In the months following 9/11, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said that rather than constantly ask ourselves, "Why do they hate us?", we should instead ask, "Why don't they see us for who we really are?"
I thought about that following the arrests of 17 Canadian terror suspects last weekend. Most were citizens of Canada, born and bred, or residents. The police who announced the dragnet were careful to say that the young males did not represent any specific ethnocultural group - though all are Muslim.
Toronto's mayor, David Miller, after commending the excellent work of Canada's security forces, wondered aloud why young people might get involved in terrorist activities. We need "strategies to try to prevent that from happening again," he said. His earnestness awed me. Can he truly believe there is some "thing" Canadians can do (hold a "Hands Across Canada" event?) to prevent this kind of occurrence?
Canada is not France. Canada's Muslim population is not marginalized out of fear and contempt, not left alone to manage its own affairs. Even though a Toronto mosque had its windows smashed following the arrests, that sort of thuggery and stupidity is not systemic or common. Canada's Muslims are not prevented from attending good schools or holding high-powered jobs. Nor are they, for the most part, unwilling or unable to fit in peacefully and productively. So the mayor's concern was misplaced. His comment should have been something along the lines of, "I wonder what Canada's Muslim leaders/moderate Muslim citizens can do to prevent this kind of thing in future?"
In countries like Canada, or England, or Spain, where citizens have been shocked by the news of home-grown cells, I believe more needs to be asked of Muslim religious and community leaders. Western Muslims are a powerful potential ally in the broader "war on terror." It is true that most Muslims are not terrorists. But we need Muslims themselves to admit that most of the terrorists who threaten us are Muslim.
Aly Hindy, a high-profile imam in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, called the arrests "an attack on the Muslim community." He went on to say that, "We are abusing our boys for the sake of pleasing George Bush." Rather than speaking out against extremism, or entertaining the notion that perhaps his country's security forces know what they're doing, Hindy called the charges against the men "home-grown baloney."
Even moderate Canadian Muslim groups, willing to show faith in Canada's justice system, are mitigating their statements. The Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) praised the work of Canada's spy agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But then they scolded the Canadian government for not funding "academic research to diagnose this serious social problem and provide scientific solutions to it." A scientific solution to Islamofascism? Bring it on.
The group also chastised Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper for portraying events "as a battle between 'us' and 'them.' " Following the arrests, Mr. Harper stated that "we are a target because of who we are. And how we live." One wonders - do the members of the CIC not consider themselves part of the "we" Harper referred to, when he spoke of Canadians? If so, that is indeed revealing.
The Muslim Canadian Congress fared only a tad bit better. They praised the police, and expressed dismay that members of their community might be guilty as charged. And then they managed to blame President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and even Harper for the fact that any such terror cells might exist. So far, only the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada (CAIR-CAN) has managed to issue a condemnation of terror, and praise of the police, without tacking on a "but," a "Bush," or a "Canadian troops in Afghanistan."
I was happily surprised at CAIR-CAN's press release. I shouldn't have been. We must expect that Western Muslims will wholeheartedly condemn Islamofascism, without any conditions placed on that condemnation. Without that, we may reach a point of divisions too deep to mend.
• Rondi Adamson is an award-winning Canadian journalist.