Trudeau Underestimates the Power of Ideas

The New York Times recently posted a 2016 podcast interview of a returning Canadian ISIS fighter, known as Abu Huzaifa, who confessed to committing an execution-style murder while in Syria, which he now unconvincingly denies. He is believed to be living in Toronto and he is apparently known to the authorities. The Conservative opposition is in an uproar over these revelations, as they would have preferred that re-entry be denied to such individuals in the first place, as is the case in the UK.

One may reasonably conclude that in spite of the permitted re-entry of ISIS fighters, our national security forces are on top of it, and that Huzaifa, and those like him, will simply have to face justice here at home. The trouble, however, is that such an outcome is highly unlikely. Building a case on events that occurred a few years ago in a foreign war-torn country is extremely difficult, something the Trudeau government undoubtedly realizes.

If prosecution is unlikely, then what exactly is Trudeau’s plan? Without offering meaningful specifics, and in a demonstration of rosy innocent thinking, his government announced last fall that returning ISIS fighters would be rehabilitated and reintegrated into Canadian society. Moreover, when asked to provide further explanation during a Town Hall meeting in Edmonton, the Prime Minister did little more than go on about how immigration and diversity have been central to Canada’s success as a country.

If Trudeau makes little or no distinction between refugees who are fleeing death and persecution, immigrants who earnestly seek to build a better life for themselves, and ISIS terrorists who embrace jihadist ideology, then there is certainly cause for concern. It reveals a startling underestimation of the power of ideas.

Ideas have been extremely powerful throughout the course of human history. They can successfully grip us at our core, as they can offer participation in something that is greater than ourselves. The idea of forgiveness and eternal life, for instance, turned the Roman world upside-down 2000 years ago. The idea that individuals could commune directly with God without going through an authoritative priesthood, and that they could engage in reading and free-thinking, turned Europe upside-down 500 years ago. And the idea that every person is created equal and providentially endowed with liberty turned the western world upside-down in the centuries that followed.

The embracing and acting out of ideas, however, does not always result in human progress; some have left unparalleled destruction. The idea, for example, that nothing is sacred, that greater than any man is the race to which he belongs, and that the best cause to which a man can devote his life is that to improve his race, left a horrible trail of death and destruction. And the idea that greater than any man is the group to which he belongs, that equality of outcome should be the ultimate goal, and that the state should thus reign supreme, led to the massacre of countless millions at the hands of their own governments, and to extreme poverty for those who survived.

Jihadist ideology is likewise toxic. It is the logical conclusion of an evil and deceptive thought process, planted in the fertile soil of deep resentment and hostility, and cared for with promises of adventure, victory, and the dawn of a glorious new age. It has turned Syria and Iraq upside-down, and its reverberations have been felt around the globe.

Once embraced and acted out, toxic ideologies cannot be so simply corrected by the imposition of a rehabilitation program. Such a change must come from a personal willingness to question the foundational presuppositions of an entire worldview, which is an extremely discomforting process, and hence strongly resisted.

It appears, however, that these things are of little concern to the Trudeau government, whose response to our national security concerns come across as little more than a workplace sensitivity training seminar. True to form, it is recklessly naïve, and it grossly underestimates the power of ideas.