When a member of Islamic State wakes up screaming in the night, terrified by a nightmare, it's not images of beheadings or rape or mass slaughter that bedevil him. No, his personal hell is Canada – a pluralistic, tolerant Western society where Muslims and people of all faiths and none are welcomed and live together in peace. For terrorists who exploit religious hatred for their own ends, that's real horror.
Since the Paris attacks, Canada has seen incidents that undermine those values. An arsonist set fire to a mosque in Peterborough, Ont.; two thugs assaulted and robbed a Muslim woman in Toronto, apparently because she was Muslim; racist graffiti has appeared on buildings; and some Muslims have reported being verbally harassed. Some say they feel so threatened that they are afraid to walk alone, especially at night.
One imagines that the people committing these vile acts of intolerance see themselves, perversely, as patriots. In fact, they are the unwitting dupes of IS, acting according to its script. Racist attacks that marginalize Muslims become the propaganda that IS uses to advance its idea that the world is one big, global religious war. Every time someone burns a mosque or kicks a defenceless Muslim woman in the stomach, the IS cause is advanced, and its soldiers sleep a little better.
Fortunately, in typical Canadian fashion, a crowdfunding initiative to raise money to repair the Peterborough mosque has far surpassed its goals, and local residents have gone out of their way to show support for their devastated Muslim neighbours. There are far more good and decent people in Canada than hateful ones.
Even more significantly, over the past few years Canadians have repeatedly rejected politically motivated efforts to marginalize newcomers, especially Muslims. Quebeckers sent the Parti Québécois and its Charter of Values packing in 2013. Last month, Canadians said a loud "No" to the divisive tactics of the Harper government, which deliberately demonized Muslims with its attacks on the niqab and its ridiculous "barbaric acts of cruelty" hotline.
In a world where a small number of marginalized French citizens of Muslim descent were recruited to carry out attacks in Paris, Canada's best defences against radicalization are its inherent decency, its generosity and its acceptance of all cultures. Our values, and our expression of them, have never been more important than now.