Study: Canadian jihadists are distinct from other Islamist radicals
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Canadians jihadists who left the country to fight for ISIS or Al-Qaeda and its offshoots in the Middle East are distinct from other radical Islamists and may be more amenable to rehabilitation and reintegration back into the Canadian society, according to a new report.
Alex Wilner, a terrorism expert at Carleton University in Ottawa and the lead author of the report published this week, by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said it examines the phenomenon of Canadians joining and supporting terrorist organizations and militant movements associated with ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other similar groups.
Wilner, who teaches International Affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA), said he and his assistant, Irfan Yar, developed a dataset of Canadian Islamist radicalization in order to provide a detailed sketch of Canadian jihadists and their supporters spanning a decade between 2006 and 2017.
Using open sources – media, government and academic reports – Wilner and Yar were able to find 95 such individuals with ties to Canada.
They also examined existing literature and data on European and U.S. radicalization and compared it to Canadian findings.
“What we found was that the Canadians, generally speaking, are older, they’re more educated, they have less criminal motivation before the radicalization process, they’re more ethnically diverse than their European and American counterparts,” Wilner said.
“I think there is enough evidence there to suggest that there is a Canadian type or a larger Canadian biographical characteristic that informed this process that is distinct from the European and American models.”
The average age of Canadian jihadists identified by the study was 27, he said.
“When you compare that to the average age of many European cases, it’s quite a few years older,” Wilner said.
“And in terms of enrollment in post-secondary education, over half of our dataset had some enrollment in post-secondary education, including within CEGEP or university studies and graduate studies.”
The fact that Canadian extremist foreign travellers and foreign fighters are older augurs well for attempts to de-radicalize and rehabilitate them upon their return to Canada, Wilner said.
“There is corroborating evidence in terrorism studies suggesting that motivation in political violence wanes as you get older,” Wilner said. “It’s very much a young person’s activity, not exclusively but often it is.”
The flip side of that coin is that because these Canadian jihadists are older and better educated than their European counterparts, they are also well-suited to assume leadership positions in the global jihadist movement, Wilner acknowledged.
“We know that Canadians have been leaders in certain very dramatic, very damaging terrorist attacks,” he said.
“But all in all, the data would suggest that by and large there is at least potential for an opening for a very unique and a very Canadian-oriented repatriation and rehabilitation process that would be distinct from Belgian or German or American case because we have a Canadian narrative in this phenomenon and you would assume that our response should also have this Canadian lens to it.”
Source: RCI Net