More interaction needed between communities
Some creative incentives would help accelerate integration of newcomers, says Omar Alghabra

Jun. 22, 2006. 01:00 AM

It has been close to three weeks since 17 individuals were arrested under the charge of terrorism. Six of the men in question lived in my city, the city of Mississauga. The story has captured headlines and public attention. The dramatic arrests have raised many questions and concerns. At this time, it would be helpful to reflect and contemplate the risks of "homegrown" terrorism.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial of those 17 individuals, many have been describing the incident as a "turning point" and a "wake-up call." I agree, however, I am not impressed with some of the recently proposed ideas for change. We must confront our concerns in a thoughtful and deliberate way, the Canadian way.

The threat of mass violence in our cities is a serious risk. In the face of international instability, the rise of terrorism around the world, particularly in the Muslim world, has been troubling.

The majority of the Muslim world has been experiencing turmoil and conflict. For decades, if not centuries, most Muslims have suffered under various forms of colonialism, totalitarianism and oppression. The denial of fundamental rights, the absence of independent and ethical judiciary and the lack of free debate have paralyzed hundreds of millions of people for a very long time, thus creating a great vacuum that has desensitized populations toward civic engagement and created a feeling of helplessness. This has left the door wide open for criminal and power-hungry elements to promote the same techniques their oppressors have been using, as the only way to express their grievances or correct the situation.

These tyrannical gangs and rebels exploit the sense of despair and anger among average folks using passionate and divine rhetoric to further their own goals because, in their eyes, self-righteousness trumps all other competing ideas and the ends must always justify the means.

It is essential that we come to terms with this reality if we want to shut the door on any criminals or terrorists who aim to recruit soldiers. Muslim communities and broader society need to identify the challenges if we are to overcome them.

Muslim Canadian communities must tear down self-imposed barriers and unshackle the chains of historic conditioning that they have been exposed to for generations. Canada offers its citizens respect, opportunity and responsible freedom. While many Muslim Canadians have been successful economically, achieved high levels of education, and been law-abiding citizens, there is still room to develop stronger relationships with broader society that would result in a dynamic of deeper understanding and coexistence.

Canada does not imprison dissidents or persecute social activists. Muslim Canadians need to remember that not only is social involvement permitted, but encouraged, and is in fact necessary for the collective good and their own well-being.

The broader society also needs to be aware of the challenges that many new Canadians face while integrating into our communities. Recognizing these hurdles would help in defining priorities that would assist immigrants in this transition period. Promoting social engagement and civic responsibility should be as important as offering language education or skill training to newcomers. Government agencies should consider some creative incentives to accelerate their integration such as reducing education tuition fees, setting up volunteer or part-time job placements for women, and strengthening the capacity of civil society that deals with new arrivals. These are just a few examples of initiatives that go beyond a simple citizenship exam that applicants must complete before earning their citizenship.

Terrorism and violent crimes are masterminded by individuals who exploit emotions and ignorance to help them achieve their goals. Not only should we be vigilant against these criminal groups but we must protect those who are at risk from being recruited by them.

Reductionists and the uninformed have been playing up their sense of superiority by questioning other cultures and implying that multiculturalism is fuelling isolationism.

Thankfully, Canadians are more thoughtful and realistic than what some "experts" claim. Our deep sense of understanding and respect compels us to always be responsible when dealing with challenges or adversaries. We must be willing to compete with the criminal element for the hearts and minds of our youth and confront any possible causes of marginalization and radicalization. This duty must be shared by government agencies and community leadership.

Canada's diversity and multiculturalism have been among our unique strengths. We offer a success story to the rest of the world. Our tradition has largely been able to avoid isolationism and defeat intolerance. While we must continue to find ways to evolve, we should also harness what makes us different and not abandon the character and principles that have gotten us this far.

Omar Alghabra is Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Erindale.