By Mubin Shaikh, PhD Candidate in Psychology (radicalization, extremism, and terrorism), University of Liverpool; M.A. in Policing, Intelligence, and Counter-terrorism, Macquarie University.
In the discourse on violent extremism associated to Muslims, one important aspect that tends to be forgotten is the positive role that the Muslim community plays in preventing terrorism. A common myth is that “Muslims don’t do enough” and such views are the direct result of the public being unaware of efforts in this context. This short post will attempt to shed some light on this to generate a more informed view of the topic.
The two agencies most active in this sense include the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Integrated National Security Enforcement Team. Most of what CSIS does is never publicized and there is good reason for this. However, much of what is accomplished cannot be done without the involvement of the Muslim community. This is mostly related to Confidential Human Sources that do the actual spying and risk their lives and reputation to go undercover in radicalized and extremist groups. Muslim Intelligence Officers and analysts also contribute to the safety of Canada by managing and directing these investigations alongside their colleagues from the various backgrounds that work together in this arena of national security in Canada.
Similarly, the RCMP conducts analysis on radicalization as well as employs Muslim officers and specialized community outreach officers who are directly engaged with important stakeholders in the community. If you look at the case of the Toronto 18, which was Canada’s first major example of domestic radicalized individuals engaged in terrorism offences, it was a religiously-motivated Muslim operative from CSIS who traversed to the RCMP as a Police Agent and gave testimony over 4 years in 5 legal hearings. In the case of the recent VIA Rail plot, the information was again, generated from the Muslim community – a religious leader (Imam) who contacted the authorities. This information regarding community-driven intelligence only comes to light when cases go public and it is worth noting that much of this work is done behind the scenes and unbeknownst to the public. However, due to the superficial manner in which media tends to cover these cases, such important information is overlooked.
As the impetus for developing greater community relations grows, CSIS’ efforts in this continue to remain secret. However, it is known that some of their activities include approaching individuals or youth (along with their parents) of activities that have come under the investigation of CSIS. Sometimes, just having Intelligence Officers show up at the door is enough to make most people (and youth) cease their activities. Other times, the investigation continues on and where criminal offences are intended, the file is moved to the RCMP as per their mandate to collect evidence of criminal wrongdoing. In such a case, the RCMP may attempt to disrupt the activities by showing the individual evidence of their actions and stop them this way. In cases where these disruption efforts are not successful, a full criminal investigation will be pursued and charges will be laid for prosecution in open court. This is just a basic explanation of some of the activities the agencies engage in alongside the community.
Recently, the RCMP has started to reach out proactively thanks to the efforts of the Muslim community and in the City of Toronto. Recently, a “Junior Police Academy” was held that included Muslim children who were given demonstrations by the Toronto Police and RCMP. This included doing foot drill with the RCMP, showing off the police dog, running an obstacle course and even playing with the sirens of the police car. The children were overjoyed at the opportunity and these sorts of activities which foster positive interactions with police are just a sample of what we hope to see much more of in the future regarding the support of religious and other communities pertaining to public safety in Canada.
- Is there enough public awareness of Muslim community involvement in preventing violent extremism – how does this affect the public perception in regards to this community?
- What else can government agencies do to better ingratiate themselves as effective stakeholders in the context of national security? How can they get over the “trust” issue – why do such issues even exist?
- If Islamic ideology is identified as a driver for violent extremism, shouldn’t any counter-extremism narrative also necessitate the use of pro-social interpretations of ideology? Why do you think there might be some reluctance to engage at this level – do we even have the luxury of reluctance at this point?