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Malkin Dare

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How Publicly-Funded Religious Schools Could Stop Terrorism

Posted: 04/09/2013 12:19 pm

More homegrown Canadian terrorists -- this time, three seemingly-ordinary boys from London, Ontario.
• Aaron Yoon -- a Korean-Canadian Catholic who converted to Islam in his teens
• Ali Medlej -- a Lebanese-Canadian Muslim whose father had anglicized his name to Medley
• Xristos Katrisoubas -- a Greek-Canadian Orthodox Christian who converted to Islam in his teens

All three grew up in ordinary, middle class families. All three attended London South Collegiate Institute -- not exactly a hotbed of terrorist brain-washing and radicalization.

People used to worry that private Muslim schools would serve as incubators for terrorism, but it turns out that no known Canadian terrorist ever attended a private Muslim school. Instead, just like the latest batch of homegrown terrorists, all attended regular public schools.

So what is the path to terrorism if it doesn't travel through private Muslim schools?

According to Marc Sageman in his book Leaderless Jihad: Terror networks in the 21st century, "Contrary to popular belief, radicalization into terrorism is not the product of poverty, various forms of brainwashing, youth, ignorance, lack of education, lack of employment, lack of social responsibility, criminality, or mental illness."

Instead, Western radicalism appears to be triggered by an individual's feelings of alienation and a need for identity and purpose. Nascent terrorists tend to be misfits who are vulnerable to recruiters' efforts because they are rudderless, and they embrace radicalization in an effort to strengthen their own identities.

The question then becomes: how can we ensure that every Canadian student is so well-grounded -- so confident of his own identity and place in society -- that he is not easy prey for terrorist recruiters?
The answer may lie in the Dutch experience.

Not quite 100 years ago, Holland was riven by religious struggles between Protestants and Catholics, both of whom wanted their own fully-funded public schools.

In 1917, Dutch legislators got so fed up with all the fighting that they decided to allow any group of parents to start their own school and get public money to operate it. Today, about two-thirds of Dutch students attend a religious school.

The result? The country became much more peaceful and tolerant. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the proliferation of religious schools in Holland seems to have diminished the social impact of religion.

In her book God in the Classroom, Lois Sweet quotes Peter Batelaan, a Dutch teacher educator, as follows. "Flexibility -- a readiness to change the system to accommodate people -- undermines fundamentalism... If people feel rejected by a society, then religion becomes more of their identity, and that fosters fundamentalism. Here in the Netherlands, there's not much fundamentalism."

Contrast this with the experience of Manohar Singh Bal's son, as described in Lois Sweet's book. According to the father, a Toronto Sikh, his son experienced agony every day at his local public school because his hair -- which the Sikh religion forbids cutting -- was tied into a bun and covered with a white handkerchief. The other children laughed at him and called him a girl. But the child's parents refused to cave in and cut their son's hair, because their religion is very important to them.

This is not a recipe for a well-grounded adult who feels comfortable in his own skin. Ideally, the Bal boy would have been able to attend a public school where all the other little boys were accepting and tolerant of diversity, but few schools have yet achieved this ideal. Canada has made great strides in this direction, but unfortunately we still have a way to go in this area. While we await the end of school bullying, it would be better for Sikh kids like the Bal boy to be able to attend a school where all the other little boys have buns too.

Perhaps if Aaron Yoon, Ali Medlej and Xristos Katrisoubas had been able to attend schools where they felt welcomed and part of a larger community, they would be alive and well today. Instead, Ali and Xristos are dead (along with 38 hostages and 17 other terrorists) and Aaron is in jail in Mauritania.

Canada has a chance to show the world that it truly respects the cultural diversity of its citizens -- that it is truly a democratic pluralist society -- by making it possible for all of its citizens to send their children to schools that respect their religious and cultural needs.

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  • An unidentified rescued hostage speaks to the media in a hospital Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Assiaciated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • Unidentified rescued hostages pose for the media in Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Associated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • Algerian special police unit officers secure the hospital in Ain Amenas, Algeria, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, two days after the start of the terrorist attack at a gas plant. The hostage crisis in the remote desert of Algeria is not over, Britain said Friday, after an Algerian raid on the gas plant to wipe out Islamist militants and free their captives from at least 10 countries unleashed bloody chaos. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)

  • An unidentified rescued hostage receives treatment in a hospital in Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Associated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • An unidentified rescued hostage speaks to the media in a hospital in Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Associated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • This image from video provided by the SITE Intel Group made available Thursday Jan. 17, 2013, purports to show militant militia leader Moktar Belmoktar. Algerian officials scrambled Thursday Jan. 17, 2013 for a way to end an armed standoff deep in the Sahara desert with Islamic militants who have taken dozens of foreigners hostage, turning to tribal Algerian Tuareg leaders for talks and contemplating an international force. The group claiming responsibility — called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade — says it has captured 41 foreigners, including seven Americans, in the surprise attack Wednesday on the Ain Amenas gas plant. Algerian Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila said the roughly 20 well armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara. (AP Photo/SITE Intel Group) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS PICTURE. MANDATORY CREDIT: SITE Intel Group

  • This April 19, 2005 photo released by Statoil via NTB scanpix, shows the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. As Algerian army helicopters clattered overhead deep in the Sahara desert, Islamist militants hunkered down for the night in the natural gas complex they had assaulted Wednesday morning, killing two people and taking dozens of foreigners hostage in what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/Kjetil Alsvik, Statoil via NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT

  • This April 19, 2005 photo released by Statoil via NTB scanpix, shows the Ain Amenas gas field in Algeria, where Islamist militants raided and took hostages Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. As Algerian army helicopters clattered overhead deep in the Sahara desert, Islamist militants hunkered down for the night in the natural gas complex they had assaulted Wednesday morning, killing two people and taking dozens of foreigners hostage in what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/Kjetil Alsvik, Statoil via NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT

  • JGC Corporation, or Nikki Manager of public relations Takeshi Endo, foreground, answers reporters' questions following Wednesday's attack at a natural gas complex in Algeria which involves the company's workers, at its headquarters in Yokohama, near Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. A militant group that claimed responsibility said 41 foreigners were being held after the assault on one of oil-rich Algeria's energy facilities. Two foreigners were killed. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, NO LICENSING IN CHINA, HONG KONG, JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND FRANCE

  • Helge Lund

    Statoil Chief Executive Helge Lund answers questions about the situation in the gas field, jointly operated by BP, the Norwegian energy company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrachfield along with Japanese company JGC Corp., in Ain Amenas in Algeria during a press briefing in Stavanger, Norway, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. In a desert standoff deep in the Sahara, the Algerian army ringed the natural gas complex where Islamist militants hunkered down with dozens of hostages Wednesday night after a rare attack that appeared to be the first violent shock wave from the French intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/NTB Scanpix, Kent Skibstad) NORWAY OUT

  • Helge Lund

    Statoil Chief Executive Helge Lund answers questions about the situation in the gas field, jointly operated by BP, the Norwegian energy company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrachfield along with Japanese company JGC Corp., in Ain Amenas in Algeria during a press briefing in Stavanger, Norway, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. In a desert standoff deep in the Sahara, the Algerian army ringed the natural gas complex where Islamist militants hunkered down with dozens of hostages Wednesday night after a rare attack that appeared to be the first violent shock wave from the French intervention in Mali. (AP Photo/NTB Scanpix, Kent Skibstad) NORWAY OUT

  • STATOIL

    Statoil spokesman Ole Anders Skauby, centre right, talks to TV reporters outside Scandic Bergen Airport hotel where a drop-in center is established for relatives of hostages involved in the situation in Algeria. Militants are holding a number of foreigners hostages in the Sahara desert in revenge for Algeria's support of French efforts to remove Islamists from control of neighboring northern Mali. (AP Photo / Hakon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix) NORWAY OUT

  • An unidentified rescued hostage receives treatment in a hospital Ain Amenas, Algeria, in this image taken from television Friday Jan. 18, 2013. Algeria’s state news service says nearly 100 out of 132 foreign hostages have been freed from a gas plant where Islamist militants had held them captive for three days. The APS news agency report was an unexpected indication of both more hostages than had previously been reported and a potentially breakthrough development in what has been a bloody siege. (AP Photo/Canal Algerie via Assiaciated Press TV) ** TV OUT ALGERIA OUT **

  • Residents of Ain Amenas, Algeria, gather outside the hospital trying to get information concerning relatives wounded during the terrorist attack at the gas plant, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. The hostage crisis in the remote desert of Algeria is not over, Britain said Friday, after an Algerian raid on the gas plant to wipe out Islamist militants and free their captives from at least 10 countries unleashed bloody chaos. (AP Photo/Anis Belghoul)

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