had been inspired by a call to arms made by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, ISIL’s chief spokesman, in late September, 2014. Certainly, ISIL’s propaganda machine wanted people to think so. Al-Adnani was reacting in a rage to Allied bombing of ISIL military and economic targets. He wanted jihadis who hadn’t yet made the trek to ISIL territory to lash out against Western targets.

In a 42-minute audio speech posted on the Internet and linked to by ISIL’s Twitter and Facebook network, al-Adnani urged ISIL supporters to kill Canadians, Americans, Australians, the French and other Europeans. It didn’t matter if they were civilians or soldiers.

Does Canada do enough to diffuse radicalism and prevent its nationals from travelling to failing states to join extremists? The answer is obvious.

In February 2015, Lorne Dawson, co-director of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS), told a Senate committee examining security threats to this country that Canadian police and policy makers simply don’t understand jihadi recruitment well enough to create effective counter-measures. At about the same time, Conservative senator Daniel Lang told delegates to a public policy conference, “We need to recognize that radicalized thoughts lead to radicalized actions.” Dawson told the senators that extremists can be found fairly easily, but it’s far more difficult to predict which ones will actually break the law. Research on radicalization, Dawson said, shows very few radicalized people will ever have anything to do with violence. Most draw spiritual sustenance from their religion without feeling a need to kill for it.

But attacks by extremists seem to generate interest in Islam as a go-to religion/political cause for people who are dissatisfied and who don’t feel attracted to the anarchism of groups like Black Bloc. The imam of Ottawa’s largest mosque reported 15 to 20 young people approached him for conversion to Islam in the first few weeks after the attack on Parliament Hill.

Amarnath Amarasingam, one of Canada’s leading researchers on ISIL recruitment, says ISIL’s claim to be the new caliphate offers Muslims and non-Muslims an intriguing and exciting new project. It “was seen as the fulfillment of a prophecy … It became incumbent on Muslims around the world to fight for this and build the new fledgling state. “Those who join are looking for “significance, meaning and belonging.”

Ottawa imam Imtiaz Ahmed said Muslims need to watch for trouble in their own congregations: “If we hear someone expressing sympathy for ISIL, we should tell the authorities. We don’t want these young men to hurt themselves or their fellow Canadians. We have seen new converts going abroad. (Ottawa jihadi John) Maguire looks intelligent, and he got good grades in university. What makes him think what he is doing is right? Who would have thought that the proverbial boy next door could become a radical militant? Obviously he is getting ideas from somewhere — at university or on the Internet. We have to find out where. But these people have an agenda of harming Canadians and harming our country, so we should be the first to report them.”

People in the counter-jihad business have spent a lot of time and money looking at ways to identify radicalized young people and de-program them. They see radical Islam as a cult that cleverly recruits troubled and bored people, isolates them and exploits them. Jocelyn Bélanger, a psychology professor at Université du Québec à Montréal, studies de-radicalization. He advised the Senate National Security Committee to advise the government to come up with policies that don’t treat radicalized young people as potential criminals or psychiatric patients, but as people with social needs that have not been met.

Canada does have some historical experience dealing with young people who grew up steeped in a radical, violent philosophy. The country was dotted with prisoner of war camps during the Second World War. Canadian soldiers and propaganda experts waged a tough war with hard-core Nazis to win over German soldiers. It wasn’t easy. At first, the Canadians tried segregating the prisoners, weeding out the most diehard Nazis. That did not work. Canadians also, with the help of anti-Nazi PoWs, wrote propaganda and distributed it in camps. PoWs were also shown films and made to sit through speeches. None of those tactics worked, either. The only prisoners who seemed to change were the men who were taken out of the camps to work on farms and logging camps across the country. Not only did they realize they’d been lied to by the German propaganda machine, many of them liked Canada so much that they immigrated to this country in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Some even chose to live in remote northern Ontario towns close to their now-closed PoW camps.

Many parents of Westerners who have joined jihadi groups would like to see some efforts directed at deprogramming. They say police only see jihadi recruitment as a crime problem. So far, the deprogramming — treating people on the road to extremism as though they have been seduced by a cult, and trying to help them understand and resist what’s happening to them — has taken place very sporadically. Not only do most activists and agencies lack the money for long and expensive interventions, they have to accept the fact that someone who reads jihadi literature and agrees with it has committed no crime. People have a right to their religious beliefs, and many of the rights we have were won by people who refused to conform to the beliefs of the prevailing sources of power and moral authority.

The RCMP has to balance factions within Canada’s Islamic community. They also have to build trust with people who feel pressured by mainstream media, right-wing antagonists, and even some Muslim converts. Calgary imam Syed Soharwardy says police haven’t made a dent in ISIL recruitment, which he calls brainwashing. “Why has intelligence failed to stop them? Who funded them? This is a very important question. A national enquiry would be able to find that out.” Soharwardy’s hard line attracted the attention of John Maguire, who sent him threatening Facebook messages in August 2014, calling him a deviant Muslim supporting an infidel government. “He said, ‘Syed Soharwadry, shame on you; you are a deviant imam; you are supporting an infidel government and shame on you. We are fighting for Islam and we are trying to establish the Islamic government, and you are misguiding people.’ ”

Excerpted from The Killing Game: Martyrdom, Murder and the Lure of Isis, by Mark Bourrie. Patrick Crean Editions, HarperCollins Canada 2016. Reprinted with permission.


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