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Youth, faith and extremism: the Faith Exchange panel talks about keeping young people engaged (REUTERS)
Youth, faith and extremism: the Faith Exchange panel talks about keeping young people engaged (REUTERS)

FAITH EXCHANGE

Is religious faith the cure for terrorism? Add to ...

Howard Voss–Altman: Thank you, Sikander. Very well said.

Matt Wilkinson: The minority identity issue is something we, even on this panel, need to be cautious of. The worse thing we can do is to paint all young people as one way or paint one religion in one light or lump all of youth culture as one element – the diversity within each of these areas is something we need to realize. When I am in dialogue with a Muslim friend, a Jewish friend or a Christian friend – am I seeing them as human beings, fearfully and wonderfully created, or do I see them through a clouded lens of decisions made by individuals within their faith? I think all faiths have dark elements in our histories, things we are not proud of and would rather not be part of our faith ancestry, but they are. The decision we have now, and young people have today, is: Who are we going to be going forward? How are we going to see one another? In the Christian scriptures, it is said that we will be known by our love; that is the hope that I have for the generation now – that they be known by their love, not just for like-minded people, but for all humanity.

Guy Nicholson: So much attention has been focused on Islamic teaching since the rise of al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks. How much priority have Muslim faith leaders in the West come to put on addressing this issue? And how widely have these efforts come to be understood by other communities?

Lorna Dueck: In this post 9/11 world, I have seen more efforts for faith communities to understand each other, and to work together on youth pressure points. Youth groups in my tradition do get educated about other faiths, and encouraged in community with them. There is some natural cohesion since, in a youth media world dominated by money, clothes and sex, this minority band of youths with religious parents know they are different. It makes sense when there has been experience. When kids see honest love, acts of kindness and relationship, that rings right with teachings that God is love.

Sikander Hashmi: I think initially, there was some denial and hesitance in confronting the issues. Sure, there were condemnations of the 9/11 attacks but it took time for many leaders to realize that the way Islamic teachings were being interpreted and portrayed was something that needed to be addressed. Part of it was because our faith was being hijacked to commit horrific acts of violence but also because of the Islamophobia and mistrust that was being fuelled as a result. Today, I think it is definitely a priority for many Muslim leaders in the West.

Sheema Khan: With respect to the role of Muslim leaders post-9/11, I would say that there have been four chronological phases, at least in Canada.

Immediately after 9/11, there was a basic issue of defending the community against a backlash. And there was a backlash: vandalism against mosques and Islamic schools and property, physical and verbal assaults, taunting in schools etc.

After that had subsided came the news of the rendition of Maher Arar, and the complicity of our government in this sordid affair. This set back relations between the community and the security services/government quite a bit. How do you encourage youths to co-operate with police in light of such an event (and also, complicity in the rendition of three other Canadians)?

The third phase came with the high-profile arrests of the Toronto 18, and what really brought this case home was the open trial in which evidence was available for all to see. Perhaps this was the case that served as the catalyst for community leaders to address the issue of extremism head-on, within a Canadian context. Right after 9/11, imams unequivocally condemned the terrorist attacks in their sermons. After the Toronto 18, the issue was addressed again, but with more of an emphasis towards the youths and their roles and responsibilities here in Canada.

The fourth phase has to do with cultural clashes (the niqab , honour killings etc.) here, and how to be proud of one’s faith while being Canadian. More needs to be done on this front. We need to let youths know that their Canadian identity and experience is part and parcel of who they are, and nothing to be ashamed of. There are wonderful aspects of Canadian culture that are also true to Islamic principles. We must encourage youths to explore this identity and impress upon them that they are not expected to foster an identity from overseas.

Guy Nicholson: That’s all the time we have today – thank you, all, for your time and thoughts.

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