Preventing Violent Extremism in London, ON

Rabbi Catharine Clark @ Congregation Or Shalom
April 4, 2017 ▪ London, Ontario

Recent threats of violent extremism have had two main effects on our congregation, one negative and one positive.

The negative effect is that these threats have diverted volunteer and financial resources from our core mission. Our congregation exists to help our members celebrate weddings, mourn loved ones, observe Jewish holidays, and fulfill commandments like visiting the sick and alleviating the suffering of the poor. These activities require committed volunteer leadership and money.

In response to the threats of violence, we have had to focus instead on security. Rather than board meetings to plan for Purim and Passover, we have had to hold meetings about responding to various security contingencies. Rather than budgeting for better food at Shabbat Kiddush or fancier decorations at Purim, we have had to divert money to security upgrades. Rather than spend every available classroom minute on teaching our young people about Jewish customs or current events in Israel, class time has been spent reassuring students that they are safe. Our synagogue, like every synagogue I know, has limited volunteer and financial resources, so it is discouraging to have to divert these resources from our purpose because of the threat of violence.

On a positive note, we have strengthened our bonds with the larger community. The Jewish community in Canada is far from the only minority community to be imperiled in recent months. The threats to the safety of others has opened our eyes to how our peace and security is connected to that of Muslims, First Nations, Hindus, LBGTQ+, and every other minority in Canada. Thus, we are spending more time on interfaith activities, work that is enriching in its own right.

“Welcome to the Real Ottawa!”

by Rabbi Michael Goldstein Executive Director, Congregation Machzikei Hadas 

In the early hours of Thursday November 17, 2016, our members arrived at synagogue for the morning prayers to find racist graffiti spray painted in the outer walls of our building. These were messages of deep hate and violence, and it created feelings of fear amongst our congregants. Of course it was no surprise that there are individuals in the world who espouse that kind of hate, but it was shocking to consider that someone who felt so strongly had been physically present on our grounds and took steps to act on that hatred. Nonetheless, morning services carried on as scheduled, as did all other operations of the synagogue. Police were notified of the crime, and they arrived quickly to engage in their investigation. Within a few hours the graffiti was cleaned up, and on the surface it appeared as if nothing had happened.

For our congregants, however, the markings of this incident on their psyche did not go away so quickly. Having this act of hate perpetrated on our premises created a sense of vulnerability and fear. For many of us, this is the place where we bring our children every week for Shabbat services, and it was unsettling to think that this hateful criminal or criminals had been on these very premises bringing their hateful intentions into reality. And with the perpetrator(s) still at large, we all felt very much at risk.

It was in this context that we decided to invite Mayor Watson and Chief of Police Bordeleau to speak at our synagogue on Saturday morning following Shabbat services. This would be an opportunity for our congregants to hear from these civic leaders about the status of the investigation, and about their commitment to keeping our community safe. For a variety of reasons this modest idea quickly blossomed into something much greater, with MPs, MPPs, Premier Wynne, and many other religious leaders coming to the synagogue to show their support. We were also joined by the leaders of other houses of worship that had also been victimized by this hate. But most importantly, we were joined by close to 1000 citizens of Ottawa who came to show their solidarity and support.

Starting off the program, Rabbi Bulka stepped to the podium and declared “Welcome to the real Ottawa!” The crowd rose to their feet in applause, and from that moment on the feeling of warmth, support, and love was felt in a palpable way. The impact on our congregation of that display of love from our broader community was immense. In the 45 minutes of that short program we reversed all the fear and vulnerability, and had it replaced with love and support. It was a morning of great healing, and reaffirmed for everyone there that there is a much more love in the world, and in our city, than there is hate.

To the individual who perpetrated this crime, I would offer him support and love. He is clearly misguided, and on a path of hate that is leading his life in a destructive direction. But if he had been present on that Saturday morning in November he would have experience what we all experienced – that the world really is a good place, that people really are good people, and that the joy of friendship and love far surpasses the temporary satisfaction he achieved from his hate.

Re-Humanizing Refugees and Resettlement: Coverage of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Canadian News Media

by Rebecca Wallace, PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, Queen’s University, Kingston ON. 

When it comes to coverage of war in the international community, news media can play an important role in both reflecting and shaping public opinion towards conflicts and those seeking refuge from them. Since the outbreak of war in 2011, broadcasts regarding the Syrian refugee crisis have flooded Canadian news channels with depictions of chaos and depravity, inciting considerable public debate regarding Canada’s role in the conflict, particularly pertaining to intervention, foreign aid, and resettlement efforts. Stereotypical representations of violence and threats regarding the “other” have the capacity to inform and reproduce public attitudes toward Syrian refugees among the Canadian public.

Continue reading “Re-Humanizing Refugees and Resettlement: Coverage of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Canadian News Media”

The Struggle with the Role of Religion in Radicalization

by Lorne L. Dawson, Professor, Sociology and Legal Studies, University of Waterloo & Director, Canadian Network for Research On Terrorism, Security, and Society 

In seeking to explain instances of jihadist terrorism, like the horrendous attack on Westminster Bridge and the British Parliament on 22 March 2017, there is still a strong tendency to revert, at least implicitly, to one of three overly convenient scenarios, and each these explanatory scenarios tends to reduce, or even dismiss, the role of religion in the instigation of these terrorist acts. For many observers the perpetrator is simply crazy, and hence his religious views do not matter. For others he is engaged in a calculated act of political extremism, of protest against the political policies of the government, and hence his religious justifications are quite secondary. While for some others, the opposite is true: his actions, they assert, are the direct manifestation of the perverse teachings of Islam. The public, however, is largely unsympathetic to this view and tends to respond by denying that Islam, and religion in general, had anything to do with inspiring such acts. Islam is a religion of peace, and to say otherwise, is false. These quick reactions are not mutually exclusive, but they are by no means compatible either. Lay and scholarly accounts of what happened, often shift rather indiscriminately between these popular options.

Continue reading “The Struggle with the Role of Religion in Radicalization”

Violent Extremism in the News: A Cautionary Note

by Dr. Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, Director, Institute of Intergovernmental Relations & Associate Professor, Political Studies, Queen’s University

We are used to seeing murder and mayhem in the news. News is not filled with the mundane aspects of life, but focuses on the unusual events that attract attention. In addition, there is a negativity bias in news that emphasizes disaster, crime, depravity, and other frightening aspects of humanity. It is not the abnormally good news that occupies newspaper pages and Twitter feeds, but the bad.

Continue reading “Violent Extremism in the News: A Cautionary Note”

Is the counternarrative of terrorists groups not representing the true Islam helpful for members of the Muslim community?

Imam Mohamad Jebara, PhD, serves as Chief Imam and Resident Scholar at the Cordova Spiritual Education Center

Imam Mohamad Jebara is also an author, poet, athlete, reformer, and inline skater. In September 2014, as the “Cycling Cleric”, Imam Jebara became the first cleric in history to cycle and roller-blade for health, from Ottawa to Quebec City. To find out more about Imam Jebara, check out http://www.facebook.com/imammohamadjebara

An Overview of Modern Right-Wing Extremism in Canada

by James O. Ellis III – Project Lead for the Canadian Incident Database (CIDB) 

Right-wing extremism is a serious problem that hasn’t been taken seriously in Canada.  There has been little in the way of national level policy and policing in this area.  The Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s 2012 Domestic Threat Environment in Canada report opines: “Such ideologies are spreading in Europe and the United States, but in Canada, they still remain on the societal fringe.  The majority of individuals involved in the milieu in Canada hold strong racist and anti-immigration views, but do not overly propose serious acts of violence.”  The CSIS webpage states: “Right-wing extremism has not been as significant a problem in Canada in recent years. Those who hold such extremist views have tended to be isolated and ineffective figures.”  An Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC) Threat Assessment released in January 2017 offered little insight into domestic extremist groups and suggested that there was “no indication that right wing extremists pose a threat to migrants and in particular, recently arrived Syrian refugees.”

Continue reading “An Overview of Modern Right-Wing Extremism in Canada”

How does the targeting of legitimate voices (by terrorists or police and security personnel) impact Muslim communities?

Imam Mohamad Jebara, PhD, serves as Chief Imam and Resident Scholar at the Cordova Spiritual Education Centre.

Imam Mohamad Jebara is also an author, poet, athlete, reformer, and inline skater. In September 2014, as the “Cycling Cleric”, Imam Jebara became the first cleric in history to cycle and roller-blade for health, from Ottawa to Quebec City. To find out more about Imam Jebara, check out http://www.facebook.com/imammohamadjebara