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Radical detox program in Canada draws reactions

Finding correlation between alcoholism and radicalism

Published:

Extremism and alcoholism are more closely related than meets the eye according to a Canadian imam who has designed a ’detox’ program for young would-be radicals sympathetic to terrorist groups.

The 56-year-old Indian-born imam is a mediator, former police chaplain and community activist who has made it his life work to counter the pernicious influences of extremism and alcoholism in youth. Muhammad Shahied Shaikh, the imam of al-Noor mosque in Toronto who also worked as a police chaplain found a correlation between addiction to radical thought and alcoholism and has mobilized the mosque he heads to counter both through an outreach program that targets young minds.

Detoxing radicals

“Both alcoholism and fanaticism have similar effects,” Muhammad Shahied Shaikh told AlArabiya.net. “Those addicted to alcohol are locked within a certain thinking pattern that makes them rely on alcohol. The same applies to extremists who can only think about events around them in one way.”

He therefore designed a program the Specialized De-Radicalization Intervention Program with the help of Muhammed Robert Heft, a Canadian convert and imam in Toronto.

Such programs aimed at combating radicalism have never been as crucial as today, said Heft, who is involved in implementing the program.

“I’ve met youth who have been frustrated with what’s going on in the world and turning to ‘do it yourself Islam,’ which is their own interpretation of Islam,” he told AlArabiya.net. “These youths feel qualified to make judgments in their religions and that leads them to take the law into their own hands.”

I have met youth who have been frustrated with what is going on in the world and turning to do it yourself Islam, which is their own interpretation of Islam

Imam Muhammed Robert Heft, Toronto

Although the organizers say that while the problem of radicalism in Canada is less pressing compared to other western countries, like Britain, Canadian Muslims must mobilize on two fronts: to combat radicalism within and discrimination from without.

“I am no politician, but I will not hesitate to say that some decision that government takes will lead some youth to take radical views," Shaikh said. "We must therefore educate both Muslims and non-Muslims and our government so that we can all contribute something that we can build, not something that we can destroy.”

Modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous

Shaikh and Heft are hoping members of the "Toronto 18" would join the program. In 2006, 18 Muslim youth were arrested in a series of counter terrorist crackdowns in the Greater Toronto Area and charged for being alleged members of an Islamic terrorist cell with plans to attack several targets in Ontario, Canada's busiest and most populated province.

Seven of the 18 were acquitted while the remaining 11 await a verdict. The cases raised concerns about home-grown terrorism in Canada, especially after Canadian troops were dispatched to Afghanistan in 200.

"We are not tracking them down, but as a professional mediator in Toronto I say to the Canadian Court if there are people looking for this type of rehabilitation program, then we are here," Shaikh said.

We are not tracking them down, but as a professional mediator in Toronto I say to the Canadian Court if there are people looking for this type of rehabilitation program, then we are here

Shaikh, Toronto

So far three youth have signed up for the program, held at the mosque that holds up to 400 people during Friday prayers and runs Islamic educational programs on weekends.

The program, modeled on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program, includes key steps such as finding common ground, "not fighting ground" with other faiths; reconciling "dogmatic idealism with pragmatic realism"; actively fighting extremist ideology through "education, public speaking and writing"; and understanding the will of God, "who is Allah."

“We’re in our primary stages of development. We want to nationalize this outreach program so we can help the people who are in jail and we’re trying to help them to get back on their feet,” said Shaikh.

Reactions

The detox program has drawn mixed reviews from Muslims in Canada who told AlArabiya.net they feel the concept is problematic.

“It is important for the Muslim community in some sort of systematic way to confront the ideology of al-Qa'ida," said Muhammed Fadel, professor of law at Toronto University. “I would be concerned about ’detox‘ programs because we as a community cannot be responsible for the conduct of individual Muslims," he explained.

Fadel said that nevertheless Muslims have to realize the ideology of al-Qaeda is widely accessible, and unless the community responds to it in an effective way, trouble could be brewing

"Some individuals, especially the young, could be attracted to al-Qa'ida,” he said.

Shadaab H. Rahemtulla, a 26-year-old Canadian Ph.D. student from Toronto in Middle Eastern and Islamic history at Oxford University also called the detox program “deeply problematic."

"It fails to address the root cause of militant activity which is a growing frustration with American imperialismwithin the Muslim world," Rahematulla told AlArabiya.net, referring to the invasion of Iraq and continuous support for the apartheid state of Israel as root causes.

I would be concerned about detox programs because we as a community cannot be responsible for the conduct of individual Muslims

Muhammed Fadel, Toronto University

Root causes

"If organizations, such as the Canadian mosque that set up this ’anti-terrorism’ program, really want to address militant activity, then they need to point their fingers at the complicity of their own governments in global imperialism," he added.

Rahemtulla said Canada's presence in Afghanistan concerned Canadian Muslim youth as do racist image of Muslims in media and popular culture. He added that North American societies need to examinethe language of "terrorism" and "anti-terrorism" because it causes confusion when it comes to defining what "radical" or "terrorist" means.

"99.9 percent of Canadian Muslims are law abiding. And yet it takes just point one percent to label the entire Muslim community to get negative media coverage that labels all Muslims as terrorists," said Heft.

Despite the media bias Heft, who accepted Islam 10 years ago and described himself as a mainstream, hockey and golf-playing a Canadian said he understood where average Canadians were coming from and put the impetus on the Muslim community to address a problem that affects it.

" I understand Canadian mentality," he continued. "The average Canadian just wants to feel safe. A lot of Muslims would be surprised but this program is something that a lot of Canadians were waiting for, to see that Muslims are going to deal with [community problems].”

The average Canadian just wants to feel safe. A lot of Muslims would be surprised but this program is something that a lot of Canadians were waiting for, to see that Muslims are going to deal with community problems

Imam Heft, Toronto