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Learning from Canada after Ottawa attack

The attack on Parliament by a Canadian convert to Islam brings a call to avoid this response: hatred. Islamic State thrives on hatred, either in the West or among Muslims.

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Canada's Opposition leader Tom Mulcair speaks with the House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers after making a statement Oct. 23 in Ottawa. Vickers was among those who opened fire on Michael Zehaf Bibeau, who stormed Parliament Hill on Wednesday.

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As is often the case, Canada provides valuable lessons to the world, this time in its reaction to the jihadist attack in its capital, Ottawa, on Wednesday. 

First, during the shooting rampage that left one soldier dead, the Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers, quickly shot the gunman, a man from Quebec who had recently converted to Islam. 

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But more important, the leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party, gave this calming, wise advice after the attack:

“These acts were driven by hatred, but also designed to drive us to hate. They will not.”

Some evidence points to the shooter being influenced by the Islamic State militant group to try to kill top leaders in Canada. The attack came two weeks after Canada decided to join the American-led attacks on IS. His motive may seem like revenge. But IS leaders must know they cannot bring Canada or any country opposed to terrorism to its knees. Like Al Qaeda, IS wants the West to retaliate against Islam, bringing attacks on Muslims in order to rally them to its side.

For IS, exploiting hate is a more powerful weapon than violence itself. It has advanced in size and territory quickly by taking advantage of the hatred among Sunnis in both Iraq and Syria toward their respective regimes, both of which are backed by Shiite Iran. 

To retain control over the “caliphate” territory it claimed in June, IS must continue to foment hate, either against the West, Kurds, Christians, or other Muslims, especially Shiites. A recent RAND Corp. study found nearly all of the attacks by Al Qaeda and its offshoots last year were against Muslims. 

To understand the IS approach, one need only read the words of its leader, Abu Bakr Naji, regarding his strategy to polarize the Muslim world:

“By polarization here, I mean dragging the masses into the battle such that polarization is created between all of the people. Thus, one group of them will go to the side of the people of truth, another group will go to the side of the people of falsehood, and a third group will remain neutral – awaiting the outcome of the battle in order to join the victor. We must attract the sympathy of this latter group, and make it hope for the victory of the people of faith, especially since this group has a decisive role in the later stages of the present battle. Dragging the masses into the battle requires more actions which will inflame opposition and which will make the people enter into the battle, willing or unwilling, such that each individual will go to the side which he supports. We must make this battle very violent, such that death is a heartbeat away, so that the two groups will realize that entering this battle will frequently lead to death. That will be a powerful motive for the individual to choose to fight in the ranks of the people of truth in order to die well, which is better than dying for falsehood and losing both this world and the next.” 

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Not falling for this trap of hate is critical to the conflict against IS. President Obama has wisely rounded up a number of Muslim nations in the Middle East to join the military campaign. He has sought Sunni-Shiite unity within Iraq’s government. Like President George W. Bush before him, Mr. Obama has made clear to the Muslim world that the United States is not fighting Islam. And since 9/11, many of the terrorists captured by the US and others have been offered ways to “deradicalize” themselves through various programs.

This message against hate, however, needs to be made clear by more than top government leaders. As the US and its allies carefully work with their domestic Muslim communities to head off potential terrorists, security officials must also make clear that Islam itself is not under suspicion. And if an anti-Muslim act or hateful comment is made against Islam by someone in public, it must be condemned. Islam's true teachings do not condone such terrorist violence.

Hate has a way of making something real that isn’t. The attack in Canada should not lead to hatred of Muslims or of Islam, as Mr. Mulcair implied. Terrorists must be stopped. But their attempt to trigger hate should be seen for what it is.