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October 31, 2002: Globe and Mail columnist Sheema Khan. Photo by Dave ChanDAVE CHAN/Handout

Imagine two billiard balls hurtling toward each other. After colliding, they travel in opposite directions. The balls are interdependent, their combined trajectory governed by the laws of physics.

Now imagine the oft-colliding principles of security and civil liberties. Recently, we have seen a seemingly divergent series of events related to both. On the one hand, civil liberties have been reaffirmed during the precipitous demise of the security certificate regime. On the other hand, security has triumphed with the rapid sequence of guilty pleas to terrorism charges by Muslim youths. Yet, both sets of events are governed by principles enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The overriding principle of justice is often overlooked by those who see the dynamic between security and civil liberties as a zero-sum game. Security hawks give short shrift to human rights; others see discrimination behind every arrest.

Since 9/11, many Muslims felt the pendulum swayed excessively to the side of security. They have worked alongside human-rights activists and the courts to shift the balance toward civil liberties. However, the principles of justice and their faith demand vigilance against both rights abuses by government and security threats from extremists within their own community. A disproportionate amount of attention has been paid to the former. This must change.

Widespread skepticism of the terrorist threat is far too common among Muslims. Community leaders need to take this threat seriously and warn the faithful of its danger. Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and author of Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century , argues that al-Qaeda ideology has inspired a generation of dispersed aspiring terrorists, linked by the Internet, who pose a real danger.

Factual evidence in the cases of Momin Khawaja, who was found to have helped British extremists, and Saad Khalid and Zakaria Amara, who pleaded guilty in the so-called Toronto 18 case, make this quite clear. The intent of the Toronto plot was to cause massive death and destruction. The group planned to detonate bombs on three consecutive days, leaving Canadians so fearful that they would stay indoors. The bomb weight was chosen to be above two tonnes so that it legally qualified as a weapon of mass destruction. One member planned stock trades to profit after bombing the Toronto Stock Exchange. They discussed fleeing to Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mr. Amara revelled in the praise he would receive for the "Battle of Toronto," wanting so badly to outdo the carnage of the 2005 London bombings. A one-tonne version of the bomb, later tested by the RCMP, was found to be equivalent to roughly 800 kilograms of TNT. It would have caused catastrophic damage.

These facts need to be digested by community leaders and discussed in Muslim community newspapers across the country. The Koran and the example of Prophet Mohammed are unequivocal in condemning harm to non-combatants and property. To kill one person is as if one has killed all humanity; to save a person is as if one has saved all humanity. Jihad , in the path of warfare, is governed by strict rules of engagement. Participation is not a ticket to paradise - in one prophetic tradition, a warrior is consigned to hell for seeking personal glory.

Those who have sound knowledge of Islamic principles must provide young people with forceful arguments against al-Qaeda's murderous ideology. Criminal behaviour cloaked in the mantle of jihad must be exposed for what it is.

For all the complaints against media conspiracies, it is extremism that most damages the image of Muslims and Islam. Disagreement over foreign policy can never serve as a pretext for mass murder. There are ample democratic, peaceful means to engage in protest.

The silent majority can no longer sit on the sidelines. As a first step, it's time for Canadian Muslims to revive the popular "Not in the Name of Islam" online petition, which begins: "We, the undersigned Muslims, wish to state clearly that those who commit acts of terror, murder and cruelty in the name of Islam are not only destroying innocent lives, but are also betraying the values of the faith they claim to represent. No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam."