Mar 28, 2016 | Event Summary

On January 20th, the RCMI and the Toronto Branch of the Canadian International Council hosted a joint seminar at the Royal Canadian Military Institute. The speaker was Dr. Daniel Livermore, former Canadian diplomat and terrorism scholar. Dr. Livermore presented his research on the theme “Challenging Orthodoxies in the War on Terror” in development of his anticipated book. He addressed misconceptions about the war on terror by deconstructing dominant narratives on terrorism within a Canadian context. He focused his research on specific case studies where advanced interrogation tactics were used to extract intelligence from Canadians and Canadian residents. Central to his analysis was how interrogation techniques used by the CIA, in particular, have shaped our discussion on terrorism.

Dr. Livermore suggested that the use of military power in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as detention tactics used in Guantanamo bay did more to exasperate Islamic fundamentalism than to extract actionable intelligence. His research stated that Islamic fundamentalist extremism had experienced a period of growth in the 1990’s when it finally entered Canada. The RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) responded to the imminent threat of Islamist extremism by seriously examining the issue. Canadian cases such as Ahmed Said Kadr reflected the broad spectrum of Islamic militancy and fundamental extremism. Kadr, a Toronto resident, entered Canada on a student visa to study at the University of Ottawa in the 1970’s. He was at first a secular man who later became the father of what is called Canada’s first family of terror and created a legacy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Livermore urges us to consider the massive institutional failures on the part of the United States and the FBI in contrast to Canada and the CSIS. The United States proved to generalize the motivations of various terrorist movements. The US failed to address the roots of the conflict in the Islamic world occurring from the 1920’s to the more recent 1970’s. Failures of analysis lead to misconceptions about the power and scope of Al Qaeda. The tragedy of 9/11 was followed by the creation of Guantanamo bay and policy change from detention to interrogation. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, under the Bush Administration, authorized legal interrogation. Shift in policy resulted in intelligence collection by the FBI that was received by Canadian agencies. However, enhanced intelligence techniques, including torture, destroyed any chance of prosecution or use of evidence in Canadian courts. Most of what was true was already known and new information was wrong or exaggerated. Livermore stated that this was because terrorism wasn’t the problem but the terrible and violent manifestation of the problem. He suggested that we should be addressing the causes of extremism and not merely punishing the effects. Failure to tackle the seeds of Islamic extremism from the 1970’s contributed to a feeling of estrangement for domestic Islamic communities and exasperated Islamic fundamental extremism overseas. Those detained and tortured in Guantanamo were more likely to commit more serious acts of extremism when released. Canada’s way of addressing the issue was very different than that of the United States. Canadian officials were not involved in torture tactics in Guantanamo. Livermore suggested the best way to respond to Islamist extremism is with normality and patience. “We must cultivate a dispassionate analysis based on expertise by reaching out and working with Muslim Canadian communities before turning to tactics that emphasize fear and isolation.” He concluded by opening the floor to questions with a quote from Rosa Brooks, “We need to stop viewing terrorism as shocking and aberrational and instead recognize it as an ongoing problem to be managed rather than defeated.”

The first critical comment was made by Professor Barbara Falk of the Canadian Forces College, “The first thing I took from this is to some degree beware of grand narratives…and it struck me that we’ve been here before. During the cold war we mistook what happened in Vietnam, in reference to the national insurgency, as part of a global communist conspiracy to take over all the Soviet states. We completely misunderstood the Sino-Soviet split…Some of the successful Canadian prosecution, in particular, show exactly what we did right…We worked with communities and insider informants, a couple of whom are in witness protection. The courts worked well and convictions were appealed.” She continued I noticed throughout your presentation you kept using the term Islamic militant extremism as opposed to Islamist and I know it’s a linguistic point, only academics make, but the reason I refer to that is that I like to think that Islamist highlights the ideological nature of this, a political hijacking of the religion as opposed to the religion itself. I noticed you didn’t do that and I am wondering why?”

Dr. Livermore “In my presentation I use the term Islamic fundamental extremism. I don’t get too caught up in the definitional problems. What I found striking though is how little religion mattered to most of these people. How they might have been Islamic fundamental terrorists but they were not very good Muslims. They had different motivations. They had different reasons for undertaking what they did. I found that to be an interesting piece of information but the trouble is that I don’t know what to do with it as a piece of information. It becomes a piece of information in a different narrative on radicalization.” Livermore clarified that many of the Canadian cases did not go to militant training camps because of an interest in the religion or terrorism but as a result of a lack of opportunities and a fear of the western world advancing without them. This caused them to move towards an Islamist orientation to find some of the success that had eluded them when trying and failing to adopt Marxism, socialism or capitalism as well as offering someone to blame for the decay of Islamic states. Therefore Islamist extremists turn to an arms struggle to replace whatever autocratic regime they had with an Islamic government. “…This was also the pattern with governments in much of the Islamic world. Some of them were aligned with the Soviet Union, others were aligned with the United States but they tend to be nationalist authoritarian non-democratic Arab governments. What emerged as a reaction to that were Islamist movements that were not necessarily extremist or radical but some of them developed extremist fringes.” The answer to why Islamic militant movements become radicalized is to be found in different experiences in different countries but it came alive in the 1970’s because of doctrines promulgated by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. Azzam later became one of the founders of the Afghan resistance and Afghanistan gradually became a magnet for some of these extreme Islamist movements.

To view the full discussion click here

– Kara Wilson CIC Media Correspondent