U.S. and International Background to Islamophobia in Canada

U.S. and International Background to Islamophobia in Canada

by

Howard Adelman

Three weeks ago, on 6 February 2017, Donald Trump issued a list of 78 terror attacks that had allegedly been under or not reported by the media. He left off that list numerous and almost daily terrorist attacks against Muslim targets. Not one terrorist attack in Israel was included. The attack against a mosque in a Quebec City suburb on 29 January 2017 by an Islamophobe was omitted. Most on the list – the Paris Bataclan attack, the Nice truck killings, the Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando, Florida, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, received massive worldwide coverage. When Sean Spicer was specifically asked for names of attacks that were not reported by “the very, very dishonest press,” he promised to provide a list later, insisting there were “several instances,” “a lot of instances,” but no list was ever produced.

Two weeks ago, on 16 February 2017, two particularly heinous and destructive terrorist attacks took place. In Baghdad, at a very popular used automobile market in the southwest corner of the city, a car packed with explosives blew up killing at least 45 and wounding hundreds of others. In Pakistan, in a relatively small city in Sindh Province, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the very famous Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and killed at least 88, including many women and children, and wounded many more. The victims were virtually all Muslims. The perpetrator in both cases was the Islamic State.

On that same day of these two attacks, Trump held his first sole, and spontaneous, one hour plus bizarre press conference as president. Rant is probably a more accurate description of what took place. Sometimes Islamophobia is best revealed by silences and omissions rather than overt hate speech. While Trump once again berated the “dishonest press,” in a discussion of terrorism, Trump failed to mention either the Iraq or the Pakistan attack. He offered no condolences to the victims’ families or the nations in which these large number of victims died at the hands of terrorists. Nor did he tweet about it later. For, in his view of terrorism, Islamicist terrorists only target Western – i.e. non-Islamic Judeo-Christian civilization – when, in fact, the vast majority of targets of these terrorist extremists are themselves followers of Islam.

Donald Trump had cited the Center for Security Policy to justify his migration ban in his 27 January Executive Order, the same centre that honoured Zuhdi Jasser, head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), as a “defender of the home front.” Jasser is a doctor of internal medicine and nuclear cardiology in Phoenix, Arizona and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. navy. He served two years (2012 and 2013) on the Congressional U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He is a strong advocate for the separation of mosque and state and opponent of both political and radical Islam. His focus has been radicalization in the Islamic community in America. He narrated a notorious PBS film Islam v Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center, which PBS banned from the air following pressure from Muslim organizations which widely interpreted the film as anti-Islamic, even though its focus is radicalization. Jasser is a poster boy for Trump’s contention that he is not anti-Islam.

Within the U.S., attacks from the far right far outnumber any Islamicist terrorism. One example occurred just two weeks ago. Adan Purinton, in the Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, after calling for the men he assaulted to return to their home country, shot and killed an Indian man, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and seriously wounded an American bystander, Ian Grillot, who tried to intervene. Alok Madasani, who also had been attacked, survived his wounds as well. The attack took place just prior to the sentencing of two Kansas men for an attack on three Somalis.

Nonie (originally Nahid) Darwish, an Egyptian-American human rights advocate, a former Muslim and convert to Christianity, founder of Arabs for Israel even though her father as an Egyptian military officer was a victim of a targeted killing by allegedly Israeli agents, has been another leading voice. She is president of AIFD, wrote several books:  Now They Call Me Infidel; Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror and Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. She has led the effort to broaden what has been dubbed the U.S. Islamophobia network and called for the defeat and annihilation of Islam. Mosques, she declared, are the sources for initiating the war against America. In such cases, how do you separate the right to free speech and the right to be critical of Islam from Islamophobia?

This trope of Islam and not just Islamism as a clear and present danger is complemented by a depiction of Islamic countries and Muslims as hypocrites. Muslims, critics contend, argue for freedom when they are a minority but repress the freedom to practice Christianity when Muslims are the majority. Muslim countries love and admire non-Muslims who champion freedom for Muslims in non-Muslim countries, but either actively or by turning a blind eye discriminate against non-Muslims in their own countries. Muslim countries condemn discrimination against Muslims while they perpetuate not just discrimination but oppression of minorities.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Numan Kurtulmuș, insisted that, “rising Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-immigrant feelings” lay behind Trump’s travel ban against seven countries. Yasin Aktay, the chair of Turkey’s ruling party called the ban “racist” and a violation of human rights. Both ignored the rising tide of persecution of individual Christians and Christian institutions, particularly Protestant ones within Turkey. (See the report of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey which documents the increasing persecution of Christians in 2015 in its Human Rights Violations Report.) Over 100 Evangelical Christian pastors have been expelled from Turkey.

Christians have been cleansed in huge numbers from the Middle East where those communities have existed for two thousand years. Saudi Arabia has a travel ban limiting where non-Muslims can travel in the country. The public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited.

Islamophobia is not simply the disagreement with or dislike of Islam as a religion, though that is specified in the dictionary, but prejudice against that religion and its adherents that is expressed in the public arena in a myriad of negative ways. It includes an irrational fear of Islam. Donald Trump does not explicitly and unequivocally express his Islamophobia in this way, but in his actions and his policies, he certainly acts as the “new sheriff in town” with the objective of cleaning up the hombres that has been interpreted as signalling to Muslims that they are unwelcome. Trump associates with groups who would not only ban hijab-wearing women from working in any government position, but would insist that all Muslim government employees sign a loyalty document that they reject Sharia law. For them, Sharia is not a set of legal texts and religious practices subject to interpretation, but the foundational code for converting America to the Muslim faith.

Stephen K. Bannon, perhaps his closest political adviser and the former executive chairman of Breitbart, described Muslim American groups as “cultural jihadists.” He contended that their intention is to destroy American society from within. He wrote a documentary film script ten years ago with this theme; it was called Destroying the Great Satan.

This depiction of Islam as an insidious agency assaulting the American way of life is a sentiment echoed by organizations such as ACT for America which argues that the “jihadists wearing suits” are more insidious and dangerous than radical Islamicists. The organization, with 17 full time staff and a half million members, depicts Islam has having a mission of Islamicizing America. ACT claims that the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIA) is “working to infiltrate the U.S. government and destroy American society from within,” a domestic extension of a very active and determined international conspiracy. (See Trevor Loudon’s documentary, Enemies Within.) ACT volunteers train local communities on how to object to mosques being built in their neighbourhoods and to push for banning existing ones unless they denounce Sharia.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was fired after only a few weeks as Donald Trump’s security adviser, sits on ACT’s board of directors. When he was fired, ACT dubbed it the work of “rogue weasels” and “shadow warriors” within the depths of the government. ACT vigorously campaigned to defend Trump’s executive order banning entry to individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. One cannot hear Donald Trump’s slogan, “America First” but recall, if you have ever looked at it, ACTs website that claims, “we are the greatest nation on earth” and “if you are an American you must be an American first.” ACT, of course, ardently supported Trump’s ban against travelers from seven Muslim majority countries, but also opposed the resettlement of any Muslim refugees in the U.S.

ACT labels supporters of the resettlement of Syrian refugees into the U.S. as fanatics. The concept of “Islamophobia” is “fake news” and part of the international conspiracy’s propaganda campaign that uses liberals as fronts. The push for combating Islamophobia by these apologists for Islam is but a front for the perpetrators of evil against which good Christians in the name of the good must fight back.

In Europe, political parties have built their central base in the fight against Muslims. On 15 March, there will be parliamentary elections in The Netherlands. In Holland, 6% of the population is Muslim – mainly Turks and Moroccans. Geert Wilders’s populist Freedom Party (PVV) has made migration and Islamisation the core of his campaign. The PVV is expected to increase its number of seats from 10% to at least 20% and is currently the frontrunner among the many competing Dutch political parties, though it will not likely be included in any coalition. Wilders denounced the number of Moroccans in the country, whom he has referred to as “scum,” and has been convicted by Dutch courts of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans. Wilders vowed to appeal and denounced the court’s decision as suppressing free speech. Wilders has stated that Islam is potentially more dangerous than Nazism, especially since the Koran includes more anti-Semitic hatred than Mein Kampf.  Wilders supports closing all mosques and Islamic schools and banning the sale of the Koran (Qur’an).  Recall that two far right Dutch activists have been assassinated in recent years – Pim Fortuyn and then filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical, Mohammed Bouyeri.

In recent local elections in Germany, the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), captured almost 14% of the vote in recent local elections. Stories of a mob of Arab men rampaging through the streets of Frankfurt and assaulting women were widely reported worldwide, but the stories turned out to be “fake news.” Local police subsequently determined that the stories were “baseless.” But the story spread like wildfire because an old refrain of the “foreign sexual offender” is a deep part of German as well as Dutch culture.

“False news” is pervasive in Europe, some originating in the U.S. Breitbart news reported that a mob of 1,000 chanting “Allahu Akhbar,” this past New Year’s Eve, had attacked police in Dortmund and set fire to what Breitbart reported was the oldest church. It never happened. Further, St. Reinold is not Europe’s oldest church; the Cathedral of Trier is and this was where fireworks from a celebrating crowd accidentally set off a small roof fire. Racism is once again on the rise in Germany with a multitude of assaults by neo-Nazis against foreigners who looked Arabic – a passenger getting out of a taxi and an attack against a biracial boy in the safe Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg by four neo-Nazis. These take place in spite of strong laws and vigorous enforcement by the German state against neo-Nazis and the racism they espouse. That racism runs contrary to the born-again sense of tolerance now pervasive among Germans which allowed Angela Merkel to admit over a million Middle East refugees into Germany.

Marine Le Pen in France is a strong competitor to Wilders’s Islamophobic messages. For Le Pen, France must choose between being French and continuing its self-destructive trip as a multiculturalist country. Since the infamous Paris and Nice radical jihadist attacks, the fear of Islam and migrants as central mainstays of her National Front party have become more mainstream. Like Trump’s supporters, like Wilders, Le Pen insists that France is threatened both from within and from without by Islam and not just radical Islam. Trump’s ban barring migrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries was applauded, but did not go far enough since the ban was only temporary for only six Muslim countries; the ban should have been applied much wider.

Islamicism is bred among Muslim immigrants as well as brought to France from the outside. And its source is Islam itself, though Le Pen, like Trump, initially adopted a far more limited focus on “foreigners who preach hatred” and advocated stripping Islamicists, not Muslims, of their citizenship.

Canada has established itself as an exception to a more general tide of rising Islamophobia, but is not immune from the virus.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Justin Trudeau and Omar Alghabra

Justin Trudeau and Omar Alghabra

by

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,”

http://www.torontosun.com/2013/04/26/bad-advice-think-justin-trudeaus-instincts-are-scary-take-a-look-at-what-two-of-his-advisers-have-to-say?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=recommend-button&utm_campaign=Bad+advice%3A+Think+Justin+Trudeau%E2%80%99s+instincts+are+scary%3F+Take+a+look+at+what+two+of+his+advisers+have+to+say

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

TRUDEAU APPOINTS ISLAMIST AND ISRAEL HATER TO BE HIS PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS*

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’.”

http://tsecnetwork.ca/2015/12/03/sharia-law-supporter-omar-alghabra-is-the-new-parliamentary-secretary-for-foreign-affairs/

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:/www.barbarakay.ca/articles/views/54 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?