Muslim organizers of the rally say militants fighting with the Islamic State, Al Nusrah and other groups do not belong to the mainstream Islamic faith, but are members of a cult.
The organizers say they are united with other faiths in condemning violence perpetrated by these militants, who control a spreading swath of Middle Eastern territory.
“We just want to make the people aware of these events and that they don’t represent Islam,” said Riayaz Khawaja, who helped organize the rally, which drew about 75 people to City Hall. “The youth of Canada should be aware of such brainwashing by elements inside the country who brainwash the youth and drive them to the IS ideology.”
One of those youth was Chris Boudreau’s son, Damian Clairmont. Clairmont converted to Islam when he was 17, and five years later, was reportedly killed last December or January while fighting as a member of the Islamic State.
“I can’t even imagine what was going through his mind. He was a loving, peaceful compassionate boy. He would have never agreed to anything like this if he knew of the killing, if he knew of the violence,” Boudreau said.
“He told me, ‘Mom, I’m going to protect women and children.’ That was his reason for going. He got caught off guard.”
She wiped away tears as she stepped back from the microphone.
“It’s difficult,” she acknowledged. of speaking publicly about her son.
But she said these are the conversations that need to be had, especially in a multi-faith setting.
“I think we need to realize that it’s not affecting just one culture and one religion, or one family dynamic,” said Boudreau. “We all could be just as easily affected and I know that if we point fingers and blame everybody else, then we think it’s less likely to affect us.”
“There just needs to be education right across the board,” Boudreau added.
The Rev. Natasha Brubaker Garrison, of St. Martin’s Anglican Church, agreed. She’s leading an Imam in Residence program at the church with Imam Syed Soharwardy in October, which aims to bring congregations together to learn about other faiths.
“I support Islam,” she said. “It’s a beautiful religion and has much to teach us, and we are not enemies. I don’t want to ever be in a place where we’re considered enemies so I think it’s important to stand in solidarity with other Muslims who are holding people to account.”
Annette Lengyel and Miriam Meir said wanted to come to the rally to show their support for their Muslim friends.
“I’m Jewish, and I’m for peace,” said Meir. “I have some wonderful friends, a lot of friends in the Muslim community, and we want people to know that the terrorist organization we’re protesting against today has nothing to do with what the real Islam stands for.”
Published reports indicate that, in addition to Clairmont, four other men from Calgary have travelled abroad to fight with terrorist groups: brothers Collin and Gregory Gordon, Salman Ashrafi, and Farah Shirdon.
A self-proclaimed jihadist claims in his blog that he belonged to a study group with Clairmont and Ashrafi before they left to wage Jihad. A CBC News report says Shirdon and the Gordon brothers had also attended the group’s meetings.
“We teach our youth that Islam denounces terrorism,” Khawaja said. “(Muslim radicals) are against Islam … And they don’t kill only Christians, Jews or (those with) no faith, they kill Muslims as well. If nobody accepts their ideology, they just want to kill them.”
Officials in Calgary have been taking an increasingly public stand against criminal radicalization. A four-day conference this week saw community leaders and law enforcement condemning Islamic extremism.
George Stephenson, chief superintendent of the RCMP, told a crowd gathered in a southwest mosque that evidence suggests there are recruiters in Calgary actively luring men to take up arms abroad.
Boudreau said the conference has been a catalyst for getting an anti-radicalization program off the ground in Canada.
“If anything, if we can just save one life or one family from going through the horrific thing I did, in a bubble like I did, then it’s worth it,” she said.
According to federal officials, 130 Canadians have been recruited to fight with radical groups. Police say at least 30 are from Calgary.
Those who have returned are the ones who scare Soharwardy the most.
“They are like a walking time bomb,” he said. “If even one of them causes any problems, it will be a huge problem for all Canadians, especially for the Muslims here.”
He called on the government to put more resources into curbing radicalization and monitoring the Canadian fighters who have come back to the country.
“Did government investigate them? Did government interrogate them? What kind of training did they get? Where were they recruited?” he said. “For me, the security and safety of Canada supersedes everything. I don’t believe in the civil liberties of a terrorist. We all have to be law-abiding, respectful, loyal Canadians.”