Omar Alghabra: a Muslim Mole?

Omar Alghabra: a Muslim Mole?


Howard Adelman

As a follow-up to yesterday’s blog that dealt largely with Omar Alghabra’s alleged promotion of sharia law, after I sent out my blog and went to my electronic reading, I came across this story in Haaretz headlined:

Government Opposes Appointment of Women as Sharia Judges to Avoid Setting Precedent for Rabbinic Courts

Sharia law is recognized in Israel. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked supported the legislation because she wanted to be on the side of progress even though she is a member of the right-wing Home Party. However, the government as a whole opposed the legislation due to concerns from ultra-Orthodox members of the coalition. In other words, the Israeli government not only recognizes sharia law, but entrenches its most conservative propensities in order to cater to the ultra-orthodox Jews who support the government.

In this context, the accusations against Omar Alghabra concerning sharia law prove to be even more of a tempest in a teapot without even being able to find any tea leaves. What about the Canadian Arab Federation which Omar Alghabra once headed?  The charge is that Alghabra, when he was president of the Canadian Arab Federation in 2004, denounced one of Canada’s newspaper chains for using the term “terrorist” to describe violent Muslim groups like the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. After all, is the organization not just the military wing of Arafat’s Fatah organization? On the other hand, that is precisely how it is designated – a terrorist organization – by Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.

On this issue, there appears to be some grounds for concern. When Omar Alghabra was first nominated for Mississauga-Erindale (he subsequently won), in his nomination victory speech on 1 December in the Coptic Christian Centre of the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasias in Mississauga, he purportedly said, “This is a victory for Islam! Islam won! Islam won… Islamic power is extending into Canadian politics.” At least, this is what he was said to have said by a Coptic Christian who was there, a report that was quickly and widely circulated by the Canadian Coalition for Democracies. David Ragheb, a member of the congregation, reported the speech. Victor Fouad complained to Paul Martin, then the Liberal Party leader, and, when he did not reply, sent the following out to readers of his blog. “Attached is a proven plan to invade the democracy in Canada and to convert it to somewhat NAZI attitude by the MUSLIMS. Please do something before Mr. Martin sells it all to them.” He accused the Liberal Party candidate of using “expansionist Islamic rhetoric.”

Sheref El Sabawy, a network engineer and Coptic Christian who endorsed Omar to the Coptic Christian community, at the time said, “this was a big warning for us that we could be second class citizens (if Alghabra is elected). He has an agenda.” There is supposed to be a video recording of the occasion, but I have been unable to track it down. So I cannot confirm whether Alghabra make the remark or not. However, one of the strongest critics and proponents of limiting the entry of fundamentalist religious Muslims to Canada tracked the quote and found that it was accurate, but that it was shouted from the podium by a supporter of Omar Alghabra, Khalid Usman, not Omar himself.

Alghabra unequivocally denied that he made the remark. The allegations are “not true,” he said. They are false and inaccurate. “I didn’t say a thing about Muslims or Islam in my acceptance speech… The whole thing is untrue.” Former Mississauga-Erindale MP Carolyn Parrish, who was at the meeting, confirmed Alghabra’s statement of denial. “I honestly can’t say I heard Omar say that.” However, Alghabra also insisted that Khalid  Usman did not make the remark.

Further, if he did say what has been reported as having been said, there are a number of issues. First, why would he make such a statement in a Coptic Christian Church? Celebrating the participation of Canadian citizens of the Islamic faith in Canadian politics is one thing. Celebrating that participation as an expression and advancement of Islamic power is another. And saying that in a Christian Church is not merely insensitive; it is stupid. And what is the source of the report that a number in the audience responded with shouts of, “Allah Akbar”? (God is great.) I assume that a few people may have responded that way, but the audience? In a Coptic Church?

What makes the charge more auspicious are claims about Alghabra’s performance when he was President of the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) from 2004-2005. The CAF, established in 1967, was your typical ethnic national umbrella organization, originally embracing 40 Arab-Canadian organizations, and serving to liaise between Arabs and the three levels of government, the media and other civil society organizations. CAF served as a representative of Arabs on Canada’s Ethnocultural Council. It was akin to the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Chinese Canadian National Council. More recently, but, as we shall see, only after the presidency of Omar Alghabra, CAF ran into a conflict with the Harper government. Harper refused to meet with the CAF after he became Prime Minister. The CAF had been receiving money for English language instruction and newcomer orientation. On 19 March 2009, Jason Kenney, then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, suspended CAF’s federal funding for those programs and threatened to suspend $180,000 of federal funding that went to support CAF’s job search program.

Why did Kenney take such action? Because the then president of CAF, Khaled Mouammar, quoted Norman Finkelstein depicting Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2008-09 as the actions of “professional whores of war.”  More significantly, Kenney accused CAF of not being a charity, but a spokesman for radical Islam since the president called both Hamas and Hezbollah “legitimate organizations,” whereas they had been labelled as terrorist organizations by the Canadian government. In contrast, CAF urged the government to “remove Hezbollah and Hamas from the list of banned organizations,” arguing both parties were legitimately elected. Recall that as soon as Harper became Prime Minister in 2006, he cut aid to Palestinians in Gaza when they elected Hamas. Harper also ran into conflict with the CAF on a number of other issues, including CAF’s criticism of the Harper government’s refusal to attend the Durban II World Conference, which both the Harper government and the Jewish community claimed was fostering anti-Semitism under the guise of anti-Zionism.

There are several issues at stake. Should the GoC be funding advocacy organizations, let alone radical advocacy organizations, to perform social services? In the Jewish community, the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society performs social services, whereas the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) currently serves as the Jewish lobby. But there is a deeper issue within CAF that makes the organization more problematic. CAF is deeply divided between those who argue for an incrementalist and integrationist approach in representing Muslim and Arab interests. In 2004, the opposition within CAF accused the proponents of such a strategy of being Uncle Toms. Those critics advocated a more confrontational and anti-assimilationist position.

Three presidents of the CAF, John Asfour (1997-2002), Raja Khouri (2002-2004) and Omar Alghabra (2004-2005) represented the first approach. Khaled Mouammar (2006-2010) set CAF on a new path representing the second approach. This is interesting since Mouammar was a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board for eleven years prior to 2005 where he earned a reputation for automatically accepting all Arab and Muslim refugee claimants. More ironic still, Mouammar is a Christian, not a Muslim. But he is unequivocally anti-Israel and, perhaps, anti-Semitic. Further, from his writings and comments, he seems to believe that, like CIJA, CAF should make transnational issues a primary concern of CAF and recognize the structural links between Canadian foreign policy and Canada’s alleged racist treatment of Arabs and Muslims.

Some observers (Wafa Hasan, Cultural Studies, McMaster) defend such an approach as the only way to combat Canada’s alleged structural racism and its defence of institutional power and Canadian “values.” This power position of the establishment in Canada is the real cause of Arab and Muslim-Canadian alienation. In other words, Canadians who uphold human rights and tolerance, pluralism and civil discourse, do so only to oppress disaffected and alienated minorities and retain institutional power by existing dominant Canadian groups. Given CAF’s new approach, contemporaneous with the installation of the Harper government in 2006, a confrontation developed between CAF and the government that came to a head in 2009. The government once gave over a million dollars to CAF, but has since cut back on most and perhaps all of those funds.

Omar Alghabra stood on the other side opposed to Khaled Mouammar. For him, a focus on foreign affairs discredits CAF and presents Arabs as single-issue and narrow-minded and biased. Positions must be taken because they have both a universal appeal and a universal application. He argued that Arab-Canadians are typically discredited when they focus on the political events in a region outside of Canada. But how is this possible if, in 2004, as President of CAF, he denounced the Toronto Star for depicting the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades as a terrorist organization? Did he really write a letter to the Toronto Police Chief on behalf of CAF denouncing his trip to Israel?

With respect to denouncing the Toronto Star, a paper for which he often wrote opinion pieces, for depicting the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades as a terrorist organization, what, in fact, happened, as far as I can understand by going back and reading newspaper archives from 2004, is that someone else made the remark and blamed Alghabra. When the Second Intifada was in full swing, Mohamed Elmasry, a Professor of Engineering and a widely published scholar, but also a spokesperson for the Canadian Islamic Congress, was the source of the remark. Although Elmasry supports a two-state solution as the only realistic possibility, he nevertheless is a rabid anti-Zionist (and possible anti-Semite, even though he denounces graffiti attacks on Canadian synagogues) and calls Israel an apartheid state.

However, the real controversial remark took place on the Michael Coren show. (19 October 2004)

COREN: Anyone over the age of 18 in Israel is a valid target.

ELMASRY: Anybody above 18 is a part of the Israeli army…

COREN: So everyone in Israel and anyone and everyone in Israel, irrespective of gender, over the age of 18 is a valid target?

ELMASRY: Yes, I would say.

Elamasry argued for the legitimacy of targeting all Israelis over 18 by any means, and insisted that such acts did not constitute terrorism. Any form of violence, he insisted, was justified in attacking Israelis. Omar Alghabra started defending Elmasry on behalf of CAF. However, in response to criticism, and after watching the full tape of Elmasry’s remarks on Michael Coren’s show, he immediately withdrew that support. “We commented on [Mohamed Elmasry] and took a position without watching the whole tape.” As a result, Alghabra admitted that CAF “had egg on its face.”

On the second issue, the controversy over the Toronto Police Chief’s visit to Israel that broke out at the end August 2005, the Chief said he was going to Israel to see how Israelis handled terrorism. Though the Police Commission Board defended the Police Chief’s right to visit Israel, Alghabra, as well as many others, were critical. There was no indication that this criticism meant Alghabra was critical of Israel, though, from his general disposition, he seemed to be very sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and critical of Israel. In fact, Alghabra takes a stronger position than Abbas himself, certainly over the settling of borders. He goes further and claims that Resolution 242 demands Israel’s withdrawal from all the territories captured in 1967. (The resolution leaves out the definite article and refers only to territories.) But that position and his criticism of the Police Chief’s trip were perfectly appropriate for him to make, whether I or any reader agrees or disagrees with his position on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute or the Police Chief taking the trip.

What was totally inappropriate – and incorrect – was his insistence in the Jewish Tribune, where he interpreted that Resolution 242 required Israel to totally withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, was that this Liberal Party policy. The actual Liberal Party policy says no such thing, but insists that, in implementing a two-state solution, a safe, secure and democratic Israel must exist in peace beside a viable, secure and democratic Palestinian state. The Liberal Party’s position on Israel’s right to self-defence and on Hamas are far less equivocal. “Israel has the right to defend itself and its people. Hamas is a terrorist organization and must cease its rocket attacks immediately.”

As for mourning Arafat, another complaint cast against Omar Alghabra, that should have been a good sign. For though Arafat had indeed been a terrorist, as had Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, Arafat had accepted the principle of a two-state solution and had won a Nobel Prize, as had Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres (2004). After meeting Arafat twice and having become convinced that his worst failing was that he was both a poor micromanager and a flake, I nevertheless would not have expected any Arab community leader not to mourn Arafat’s passing.

What about Alghabra’s opposition to no fly lists? It just happens to be the position of most human rights organizations. After all, it is not as if putting someone on a list is subject to a court review that allows someone to question such an action. Rather, it is a punishing move by an unknown bureaucrat whose action the victim has no right or means to challenge. There is neither due process nor fairness. And once on such a list, it is almost impossible to get off. The argument is not against such lists, but against the absence of protections and processing in making a list. In September 2014, a Muslim Canadian Haligonian, Mohammed Yaffa, protested to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal about the extended security checks to which he was subjected numerous times suspecting his inclusion on Canada’s secretive no-fly or guarded-fly list. Canada’s information commissioner, Suzanne Legault, took Ottawa to court over its secrecy. I have not read the results of either appeal. But if Legault was entitled to complain, certainly Alghabra was.

What about when these critics who cited Alghabra for telling Al Jazeera, “On the issue of Iran, Trudeau has clearly stated that he is for engagement.” But Barack Obama believes strongly in engagement. So even did Ronald Reagan in negotiating with the USSR. Engagement does not mean naïve acceptance of the other as if everything is normal. Non-engagement means ignoring contact; it means isolating Cuba. No matter how much I personally distrusted Castro, non-engagement is not the answer, but part of the problem.

On my many blogs on the Iran nuclear negotiations, I have advocated for engagement. This does not mean that I do not believe that Iran, other that Da’esh and al Qaeda, is the meanest agent in the Middle East turmoil. In fact, I argued that the nuclear deal would permit Iran to be even meaner and, therefore, more dangerous on the non-nuclear front. Nevertheless, I believe engagement is better than non-engagement in most situations, and certainly in this one. So this is a criticism that stems from ideology rather than discovering something peculiar and out-of-bounds specific to Alghabra.

So where does this leave us in the charge that Justin Trudeau has a Senior Policy Adviser who defends terrorism and has a deep hatred of Israel? If the latter, it has to be very deep because, though he is clearly sympathetic to Palestinians, there is no indication that he is anti-Israel. But is he a closet Islamist crusader? I just don’t know. He could be an incrementalist on behalf of Islam, secretly moving into a position of political authority. I have no evidence to exonerate him from such a charge. But I have plenty of evidence to insist that he be taken as innocent until solid evidence is offered to come to such a conclusion.

The evidence that I have found in testing the charges made against Omar Alghabra suggest that the accusers are more akin to Donald Trump than reputable critics. When I investigate their sources, often the charge and the source have only a tangential resemblance. And sometimes I come up with nothing at all, such as the reference to a paper by Tahir Gora in April 2014. What I do find is accusers who live in their own bubble and cite one another as authoritative sources for what they write instead of obeying the first and most fundamental guideline of investigations into the truth – what have you done to disconfirm what you believe?

So what is the source for the claim that in 2002, Mr Alghabra stated that he did not believe that Hamas (Muslim Brotherhood proxy group) or Islamic Jihad were terrorist groups? Alghabra may have made such a claim. But the proof text offered: an article by Ezra Levant in The Toronto Sun (“Courting the Extremist Vote, 22 August 2014). Try a Google or a Google Scholar search – Alghabra Hamas 2002. What you get is a series of articles or references in which these accusers cite one another as authoritative sources. Elmasry certainly argued for legitimating Hezbollah and Hamas. But thus far I have not been able to uncover evidence that this was Alghabra’s position. On the other hand, Alghabra evidently wrote a letter to Peter MacKay when he was Foreign Minister urging him not to cut funds to the Hamas-Palestinian Authority. I have not been able to read the letter. From the controversy over the issue and what I did read, Alghabra had urged that Canada not cut funds to the PA if Hamas joined the government.

There are other statements attributed to Omar Alghabra. “More than over a million Palestinians have been killed, millions of them have made refugees, and millions of them are in the concentration camps.” As one who has written a great deal on Palestinian refugees, the statement is blatantly false. But Omar Alghabra did not make it. The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada did. Whether Alghabra cited it or referred to it, I have not been able to find out.

There are other matters of real concern. Alghabra defended the Goldstone Report, one in which Goldstone later renounced the very conclusion that Alghabra defended. I have written a great deal on the Goldstone Report and have been very critical of it. Alghabra defended the Goldstone Report and asserted that there was “no accountability for Israel’s war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.” The lack of accountability, he insisted, has reached a crisis point. (6 October 2009) But this legitimate criticism of positions that Alghabra has actually taken was, for some reason, omitted from Ezra Levant’s critiques.

My conclusion is that these writers and critics (Levant, TSEC Network, etc.) of Alghabra to which I referred have little respect for the norms of good scholarship or even good journalism as currently practiced. If I had more time to conduct truly thorough searches and came up with the same results, I might conclude that they, like Trump, distort or deform the truth for the purpose of making a point. As for the readers who sent me the charges, I am pleased if my writing may make you less sanguine about the alleged truth “discovered” in the writings of fear-mongers.


Justin Trudeau and Omar Alghabra

Justin Trudeau and Omar Alghabra


Howard Adelman

One of the other pieces of correspondence I received last week when I took a week off from my blog when I was travelling in the West was a reference to a recent article by Ezra Levant and published in The Sun entitled, “Bad advice: Think Justin Trudeau’s instincts are scary? Take a look at what two of his advisers have to say,”

I received a third piece from two other readers as follows:


We knew it was coming.

So who is Omar Alghabra?

  1. Alghabra is the Saudi-born former president of the Canadian Arab Federation
  2. Alghabra holds extremist views. When he was president of the Arab Federation in 2004, he denounced Canada’s largest newspaper chain for using the term “terrorist” to describe Muslim terrorist groups like the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. He said that was a mere opinion, not a fact.
  3. In 2005, Alghabra wrote a letter to Toronto’s police chief condemning the chief for participating in a charity walk for Israel, saying Israel was “conducting a brutal and the longest contemporary military occupation in the world.”
  4. In a letter to a journalist, he wrote the chief’s visit to Israel was comparable to visiting Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
  5. When arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat died, Alghabra put out a press release announcing he was mourning for him.
  6. When Canada was setting up a no-fly list for passengers considered security threats, Alghabra opposed it.
  7. When Ontario narrowly rejected adopting shariah law for Muslim divorces, Alghabra was disappointed, calling it ‘unfortunate’.”

I write this blog in full recognition that it comes just at a time when Donald Trump is calling for a temporary but blanket banning of all Muslims from entering the United States. In this context, let me begin by introducing readers to Omar Alghabra for those unfamiliar with him.

In the recent Canadian election, on 19 October just five days before his 46th birthday, Omar was elected as the Liberal MP from Mississauga Centre, a new riding, but from 2006-2008 he used to represent Mississauga Erindale, part of which is now included in Mississauga Centre. He was greeted by much of the Canadian Muslim community, and especially the Arab Canadian community, as Canada’s first Arab and Muslim MP, even though Rahim Jaffer preceded Alghabra as a Conservative MP (1997-2008) as did Yasmin Ratansi, a Liberal MP (2004-2011) who had been the first female Muslim MP elected to Parliament. But both Rahim and Yasmin are Ismailis, so many Muslims do not regard them as expressions of mainstream Islam. Further, neither saw themselves in that light either.

Alghabra lost in the 2008 election by the narrowest margin of .71% of the vote. In the last election, he was strongly supported by Hazel McCallion, Mississauga’s very long serving and very much loved previous mayor, and by the current mayor, Bonnie Crombie. Mississauga is Canada’s sixth largest city in which 60% of the population consists of immigrants. Omar Alghabra was elected with a clear majority of 54.72% over strong Conservative and NDP candidates, amassing 28,372 votes in a riding which is estimated to be 16-17% Muslim.

Though I attended a meeting in Mississauga recently when Bonnie Crombie, Mississauga’s mayor, promised to raise $5 million to resettle Syrian refugees, and Omar Alghabra was evidently also there, I never met him. However, I did read with favour his answer to a question when asked, as a Syrian with a mother and three sisters in Syria, whether he thought Canada had previously let down the cause of Syrian refugees, he replied, “This isn’t about how Syrians or anyone else sees Canada; it is about us, it is about how Canadians see ourselves — who are we?”

Alghabra was one of eleven Muslim candidates, all but one Liberal, to win in the 2015 election, and only one of two to have been an MP previously. Eight of the eleven Muslims are Arab. Thus, Arab and Muslim representation in our current parliament has a higher percentage of seats than the percentage of Muslims and certainly of Arabs in Canada. Muslims who complained that there should be at least four Muslim representatives in Parliament, certainly have no case for arguing their voice in not being heard, even if this arithmetical view of multiculturalist representation is fundamentally bogus in any case. Jewish MPs should represent all their constituents. So should Muslim MPs.

In the 2006-08 parliament, Alghabra served on the Liberal side as the immigration critic as well as natural resources critic, but in this past campaign, he largely focused on the Liberal promise to invest $125 billion over 10 years in transit, housing and daycare that targeted aid for middle class families. As a Liberal, he also argued that these initiatives would stimulate the Canadian economy

Given his strong support for Justin Trudeau in his leadership bid, given his role as one of many of Justin Trudeau’s policy advisers (not a Senior Policy adviser as often reported), given that he is only one of two Muslim MPs out of eleven with previous parliamentary experience, given the size of his victory, it was no surprise that he was named a Parliamentary Secretary on 2 December or why he might have hoped and even expected to be named to Cabinet. I dare say that if he had been a woman, he would have been given a ministerial appointment. As Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Consular Affairs, he is only responsible for consular affairs, not foreign policy; the final section of his title is often omitted by critics. The mandate of consular affairs is the service offered by our embassies and consulates to Canadians travelling abroad. Finally, Justin Trudeau has three senior policy advisers, Gerry Butts, Katie Telford and Dan Gagnier. None are sitting MPs, but every single MP can be characterized as an adviser to the leader of the Liberal Party and now the Prime Minister.

Though he campaigned overwhelmingly on domestic issues, Alghabra is of Syrian origin. Alghabra’s family lived in Saudi Arabia when he was born in Al Khobar. He came to Canada alone from Syria at 19. He has a mechanical engineering degree from Ryerson, an MBA from York University, and, though he worked for many years as an engineer for General Electric, prior to the recent election, he was a Distinguished Visiting Fellow with the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science at Ryerson. In addition to his focus largely on infrastructure improvement and transportation, especially dear to Mississauga, he also touted his strong support for democracy.

I was raised in areas where they don’t believe in democracy and civil rights, cultures of equality and justice, and there is no belief that a citizen has the power over their own destiny…now I have a unique appreciation for Canada and what Canada has to offer, so it is that passion about striving to protect the idea and the noble concept of democracy.

He has a long record of citizen activism. The criticisms aimed at him largely focus on that activism rather than his previous record in parliament. Those critiques deal largely with five issues: a) his alleged support for sharia law; b) his role in and support of the Canadian Arab Federation; c) his indirect support for terrorist organizations; d) his defence of the Palestinian cause; 5) his criticisms of Israel. I will discuss each in turn.

The critics of Omar Alghabra often cite his support for sharia law and his response to the Ontario government decision to reject allowing sharia law to operate in Ontario, allegedly calling the defeat “disappointing.” When I undertook a search for his position of sharia law, the only references I could find was a group of critics each citing the other to support the claim that he supported sharia law. If a reader can find a source, I would really welcome being shown it. Though even if he did say something along these lines, I am not sure what the problem is.

Sharia or Divine Law for Muslims is the Law of God, which, however, requires interpretation and case law to discern its application. Hence the many schools of fiqh schools dealing with sharia law. Suppose Algahabra did support sharia law. There is a radical difference between supporting sharia law and imposing sharia law by dictate as in Iran and in jurisdictions under the control of fundamentalist Islamicists. Sharia law requires Muslims to uphold the laws of a local jurisdiction, except, and only except, if those laws force a citizen to be a sinner. That, of course, is where the danger lies. For, as we see in Iran and Saudi Arabia, sin can be applied very broadly.

Ezra Levant has placed the conflict over the role of sharia law within a larger framework  of a program of lawfare, an attempt to gradually and incrementally make sharia law respectable.  Barbara Kay referred to those efforts as “soft” jihadism; “soft jihad strategy exploits liberal discourse and weakens our legal system to induce guilt about a largely mythical ‘Islamophobia’.” (Barbara Kay, “Paving the way for ‘soft jihad,’ 2 July 2008, The National Post. http:/ Barbara Kay was objecting to the use of human rights commissions to adjudicate whether Ezra Levant or Mark Steyn were engaged in hate speech.

When Muslims utilize Canadian legal processes and institutions, such as Human Rights Commissions and appeals to anti-discrimination Canadian law and human rights codes, not “Islamic law,” they have every right to do so. Whether they win or lose in such a claim, in articulating arguments based in Canadian law, not sharia law, they reinforce and uphold that law; they do not undermine it. That is precisely why Barbara Kay, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant have all campaigned against the authority of human rights commissions. The reality is that violations of the applicable human rights code are relevant, not violations of Islamic law. There is the added reality that the vast majority of Canadian Muslims do not want sharia law o be enforced by the state, just as the vast majority of Jews do not want Jewish law to be enforced by the state.

However, when the proposal was made to permit the use of sharia law within the boundaries of Canadian law to operate in areas like divorce, inter-personal financial disputes, etc., not only was this denied, but previous permission for Jewish law to be used in such areas was withdrawn. Further, when the human rights commission ruled against the request of the Muslim organization to declare Mark Steyn’s book as an example of discrimination, in the name of freedom of speech, the Commission denied the request. However, in her comments afterwards, Barbara Hall, chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, indicated that there are many competing freedoms in Canadian law and the freedom to express oneself is not absolute and does not trump other decisions, such as religious freedom and protection from hate crimes. Even though the commission ruled in favour of the publication, in her comments Barbara Hall indicated that the writer could have been more alert to religious sensibilities and more objective in his commentary. However, one can well understand the concerns of such writers given the issuance of fatwas against Salman Rushdie and the more systematic efforts of some Muslim organizations to take legal actions against those who slight or mock Islam or its sacred symbols.

Tomorrow: Omar Alghabra: A Muslim Mole?