Safe and sound policy

Helping immigrants adapt to Canadian life best defense against terrorism

Date published: 2008-02-25 1:09:05 PM

Canada’s best defense against the kind of home-grown terrorism that caused the July bombings of the London underground isn’t increased security, says researcher Haideh Moghissi. It’s helping immigrants feel they belong in Canada and can participate fully in Canadian life.

“When news reports said the London suicide bombers were British citizens, it shocked a lot of people,” says the York University professor. “But it also confirmed my suspicion that so-called Islamic terrorism is not driven by religion, but by the frustration caused when people—who are already angry over war and politics in the Middle East—feel unaccepted and marginalized in their own country.”

Working with a team of international researchers, Moghissi has been studying Muslim communities in Canada and several other countries, to try to understand what pushes some people to embrace more conservative—and sometimes violent—interpretations of their faith.

“We started this project because we felt there was something happening that was quite different from the typical immigrant experience,” says Moghissi, who moved to Canada from Iran in 1984. “For example, we saw young people becoming more radical in their religious views, while their parents remained open-minded and moderate. And since Sept. 11, it has become clear to me that this attraction to radical religion has more to do with politics than religion itself.”

Backed up by data from Statistics Canada, Moghissi’s research uncovered harsh realities about the lives of Canadian Muslims. For example, while Muslim communities boast twice the average education level as the rest of Canada, their unemployment rate is also twice as high. In addition, the average income of Canadian Muslims is well below the norm.

“These inequalities cause people—even those who were born and raised in Canada—to feel they don’t truly belong,” explains Moghissi. “Islam’s message of equality—regardless of social status—can be a real refuge for disenfranchised youth.”

Unfortunately, it can also leave them vulnerable to manipulation by radical religious leaders, who use Islam to further their own political goals.

The best solution, says Moghissi, is better programs and policies to help Muslim immigrants integrate into Canadian life with fulfilling jobs and adequate incomes. Addressing these obvious inequalities, she says, would counter the influence of radical Islamic groups in Canada, and, ultimately, help prevent violence, like London’s bomb attacks, on Canadian soil.

Haideh Moghissi’s research on Muslim communities is supported by SSHRC’s Major Collaborative Research Initiatives program.