Ideological Detox and the Muslim Community


Have you ever heard of “Ideological Detox”? I wager not, but you should have. It’s the latest psycho-religious fad, aimed at pre-empting terrorist attacks on Canadian soil. Bursting onto the scene on the heels of the 2006 case dubbed the “Toronto-18”, the idea first came to be publicized through Shaykh Ahmed Amirruddin of the Al Sunnah Foundation. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has also expressed interest in investing into such an idea. Since then, other “Shaykhs” within Muslims communities have jumped at the opportunity to carry out such a program in the name of Canadian security.

As a non-Muslim Canadian, I find these developments highly troubling: how does one tell between a future “extremist” and a “safe” Muslim? Is it the massive beard? Or the unnerving gaze? Of course, to answer on such grounds would be profiling at its worst.

In fact, the entire set of queries rest on the assumption that people can predict the future. One simply cannot pinpoint the giveaway “characteristics” of a future terrorist.

In his profiles on Saad Gaya, a minor figure in the Toronto-18 case, Thomas Walkom insightfully observed Gaya’s “tragic normalcy”. He was an academic high achiever, and his parents carved out a nice middle class living for themselves. Perhaps the Toronto-18 case isn’t the best example here, given that it is riddled with questions pertaining to suspending habeas corpus and civil rights to all citizens, but it presents the best Canadian case study.

Thus, insofar as “detox” programs claim to have the power to pre-empt and cleanse an individual of impure thoughts, such pronouncements are simply ludicrous. Unless, of course, CSIS is willing to trample on the Canadian Bill of Rights by investigating anyone for whom a “red flag” is raised in his or her community. Not to mention, every single attempt at terrorism by Muslims all the way from Khost, Afghanistan to the Underwear Bomber pointed to an anger sparked by geopolitical actions taken by Western governments. Whether it is the atrocities committed in the Gaza Strip, or (for the Toronto-18) the invasion of Afghanistan, the perpetrators were driven by on-the-ground facts, not by a poisonous and twisted view of scripture. They may have used the deaths of civilians as an excuse to commit crimes, but their motives were far from theological.

All in all, Canada must remain a country that treasures the freedom and liberty of its citizens above all else. With this comes the due process of law, including habeas corpus, to be extended to every Canadian citizen regardless of religion or ethnicity. To profile and “detox” possible future criminals is just a shameful posturing from charlatans. It is aimed at giving Canadians a false sense of security, while sacrificing the sacred rights of the citizenry.

STEVE ZHOU is studying at the University of Toronoto. He can be reached at