Monday April 11, 2016
By HAROON SIDDIQUI
In this excerpt from his chapter in The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada, Haroon Siddiqui argues that Stephen Harper’s policies constituted an extensive, deliberate strategy to malign Muslims.
Stephen Harper addresses a large Muslim conference in August 2015.
But his government's tendency to tar Muslims with the terrorist brush was on display at hearings of the Senate committee on national security in 2014 and 2015, Haroon Siddiqui writes.
Mr. Harper is a bigot. Mr. Harper does not like Muslims.
— Dennis Edney, lawyer for Omar Khadr
In times of terrorism, the balance between security and civil rights tilts to the former. The public expects its leaders to stand up to terrorists with resolve. Harper, however, took a leaf out of George W. Bush’s book in stoking fear of Muslim terrorism. But unlike Bush and Barack Obama, both of whom tried to delink terrorism from Islam and Muslims, the prime minister mined, indeed fanned, anti-Muslim prejudices. Going well beyond being tough on terrorists, he not only made anti-Muslim talk respectable but also initiated a range of policies and legislation that constituted cultural warfare on Muslims.
Not until you enumerate all his actions, as I do below, do you realize how extensive and systematic he was in maligning Muslims and mollycoddling Islamophobes.
Waging jihad on terror
In 2011 the prime minister declared that the biggest threat to Canada was “Islamicism,” invoking the vocabulary of those who say they are not against Islam — no, not at all — but rather against “Islamism,” “political Islam,” “radical Islam,” “militant Islam” or “extremist Islam,” terms that lack precision and can mean whatever one wants them to mean. Such a formulation is tailor-made for those who believe that terrorism involving Muslims is “Islamic,” while the terrorism of, say, Anders Breivik is not “Christian,” even though there are parallels between him and Muslim terrorists.
Just as they use religious terminology to justify their barbarism, so did he in killing 77 fellow Norwegians, most of them teenagers, in 2011. They invoke Islam, he invoked Christianity, which he thought was being undermined by Muslims in Europe and by governments that were enablers of multicultural concessions to Muslims. Muslim terrorists see themselves as warriors against American and NATO invasions and occupations of Muslim lands, while he saw himself as a soldier in the war against the imagined takeover of Europe by Muslims. Their terror is no more “Islamic” than his was “Christian,” yet the Harperites made it a point to identify Muslim terrorists with Islam.
When Harper decided in 2014 to commit Canada to the American war on the Islamic State caliphate (IS or ISIS), he, his ministers and his MPs took up a mantra of war against “jihadists,” “jihadism,” “violent jihadism,” “jihadi terrorism,” “the international jihadist movement,” “jihadist monsters” etc. And the government promoted its anti-terrorism legislation by posting images of religious-looking Muslims — in one case, using a misleading photo. On Aug. 2, 2015, when the prime minister called an election for Oct. 19, he invoked ISIS, thrice, as well as the threat to Canada of a “violent global jihadist movement.”
Harper used “public fear to advance his political agenda at the expense of Canadian Muslims,” wrote Faisal Bhabha on the blog The Harper Decade. In his essay entitled “Does Harper care about Canadian Muslims?” the Osgoode Hall Law School professor and former vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, noted that on “the day of the April 2013 Boston Marathon attack, the Harper government announced plans to rush debate of new legislation intended to revive the anti-terrorism detention and investigative powers that expired in 2007 . . . Within days of the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, French President François Hollande spoke publicly to reassure French Muslims of their civil rights, acknowledging that Muslims were ‘the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance.’
Stephen Harper, meanwhile, was quick to capitalize on the French tragedy. As with the Boston attack, he drew an implausible link to events in Canada. He went on to irresponsibly associate local mosques with the ‘international jihadist movement.’ The Prime Minister’s resort (sic) to smearing peaceful places of congregation and worship was, for many, cruel and unforgivable.”
Holding a kangaroo court
The Harperites’ penchant for tarring Muslims with the terrorist brush was starkly on display at hearings of the Senate committee on national security, held in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015. The committee did not invite groups representative of Canada’s more than one million Muslims. Instead it preferred anti-Muslim activists such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born critic of Islam who lives in the United States and is a favourite of Islamophobes.
It also invited a handful of Canadian Muslims who have made a career of attacking other Muslims. Such witnesses claimed that Muslim militants were crawling under every Canadian minaret. Using parliamentary immunity, they hurled unsubstantiated, indeed false, accusations against Canadian Muslims. The majority Conservative senators harried the witnesses who refused to go along with the prescribed party line — as illustrated in an exchange with Shahina Siddiqui.
The hijab-wearing Siddiqui (no relation) is head of the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association. She has been honoured for her social justice activism and interfaith work with the YMCA-YWCA Winnipeg Peace Medal and the Grass Roots Women of Manitoba Award, among others. She has worked with federal, provincial and local security and police forces and also helped produce an anti-radicalization booklet. There was a marked contrast in the way the Conservative senators treated her and the hero’s welcome they gave an anti-Muslim Montreal blogger, Marc Lebuis of Point de Bascule (Tipping Point), who said that mosques and Muslim organizations in Canada were “controlled and financed, proven, by countries known to harbour the most radical fringes of Muslim, the Wahhabism fringes.”
When Siddiqui pushed back — “Please do not treat Muslim Canadians as if they are the enemy because we are not . . . Don’t give in to fear and propaganda, otherwise we will tear each other apart” — she was upbraided by Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak, who told her, thrice, to stop being “thin-skinned” in reacting to increased hostility towards Muslims.
She berated Siddiqui that Canadians are “tired of hearing excuses. If 21 Christians were beheaded by Jews, they would be called ‘radical extremist Jews.’ And if pilots were burned in cages by a Christian, they would be called ‘radical violent Christians’ . . . What would you answer to people who are legitimately concerned?” (emphasis mine). In Beyak’s bigoted view of the world, this Muslim from Manitoba had to answer for the atrocities committed by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Siddiqui told me later that the committee hearing felt like the “Tea Party in action. It was a very charged atmosphere — more like an inquisition.” The Ottawa-based National Council of Canadian Muslims described the committee proceedings as “a witch hunt.”
Following the hearings, I tracked down three individuals whom Lebuis had singled out.
He had said that Jamal Badawi, former professor at the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, and also a prolific author on Islam, “started” or “is behind” several Muslim organizations that are part of “the network of the Muslim Brotherhood infrastructure in North America,” and that Badawi urges Muslims “to become judges and officials” in order to “take advantage of their position of influence to stop applying current national legal provisions that are incompatible with sharia law.” Lebuis was echoing such American Islamophobes as Frank Gaffney, who have said that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the American government.
Badawi told me he has never urged Muslims to infiltrate the government in order to advance sharia. “I challenge those who make this false allegation to produce evidence, such as a recording in my voice or quotes from my writings to back up their allegation. I consistently urge Muslims in Canada, U.S.A., Europe and elsewhere to positively integrate in their societies, to fulfill their duties as citizens and to be beneficial to all.”
Lebuis called Toronto lawyer Faisal Kutty “the spokesperson of two Al Qaeda funding organizations,” who “consistently defends and promotes people who are known and banned in certain countries.”
Kutty teaches law at Osgoode and also at Valparaiso University, Ind. He has written extensively on radicalization, including what Muslims must do to stop it. He said he has worked with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and been consulted by the U.S. House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence.
He told me, “I’ve never served as a spokesperson for any terrorist organization. A lawyer representing a client is a far cry from a spokesperson . . . By their spurious logic, all criminal lawyers must be closet criminals as well . . . I have unequivocally condemned violence of all kinds. I have always urged Canadians, including Muslims, to fulfill their patriotic obligation to defend our country but also to be vigilant in holding our government and its agencies accountable.”
Lebuis accused Hamilton lawyer Hussein Hamdani of having lobbied Ottawa to stop using “Islamic” in relation to terrorism by Muslims, and having done so with “a delegation of Islamist leaders linked to the Muslim Brotherhood infrastructure operating in Canada.” Since 2005, Hamdani had been a member of the federal government’s Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security, which fosters dialogue between the government and leaders of various cultural communities on national security matters. In 2012 he spoke to Vic Toews, then minister of public safety, at the minister’s invitation.
“Mr. Toews came to the Hamilton mosque, with four officials from his ministry, and nine or 10 of us met him there,” Hamdani told me. “I did say that the language used by Prime Minister Harper and others in Ottawa was counterproductive. I compared it with that of President Obama, who always asserts that Muslims are part of the American family and part of the solution to terrorism. Yet nowhere has Harper made clear that Canadian Muslims are part of the Canadian family, that they are partners in this battle against terrorism.”
The RCMP and CSIS did stop associating terrorism by Muslims with Islam or mosques, and instead started being precise about terrorist groups and individuals. Still, Hamdani said, “the suggestion that I somehow strong-armed the government of Canada into changing is amusing. Clearly, the Conservatives have not changed,” even if the security agencies had. “It is shameful that Islamophobes who used to be on the fringes are being brought into the centre by this government. Such people defame others without providing any evidence — ‘the world is flat and Islamists are taking over Canada.’ And the people maligned do not have the wherewithal to defend themselves. That’s what’s really disconcerting.”
Within weeks of Lebuis’s accusation, the Harper government removed Hamdani from the federal advisory committee. The decision was seen as a partisan payback for Hamdani having held a fundraiser for Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Still, the manner of Hamdani’s dismissal was vicious, with the government accusing him, without offering any proof, of having “links to radical ideology.”
Dr. Myrna Lashley, chair of the Cross-Cultural Roundtable, was “very, very shocked” about the government’s allegation. “This is not the Hussein that I know,” Lashley, a psychiatrist at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, told the Hamilton Spectator. “He has never demonstrated any of this stuff that they’re talking about. I can tell you that he has been one of the biggest supporters of Canada on the roundtable. He has done a lot to reach out to Muslim youth to sing the praises of Canada, to talk about unity. He’s certainly adamantly against ISIS and Al Qaeda.”
On June 5, Hamdani told a gathering of Muslims in Mississauga that the Harperites “want Canadians to be afraid of Muslims because then they can say, ‘we are the only party that will protect against the hordes, locusts and animals that are coming and who are already in the land.’” The public meeting where Hamdani spoke was an initiative of Dawanet, a community group. Organizer Mohammed Hashim told Toronto Star reporter Noor Javed that Muslims were feeling the effects of the rhetoric and policies of the Conservative government but were too scared to speak out.
“There is a paralysis. People are just afraid to say anything. ‘Is CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) going to watch me?’ ‘Are people going to think I am a jihadi?’ ‘Are people going to fire me?’ The whole point of the event is to send a message back to the community: Let’s stand up to the government for exploiting us, and stoking fear. Let’s stand up against the rhetoric of Islamophobia.”
Excerpt from “Anti-Muslim Bigotry Goes Official: Canada’s Newest Dark Chapter” by Haroon Siddiqui, in The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada, Toronto: Mawenzi House Publishers, 2015.