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Harper Shows Greater Toughness Towards Terrorists Than Obama

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A voice from the counterterror heavens?

Is that the meaning of Prime Minister Harper's recent surprise statement on CBC Television? It certainly is a refreshing acknowledgement of what has been said by many specialists about the escalating terror threat facing Canadians.

Mr. Harper's reported straight talk on CBC television will give hope to Canadians and others increasingly worried about Canada's capacity to deal with the growing counterterror challenge.

With this contribution, Harper has wrenched himself loose from the kind of self-imposed stymying that has characterized the Obama administration's ambiguous language -- and focus -- in Islamist counterterrorism.

This is no small thing. The prime minister knew to a certitude that Canada's Muslim Brotherhood front organizations would react to clear talk with predictably hyperinflated Islamic victimhood narratives.

Despite this, Harper dared to define some of his terms. Sure, he said, there are other foes. Look at the Norway massacre. But for now, the "main enemy," as Soviet intelligencers might once have put it, is what the prime minister calls "Islamicism" and "Islamic terrorism." There is no suggestion that Muslims or Islam are the problem.

At a dangerous time, the White House has, in contrast, blunted some of its counterradicalization and counterterrorism momentum by avoiding, to an almost self-parodyingly pathological degree, a specific definition of its global and internal enemy: Islamic extremism. U.S. officials appear to be under pressure not to use the "I" or "M" words, and to avoid looking even at those scriptural aspects of extremist-Islamic doctrine that terrorists have boasted as their guides in recruiting, planning, targeting and killing. This self-denying approach persists, despite determined protests from moderate American Muslims, such as retired U.S. naval officer Dr M. Zuhdi Jasser, President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

To be sure, there is something contrived about the CBC interview. The Prime Minister's Office presumably wanted a stage for a significant announcement. And the CBC is taking us through a publicity striptease that will end only when the full interview is broadcast on Thursday night. In the meantime, what an announcement.

But whether the prime minister can make good on his remarks -- and its package of promises -- remains to be seen. After all, this government has an uneven record with respect to public safety and national security, including unparalleled immigration from high-risk regions.

Harper undertakes to disinter Anti-Terrorism Act legal provisions that were allowed to "sunset" years ago, under pressure of various activists. Brief periods of preventive detention will be reinstituted in law for certain terror suspects, as will special proceedings enabling judges to force answers from those suspected of having information about pending attacks. With appropriate safeguards, these would be important aids in the terror struggle.

The Islamist lobby will respond forcefully, as will conscientious lawyers with important concerns about the constitutional implications of such criminal law innovations. So, also, the high command of one or two brand-name human rights' organizations that never met a threat assessment they could support.

The clincher, however, will be the judiciary, a group destined to be drawn into the fray. Will Harper's expected new provisions pass constitutional muster? Much depends on the law's drafting and whether judges grasp the extent of the domestic and transnational threat to Canadians. And whether, of course, courts are willing to build a realistic understanding of the threat into the delicate balance between security and civil liberties that the constitution calls upon them to strike.

If the courts take a wrong turn, this prime ministerial positioning could be for naught, at least with regard to the proposed provisions. Either way, however, there remains ample room for the Harper Government to launch other initiatives aimed at securing Canada's national security.

These should include resolution of immigration issues; rejection of excessive religious and other "accommodation" aimed at reinforcing fundamentalism; engaging with high-profile Muslim moderates, such as public intellectuals Dr. Salim Mansur, Mrs. Raheel Raza and Dr. Farzana Hassan; and vigorously contesting the misleading Islamist victimhood narrative from which violence has so often sprung.