Alleged Terrorist Twins Claiming to be Algonquin - So What?Written by Shady Hafez
Muslim Link is grateful to Shady Hafez for letting us publish his original blog post discussing media and community reactions to Carlos and Ashton Larmond’s application for Indian Status.
The 24 year old Larmond Twins converted to Islam five years ago, according to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), and were raised by their grandmother, Linda Brennan, in Vanier where they attended Rideau High school. Both twins have been arrested on allegations of participating in the activity of a terrorist group as part of the RCMP’s Project Servant arrests. Carlos Larmond has been accused of planning to leave Canada with the intention of joining ISIS.
It came to the attention of media in late February that the twins’ grandmother is applying for Indian Status as the twins claim Algonquin ancestry. Media has claimed that the twins may be applying for Indian Status so their sentencing could fall under Gladue. Gladue refers to a court decision that states that one’s Aboriginal ancestry must be taking into account when sentencing for a crime, given the long history of legislated injustice against Aboriginal peoples. According to Correctional Investigator of Canada Howard Sapers, Aboriginal inmates make up almost 25% of Canada’s prison population, although they make up only 4% of Canada’s population. Incarceration of Aboriginal women in particular has increased by 80% over the last decade.
Shady Hafez, born to an Algonquin mother and Syrian father, has the unique perspective of being from two communities, First Nations and Muslim, which are often poorly represented in media and face a great deal of discrimination in Canadian society. This piece is a personal reflection on the negative narratives around identity and belonging that have arisen in the public discourse on the case of the Larmond twins.
Muslim Link would like to add that many of the issues Hafez raises, from the confusion of race and religion, the refusal to accept that members of one’s own community can do terrible things and still claim membership in our communities, and the constant debates over how authentic one needs to be in order to belong to a certain racial or religious group, also happen a great deal within how Muslims talk about their fellow Muslims in both mainstream and Muslim-oriented media. Therefore, in publishing this, we hope our Muslim readers will not leave the piece being upset about some of the prejudices within Canadian Aboriginal communities, but instead reflect on how so many of these prejudices are the same as those within our own communities, and how we all need to call ourselves and our fellow community members out when these prejudices arise in our discussions, writing or reporting.
On top of that, as Muslim Canadians, we should also keep in mind the extent to which we are deeply ignorant of the history, culture, contributions, and struggles of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit in Canada, the indigenous peoples of this land- particularly in Ottawa, a city on unceded Algonquin territory, which has one of the fastest and youngest urban Aboriginal populations in Canada-before we get upset about their ignorance about us.
This story has been circulating around now for a couple days. Especially within the Algonquin community. Being Algonquin and Muslim I have been asked a few times as to what I think about this. Well, here it goes.
To start, this is simply bad journalism. Right across the board from the major players like CBC and the National Post. To the smaller gems who I was surprised to see push this story as well (“cough APTN cough”). What exactly does their claim to be Algonquin have to do with their terrorism-related charges? Absolutely nothing. Luckily most people who I have spoken to about this agree. It’s an obvious attempt to create even more hysteria and fear among the Canadian populace. If most people I have spoken to know this then what’s the issue here?
Well the issue is the ridiculous responses from Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks regarding these boys’ claims to their supposed Algonquin identity. The amount of crappy things I have heard over the past few days with regards to this story have honestly been disheartening and needs to stop.
First, for all the haters out there. Physical appearance is not a determinant of whether or not you are Indigenous. So let’s just get that clear. Yes these boys have beards. No that does not mean they can’t possibly be Indigenous. On a side note, I think the court artist made these boys look way more Middle Eastern then they actually do.
Second, being Muslim does not mean someone cannot be Indigenous. Refusing to smudge*, which APTN reported the boys have refused to do in prison due to their Muslim faith, does not mean someone cannot be Indigenous. On another side note, most Muslims would not have an issue with smudging. With that logic it could be argued that the die-hard Catholics in our Indigenous communities are not Indigenous. We all know where this is going, it’s a slippery slope people. Religion and race are not the same thing. You can choose to believe in whatever God you want to believe in and still retain your racial identity. I really want to emphasize how ridiculous it is that APTN’s coverage of this chose to end by reiterating that these boys refuse to smudge. As if that’s the catalyst for being Indigenous.
Third, being labelled a terrorist does not mean you’re not Indigenous. I have heard this the most. “There’s no way they can be Algonquin, they’re Muslim terrorists, it doesn’t work”. HEAD SMASH ON TABLE. This is a common rhetoric that needs to end. The angelicizing (made that word up) of our people does more harm than good. Bad Indigenous people do exist. It’s a reality. Just like it’s a reality in every culture and race around the world. Being bad or evil does not suddenly remove your racial identification. It can remove your community identity, but not your race. So terrorists, murderers, and drug dealers who claim to be Indigenous are not suddenly removed from being Indigenous because we don’t like their actions. We can remove them from the community but we cannot tell them not to identify with whatever they choose to identify with.
Fourth, when we examine the claims they are making, there is some merit to their claims, but there is also a whole lot to critique. To start, they lived in Vanier (for those who don’t know Ottawa, Vanier is a highly concentrated Indigenous neighbourhood). Second, they went to Rideau High (a high school with a high concentration of Indigenous students, where they probably encountered a lot of Indigenous students and may have felt accepted). Lastly, their grandmother who is pushing the claim carries the last name Brennan. Those who know Algonquin families, know that a legitimate Algonquin Brennan family does exist. With all that being said, it is highly plausible that there is some legitimacy to their claims.
The two main critiques that I have heard most are that they do not know what community they are from and that this identity claim is just so that they can claim Gladue. This is a big issue for me as I feel like you can claim to be whatever you want to be, but if you want to claim a connection to a people and reap the benefits of that connection, then I would argue you must be an accepted member of that community. Yet, we must all remember that many Indigenous people do not have a connection to their specific communities which is not the fault of the individual but as a result of the historical atrocities committed towards us. So can we really judge? I am not sure we can.
The second critique I have heard is, “They’re just using the status thing to claim Gladue”. For those who don’t know, Gladue refers to a court decision that basically states that one’s Aboriginal ancestry must be taking into account when sentencing for a crime. It’s a method to apply restorative justice principles when dealing with Indigenous offenders. Knowing this and studying up a bit on Gladue, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t think Gladue will be applied to this case. First off, their identity claims are not solidified and AANDC is not going to rush the process just for these boys. Next, I don’t see how they will be able to explain how the effects of being Aboriginal has translated to them wanting to fight with ISIS. It doesn’t really add up. Also, in a time when we are probably going to see a lot more terrorist-related offences it does not make a whole lot of sense for a judge to set this type of precedence in relation to these types of charges. Finally, nobody knows exactly how long these boys have been attempting to gain status. The current trend in discussion is the assumption that they just up and decided this while in custody. We can’t just make assumptions when discussing race and identity. So stop.
I want to end this piece by reiterating that I am not in support of these young men whatsoever. My issue with this story is not the charges being brought up against them, rather the types of discussions that are happening with regards to their race and religion which I feel have been happening in a negative way. We must remember that the charges these boys are facing does not determine what they can and cannot identify as.
*According to the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, Smudging is a sacred ceremony of most First Nations. Depending on the geographic location, sweetgrass, sage and/or cedar can be burned to purify the body, mind, heart and spirit of all persons who enter the ceremonial area. This allows the people to participate fully in whatever event is happening later; smudging can also be done as a separate sacred ceremony. Many First Nations people understand that there are negative forces which can cause harm: smudging is a method to protect oneself from these. Smudging should be done starting the burn at the tip of the plant. The plant should be used until about 5 cm, including the roots, are left; this part is to be returned to Mother Earth to assist in replenishing her. During the smudging, people through motions of their hands cover their body with the smoke; completion is indicated by turning the palms of the hands down. After each person has carefully smudged, the smoke is allowed to stop burning.
Some Canadian churches have also refused to let people smudge claiming that is clashes with their Christian values as it demonstrated by an incident at Immanuel Pentecostal Church in Winnipeg in 2014.
Shady Hafez's original blog post
Ottawa twins charged with terror-related offences applying for Indian status (APTN February 25,2015)
Lawyers puzzled by terror suspects’ bid for Indian status (ipolitics, February 27, 2015)
Shady Hafez on Being Algonquin and Syrian (Muslim Link, June 19, 2014)
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