I was at the Vancouver airport yesterday. It was June 23; exactly 31 years to the day Air India flight 182 was downed by self radicalised home grown Canadian terrorists. I was reminded of it as I boarded a flight to Toronto. It was the date on the newspaper in my hand that triggered the memory; the memory never completely lost, always lingering in the subconscious and surfacing every now and then, prompted by something or the other.
My heart goes out to the families of the victims of the terror; the terror that until 9/11 had claimed the infamy of being the largest aviation man made tragedy in the history our planet earth. The governments of the day, federal and provincial, were in deep slumber. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the newly formed Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency and the local police forces didn’t have a clue about the cancer of extremism and terror thriving in our midst, on Canadian soil.
At the time self radicalisation and Jihad, words now mentioned often as parts of our lexicon, were not part of our conversations. But that doesn’t mean the processes weren’t underway; they were. We had not yet conceptualised them as such. In practice they were in full force and effect. The conveyors of the poisons were the so called community news papers such as Indo Canadian Times. It wasn’t the only mouthpiece of this violent hate; there were others too including radio programs; the common feature of this constant merchandising of virulent hate was the use of Punjabi at a time that none or few in policing, politics or the intelligence community in Canada would have understood it. So the purveyors of hate and merchants of violence could ply their trades with relative impunity in the community that for quite a while after the carnage at the Golden Temple in June 1984 had become a ghetto of anger, fear and terror. Outside that ghetto, not many knew and most didn’t care; the natural fate of any ghetto.
Just as today’s Islamist Jihad means more people turning to mosques, beards and burkas (niqab), the 80s Jihad the among the Sikhs saw new recruits into orthodoxy, beards and turbans. Many otherwise secular Sikh minds were engulfed by anger and pushed into radicalisation and jihadisation.
The political, policing and the intelligence leadership of the period didn’t fully grasp the consequences of the radicalisation. The protective umbrella of the legitimate right of religious freedom obfuscated the dangerous reality helping conceal the nefarious designs of the terrorist leadership. Although thirty two years later it has largely been eclipsed by the Islamist radicalisation and the likes of Al Qaeda and ISIS, the lingering long time effect of radicalisation and orthodoxy among the Sikh diaspora is alive and well,
The world is now beset with even more terror and sadly that too in the name of some faith or the other. As over 165 Canadian citizens fight alongside ISIS, Al Qaida, Al-Shabaab or sundry other terrorist outfits, we should ask whether we are any better today than we were in the 1980s at detecting and preventing radicalisation or jihadisation? The approximately 165 Canadian Jihadi terrorists doing violence in some faraway countries are a stark indicator of what the correct answer might be.
And that is too frightening to contemplate on the 31st anniversary of the Air India flight 182.