Canadian Muslims should accept full political responsibility as citizens: loyalty to their country, critical of its policies

Just as I was about to write a follow-up to an earlier article on the anti-terrorism handbook published jointly by two Canadian Muslim organizations and the RCMP, a recent convert to Islam killed a member of the Canadian Armed Forces in Québec and, one day later, a shooter apparently self-identified as a Muslim attacked Canada’s House of Parliament in Ottawa. Muslim organizations were quick to denounce the attacks in the strongest terms.

Such disclaimers, while undoubtedly sincere, are no longer adequate to the security-obsessed political atmosphere that has been created in Canada. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada is once again a belligerent in a Middle-East war. Its avowed enemy (though it may have other adversaries it prefers not to identify) is the hyper-Islamist faction ISIS, also known as the Islamic State or Da’ish, its Arabic acronym. This organization, if we are to believe media accounts, clearly intends to carry the war to the enemy, wherever he might be. Including Ottawa, we may presume.

Muslims in Canada, who have lately been going to extraordinary lengths to dissociate themselves from what has been correctly labeled as an “ideology of violence”, may soon run out of workable options. The unanimous declarations of Canadian imams condemning Da’ish and its works as un-Islamic do not appear to be having any effect on either the Harper government’s determination to bomb far-away Muslim countries as part of yet another colonial-imperialist coalition, or on the hot-headed, single-minded and often deeply troubled young men prepared to act on the call of the group’s leaders to strike their foes wherever they find them.

Put bluntly, Canada’s Muslims are caught in a bind. Trapped between the shrill propaganda of the Harper government and its policy of punitive expeditions on the one hand, and the equally shrill call for jihad, seen as sanctified combat against the enemies of Islam on the other, what plea for moderation can prevail? In fact, the extreme nature of both positions ensures that extremism will prevail. Would Stephen Harper soon channel Pierre-Elliot (“Just watch me”) Trudeau of War Measures Act fame?

We need not have held our collective breath. Prime Minister Harper announced the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu attack in the House of Commons in response to a set-up question from an obscure backbencher. He then introduced legislation to strengthen Canada’s security services. These services—the RCMP and CSIS—already notorious for their disregard for, and hostility to, civil liberties, will gain draconian new powers to monitor, detain and arrest on suspicion or “reasonable assumption.”

What should Canada’s growing Muslim population do now? Public statements by individuals and organizations, while properly expressing abhorrence of crimes committed in the name of Islam, should be expanded to describe the current political context that the Harper government (and its arch-secularist Islamophobe allies in and around the Parti Québécois) has shaped. Muslim grass-roots organizations, while declaring their abhorrence of the crimes committed in the name of their religion, should be equally firm in demonstrating their loathing for the atrocities (known as “collateral damage”) committed by their government—and the coalition of which it is a member—in their name. Canada, they might well point out, has no United Nations mandate to bomb Syrian or Iraqi territory in whatever capacity. The country to which they as citizens owe allegiance is thus a party to aggression as defined by the UN Charter.

Citizen-based organizations and anti-war movements in Québec and the rest of Canada have already taken to the streets to protest Ottawa’s policy. Muslims should join such demonstrations and make their voices heard. They cannot afford to surrender their rights as citizens. Their determination to speak out against Canada’s policy of militarism should be as bold and forthright as their condemnation of the violent acts perpetrated in the name of their religion.

No more than they should accept collective responsibility for the acts of a handful of fools, petty criminals or, at best, misled young men.  Muslims in Canada cannot abdicate their duty as citizens to call their government to account for shaping the international climate that has fostered the rise of groups like Da’ish. Indeed, the finger of accusation should be pointed straight at Ottawa for its unconditional defense and support of Zionist crimes in Palestine and, by extension, for the oppressive and unjust status quo that prevails throughout the Middle East and stokes the fires of sectarian strife.

While it is a crime for Canadians to travel abroad to join the ranks of Da’ish, the Israel-based Lone Soldier Program benefits from tax-deductible status through the Ne’eman Foundation in Toronto. This program recruits mercenaries to serve—and fight–in the Israeli army against its Palestinian “enemies.”

None of these measures, however, should allow Muslims in Canada to avoid some communal soul searching. While they can and must reject collective guilt, they cannot remain indifferent to the exclusionist language that has, over the years, become accepted as religious discourse in mosques and, worse, in informal discussion groups and on the internet. The issue is less one of financial support of institutions by Middle Eastern sponsors of violence and obscurantism, and more that of legitimizing a retrograde political ideology—Wahhabi Salafism—that masquerades as religion. Curiously, while Da’ish has been identified as the enemy of the day, the sources of its political/religious program do not appear to bother either Washington or Ottawa, both of which maintain excellent relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its principal state purveyor.

Canadian political leaders, and their security services, enjoy instructing Muslims in the steps they must take to head off religiously inspired violence. They should be politely requested to keep their advice to themselves and go about their information gathering without the willing cooperation of Canadian Muslims. If state surveillance and monitoring tools and skills are as well developed and extensive as Edward Snowdon’s revelations show, does the political police really need help from us?

Ultimately the task of Muslims in Canada should be to deconstruct the pseudo-religions ideology that has enabled extremism to carve out a niche in their midst. Only Canada’s Muslims themselves can do the job. At the same time they should accept full political responsibility as citizens: loyalty to their country, critical of its policies. Especially when those policies perpetuate the climate of sectarian violence now wracking the Middle East.

On September 27,  2014 an unlikely trio of organizations published a handbook entitled United Against Terrorism: a Collaborative Effort Towards a Secure, Inclusive and Just Canada. Its three collective authors include the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, a national Muslim defense and advocacy group, and—surprisingly—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Not only Muslims, but all Canadian citizens concerned by increasing state encroachment upon civil liberties in the name of “combating terrorism”, should welcome the initiative. The issues the handbook raises can only be fully addressed through open and informed discussion and debate. United Against Terrorism should be welcomed as a contribution to a debate that is just beginning.

But at the same time, United Against Terrorism arguably raises more questions than it answers; questions of editorial and even of political judgment.

One question heads the list: by what logical contortion did the RCMP, which the late Frank Scott once described as the “greatest enemy of human rights in Canada,” become a co-signatory to a booklet that levels serious implicit criticisms against it?

Have United Against Terrorism’s two other organizational authors chosen discrete silence over historical accuracy in their reluctance to alienate the Mounties? For the history of “anti-terrorism” operations in Canada, before and particularly after the events of September 11 2001, reveal deep and persistent connections between the RCMP in the arrest and detention of terrorism suspects and the manipulation and/or intimidation of alleged participants in “terror plots” if not direct involvement in these plots.

The most egregious—and outrageous—example of such behavior remains the case of Maher Arar. The 2006 O’Connor report, which cleared Mr. Arar of any wrongdoing and resulted in a full apology and a substantial financial indemnity paid to him by the Canadian government, found that the RCMP had unfairly identified Mr. Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, as “Islamic extremists” with links to al-Qaeda.

On the basis of misinformation provided by the Mounties, Mr. Arar was kidnapped by American authorities and rendered to Syria where he was violently abused for ten months before being released, largely due to the unremitting efforts of his wife.

In the immediate post-9/11 period, a culture of impunity arose in both Canadian and American law-enforcement agencies. Both were given carte blanche to track down and neutralize “terrorist threats.” This culture of impunity created in turn an atmosphere of suspicion directed at Muslims in both countries, resulting in aggressive programs of surveillance that often mutated into entrapment and provocation in the attempt to soothe a frightened population–and justify draconian restrictions of civil liberties.

[Readers with longer memories will recall the findings of Québec’s 1977 Keable Commission, which revealed direct RCMP involvement in criminal and/or terrorist acts—including arson and the use of explosives--designed to incriminate the Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ), which in 1976 formed the government of the province. Although its mandate did not extend to the events leading up to the 1970 October Crisis, testimony before the Commission pointed to RCMP involvement in those events.]

Historically, Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal law-enforcement agencies have never refrained from the use of violence, intimidation and even blackmail to coerce or manipulate potential “terrorists” or to discredit dissidents, either as individuals or groups. The two Muslim contributors to United Against Terrorism should have been aware that, far from being friends of civil liberties in Canada, police agencies, and particularly the Mounties, have long been at the forefront of restricting and repressing those liberties. This they have done at the behest of unscrupulous politicians, from Pierre-Elliott Trudeau to Stephen Harper.

The booklet’s editorial shortsightedness is also on display in its uncritical reference to a New York Police Department (NYPD) definition of “terrorism.” This from the same New York Police Department that worked hand in glove with the notoriously Islamophobic Clarion Fund to screen a “training film” called “The Third Jihad” to more than 1500 NYPD officers in 2011 and carried our large-scale domestic spying program that monitored every aspect of Muslim life and created databases on where Muslims eat, shop, work and pray in the city.

To the credit of the booklet’s two Muslim contributing organizations, United Against Terrorism produces a checklist of precautions entitled “What to do I do when approached by the RCMP or CSIS?” The list, which cautions that cooperation with CSIS/RCMP is voluntary, undermines the RCMP’s self-serving claims that it serves and treats all Canadian citizens equally when it clearly does not.

The list also curiously states that lying to a law enforcement officer is a crime, while remaining silent on the lies of law enforcement officers to entrap or incriminate innocent people. What constitutes a lie can only, in fact, be decided by a court of law, and never by a law enforcement officer or agency.

The handbook’s final section, “How do we act proactively to avoid crisis,” calls on Muslims to encourage and develop trust between your communities and RCMP. “Invite them to your events and encourage youth to see RCMP as a career option,” it advises. Recent events and the historical record of RCMP activity in Canada would indicate that this is exactly the wrong course of action for Muslim communities to take. The RCMP has done little to merit the trust of Canadian Muslims—not to mention that of Canada’s First Nations and of all Canadians in general. Until clear evidence of a radical shift in policy emerges, this particular recommendation should be dismissed as wishful thinking.

Muslim organizations would be far better advised to follow the lead of the NCCM and vigorously challenge slanderous allegations directed against individuals and organizations by the country’s highest political authorities, including the Prime Minister’s office. RCMP and police policy toward Muslims, as toward other dissenting groups in Canadian history, has been shaped by political considerations, and by ideologically driven, power-hungry politicians.

The Canadian Muslim community’s efforts to defend its good name should begin with a refusal to be intimidated, and with an uncompromising defense of civil liberties for itself and others. United Against Terrorism should have been much more forthright in pursuing this approach.

In a second article, I will address the question of what Muslim community organizations can do to combat “terrorism.”

Stocking up on lunch snacks at Costco, I saw a book that grabbed my attention. It had a picture of a woman wearing the niqab, a veil which covers the face, worn by some Muslim women.

Intrigued, I bought it, mentally congratulating the publisher for having squeezed $20 out of my pocket. They know the niqab sells, grabs headlines and diverts attention. It has also become a lightening rod for debate, emotional reaction and fear.

A few months ago, the debate raged among Canadian politicians whether wearing the niqab and voting jived. It’s been discussed in Quebec, Netherlands and many other parts of the world.

Predictably, the niqab controversy is making the rounds again, this time in France where president Nicholas Sarkozy or Sarko as he is `affectionately` called in certain quarters, deflected attention from plunging popularity by making pronouncements on the niqab.

“In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity…it is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.”

The extended applause among his fellow parliamentarians must have felt good. They were probably envisioning how easily fear can buy cheap votes amongst the masses.

The last time Sarko targeted Muslim women was in his 2004 law banning the Islamic headscarf and other highly visible religious symbols from French public schools.

President Barack Obama addressed this ban in his speech in Cairo two weeks ago:
`… it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.`

In defending his words, Obama stated, “I will tell you that in the US, our basic attitude is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear.”

He’s got the right approach. Unfortunately, the people who speak about the niqab are usually the ones who feel the most uncomfortable with it: journalists, politicians, intellectuals and feminists.

Under the pretence of defending freedom of thought, they are actually legitimizing hate, thus generating exactly the opposite of what they claim to defend.

And they don’t seem to be particularly attentive to those whom they are defending.

There are many reasons that Muslim women wear niqab. Unfortunately, we never hear from them, their voices, their stories, their choices, how it impacts their integration within their societies, how they feel.

In speaking for them, we assume that they lack humanity, that they are oppressed idiots who can only be spoken to, about, for but not with.

Perhaps its time we reassess our own reaction to the niqab. To fear means that we are lacking confidence in ourselves and in others.  It is therefore our own own biases that are fuelling this debate more than anything else.

By allowing this fear to infiltrate our societies, we are entertaining the most serious illusions about our freedom and putting into danger our notion of a truly democratic society.

The organization for the defence of human rights, Human Rights Watch (HWR) agrees, `The ban on the veil violates human rights and stigmatizes and marginalize women who wear it. The freedom to express religion and freedom of conscience are fundamental rights…and such a ban would send a signal to many French Muslims: they are not welcome in their own country.”

Treading carefully, it has been announced that an official commission will be created to assess the question of the niqab over the next six months, mainly made up of men.

It smells suspiciously patriarchal.

In looking at the context of where the niqab came from, we know that it was specific to the Prophet’s wives and not to all women – more of a cultural practice than an Islamic prescription.

And what the question of the niqab is bringing to the fore within Muslim communities is the notion of Islamic feminism, a struggle for the rights of women in the name of Islam against two kinds of discrimination: cultural discrimination, and the literalist approach to the text.

For example, the Prophet Muhammad emphasized the active role of women in early Islamic society, and insisted that modesty should never be confused with “disappearing from the social, political, economic or even military sphere”.  In other words, Muslim women should have a voice. 

And this is why it is important to have an intra-community dialogue about veiling the face - to emphasize that women should not be forced to wear it, but that we also have to respect the choices women make on how they wish to dress, a right that is embedded in most democracies.

In concluding his speech, Sarko states that the niqab, “will not be welcome on our territory.”

However he needs to understand that a law banning the niqab won’t change anything except outward appearance. It most certainly won’t emancipate anyone.

Emancipation will only occur fom within when women are able to speak for themselves-  not through edicts on someone’s elses terms or agenda.

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

We are used to nice words and many, in the Muslim majority countries as well as Western Muslims, have ended up not trusting the United States when it comes to political discourse. They want actions and they are right. This is indeed what our world needs. Yet, President Obama, who is very eloquent and good at using symbols, has provided us with his speech in Cairo with something that is more than simple words. It is altogether an attitude, a mindset, a vision.

In order to avoid shaping a binary vision of the world, Barack Obama referred to “America”, “Islam”, “the Muslims” and “the Muslim majority countries”: he never fell into the trap of speaking about “us” as different or opposed to “them” and he was quick to refer Islam as being an American reality, and to the American Muslims as being an asset to his own society. Talking about his own life, he went from personal to universal stating that he knows by experience that Islam is a religion whose message is about openness and tolerance. Both the wording and the substance of his speech were important and new: he managed to be humble, self-critical, open and demanding at the same time in a message targeting all of “us”, understood as “partners”.

The seven areas he highlighted are critical. One might disagree with President Obama’s reading and interpretation of what is happening in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Palestine (and the US role in these conflicts), but he has clearly avoided shying away from addressing these issues and has called all the parties to take their share of responsibility by putting an end to violence and promoting respect and justice. He clearly acknowledged the suffering of the Palestinians and their rights to get a viable and independent State. It is a first necessary step: the future will tell us if the new President has the means to be strong and consistent when dealing with the Israeli government. He left open some channels as to the dialogue with both the Palestinian authority (calling for unity without sidelining Hamas) and Iran. These were and remain critical issues and there will be no future without addressing them with consistency and courage. Expectations are immense and Barack Obama has still to show his true practical commitment to justice and peace.

President Obama made an important distinction between democratic principles and political models. Rule of law, free choice of the people, duty of transparency are universal principals while the political models are depending on historical and cultural factors to be taken into account. We hope the Obama administration would put this vision into practice by both promoting democratisation everywhere and scrupulously respecting the choice of the people: it would be good to start with Iraq and Afghanistan. As to the undisputable principals of democracy, this is a good reminder to be uttered… in Egypt, to the Egyptian Government, where the President was delivering his speech.

Barack Obama mentioned seven issues to be addressed. He started by the more political issues and quite intelligently ended with the critical areas of “women” and “education”. This is where, he recalled, we all have to do much better. In these two areas he came with practical solutions and presented future interesting projects. Facing economic crisis, doubts, fears, and global threats, the world needs women to be more involved and education to be promoted everywhere. These commons challenges helped the President, once again, to talk about an inclusive us, a “new we” so to say, where we are partners sharing the same concerns, facing up to te similar challenges, exposed to common enemies.

This speech is not only directed to the Muslims around the world. The West and non Muslims should listen. Barack Obama spoke about acknowledging the historical Islamic contribution to sciences, development and thought. He wants his fellow American citizens to learn more about Islam, to be more humble and he expects from all the “liberals” not to impose their views on practising Muslims, men and women. No one can impose a way of dressing or a way of thinking and we should learn from one another: the implicit reference to the French controversy around the headscarf was indeed quite explicit. He quoted religious texts that were coming from the three monotheistic faiths, everyone of them delivering a universal message. As if true universalism is about educating one’s self, listening to and respecting the other. Two days before his speech in Cairo, Obama surprisingly stated that America was a great “Islamic country”: it was a way for him to remind the Americans, as well as all the Westerners, that the Muslims are their fellow citizens and Islam is a religion which is part of their common national narrative.

A powerful speech which was not only ” a speech”: it embodies a vision both positive and demanding. Something has surely changed. As Barack went from personal to universal principles, we are waiting for him to go from ideal to practical. He is young, he is new, he is intelligent and smart: has he the means of being courageous? For it is all about presidential courage as one wonders if it is possible for the United States to be simply consistent with its own values. Could one man tackle and reform this extraordinary tension that inhabits the contemporary American mindset : on the one hand, promoting universal values and diversity while on the other nurturing a spirit that still has some features of imperial attitude (intellectually, politically and economically). He will not be able to achieve it alone and maybe his greatest challengers so far are more Indian and Chinese than Muslims. Yet, it remains critical to acknowledge the positive sides of a speech announcing “a new beginning”: it is imperative for the Muslims to take Obama at his word and, instead of adopting either a passive attitude or a victim mentality to contribute to a better world by being self–critical and critical, humble and ambitious, consistent and open. The best way to push Barack Obama to face up to his responsibility in America, in the Middle East or elsewhere is for Muslims to start facing up to their own without blindly demonising America or the West or naively idealising a charismatic African-American US President.

P.S.: A personal note : President Barack Obama wanted us “to speak the truth”. It happens that once I spoke the truth as regard to the illegal American invasion of Iraq and the blind unilateral support of America towards Israel. I have been banned from the States and still remain. It may be one of these inconsistencies that make some of us still doubt the very meaning of political words. Once again a question of consistency.

Citizens will only feel at home when they’re contributions are valued, when they have equal rights in society and when there is mutual trust and respect



A few years ago, I participated along with Jason Kenney, the then Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, in the launch of The Imam and the Pastor, a Nigerian film depicting the dynamics of personal forgiveness.

Kenny was making these types of appearances to demonstrate his support for diversity.

Today it appears he has had a change of heart.

Now, as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Kenney believes that government has no business promoting diversity.

Instead, he is pushing for his “Integration Agenda” because of a new found perception that immigrants are not integrating enough, that they hold illiberal views and that they are justifying violence through religious dogma or ethnic grievances.

Lawrence Martin of the Globe and Mail describes the policy shift as a bull in a china shop.

This type of messaging by the minister projects all kinds of needless fears and realities onto immigrants.

The reality tells a much different story.

Thousands of Canadians of all origins be it East Indian, Somali, Chinese have already integrated into Canadian society and have accepted as their own Canadian laws, history and institutions.

Instead of leaving it to the politicians, we citizens need to constructively grapple with these important issues for our shared future.

Over the last few years, the city of Rotterdam in Holland has done just that.

In a published report entitled Citizenship, Identity and a Sense of Belonging led by world-renowned scholar Tariq Ramadan, a fundamental question is asked: What is citizenship? The response:  citizenship is about psychological integration.

Citizens will only feel at home when they’re contributions are valued, when they have equal rights in the society and when there is mutual trust and respect.

The report goes further – thinking of citizenship in a narrow integration mindset hinders a true sense of citizenship.

If one group has to integrate, doesn’t it suggest that they must forget their past identities and conform to the other group?

Or that another group does not belong to “us”?

The report also dares to ask a fundamental question: Are we really to believe that all cultural, social and religious problems are going to be solved once our fellow citizens have integrated?

Or is this just a trap of ‘culturalization’, ‘regionalization’ or ‘Islamization’ of our socio-economic problems?

So when Jason Kenney states that immigrants should embrace western liberal democratic values in order to get ahead, perhaps he is using integration as a diversionary tactic to gloss over what is really at stake: equal rights and equal opportunities for all members of our society.

The more effective strategy would be to recognize and promote “equality in diversity” by addressing honestly the real issues which are hindering immigrants from really feeling at home: better access to employment, addressing the lack of accountability in implementing diversity policies, accreditation of foreign degrees, lack of funding, racism and schools not reflecting multiple histories, as just a few examples.

Mr. Newman Kusina, a Zimbabwean-born academic, knows this only too well.

He spends his nights in front of his computer, unable to sleep as he looks for work in his field.

“When I came here, I had all the zeal and expectations of when you arrive in a new country,” Kusina said. “But it is an absolute nightmare.”

Today he works as a security guard.

As a true citizen should, obeying the law will not hinder Mr. Kusina from using his democratic right to demand more accountability from his government to act more ethically, instead of hiding behind the integration agenda.

And hopefully our politicians will get out of their intellectual ghettos long enough to realize that the dream of a truly shared citizenship can only be forged when each citizen is part of “us” and “we.”

We thank the following people