Why wouldn’t Islamic State be a threat?
Middle East: While some may laugh off the chances of a terror attack on Canadian soil, the group itself has stated those plans
Of all the arguments the government has advanced for Canada’s participation in the military campaign against Islamic State, the one that has had the least traction — at least among the punditry — is the suggestion that Islamic State poses a threat to Canada. Threat to the region? Sure. Threat to neighbouring populations? Absolutely. But Canada? What, more than one commentator guffawed, are they gonna do, swim?
An otherwise sympathetic Lawrence Martin chastised the prime minister for “shamelessly trying to play the fear card in suggesting there is a direct threat to Canada.” In an editorial, The Globe and Mail questioned whether Islamic State “has ( the) ability to mount attacks on faraway enemies such as Canada, when it is already at war with so many enemies at home.”
Even after Wednesday’s hearings of the Commons public safety committee, at which the heads of Canada’s security agencies warned of the real threat to national security from scores of Canadian jihadis returning from the region, many of them indoctrinated, trained and financed by Islamic State, the CBC reported this “ran counter” to the government’s position because, as the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service told the committee, “we have no information indicating an imminent attack.” Oh well, then. As long as it’s not imminent.
One way to assess whether Islamic State is a threat to Canada would be to listen to the threats coming from its leaders. “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European, especially the spiteful and filthy French, or an Australian, or Canadian, or any other disbeliever (…) then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be,” Abu Mohammed al-Adnani decreed in a recorded statement. He offered some helpful examples: “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.” On the bright side, he didn’t call us filthy.
Perhaps this is mere rhetoric. Probably there was nothing to that odd NBC report, since withdrawn, of an Islamic State- inspired scheme to launch attacks on Canadian soil, including a mass shooting in a shopping mall. ( It seems to have been a past ambition, rather than a future possibility.) But Australian police were sufficiently convinced of Islamic State’s plans to sow terror via a series of random killings last month that they swooped in and arrested 15 suspects. Earlier this week four men were arrested in the United Kingdom on suspicion of a similar plot. It’s not clear why we should take these threats any less seriously as they apply to Canada.
Is Islamic State a threat to Canada? Perhaps we should ask: is anybody? The terrorist group that now occupies much of Syria and Iraq is an offshoot of al- Qaida, whose plans to attack Canada have been well documented, if so far unsuccessful. You may recall the plot some years back, averted at the last moment, to blow up seven passenger airplanes over major western cities, using explosives hidden inside soft- drink bottles — the reason you are no longer allowed to bring liquids aboard. It was not widely reported, but among the cities were Toronto and Montreal, the same cities whose synagogues were earlier targeted for bombings.
But with Islamic State we are talking about al- Qaida in state form: Even more ruthless, but also better organized, better financed and more sophisticated in communications than any terrorist group the world has yet seen. Al- Qaida, it seems, is old hat: It’s to Islamic State’s side that young jihadis the world over are now flocking, as once they flocked to Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power and Osama bin Laden was operating as their de facto finance minister.
Do we really need to review why it’s not a good idea to leave terrorists in control of states, with the wealth, the manpower and the safe havens they provide to plan, train and organize? As of this moment, Islamic State’s capacity to strike overseas may be limited to a few hundred disturbed youth. But leave them to consolidate their gains, to take on the attributes of statehood, and their capacity can only grow.
Do we think it impossible that a terrorist state could get its hands on, say, a dirty bomb? Do we think they’d never use it? Does it not make sense to disturb their safe haven, at the least, to keep them off balance, to prevent them from advancing, ultimately to push them out?
Let’s put it this way: Why wouldn’t Islamic State be a threat to Canada? What precisely is stopping them? Distance? They’re already here. Resources? They’re swimming in cash, an estimated $ 3 million a day in oil revenues. The sheer illogic of it? This is a group whose stated aim, complete with maps, is to establish an Islamic caliphate stretching all the way from southwest Russia to Spain. Logic does not much enter into it. What, then? Fear of retaliation? Death cults are not to be deterred. Or is it our general inoffensiveness, the fact that, Lord love us, we’re not Americans? Apparently this does not seem to matter as much to them as it does to many Canadians.
Is it necessary to show that Islamic State is a direct threat to Canada to justify military action against it? No. There are plenty of other reasons, starting with preventing the sort of mass slaughter in which they take such evident delight. Would such a threat be sufficient, in itself, to justify sending Canadian forces into action? Probably not, on its own or by ourselves. But as one aspect of the broader threat Islamic State presents to international security, to be tackled in concert with more than a dozen other nations? I’d say it’s at least worth mentioning.