Jumping the Gun on Operation Samosa

On August 26th, 2010, Hiva Mohammad Alizadeh (30), Misbahuddin Ahmed (26), and Khurram Syed Sher (28) were arrested (and detained) in the culminating point of the RCMP’s Operation Samosa investigation. All three are charged with conspiring to facilitate terrorist activities in Canada, as well as aiding terror abroad.

A fourth individual by the name of Awso Peshdary was also arrested (and re-arrested after posting bail) on unrelated domestic abuse charges, has since been released on bail. Peshdary’s connection to the alleged plot is not clear. Trials for the three suspects have not started yet, no formal evidence has been presented, and no convictions have been confirmed. Yet, it seems that the Canadian media has already freaked out.

The Toronto Star published an editorial one day after the arrests that warned Canadians not to be “complacent about perils close at hand.” It then went on to quote the Tarek Fateh-founded Muslim Canadian Congress on how the “perverse ‘doctrine of jihad [which simply means struggle]’” still appeals to some Muslims (technically, the simple act of fasting during Ramadan can be said to be jihad). Once again, before the public has even grasped the gist of the situation, alarm bells are going off about Islamic extremism.

Before the courts have issued their judgments, the discourse has already focused on the seemingly exclusive and hermeneutic relationship between terrorism and Islam. Terror is discussed like the drug that Islam can’t seem to kick, no matter how hard it tries to. Canadians are immediately warned about the “home-grown” version of the dangerous symbiosis of “Islamic terrorism”. Like the Toronto Star editorial, which largely skips over the fact that due process has yet to occur, most corporate media do not seem to want to ask the all-important “why” question.

Once asked about the causes of “Muslims rage” in a PBS interview, American Shaykh Hamza Yusuf replied with the term “humiliation.” He was referring to the protracted experience of Western colonialism and foreign occupation in the Muslim and Arab world. When bomb plots and terror cells are supposedly foiled by law enforcement in Canada, the story is typically given the front page, but always without this crucial context. Factors like “humiliation” and “occupation” are an afterthought, since factoring in these political elements would require an examination of Canadian foreign policy. It’s far easier to isolate the case, sensationalize its parameters, and point to how utterly irrational some Muslims are (and will continue to be, so “beware!”).

The images are similar enough: brown skin, bushy beards, and that glossy if sinister look in the suspects’ eyes. The suspected always look so out of step with “regular Canadians.” But soon after Khurram Sher’s arrest, a YouTube clip of him as a contestant on Canadian Idol aired around the world. It seemed absurd, but the video indirectly revealed a familiar and even humorous side of a “potential terrorist”. It made Sher appear, however faintly, as someone one could actually relate to–a “regular Canadian”.

Michelle Shephard (who has done some fine work on child soldier Omar Khadr) of the Toronto Star referred to this paradox as terrorism’s “theatre of the absurd” in her article “The Danger of Dismissing the Absurd.” But she did not utilize this superficial inconsistency to illustrate that “Islamic terrorists,” however horrific, are nonetheless human beings. Instead, Shepherd warns us against terrorism’s “theatre of the absurd.” In other words, it may seem inconsistent for someone as scary, bearded, and suspected like Sher to appear jokingly on Canadian Idol, but such an inconsistency doesn’t rule out the fact that Sher may be guilty. We shouldn’t simply laugh off this case, Shephard seems to be saying because terrorism is still a serious problem and we don’t know much about its nature.

True enough: terrorism is serious—but it’s not an impossible enigma. Nor is it particular to our era—9/11 is not the beginning of terrorism. Prominent academics and writers who study political Islam such as Vali Nasr, Robert Pape, and Reza Aslan (amoung countless others) have all recognized the factors of humiliation and foreign invasions/occupations as a primary cause for “radicalization.” In order to “defang” these frustrated elements (thus ending “homegrown terror”), it is essential to give them an outlet to channel their anger. It means giving Muslim youth a chance to act upon their frustrations through the mechanisms of civil society. Hamas and Hezbollah, for example, having now been incorporated into their respective national political processes, do not use the same “radical” rhetoric and tactics as often as they used to. The same process can work for those who live in the West.

Instead, articles like Shephard’s reference psychologists and political scientists from academia like Michael King (a PhD candidate from McGill) who claim that “there seems to be a personality characteristic that predisposes people to radicalize—and that is sensation-seeking [my emphases].” So is the problem at least partly genetic or physiological?

“The daily drudgery of working in dead-end, low-paying jobs helped create an intellectually stunted environment, continued King. “Internet jihad videos became more exciting and their causes more urgent.” Thus, personal occupation and social surroundings must also play a part in “radicalization” as well. This may very well be a perfectly legitimate point. However, how many men out there are working dead-end jobs in “intellectually stunted” environments, and why haven’t they all conspired to blow something up? Is it because they are not Muslim? Or is it because they are not subjected to the experiences of humiliation (via military occupation) that so many Middle Eastern Muslims endure and witness?

Maybe it’s time to stop beating around the bush by referring to the demented psychology or “intellectually stunted” environments that are apparently inherent to potential terrorists. Maybe, just maybe, frustration can arise out of a feeling of impotence while witnessing the chaos and death unleashed by a foreign invasion. Maybe a Muslim in the West, when watching their “brothers and sisters” in Afghanistan, Baghdad, or Gaza disintegrate in war and occupation, is allowed to feel some anger. Surely, this anger doesn’t justify violence, but it certainly is sufficient in explaining why some may consider it.

Steven Zhou is a Canadian student at the University of Toronto with a special interest in Western responses to “Islamic terror.” He is a regular contributor to The Canadian Charger. Read other articles by Steven, or visit Steven's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on September 7th, 2010 at 8:32am #

    When a person says: i am a muslim, i am catholic, or i am a jew, fear-angst-etc., strikes listeners.

    But if the same person wld say i am first and foremost an human, this gladdens the heart of every listener; especially, if s/he would feel it in her/his every cell of one’s body.

    Turkish muslims are oppresed by turkish muslims. Egyptian muslims kill, torture, jail own muslims, and so on.
    If these people would feel deeply or otherwise human and took others as human, one would see less angst, hate, killing, torture, etc.

    However, i note sadly, a pope is first of all a catholic. It may occur to him that he’s a human, but he’d feel only being catholic. This analyses is valid for every priest, imam-mullah, and rabbi.

    OK! I do note, that having been miseducated by muslims, christians, ‘nobles’, ‘judges’, ‘educators’, ulema, rabbinate, philosophers of all stripes for millennia, we by now all are unsane and thus robbed of much of our humaness and fellings of belonging to a collection of any people.

    Thus, much of our inheritance-heritage [humaness] may be gone forever. But has it gone by now genetic? Even so, we can regain the lost genetic mode over centuries or millennia which we once had prepriestly rule some 8k yrs ago.
    Forming a political party that would oppose uncle’s would at least help and at most defeat his war-abuse party! tnx

  2. bozh said on September 7th, 2010 at 8:51am #

    Most people in US [it being a good exemplar] feel much disconnected from a set of people. And from some groups or collection of people in asia they feel totally disconnected.
    And masters of war and people know this. And use it to their advantage as obviously they make money out of wars or expect to make fortunes later.

    Yes, americans ‘know’ they have a country and think of it as “my country over everything else”.
    Alas, they do not know or may be shut their minds and thus do not see that one cannot have a country without people; especially, with people that wld be much human.
    The label “country” had been imbued by our greedy ancestors with false to fact, but mosly euphemistic connotations; to the point that the label really depicts a near-total fiction.
    So, ruling is easy. tnx

  3. bozh said on September 7th, 2010 at 9:04am #

    Remember, every time obama [et al] uses the word “country”, he uses it to advance solely his personal interests. [country not existing; he knows it?]
    He, indeed, USES IT; he does not ever allow the word to use him. So, i suggest to people of the world to start using the word as obama does. But at the same time think of what value might be being also interdependent rather than a total dependency or worse being or striving to become independent.

    Striving for independence would, of course, drive u nuts sooner than striving to be a dependency.
    Kids, always remember that two dummies is a lot better than one! tnx