Several young Canadians reported to have joined terror group
KAMLOOPS (CUP)—After a CBC article uncovered that a former Thompson Rivers University student had apparently gone to fight with terror group ISIS, a professor is asking why it happened and what can be done to stop it from happening again.
In his search for answers and in an attempt to start a dialogue, TRU political science professor Derek Cook held a forum on ISIS recruiting in the West. Cook is also the chair of the TRU Faculty Association’s human rights committee.
Collin Gordon, a TRU student up until 2009, recently made headlines for joining ISIS alongside his brother Gregory.
Recently, the National Post reported that former University of Ottawa student John Maguire is also believed to be one of several young Canadians fighting with ISIS.
ISIS has been justifying violence and mass murders as part of a religious ideology, when really, Cook said, it’s a political ideology. Before opening the room to feedback and questions from attending students, faculty, and the public, Cook aimed to disillusion the extremist group’s use of religion in order to gain followers.
“The main thing I’d like to emphasize is that the story they’re being given—the inducements for joining—it’s a con. It’s a phony story. It’s not as advertised and people need to know that and this group needs to be confronted for what it is,” Cook said.
“So how is it that so many Western young people are joining them? Someone suggested that Western culture advocates violence—we see violence all around us. These people are simply reflecting our culture back at us.”
ISIS has used online propaganda on social media as a way to recruit. The access to that information may be doing more than just informing young people, which is a concern to Annie St. John-Stark, chair of TRU’s philosophy, history, and politics department.
“The Internet and social media make it very clear to us, when we wouldn’t have had it clear to us 30 or 40 years ago, on what is going on. I think that, in a sense, encourages the attractiveness,” St. John-Stark said. “I think that that type of access may be in general principal a good thing that we can look at all of that. I’m not sure if there’s a way to stop that connectivity.”
“The question is if we can get into the dialogue and see if we can steer people susceptible to ISIS propaganda in a different direction, to show them that they are being conned,” Cook responded.
TRU journalism professor Alan Bass said the line between reporting and aiding the spread of propaganda can be a difficult one to find.
“Where that line is drawn often depends on the gravity of the news event itself,” Bass said via email. “However, I suspect mainstream media has virtually no impact on whether or not a young person … decides to travel halfway around the world to become a fundamentalist killer.” Greater influences might be targeted messages being delivered through fundamentalist-controlled social media and recruiting sites, he added.
The forum ended with a message from Cook in reflection of our own political system.
“It has to be more than a military response. It has to be a fight of belief systems. It has to be showing young people who want to do something about injustice that their concerns are recognized,” he said.
“This is a war of ideas. And it needs to be taken on by those who engage in ideas, like universities and colleges, so that we can stop the tide of young people who are headed towards ISIS,” he said. “Once they get under ISIS, they do what they’re told or they get killed.”