In The Media

Stopping home-grown terrorists requires harsh medicine

by Barry Cooper

The Calgary Herald
March 4, 2015

In the effort to understand the context of Bill C-51, the government’s proposed anti-terrorism law, here is one more argument to consider: recent domestic attacks by violent jihadis were partly inspired by the existence of the Islamic State. Understanding Islamic State as it understands itself helps us grasp the significance of homegrown terrorists.

About one per cent of Muslims in Canada and the U.S. are converts, but converts comprise between 10 and 15 per cent of those involved in terrorist plots. One reason appears to be a limited understanding of their new religion, coupled with a desire to show what enthusiastic converts they are.

If converted by a terrorist-recruiter, they have no way of knowing whether what he or she says is true, but surely they want to please. John Nuttall, on trial for plotting to blow up the B.C. legislature, would be a good example.

A second, more significant reason, as Lorne Dawson, a sociologist at the University of Waterloo pointed out, is that many become Muslims for the same reasons others join cults and “new religious movements.” Chief among their motives is their discontent with life. Many experience a vacuum of meaning for which violent jihad promises the semblance of spiritual substance.

Even persons successful by the standards of the world may feel disappointment. “Is that all there is?” as Peggy Lee used to sing. Joining a neo-Nazi movement, violent jihadis, or radical environmentalists promises “more.” Killing other human beings in the name of God turns spiritual nobodies into somebodies.

A similar argument applies not only to converts, but to born Sunnis who join Islamic State because one of their core doctrines is excommunication, “takfir,” the penalty for which is death. The world, accordingly, can be purified only if the apostates, especially Shia, and infidels who refuse to convert, are extinguished. In common sense terms, Islamic State is a genocidal organization.

As Graeme Wood wrote recently in The Atlantic, Islamic State is also an apocalyptic outfit charged with bringing about the end of the world. For example, the black flag of Islamic State references an alleged saying of the Prophet that the black banners of Khorasan, more or less modern Iran and Afghanistan, will advance to the west, surrounding the Mahdi, the redeemer of Islam, who will purify the world prior to the day of judgment.

It doesn’t much matter whether this saying is accurate. For Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the now self-proclaimed Caliph, his task as leader of Muslims everywhere, is to prepare the way for the Mahdi by undertaking a spectacular bloodbath of Jews, Crusaders and apostates.

Another version of the final battle, akin to the biblical Armageddon, will take place in Jerusalem. This time, the anti-Mahdi, called Dajjal, also emerges from Khorasan, pushing the Caliph’s armies to Jerusalem for a last stand. This saving remnant is saved again, on this occasion by Jesus, of all people, who descends from heaven and skewers Dajjal with a spear.

Bernard Haykel of Princeton noted that Islamic State is “deeply rooted in a literal and uncompromising Islamic tradition.” Indeed, they claim to be true Muslims. Islam, said Haykel, is “what Muslims do” and “how they interpret their texts.” And no Islamic scholar has said that they “perverted Islam,” as did U.S. President Barack Obama. No one, Haykel observed, has declared Islamic State “takfir.”

“Are they afraid to?” he was asked. Perhaps, he replied. But ordinary Sunni Muslims may also be attracted to a pure Islamic way of life.

Because Islamic State is a messianic state, no amount of diplomatic prudential compromise is possible. Debate over Bill-C-51 needs to take that into account, as well as whether it diminishes our liberties.

Barry Cooper is a research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

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