The most disturbing fact about the terrorism charge laid against Khurram Sher is not that he's so different from the rest of us but that he's so much like us. The guy could be your favourite son-in-law or your nicest neighbour - a smart, successful, considerate young doctor with three kids and a heart of gold. "Khurram wouldn't hurt a fly," insisted one long-time colleague.
Dr. Sher (who is, of course, innocent until proved guilty) is one of three men arrested last week and charged with conspiracy to facilitate an act of terrorism. He doesn't fit our mental picture of a would-be terrorist. He's not a disaffected kid who fell in with the wrong crowd. He's not a hate-filled product of poverty and disadvantage. He's not even a second-class citizen, such as France's French-born Muslims who speak with perfect Parisian accents but will never break into the elites. Instead, Dr. Sher's the product of Canada's uniquely successful multicultural meritocracy - a homegrown, ball-hockey-playing, fun-loving fellow who zipped through one of the toughest med schools in the country and made fun of religious Muslims on Canadian Idol.
Oh, well, so much for stereotypes. The depressing truth is that radicalized Muslims in the West often work in medicine, engineering or computer science. According to terrorism expert Marc Sageman, they're typically highly educated family men. They're quite sane. And they may not even be particularly religious.
It's nice to think that the roots of domestic radicalization must lie in discrimination, ignorance or social disadvantage. After all, that's something we can try to fix. But how do we fix this? How do we dissuade fully integrated Canadians from rejecting the essence of what Canada is all about?
Some people have the answer. It's our foreign policy, stupid! If only we stopped waging war in Afghanistan, kowtowing to the imperialist Americans and sucking up to Israel, then people wouldn't get so riled up they'd want to blow up Parliament. "The solution is … to stop being in denial that there is no connection between the wars we wage and the terrorist mayhem that they trigger," pronounced the Toronto Star's Haroon Siddiqui (among others). In other words, it, too, is our fault.
The trouble is, lots of people hate our foreign policy. Some of them even go to Afghanistan to fight on the other side. These people are usually Muslims who're convinced they're engaged in a worldwide war of jihad. And I suspect that our foreign policy has far less to do with inciting their murderous fantasies than does the seductive ideology of Islamism - widely available via the Internet and disseminated through radical Muslim groups at many of our finest universities. Far too many young Muslim Canadians, especially Pakistanis, are being whipped up into a frenzy to hate the very society that sustains them.
It's too bad that our elites are generally too timid to say this. They understandably don't want to demonize Muslims. But plenty of Muslims are too easily offended by the truth. Instead of acknowledging that there may be a problem in their communities, their first reaction is to circle the wagons and claim that all Muslims are being victimized. "Any Muslim male between 20 and 30 will now be a suspect," said one Montreal man gloomily. "It's very unfair," added Saira Rahman, a Winnipeg filmmaker. "You're demonizing communities again and creating a situation where everyone's guilty till proven innocent."
Yet, some people aren't afraid to tell the truth. And some of them are religious Muslims. Mohammed Shahid Shaikh, for example, runs programs in Toronto that are aimed at deradicalizing youth, pointing out the virtues of the West and teaching them the difference between religion and politics. He says, "There's more to come like this unless we do something about it."