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Targeting Immigration Won't Confront The Sources Of Radicalization

01/31/2017 09:11 EST | Updated 01/31/2017 09:11 EST

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North and south of the Canada-U.S. border, we are having important debates about immigration, and also about radicalization.

I believe strongly that these are both worthwhile conversations -- but also that they are different conversations. Radicalization is the process of drawing someone into more extreme and violent views, now done most commonly through online communications. Although many groups responsible for radicalization self-identify as Muslim, radicalization does not only impact those who come from Muslim backgrounds.

Both attacks carried out in Canada in 2014 were by Canadian-born Canadian citizens, neither of whom were raised as Muslims. Some have assumed that policy changes with respect to immigration are the answer -- but this assumption ignores the realities on the ground.

This is not to suggest that we should not be concerned about the possibility of immigration by people with radical ideas. We should be, and we should have appropriate vetting procedures in place. But by and large Canada and the U.S. already have those procedures in place. Our principle problems in this case have resulted from the radicalization of people already here, not from the immigration of people with radical ideas.

The U.S. is pursuing policies aimed at sending a symbolic message, but in the process that may actually exacerbate the problem.

Certainly a country's immigration policy should be fundamentally informed by its security interests, but the undeniable reality is that radicalization is not a Muslim immigration problem any more than the spread of Soviet communism during the Cold War was a Russian immigration problem. We are in a real war with extreme and radical ideas, but it is an ideological war that must be fought on the grounds of radicalization.

Nobody proposed banning Russian immigration during the Cold War. At the time, it was understood that such a ban would most negatively impact defectors trying to get out, and also that international communism spread principally through ideological propagation, not through immigration. This was before the Internet.

The U.S. is pursuing policies aimed at sending a symbolic message, but in the process that may actually exacerbate the problem. They are denying access to those facing persecution (Muslims and non-Muslims alike), while providing fresh fuel to those propagandists in Daesh and elsewhere who want more Muslims to see themselves as invariably in conflict with the U.S. This U.S. policy is bad for political dissidents and religious minorities in the countries targeted, and it is bad for American security.

trump signs executive order immigration

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order to impose tighter vetting of travellers entering the United States, at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., Jan. 27, 2017. The executive order signed by Trump imposes a four-month travel ban on refugees entering the United States and a 90-day hold on travellers from Syria, Iran and five other Muslim-majority countries. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

When it comes to countering radicalization, Canadian policy has a different problem. While the U.S. is pursuing a response to radicalization which actually feeds the problem it is supposed to be addressing, the Canadian response of late has been to effectively deny the reality of the conflict that we are in.

Our government pulled Canadian jets out of the fight against Daesh and is seeking closer relations with Iran. Our government speaks of countering radicalization, without recognizing how Daesh and the Iranian regime must be confronted as the sources of radicalization. Using ineffective tactics will not help us prevail in the current conflict, but neither will pretending that it does not exist.

A better response to radicalization would be one that appreciates that immigration and radicalization are separate issues. It would be tougher than the Canadian response on the sources of radicalization, but also much more targeted than the blunt, thoroughly unsophisticated American response in terms of recognizing who actually needs to be confronted.

Abrogating our values does not strengthen us, it weakens us.

An effective response would seek to eradicate Daesh, to limit the influence of Iran, and to push the intensification of necessary reforms in Saudi Arabia, especially around their international education program. It would confront Daesh without simultaneously empowering extremists in Iran, or their allies in Damascus and Moscow.

A better response would also recognize that winning the cultural and ideological battle against radicalization requires us to build greater cultural confidence in our values of universal human dignity, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. A contagious strength and confidence in who we are, matched with a willingness to use the full range of tools (including our military) at the service of those values, will ensure our ultimate success.

Abrogating our values does not strengthen us, it weakens us. It is our belief in timeless and universal human values and our willingness to defend them that have made both Canada and the United States great societies.

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