Identity, Equality, Unity
Through its relationship with Saudi Arabia, Canada has allied itself with a “breeding ground” for terrorism, a Calgary imam told a Senate committee Monday afternoon.
Imam Syed Soharwardy told the the Senate Committee on National Defence that Canada needs to recognize that terrorist groups currently preaching radical Islamist doctrine draw inspiration from a sect that is heavily funded by Saudi Arabia.
“Islam does not unite these terrorists,” Soharwardy said before singling out the Wahhabist and Salafist streams of thought as the real unifiers. “These people are funded, supported and trained by Saudi Arabia.”
The committee sought input from Imam Soharwardy and fellow Imam Sajid Delic on how to counter radicalization in Canada.
Soharwardy suggested many of the people preaching radical ideology in Canada’s Muslim communities are receiving money or other forms of support from Saudi Arabia, and that government’s close relations with the regime are a blatant contradiction of its alleged hostility to terrorism.
“Not all of them are terrorists,” he said, “but all these terrorists are (Wahabi or Salafis).”
Both Soharwardy and Delic highlighted the challenges of confronting radicalization at home and suggested the Harper government needs to change its approach to tackling the root sources of the problem.
The Anti-Terrorism Act, tabled on Friday, gives law enforcement vast new powers that the government says are needed to combat terrorist activities.
However, terrorism experts have accused the government of ignoring the other half of the problem: the causes of radicalization.
Both Soharwardy and Delic seconded that suggestion and called for greater support for those who work on a community level to deradicalize youth.
“Now, we are tackling the consequences — not the root,” said Delic. “If we just lock them up, they will still come out radicalized.”
Soharwardy told the committee the government needs to more closely monitor Saudi Arabia and the support it gives to imans who come to Canada to preach.
He pointed to what he calls a “growing trend” in Canada of groups taking young Canadians on pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia — for free — and called on the government to examine why this is taking place.
He pointed to the case of two teenagers from Mississauga who received $5,000 from an unknown source to travel to Syria and said the RCMP has not done enough to investigate and find out who is responsible.
The conversation also focused on what the government can do to counter radicalization in young Canadian Muslims.
Delic called for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the government to publicly recognize Canadian Muslims as key partners in the fight against terrorism and radicalization, saying such a move will make young Muslims feel like they are valued members of society rather than scapegoats for the crimes of violent radicals.
He also called for a Canadian training program for imams operating domestically so that those trained abroad in places like Saudi Arabia cannot come and preach freely.
Soharwardy also called for similar steps and suggested government and law enforcement officials change their messaging around terrorism.
He suggested using phrases like “Islamist” or “Muslim” extremism are harmful because they stigmatize the faith rather than calling much-needed attention to specific sects of the faith that are disproportionatly linked with terrorism and radicalization.
“They are isolated and integration will not come if we blame terrorism on Islam,” he said. “Blame terrorism on Wahabi and Salafists, not Islam.”