In the predictable stories reporting the "astonishment" of friends and neighbors about the Canadian terror suspects arrested last weekend, one tidbit serves as a cautionary tale for the threat of homegrown terrorism in the United States.
One of the 17 arrested, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, was an imam at a small storefront mosque in suburban Toronto. Those who listened to his sermons have told reporters that they didn't promote violent jihad or advocate killing non-Muslims. In a post-September 11 environment less hospitable to such rhetoric, these denials actually could be true.
But the arrested imam didn't need to preach violence in order to prime the terror pump.
A local Muslim community center director explained to the Associated Press that Mr. Jamal had told his congregants "that the Canadian Forces were going to Afghanistan to rape women." And this slander almost certainly was not uttered in isolation.
In many ways, such outrageous propaganda is more troubling than chants of "Jihad! Jihad!" or "Death to America." Convincing impressionable youths that their fellow Muslims are under attack can have a profound impact, simultaneously dehumanizingnon-Muslim neighbors while building the case that killing them is not just morally acceptable, but in fact, obligatory.
What makes propaganda so pernicious is that it doesn't raise the same red flags. It appears no one reported the imam's slanders, and even followers who don't support violence probably wouldn't have considered the vile lies particularly dangerous. But they are.
Just ask the former valedictorian of the Saudi Academy.
After he was arrested for plotting to assassinate President Bush, Abu Ali gave a videotaped confession in which he explained why he "immediately" accepted al Qaeda's offer to join the jihad. His reason? His "hatred of the U.S." -- the country where he was born and raised. He doesn't appear ever to have suffered any oppression or been victimized because of his Muslim faith. But that didn't matter. His hatred for his home country was fueled by "what I felt was [the U.S.] support of Israel against the Palestinian people."
Abu Ali was an American kid, and his affiliations with Palestinians were at best loose. Yet he was willing to give his life -- and wage holy war against his neighbors -- for reasons having little to do with his personal experience.
Some would no doubt seek to blame Israel or the United States for his turn to terrorism, just as a disturbing number of apologists have taken at face value jihadists who point the finger at the U.S. presence in Iraq or the Jewish one in "Palestine."
But if the real motivation for Islamic terror is an aggressive U.S. foreign policy or Israel's supposed oppression of the Palestinians, why did 17 young Muslim men allegedly plot to strike Canada?
Canada has no soldiers in Iraq. Few would consider it a good friend of Israel. Canada has offered its warm embrace for Muslims from around the globe. Canadian Muslims experience minimal discrimination, let alone anything even resembling oppression.
Leaders of Islamic terrorist groups, from Osama bin Laden to Shiekh Ahmad Yassin (the late "handicapped" and "elderly" founder of Hamas), universally agree that no government is legitimate unless it is Islamic. Establishing an Islamic state is, in fact, what most unifies jihadists around the world.
So why Canada? Because it is not an Islamic state.
But the drive for an Islamic state is probably not enough of a salient motivator for foot soldiers, as it is still a somewhat intellectual ideal. Hence the slanders. Telling young Muslims that their non-Muslim neighbors are going halfway around the world to rape Muslim women strikes a raw nerve.
Believing that members of the Ummah (the world body of Muslims) need to be defended makes someone far more susceptible to messages that violence should be waged in the name of Islam.
How many Imam Jamals are there in the United States? How many imams are brainwashing their followers with vicious lies about their fellow Americans? How many American Muslims believe that their Jewish and Christian neighbors -- and not jihadists -- are the ones responsible for the mass murder of innocent Iraqis? How many believe that Israeli soldiers slaughter Palestinian women and children for sport -- and that the U.S. openly supports it?
The answer to all of the above is: At least some. We know this from the public record, particularly information stemming from various terror arrests.
Here is the more pertinent question: Who is actually fighting the propaganda? Who is combating the spread of radical Islam?
Law enforcement can intervene to thwart planned violence, but what can it do about hate speech? Not much. Even fire-breathing imams enjoy constitutional protections. They don't, however, enjoy freedom from condemnation. Their followers are free to run them out of town for spewing venom and demonizing non-Muslims.
Thus the most important question of all is not how many Imam Jamals there are here in the United States, but rather, how many American Muslims will take a stand against indoctrination that pushes kids in the direction -- if not into the arms -- of terrorists?
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