COMMENTARY: Properly describing the terror threat means acknowledging religious extremism exists

Goodale explains “Shia” and “Sunni” were removed from terror threat list so not to ‘impugn or condemn entire religion”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale explained on Thursday that "Shia" and "Sunni" were removed from the terror threat report because they didn't want to "impugn or condemn an entire religion."

If Canada faces real and serious terrorist threats, then the government owes it to Canadians to be clear and specific about what those threats are and from whom. If we have the luxury of ambiguity and obfuscation on this point, and the luxury of prioritizing potential hurt feelings over security concerns, then perhaps those threats are not so serious after all.

Clearly, the federal government needs to make up its mind on this. This is not a point on which one can have it both ways.

We learned this past week that the federal government has once again revised its Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada. And once again, this is a revision that has nothing at all do to with any change in the nature of that threat.

READ MORE: Government removes all mention of ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ extremism from terrorism threat report

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The sole purpose of these revisions is to make the report more opaque, which therefore makes it much less useful. After having previously removed any reference to “Sikh extremism” from the report, the feds have now removed any reference to Islamist extremism, including references that further specified Sunni or Shia extremism.

For example, the previous version of the report referred to the principal terrorist threat to Canada as being individuals and groups “inspired by violent Sunni Islamist ideology and terrorist groups.” That is still the case, but the reference has been changed to “violent ideologies and terrorist groups such as Daesh or al-Qaeda.”

We could save ourselves a lot of time and effort then by simply condensing the report to this: “Violent ideologies and terror groups exist. They believe different things. Some of them are a threat to Canada.” If we’re not going to describe the nature of these ideologies and groups, then what is the point?

WATCH BELOW: No mention of Islamist extremism in terror threat report

No mention of Islamist extremism in terror threat report
No mention of Islamist extremism in terror threat report


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Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended the revisions by arguing that the threat report should use language that does not “impugn or condemn an entire religion.”

This is an absurd point.

For one, the language we choose to use to describe a terrorist group should be words that adequately describe its ideology and objectives. For example, not all Tamils support the Tamil Tigers, but there’s no way of properly describing the group’s aims (or even printing its name) without mentioning Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority.

So, yes, “violent Sunni Islamist ideology” is a legitimate way of describing certain terrorist groups. If we feel the need to point out the obvious fact that these groups do not speak for all Sunni Muslims then I suppose we can carve out a whole section of this report for such disclaimers. At least then we’d have a useful report.

READ MORE: Sikh Indian minister slams Trudeau Liberals over ‘knee-jerk’ changes to terrorism report

Unfortunately, we seem to be going in the opposite direction. Before we learned of these latest revisions, Goodale vowed that future versions of the report would drop any and all references to religion. For example, instead of “Sikh extremism,” future reports would refer to “extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India.”

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Hmm. Might that “independent state” be a reference to Khalistan, the proposed Sikh homeland (which translates, by the way, to “Land of the Pure”)? Might that be the same Khalistan that banned terrorist groups like Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Federation are fighting for? Again, not all Sikhs support these groups — or even the idea of Khalistan — but it’s preposterous to suggest that religion is irrelevant.

WATCHL Conservatives want to know why Liberals erased ‘Shia’ and ‘Sunni’ from terrorism threat report

Conservatives want to know why Liberals erased ‘Shia’ and ‘Sunni’ forms of extremism from terrorism threat report
Conservatives want to know why Liberals erased ‘Shia’ and ‘Sunni’ forms of extremism from terrorism threat report

Fortunately (for now, anyway), Canadians can find clarity on these matters on the published list of banned terrorist organizations. That list includes (for now, anyway) the very sort of language that has been purged from the terror threat report, and so one seeking to overcome the vagueness of the report could seek out clarity there. But that only serves to illustrate how ridiculous this whole exercise is.

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For example, Boko Haram is listed. It is described as “a Salafist jihadist group operating in northern Nigeria whose ultimate objective is to overthrow the Nigerian government and implement Sharia Law.” How on earth would we describe Boko Haram absent any reference to religion?

The unfortunate reality is that terrorist groups motivated by religious extremism exist and pose a threat to Canada and Canadian interests. Pretending otherwise does not change that fact.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.