by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s campaign says she did not know Ron Banjaree, an anti-Muslim advocate, or the organization Rise Canada would be at the event she attended Monday evening in Brampton.
“Kellie did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended,” Leitch’s campaign spokesman Michael Diamond told iPolitics in an email.
Diamond said Leitch attended a meeting organized by an organization called “Keep Religion Out of Public Schools” in support of secular and pluralistic public schools.
“Kellie does not believe that this long standing Canadian practice should be changed to accommodate one group. Other individuals and groups attended this meeting, there was no guest list sent to Kellie prior to the event. This meeting was about the place of religion in public schools,” wrote Diamond.
Leitch did address the anti-Muslim group, though, and the money raised at the event was to go toward fighting the construction of a mosque in Brampton.
Banjaree, director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy and an advisor to Rise Canada, spoke to the audience awaiting Leitch’s arrival on Monday. In a video of his address posted to YouTube — posted below — Banjaree says Rise Canada is connected to different groups, including the Jewish Defence League of Canada, the United Christian Federation and other groups he describes as “fighting the Sharia creep.”
He tells the audience that, five years ago, the group didn’t exist, but with the help of mostly Christian groups it was able to do a series of “large scale demonstrations regarding prayers, Islamic prayers, in Toronto District School Board public schools, specifically it was Valley Park School.”
“At the time they had taken over the cafeteria for school prayers. They’re still doing it, by the way,” he tells the group. He goes on to claim that those organizing the prayers have made female students sit behind the boys and in some cases have excluded them from prayers altogether.
A Caucasian man in the audience pipes up at this point: “Sometimes they do panty checks. It’s disgusting.”
Diamond wrote that the meeting was attended by “a number of people from a number of different groups, including people from Rise Canada. That is clear.
“It is also clear that Kellie was not at the event while a representative from Rise Canada was speaking.”
Banjaree recently attended a Toronto school board meeting on religious accommodation where someone ripped up a copy of the Qur’an. At that board meeting, someone else was distributing flyers from Rise Canada which called for the elimination all policies of ‘religious accommodation’ in schools.
On the recording, Banjaree welcomes Leitch as she slowly makes her way to the podium, stopping along the way to shake hands with Banjaree’s supporters.
Leitch takes questions from the audience, but it appears only one — from Banjaree — was captured on video.
Banjaree claims that India has the best human rights record in the world and should be considered a “safe country” for migration, like Canada, the United States and many countries in Europe. He says that there have been problems with people from India claiming refugee status in Canada and people involved in the 1985 Air India bombing were able to claim refugee status in Canada.
Banjaree asks Leitch to look into why India is not considered a “safe country”; she says she will.
Diamond said that while Leitch responded a question from the floor, “she did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended.
“She wants to be very clear that this guy and his opinions are repugnant and do not reflect her own views.”
Diamond said Leitch is supportive of secular and pluralistic public schools. She is committed to building a country that promotes the shared values of hard work, generosity, freedom, tolerance, equality of opportunity and equality of individuals. “That includes the freedom to practice your religion and the responsibility to be tolerant of other people’s religion.”
A blog called Anti-Racist Canada posted an exhaustive list of links to reports of controversial activity by Banjaree, including the video from the event Leitch attended with him on Monday.
At the end of the video, an attendee says that former Mississauga mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston collected $244 from supporters at the event that will go toward fighting the construction of a mosque that was recently approved by Mississauga City Council.
In early March, city council gave the Meadowvale Islamic Centre Inc. and the City of Mississauga a green light to move forward with the development of the mosque.
Johnston reportedly expressed his concerns about the mosque on his website, “Stop the Mosque”. According to Mississauga.com, Johnston wrote on his website that the mosque would drive up crime and vandalism, set back women’s rights and affect housing prices.
Some Tory leadership contenders came under fire for giving interviews to Johnston on his YouTube channel, FreedomReport.ca.
In one of his video rants, he warns Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, author of motion 103 condemning Islamophobia, that he’ll be there “with a big, fat smile” to film the moment when she’s shot by a “gun nut.”
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg
The Islamic Social Services Association recently organized a conference on the theme of “At the Heart of Human Rights is Human Dignity” in Winnipeg.
It was attended by about 180 people, including many important speakers, but there was no local media coverage in the mainstream.
Andrew J. McLean, medical director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services and Chair of the Psychiatry Department at the N. Dakota School of Medicine, spoke on “Community Resilience and the Concept of the ‘Other.’”
He pointed out some unhealthy aspects of “otherization”: they are of less value; they are different from “me” and “us;” their differences are to be belittled; they are seen as “abject.”
“To work with another, you have to be able to admire something about them, even if you don’t like them,” said McLean.
The Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, a United Church Minister, spoke on “Beyond Our Comfort Zone: the LGBTQ Community, Hopes, Challenges, Collaborations and the Right to Dignity,” pointing out that hate groups lump “undesirables” together: “A part of the brain lights up when we see another, but not if we ‘otherize’ them.”
Everyone has prejudices
“We all have xenophobia to some degree,” said Shepherd. “But we must learn to be in solidarity with one another. Openness and courage are necessary to build relations and trust across communities that usually distrust one another.”
The event featured several “Conversation Cafes". One pointed out that prejudice may be positive or negative. Love is a positive prejudice which blinds us to the beloved’s negative qualities. Hate is the opposite.
The world is too complex for individuals to analyze each individual or phenomenon individually, and we don’t usually have the time. Consequently we fall back on our past experiences to make quick decisions.
For example, one may glance at the colour of the sky before leaving home and decide to carry one’s umbrella because that sort of sky often signals rain in our experience. One may then carry an umbrella all day, yet it may not rain; but if we ignore our past experiences, we deprive them of meaning.
We may have had negative (or positive) experiences justifying our pre-judgements, but should not fail to revise them when confronted with evidence to the contrary, concluded the participant.
Indifference and Silence are Threats
The Emcee, retired CBC Radio Host Terry MacLeod, welcomed Danny Smyth, Chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, and Scott Kolody, RCMP Assistant Commissioner, on the second day. In his address, Smyth said, “Women in our community will be a big part of the solutions.”
MacLeod called Shahina Siddiqui, Executive Director of the Islamic Social Services Association, “the godmother of everything that happened here,” and Kolody called her a leader.
Their greetings were followed by a heartfelt video message from Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission. “Indifference and silence are threats,” she said.
A participant asked MacLeod why there were so few media people of colour in the mainstream. He replied that rectifying it was now a major project at CBC.
Another asked the lawmen what was being done about the over 100 extremist groups like “Soldiers of Odin” in Canada. The “Soldiers” even have a Facebook page. The policemen replied that they were networking and exchanging information.
Haroon Siddiqui, an Editor Emeritus of the Toronto Star, then spoke on Islamophobia.
“(U.S. President Donald) Trump is doing what he said he’d do,” said Siddiqui: “And the Trump phenomenon has already happened here. Dozens of mosques have been vandalized, and Muslims assaulted. The alleged killer in Quebec was a Trump fan. We need to stand in solidarity with one another. Muslims can’t be maligned any more than they already have been. The ‘alt-right’ is code for white supremacists; indifference and inaction imply complicity with the victimisers.”
"Though Muslims aren't interned, they feel a psychological internment."
“The only crime of Canadians refused entry to the U.S. was that they weren’t white,” continued Siddiqui.
"Trump is similar to (former Canadian prime minister) Stephen Harper. Both elicited white support from their electoral bases. Once it was rumoured that Jews were taking over the world; now it’s Muslims. People talk of women’s status in Islam, but Muslim women are being spat on and shoved by North Americans.
"Have those who say the Koran says to kill infidels ever read the Old Testament? Wars call for propaganda, but one can’t separate Muslims there from Muslims here. When we demonize one, we demonize the other.”
Shahina Siddiqui thanked the funders at the end: Canadian Heritage, Sargent Blue Jeans, and The Winnipeg Foundation.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a Winnipeg-based journalist who has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Commentary by Phil Gurski
On rare occasions I pick up a copy of the National Enquirer or World Weekly News when I shop for groceries. It's not that I am particularly a fan, but they are strategically located at the checkout counter with their flashy, outrageous headlines. Some are truly unbelievable. I think my all-time favourite was 'Titanic survivor found on ice floe, vows never to eat fish again.'
These periodicals deal in what we now call fake news, albeit with a difference: the stories were never intended to be taken seriously and it is hard to believe that anyone could be influenced by their stark departure from the truth.
We are now living in a very different time where outright lies are taken seriously and they do affect the views and opinions of some people on very serious issues. The claim that crime is up (when it is down in many places) has led to calls for 'law and order' campaigns. The belief that vaccinations lead to autism (this was debunked years ago and the scientist making the claim shown to be a fraud) has made some parents eschew life-saving vaccines, causing outbreaks of diseases we thought we had beaten, like measles.
In Canada, there is another onslaught of fake news that centres on our Muslim communities and supposed links to terrorism and clandestine efforts to take over our country. Several Canadian cities have seen demonstrations that appear to have coincided with a motion by a Liberal backbencher to call on the government to look into and report on Islamophobia and other forms of hate. Among the allegations made by some of those demonstrating in Canadian streets are:
One of the great things about living in this country is that we are all free to express our views and opinions to a tremendous degree. There are limits, though, and these limits are both legitimate and necessary. If someone calls for violence, whether against a specific group or in general, that constitutes a crime (we'll leave aside the difficulties in prosecuting these offences). Incitement to beat another person to a pulp should not be ignored and I am confident that all Canadians would agree with this.
No, M103 is not a blanket on free speech, it is a reasonable call for looking into a worrisome rise in hatred online and on certain radio shows. Neither is it focussed solely on Islamophobia, although the highlighting of this particular form of potential hatred is not surprising in the wake of the awful massacre at a Quebec Islamic Centre a few weeks ago. The State has both a right and a duty to investigate individuals and groups who, through their actions or their language, can reasonably be seen as urging others (or themselves) to use violence against anyone. To ignore these actions would constitute State negligence.
While I support the fundamental right of the Islamophobes and the anti-immigrant lobby (thankfully small) in this country to voice their opinions, I also feel it necessary to address the 'alternative facts' they use to make their arguments. I will limit my comments to three here:
a) no, immigrants are not a drain on the system, commit more crimes than native-born and they do not steal 'Canadian' jobs. Study after study after study has shown that immigrants are a net bonus to their adoptive societies and that most integrate within a generation. Those that veer towards criminal acts will be dealt with by the same authorities that deal with all others who engage in crime.
b) no, there is no 'creeping Sharia' campaign in Canada. The last time a government (the Ontario Liberals back in 2004) considered allowing limited Sharia for some family issues, the greatest opponents were Muslim women. In the end the McGuinty government changed its mind and also got rid of other forms of religious arbitration, noting that there is 'one law for all Canadians'.
c) no, the Muslim Brotherhood is not taking over Canadian mosques and planning a stealth terrorism offensive. Reports alluding to this are comical at best, bad analysis at worst.
Canada is proudly a land of immigrants and it is those immigrants who have built this country and will continue to do so. The vast majority are just average people looking to better their lives as well as those of their families. Yes, there are bad apples, and we will deal with those.
To conclude, here is a great quote I read in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs. I could not have said things any better:
"Most people around the world now have the same aspirations as the Western middle classes: they want their children to get good educations, land good jobs, and live happy, productive lives as members of stable, peaceful communities."
Amen to that.
Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield).
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa
Kellie Leitch is one of the candidates seeking the leadership of Canada’s Conservative party, and she attracted much attention with her proposal for “screening immigrants, refugees, and visitors, for anti-Canadian values”. There are two parts to Leitch’s proposal.
First, there is the concept of Canadian values then there is the screening.
Leitch is simply advancing widely accepted principles. She lists six values, which belong in three categories:
· Nice-sounding but unenforceable character traits: “helping others”, “hard work”, and “generosity”.
· “Freedom and tolerance”, which she elaborates to mean “equality of men and women, freedom of religion, and equality of all under the law”. These values are already covered in further details in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our constitution.
· “Equal opportunity”, less a moral value than a political belief because it affects the functioning of government rather than the actions of individuals.
Canadian values are not a Conservative or even a Liberal idea even though we owe our charter to former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The term “Canadian values” is not widely used, yet the values are widely accepted by Canadians and even enshrined in our constitution.
On this basis, Leitch’s proposal should not be controversial, but it has become a lightning rod because there is the suspicion that it targets Muslims.
Are Canadian Values Islamophobic?
If Canadian values are seen to be hostile to Islam, it is because they are, at least when it comes to Islam as practised today by the vast majority of Muslim-majority countries. Those countries have no democratic freedoms, lesser rights for women and some ethnic groups, limited freedom of religion, and limited legal rights for non-citizens.
Islam is often used as justification for terrorism and other forms of violence in many parts of the world.
It is natural to be concerned about whether Muslims who come to Canada will negatively affect our values in the long term by adopting some of the same practices used in their countries of origin. This fear exists among much of the population of the Western world, including Canada, yet few mainstream politicians dare raise it or, even less, propose solutions.
Although Leitch does not state it, it is clear that her proposal is a way of addressing the fear of Islam. Her refusal to make the connection may be an attempt to avoid being labelled anti-Muslim. Leitch insists that her proposal is not anti-Muslim, and she is correct. Leitch is addressing legitimate fears of Islam in a positive way, by promoting Canadian values, which are consistent with the values of many individual Muslims, and not in a negative way, which would be to single out Islam as U.S. President Donald Trump has done through his recent executive order.
Our charter contradicts some of the widely practised Muslim principles, but it also contradicts some Christian and Jewish principles. For example, some Christian and Jewish denominations do not support gender equality.
If our Charter, and by extension our Canadian values, were anti-Muslim then they would also have to be considered anti-Christian and anti-Jewish, which is not the case. The Canadian Charter explicitly protects freedom of religion, while it expects Canadians to abide by our Canadian values. This is a recognition that individuals can think for themselves and can believe in a faith without blindly applying each of its stated principles.
Highly Desirable Policy
In this light, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is Pierre Trudeau’s son, should be even moral vocal than Leitch in promoting Canadian values, but instead, he is choosing to support a motion that condemns “Islamophobia”. Muslims and all other minorities must be protected against discrimination and violence, but politicians are hypocritical when they pretend that Islam is not a legitimate concern for many Canadians.
Canadian values should be a source of pride, not a source of partisan debate. If newcomers to Canada can be screened to protect our values, such a policy should be welcomed by everyone, including by Muslims who are here to escape the tyrannical regimes of their countries of origin.
Leitch’s proposal is still at a very early stage, and there are valid questions on how it would be implemented to avoid discrimination on the basis of religion. It is on such practical aspects that the debate should center. It may turn out that her proposal is not feasible, but it does not necessarily follow that this is a needless debate.
Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton
I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America. With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.
As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past. As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.
Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts. But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government. First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto. In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.
Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized. Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."
This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament. Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”
Substance, not symbolism
While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest. It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.
Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.
I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.
President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol.
by Jooneed Jeeroburkhan in Montreal
The cold-blooded shooting of six Muslims following evening prayers on Jan 29 at a Québec City mosque has, predictably, amplified the acrimonious debate over racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Quebec – as the suspect, who also injured a dozen others, is a 27-year-old white Québécois university student.
Calls for an Inquiry Commission on “Systemic Racism in Québec” quickly redoubled and political leaders, responding only piecemeal, did not hesitate to label the mass killing an “act of terrorism” – although “terrorism” is not among the six counts of murder the Québec City police have charged Alexandre Bissonnette with.
Never to miss an opportunity, militant secularists, including Muslim ones, chimed in, accusing political leaders, from Quebec’s Philippe Couillard to Canada’s Justin Trudeau, of “Islamizing Canadian Democracy” – while progressive secularists, Québécois mainly, complained some people were heaping collective guilt on all Québécois for the crime of one individual – a role reversal since all Muslims are usually held responsible for each and every terrorist act committed by Takfiris/Salafis, ISIL/Daesh, Al Qaeda…
Skewed against immigrants
And, as usual, familiar noises came from the English North American media about Quebec being “more racist” than the rest of Canada – and the Quebec National Assembly unanimously condemned a Washington Post article, penned by Vancouver-based J.J. McCullough, saying exactly that, adding Quebec’s “history of anti-Semitism” and “religious bigotry” leads to “more massacres” like this one.
The motion was moved by the opposition Parti Québécois, the party whose ethno-centrist “Charter of Values” bill died on the order paper as the PQ was resoundingly defeated by the Liberals (41% to 25%) in the 2014 elections. The Bloc Québécois proposed a similar motion in Ottawa denouncing the newspaper article as “hateful”, but the House of Commons refused to debate it.
As everywhere else throughout the hegemonic, and increasingly isolationist, West, the playing field, and the rules, remain heavily skewed against immigrants, refugees and all minority communities, yet the ruling communities paint themselves more and more as victims. And this trend has become noticeable in Quebec too in the wake of the Jan 29 shooting.
Re-igniting "reasonable accommodation"
To be fair, a huge mass of Québécois remain committed to an open and plural society, welcoming of diversity and militant in solidarity, as tens of thousands made it clear by attending a public meeting next to a mosque, and in snow and deep sub-zero temperature on Jan 31, in the heavily immigrant neighbourhood of Park Extension in Montreal, home of our very own Little South Asia.
Heart-warming as this demonstration was, it is highly unlikely that the discourse resulting from the Québec City shooting will help in putting to rest the old debate over “reasonable accommodation” in Quebec. If anything, it has re-ignited it. And police and media secrecy and selective leaks have only fed suspicion and distrust.
In the early hours following the massacre, media reports quoting informed sources, even witnesses, suggested there were two masked gunmen, and they shouted the Muslim cry of “Allah o Akbar”. The first-named suspect was a Muslim from Morocco, and stories suggested it may have been a settling of accounts between two neighbouring mosques of rival denominations.
The police then announced the Muslim man was “only a witness” and that the prime suspect was Alexandre Bissonnette – who apparently called police himself and gave himself up on the bridge linking Québec City to Orléans Island. The media then posted the photo of a suited and clean-cut boyish looking Bissonnette – who we were told was known in local social media circles as a pro-Fascist, anti-Feminist, anti-Immigrant, Islamophobic admirer of US President Donald Trump. But the police remains silent – and the media has stopped digging.
Appearing Feb 6 before the Senate committee on national security, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson refused to give details of the inquiry into the Québec City shooting. He instead voiced concern that the “caustic tone” of “political discourse” in Canada may contribute to “radicalize criminal extremists”. For its part, CSIS has warned of the recent development “of a Canadian online anti-Islam movement, similar to ones in Europe.”
As in the US and Europe, Quebec and Canada are in the throes of a major global re-balancing of power, marked by a decline of century-old global Western hegemony. The rise of xenophobia, particularly Islamophobia, and of right-wing populism and fascism, is a by-product of this momentous crisis – and the Québec City shooting, like the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, are its symptoms.
The trials and traumas are bound to get worse before they get better.
Jooneed Jeeroburkhan, 70, is a journalist, writer, human rights activist, feminist and grandfather living in Montreal. He came to study in Canada, on a Commonwealth scholarship, 50 years ago from Mauritius. He retired from the Montreal daily La Presse in 2009 after 35 years as a reporter and analyst on international affairs, visiting some 60 countries in the process. He published a book of essays, in French, on his native country, in 2010, titled Un autre Maurice est possible (Another Mauritius is Possible).
Commentary by Phil Gurski
Commentary by Tasha Kheiriddin
Most of Islam’s leaders present their faith as one of peace. That, unfortunately, is not how a majority of Ontarians see it these days.
According to a study commissioned by the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), “only a third of Ontarians have a positive impression of the religion and more than half feel its mainstream doctrines promote violence (an anomaly compared to other religions).” Of Canada’s six major religions, Islam is the one most likely to be viewed by respondents as an incubator of violence. The report concludes that “there is an epidemic of Islamophobia in Ontario.”
There is, of course, also an epidemic of radical Islamist terrorism in the world, playing out nightly on the video screens and smartphones of the globe. Just this weekend ISIS slaughtered 200 people in a Baghdad market. According to Le Monde, in the first eighteen months after it established its “caliphate” in 2014, the terror group killed 1,600 people in 83 terror attacks and hostage events in 20 countries. And whatever the Orlando shooter’s true motivations, he claimed to have killed fifty people at a gay nightclub in ISIS’ name.
Many religious Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia, oppress their own people, particularly women, in the name of Islam. They mete out violent punishments for “crimes” such as adultery, blasphemy, pursuing same-sex relationships and criticizing the government, punishments which include lashes and death by stoning. When the Saudi government attempts to justify these punishments as consistent with or Muslim religious law, it doesn’t make Islam look like a faith that likes to turn the other cheek.
Asking the average person to ignore this — to completely separate violence practiced in a religion’s name from the religion itself — is a tall order. While it’s true that the vast majority of Muslims want nothing to do with ISIS, abhor its practices and are far more likely to be its victims than its accomplices, the fact remains that its atrocities cause the Muslim faith to be viewed with suspicion and fear.
And as long as countries like Saudi Arabia continue to follow a form of religious law that runs completely counter to Western values of equality, freedom and minority rights, Islam will have a hard time being seen as a religion of peace.
Islam isn’t the first faith to be linked to violence, of course. The Crusades saw Christians and Muslims wage war in the Holy Land from the 11th to the 15th centuries. The Catholic Inquisition saw thousands of Jews expelled from Spain and thousands of other “unbelievers”, including Muslims, tortured and killed. In 19th and 20th century Canada, up to 6,000 First Nations children died in residential schools run by Christian priests and nuns; countless others were abused. Between 1969 and 2002, 5,000 people died in Northern Ireland due to sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants. In 1985, Sikh terrorists bombed Air India Flight 182 out of the sky, killing 329 passengers. Religious violence in India between Hindus and Muslims continues to claim nearly a hundred lives a year.
And as with many ‘religious’ movements, many of ISIS’ motivations are rooted not in faith — or even in a perversion of faith — but in power, money and territorial control. In war-torn regions where legitimate employment is hard (or impossible) to come by, many recruits join the organization purely for the income. Nevertheless, at the root of ISIS lies a fundamentalist, extremist version of Islam. Here’s how writer Graeme Wood described it in his fascinating, in-depth profile of the terror group for The Atlantic last year:
“Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery and coins, ‘the Prophetic methodology,’ which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.”
Until ISIS is defeated, Islam will continue to be viewed with suspicion and mistrust. Until Islamic governments treat women, minorities and LGBT individuals as equals, the faith will be seen as discriminatory and out of sync with Western values.
And all the public education campaigns in the world, such as those currently playing out across Toronto, won’t change the fact that fundamentalist practitioners of Islam maintain a worldview very different not only from those held by non-Muslims, but from those held by moderate Muslims as well.
As with any extremist religion-based movement, it’s the latter group that holds the key to transforming the faith and the way it is perceived. Moderate Muslims need to speak out against extremism, from the mosque to Main Street. Otherwise, radicals and their actions will continue to feed the fires of prejudice, help elect Donald Trump to the White House, and undermine the very principles of tolerance and equality which Western countries — including the millions of Muslims who call them home — hold dear.
Published under arrangement with ipolitics.ca
Commentary by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto
Followers of Islamic State (IS) or Al Qaeda may never admit it, but the election victory of Sadiq Khan as mayor of a city as great — and in their eyes Islamophobic — as London was a slap in the face.
Like the time Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Germany would welcome one million Syrian refugees, and when the Pope called on Europe’s Catholics to open their homes to refugees, Islamists are at risk of losing all credibility.
The success of these extremists, after all, thrives on disproportionate military reprisals, sectarian discord, and deeply engrained Islamophobia in Western societies. So the mere thought of a Muslim winning (Khan was born to parents who immigrated to London from Pakistan) over the most hearts and minds of a non-Muslim population, or of Christian ‘infidels’ opening up their homes to Muslims, challenges their narrative.
It’s worth recalling that a big part of ISIS’s recruitment strategy is posting lectures and videos online with ideologues dictating that killing the enemies of Islam— meaning the United States and its allies — is a religious duty for every Muslim. Often, they cite U.S. military action in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel as evidence of America’s strategic ‘war’ with Islam. They also play on the insecurities of young recruits by telling them that Muslims in the West would never be accepted into mainstream society.
And given the rise of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump – and increase of far-right parties coming to power across Europe — it’s not impossible to see how vulnerable, disaffected youth could fall into that sort of warped mindset.
2005 London bombings
But while Trump anti-Muslim rhetoric has never been louder, so too have the voices of ordinary Muslims, though not necessarily in the way one might expect.
Many Canadians will remember the anger, confusion and backlash that Muslims, South Asians — literally anyone who even remotely resembled a Muslim or Arab -- faced from their own friends, neighbours or colleagues after the September 11, 2001 attacks in America. A deep climate of mistrust against the community ensued, which for some only gets worse with every new terror attack on Western soil.
I recall that it was amid this climate that Sadiq Khan first entered the political scene in Britain as an elected MP for Tooting in east London.
As a graduate student in London in 2005, the year four British-born Muslims bombed the London Underground, I heard pundits all wanting to know the same thing: Where are all the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims? Why aren’t all the so-called peace-loving Muslims living in London condemning these barbaric attacks?
I also heard voices like Sadiq Khan and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (then the Vice Chair of the Conservative Party) fiercely condemn the attacks and disassociate them with the actual tenets of the faith, to no avail. As much as people demanded answers from the Muslim community— and Muslims responded in the same unequivocal voice of condemnation every time – it made no difference. The terrorists still seemed to be louder.
11 years on
What’s changed, 11 years on? Some would argue nothing.
Terrorists continue to slaughter innocents and billionaire conservative politicians continue to incriminate an entire global community for the abhorrent actions of a few. What has changed in the most profound sense is that Muslims are no longer seen (or at least solely) as a fifth column.
The voice of the ordinary, ‘moderate’ Muslim is heard more than ever — not as spokespeople who can denounce the ways terrorists justify their acts through the Quran — but as engaged citizens and leaders paving the way forward in a world that we all want to become more inclusive and tolerant.
Last year, we saw Canadian Muslims unite strategically for the first time in a non-partisan, grassroots organization to achieve a single goal: Increasing the participation of Canadian Muslims within the democratic process.
This, along with the opposition’s crude anti-Muslim strategy not unlike Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan’s competitor from the UK Conservative Party, played a key role in bringing Justin Trudeau’s pro-immigration party to power.
Drop ‘Muslim’ descriptor
We’ve also seen Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada an as Afghan refugee, sworn in as Minister of Democratic Institutions in Trudeau’s cabinet, and Ginella Massa, a hijab-clad journalist, become an on-camera reporter for Toronto news network CityTV.
Britons, too, have seen a rise in British Muslims taking centre stage, from national baking contests to professional sports.
None of these people ever condemned the abhorrent actions of the so-called Islamic State during their moments in the spotlight, simply because it wasn’t their place. They are all skilled professionals or athletes in their own right, recognized as Muslims, but celebrated for their extraordinary skills that contribute to all of society.
That’s the way it should be.
Muslims are no different from anyone else, and for that reason, their successes should be commended no more, nor less than anyone else’s. Perhaps, the next step in fostering genuine equity in society is for news outlets to drop the ‘Muslim’ reference altogether.
Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at Humber College. She holds an MA Middle Eastern Studies and has previously worked at BBC News in London, Al Jazeera English and CBC News.
by Alireza Ahmadian in Vancouver, British Columbia
Identity determines how we value ourselves and how others perceive us. Its significance has increased with globalization, migration and technological advancements. Many people today consider themselves to have multiple identities, while others are happy with a single identifier.
In The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada: Culture, Politics, and Self, a book edited by Nurjehan Aziz, 12 authors grapple with the idea of Islamic identity in Canada.
Panel discussions on the book have been held throughout Canada, including in Vancouver.
The book documents the everyday lives of several Canadian Muslims. Some authors write about their own experiences, others about the Muslim community in Canada. Some essays are written in an academic style, while others are personal narratives.
Islam in post-Harper Canada
Almost every chapter criticizes the government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper for “targeting” or “scapegoating” Muslims for political gain.
Haroon Siddiqui’s chapter, “Anti-Muslim Bigotry Goes Official — Canada’s Newest Dark Chapter,” deals with the experiences of Muslims under the Harper government.
He presents a list of what he calls “Islamophobic” actions, speeches, policies or legislation undertaken by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, immigration ministers Chris Alexander and Jason Kenney, and other Conservative members of Parliament and senators.
Authors debate Muslim identity
In some instances, one author in the book responds to the concerns or questions raised by another. Safia Fazlul says she “lives on the fringe of being ‘somewhat liberal Canadian’ and ‘somewhat conservative Muslim South Asian.’”
Her inability and unwillingness to live strictly in one category led her to be discriminated against and excluded by “both liberal and secular Canadians and traditional Muslim Canadians.” People do not accept her even though she is comfortable with her multiple identities.
Ameen Merchant, on the other hand, raises a valid point about subjectivity and somewhat ignores the opinions of others about his relationship with Islam.
“My sense of Muslim identity may not be another’s definition of what a Muslim ought to be and it also may not be in line with scripture and sacred text,” he writes. "Then again, my subjectivity is also not anyone else’s. It is multifarious absorbent, and always subject to change. And it is my own.”
Mohamed Abualy Alibhai’s suggestion that Muslims in North America “abandon the belief in the verbal revelation of the Qur'an,” mirrors arguments raised by activist and author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, mainly that the literal understanding of the Qur'an must be “reformed or discarded.”
Furthermore, Alibhai advocates for a conscience-based Islamic denomination, as if it does not exist. However, a look at Karim H. Karim’s chapter illustrates how Aga Khan, the Imam or spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, has been doing what Alibhai argues is needed.
“The Islamic leader presents the concepts of ethics, democracy, development, meritocracy, pluralism and quality of life as some of the ‘brides that unite’ ways of understanding that are religious and secular,” writes Karim about Aga Khan.
The Ismaili leader’s ideas of the Qur'an underlie his discourse, but he rarely makes overt religious references in his speeches.
At the same time, Alibhai is dismissive of Muslim reformist thinkers who reinterpret the Islamic texts to accommodate the realities of modern life. Monia Mazigh’s chapter, for example, illustrates how Islamic discourses can be invoked to disprove the notion of men’s perceived superiority over women.
Interpreting modern Islam
There are different ways to convince different people of the same issue. You can argue that robbery is socially unacceptable, morally reprehensible, illegal, or against your religion. Each one of those arguments is valid depending on the audience. The argument based on religion is more appealing to a religious person.
In the same vein, we need Muslim reformist thinkers to use Islam to fight against radical interpretations of the religion.
Some of the authors identify as “inconsistent Muslim” or “cultural Muslim,” however, we do not see a representation from an “observant Muslim” – those who may imprecisely be called conservative or traditional Muslims.
These are the proud Canadian Muslims who follow all Islamic laws and traditions and believe that they can also be civically engaged Canadians.
Furthermore, three of the authors are of Arab origin and the rest are South Asian. The Muslim community in Canada is much more diverse and the overwhelming majority of them are not represented in this book.
Overall, Aziz’s book is a success as it represents a segment of an underrepresented group of Canadian citizens: Muslims who are spoken, about but rarely given the chance to speak for themselves.
Alireza Ahmadian is a Vancouver-based writer and researcher. He has a Masters of Arts in International Affairs and Diplomacy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He has appeared on BBC World News and BBC Persian to discuss world affairs and is published on online forums such as New Canadian Media, BBC, and foreign policy blogs.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit