When not doing their best to impede law enforcement's ability to stop terrorism carried out in the name of radical Islam (for examples, see here and here), Islamist organizations declare that they are of course ready to do everything within their powers to help catch terrorists, and that good policing depends on good relations with the Muslim community. Fair enough; I wrote about one such case in New York City "Does the Police Department Profile? Should It?" But what happens when an Islamist steps forward to help with counterterrorism efforts?
Mubin Shaikh and his wife Joanne Siska demonstrate in favor of the Shari`a in Toronto in September 2005.
What made the news particularly surprising, as Rebecca Cook Dube explains in the Christian Science Monitor, is that Shaikh is himself an Islamist who runs a Shari‘a arbitration center and calls for the application of Islamic law in Canada. The mainstream media warily credited him. For example, the National Post editorialized that "Whatever the source of his motivation, he did his duty as a Canadian citizen. And he has taught a lesson that others in the Muslim community would do well to heed."
But, Dube notes, the reception to this news among Muslims was hostile:
Mubin Shaikh has come under harsh criticism by some Toronto Muslims and sparked a debate about how far citizens should go in aiding police investigations. … Some wonder whether Shaikh couldn't have dissuaded the terrorism suspects, most of whom are younger than he, from violence. Some accuse him of entrapping the suspects. Some question his motivation - Shaikh claims he was paid C$77,000 (US$68,000) for his work and is owed another C$300,000.
Others simply scorn him as a betrayer. "He was not just an informer in terms of ratting out certain people, he was actually fishing," says Aly Hindy, imam of the Salaheddin Islamic Centre, a mosque several of the suspects attended in Scarborough, an eastern suburb of Toronto. Mr. Hindy said Shaikh's deep knowledge of Islam - he studied for two years in Syria - helped him gain sway over the youngsters. …
Some Toronto Muslims say they support the idea of reporting suspicious behavior to the authorities, but they draw the line at Shaikh's extensive undercover work. "All citizens have an obligation to report a terrorist plot to the police should they find out about it. In fact, they have a duty to do so," Safiyyah Ally, a Toronto graduate student, wrote on her blog ( www.safiyyah.ca/wordpress). But posing as a member of a group is different, she wrote. "It becomes particularly problematic when a prominent member of a community spies on other individuals within the community," Ms. Ally wrote. "It wasn't right for someone of his stature to infiltrate himself within a group of youths with the intention of spying on them and secretly reporting their activities and ideas to the police."
Ally's posting touched off a storm of comments on her blog, ranging from predictions that Shaikh would burn in hell to calmer voices cautioning against a rush to judgment. Ally raised concerns about what the use of such informants might do to Toronto's Muslim community of 300,000. "Our community is fragile enough as is, and our leaders are our moral anchor.... We cannot have communities wherein individuals are paranoid of each other and turned against one another," she wrote.
Hindy said he believes that would-be moles at his mosque already report to police when he makes controversial statements. "It looks like people are starting to be afraid of each other," says Hindy.
This barrage of criticism has prompted Shaikh to retreat from the public eye; Dube could not even reach him for comment.
Comments: (1) The Toronto reaction to a Muslim police informer roughly parallels the adverse reactions to Muslims in the U.S. armed forces.
(2) That a hard-line Islamist would help prevent terrorism suggests that Shaikh agrees with my argument in "How Terrorism Obstructs Radical Islam" that "Terrorism hurts radical Islam and helps its opponents. The violence and victims' agony make this hard to see, but without education by murder, the lawful Islamist movement would make greater gains." (July 31, 2006)
Aug. 8, 2006 update: Dube of the Christian Science Monitor wrote that "After taking the unusual step of identifying himself as an informant, Shaikh has retreated from the public eye and could not be reached for comment." Shaikh has, however, written in response to the above weblog entry:
Submitted by Mubin Shaikh, Aug 7, 2006 at 23:49
Hey dude - nobody tried to contact me...dunno what you mean that I've retreated...because I have not. I have to be cautious as to what I say for court purposes.
What struck me as odd is that it just never seems to be enough for you types does it? You did not even represent the Shariah issue properly - impose? who said anything about impose? It was a LAWFUL effort - big diff from setting off bombs in downtown.
As for the Shariah issue, I don't know what Shaikh means by "impose," as neither Dube nor I uses that word anywhere above. On the more general point, I am fully aware that furthering radical Islam lawfully differs from doing so via bombs – indeed, I recently founded the Islamist Watch project with just this distinction in mind.
Aug. 23, 2006 update: Interviewed in the Globe and Mail, Shaikh confirms the view he briefly expressed on this website.
He revealed his identity as an informant in the Toronto 17 case because he felt it was important for Muslims and non-Muslims to know that most of them are on the same side, he said. … RCMP officials were not pleased when he went public about his role. … His life, it turns out, was not at risk. "Because," he said, "Muslims are not like that. Muslims are not going to attack my wife and kids." …
Since the day of the arrests, Mr. Shaikh said, he has not received a single threatening phone call. That is despite the fact that his address, phone number and father's mosque were known to the Toronto 17 and their families. But no one called him. And, he said, he received no indirect messages. Partly, that is because he—and his father—have credibility with Muslims in Canada, according to Mr. Shaikh. "People in the community know the work that I have done and my family has done, behind the scenes, free of charge."
Worth noting here is Shaikh's opinion, also expressed in the same interview, that Taliban attacks against Canadian and other foreign troops in Afghanistan are a legitimate response.