The allure of radical Islam in Canada

Radical Islam, Canada-style

Canadian institutions will surmount this threat, writes David Frum


A woman stands at makeshift memorial in honour of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo outside of The Lieutenant-Colonel John Weir Foote Armoury in Hamilton

Last year, the head of Canada’s security agency delivered a warning to the Canadian Senate.

“Five years ago, we weren’t as worried about domestic terrorism as we are now,” said Richard Fadden. He explained why: In the 1990s and early 2000s, Islamic terrorism was perpetrated by structured organizations with lines of command—groups like al-Qaeda and Somalia’s al-Shabab. But the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition had smashed the leadership of these groups, and left behind a motley bunch of autonomous freelancers whose plots were much “harder to get your hands on.” Western intelligence agencies were seeing far fewer large-scale plots such as those that did so much damage in New York, Washington, Bali, Madrid and London in the early 2000s, Fadden continued, but they were collecting much more chatter about smaller-scale threats against less predictable targets.

Fadden’s prophecy has been all too tragically vindicated this week. On Monday, a French-Canadian convert to Islam drove his car at two Canadian soldiers in the small city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, southeast of Montreal. One soldier was killed. The assailant was shot and killed by police after a high-speed car chase. Wednesday brought a spectacular attack on the National War Memorial and Parliament in Ottawa. Again, a soldier was killed, before the assailant himself was reportedly felled by the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons. This attacker, too, was a Canadian-born Muslim convert, the son of a French-Canadian woman and (according to recent press reports) a Libyan man who had immigrated to Canada.

The hit-and-run driver in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Martin Couture-Rouleau, appeared on a list of 90 persons monitored by Canadian police and had been identified as a “high-risk traveller”; he was arrested last summer when he tried to leave the country for the Middle East. Official sources have not said anything about whether Couture-Rouleau and the Ottawa shooter, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, were acquainted or connected in any way. Former public safety minister Stockwell Day, however, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the two men may have visited the same Internet chat rooms. Islamic State has promoted using cars as weapons against Westerners, though it remains unclear whether Couture-Rouleau drew inspiration from the extremist group.

Related reading: Martin Couture-Rouleau: A homegrown madman

Since 2006, Canadian security has thwarted many localized plots—two in 2013 alone. At a July 1 Canada Day celebration in front of the British Columbia legislature, two Canadian-born converts to Islam intended to detonate homemade pressure-cooker bombs, police charge. Two non-citizens—one Palestinian, one Tunisian—were arrested in April 2013 for allegedly plotting to derail a passenger train.

A lot of energy is wasted debating whether do-it-yourself jihadists should be called “terrorists.” The Obama administration notoriously insisted on describing the Ford Hood shooting of 2009 as an incident of “workplace violence,” not terrorism. The killer at Fort Hood, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was perceived by colleagues as mentally troubled long before he opened fire, killing 13 and wounding 32 more.

Judging by media reports, Zehaf-Bibeau likewise could be described, if one wished to eschew the T-word, as a troubled misfit with a long record of petty criminality. On the other hand, what kind of person would one expect jihadists to recruit from inside a Western society? In countries like Canada, Australia, Britain and the United States, the call to Islamic holy war often appeals to more marginal people: the thwarted, the troubled, the angry. Yet, even so, the killer in Quebec—Couture-Rouleau—reportedly had a clean police record and a reasonably stable personal life until his conversion to Islam. He owned a pressure-washing business and lived in a single-family home with his father.

If you are alienated, angry and attracted to violence, radical Islam provides a powerful ideology of justification. If you are lonely and purposeless, it offers redemptive self-sacrifice. (One report claims that Couture-Rouleau persuaded “four or five” friends to convert to Islam with him.) Until roughly 1960, French-speaking Quebec ranked as one of the most Catholic societies on Earth. In the late 1950s, more than 80 per cent of French Quebeckers could be found at mass on Sundays, according to one famous estimate. Then, abruptly, in the short span of years from 1960 to 1980, religion seemed almost to vanish from the province. It’s been aptly said that, from the point of view of religious observance, “centuries, not decades” separated the Quebec of the 1980s from the Quebec of the 1950s. Yet, the hunger for meaning is always a part of the human spirit. In a different time, Couture-Rouleau might have vanished into a monastery. In the 21st century, he found a different and deadlier path. The alleged would-be British Columbian bombers might likewise have gravitated to Maoism in the 1960s or Nazism in the 1930s. But those ideologies, too, have lost their hold on the modern mind, leaving radical Islam as the strongest competitor for the credence of those who seek self-fulfillment through mass destruction.

Like other advanced democracies, Canada is a lightly policed society. It is also a society that has imposed on itself extraordinary legal difficulties before dangerous non-citizens can be removed from its territory. One of the two men who allegedly plotted the 2013 train derailment arrived in Canada with his family in 1993 using a fake passport. First, the family sought refugee status on the grounds that they had been victimized by anti-immigrant gangs in Germany, their previous place of residence. When that plea was rejected, most of the family sought and gained residency as stateless Palestinians. The suspected train plotter, Raed Jaser, was denied residency because, by the time the courts got around to hearing his case, he’d accumulated a lengthy criminal record. But since neither the United Arab Emirates (where he was born), nor Saudi Arabia (where his mother was born), nor the Palestinian Authority (where his father came from) accepted responsibility for him. In Canada, he stayed. He’ll now be staying somewhat longer and, perhaps ultimately, as long as Mahmoud Mohammad Issa Mohammad, a Palestinian terrorist who entered Canada in 1987 with false papers and was ultimately deported only after a 26-year legal battle.

Despite its self-image as a peaceable land, Canada has not escaped political violence. In the mid-1960s, Quebec separatists launched an escalating campaign of bombings and attempted kidnappings: 160 violent attacks that killed eight people and wounded dozens more before the terrorists were finally suppressed in 1970-71. In 1985, Sikh terrorists blew up an Air India flight from Montreal to London mid-flight, killing 329 people, 268 of them Canadian citizens, in the worst terrorist atrocity in Canadian history. Canadian soil has been troubled—and Canadian lives have been lost—as a result of Palestinian terrorism, Tamil terrorism, and domestically inspired violence of the far left and far right.

Since 2001, political violence (both plotted and executed) in Canada and against Canadians has overwhelmingly been inspired by the teachings of radical Islam. Our era’s foremost ideology of murder has found a home inside Canada, too. Canadian law, Canadian institutions and the Canadian government must adapt to the threat accordingly. After the shock and sorrow of October 2014, they surely will—as they have so successfully adapted and surmounted much greater threats in generations past.

David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic.

(C) 2014 The Atlantic Media Co., as first published in The Atlantic Magazine. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Radical Islam, Canada-style

  1. Calling people ‘the axis of evil’ tends to stir people up, Dave.

    • If pointing out the evil-ness of certain countries stirs people up…so be it.

      North Korea……please, Emily….tell us what you admire about it?

      What about Iran….what is your attraction?

      • Your leader hid in a closet Jimmy….no silliness on your part will distract people from that.

        • Emily,

          If your security detail wants to stick you in a toilet stall…that’s where you go. When it comes to security……the RCMP get the final say.

    • And David, the last time I heard someone refer to a francophone as a “French-Canadian”, was in the fifties, I think! He was bad, or sick, or both, but he was a Canadian and the epithet was unnecessary.

      • I call myself a french-canadian. Im not a quebecois but my mother tongue is french and Im from Ontario. So Im french-canadian. And in french it’s very common to say “Canadien-francais” (well outside of quebec anyways). So David was entirely correct there.

        • I was born in the Netherlands. I have lived in Ontario, France and Germany. I speak four languages, but I remain a Canadian since I took out citizenship in 1956.

          • So why attack David on the use of “french-canadian”?

      • I have called myself a “canadienne”, even when I am asked in English. I don’t mind at all the use of the term French-Canadian by Mr. Frum.

        However, I deeply regret his omission of the terrorist act committed in Quebec on election night in Sept. 2012, by English Canadian Richard Henry Bains who opened fire at the Metropolis in Montreal where supporters of the Parti Quebecois were celebrating their win, killing one citizen and injuring another. If the violent actions of a mentally-ill lone wolf with connection to a political ideology qualify for description of terrorism, surely Mr. Bains fits the bill.

        I trust that Mr. Frum or his colleagues at Macleans will use the term English-Canadian terrorist in their coverage of the upcoming trial.

        • I found the French-Canadian reference odd too. Would Frum describe Robert Picton as British-Canadian in a story of his crimes?

  2. I’d rather an exposition on how we can resist “the allure” of
    neo-con nonsense in Canada.

  3. Sorry David, I’m not buying any argument can make. To me you have zero credibility. As a member of Bush the Lessor’s cabal, you are a co-conspirator in contributing to the god-awful mess that now exists.

    • Ahhh… of those.

      “it’s all George Bush’s fault”……

      And I’m sure you think 9/11 was an inside job.

      • Poor, dumb James can’t distinguish between a conspiracy theory and the events that destroyed Iraq and rendered it the failed state that we see today.

        • Lenny,

          Iraq, afghanistan, al.

          What makes them failed states is not a conspiracy theory….it is their culture, and their religion.

          If you have a backward, medieaval culture…….you will eventually become a failed state.

          • Somehow Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t failed states before being invaded, despite a long history of being Muslim countries, and it’s merely a coincidence that they became failed after being bombed to pieces and invaded.
            Does the stupid burn, or is it a soothing caress?

          • Lenny,

            Not a single Muslim country can be considered a successful state except Turkey a few years ago. Now that a devout Muslim is leading turkey, it is going downhill.

            If you think Afghanistan and Iraq were nice places BEFORE they were bombed…..then clearly, you have much lower standards than the rest of us.

            Once Muslim’s of a devout nature take control of any nation…..chaos follows.

          • Lenny,

            It is not the actions of the West that cause these states to fail; it is the actions of Islam gaining ground. Iran was also at one time a fairly nice place to be….until the 1979 revolution. It was only once the hardliner Islamicists took over that the place turned into a crap-hole.

            Has the West interfered too often….sure they have. But the question is one of what causes the mayhem we see today. The mayhem is not caused by modern Western technology….it’s caused by modern Islam.

    • I thought Bin Laden said it all had to do with Andalucia, not that he was an authority on the motivation of terrorists or anything.

  4. David pointed out the problem here:

    “has imposed on itself extraordinary legal difficulties before dangerous non-citizens can be removed from its territory. ”

    How about this, Dave……stop letting them in in the first place. If you are from a backward country…sorry… ain’t getting through the gates.

  5. Thank a culturally neutral deity for the deep thinkers in the macleans comment section. Clearly this has NOTHING to do with Islam, but it’s all the fault of the people who get upset at Islam after an attack is carried in the name of Islam. I mean duuuh what are you racist or something.

    • this has everything to do with islam, an inherently violent and parasitic kult.

      • Go join the army, and be silly elsewhere.

        • So, not that it is a surprise to anyone who’s read the air-headed contributions of Emily, but at least now she expresses how she feels about anyone in the military.

          Ok, emily….who do you detest the most? Plumbers or soldiers?

    • I’m an athiest, but let’s compare:

      Christianity: “Do unto others’ as you would have others’ do unto you”


      Islam: “Slaughter the infidels wherever you may find them”

      Now tell me….what religion do you suppose may cause a problem in a country like Canada?

      Here’s a point to remember when making the comparison.

      If you are not a Muslim….you are an infidel. Full stop.

      • You’re not an atheist…..just crazy.

      • It’s so cute when poor, dumb James provides us with the results of his religious studies.

        They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.

        If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.

        Suppose a man or woman among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, has done evil in the sight of the LORD your God and has violated the covenant by serving other gods or by worshiping the sun, the moon, or any of the forces of heaven, which I have strictly forbidden. When you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly. If it is true that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then that man or woman must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death.

        If a man still prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall say to him, “You shall not live, because you have spoken a lie in the name of the Lord.” When he prophesies, his parents, father and mother, shall thrust him through.

        • The difference of course, Lenny……

          Christians and Jews don’t follow their respective texts any longer…..Muslim’s do. And they do it every day.

          • Heh.
            You just told us the difference was the text.
            So, you’re throwing your previous brilliant theory on the scrap heap and going with the claim that the world’s 2+ billion Christians don’t practice their religion properly?

          • No, Lenny…….

            I’ll go slower just for you.

            All major religions have texts. All of these texts have sections that by today’s standards are barbaric and violent.

            As the people and culture evolves, most people of faith renounce the violence contained therin. There is however and acception.

            ISLAM. Many muslim’s follow it, and continue to practice the barbarity described.

            Jews and Christians do not.

            See the difference yet?

            (I didn’t think you would)

          • So, now that you’ve discarded the meticulous scholarship which led you to believe that the Quran inspires violence while the Bible inspires peace, will you be dazzling us with a brilliant new ‘root-causes’ theory?

          • Lenny,

            Are you being deliberately obtuse…..or is it just your nature?

            I’ll try it again…using words and concepts that even YOU may understand.

            The PEOPLE who see the bible as their religious text….are not prone to barbaric acts of violence against those who do not share their views.

            The PEOPLE who see the Quran as their religious text, ARE prone to violence and barbaric acts, as apparently, they have not evolved beyond the first (and only) edition.

            See it yet?

            didn’t think you would.

    • Sorry I guess my sarcasm wasnt evident enough. I need to crank it up a few levels. Really though Im not blaming you guys at all, I thought I had parodied the typical leftwing response to being attacked sufficiently ridiculously that it wouldnt be mistaken for the real thing, but these guys are beyond parody (see Emiliyone, BGlong and Selena61 above).

      • Your rabble-rousing isn’t working. Sorry.

        • Hey EmilyOne yeah dont you just love those peaceful muslims. Not like those stupid white male conservatives eh? Go TEAM ISLAM!!

          • Your great white leader hid in a broom closet.

            Embarrassed much?

          • Trudeau was in a closet? Well I always thought he was a bit effeminate but I thought he was happily married to a woman. Oh well, yay for diversity.

            Have you been to a mosque to re-assure them that no matter how many times muslims attack us we will always always always suck up to them? I have. I felt very open-minded and non-racist.

      • Your leader is Trudeau?

        You are even more confused than usual

  6. Your article is very compelling – and very true. Look no farther than the Khadr family – living off the dole – cursing our country – and still they are here. And those Niquabs – or whatever the guys who wear them as they try to get onto planes (we have all seen videos both here and in the US). Why does the government spend more effort on them and their perceived rights than those who are their victims? Hopefully the security in Ottawa will be beefed up – hopefully the CSIS organization will improve its tracking – and hopefully we will get an explanation of how the latest killer’s mother continued and continues on as a Senior appointee in Immigration – deciding on passport issues is in her purvue – and the killer’s father was a jihadist who went to fight in Libya – maybe we have to look to the bureaucracy entrenched by Chretien and still running the show in Ottawa.

    • +8 years of Harper’s foreign-policy beaucracy and now we’ve since the tragic results. sorry, Chretien, …, had nothing to do with this tragedy.

      • Rickster moaned:
        “+8 years of Harper’s foreign-policy beaucracy and now we’ve since the tragic results. sorry, Chretien, …, had nothing to do with this tragedy.”

        Yeah….because terrorism didn’t start until Stephen Harper became the PM.

        Rickster….you can’t really be this daft?

    • You really are making a remarkable demonstration that even after 8 years in power Harper remains completely useless. We need a change in government to solve this.

    • There has never been a successful integration of islamic immigrants into ANY western nation. In every nation they have become a problem and in some they are taking over – through the use of violence.

      Ask Norway – who is expelling islamics due to high crime rates, ask Sweden, ask the UK, ask Holland and France and Spain and Italy and more. It is coming here as well. Better – ask Lebanon – which was once a Christian country until it opened its doors to islamic refugees.

      With more than 1.2 million islamics in Canada, it is the highest growing demographic group – with the added immigration, we have doubled this population since 911.

      A couple of leaders of the islamic groups across the country have expressed condolences for the recent incidents – the percentage is so low as to be insignificant!

      We are in trouble and our leaders and many readers here refuse to see it.

      • Political Correctness defined:

        “The ability not to notice the obvious”

        thankfully, I think Harper and the Conservatives are finally going to “notice”

        And just wait for the gnashing of teeth from Mulcair, and Trudeau.

  7. “Wednesday brought a spectacular attack on the National War Memorial and Parliament in Ottawa. Again, a soldier was killed, before the assailant himself was reportedly felled by the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons”

    Spectacular Definition : beautiful in a dramatic and eye-catching way.

    I do not think yesterday was at all “spectacular”, it was tragic and traumatic to the women and men who wear the stripes of our military. My prayers are with the families of both Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent.

  8. The article seemed to blather a lot, then Mr Frum drops the bomb in one sentence at the end – about Canada’s laws needing to adapt. And that’s the extent of his explication. He doesn’t say how and to what extent.

  9. Funny, police and security on the hill through apathy and incompetences let this perp in so far. Good that an alert old timer with dedication didn’t want his early pension and was there to kill the terrorist.

    Now politicians in their myopic fear will knee jerk, remove more of our liberties (taxes/debt) and freedoms (of speech and unaccountable policing) as a reward to the apathy. Yep, security screws up and the budget gets increased. US even warned them as NSA in a rare effort, let us know as spying is usually about information and not LE. No one asks what the billions and billions of costs to CSIS/CSEC/RCMP/CF were up to.

    Fact is you can be arrested if you are a threat to self or others, just police, judges, parole, jails are too busy busting people for non-harm to others marijuana. No new laws needed, just enforcement of existing laws.

    Only real new laws needed might be one that mandates loss of citizenship, passports and benefits of Canada for ANYONE leaving Canada to join foreign enemy armies or terrorism, even organized crime like drug lords. Make people accountable for their crimes, even force the legal system to use “High Treason” more liberally.

    But hey, its a good excuse to make for more Orwellian Statism.

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
    — Ben Franklin