05/15/2013 12:23 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

The Best Way Muslims Can Counter Terrorism


Troubling details about the thwarted Via Rail terror plot continue to emerge as officials investigate the matter further. Now we learn that the Tunisian suspect Chiheb Esseghaier wanted to inflict the maximum damage on unsuspecting populations by contaminating the air and water with bacteria to murder at least 100,000 innocent people. Fortunately for us, the idea was dismissed by Esseghaier and his alleged accomplices, perhaps for lack of know-how or resources.

The RCMP, FBI and CSIS are all working diligently to protect the public from such monstrous agendas. However, something must also be done to counter this evil at the idelogical level, where plots to murder innocents are hatched. Attitudes and ideas give rise to conspiracy theories or Muslim anger toward the West. These ideas must be challenged and countered as an important part of any counterterrorism strategy.

As a member of the Muslim community, I know very well the Islamist narrative on the issue of militancy. It prevents even moderate Muslims from condemning terror in the forthright manner it requires. Most ascribe the desire to murder unknown people to "root causes" which justify the unjustifiable or at least to explain the inexplicable. And those are the moderates. The more extreme are convinced shadowy state agents are actually behind terror attacks. Some of these conspiracy theories publicized by local Muslim groups, reinforce an existing narrative of conspiracy that is readily bought by a disturbing number of people.

Drone bombings in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan are often cited as "root causes" of terror. But can terror be equated with drone attacks? The reasonable answer is that it cannot, because only a propagandist would suggest that tragic civilian casualties caused by drone attacks are deliberate. Drone attacks target militants, the very same medievalists who stone women, who kill mercilessly over perceived insults to Islam, who murder other Muslims, who attack teenage girls for wanting to get an education. Any dreadful accident with stray drones cannot be equated with terrorist attacks. Yet this feeble case for moral equivalence forms part of the narrative which even moderate Muslims accept.

Such warped moral parallels have prevented Muslims and their non-Muslim apologists from acknowledging that terror is never justified. Nor will it do to claim that terrorists are not true Muslims, because peace is at the core of Islam. We cannot define our faith by the way its noblest followers behave. Religion can bring out the best and the worst in people.

Only when Muslims drop the false narrative of moral equivalence and acknowledge Islamic terror will the extremists see themselves marginalized. Only through a truly moderate grassroots movement can the curse of Islamic terror be eradicated.

We must be grateful to the courageous imam who tipped off the RCMP on our own foiled plot, but unfortunately the false narrative that the West conspires to kill Muslim innocents has clouded the judgment of most Muslims here and abroad. It is time to shed such notions, to eschew not only violence itself but unfounded explanations for violence. That would be true moderation. The true moderates must step up their efforts. They must be watchful about any tendencies in their midst toward radicalization and attempt to counter such egregious agendas before they do any damage.

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