The police takedown of Aaron Driver while on his way to allegedly complete a suicide mission brought home to Canadians the spectre of Islamic State-inspired terrorism.
Questions are being raised about the country's overall anti-terrorism strategy for keeping Canadians safe while also balancing civil liberties. Legal tools, law enforcement and intelligence provide a framework to address this threat, but we must think long-term about how to stem youth radicalization.
Social media has erased geographical boundaries, allowing people to influence, and be influenced, by others half way around the world. These online relationships are often developed at the expense of real, local human connections. And IS would have it no other way.
An in-depth investigation by The New York Times of the group's "global network of killers" revealed that recruits are required to stay reclusive in their home countries. The network also targets new converts to Islam to serve as go-betweens linking a logistical "node" and the actual attackers in cities.
While Mr. Driver was not a new convert, he was an ardent supporter of IS, often described as "a loner" who kept to himself. Yet he recognized the harm of reclusiveness. In comments he made to terrorism expert Amarnath Amarasingam, Mr. Driver described the shame of his drug habit and his reluctance to join Winnipeg's Muslim community: "I was scared to introduce myself to Muslims there because I didn't want them to think bad of me. But, looking back, I think I could have sped up my recovery a lot faster if I just went to the mosque and got involved in the community."
Many radicalized youths are disengaged from their local community. Instead, they find a sense of belonging with an online community. Those closest to these youths may be most aware of their increasing isolation and disengagement. But by then, it may be too late, as the radicalization process has set in, and may be difficult to reverse.
Many (though not all) of these young people have an interest in politics, especially foreign affairs. They are also looking for a framework that connects with their Muslim identity. Enter the dystopian "caliphate" of IS that fills a void with alluring propaganda.
Unfortunately, local Muslim communities are in a poor position to offer them a counter-narrative, for several reasons. First, almost one-quarter of all Muslim youth (aged 18-34) feel inhibited about expressing social or political opinions, according to the 2016 Environics Institute Survey of Canadian Muslims. As well, Muslim organizations are afraid to voice criticism of government policy, lest they be targeted for surveillance and backlash. Some worry about jeopardizing their charitable status by the mere discussion of politics.
Thus there are few "safe" places for free exchange within the Muslim community, places where ideas can be raised, debated and challenged.
Many Muslim youth have questions about foreign policy, and are angered when they see Muslims in other countries killed by drones or air strikes – even more so when a war is waged on bogus pretenses. Yet there is very little discussion within Muslim institutions about the nature of such conflicts and how to channel one's anger (within the norms of Islamic spirituality) toward constructive action that respects the laws of your country.
Part of the problem is that Muslim communities have yet to develop political literacy. They can learn much from non-governmental organizations about facilitating discussion, debate, building alliances, and forging constructive action. A few notable initiatives are under way. For example, the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto regularly sponsors lectures and discussions about contemporary issues. The non-partisan Canadian-Muslim Vote, launched last year, energized Muslims to vote in record numbers in the October federal election; it has embarked on a political literacy campaign to inform Muslims about deliberations in the House of Commons. And a record number of Muslim MPs were elected last fall, providing inspiration to a generation.
Like groups before them, Muslims will integrate into Canadian political culture. However, given the destructive narrative generated elsewhere, this integration needs to be accelerated.