Dropping out of university sounds like a bad choice. Dropping out and joining a terrorist organization sounds like an impossible choice. Unfortunately, the latter is very real and scary one that some students decide to make.
Collin Gordon grew up in Calgary, and attended Thompson Rivers University for business. He was on the volleyball team, and was a founding member of the Kamloops Social Club. In 2009, he dropped out of university. In 2012, Gordon and his brother Gregory disappeared from Calgary. They allegedly converted to Islam, joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and moved to Syria. A regular guy who threw parties in local bars is now part of a feared terrorist organization.
In the executive summary of the 2014 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat To Canada, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney wrote: “As of early 2014, the government was aware of more than 130 individuals with Canadian connections who were abroad and who were suspected of terrorism-related activities. These included involvement in training, fundraising, promoting radical views and even planning terrorist violence.”
In August 2014, it was revealed that the RCMP was investigating 23-year-old John Maguire for his involvement in the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. He disappeared in January 2013, after allegedly buying a one-way ticket to Syria. He changed his name to Yahya Maguire, became a Muslim convert and dropped out of the University of Ottawa.
His aunt, Allison McPherson, described him as a “smart kid, but there was always something kind of closed off, and he kept to himself. And, of course, that’s exactly what these people are looking for — a bright guy, kind of a loner, needing a place to fit in.”
The notion that only very religious individuals, or those born in repressive households are drawn to joining such groups is false. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and social situations; not all of them fit a stereotype.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one single reason why young North Americans join terrorist groups. It’s possible that some recruits find it satisfying to know they are a part of something larger, regardless of the group’s violent associations.
ISIS in particular is notorious for its barbaric practices, which are frequently broadcast on social media. They behead journalists, aid workers and local minorities. The alleged destruction of Prophet Younis’ (biblical Jonah) tomb by ISIS militants caused outrage among secular Muslims who condemned the actions as sinful and non-Islamic.
Christopher Foulds, editor at Kamloops This Week, sent a message to Gordon’s Facebook account requesting an interview. Although he turned down the request for the interview, he posted a KTW article on his Facebook timeline and wrote, “I hope it inspires others to emigrate and join the fight of good vs. evil.”
The issue isn’t the organization itself, rather the ideology it functions on. This distorted idea of what is good and what is evil fuels fundamentalism and hatred. Unless there is open dialogue in universities, religious institutions and workplaces about this distorted idea of what is good and what is bad, we will not make progress.
It isn’t the beard, the turban or the burka that we should be afraid of; it’s the growing sense of hostility and the lack of sensitivity. It’s ignorance we should be afraid of.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Sept. 17, 2014.