As the shock of Canada’s brush with an alleged al-Qaida-directed terror plot recedes, it’s comforting to learn that a prominent Toronto Muslim cleric played a key role in foiling the attack. More than a year ago he alerted the authorities to someone he felt was an extremist who was radicalizing young people.

That speaks to something very Canadian: the sense that we can count on each other to do the right thing for the wider community, that we are all in this together. The VIA Rail passenger trains that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police say the alleged plotters had in their sights might just as easily have been carrying innocent Muslim passengers as anyone else. The imam who spoke up was motivated by a sense of civic duty and a concern for human life — values the vast majority of Canada’s 650,000 Muslims share with their neighbors, but for which they are not always given credit.

“Since 9/11 the Muslim community has been working very closely with government agencies, including the RCMP and police forces,” says Yusuf Badat, an imam and director of religious affairs for the Islamic Foundation of Toronto.

Or as another Toronto Muslim leader, Muhammad Robert Heft, put it, Canada is “our country … our tribe. We want safety for all Canadians, regardless of their religion.”

Despite this good faith, some feared an angry backlash and demonization of the community after reports that Raed Jaser, of Toronto, and Chiheb Esseghaier, of Montreal, had plotted to derail a VIA Rail train between Toronto and New York.

In announcing the arrests, the RCMP rightly briefed Muslim leaders, thanked them for their help and publicly credited them with bringing a suspect to their attention.

Tough laws, good policing and vigilant courts all have their role in thwarting jihadist violence. But as the VIA Rail case reminds us, an alert Muslim community and raised voices are the key. If the police have it right, a Toronto cleric’s concern saved the day.

— The Star, Toronto, April 24

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