muslims, politics, war on terror

A Great (Political) Neutering

Published on The Islamic Monthly on November 25th, 2014

Every problem that afflicts the Muslim world calls out desperately for enlightened Muslim activism. Yet it can be convincingly argued that Western Muslim communities have become politically castrated in the post-9/11 era. Organizations are afraid to lose their charitable status as governments implement rigorous auditing procedures, while those who want nothing more than normal, decent lives are afraid of ending up on some no-fly list, unable to land that big job at that big firm.

This self-perpetuating quiescence occurs at a time when places like Canada and other “5-Eyes”nations (the other four being the US, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) are tabling ever more invasive security measures. Fear-mongering politicians use the “Islamic State” and “homegrown terrorism” to get what they want while civic pushback, though not insignificant, is still relatively outmatched.

But the question Muslims should be asking is, “What are all these security measures aiming at?”

Which communities are going to bear the brunt of such surveillance?

There are several candidates, but a blind person can tell that the easiest target these days are Muslims who have no interest in defending themselves politically. Obama may have rhetorically dropped the “War on Terror” title, but his administration has arguably been much more active in rolling back civil liberties than his GOP predecessor.

Canadian politics seem headed down that same road. Extra policing and surveillance will surely be applied to Muslim communities after the Harper administration gets its new anti-terror laws passed by a Tory parliamentary majority.

The problem is that there’s no real evidence to suggest that the Muslim response to these developments will be anything more than tepid.

To be sure, there are some groups who’re picking up the slack, but it’s hard to conclude that they have the material backing of larger community sectors. For all the talk about victimhood, Palestine, the War on Terror, etc., which have all become major themes of discussion in the Muslim world, people don’t want to put their money where their mouth is. The result is a set of deformed communal tendencies that often contradict each other.

Take this latest Tariq Ramadan beef with the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference organizers. It’s created a schism in the Muslim community Canada (and beyond), especially for those who attend the convention regularly and admire Ramadan (who thinks RIS is politically inept for inviting scholars who apparently support the Sisi regime in Egypt). It’s a fair debate with real implications, but the scope of its effects is internal (much like insider-baseball). Internal is about the only kind of political controversy that the community wants to engage with. Anything that defends against real outside threats that affect everyone on a local level is not so exciting, it seems. Why act against Stephen Harper, surveillance, over-policing, and demonization when bickering about whether some conference should/shouldn’t invite some Swiss scholar is so much more fun (and so much easier)?

Therein lies the curious, oxymoronic (a)political behavior of Western Muslims (especially in Canada): gung-ho about its own internal beefs while refusing real engagement with actual political threats from those in power. The former, however substantive, is comfortable and familiar. The latter is hard work and puts people’s reputations on the line. That’s why when it came to the emblematic issue of Omar Khadr’s repatriation, the former child soldier’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, got on every podium he could to literally yell “Where are you?” to the Muslims. It turns out Khadr’s stronger allies were progressive atheists and Christians.

There’s a lot of talk about sticking together, communalism, and justice when it comes to Western Muslims (who, arguably, are most free to practice their religion). That’s not a bad thing. Frustration and anger should lead to action, but action is the operative term here. For all this talk about who is speaking for (thanks Shaykh bin Affleck!) or against (Bill Maher, etc.) Muslims, the only thing that ever really matters is whether or not Muslims speak out for each other. In which case the Muslims have failed substantially, leading any outside observer to conclude that Islam isn’t much glue when it comes to binding people together for justice. (Though it’d be inspiring to be proven wrong!)

Someone once told me that Islam is the greatest source of human connection God has ever given humanity. I believe him, but only in spite of all the evidence available to me. In other words, I believe him in theory. In practice, failure to consider the shortcomings of human nature results in a rejection of reality. If Western Muslims continue to reject the reality around them in favor of class privilege, we’ll be bringing the temple down on our own heads.

Photo Credit: Hector de Pereda

[http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/a-great-political-neutering/]

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politics

Canada’s Muslims: From detoxing radicalisation to citizenship

Published on Al Jazeera English on February 3rd, 2014
[http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/01/canada-muslimsfrom-detoxing-radi-20141309549990632.html]

On January 14, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) issued an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The letter urges the prime minister to disinvite Rabbi Daniel Korobkin as a member of the delegation accompanying him on his first trip to Israel.

NCCM’s Executive Director Ihsaan Ghardee pointed out that Korobkin introduced and praised Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer last September at a lecture sponsored by the Jewish Defense League (JDL). Both Geller and Spencer are part of Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), a hate-group according to the Anti Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In response to NCCM, the Harper’s Director of Communications Jason MacDdonald recently brushed aside the group’s recommendation with the following statement made on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office: “We will not take seriously criticism from an organisation with documented ties to a terrorist organisation such as Hamas.”

NCCM is now suing Harper for libel.

This exchange is just the latest episode in a battle that Canadian Muslims have fought since 9/11 – the battle to shape Canadian public opinion on issues related to Muslims and Islam.

The public opinion of fear

The tragedy of September 11, 2001 has induced an urge among many people in the West to ask questions about the ethical beliefs of Muslims. This urgent curiosity has created a vacuum within Western nations, waiting to be filled with answers. Canada is one such society, and Canadian Muslims have a vested interest in answering these questions correctly. Groups like NCCM have tried to ensure that the right answers fill these vacuums.

Unfortunately, it can be argued that the loudest and most prominent answers in Canada have not come from individuals or groups that represent the bulk of Canadian Muslims. This, according to numerous polls, has resulted in widespread Islamophobia.

Statistics Canada estimated in 2011 that around a million Muslims live within Canadian borders. The Muslim community’s relative youth, and therefore lack of cohesion, make it difficult, from a media and public relations standpoint, to project their voice – especially with regard to issues like terrorism, perhaps the biggest hot-button issue, post-9/11. After all, there are many other voices to contend with.

A primary example of this predicament is manifested by the Canadian public’s reaction to the so-called phenomena of radicalisation – the rather vague process through which well-functioning individuals become violent extremists. One incident aptly illustrates this kind of perception.

In 2006, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested 18 individuals in Mississauga, Ontario who were suspected of plotting bomb attacks on Parliament Hill and downtown Toronto. Only a handful ended up being convicted and imprisoned.

Subsequent to this event, a narrative of radicalisation and fear was strengthened in Canada, and continues to impact the Muslim community today. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) actual expenditures for fiscal year 2005-2006 was $356 million, which was $71 million more than the previous years. Prior to that, increases in CSIS’s budget since 9/11 hovered around $10 million.

One interesting piece of evidence of this prevailing narrative can be found in the rather short-lived fame of certain “de-radicalisation” or “detox” centres set up in the GTA since the 2006 arrests. Groups like the Al Sunnah Foundation offer to “detoxify” Muslims who are exhibiting signs of extremism. A 12-step “theological detoxification” programme is then applied to wash away the patients’ deadly ideologies.

Exactly what these signs of “radicalisation” are is still anyone’s guess, and the Al Sunnah Foundation, led by Ahmed Amiruddin, along with other like-minded groups have failed to secure government funding. Nevertheless, Amiruddin and figures like him, knowingly or unknowingly, have gained media attention and notoriety for their work, and have, in some ways, become unofficial spokespersons for the community.

Their talk of “deradicalisation”, along with Canadian law enforcement’s magnified focus on catching radicalised Muslims, have dominated the public sphere’s concerns about the Muslim community. The reality is that such a representation of Muslims in Canada is mediated by fear and bears little resemblance to reality.

Actual radicalisation occurs at a miniscule level within the community, and though an important concern, still poses a relatively small threat to the wider society. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted last year that there is no “mass phenomenon” of radicalisation in Canada.

Meanwhile, a truly representative voice within the Muslim community remains absent, and the public narrative about them continue to be influenced by those on the outside.

Omar Khadr and his fellow Canadians

Perhaps the most illustrative example of Canadian Muslims’ failure to shape public opinion is the tragic case of Omar Khadr.

Rightly described by Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire (one of the few Canadian voices to advocate for Khadr) as “the only child soldier prosecuted for war crimes”, Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was only 15 when he killed US combat medic Sgt First Class Christopher Speer with a grenade in 2002. He was then captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay almost immediately, and would have remained there indefinitely had he not signed a plea deal in 2010 that saw him plead guilty to five war crimes. He was eventually repatriatedback to Canada in September 2012, where he serves the rest of his sentence.

A nation-wide survey conducted in 2012 by Abacus Data, a polling and market research firm based in Ottawa, showed that 53 percent of Canadians saw Khadr as a security threat and shouldn’t be allowed back in Canada.

A large section of Canadian society viewed Khadr and his family as the worst example of Muslim extremism in the post-9/11 era, and chose to overlook the fact that by any standard, Khadr should be seen as a child soldier. In fact, Canada played a leading role in developing the international Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child in the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which came into effect in 2002.

It is important to note that this public relations debacle exists today partly because of the Muslim community’s own inaction. For instance, one of the few Canadian civil society groups that regularly advocated on behalf of Khadr was the Coalition for the Repatriation of Omar Khadr, a broad-based effort made up of mostly non-Muslim individuals.

Many Muslim activists were involved, but the bulk of Canadian Muslim community failed to project a loud enough voice with regard to this issue. Further evidence of this can be seen in the frustration from Khadr’s crusading Canadian lawyer at the time, Dennis Edney. “I have never met someone like Omar who has been so abused and so abandoned by those who should know better,” said Edney in a 2008 lecture held at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. “I keep looking for that Muslim voice, I’m tired of Muslims hiding.”

In the end, the repatriation of Omar Khadr was a result of the plea bargain Khadr took, combined with sustained international condemnation by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as limited domestic Canadian pressure.

A future of fear

The great Muslim Canadian public relations debacle has not gotten better in the era of Stephen Harper and his right-wing Conservative Party who rule the House of Commons.

As long as the Canadian Muslim community fails to influence and shape public opinion on the defining issues of the post-9/11 age, the narrative of fear and suspicion will continue to dominate their relationship with the rest of Canada.

Politicians like those from the Parti Quebecois (FR) will continue to exploit this climate by using the politics of fear, best exemplified by the Parti’s proposed “Quebec Charter of Values” bill, which seeks to forbid government employees from donning religious garb while working.

Groups like NCCM are trying to change the tide, but if larger organisations like the Islamic Society of North America-Canada (ISNA-Canada) don’t follow suit, the vast majority of Canadians will continue to ignore the problem.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

Omar Khadr, a Canadian Tragedy

Published on:
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=542

Among all the instances of human suffering in the world, it impossible to say that one is more important than all the rest; however, it is possible for an issue to have a particularly visceral effect on a person in ways that other issues do not. This effect is usually facilitated by a catalyst that intensifies feelings of disgust and anger toward the issue.

In my case the issue that has gnawed at me particularly hard is Canada’s refusal to repatriate Omar Khadr; the catalyst is Khadr’s Canadian legal counsel Dennis Edney.

I have met Edney a total of three times.

Each time, he gave an impassioned speech about Khadr’s plight, never failing to highlight Canada’s deathly silence, and how Khadr’s tragedy had changed his life.

“Think of the fact that he [Khadr] was 15 at the time [when he allegedly tried to kill a U.S. soldier] and think of the fact that that information was known to our government,” he said at a speech at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. “I ask, ‘where was the compassion, where was the humanity?’” With a noticeable Scottish accent, and an extraordinary sense of conviction and honesty, Edney never failed to convey to the audience his utmost frustrations.

The last time I saw him was at a fundraiser at a friend’s house right before he left for Guantánamo Bay.

He detailed how his efforts had failed, and how the Harper government ignored no fewer than four rulings from Canada’s top courts favouring Khadr’s repatriation. “I feel like I’m at the end of my journey,” he said.

Khadr, who has fired his American lawyers numerous times, has threatened to boycott his military trial at Guantánamo Bay.

Edney wanted to convince him to give his testimony to create some space for an appeal. But all signs point to the fact that there will be no light at the end of the tunnel. It now seems inevitable that Khadr, who will not receive a fair trial, will soon join the hardened murderers and rapists of the United States prison system.

Despite pleas from foreign policy critics within the Canadian parliament as well as pleas from the Obama administration for help, Stephen Harper continues his cold-shoulder stance.

Edney never failed to communicate the devastating effects of such ignorance and irresponsibility.

By now, Khadr has become cynical enough to want to forfeit his appearance in court and simply be convicted. “It might work if the world sees the U.S. sentencing a child to life in prison; it might show the world how unfair and sham this process is,” he explained in a publicized letter to Edney.

Edney’s profound frustration is ultimately aimed at Canadian civil society as a whole.

Typical is an Angus Reid poll showing that 54% of Canadians did not sympathize with Khadr’s plight.

Edney is especially upset at Canada’s Muslim community for its passivity. Mosques and Islamic centres have stayed silent, fearing that their charitable status might be revoked.

“You are the most educated group in this country,” Edney would say to them. “You are involved in the highest levels of society…but where are you?”

Then there is the deathly silence from those who spoke solemnly of Khadr’s tragedy, but failed to act upon their convictions. These people, according to Edney, represent our greatest failure.

“In the matter of Omar Khadr, the question is hardly complicated,” wrote Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin. “You either support high standards of justice or you don’t. In the Khadr case, most Canadians, along with their government, do not. It’s a national disgrace.”

No question about that.

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