Testing times for Canadian tolerance
By Daniel Lak
BBC News, Toronto
No bombs exploded. No buildings or people were attacked. But what Canadian police say was a timely operation to stop a terror campaign inspired by al-Qaeda could change how this country sees itself.
Twelve men and five youths have been charged with offences related to an alleged plot that included plans to storm parliament and behead the prime minister.
The Toronto Stock Exchange and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation may also have been on the list of potential targets. All of the accused are Muslims, and most – if not all – are Canadian citizens.
A place that prides itself on tolerance faces testing times.
Columnist Christie Blatchford of the Globe and Mail newspaper takes the authorities to task for sounding, she says, more concerned about a backlash against a distinctive community than the alleged terror plot itself.
“I wondered if perhaps it was a vile lie of the mainstream press or a fiction of my own demented brain that the 17 accused young men are all, well, Muslims,” she wrote this week.
“But no, I have checked, they are all Muslims.”
Ms Blatchford was writing about a news conference at a mosque that was vandalized after the police first announced the arrests and seizure of bomb making material.
It is the only incident of its kind so far, but police have vowed to be extremely intolerant of any anti-Muslim activity.
Tarak Fatah, a Muslim leader and activist who is frequently critical of hardline Islamist thinking, says the arrests are a wake-up call to his community.
“It’s time to say enough is enough. A mosque is no place for politics”
“While the overwhelming majority of Canada’s Muslims are stunned by this development,” he says, “few can honestly deny that they saw it coming.”
He expresses particular concern about the fact that many of the accused in this case are Canadian-born who seemed to have been drawn in recent years to the violent ideology espoused by what he calls “fascist groups promoting Islamic supremacy”.
Many analysts are comparing the Toronto suspects to the young men who detonated bombs in London on 7 July last year.
“Homegrown terrorists” is a phrase that pops up again and again.
Tarak Fatah says Muslim leaders need to be especially alert for young men in their congregations and mosques who are drawn to Islamic websites and political causes.
“It’s time to say enough is enough,” he says, “A mosque is no place for politics.”
Canada‘s new Conservative government in Ottawa has praised the police and intelligence agencies involved in the arrests.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said “hatred has no place in Canada” – making it clear that applied to both people plotting violence and any notion of a backlash against a religious faith.
“This is not Guantanamo Bay. This is Toronto, Canada”
Yet some speculate that the government is planning to speed up a planned review of Canada’s liberal immigration laws. Plans to expand the number of new arrivals have been frozen.
On the streets of Toronto’s South Asian Muslim area, 42-year-old Ali Hassan is buying vegetables and he is reluctant to speak.
But he does offer the thought that “both terrorism and racism are wrong, un-Canadian, and we all have to be very careful now”.
In the nearby city of Brampton, where bail hearings for the suspects are taking place, there were scenes of chaos earlier this week as journalists and camera crews tried to interview family members of the accused.
Women in Islamic dress were pursued by scrums and male relatives angrily shoved aside microphones.
“It’s a bloody circus, you need to calm down,” said one man, refusing to comment further or identify himself.
Nearby a defence lawyer for one of the accused warns that the authorities – with their list of lurid allegations against the suspects – may be laying it on a bit thick.
“This is not Guantanamo Bay, this is Toronto, Canada,” says Gary Batasar. “At the end of the day, my client has to have a fair trial.”
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/06/07 17:41:25 GMT