Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The horrific terrorist attacks in France have unleashed a torrent of heartfelt reaction, in the form of solidarity with the French people and condemnation of terrorism. Perhaps the best response is full-throttled engagement in the debate about free speech itself – such as its limits and double standards applied by those in power.

Muslims far and wide have condemned the killings, pointing out that nowhere does the Koran sanction or advocate the murder of those who insult the Prophet. In fact, the Koran itself repeats the worst insults hurled at Mohammed, and provides guidance on how to deal with the pain. His life provides examples of his forbearance and forgiveness to those who pelted him with garbage, called him a liar and worse. The Paris murders were far more offensive to the memory of the Prophet than the original cartoons. What better way to "avenge" the Prophet than to live his example?

While France was gripped for days by terror, hundreds of women, children and elderly people were massacred by Boko Haram in Nigeria, three dozen Muslims were killed by a suicide bomber in Yemen and other Muslims were murdered by extremists in Iraq, Syria and Libya. All this came just a few weeks after the Taliban massacre of schoolchildren and their teachers in Peshawar, Pakistan. And before that, there were "lone wolf" attacks in France, Australia and Canada. Many countries are struggling to keep a tiny core of diehards from travelling overseas to engage in "jihad," while carefully watching those who return.

Story continues below advertisement

In Paris, Sydney, Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, we have seen the emergence of a dangerous cycle in which violence is followed by anti-Muslim backlash, leading to further division and alienation of Muslim youths, who in turn are preyed on by extremists. We need to find ways to break this cycle, by understanding the underlying dynamics.

Why is the extremist narrative gaining traction? The answer may be partly found in alienation, political chaos in parts of the Mideast, and the emerging ideology of jihadi Salafism (to which the Islamic State and al-Qaeda subscribe).

American theologian Dr. Yasir Qhadi, a self-described former Salafist, provides an excellent analysis of the diversity of Salafist ideology – from the insular, non-violent majority for whom loyalty to the ruler is paramount, to a minority (rejected by the majority) that wants "jihad" for the removal of secular rule in Muslim lands and sustained conflict against non-Muslim governments that have militarily intervened in Muslim lands. "You interfere in my land, I will interfere in yours" is the mindset.

These groups all share contempt for women and non-Salafist Muslims and have a poor understanding of modern politics. Each group also believes it represents "true" Salafism. They share an exclusivist, hierarchical view, and it is perhaps understandable why disempowered young men would gravitate to a loosely structured movement that places them at the top of the heap. A violent minority of Salafists have exploited legitimate political grievances with the aim of overturning local political order.

The common thread in the recent attacks in the West is linkage to jihadi Salafism rooted in the Middle East. Young men with little knowledge about Islamic norms, on the margins of the wider Muslim community, have turned to an ideology that speaks to their alienation and frustrations. They are reminded of the plight of their brethren elsewhere and their duty to fight oppression. However, under jihadi Salafism, the only legitimate "religious" avenue is armed conflict.

Those working with Muslim youths must understand and deconstruct the seductive narrative of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. A healthy alternative must be provided in which political grievances are channelled via civic engagement – one that provides religious legitimacy as a counternarrative to the Salafist prohibition against political engagement with non-Muslim institutions.

Finally, the voices of mothers must be reclaimed in Muslim communities. They carry tremendous moral authority and can provide a bulwark against extremism.

Story continues below advertisement

Two recent examples are Latifa Ibn Ziaten and Hawa Abdi. Ms. Ziaten's son, a Muslim French soldier, was murdered by an extremist in 2012. She has been outspoken in opposing terrorism and building social cohesion in France. Dr. Abdi, who was nominated for the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, has provided shelter and medical attention to nearly two million displaced Somalis while standing up to violent militants.

Although not a mother, Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai also inspires us: "The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies