Listowel Banner / MintoExpress / Wingham Advance-Times editorial
We received news last week that two of the terrorists killed in January’s deadly hostage-taking in Algeria were young men from London, Ontario. They had attended South Secondary School, and had grown up in a good neighbourhood – not your usual Al-Qaida background.
The information hit us hard. There are young people in this area who have probably competed against kids from South at sports events. We wonder how two ordinary young guys from a community close to home could end up with Al-Qaida murdering hostages in Algeria, and we wonder what made them different from their classmates and our own children. There will be no definitive answers, since the only people who know what happened are dead. But we may speculate.
History has taught us a convert can be more extreme in his beliefs than someone who grew up in a faith or culture – or perhaps more willing to go to extremes to prove himself. A couple of young guys from affluent London, one of them a convert to Islam, would have plenty to prove to people who came of age in terrorist camps – people taught from birth to regard our lifestyle with contempt.
Our own experience has taught us adolescents are by nature idealistic and curious, anxious to make their mark on the world and heartbreakingly naïve about how to do it. They have a desperate need to find their own identity, and an equally desperate urge to be part of something bigger than themselves. They also think they are invulnerable.
That combination of idealism, naïveté and invulnerability has resulted in young people getting caught up in all kinds of causes throughout history, some religious, some military, and some a bit of both. David was a youth when he toppled Goliath. Joan of Arc was a teenager when she led an army.
Most adolescents will not lead armies or slay giants, but nevertheless will manage to set parental teeth to grinding a time or two as they try their wings and learn to fly. As long as they are part of a loving family and community, they will probably emerge from their teen years relatively unscathed. It is a different story for teens who feel disconnected from their community. These are the kids who might join a youth gang or cult, or head to the local high school armed to the teeth.
Or they might meet someone offering a place in a brotherhood of heroes, the excitement of fighting a holy war.
It is no secret young Canadians are being actively recruited by Al-Qaida. Their Canadian passports, ability to speak English, and middle class clothes and ways, mean they can travel anywhere in the world without raising suspicion. They also have access to the money needed to fund terrorist activities – vehicles, travel expenses and weapons.
We cannot discount the importance of the passports and money, but the major factor might be termed psychological warfare. Such recruits give terrorists a way to attack us in our own backyard that is cheaper, easier and, in its own way, as devastatingly effective as bombing subways.
Somewhere, perhaps on the Internet or at a mosque in this country, those two kids and others met a charismatic recruiter who got them interested in a dark, violent version (some would say perversion) of Islam. It did not happen overnight, and it did not happen by accident. They were targeted, courted, patiently led step by step down the path that ended at that refinery in Algeria.
Canada and other Western nations need to stop being so hospitable to those who come to our countries for the purpose of collecting money and recruits for their unholy war against us. Our way of life may not be perfect, but it is better than any alternative out there, and well worth protecting. We need to make sure our kids understand that.
We also need to make sure our kids know the difference between being open-minded and empty-headed. They will run into folks who make a pretty good pitch, be it for a product or idea. Demanding time to think, to consult other people, tends to root out hidden agendas and questionable motives.
The sad fact is, some of the people our children meet will not have their best interests at heart, however charming and brilliant they may seem. That knowledge will not make our kids fearful or cynical, but it will make them more difficult targets for someone singing a siren song of martyrdom and holy war - or wealth from selling drugs, salvation through poisoned Kool-Aid, or the standard, “everyone does it.”