Yesterday, the first budget of the Liberal government was tabled at the House of Commons and released to the public.
Amid several new programs targeting the middle class and infrastructure funds announced, the government also put some money to tackle what they called "Counter- radicalization". These tasks will be conducted by the Co-ordinator of the office of the Community Outreach and Counter- radicalization. For this, the office will receive $3 million dollars this year and up to $10 million dollars in the next years.
The details about this program are still unclear but what do the government mean by counter-radicalization? Who will be targeted? Or is this another fishing expedition among some already targeted communities trying to gather more information about them and add to the prevailing sense of surveillance?
Immediately, after 9/11 attacks, the Arab and Muslim communities started receiving the "visits" of RCMP officers and CSIS agents asking them about their opinions on the Middle-East, about their religious beliefs, about their friends and what they know about them. Some of these "visits" were conducted at the workplace. At that time, no body spoke about radicalization, as if it was assumed that the targeted individuals came to Canada already "radicalized." The Muslim community was perceived on the "bad" side of the fight. They were always considered as not doing enough.
After, the Maher Arar case became public and the Public Inquiry conducted by Justice O'Connor, things took another turn, nationally and internationally. The Public Safety department started a new initiative called "the Cross Cultural Round Table on Security". I don't how efficient this initiative was and how many terrorist attacks it has prevented but it was undeniably a PR tool to build bridges with some handpicked members of the Muslim Community. The new picture became: the Muslim Community was invited to the table. But, the perception remained: Muslim Community doesn't do enough.
On the ground, young people didn't pay attention at all to these political moves. They were busy on their smartphones or laptops hearing and watching other stories.
How is a new office of "counter-radicalization" is going to speak to la arge portion of disenchanted youth? The budget doesn't tell us how.
After the arrest of the Toronto 18, the focus of Security and Intelligence community seem to have shifted to the "radicalized youth". At that time, they were called the "home grown terrorists". Youth who grew up in Canada and seemed to have slipped under the radar of the Muslim community and the spying and police agencies. Youth, who former Prime Minister Harper mentioned last year in one of his speech as "whether they're in a basement, or whether they're in a mosque or somewhere else". The Conservative government even launched a national counter-radicalization program in 2014 to stop the number of Canadian youth joining ISIS.
So the question today that the Liberal is trying to answer "how can we talk to that the Muslim kid before he goes to his basement or his Mosque?"
And obviously, the reply comes with a "counter-radicalization" officer. The name changes and the philosophy of racial profiling remains the same.
It is indeed this targeting that would make some of the young Muslim or new Muslim feel that they are not connected to their community leaders or to their mosques. It is this feeling of alienation that is problematic. Simply, they don't recognize themselves in this picture. So they would listen more to other leaders on the Internet. It is this obsession and all the media sensationalism that we created in our societies about Islamic terrorism. An office of counter-radicalization will become another tool of stigmatization or another tool to allow some self appointed leaders of the Muslim community to speak about their views on the radicalization. The biggest concern is that this sort of initiative will become another spying program on the Muslim people where suspicion and rumours will become facts.
Yesterday's attacks in Brussels were conducted by Belgian citizens. Paris attacks in November were conducted by French citizens. Without justifying the killing of innocent people, we have to accept that many of these attackers grow up in marginalized communities filled with poverty, unemployment and a powerless sense about the injustice in the Middle-East. They didn't relate to their country of birth, they related more to violent speeches of leaders in Iraq and Syria. The meaning of belonging and identity are obviously being hijacked by globalization.
One common sentence heard many times from mothers of young people who had joined the ISIS fighters in the Middle East is " I didn't see this happening." Why an office of "counter-radicalization" would see it happening? It is unclear for me.
In the past decades, there were always ideologies that attracted young people. These ideologies used degrees of violence. Young Canadians were not exempt from them. Canadian joined militants groups in Franco's Spain, in Castro's Cuba or in Mao's China. They were not many and no office of counter radicalization was created.
Today, it is ISIS who is speaking to these youth. We should offer an alternative to that discourse.
Our role, as a society, is to offer hope, acceptance, opportunities, justice, and dreams to our youth. We have to offer new horizons for them. More spying, more security and more scrutiny won't be the solution.
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