A Pious Mole
Q-News, Issue 368
In the aftermath of the high-profile anti-terror arrests in Toronto earlier this year there were murmurings that behind the intelligence used to finger the 17 suspects, lurked a devout informant – a bearded, kurta-wearing spook who was able to get between the alleged plotters and their dastardly plans. Mudasser Ali reports on how Mubin Shaikh became the silver lining in the Muslim Canada’s stormy cloud.
The Muslim community in Toronto has been unanimous (officially at least) in its condemnation of the foiled alleged plans of 17 Muslims suspects to launch a potentially devastating terrorist attack in Canada. In an interesting twist, there had been angry whispers in some circles that on the day of the arrests, the media had refused to acknowledge the help of a fellow Muslim who has been instrumental in the investigation that lead to the arrests. This missing piece of information, they said, would have created a clear schism between ordinary Muslims who had nothing to do with this and an isolated band of lunatics, thereby sparing ‘the rest of us’ any potential backlash. Such talk was also evidence that elements within the Muslim community were fully aware that certain people were being watched and that there was a ‘mole’ amongst them. The disgruntled didn’t have long to wait.
On 13 July 2006, Mubin Shaikh, in an interview with senior journalist Linden McIntyre of the prime-time current affairs show The Fifth Estate, broadcast his role in the arrests while working as an informant for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service and, once the formal criminal investigation had commenced, as a paid-agent for Royal Canadian Mounted Police. To say that things had gotten interesting was an understatement: Shaikh’s intrigues sent shockwaves through the Muslim grapevine. If Shaikh’s aim was to bolster the Muslim image, mission accomplished.
A quick glance at the comments received by the CBC by non-Muslim Canadians on its website gave ample evidence that Shaikh had already become a hero of sorts and people were starting to make the long-awaited distinction between terrorism and Muslims. In one instance, someone had even praised Shaikh for showing the true meaning of patriotism to the rest of Canada.
Some time has passed and it now apparent that there is no actual consensus on what Muslims are saying about Mubin Shaikh. On one side, there are those who believe that Shaikh did his patriotic (some would argue Islamic) duty, citing the maxim that whether Muslim or not, a crime remains a crime regardless of who is committing it and that turning the criminal in is simply a no-brainer. On the other hand, people who disapprove of his actions cite the fact that Shaikh, more than an informant, was an agent of ‘entrapment’ who not only spurned the chance to wean the youth in question towards safety but furthermore, became the de-facto leader of the group essentially leading them into wrong-doing. Entrapment is often used in non-terrorist cases and it is by no means free of the ‘morally questionable’ label. “It’s going to depend on the disclosure and what role the operative played,” said Paul Copeland, a Toronto criminal lawyer representing one of the 17 accused, to the Hamilton Spectator. “It’s not appropriate for police to encourage a crime and then arrest those suspected of committing that crime.”
The courts will most definitely deal with this aspect of the case meticulously. It is an exercise in futility to discuss the specifics of this case over chai and biscuits for the simple fact that in the absence of publicly declared evidence, nobody really knows what happened. In regards to Shaikh’s decision of non-guidance in favour of getting the 17 arrested, most people arguing against his decision have, become self-anointed arbiters with an exclusive right to absolute moral judgment. This is even more dangerous when the criterion for this judgment happens to be media tidbits, urban myth and an outright disregard for the nuances of being employed by the federal government.
Of his critics, Saffiyah Ali, a blogger, activist and PhD student at the University of Toronto, has been the most prominent. Quoted eagerly by Daniel Pipes as the de facto Muslim response to Shaikh’s doings, her piece is a perfect case of empty rhetoric laced with misinformed, sheltered naivety. Not only does she manage to reassert the stereotypical alarmist Muslim response, but also does a splendid job of furthering the unfortunate hackneyed idea that Muslims see justice not universally but in a selfish and opportunistic way.
Ali proclaims, “All citizens have an obligation to report a terrorist plot to the police should they find out about it… But this type of informing is different from the kind whereby one actually seeks out suspicious members of the community, wins their confidence, infiltrates the group, appears to be in the game, and then betrays the trust of those individuals (and the wider community) in the process.” Too bad that the taboo variety of ‘informing’ Ali criticizes happens to be the very definition of espionage. One does not ‘find out’ about terror plots in the happy-go-lucky manner described above unless you are standing beside the charred remains of the Parliament buildings and happen to spot some bearded fellows. This is a case with many potential complications. Before rushing to judgment in the absence of empirical fact, one should at least have the courtesy to perform the Islamic duty of giving an apparently well-intentioned believer the benefit of doubt.
Looking at this from a pragmatic point of view, it becomes increasingly harder to mount a case that makes Shaikh out to be a malicious attention-monger who was in it for the money. Being eccentric does not make you immoral. Apart from being a respected community leader in the Keele-Eglinton area of Toronto and a conflict resolution specialist at the local Masjid El Noor, Shaikh is also Multiculturalism Chair for his local Liberal Party riding association. While not being sterling evidence of his innocence from the charges of mischievousness made against him, his profile stands in his defense. It makes little sense that Shaikh (while refusing court protection) would risk potential backlash – and the possibility of being an outcast – from the very community he aimed to help by revealing himself. There are easier ways to get famous.
Being unprincipled in times of tribulation – fitnah – can expose a community for lacking true mettle. The question that needs to be asked now is, why unnecessarily unload the burden of condemnation on the basis of a hunch? Leave the demonizing at the door and let the courts do their job. The defense is sure to diligently make use of the circumstances that point to entrapment. If Shaikh, and by extension, the government is found guilty of entrapment, the legal system will undoubtedly penalize the offender and clear the accused of any wrongdoing.
In the meantime, we should collectively chalk one up for the Muslims in Canada who were delivering a rare public relations triumph by a pious mole.