Arrests Shake Image of Harmony

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 5, 2006

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario, June 4 -- Qayyum Abdul Jamal and several others arrested Friday in what Canadian police say was a foiled bomb plot were regulars at al-Rahman mosque here, a storefront space sandwiched between a Hasty convenience market and a beauty salon in a small strip mall.

The 43-year-old Jamal, the oldest of those nabbed in the sweep, lived with his family just down the road, in a neat, suburban townhouse complex where neighbors said he spent a lot of time fixing cars in his driveway.

"He was quiet. Didn't say much," said his next-door neighbor.

But that was not true at the mosque. Jamal's angry view of the world, and his belief that the West is at war with Muslims, boiled over there, others say. It was so strident that it startled Wajid Khan, a Muslim member of Parliament who stopped at the mosque last year on his regular rounds of his district just west of Toronto.

"I was concerned that he had found a bunch of young kids and he was able to influence them," Khan said in an interview Sunday. "I took issue with him. I think we have to be extremely vigilant in the Muslim community. We have to watch out for people who are trying to teach disaffected youths that it's the Muslims against the rest, a war of civilizations. Anyone talking through his hat should be kicked out and reported."

The arrest of 12 men and five juveniles accused of assembling the components for a huge bomb has strained the fragile relationship between Canadian officials and the growing Muslim community.

Canada's shrinking native population has prompted the country to encourage robust immigration. Canada touts the relative harmony within its society, sometimes in contrast with tensions over immigration in the United States.

Public figures treat references to distinct ethnicities or religions as anathema; police statements on the arrests Friday did not use the word Muslim. But while Canada trumpets this diversity, the arrests supported the warnings of some that the growing ethnic communities can be a source of hidden passions and underground politics.

And while immigrants continue to come for economic opportunity, freedoms and a generally warm welcome, some Muslims say the arrests are bound to increase suspicion and discrimination against them.

"A backlash is a given," said Fatima Rakie, 24, a Canadian-born woman of Lebanese descent who wears traditional black robes and a Muslim hijab , or head scarf. "People are aggravated with us already. They will think all Muslims are extremists. But all religions have their extremists."

The first sign of that backlash came Saturday night, when 28 windows of a mosque in west Toronto were smashed. Police said they were investigating, and the incident helped prompt a nationally televised "community meeting" Sunday involving Muslim leaders and police, with both sides urging tolerance and cooperation.

Authorities have released few details about the ties among the men facing charges under Canada's terrorism laws, passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. The suspects appeared briefly in court Saturday under heavily armed guard, and most will return to court for a bond hearing Tuesday that may reveal more information about the alleged plot.

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