Legislators must revisit policies on terrorist incitement as North America rebounds from shock of recent attacks
Imagine for a moment a school system established in Canada attracting tens of thousands of students, and boasting a curriculum legitimizing mutilation, the sale of narcotics, torture and the brotherhood of organized crime.
Even if such a system never directly ordered or overtly supported the crimes its students would later commit, would the proprietors of such a system be absolved of accountability for the actions of its students? Would Canada’s first response be focused on investigating why the benefactors of the school want to create such an institution or why students are vulnerable to its message? Or would Canada’s first response be focused on legislative and policy options to ensure that the schools and their benefactors are stopped?
Such an educational system exists in countries across the globe — and the Brothers Tsarnaev are star pupils of recent note. Even if the brothers received neither orders nor material support from any specific terrorist body, they are in fact the products of an institutional educational effort — an ideological crusade that is a direct function of schools, organizations and nation states that have invested billions of dollars in its propagation. The brothers were not brainwashed to hate America any more than Canadian students are brainwashed to value democratic ideals. They were taught. And perhaps in light of recent events, it is time for Canadians to revisit the debate on stemming the tide of terrorist incitement.
In this respect the incident in Boston is instructive. The marathon bombings were neither a distortion nor a distant side-effect of the radical Islamist value system which had been inculcated in the brothers. This ideology, promoted aggressively by some of our allies, claims tens of millions of adherents, and inevitably produces one of two results in its charges — sympathy for such attacks or participation in their execution. Radical Islamist ideology itself was the catalyst in Boston, and no explicit exhortation to commit a violent terrorist act was required to achieve that end. As explained in a report by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, indirect incitement of this sort is the “sine qua non for the realization of the terrorist act,” and “the weight exerted by the inciters … lies not in the issuance of direct orders, but in sowing and nurturing in their audience the ideological foundation from which the willingness to act then emerges.”
The expert quoted stresses that inducement and recruitment is not generated by direct calls for action in the early stages, but through “persistent, pervasive vilification and disparagement of the target.” Another study notes that “the typical extremist website designed for online recruitment downplays its description of violent activities” as “part of the strategy of gradual social influence.”
The genus of terrorist incitement then is different, with evidence of an unusually close causal relationship between certain types of premeditated indirect incitement and particularly horrific results for a society or nation as a whole. In the special case of terrorism, what may be technically indirect language is specifically designed and proven to have more than an indirect effect. Therefore, this type of indirect incitement should not be subsumed within the broader categories of objectionable speech, which may be effectively digested by open societies through public debate and scrutiny. Liability in these cases of indirect incitement should be legally measured by the likely impact and intent of those statements, as well as the potential magnitude and nature of the incited acts. In other words, the directness of linguistic configuration should not be the only consideration when evaluating the insidious nature of terrorist incitement and appropriate legal responses to address it.
Admittedly, many of the options open to lawmakers are fraught with difficulties related to free speech and other issues. But we cannot ignore the determination of our courts that terrorism is a “crime unto itself” that “has no equal,” and continue treating the progenitors of terrorism like “ordinary” hatemongers.
However disquieting, we must explore new strategies for targeting those who premeditatedly place pedagogic poison within reach of those who will ingest it. For while the root causes of terrorism may be open to debate, the cause and effect of radical Islamist education both abroad and domestically — is not. And as these words are written, hundreds of thousands of children throughout the world are being taught precisely the same curriculum which cost so many Bostonians their lives and limbs.
Perhaps we are limited in our ability to protect those young minds from the evil that seeks to possess them. But we are both obligated and capable of finding better ways to protect our own children from a similar fate.
Danny Eisen is a co-founder of C-CAT, the Canadian Coalition Against Terror