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8499Islam and Muslims in Canada: Muslims test press freedom limits in Canadian case

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  • Zafar Khan
    Feb 2, 2008
      Muslims test press freedom limits in Canadian case
      Sun Jan 6, 2008 8:43am EST
      By Randall Palmer


      OTTAWA (Reuters) - An Islamic group's demand that a
      Canadian magazine publish its response to an article
      that said Muslims were set to swamp the West has
      sparked warnings of government-imposed restrictions on
      freedom of expression.

      The Canadian Islamic Congress, one of Canada's largest
      Muslim groups, says Maclean's, a popular Canadian
      weekly news magazine, subjected Muslims to hate speech
      with an article in October 2006 by best-selling author
      Mark Steyn that said a high Muslim birthrate, combined
      with Muslims "hot for jihad," could conquer a West
      that is unwilling to stand up for its civilization.

      The Islamic group has asked a government body to step
      in to guarantee it the right to an equal-length
      rebuttal to the article, which was an excerpt from
      Steyn's September 2006 book "America Alone."

      "This article completely misrepresents Canadian
      Muslims' values, their community, and their religion,"
      said Canadian Islamic Congress lawyer Faisal Joseph.

      Maclean's says it has already run 27 letters from
      readers, many opposed to Steyn's piece, and is ready
      to consider a further response. But it said the CIC
      wanted to direct the art work for the rebuttal and to
      run it on the cover.

      Publisher Kenneth Whyte said he would rather go
      bankrupt than have the CIC set the terms for what the
      magazine publishes.

      The Canadian and British Columbia human rights
      commissions have agreed to investigate the complaints,
      and the Muslim group has the high-profile backing of
      the Ontario Federation of Labour.

      "We need to make sure that folks are treated with
      dignity and respect, regardless of who it is , whether
      it's Maclean's or anybody," said the union
      federation's executive vice president, Terry Downey,
      formerly a human rights investigator.

      "People have a right to freedom of expression but that
      has some restrictions on it. You just can't offend
      people based on their religion or color or things like

      The Canadian commission could order the two sides to
      reconciliation, or forward the case to a tribunal that
      would have the power to order Maclean's to publish the
      group's response, or face legal sanctions.


      The idea a magazine should have to defend its writings
      to a government body has some critics warning of
      Soviet-style thought police and urging the commissions
      to get out of the business of regulating speech and

      Alan Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil
      Liberties Association, said he fought to create human
      rights commissions "to deal with "discriminatory deeds
      ... not discriminatory words."

      "Nobody thought it would be used to censure freedom of
      expression," he said.

      The Canadian human rights commission would not comment
      on the case but said it was authorized by Parliament
      to investigate what it calls hate speech.

      Freedom of expression is guaranteed in Canada's
      constitution, but laws have been enacted that restrict
      hate speech. In December, an Alberta human rights
      panel ruled that a local pastor broke a human rights
      law by writing letters to the editor urging citizens
      to stand up against what he described as militant

      CBC commentator Rex Murphy said Maclean's should not
      have to defend itself for starting debate and stirring

      "Is every touchy, or agenda-driven sensibility now
      free to call upon the offices of the state and ...
      embroil them in 'justifying' their right to write and
      broadcast as they see fit?" he asked on CBC's flagship
      news program, The National.

      Steyn said the CIC and law students acting on its
      behalf aimed to shut down debate by making it more
      trouble than it's worth for editors to run pieces on
      controversial topics.

      But he added, "In using quasi-judicial coercion to
      squash debate, they make one of the central points of
      my argument -- that a proportion of Islam is inimical
      to Western traditions of freedom -- more eloquently
      than I ever could."

      (Editing by Janet Guttsman and Jackie Frank)

      Quebec Muslims
      Navigating Uncharted Territory
      Wed. May. 16, 2007
      By Sheema Khan
      Freelance Writer — Canada


      Not every harassment against Muslims comes out of
      Islamophobia. Secular, nationalistic, but not
      religious are the Quebecers. The founder of CAIR-CAN
      reflects on how the nature, culture, and history of
      Quebec make it hard for Muslims to live normally in
      the province.

      The latest high-profile incident involved the
      expulsion of five Muslim girls, aged 10 to 14, from a
      Tae kwon do tournament, by Quebec sports officials who
      ruled their hijab to be against regulations of the
      sport, in spite of the fact that hijab-clad Muslim
      women have competed worldwide in this martial art
      without any incident. In the neighboring province of
      Ontario, Prof. Tyseer Abou-Nasr recently earned her
      black belt in Tae kwon do without any concern about
      her hijab. Nasr is a professor of electrical
      engineering at the University of Ottawa, having just
      completed her tenure as dean of engineering. She has
      also been recently named to the Order of Ontario — a
      prestigious recognition in honor of her contributions
      to the province.

      The Tae kwon do incident comes on the heels of two
      other events involving Muslim women. In February,
      Ottawa resident Asmahan Mansour was ejected from a
      soccer game in a Quebec tournament for wearing the
      hijab. The referee ruled her headscarf to be contrary
      to FIFA rules, whereas referees in Mansour's two other
      tournament games had no problem with the hijab. Her
      teammates and coach supported her by withdrawing from
      the tournament in protest. The Quebec Soccer
      Federation (QSF) backed the referee as did many Quebec
      politicians. However, the QSF did say that it would
      abide by any decision handed down by the Canadian
      Soccer Association (CSA). The CSA has yet to issue its
      ruling. FIFA did not provide any clear guidelines
      about the hijab following its meeting in February.


      In March, a few days before the Quebec elections, the
      province's chief electoral officer came under fire for
      reiterating his support for a bylaw that allowed
      registered voters to vote without the benefit of a
      photo ID. The media immediately focused on the
      situation of niqab-clad Muslim women voting without
      showing their face as proof of identity.

      Quebecers were outraged: Some threatened to disrupt
      the election, while others threatened bodily harm. The
      chief electoral officer had to rescind the rule and to
      hire personal bodyguards. Interestingly, many
      niqab-clad women indicated that they had no problem
      revealing their face for proof of identification.
      Furthermore, there were generous offers by Quebecers
      to escort niqab-clad voters to the polling stations so
      that they could vote free of harassment.

      In January, the Quebec town council of Herouxville
      gained international notoriety for proposing a list of
      societal norms for would-be immigrants, including the
      prohibition of circumcision and stoning women to
      death, in spite of the fact that stoning is already
      illegal in Canada. It was clearly aimed at keeping out
      immigrants — primarily Muslims — from settling in
      Herouxville. After much protest, the town dropped the
      mention of stoning while maintaining the spirit of the
      controversial code.

      Furthermore, a survey by the polling firm Environics
      revealed that out of the 7.5 million Quebecers, 53
      percent favor a ban on the hijab, while only 36
      percent out of 31.6 million citizens of all Canada

      In addition, some Quebec institutions of higher
      learning, including McGill University, have been less
      than helpful in providing space for Muslim students to
      observe their daily prayers. In fairness to McGill, it
      has provided the McGill MSA (Muslim Student
      Association) with large prayer space for Friday
      Prayers, in order to accommodate the large crowds of
      downtown workers. Furthermore, McGill has required its
      Catholic and Jewish students to operate their student
      centers off-campus through the rental or purchase of
      property. On the other hand, Montreal's Concordia
      University has worked together with its Muslims
      students to provide generous prayer space and ablution

      Based on the above incidents, many are asking, "What
      is going on in Quebec?" In particular, some have
      assumed, incorrectly, that Islamophobia is rampant in
      the province.

      There have been many rumblings in Quebec against the
      religious practices of the province's Jews and Sikhs.

      There are three principles at the heart of recent

      The first is the evolution of religious practice in
      Quebec history. Up until a few decades ago, the
      Catholic Church had a grip on Quebec society,
      influencing social policy and politics to a great
      extent. Women were greatly affected. For example,
      Quebec was the last Canadian province to allow women
      to vote, granting women this right in 1945. The
      society underwent changes during the "Quiet
      Revolution" in the 1960s, during which the people
      rejected the rule of the church and opted for a more
      secular vision of society.

      Secular, Nationalistic, but Not Religious

      The pendulum is swinging farther in the direction of
      secularization. Compared to other provinces, Quebec
      has the lowest percentage of people who profess faith.
      Many believe that faith should be a private matter and
      feel very uncomfortable with public displays of faith
      or requests for accommodation of religious practice.
      In addition, some feel that public institutions should
      be strictly secular and should not be required to
      accommodate any religious practice. McGill University
      has taken a similar stand in its refusal to provide
      Muslim students with prayer space, arguing that as an
      educational institution, it is not required to fulfill
      the religious requirements of its students. In a
      region that has 1.3 percent Jews, 1.5 percent Muslims,
      and 0.1 percent Sikhs, it seems that there is less
      tolerance for the orthodox religious practices.
      Interestingly, such incidents are less prevalent in
      the rest of Canada.

      The second principle is the fact that Quebec is a
      francophone "island" in a sea of Anglophone North
      America. Quebecers have fought to maintain their
      language, culture, and history. As such, they take
      issues of identity very seriously, one may argue,
      even more seriously than the rest of Canada. And while
      immigration hardly impacts on issues of Canadian
      identity, the issue is somewhat more complex in
      Quebec. So much so that Quebec maintains some degree
      of control on who immigrates to the province. The
      province also requires children of immigrants to
      enroll in French schools, for French is the only
      official language in Quebec.

      Equality Over Multiculturalism

      The third principle that many Quebeckers feel strongly
      about is that of equality between men and women. It
      should be noted that the majority of Canadians also
      share this sentiment, with many saying that equality
      takes precedence over multiculturalism. It is this
      particular issue that seems to have the most impact on
      Muslims. In Quebec, many view religion as an
      impediment to the liberation of women — based
      primarily on their historical experience with the
      Catholic Church.

      With regards to Muslims, international media reports
      on honor killings, female genital mutilation, the
      practices of the Taliban and Saudi Arabia toward
      women, and other incidents, have given the impression
      that equality between men and women is lacking in many
      Muslim societies. Some view the hijab as a symbol of
      oppression and inferiority imposed by men on women,
      and thus contradicting the Quebec framework of

      Similarly, in Ontario, there was strong opposition to
      the use of Shari`ah principles in family arbitration.
      Part of the opposition was based on distortions and
      fear-mongering, with some critics warning of the
      arrival of public stoning for adultery and amputation
      of hands for theft. Others believed the provisions for
      divorce and inheritance in Islam to be contrary to the
      Canadian framework of equality.

      In response to the concerns regarding accommodations
      of religious practices, Quebec premier Jean Charest
      has set up a commission to explore the issue in
      further detail and provide recommendations. Renowned
      philosophy professor Charles Taylor, winner of the
      prestigious Templeton prize, is one of the
      commission's members. The commission will travel
      through the province to interview individuals and
      representatives of various organizations, and report
      its findings in about a year.

      A Better Situation

      In the meantime, it seems that Quebec's Muslims are
      rising to the challenge by engaging in the public
      debate. In particular, Muslim women have been
      presenting themselves in an articulate, professional,
      and patient manner, with the aim of educating the
      public about their faith and their commitment to be
      part and parcel of Quebec society. For example, Sarah
      Elgazzar, Quebec spokeswoman of the Canadian Council
      on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), has provided
      many media interviews attesting to these ideals.
      Furthermore, a delegation of Muslim women visited the
      town of Herouxville to engage in dialogue and

      There is more work to be done. Quebec's Muslims must
      work together with members of the wider society who
      believe in societal pluralism, where differences are
      respected and freedom of religion is guaranteed by the
      Constitution. In addition to engaging with the media,
      Muslims need more education about the civic
      institutions of Quebec and how these can help. The
      Quebec Human Rights Commission is a valuable resource
      in this endeavor.

      However, the issue of rights is balanced by that of
      duties. It is a two-way street. Just as Muslims are
      seeking to educate the broader public about Islam,
      they too must seek to understand the history of
      Quebec. Just as Muslims are asking others to
      understand their concerns, they too must try to
      understand the concerns of those who are apprehensive
      about their customs and practices.

      Like many parts of world, Quebec is going through
      changes as a result of globalization and immigration;
      thus, there are legitimate questions of identity and
      culture at play. However, these can be discussed in a
      respectful, meaningful manner to enhance the
      foundations of civil society. The keys will be
      dialogue and patience.

      Sheema Khan is a monthly columnist for The Globe and
      Mail, Canada's national newspaper. She is also a
      patent agent and a consultant in intellectual property
      law. In 2000, she founded the Canadian Council on
      American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), and served as
      its chair from 2000-2005. She holds a master's in
      physics and a doctorate in chemical physics, both from
      Harvard University. She can be reached through Muslim

      Canadian Muslims dismiss Harper government for 'lack'
      of Mideast policy
      Mike Blanchfield , CanWest News Service
      Published: Tuesday, January 08, 2008


      OTTAWA - As Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier
      begins his first Middle East tour, Canadian Muslims
      have written off trying to engage the Harper
      Conservatives on the troubled region.

      The Canadian Islamic Congress says it has been
      continually snubbed by the Conservative government and
      says it has abandoned trying to influence Canada's
      efforts to play a role in the Middle East peace
      process until the next federal election in Canada.

      "We gave up on having a constructive dialogue with the
      current government on any foreign policy issue,"
      Mohammed Elmasry, president of the CIC, said in an
      interview Tuesday as Bernier began a six-day trip that
      was to start today in Saudi Arabia.

      Bernier has also sandwiched in a two-day trip to India
      before doubling back to the Middle East where he will
      end his tour with two days in the West Bank and Israel
      starting Sunday.

      It has been a year since Bernier's predecessor, Peter
      MacKay, visited the troubled region. For the most
      part, MacKay avoided trouble in a part of the world
      that is a political minefield for rookie international
      statesmen such as himself and Bernier, not to mention
      some seasoned politicians.

      Bernier kept a low profile on the eve of his first
      major international trip, declining interviews and, as
      far as Canada's leading Islamic group is concerned,
      they don't care if Bernier is ever heard from again.

      The CIC says that the two men who have served as
      foreign ministers in the Conservative government have
      refused to meet members of their organization.

      "We tried to communicate our position on Afghanistan,
      on the Middle East on U.S. interference in Lebanon,
      the threat of the U.S. on Iran," said Elmasry. "It is
      either following the lead of the U.S. or it doesn't
      have a policy of its own.

      "Either way, it is really bad for Canada and for the
      people of the area."

      After nearly two years of being snubbed, the CIC says
      it will cool its heels on trying to lobby the
      government until the Conservative minority is defeated
      in Parliament and Canadians go to the polls.

      "This government right now is on the last leg of its
      life. We hope that we have an election sooner than
      later in '08," said Elmasry.

      In the meantime, the group says it will concentrate on
      the two Toronto-area ridings and Vancouver Quadra,
      where federal byelections are scheduled for March 17
      to fill vacant seats in the House of Commons.

      If the Conservatives hope to one day win a majority,
      they must make in-roads in Canada's major urban
      centres. Muslim and Arab groups have threatened in the
      past to campaign against the Conservatives over what
      they view as a tilt towards Israel and an abandonment
      of Canada's role as a neutral player in the
      Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

      The issue came to a boil in the summer of 2006 when
      Canadian Arabs and Muslims reacted angrily to Prime
      Minister Stephen Harper's comments over Israel's
      decision to bomb Lebanon in pursuit of Hezbollah

      "It's now beyond (being) pro-Israel. It doesn't have a
      clear policy for any foreign issue," said Elmasry.

      In a prepared statement before he departed earlier
      this week, Bernier said he was bringing a message of
      Canadian support to both sides in the conflict.

      "We support the efforts that will lead to a peaceful
      and comprehensive resolution to the
      Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including the creation
      of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace
      and security with Israel."

      A senior government official said Bernier has worked
      hard behind the scenes at a series of international
      meetings to engage both sides of the
      Palestinian-Israeli conflict, since taking over the
      Foreign Affairs portfolio late last summer.

      The Conservative government has since restored some of
      the spending it had previously cut to the Palestinian
      Authority, $8 million in all, shortly before MacKay
      was shuffled out of the portfolio, while Bernier
      committed Canada to $300 million over five years to
      the Palestinians at last month's international donors'
      conference in Paris, the official said.

      "He announced $300 million. I think that's more than
      words, that's deeds, that's money. It positively
      reinforces the momentum," said the senior official.

      But Elmasry dismissed Canada's latest round of
      spending towards Palestinians.

      "It's a photo-op and basically trying to be nice to
      American colleagues."

      Ottawa Citizen

      Who is Hesham Islam?
      By Claudia Rosett Friday, January 25, 2008


      In the sorry tradition of shooting the messenger, the
      Pentagon is cashiering its top expert on Islamist
      doctrine, Stephen Coughlin. Some members of Congress
      are now contemplating hearings to ask why.

      Along with drawing attention to Coughlin’s research,
      now circulating on the Internet, the growing
      controversy has thrown a spotlight on Coughlin’s
      alleged nemesis at the Pentagon, a top aide named
      Hesham Islam — whose tale deserves closer attention.
      Not least, as a reporter for the Armed Forces Press
      Service observed last year, it would make a great
      Hollywood blockbuster.

      Certainly there are subplots here that seem made for
      the movies, including tales of Islam, in his youth,
      living through an air raid in Egypt, a ship sinking in
      the Arabian Sea, and now, years later, this scuffle
      under the Pentagon rug over how to deal with the chief
      threat to America today — Islamic extremism.

      Hesham Islam is a native Arabic speaker, a Muslim,
      born in 1959 in Cairo and schooled in Saddam Hussein’s
      Iraq. In 1980 he immigrated to the U.S. From 1985-2005
      he served in the U.S. Navy, rising to the mid-level
      officer rank of commander. At some point after former
      defense-industry executive Gordon England joined the
      Bush administration as secretary of the Navy, in 2001,
      Islam went to work on his staff. In 2005, when
      England, after a stint in Homeland Security took over
      from Paul Wolfowitz in the Defense Department’s number
      two slot of deputy secretary, Islam came with him.

      In England’s office, Islam’s official title is special
      assistant for international affairs. In that capacity
      he pops up as a man-about-town in Washington, making
      the rounds of embassies. But Islam also works as
      England’s point man for Pentagon outreach programs to
      Muslim groups. These include organizations such as the
      Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA, with whom
      Islam and England have forged ties — attending ISNA
      conventions, and hosting ISNA delegations at Pentagon
      events, and in England’s office.

      That’s alarming to some, such as terrorism expert
      Steven Emerson, executive director of the
      Investigative Project on Terrorism, who, for more than
      a decade, has been tracking Islamic extremist networks
      in the U.S. In a recent appearance on Fox News,
      Emerson described Hesham Islam as, in his view, “an
      Islamist with a pro-Muslim Brotherhood bent who has
      brought in groups to the Pentagon who have been
      unindicted co-conspirators.”


      Muslim in Canada: Killing Canadians “best way”
      By OnTheWeb Wednesday, January 30, 2008


      Hate speech laws are dangerous, because jihadists and
      their allies will use them as much as they can to
      silence resistance to jihadist activities. However,
      there ought to be some way to limit the activities of
      this treasonous individual, just as no one would have
      tolerated the publication of a pro-Nazi newspaper in
      Toronto in 1943.

      “Killing Canadians ‘best way’: student,”
      TORONTO - A Toronto-area man has been posting messages
      on the Internet supporting attacks against Canadian
      soldiers on Canadian soil, drawing the attention of
      RCMP national security investigators.

      Police have advised the Bangladeshi-Canadian that he
      is under investigation for incitement and facilitating
      terrorism after he repeatedly called the killing of
      Canadian troops in Canada “legitimate” and “well

      No charges have been laid, but counterterrorism
      officers are apparently taking it seriously, and the
      case has set off a debate inside government over where
      to draw the line between free expression and

      “The promotion of hate and violence has no place in
      Canadian society, and it is an offence under the
      Criminal Code,” Stockwell Day, the Minister of Public
      Safety, responded when shown a sample of the postings.
      “Our government carefully balances the right to
      freedom of expression with our duty to protect
      Canadians from harm.”

      Alarm bells about the online writings went off last
      September after German authorities arrested three
      Islamic militants accused of planning to bomb the
      Ramstein Air Base and Frankfurt International Airport.

      That same day, Salman Hossain posted several messages
      about the plot on the comment board of a Toronto-based
      Internet site where he is a frequent contributor.

      Although Mr. Hossain claimed in one of his
      communications with the National Post that he made the
      comments in a private online chat room, the messages
      can easily be viewed by anyone using a simple Google

      “I hope the German brothers were gonna blow up
      US-German bases in their country. We should do that
      here in Canada as well. Kill as many western soldiers
      as well so that they think twice before entering
      foreign countries on behalf of their Jew masters,” he

      “Any and all Western soldiers getting prepared to
      enter Muslim nations like Afghanistan or Iraq should
      be legitimate targets by any and all Islamic militants
      either in the attacked nations or in the western
      nations --if there were any planned attacks against
      Canadian/ American soldiers by ‘Muslim militants’ in
      Canadian soil, I’d support it,” he added.

      “Canadian soldiers in Canadian soil who are training
      to go to Afghanistan or Iraq are legitimate targets to
      be killed. … Now it is POSSIBLE AND LEGITIMATE!! ...
      believe me, if we could have enough of our soldiers
      killed, then we’d be forced to withdrawn

      In addition, he singles out Jews, writing: “When do I
      get to shoot a few Jews down for attempting to blow up
      dozens of mosques in America right after 9-11 … why
      f---ing target the Americans when the Jews are

      The author of the messages is a Mississauga university
      student in his mid-twenties who claims to know the
      infamous Khadr family and several of the men arrested
      in Toronto in June, 2006, on terrorism conspiracy
      charges. He confirmed to the National Post that he was
      the author of the postings but later declined to
      comment further on the advice of his lawyer. While he
      writes that he approves of attacking Canadian troops,
      he also says he would not do so himself.

      Despite being visited by the Canadian Security
      Intelligence Service and RCMP and told he was under
      investigation, Mr. Hossain has continued to post
      messages approving of attacks on Canadian troops.

      Saying anti-war protests “will do sh$$,” he describes
      a “mass casualty” attack on the home-front as “a well
      considered option” and “the best way to compel western
      soldiers to get out of Afghanistan/Iraq.”

      Such an attack “would be fantastic and would get the
      job done,” he writes. “If someone gets the bright idea
      of committing such a wonderful act, it’s NOT my
      responsibility in any way, shape or form.”

      He wrote, “I enjoy watching the blood flow from the
      western troops,” and during Defence Minister Peter
      Mac-Kay’s Christmas week visit to Kandahar, he wrote:
      “I pray that the Taliban kill our Mackay

      In other postings, he wishes “a merry 9-11, and I wish
      y’all many more merry 9-11s”; says “the Jews are
      literally the most treacherous nation on the face of
      the Earth”; says “I hate the Jews”; and claims “the
      filthy Jews carried out 9-11.”

      He rails at police, saying “you can’t charge me for
      possessing a thought” and writes that he “honestly got
      a kick outta pissing off the RCMP … HAHAHA … i was
      laughing my ass off for provoking the RCMP."…