Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Forked Tongues

December 20, 2004


It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims….

The majority of those who manned the suicide bombings against buses, vehicles, schools, houses and buildings, all over the world, were Muslim….

What a pathetic record. What an abominable “achievement.” Does all this tell us anything about ourselves, our societies and our culture?

(Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, an observant Muslim, is general manager of Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel. These excerpts are from an article published in the September 27, 2004 issue of the pan-Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.)  

Shortly after 9/11, then Prime Minister Jean Chretien thought to reassure us by stating that Canada was free of terrorists.  He was wrong. 

The truth is that terrorists have looked on Canada as a safe haven for many years. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Services has repeatedly warned that much more needs to be done to stop those who use Canada as a base of support for a variety of terrorist organizations. 

At a recent conference of the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies, Mr. Robert Wright, the Prime Minister’s national security advisor warned that it is absurd to imagine that we are immune from attacks. He reminded his listeners that Osama  bin Laden has included Canada among the countries he urged his followers to attack.

Terrorism is nothing new. But the scope and brutality of its current Islamist practitioners is unprecedented. Canadian policymakers are ill-prepared for the challenge this reality presents to us. There is an obvious disconnect between the findings and advice of the law enforcement and investigative authorities  and the attitude of the Liberal government. (See Stewart Bell, Cold Terror: How Canada Nurtures and exports Terrorism Around the World, to be reviewed in a future column.) 

Terrorism by Any Other Name

There are a number of reasons for this disconnect, but all can be traced back to small “l” liberal wishful thinking that is an important component of the prevailing ideology of multiculturalism. 

I want to focus on just one aspect of that ideology, namely, the refusal of the main stream media to call terrorism by its right name.  They are abetted in this refusal by a cadre of vocal Muslim leaders. Here are a few examples of recent exchanges in the media. 

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has the policy not to refer to those who kill and maim innocent civilians, including women and children, as terrorists. Instead it refers to them as freedom fighters, militants, insurgents, or similar bland terms. The Reuters news organization follows a similar policy. 

Recently, the National Post altered a Reuters news item, which led a number of Muslim leaders to register a complaint. The National Council on Canada-Arab Relations and the Canadian Arab Federation, in a September 17 news release called on the Ontario Press Council to “investigate the troubling practice of biased reporting against Muslims and Arabs in CanWest publications.” 

The “troubling practice” referred to was to change this sentence in a Reuters story …”The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades which has been involved in a four-year-old revolt against Israel occupation in Gaza and West Bank,” 

This is how it was re-written and appeared in the National Post:  “…the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group that has been involved in a four-year-old campaign of violence against Israel.” 

The difference is stark and unmistakable, which led the NCCAR and the CAF to charge that this is evidence of a “perceived anti-Arab agenda” that amounts to a violation of CanWest’s “responsibility towards all Canadian, not just Arabs and Muslims.” 

For good measure, Mr. Omar Alghabra, CAF president, added: “The media has moral and ethical obligations to report the facts when it comes to news reporting, not the opinions of their editors.” 

Mazen Chouaib, who is the executive director of the NCCAR, made a similar point in his September 22 Globe and Mail column.  He accused the National Post’s editors of “demonizing” Arab Canadians and their culture by referring to Islamist suicide bombers as terrorists. 

He described CanWest’s influence as “frightening.” Then he added: “And through its incitement and propagation of anti-Arab hate, it is sowing discord in Canada. It is time for Parliament to take a hard look at the impact and effect of media concentration in this country.” 

The brazenness of this claim is mind-boggling. Here are people who call for the heavy hand of the state to curtail the constitutional freedom of speech of other Canadians. At the same time they use their own freedom in this country to whitewash a most hideous crime against innocent men, women and children. And this is how the lofty aspirations of multicultural harmony crash head-on into the ugly reality of naked power politics. 

Masters of Doublespeak

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, has written many articles warning against an alleged anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias in Canada. He is one of the best-known spokesmen for the Muslim community in keeping with the CIC ‘s purpose  “to promote, advance, co-ordinate, facilitate, demonstrate and implement the teachings and practices of Islam.” 

One of the CIC’s posted bulletins “Islam and Canadian Muslims –A very Short Introduction” begins with this statement: “Given the political, social and economic problems glaringly apparently in virtually every other Muslim country, Islam is subjected to negative stereotyping, smear campaigns, hate literature and general bad publicity in the Western press” 

You might think this statement is a realistic self-analysis that calls for honest self-examination with a view to overcoming the “glaringly” apparent internal shortcomings. But why then the vehemence in the second part of this sentence? 

The first clue is the assumption that all criticism in the West of the admittedly serious problems within the Muslim world is by definition an attack on Islam and all Muslims. As we now know, this has a chilling effect on public debate. 

The second clue to this admission of failure is to blame the wretched condition in the Muslim world on outside forces, notably Western colonization and imperialism. Edward Said (1925.-2003) was the leading proponent of this  theory, which he outlined in his best-selling  Orientalism. This book powerfully influenced  Western scholars in their understanding of the Middle East and the Muslim world. 

Mohamed Elmasry’s  Subjugation in the Name of ‘Reform’” published in the  National Post, October 4, 2004, is a prime example of this mindset.  It is what  led  Elmasry to say on a recent  Michael Coren Live Toronto area television talk show that  the Intifada (involving suicide bombers) should be seen as the equivalent of the French resistance to the Nazi regime. 

He elaborated that not only Israeli military but also civilians are legitimate targets for Palestinian killers. He stated: “They are not innocent if they are part of a population …(the) total population of Israel is part of the army… even if they have civilian clothes… The same if they are women in the army… anybody above 18 is a part of the Israeli popular army.” 

In a later interview with the Globe and Mail Elmasry expanded: “Israel has a people’s army and a draft and therefore they should be considered legitimate targets. They are part of the occupying power, and Palestinians consider them targets for suicide bombers as well as other means.” 

After a public outcry even by some Muslims against his comments, Elmasry tried to backtrack by saying that he merely intended to give voice to the opinions of Palestinians, not his own. Some demanded that Elmasry be fired as president of the CIC, but its board of directors unanimously rejected that demand. 

Messrs. Elmasry, Chouaib, Alghabra, and likeminded leaders of the Canadian Muslim community are quick to attack others and demand that even the force of law be used to curtail their freedom of speech. At the same time they refuse to condemn but even try to justify the deadly work of Islamist terrorists. 

These men serve as aggressive apologists for their cause while exploiting all the privileges of a democratic and free country. That is their right. But then they turn around and demand that those who disagree with them be stripped of their freedom of speech. We should not allow them by our silence to impose their brand of intolerance on us. Nor should we ignore the fact that even in this country some critics, including Irshad Manji and Stewart Bell, have received death threats. 

Voices of Courage

Fortunately, the Muslim leaders who preach hatred and violence do not represent all Muslims. The problem is that the non-fanatic believers, with the exception of a few, are largely silent. That’s all the more reason to honour those who at the risk of their peace of mind and safety dare to speak the truth about radical Islam – or Islamism. (See, e.g., Manji’s readable and informative book, The Trouble With Islam: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change.) 

Professor Mundir Badr Haloum, a lecturer at a Syrian university, recently wrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Safir these stirring words: 

Indeed, we as Muslims produce terrorism, succor it, and praise it. We condemn it only when forced to. Motivated by considerations of power, interests, and diplomacy, we wear a pained expression on our faces but in our hearts we rejoice at the brilliant success – a large number of casualties… 

Islam is in need of true reform. Islam’s need [for reform] - or, to be precise, our need for Islam’s reform – is not less than the need for reform in the Arab political regimes… This is the need for people who are capable of fearlessly acknowledging that terrorism nests within us as Muslims and that we must exorcise it… Unfortunately, the meaning of delay is more death… The reform will take a long time and the price will be high, but it is the only path to our return to history as Muslims and not as terrorists… 

The courageous critics within Islam, some of whom have paid with their lives, prove that Islam is not as uniformly violent and anti-Western as the fanatics would have us believe. The outcome of the struggle between these two opposing factions will have a profound impact on all of us, for good or ill.  While we non-Muslims can only watch from the sidelines, we had better wish the moderates well and treat them as our allies. They will need all the help they can get. 

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