Terrorism inside out: Rethinking Bill S-7 and the causes of radicalization

Conservatives and Liberals joined in the House last Wednesday despite NDP opposition, to pass the Combating Terrorism Act. Passing this legislation, otherwise known as bill S-7, provoked questions about its timing and whether or not the enactment is warranted. But before examining whether we need this legislation, Ottawa should consider addressing the process by which Canadians become “radicalized” in the first place.

To address terror, one must examine the abyss of human disparity. Canadians either find this uncomfortable exercise instinctively reprehensible,  dismiss it or cannot find time for it. Therein lies the problem.

This thought vacuum is then filled with three-dimensional caricatures by media and politicians. The Eagle Has Fallen and Homeland are ubiquitously propagated examples of society’s self-perpetuating blood lust death wish personified through the unexplained villain: a seemingly innate mindless killer that in reality is grayer than Hollywood and Ottawa would have us think.

Terrorists are no crazier than gangbangers and soldiers. A degree of insanity is always involved when taking lives. Research found that violent crimes are commonly committed by rational agents. Often, it’s socio-economic situations that put them into impossible positions and push them over the deep end.

For example, Department of Justice and Indian Affairs figures show that one-half of Manitoba aboriginals are incarcerated. They cite substance abuse, physical, emotional, psychological abuse and poverty as reoccurring variables. Aboriginal violent crimes tend to occur about 33.1 per 1,000 (3.67 times the national rate).

In other words, often victims become culprits. Unlike psychotic sociopaths, Chiheb Esseghaier and Raed Jaser, the Montreal-Toronto Al-Qaeda plotters, can be stopped before they radicalize. What little knowledge we have of these terror suspects does not fit the pieces of society’s simplistic understanding of terrorists. These men were relatively “normal” citizens before they radicalized. Their connection to Iran, Al Qaeda and Canada is dubious as ‘Chechnya’s war with the US.’

We can learn from Mohamed Merah, the Toulouse French-Algerian terrorist, whose death sheds light into the darkness of his life. Merah was a typical poor, hard-working first generation French-Algerian. He loved football and was patriotic about France.

Despite the French system’s mistreatment of thousands of Algerians living in the Paris ghettos, Merah still wanted to serve his country in the French army but was rejected. Merah then flew to Afghanistan and returned radicalized.

The lesson is that Western societies likely turn “normal” individuals into terrorists when western promises of material reward for hard work and effort are denied to undesirable social groups. Society first institutionally fails them, then turns on them. Terrorists are, therefore, not born but rather bred.

The Anders Breiviks of the world, thankfully, are few. The Simon Frasier Human Security Brief found global fatalities monthly from terrorism has declined by 40%. Despite last month’s VIA Rail terror scare, it also found al-Qaeda activity on the decline.

Tougher terrorist laws and Big Brother surveillance only helps to radicalize a small percentage of minorities. Legislation taking away due process and rule of law help us achieve state terror. If the terrorists’ objectives are to rob Canadians of their rights and freedoms, then the terrorists have succeeded thanks to Liberals and Conservatives.

Requiring five years renewal, S-7 was Ottawa’s initial response to 911 under Chrétien. Under the bill, authorities can hold individuals without charge for up to three days on suspicion of terrorist involvement and subject them to certain probationary conditions for up to a year and imprisonment up to 12 months. Additionally, someone suspected of possessing knowledge of terrorist acts can be forced to answer questions with threat of imprisonment for up to 12 months. S-7’s objective is to gather information rather than prosecute criminal offences.

Prospective terrorists prepared to sacrifice their lives who believe the “Criminal Code is not holy book,” would not be deterred by three days detainment without attorney representation. Instead, S-7 terrorizes Canadians with non-Harper thoughts.

S-7 was designed to react, not address terror. Canada’s best defense to terror should be to prevent terror before it hatches.

Terrorists are psychologically screws loose  from society’s foundation. Less destructive tools are available in the toolkit to wind them back in.

Should the $3.1 billion anti-terror funding the Harper government lost ever be found, they would do best to invest in de-radicalization initiatives. Hammer solutions do not work every time.

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