Canadian values can thwart terror

Posted on April 24, 2013 in Inclusion Debates – opinion/commentary – Combine strong intelligence gathering and policing with inclusive social policies and a foreign policy commited to peace.
Apr 24 2013. By: Saeed Selvam

While the arrests this week of two individuals in connection with a terror plot on Canadian soil shakes our collective sense of security, we must remain committed to doing everything in our power — both as citizens and as a government — to prevent violent extremism by remaining true to Canadian values.

While we may not know the motives for the attacks on Boston or the foiled attack on Canadian soil, the way to address terrorism has changed drastically over the past decade. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, then prime minister Jean Chrétien came under heavy fire for comments that pointed to a cause-and-effect relationship between “western arrogance” and terrorism: “It is one of the problems,” he said. “You know, you cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others. And that is what the western world — not only the Americans, the western world — has to realize, because they are human beings too, and there are long-term consequences, if you don’t look hard at the reality, in 10 or 20 or 30 years from now.”

Although accused of it, Chrétien wasn’t justifying terrorism. He was elaborating on the consequences that foreign policy can have if it’s seen to be exploitative or oppressive of other nations. This by no means implies justification.

The fact of the matter is that no one, even bleeding-heart leftists, denies the importance of intelligence-gathering and, in some cases, military intervention. But resisting terrorist activity by violence and the use of force without addressing the causes that bred such cowardly behaviour in the first place is a zero-sum game.

While the methods terrorists employ seem to be pure madness, there is an unfortunate, twisted method to them. The overall aim of terrorism is to threaten, intimidate and coerce through violence to achieve political ends. This is especially so when it comes to group-affiliated terrorism. Lone-wolf attacks — those carried out by individuals who are not connected with formal terrorist organizations — are much harder to detect and prevent due to their spontaneity.

Last year I had an opportunity to work with the Department of Public Safety on national security policy and if there’s one thing I learned it’s that we need to focus on root causes in our efforts to prevent any kind of violence, either localized gun violence or terrorism. Mind you, gun violence and extremism are two very different animals but what they share is the perpetrator’s immature sense of expression through violence.

What I learned from the countering violent extremism program echoed the sentiments that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau expressed last week following the Boston bombings: Get to the root cause to prevent future attacks. Trudeau’s comments elicited unjustified criticism from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and fellow Conservatives.

“When you see this type of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes,” Harper said. “You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible.”

But history shows that violence begets violence.

In the 1967 publication Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”

The attacks on Boston and the thwarted attack on Canada are stark reminders of the nature of the post-9/11 world we live in. Violence has been a part of the human story from time immemorial. While it may seem impossible to prevent future terror attacks, it is possible to try. We already know that targeting various ethnic communities, declaring war on other countries and conducting an oppressive foreign policy actually undermine peace and security. What we need to do is focus on what works, and stop doing what doesn’t.

So let’s do this the Canadian way: strong intelligence gathering and policing; a national security policy that includes enhancing social cohesion by assisting vulnerable Canadian communities, and a foreign policy that conveys strength through its commitment to peace, and exercises power through its commitment to development.

Saeed Selvam is the co-founder of the SPARK Initiative and a Massey Fellow.

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