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By BERNIE BELLAN
In light of the recent attacks by Muslim terrorists in France, should Jews in Winnipeg be unduly concerned over the possibility of some sort of attack right here – in sleepy Winnipeg?


No doubt that is a question that many of us have been asking ourselves – as well as posing to certain community representatives in the past couple of weeks.

Let’s be honest: Most of us living here are relatively complacent about the notion that an armed attack will take place here. Winnipeg’s relative isolation – and the fact that it’s so bloody cold here so many months of the year, probably spares us from having had potential terrorists move here in the first place.
Yet, as Kasim Hafeez, the fascinating “Muslim Zionist” who now makes his home in Winnipeg and who serves as a community and relations officer for B’nai Brith Canada’s Midwest region, told a group that had gathered at my home on January 15: “Remember – the last attack against Jews in the United States that resulted in deaths was at the Kansas City JCC.” Kansas City? Who would have thought that?
Okay – so that attack was the work of a white right-wing nut job, put Kasim’s point is well taken: When you’re dealing with the kind of random and – what is more typical of late – “lone wolf” type of attack, how can you possibly prevent that type of attack?

Still, I am well aware that a number of individuals have been asking questions of certain community leaders regarding increased security measures at Winnipeg Jewish institutions in Winnipeg and – by “institutions”, I don’t necessarily mean to limit that description to synagogues and the Asper campus. I am told that steps have been taken to increase security, and that various parties who might be affected have been or will be consulted with. At the same time though, as I mentioned to one community leader in particular, I don’t want to get into any kind of detail as to what those enhanced security measures might be within the pages of this newspaper.
The problem, of course, is that any dissemination of information about enhanced security measure that might fall into the wrong hands – even within the pages of a Jewish newspaper that may not be widely read by would-be terrorists, is potentially dangerous. (On that point I should note that when I occasionally scan analytics for our website to see where traffic is coming from, I’m surprised at the number of views our site receives from such places as China. Could it be that, in China’s ongoing effort to develop the upper hand when it comes to cyber warfare that there are individuals there whose job it is to scour every online source of information in the world? I wouldn’t put it past them.)
 
There was an interesting congruence of other certain events in Winnipeg related to what happened in France and that is conected to the notion of cyber warfare. On Thursday, January 15, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet, Carmi Gillon, happened to be here as a guest of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University. Gillon is now executive chairman of an Israeli hi-tech security firm known as CYTEGIC.
Not unexpectedly, during his remarks Gillon referred to the complexity of having to deal with the new type of terrorist attacks, which have largely been conducted by individuals or very small groups that may or may not have ties to larger terrorist organizations. Gillon’s primary focus, however, was on the ever-growing threat posed by “cyber” attacks emanating both from rogue governments such as North Korea and large criminal organizations – on governments and private corporations.
Gillon noted that the face of terrorism has changed radically over the years. “We are in a new era of terrorism,” he suggested. “We had two intifadas with suicide bombers as the main weapon. What Israel did was to put the fence up, so what did Hamas do? They began to use rockets to go over the fence. At the end of the day we made the Iron Dome – so they made tunnels. We still don’t have the technology to deal with the tunnels totally, but within a year we should have that.
“Now the main weapon in the hands of the terrorists will by cyber attacks. If you are in Winnipeg, think what would happen if your airport is attacked. It would be enough to kill the x-ray machines” (as you go through security). “Also, they could hit the water supply – cell phones” – the list goes on.
The point of raising all these fears is that we are living in an entirely new world – one full of dangers that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

Yet, balanced against all these potential dangers – be they the attack of a lone wolf or a massive cyber attack, one should inject a note of realism into the situation. I took a look at the numbers of Muslims in Canada and where they generally live, and the fact is there are relatively few Muslims in Winnipeg. According to the National Household Survey of 2011 (The same survey, by the way, that says there are only a little more than 10,000 Jews in Winnipeg – by religion, that is.), and the number of Muslims in Winnipeg was only 11,265 in 2011.
Compare that with other cities in Canada: Toronto – 424,930; Montreal – 221,040; Vancouver – 73,214; Ottawa – 65,880; Calgary, 58,310; and Edmonton – 46,120, and you see that Winnipeg’s Muslim population is disproportionately small relative to the overall population here.
Kasim Hafeez, however, warned of the dangers posed by the inculcation of radical ideas among young Muslims by such organizations as the al-Maghrib Institute which, he said, is financed by Saudi Arabian money,  which promulgates an extreme brand of Islam, and which is highly active in Canada. The al-Maghrib Institute is but one example of an Islamic organization that has exerted great influence over young, impressionable Muslims, and that has been allowed to flourish in Canada and other Western democracies.

I might note that having Kasim Hafeez in our midst is a tremendous bonus. The insights he brings to current situations are extraordinarily deep, given that he is one of those rare individuals thoroughly acquainted both with Islamic and Jewish life, as he has experienced both from the inside, rather than as an observer. Kasim has spoken with our Israel Advocacy group twice now – and both times he had listeners totally enraptured as he described what it was like to grow up as a Muslim hating Jews – only to do a 180 degree turnaround, to the point where he is now converting to Judaism.

Myron Love has written about Kasim twice for this paper – most recently in the December 24 issue, and in our next issue I will give a much fuller report on what Kasim had to say to our Israel Advocacy group on January 15. (By the way, anyone is welcome to join this group. If you would like to add your name to the e-mail list contact the group at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

As we think of our fellow Jews in France – and the horrendous fears they have of what might be yet to come, it is more important than ever to remain informed of the realities of the new dangers confronting us. At the same time though, let’s bear in mind that a great many Muslims themselves are equally frightened of what is happening. The one thing we should all seek to avoid, however, is indifference to the new dangers that we are now all facing to one degree or another.
On that note I wonder what has become of the Arab-Jewish Dialogue - the group that formed several years ago and that was even honoured by the Jewish National Fund a couple of years ago at its gala. The premise behind the formation of that group seemed so promising: Engage in a dialogue - even over highly sensitive issues and at the very least try to understand the other side’s point of view.
I haven’t heard much about the Arab-Jewish Dialogue lately. Given the fact that there was yet another war between Israel and Hamas this past summer and that each time there’s a flare-up between Israel and Palestinians hostitlity between supporters of Israel and pro-Palestinians escalate in Winnipeg as well, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Arab-Jewish Dialogue has simply taken a prolonged time-out.
Still, it would be a shame if all the good work the members of that group accomplished, at least in keeping lines of communication open, were to be forgotten.