*** A great article. As usual. MS ***
There is endless fodder for jokes, from the RCMP’s name for the investigation — Project Samosa — to speculation about the doctor-terrorism-suspect moonwalking into court.
The arrests this week of four men police say were involved in a bomb plot — or in the words of one investigator, were hoping to bring the war in Afghanistan here — seem both chilling and ridiculous.
While none of the allegations has been proven in court, even trying to fathom that 28-year-old pathologist and failed Canadian Idol contestant Dr. Khurram Sher could be part of a terrorism conspiracy is difficult.
Soon after Sher’s arrest early Thursday, a YouTube clip of him awkwardly singing and dancing across a Montreal stage for the reality show aired around the world.
But those who study or investigate what police common refer to as “homegrown terrorism” caution against dismissing cases that appear too absurd to be true.
“On the surface, it appears completely counterintuitive. It appears these people have bought into the Canadian or Western dream, or whatever you call it,” said Michael King, a McGill University PhD student researching the psychology of radicalization.
“But for me, as a psychologist anyway researching this, it almost makes sense, because there seems to be a personality characteristic that predisposes people to radicalize — and that is sensation-seeking.”
That certainly was true for some of the young Muslim men who had been romanced by the idea of waging a holy war at home and were recently convicted in the case of the so-called Toronto 18.
A psychiatric report for ringleader Zakaria Amara noted that his spiritual ideal of jihad “stagnated, hardened and sank into self-aggrandizing bravado. The daily drudgery of working in dead-end, low-paying jobs helped create an intellectually stunted environment. Internet jihad videos became more exciting and their causes more urgent.”
It is too early yet to get a clear picture of Sher (friends say he auditioned for Canadian Idol as a joke), or know his alleged level of involvement in the plot, or if there is evidence to support police claims.
But whatever the outcome in this case, terrorism’s theatre of the absurd does not seem that uncommon anymore.
Consider the recent release of the English magazine from a Yemen-based group. Called Inspire, the slick 67-page magazine from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is like a terrorist’s Cosmopolitan with helpful hints on how to encrypt messages, environmental tips from Osama bin Laden, and from Al Qaeda’s “chef,” a feature entitled, “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom.”
Ridiculous, of course, but AQAP is now considered one of the most influential Al Qaeda affiliates and claimed they trained the so-called underwear bomber who nearly brought down a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day.
Since AQAP’s membership is largely Yemen-based, Arabic-speaking and with presumably little access to the Internet, the group is likely trying to reach out to a wider circle of Western recruits with their magazine.
Gavin Cameron, a University of Calgary political science professor and past president of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies, says the magazine is an example of the “filtration” process for recruitment — something commonly used by terrorist groups.
“It’s basically how you build or sustain a belief community. You draw people in, you have lots of articles to further your perspective in a relatively mainstream way,” he said. (MS: Wow, sounds just like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck)
“The next stage of the filtration process is maybe now a little more extreme, so you’re winnowing down the group.”
How to stop that process of recruitment or radicalization is what still confounds security officials and community leaders. Some point to the media's coverage of the terrorism cases as part of the problem.
Imam Hamid Slimi, Chair of the Canadian Council of Imams, says he would like to see the end of what he calls the “demonization of Muslims.”
“Unfortunately, when a man is arrested with a machete and chainsaw on the highway in Toronto it’s not called terrorism . . . but when a Muslim person does something it’s Islam, it’s terrorism,” he said.
Two weeks ago the Canadian Council of Imams issued a one-page declaration stating that human life is more sacred than religious law. It’s the first time the Muslim leaders of a country have signed such a declaration and while it garnered much international attention, Slimi said it received little coverage in Canada. (Absolutely right on point. Another example: a 600-page fatwa against terror only get a headline - it should be published and made available widely)
“It’s only the bad news that’s covered,” he said.
King agreed that much of what seems to radicalize is the perception of a war against Islam.
“That’s a hard narrative to fight right now,” he says. “We have boots on the ground in Afghanistan, the West invaded Iraq, we didn’t recognize the elected government in Palestine. How do we fight this narrative?”
King said news reports that glorify or sensationalize terrorist plots only helps to recruit others.
“The media might play a role in helping radicalize others by taking these goofy cases and using words like operatives, ‘covertly trying to do this, or that,’ adding a more serious, sinister, cool, more glamorized image.”
The best way to fight it, he suggest, is to satirize it.
“I personally don’t think we can fight this narrative . . . instead, make them look like idiots.” (MS: Notwithstanding their amazing ability to do quite a good job of them all by themselves. Families not laughing. Community is not laughing. )