British Columbia·Q&A

Mohamed Fahmy on Brussels attacks and how Canadians can fight terrorism at home

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is calling on all Canadians and Muslims to work with authorities to prevent any future attacks like yesterday’s in Brussels.

'I think it is a collective approach that we need to use — we need to think of why these terrorists do that'

BERLIN, GERMANY - MARCH 22: A man lays flowers at the steps of the Belgian Embassy following today's terrorist attacks in Brussels on March 22, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack in which terrorists detonated three explosives devices at Brussels airport and in a metro train and killed at least 30 people. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is calling on all Canadians and Muslims to work with authorities to prevent any future attacks like yesterday's in Brussels, which killed at least 30 people and injured more than 200.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a pair of bombs that exploded around 8 a.m. local time in the departures area of the Zaventem airport. About an hour later, another blast struck morning commuters at the Maelbeek subway station in central Brussels, located near the European Union headquarters. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

A search is under way for at least one suspect who is still at large.  

The former bureau chief of Al Jazeera and current lecturer at the UBC School of Journalism joined Rick Cluff on CBC Radio's The Early Edition to talk about the balance between security and civil liberties, and what Canadians can do in the fight against terrorism.

When you first heard what had happened in Brussels, what was your initial reaction?

Immediately I could see everyone here in Egypt being affected by it. And everyone across the world.

As a Muslim, I condemn everything that happened and I do believe that we should unite as Muslims and non-Muslims against Islamism. What I mean by Islamism is that no one should force his religion on any one other group using violence. That was the number one thing that popped into my head, right there and then.  

What can we do in Canada to prevent attacks like this from happening here?

Just in Egypt a couple of days ago, 15 soldiers were killed at a checkpoint,again, by ISIS. The hardest thing to do is to deal with someone who is ready to blow himself and kill himself. No security apparatus in the world can be completely protected from this kind of approach.

Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy is calling on Canadian Muslims to help police spot leaders in the Muslim community who incite radicalism and hate speech. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

I do believe as Canadians, there is much that we can do. We as Canadians, and I call on all Canadian-Muslims, to take on an approach, a citizen-policing approach, where people should help the police stakeout at mosques, [looking out for] people at the mosques who are portraying violent approaches or rhetoric or radical views. This call for supporting the police and security apparatus should not be frowned upon.

Even here in Egypt, the government calls on people to warn the government if there's a suspicious package, if there's someone they believe is portraying radical views. The police can't do it alone. We all have to unite together against theses radicals.

You've spent time in prison in Egypt on terrorism charges as a result of your work as a journalist for Al Jazeera, so you know the value of free speech. If we're going to monitor mosques for hate speech, how can we do that without compromising the right to free speech?

What we're talking about here is making sure that these Imams at the mosques are not spreading incitement or hate speech or radicalism. Throughout my coverage in Egypt there was one time when 12,000 imams were banned from orating during Friday sermons because some of them were not working with licenses and some of them were spreading incitement. In Egypt and other countries in the Middle East, an imam needs to be licensed. The authority here reviews what these people are saying during their speeches because many of these youths who are radicalized, it happens right there at the mosque.

There are no sensitivities there. This is a matter of life or death.

Many transit hubs around the world have tightened security in response to these attacks, including here in Canada. Will that actually help prevent attacks like this?

What I noticed about yesterday's attack is that the perpetrators were able to access the departure hall. When you enter the departure hall in Canada, there's no actual security at the gate, there's no metal detector.

That's something we need to look at. How do we improve that. We always have to strike that balance between security and civil liberties and not allowing such heightened security affect our lives at citizens, but what we are looking at now is an unprecedented wave of terrorism that requires patience and unprecedented ways of fighting it.

I don't think … blaming terrorists on poverty is the way to go. I think it is a collective approach that we need to use — we need to think of why these terrorists do that.

French soldiers patrol inside the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, near Paris, France, on March 23, 2016 as France has decided to deploy 1,600 additional police officers to bolster security at its borders and on public transport following the bomb attacks in Brussels. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

What I saw in France after the attacks is that many of these attackers were homegrown but they were also not socially integrated into the system. Fortunately for us in Canada we do have a better system and we do have better social integration for immigrants who come to Canada.

We don't make immigrants feel like they're second-class citizens, but that's not the case in Paris and Europe.

So we are fortunate in Canada and I think we should continue to make sure that when these immigrants come in, they have jobs and they have language classes and they are welcomed, the way Prime Minister Trudeau has portrayed recently with the Syrian refugees, which resonated across the world in the Middle East.

With files from CBC Radio's The Early Edition


To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Mohamed Fahmy reacts to Brussels attacks.

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