MPO

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.

Muslim Presence Canada extends its heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent who were killed while on duty.

Our thoughts also are with the other victims injured in last week’s tragic events. We wish them a swift and full recovery.

In reaction to the attacks, the Harper government is now wanting to toughen the country’s anti-terror laws, including a measure that would allow “preventative detention”.  

Let us beware of the roads we take in the name of security.

We believe, given the attitude of the Harper government, that such measures are likely to stigmatize communities, erode civil liberties, institutionalize discrimination and create a serious breech in basic human rights protection.

The sad reality is that today there is a general lack of knowledge of Muslims and of their religion, and a resulting tendency to accept simplistic and absolute caricatures.

Canadian Muslims, for their part, have at times been slow to participate fully in and to understand Canadian society.

We call upon our fellow Canadian citizens to exercise their obligation of critical vigilance and to oppose all discriminatory security policies.

We call upon all Muslims to discharge their duties as citizens and residents to the fullest and to participate fully in every aspect of Canadian social and political life.

We are determined to work together to find a better way to address security concerns in a manner which is in keeping with the Canadian values we all share and are committed to defending.

 

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.”

Would it not be more useful in understanding the actions of a small number of young men to place those actions in context? It can be objectively argued that Canada (and the “West” in general) is pursuing what can be interpreted as a campaign of violent intervention in Muslim-majority countries

It is impossible not to be touched by NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee’s cry of anguish following news of the death of another Canadian in a suicide attack in Iraq (June 4, 2014).
Links provided by the NCCM statement give access to the stories of several young Canadian Muslims who have died in similar circumstances in Syria, Iraq and Russia. But the NCCM’s call to Canadian Muslims to combat the message of violent extremists raises more questions than it answers.

Would it not be more useful in understanding the actions of a small number of young men to place those actions in context? It can be objectively argued that Canada (and the “West” in general) is pursuing what can be interpreted as a campaign of violent intervention in Muslim-majority countries, either directly as in Canada’s “mission” in Afghanistan, or indirectly, through the Canadian government’s unconditional support of Israel, its endorsement of the military coup in Egypt that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Morsi, or its inclusion of the Palestinian organization Hamas on the list of “terrorist entities” following the latter’s electoral victory in internationally-monitored elections.

The crushing of the Spanish Republic in the late 1930′s by the forces of General Franco provided motivation for many young Canadians to travel illegally to Spain and take up arms against fascism in that country.
Though these young men (and women) fought and died in battle, and suicide bombings and killing of non-combattants were foreign to their experience, their motivations may well have been similar: powerfully emotional, and driven by the personal and ideological imperative to “do something” meaningful with their lives.

The NCCM statement indirectly raises the question of the role and responsibility of the Canadian security services. It is well-known that there are informants in every mosque. What precisely the function of such informants is remains open to question. Is it possible that, like the FBI in the United States, the security services may be aiding and abetting young men who feel impelled to translate their understanding of religion into violent immediate action, both at home and abroad?

Do the Canadian government and the Canadian security services consider those who fight the Syrian government with gun in hand, and carry out suicide operations in Syria, to be “terrorists”, given Ottawa’s declared opposition to the current Damascus government? Or, like the United States and other NATO countries, has Canada countenanced the ideological indoctrination, travel and military involvement of young Canadian Muslims abroad? Likewise, given their penetration of Canada’s mosque infrastructure, are the security services totally unaware of the vectors of radicalization and unable to take action against them? Given the history of the RCMP, particularly in Québec before, during and after the October Crisis of 1970, it would not be surprising to learn that the security services may be more than idle onlookers and may actually function as provocateurs.

Are young male converts to Islam particularly susceptible to indoctrination by promoters of violence in the name of “Islam”? While no clear pattern seems to emerge, it does appear that a certain kind of susceptibility may predispose young men to accept the apparent certainties offered by “Islam”, by means of which they can then suppress their conscience and renounce responsibility for their acts.

These acts are presented to them by their shadowy handlers as submission to “God” and their violent death, as it brings death to other innocent people, will be praised and justified as pleasing to “Him.” Worse, many of the violent acts catalogued have been inflicted upon other Muslims, whose only “offense” consisted of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or belonging to the “wrong” confession and thus outside of Islam.

What is the connection between the radicalization process and the message of preachers of violence widely available on internet? What is the doctrinal space created for such individuals within the fold of self-styled “orthodox Islam”, with its insistance on viewing Islam and Muslims as overpoweringly positive and all other belief systems as irredeemably negative; on its self-assigned monopoly of Truth, which disqualifies the experiences, aspirations and beliefs of others? What, finally, are the mechanisms that have allowed this version of “Islam” to become the dominant discourse in Canadian mosques?

Abhorrent ideology and heinous acts, indeed! But neither has arisen in a vacuum. They have emerged within the broad context of a hyper-conservative, litteralist interpretation of Islam that has, in our day, transformed the dispensation of Mohammed (PBUH) into the “laughingstock of nations.”

Is it too late? How can Canadian Muslims rid their mosques of the culture of blind acceptance and binary reasoning that create such fertile ground for that ideology and those acts?

Insha’Allah the NCCM will launch a broad debate on this very question soon.

“As men and women, we will need to work together in this ongoing struggle against injustice – it should be our common cause”

 

As an amateur stand up comedian, mosques often provide a wealth of comedy material.

In my stand up routine, “Basement Comedy”, stemming from Muslim women relegated to basements, I talk about how spaces of worship are meant to enlighten, give spiritual guidance, and reflection. Instead, I want to file human rights complaints, hire lawyers or, get into boxing matches with brothers.

The latter came very close to happening once.

It was 15 years ago. We were a young couple, moving into a modest apartment building that had a small prayer space. Accompanied my husband, I was sternly told that women were not allowed.

The immediate shock and feelings of injustice were visceral.

According to Islamic tradition, it is forbidden to stop women from entering the mosques. It is not only un-Islamic, it is anti-Islamic

I wrote an open letter to those in charge. No response.

I decided to go ahead and pray there anyway. A young brother at the door physically restrained me from entering.

I wasn’t prepared for an all out bloody nose, black eye fight just yet. One does not go there unless a good trainer has been recruited.

All joking aside, it was very hard to negotiate within these contradictory confines: one set of rules in society, another within the mosque.

Surprisingly, some women were adamant than the men that women should not enter the mosque in that building.  Surely, it was a cultural understanding of the faith.

Eventually the organizers relented. Many years later, the man who had tried to physically restrain me, apologized. He expressed his deep regrets about the incident. Fortunately, his thinking had evolved.

There are so many more examples I can recall, including one that happened on Canada day.

A large mosque in the east end of Ottawa communicated at the entrance that women would not be able to pray there that day because there was a traveling group from Montreal that had occupied the woman’s space. So much for celebrating a founding pillar of our Canadian charter: gender equality, and protection from discrimination.  I was in no mood to celebrate. Not exactly stuff to feed the soul.

Recently, another example of inequity came to my attention. A major Muslim youth conference is being organized in Ottawa. There is only one female speaker among 11 males. The woman speaker’s image is not shown, and her biography emphasizes her status as a wife and mother.  All biographies of the male speakers do not once refer to their roles as husbands or fathers.

Today, as I look back at all these incidents, I remember the advice I was given by those around me at that time: be patient, try to understand, don’t insist, this is an emotionally charged issue.

What I have learned over the past 20 years is that patience and discussion will not help evolve mentalities, concrete action will.

As the US crowd-funded film “Unmosqued” premiers tomorrow at Carleton University, bringing to the fore why more and more Muslims are feeling unwelcome at mosques, let’s hope this is a turning point for this community to lead.

As men and women, we will need to work together in this ongoing struggle against injustice – it should be our common cause.

 

 

“When people refuse to call a military coup d’État by its real name, and when most media avert their eyes, the hour for critical conscience has struck”

 

For two years now I have often been asked why I have not visited Egypt, where I had been forbidden entry for 18 years. Just as often I repeated that on the basis of the information I was able to obtain—confirmed by Swiss and European officials—the Egyptian army remained firmly in control and had never left the political arena.

I never shared the widespread “revolutionary” enthusiasm. Nor did I believe that events in Egypt, any more than in Tunisia, were the result of a sudden historical upheaval. The peoples of these two countries suffered from dictatorship, from economic and social crisis; they rose up in the name of dignity, social justice and freedom. Their awakening, their “intellectual revolution,” and their courage must be saluted. But to accept or justify a simple-minded, linear explanation of the political, geostrategic and economic issues would have been totally unconscionable. Nearly three years ago, in a book and then in a series of articles, I alerted my readers to a body of troubling evidences, and to the underlying geopolitical and economic considerations that were often missing from mainstream political and media analyses, and that insisted on submitting the euphoria that accompanied the “Arab spring” to critical analysis.

The Egyptian army has not returned to politics for the simple reason that it has never left. The fall of Hosni Mubarak was a military coup d’État that allowed a new generation of officers to enter the political scene in a new way, from behind the curtain of a civilian government. In anarticle published on June 29 2012 I noted an Army high command declaration that the presidential election was temporary, for a six-month to one-year period (its title made the premonition explicit: “An election for nothing?”). The American administration had monitored the entire process: its objective ally in Egypt over the past fifty years has been the army, not the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The latest revelations (see the International Herald Tribune , July 5, and Le Monde, July 6) confirm what was already clear: the decision to overthrow President Mohamed Morsi had been made well before June 30. A conversation between President Morsi and General al-Sisi indicated that the head of the country’s military had planned the overthrow and imprisonment of the president weeks before the popular upheaval that would justify the military coup “in the name of the people’s will.” A clever strategy! Orchestrate demonstrations involving millions of people in order to make believe that the army truly cares about the people! Coup d’État, second act.

How then to analyze the immediate reaction of the American administration, which avoided using the term “coup d’État” (which, if accepted, would mean it could not provide financial support to the new regime)? A curious position for a government that in its ‘surprise’ uses exactly the right words to exert full political, economic and legal leverage over the coup makers. European governments will follow suit, of course: the army has responded “democratically” to the call of the people. It’s all too good to be true! Magically, chronic blackouts, gasoline and natural gas shortages came to an abrupt end after the fall of the president. It was as though people had been deprived of the basic necessities in order to drive them into the streets. Amnesty International observed the strange attitude of the armed forces, which did not intervene in certain demonstrations (even though it was closely monitoring them), allowing the violence to spiral out of control, as though by design. The armed forces then accompanied its intervention with a saturation public relations campaign, providing the international media with photographs taken from its helicopters, depicting the Egyptian population as it cheered and celebrated their military saviors, as confirmed in Le Monde.

Nothing, then, has really changed: the “Arab spring” and the Egyptian “revolution” continue under the guiding hand of General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. Trained by the United States Army, the general has kept close contact with his American counterparts. The New International Herald Tribune (July 6-7) informs us that General al-Sisi is well known to the Americans, as well as to the government of Israel, with which he “and his office”, we are told, continued to “communicate and to coordinate” even while Mohamed Morsi occupied the presidential palace. Al-Sisi had earlier served in the Military Intelligence Services in the North Sinai, acting as go-between for the American and Israeli authorities. It would hardly be an understatement to say that Israel, like the United States, could only look favorably upon developments in Egypt.

What, after the fact, is surprising, is the simple-mindedness, the lack of experience and the nature of the mistakes made by Mohamed Morsi, by his allies, and by the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization. For the last three years, I have been sharply critical of the thinking, action and strategies of the “Liberty and Justice” party, as well as of the MB leadership (over the last twenty-five years, my analyses and commentary have been and remain sharply critical). The trap seemed glaringly obvious; my writings on the subject (book, and articles written between March and December 2012) pointed to grave shortcomings. President Morsi cannot be fairly criticized for not doing all he could to establish relations with the opposition, either by inviting it to join the government or to take part in a broad national dialogue. But his approaches were rejected out of hand, with the opposition bitterly opposing his every initiative. The fact remains, however, that his management of the business of state, his failure to listen to the voice of the people and even to some of his trusted advisors, his exclusivist relationship with the highest echelons of the MB leadership, his hasty and ill-considered decisions (some of which he later acknowledged as errors) must be unsparingly criticized. But on a more fundamental level, his greatest fault has been the utter absence of a political vision and the lack of clearly established political and economic priorities, his failure to struggle against corruption and poverty, and his egregious mismanagement of social and educational affairs. The demands of the International Monetary Fund (and its deliberate procrastination) placed the state in an untenable position: the Morsi government believed that the international institution would support it. It is only today, now that President Morsi has fallen, that the IMF appears prepared to remove what were previously insurmountable obstacles. This, coming a mere three days after the overthrow of a democratically elected government.

The naivety of the president, of his government and of the Muslim Brotherhood has been stunning. After sixty years of opposition and military repression (with the direct and indirect benediction of the US Administration and the West), how could they possibly have imagined that their former adversaries would support their rise to power, invoking democracy all the while? Did they learn nothing from their own history, from Algeria in 1992, and, more recently, from Palestine? I have been and remain critical, both of the (superficial) content of their program and the ambiguous strategy of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (compromise with the armed forces and the United States, surrender on the economy and the Palestinian cause, etc.) but their lack of political awareness has been quite simply stupefying. To hear President Morsi tell General al-Sisi, a mere ten days before his overthrow, that he might well demote him (after all, he had appointed him) and that the Americans would “never permit a coup d’État” was as mind-boggling as it was surrealistic.

Some observers were startled to see the salafis , in particular the an-Nour party, join forces with the military alongside the “democratic” faction opposed to President Morsi. Were the outcome not so tragic, it would be tempting to label it farce. The Western media were quick to label the “Islamist” salafis as allies of the Muslim Brotherhood while; in point of fact, they were and are allies of the regimes of the Gulf States, who are in turn the regional allies of the United States. The idea was to undermine the religious credibility of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to force it into extreme positions. At the moment of President Morsi’s overthrow, they not only betrayed him but revealed their strategy and their strategic alliances for the entire world to see. It is hardly surprising to note that the first countries to recognize the new coup d’État regime were the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose powerful organizations provided, and still provide, direct and indirect financial support to the Egyptian salafis (as well as to their Tunisian counterparts). A superficial reading might lead one to believe that Saudi Arabia and Qatar support the Muslim Brotherhood; in reality they are the mainstays of American power in the region. The strategy is to sow division among the various political Islamic trends, to foment confrontation and to destabilize. This same strategy focuses on contradictions between Sunni political organizations and exacerbates divisions between Shia and Sunni. The United States and Europe have no quarrel with the political Islam of the salafi literalists of the Gulf States (and their denial of democracy, their non-respect of minorities, their discrimination against women, and the application of a strict “Islamic” penal code described as “shari’a”); they protect their geostrategic and regional economic interests while their repressive and retrograde domestic policies, as long as they are applied domestically, could not matter less to the West.

It’s all about keeping up appearances. Millions of Egyptians rallied in support of the “second revolution” and appealed to the armed forces, which were quick to respond. They now promise to turn over power to the civilians. The leader of the opposition, Mohamed al-Baradei, has played a central role in the process, and his prominence has been growing apace. He has been in close touch with the youthful cyber-dissidents and the April 6 Movement since 2008; documents of the U.S. State Department, which I quote in my book, point to his close connection with the American administration. His visibility has been promoted by a clever strategy, and even though he has declined the position of Prime Minister (and announced that he will not be a candidate for president, which has yet to be seen), he has emerged as an important player on the Egyptian political scene. He has notoriously—and democratically—defended the arrest of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the closing of their television stations and the entire range of repressive measures imposed on citizens who continue to support President Morsi, even though they may not be MB members (some are supporting democratic legitimacy). The weeks to come will provide us with more details about plans for fleshing out the civilian character of this particular military state. It must be remembered that for decades the Egyptian army has managed close to 40% of the national economy as well as being the leading recipient of an annual American aid package of $1.5 billion.

An elected president has been toppled by a military coup d’État. There is no other word for it. The people, in their legitimate desire for a better life and for survival, for justice and dignity, have been unwitting participants in a media-military operation of the highest order. The situation is grave; the silence of Western governments tells us all we need to know. There has been no “Arab spring”; the perfume of its revolutions burns the eyes like tear gas.

In our day, it is not unusual for writer who does not accept the official consensus to be dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist,” for his analysis to be rejected before studying the facts upon which it is based. Are we to conclude that in our globalizing age, with its networks of national security policies and structures and its new means of communication, political scheming, malicious stratagems, manipulation of information and of peoples are a thing of the past? “Conspiracy theorist” is a new insult devised for those who think the wrong thoughts, who don’t fit in; paranoids, people who ascribe occult powers to certain states (the United States, the European countries, Israel, the Arab and African dictatorships, etc.) that they really do not possess. We must forget what we learned about the conspiracies that have left their mark on the history of Latin America and Africa (from the assassination of Salvador Allende to the elimination of Thomas Sankara); we must overlook the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq and to the massacres in Gaza (both presented as legitimate defense); we must say nothing about the West’s alliance with and support for the literalist salafis of the Gulf sheikhdoms; close our eyes to the benefit for Israel of regional instability and of the most recent coup d’État in Egypt. We must remain naïve and credulous if we are not to notice that the United States and Europe on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other, have agreed to disagree on Syria, and that the 170 Syrians who die each day count for nothing against the strategic and economic interests of the Great Powers.

Our obligation is to stick to the facts, to avoid oversimplification. The polar opposite of an over-simplified reading of events is not “conspiracy theorizing” but that of intelligence informed by history, by hard facts and by a detailed analysis of conflicting interests. The interpretation presented here may well be wrong or inexact, but substantial and verifiable evidence has repeatedly confirmed it. From those who have criticized or challenged our analysis, we look forward to a fact-based counter-analysis far from denigrations and facile slogans. When people refuse to call a military coup d’État by its real name, and when most media avert their eyes, the hour for critical conscience has struck.

 

“There needs to be pushback. Those who believe in the human dignity of men and women must speak forcefully against such dehumanizing cultural practices. There is ample precedent within Islamic teachings to advocate an alternative approach in which both genders are partners in building vibrant families, communities, and societies”

 

Leave it to the good people at The Western Muslim Initiative, a Calgary-based online magazine, to provide insightful analysis of Western Muslim culture, with a healthy dose of biting humour.

Take, for example, Spam Imam, an advice column dispensed by a fictitious imam.

In one recent exchange, a concerned wife expresses her doubts about her husband’s sexual orientation: She found him staring surreptitiously at online pictures of Johnny Depp; he once called her “Jim” (her name is “Aisha”); and her foundation has gone missing.

The good imam counsels her to adopt the Islamic adage of finding plausible excuses for such behaviour, rather than finding blame: Her husband’s behaviour may simply reflect a platonic admiration for men he is trying to emulate in order to be attractive to his wife. Besides, advises the imam, foundation makes for good sealant for plumbing repairs performed by her faultless husband.

Apparently, cutting slack does not apply to the hapless “Aisha.” Spam Imam tells her to look in the mirror and see where she failed “as a wife and a woman.” Perhaps she has grown fat over the years. Or she has a successful career, and has thus challenged her husband’s masculinity. He counsels her to quit her job and concentrate on enhancing her “womanly charms” through a strict regimen of diet and exercise. She should also dress like a “harlot” at home. After all, Spam Imam concludes, a woman’s sole function in life is to take care of all of her husband’s needs.

Many within the community find such commentary uncomfortable, as it reinforces the unflattering stereotype of a misogynistic imam. However, this misses the point of a larger truth: namely, that disturbing attitudes toward women are alive and well within Muslim communities. A casual reader could be forgiven for failing to see the humour of Spam Imam, especially in light of recent real-life pronouncements in relation to violence against women. Truth is not only stranger, but harsher, than fiction.

In May, conservative Afghan legislators successfully blocked laws aimed at protecting women from violence, child marriage and becoming the objects of bartering. Some even argued that these laws were “against sharia,” and would lead to social chaos. What did these parliamentarians find so objectionable? For one: the criminalization of domestic violence. Conservative lawmaker Mandavi Abdul Rahmani was unequivocal in his belief that the Koran allows a man to beat a “disobedient” wife, as long as “she was not permanently harmed.” Another object of ire: protection of victims of rape from the charge of adultery. According to Mr. Abdul Rahmani: “Adultery itself is a crime in Islam, whether it is by force or not,” reflecting the Afghan custom of prosecuting raped women for adultery. The alleged fear is that such laws would encourage women and girls to leave their homes. Nonsense. The real fear is losing control and power over their lives.

A similar sentiment was displayed in March, when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood issued a list of objections to a proposed United Nations declaration to condemn violence against women, including opposition to criminalizing marital rape and viewing marriage as a partnership between husband and wife with “full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as spending, child care and home chores.” Instead, the Brotherhood believes the husband should be the “guardian” of his wife.

According to The New York Times, Brotherhood “family expert” Osama Yehia Abu Salama advised female marriage counsellors: “A woman needs to be confined within a framework that is controlled by the man of the house.” If she is beaten by her husband, she shares the blame. And women are like children: They simply can’t be trusted to handle freedom, according to Mr. Abu Salama. Such views are also held by a subset of conservative women.

And one can readily find imams from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and Pakistan who preach domestic violence as a means of control – whether at the pulpit or on satellite TV shows.

There needs to be pushback. Those who believe in the human dignity of men and women must speak forcefully against such dehumanizing cultural practices. There is ample precedent within Islamic teachings to advocate an alternative approach in which both genders are partners in building vibrant families, communities, and societies. Thankfully, there are community workers and imams, here in the West, who are paving an indigenous form of the faith that incorporates gender equality. We still have a long way to go.

*Originally published in the Globe and Mail on July 2, 2013. Posted on this site with permission from the author

 

“Unfortunately, one of the effects is to engender fear and suspicion toward Canadian Muslims. The message is that anywhere Muslims gather — even when at home with their families — there is a possibility they may be transformed into hateful, violent radicals bent on destroying Canada”

 

 

In a January 3 news item, the National Post profiled a Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) report released under the Access to Information Act. The report concludes that Islamist extremists are radicalizing Canadians at “a large number of venues.” The heavily redacted document offers a few general examples of “non-traditional venues” where this radicalization allegedly is happening — including prisons, and within families.

However, what we do not find is any evidence to justify these sweeping statements, nor are we privy to any of the research that has led to such conclusions. There may be context in the unredacted CSIS report. But more than half of the document was blacked out before release, so we have no way of knowing.

Unfortunately, one of the effects is to engender fear and suspicion toward Canadian Muslims. The message is that anywhere Muslims gather — even when at home with their families — there is a possibility they may be transformed into hateful, violent radicals bent on destroying Canada. One web site commenter, for instance, opined: “Hey, we allowed [these people] in. Now [we’re] paying the price. I often wonder whether the guy working out next to me in the gym is saying to himself ‘Buddy, soon enough you’ll be bowing to me and calling me master.’”

Remember that the mass killings perpetrated by Norway’s Anders Breivik in 2011 were not the work of a Muslim, but rather an anti-Muslim radical who was convinced that Islam was a threat to Western civilization. Recent incidents in the United States also show us where fear-mongering can lead — including the murder of an innocent Hindu man, Sunando Sen, by a woman on a subway platform who said she hated Hindus and Muslims because of 9/11. Or the Indiana man who said he set fire to an Ohio mosque after watching coverage of wounded soldiers overseas (authorities said he’d carried a gun into the mosque, but no one was inside at the time).

Canadians are not immune to this. Reports of vandalized mosques, and threatening behaviour toward Muslim men and women on the streets and at workplaces continue across the country.

The Ministry of Public Safety writes on its website that “citizens need to be informed of the threat in an honest, straightforward manner.” Indeed. However, the release of this latest CSIS report and its ensuing coverage is not “straightforward.” Rather, it speaks more to the saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

There have been countless studies that offer context and background to our understanding of radicalization. Demos, a UK-based think tank, produced an in-depth study in 2010 based on interviews with British and Canadian convicted terrorists and religious radicals. One of the study’s conclusions pointed out that holding radical ideas did not necessarily lead to violence, and that in fact “religious radicals” are distinct from terrorists, and can even be key allies in the fight against those who would promote the use of violence.

The U.S. Department of Defense released a study in 2010 that concluded: “Identifying potentially dangerous people before they act is difficult. Examinations after the fact show that people who commit violence usually have one or more risk factors for violence. Few people in the population who have risk factors, however, actually [commit violent acts].”

Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Centre has indicated that “while Islam can be used to justify acts of terrorism, radicalization is not caused by Islam” (as chronicled by academic Deepa Kumar, in her book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire).

In other words, context is key. In a world fraught with fragmented information, we need it now more than ever to safeguard against violent radicalization of any kind.

Originally published in the National Post

Amira Elghawaby is the human rights officer at the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations based in Ottawa.

 

You are not going to reform any society if you don’t love the people with whom you live.  You should be a mercy to the worlds.  How can you be if you come with minds that judge and not with hearts that love?

 

Highlighting the Islamic teachings of giving and contribution, a leading Muslim intellectual has called on the Muslim community in Canada to play a positive role in promoting the welfare of their society.

“The very essence of faith is not to look at yourself through your weaknesses but look at yourself through your potential power,” Professor Tariq Ramadan told the audience at the annual winter dinner of the Islamic Institute of Toronto.

“The power of this faith is to have a positive perception of yourself.”

In a speech themed “Reflections from the Heart” last week, Ramadan spoke of the moment when Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) received the first revelation from Allah, through the Angel Jibreel.

“You come to the experience of the Prophet, peace be on him, and you get the sense of this journey,” he said.

“Allah took him from a very specific situation and, step by step, helped him to understand, through the revelation, the very essence of our religion.

“The first thing that was converted with Jibreel coming to the Prophet was the self-perception – what you think you can’t do alone, with Him you can,” he added.

“This is the power of faith – you can do it, bismi rabik.

“If you think of yourselves in the light of the others, if you think of yourself in the light of the attacks and responding to questions coming from people, you end up at the periphery of your religion,” he said.

“You end up responding to questions coming from outside and not at the heart of your tradition.

“It is important not to be focused and obsessed with ‘what shall I say if I am asked’ but what should I understand when I am alone with Allah.”

Liberation

Ramadan spoke of the ‘conversions’ that Muslims should go through to experience the essence of their religion.

“The power and the strength that came to the Prophet, peace be on him, as the chosen, the purified, as the beloved is in fact the understanding that Allah took him step by step and made him understand the essence of Islam,” Ramadan said.

“The very essence of this religion is liberation.

“Change the way you look at yourself, change the way you look at the world and change the way you look at the society,” he told the audience.

The second conversion Ramadan mentioned in his speech was how Muslims relate to the natural world.

“Second, look at the world around you. You have in this country, nature and this environment – celebrate this,” he said.

“But to celebrate the environment, it means you have to study.

“There is nothing in the world that is not prostrating to Allah. If you look at them with your minds you do not get it but you get it if you look at them with your heart,” he said.

Ramadan is one of Europe’s leading Muslim thinkers and has often condemned terrorism and extremism.

An author of 20 books and 700 articles on Islam, he was named by Time magazine as one of 100 innovators of the 21st century for his work on creating an independent European Islam.

Serving Society

Professor Ramadan passionately spoke of how Canadian Muslims should relate to the society.

“Change the way you look at the society – don’t try to talk to the rich and powerful to change, be close to the poor – these are your people,” he said.

“When you serve the poor you educate the heart,” Ramadan said.

“If you serve somebody who has nothing, it means that you might be close to Allah.”

Professor Ramadan then asked the audience to reflect on their presence in Canada.

“You should know why you have to thank Allah for being in this country,” he said.

“You can keep on thinking about the countries of origin that you left but you have to convert this into something – thank Allah for being in Canada.

“And if you don’t know why you have to thank him, you must start checking and looking for an answer.”

The prominent intellectual also spoke of the role of Canadian Muslims in their society.

“You are not in Canada by accident; there are many things in this society that are better than in Muslim majority societies – say thank you and start working,” he said.

“The best way to thank Allah is to serve the people in all the fields and it has to come with generosity,” he urged.

“To believe is to give – to give to anyone who is in need; to give to women who are facing discrimination or violence – we give and we support and we protect.”

Prof. Ramadan concluded his presentation by asking the crowd to carefully consider their relationship to their fellow citizens.

“You are not going to reform any society if you don’t love the people with whom you live,” he said.

“Some of us Muslims are in this binary vision; we are Muslims – we are good and them – they are not.

“You should be a mercy to the worlds,” Ramadan said. “How can you be if you come with minds that judge and not with hearts that love.

“You will not complete your faith if you don’t love for your fellow human beings what you love for yourself – so in the name of God, serve Him, love and give.”

Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada’s 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the country.

A recent report from the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life said that Muslims are expected to make up 6.6% of Canada’s total population in 2030.

 
Muneeb Nasir
 
Originally published in OnIslam
 

@TariqRamadan #RIS2012

FRIDAY DECEMBER 21

6:15 – 7:00pm

7:30pm

  • Book signing, booth 1223

9:45-11pm

SATURDAY DECEMBER 22

11:00am – 12:30pm

12:30pm

  • Book signing, booth 1223

8:30-9:15pm

9:30pm 

  • Book signing, booth 1223

SUNDAY DECEMBER 23

  • No lectures or book signings

MONDAY DECEMBER 24

2 – 3:30pm

8:30 – 10:00pm

TUESDAY DECEMBER 25

11-12:30pm 

4pm

5:30pm                                                                                                    

  • Islamic Institute of Toronto winter dinner keynote address+ book signing

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*The Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), White Ribbon Campaign, Muslim Presence, Authors Fred Reed and Monia Mazigh

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