Participating Religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, & Native Spirituality. Appreciation, Performance, Peace Messages, Harmonious Atmosphere, Sharing Spiritual Cultures, Music, Dress, Chanting, & Art Date: Thursday, April 6th, 2017
The Roots of Violent Extremism: In Social Life, in Family Life, in Religious Life Organized by Intercultural Dialogue Institute – Ottawa Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA November 22, 2016 Moderator: Dr. Angela Sumegi, Associate Professor of Humanities and Religion, Carleton University Panelists: Dr. Imam Mohamad Jebara, Cycling Cleric and Freelance Writer Chaplain General Guy Chapdelaine, Department of National Defence Dr. Jeremy Littlewood, Assistant Professor, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University Rapporteur: Alyshea Cummins, PhD Candidate, Religious Studies, University of Ottawa Report: On November 22nd, 2016, members of the multicultural Ottawa community gathered at the Intercultural Dialogue Institute – Ottawa (IDI-Ottawa) to listen to panelists discuss the roots of violent extremism. The event was moderated by Dr. Angela Sumegi, professor of Humanities and Religion at Carleton University. The invited panelists, Dr. Imam Mohamad Jebara, Chaplain General Guy Chapdelaine, and Dr. Jeremy Littlewood, aimed to identify the causes and conditions of the roots of violent extremism in the social, familial, and religious spheres of life. Each panelist brought with them their own understanding and experience to the discussion. This report highlights key components of the presentations and offers my own reflections on the discussions. Panelist Dr. Imam Mohamad Jebara Dr. Imam Jebara’s presentation focused on the causes of radicalization leading to violent extremism and how to mend this way of thinking. Jebara began his presentation by reciting excepts from the Quran that addressed the concept of mizan, or harmony and balance. He said that every person must find mizan in their lives. He argued that radical ideology occurs when “the scales are tipped too far to the left or too far to the right.” We must keep a balance. Jebara argued that the roots of extremism are found in the rigidity of one’s thinking. In reflection, we cannot be attached to any one way of thinking, we must be open to other possibilities – we must become comfortable with uncertainty. Jebara further explained that extremist ideology often attempts to present a shortcut to solving problems, “do this and all your problems will be solved.” But problems are never that simple – they have layers of complexity. In terms of solving problems, Jebara contends that Islam demands three principles. The first is having balanced and subtle adjustments. He said that if we try to solve a problem using extreme measures, it will cause drastic imbalance, thus leading to disastrous consequences as the state tries to regain balance. Let us take the example of war. War is always considered to be an extreme measure – after a war it takes generations to heal and rebuild. Change must occur gradually in order to maintain a stable state. Therefore, we must take well-intended steps in solving problems so as to avoid disrupting the balance too much. The second criterion is that the solution must be “presentable,” or appealing to the eye. Another way to understand this aspect is to use the example of becoming architects to solve the problem. Architects, in their vocation, are constantly trying to harmonize their structures with their environments. Attention to detail is very important to ensure that the structure suits its environment in both its foundation and design. Thus, the solution must not only be carefully thought out, but carefully put together, piece by piece. And finally, Jebara contended that the solution must be progressive in nature – it must be thinking ahead of its time and be promising to all those affected. Thus, how I see this progressive aspect is that we must not simply mend the problem in current contexts, but (1) think about ways we can solve the problem to get where we want to be generations from now, and (2) canonize the causes of the problem for future reflection. Panelist Chaplain General Guy Chapdelaine Chaplain General Guy Chapdelaine, in his presentation, aimed to give a glimpse of some of the causes and conditions of the roots of violent extremism in social, familial, and religious spheres of life. In terms of the social sphere, he said that social media has played an important role in attracting new recruits and facilitating their travel to combat areas. Social media can also act as a support network for like-minded individuals. Online social platforms have become a means to build one’s network and develop a sense of belonging. Chapdelaine voiced that government officials must continue to monitor these media platforms in an effort to curtail violent plots. Chapdelaine contended that, domestically, we must seek out ways to prevent radicalization before it leads to violent extremism. He stated that the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, in Quebec is attempting to do just that. The Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence, created in 2015, aims “to curtail the radicalization process of individuals,” they receive numerous phone calls for support from concerned family members and friends. Chapdelaine stressed that it is important for families to not shut out members who display signs of radicalization; rather, they should be encouraged to reach out to officials for support. We must be united in mending the radicalized individual. In other words, we must treat radicalization as a sickness and offer treatment and support for all those affected. As a result of familial cooperation, numerous plots have been successfully averted. Chapdelaine calls upon our security services to work to build good relationships with those “communities that are most affected by religious extremism.” Trust needs to be built. We must proceed forward as one united community. In terms of the religious sphere, Chapdelaine reminded us that violent extremism does not belong to one religion. As humans, we often try to simplify very complex matters, but in doing so we can actually cause more harm than good. Researchers in the areas of radicalization and violent extremism are constantly looking for patterns, ways to predict certain outcomes – but there has yet to be one study with all the answers. The challenge is that each case is unique – no two people share the same process of radicalization. There are no universal factors. This is why prevention is so difficult to orchestrate. Chapdelaine remained hopeful that we will one day be rid of the violence that stems from extremist ideology. He concluded that we must refuse to be paralyzed by fear of such atrocious acts and develop “resilience in the face of adversity… to put an end to the cycle of violence.” Panelist Dr. Jeremy Littlewood Dr. Jeremy Littlewood reaffirmed that the study of violent extremism is complex and multifaceted. Littlewood also reaffirmed that violent extremism is not propriety to one religion or ideology. He said that narrow interpretations of Islam have manifested violent extremism but challenged us to acknowledge similar extremist ideology when studying white supremacists and other terrorist groups. Referring to multiple studies, Littlewood said that there are four factors found across extremist groups: “Grievances, Networks, Ideologies, and Enabling environments and support structures.” However, he cautioned, these factors are not easily identifiable and not mutually exclusive. Littlewood also contended that there are both cognitive and behavioural dimensions. In terms of cognitive dimensions, he said that these individuals often deviate from mainstream society when it comes to values, attitudes, and political beliefs. In reflection, this is likely why they find it easier to develop support networks on social media platforms. To elaborate, first they are able to maintain a certain level of anonymity if they so choose, thus shielding themselves from being ostracized by friends, family, or colleagues. Second, it also enables them to build support networks with like-minded individuals via these online platforms and find a place of belonging that can reinforce their views and act as an echo chamber. In terms of behavioural patterns, Littlewood argued that there is usually some form of participation in an extremist movement. Whether they take part in violent behaviour, fundraise for the movement, assist in the movement’s propagation, or actively recruit “others into the cognitive and behavioural conditions”, there is some form of support for the movement’s ideology or actions. Reflecting on the example of social media again, this platform gives these individuals a means to take part in the movement in whatever way they feel most comfortable. There, they can spread propaganda, assist in recruitment, support others in their efforts to carry out violent attacks, or help orchestrate travel plans to combat zones. More research needs to be conducted on the cognitive and behavioural patterns associated with violent extremism in order to better understand ways to prevent and, eventually, alleviate the conditions leading to violent extremism. Concluding Remarks There needs to be more research done on how conditions within the social, familial, and religious spheres are each enabling radicalization leading to violent extremism in the hope of finding ways to curtail radicalization all together. The panelists each brought with them their own experience and ways of understanding the issue at hand. With the current research at our disposal, we must find more ways that we as a society can come together to treat radicalization. The Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence is only one way that society has responded to the problem of radicalization – we need more platforms for dialogue, like the ones held at the Intercultural Dialogue Institute - Ottawa, in order to (1) better educate and inform local communities on the dynamics associated with radicalization leading to violent extremism, and (2) come up with solutions to this community problem.
The Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam, in collaboration with the Intercultural Dialogue Institute – Ottawa and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, hosted a workshop entitled “Averting Violent Extremism: Religious Literacy, Pluralism and Community Resilience” on February 4 and 5, 2016. The overall goal of the interdisciplinary workshop was to assess the viability of the religious literacy approach in ameliorating the attractiveness of violent extremism for vulnerable youth. It was an interactive event designed to enable broad participation by a large number of knowledgeable and experienced people. This workshop was the first step in forming a network of academics, practitioners, and policymakers to address the issue of averting violent extremism through educational means.Its specific objectives were to: (i) mobilize knowledge through the synergies of an interdisciplinary workshop of academic experts and practitioners who include individuals with substantial familiarity in, respectively, (a) religious literacy, (b) Muslim history, beliefs, and practices, (c) Muslims in Canada and other Western countries, (c) violent extremism conducted in the name Islam, (d) communication strategies and tactics used by extremist groups such as ISIS, (e) education and curricula on Islam, and (f) building community resilience; (ii) examine the ways in which Islamic concepts and practices relating to religious pluralism have been obscured in dominant Muslim discourses in the last four decades; (iii) examine the ideas and debates related to religious literacy produced in the last 15 years; and (iv) explore the potential contribution that a reinvigorated religious literacy about the history and ideas of Islamic pluralism could make in reducing the vulnerability of Muslims to the messages of groups promoting violence against non-Muslims and Muslim minorities. Around 100 individuals from academia (from across Canada, one from the UK, and the keynote speaker from Harvard), civil society associations, government (parliamentarians and public service officials), school boards, church groups, and Muslim institutions participated. The workshop was an opportunity to establish a social innovation lead in developing a set of non-military solutions to the global problem of violent extremism and the clash of ignorance. Organizers: Dr. Edip Yavuz Zeybek, Chairperson, Intercultural Dialogue Institute – Ottawa Dr. Karim Karim, Director, Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam Mrs. Alia Hogben, Executive Director, Canadian Council of Muslim Women Opening Speech by Dr. Edip Yavuz Zeybek at IDI-Ottawa Welcome speech by Dr. Farhang Rajaee at Carleton University Keynote Speaker: Dr. Ali Asani, Harvard University Panelists at IDI-Ottawa Centre: Mr. Haroon Siddiqui, Journalist Senator Mobina Jaffer, Senate of Canada Dr. Karim Karim, Carleton University.
Ottawa’s Intercultural Dialogue Institute hosted its annual Interfaith Dialogue Supper and Colloquium on March 26, 2015 at the Turkish Cultural Centre in Kanata. In seeing over one hundred participants from so many different faith communities was inspirational in itself, among them the eight members of the hosting committee: Mark Adler, MP, the Venerable David Selzer, Archdeacon of the Anglican diocese, Father Jacques Kabangu, Interfaith Officer of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan, President of the MCCNCR, Scott Goldstein, Director of Hillel, Ottawa, Dr. Harpal Buttar, Ottawa Sikh Society, Prof. Catherine Clifford, Saint Paul University, and Roman Mukherjee, Interfaith activist. The evening’s master of ceremonies was Mrs. Theresa Qadri, accompanied by her husband, City Councillor Shad Qadri, Chair of Crime Prevention Ottawa, who kept events moving along and bravely confronted a daunting roster of international names. After an orientation and preliminaries, she introduced to us Catherine Clifford, Professor of Systematic & Historical Theology, who was our moderator for the evening’s panel. For full event report, please click here