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Arrests Shake Image of Harmony
Muslims in Canada Brace for a Backlash After Foiled Bomb Plot

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.

Police and intelligence agents described the men as "homegrown terrorists" who were inspired by al-Qaeda's ideology but apparently had no direct connection to foreign groups. Police said they had obtained three tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which has been used in various bombings around the world. Two tons of the substance were used to make the bomb that destroyed a federal building and killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995.

The information that has emerged about the men so far portrays them as typical of the Toronto metropolitan area, where more than 40 percent of the population is foreign-born and many others are children of immigrant parents. Those charged came from a variety of Muslim countries, including Somalia, Egypt and Pakistan. All of them are Canadian residents, and most were born here or came as young children. Several of the young men attended college.

Many of the men, like Jamal, live in modestly prosperous mixed neighborhoods. In Mississauga, a suburban community of 700,000 that has drawn many immigrants, the main road offers a reflection of the various faiths: A mosque, a Coptic Christian church and Baptist and Anglican churches are situated near one another. The store signs are a babel of foreign languages.

About 2 percent of Canada's 32 million people are Muslim. Roughly half were born here. Of the foreign-born Muslims, about one-third are from Arab countries and one-third from India and Pakistan, according to demographic estimates.

Most Muslims here are not overtly religious, and do not take their politics from the mosque, even if they attend, argues Tareq Fatah, who hosts a weekly television show on the Muslim community and helped form the Muslim Canadian Congress.

"These are Canadian-born kids," he said of those arrested. "They don't know what an empty stomach is. Not one of them would be able to survive two days in Somalia. They don't even know what unemployment is."

Yet there is discrimination in Canada, he argues, that helps propel some youths into the arms of what he called "religious fanatics who are predators and scavengers." They use the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Canadian military's growing role in Afghanistan, to convince youths that Muslims are victims, he said.

"These are people speaking in our name, killing in our name, and being offensive to all the values that Muslims hold. And yet we Muslims allow them to be among us," he said.

Mohamed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said the Canadian government is now too preoccupied with security to look at the causes of radicalization.

"Our prime minister is copying the Bush administration, saying these people are after our freedom and our lifestyles," he said. "I don't see how that is preventive. Relying on police and law enforcement and intelligence will not solve the problem."

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