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Archive for the ‘Islamophobia’ Category

3JFrom the same team that gave America Relentless: The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East and the award-winning Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West comes a new blockbuster “documentary”: The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America. Undeterred by the thorough debunking Obsession received following its mass distribution in American newspapers last year (financed by the eminently shady Clarion Fund), producer Raphael Shore and director Wayne Kopping are back with more of the same in their latest offering.

The Third Jihad’s vortex of fear-mongering centers on the Muslim Brotherhood’s so-called “Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Plan For the Group in North America,” a document dating back to 1991 that supposedly outlines the Muslim Brotherhood’s manifesto of “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western Civilization from within.” (The memorandum is available exclusively on the website of Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism.) The Third Jihad premiered in Canada on Wednesday May 20 to a sold-out crowd at Toronto’s Eglinton Grand theatre; I attended the premiere to discover what my “radical” co-religionists envision for America. As the film’s narrator Dr. Zuhdi Jasser so ominously put it, “We all know about terrorism; this is the war you don’t know about.”

An exhaustive treatment of the film’s contents lies beyond the limits of this piece, and so what follows is an assessment of its most salient assertions and an analysis of the function those claims serve in The Third Jihad’s broader propagandic narrative.

“Where are the Muslims? Where are they in speaking out and condemning terrorism?” – Dr. Zuhdi Jasser

In Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani described the American endeavor to discriminate the “good” Muslim from the “bad” Muslim. This distinction is political, rather than religious or theological: as Mamdani explained, “Even when Bush speaks of ‘good’ Muslims and ‘bad’ Muslims, what he means by ‘good’ Muslims is really pro-American Muslims and by ‘bad’ Muslims he means anti-American Muslims.” The Third Jihad shamelessly exploits this bifurcative dynamic to cast suspicion on the majority of the American Muslim community – belying its opening disclaimer that it is only about the “small percentage” of Muslims embodying “the threat of radical Islam” – while propping up its Muslim cheerleader for American neo-conservatism, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser.

Dr. Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), is The Third Jihad’s narrator and central protagonist. He is described in the film as “a devout Muslim,” as if his pious Muslim-ness qualifies him to speak authoritatively on global and local Islamic politics and history (it obviously doesn’t, given the quality of the political and historical analysis The Third Jihad offers; see sections below). Moreover, it is obvious that what characterizes Dr. Jasser as a “good” Muslim is not his devotion to his religion, but rather his uncritical devotion to the neo-conservative agenda: AIFD’s list of core principles includes an affirmation that “as United States citizens we support our American armed forces,” and expresses a commitment to “work to express the consistency of the principles of Islam with economic principles of free markets and capitalism.” The film ends with an American-as-apple-pie scene of Dr. Jasser playing soccer with his children and exhorting people to “stand up for the freedoms and liberties our forefathers fought to create.”

The Third Jihad’s promotional material bills Zuhdi Jasser as “the one person who is not afraid to tell you the truth” about “the jihadist quest to rule America.” He is also apparently the only Muslim willing to condemn terrorism: “Where are the Muslims?” Dr. Jasser wonders in the film. “Where are they in speaking out and condemning terrorism?” (To relieve his bewilderment he could refer to the lists of anti-terrorism statements issued by Muslim leaders and organizations, compiled by Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Sheila Musaji.) Mainstream American Muslim organizations, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Muslim Students Assocation (MSA) are cast in the role of “bad” Muslim, working to undermine Western society from within while deceptively “presenting themselves as moderate.” While it is true that the Muslim Brotherhood named ISNA and the MSA as possibly friendly organizations in their putative “General Strategic Plan,” the film gives no evidence to suggest that the organizations are indeed participants in the Brotherhood’s nefarious “grand jihad” plot, or are vitiating American society in any other way.

The Third Jihad’s portrayal of the American Muslim community as a towering fifth column is a potemkin construct of half-truths. For instance: The film shows extensive footage of the Islamic Thinkers Society (ITS) proclaiming their desire to institute Shariah law in America, but it doesn’t reveal that the ITS membership is “less than a handfull [sic] of Muslims” localized in Jackson Heights, New York City. The film asperses CAIR because it was founded in 1994 by three former leaders of the Islamic Association for Palestine (described as a front group for Hamas), but it conveniently neglects to mention that support for Hamas wasn’t illegal when the CAIR founders were IAP members.

“In today’s context there are actually two different types of jihad. There’s the violent jihad, where the Islamists use violence and terror to try and overthrow their enemy. And then there’s what has been termed the cultural jihad, where these Islamists use in a most duplicitous way the laws and the rights they are given in our society to try and work against society and overthrow it.” – Dr. Zuhdi Jasser

The promotional material accompanying The Third Jihad notifies that “radical Islamists are taking advantage of the United States of America’s democratic processes, and using them to destroy the American way of life.” The film provides several sinister (European) instances of this “cultural jihad”: toy pigs being banned in a British office because they offended a Muslim employee; Burger King recalling a desert because its logo resembled the Arabic script for “Allah;” a Turkish lawyer attempting to sue a soccer team because its jerseys displayed a Crusader-like cross. (Interestingly, Barbara Kay trots out many of the same examples in her National Post article on “soft jihad.”)

While these cases may indicate the oversensitivity of individual Muslims to insult of Islam, they are hardly signs of a concerted strategy to “try and work against society and overthrow it,” much less the most serious current threat to liberal democracy and society. If a ban on toy pigs is a troubling assault on rights and freedoms, then where do you rank the USA PATRIOT Act, which permitted the indefinite detention of non-citizens upon secret evidence and extensive government surveillance of communications? Or the judgment of Guantanamo inmates in secretive military commissions, contravening all notions of fair trial? Is the American state also waging a “jihad” on Western civilization?

“The clash between Islam and Christendom has now been going on for 14 centuries.” – Dr. Bernard Lewis

The Third Jihad condenses 1400 years of Islam into three jihads, rendering history thus: The first jihad was the 7th century spread of Islam out of Arabia (and “that was obviously not done by peaceful persuasion,” comments Bernard Lewis), and the second jihad was the Ottoman expansion beginning in the 15th c. CE. According to Zuhdi Jasser, “we’re [currently] in the third and final phase of their mission to bring about the domination of their version of Islam.” The graphic accompanying this cobbled-together history shows a map progressively covered by metastasizing star-and-crescent symbols, until the whole world is dominated by Islam. This domination is portrayed as a cumulative process, leaving one with the erroneous impression that the Ottoman Empire still exists and controls significant portions of the globe. One is also left puzzling when the Islamists conquered the continents of South America, Australia, Asia, and Africa, since the film deals mainly with North America and Europe.

Edward Said remarked in Orientalism that the Orientalists (including Bernard Lewis) saw Islam as a “ ‘cultural synthesis’ . . . that could be studied apart from the economics, sociology, and politics of the Islamic peoples . . . The impact of colonialism, of worldly circumstances, of historical development: all these were to the Orientalists as flies to wanton boys, killed – or disregarded – for their sport.” And so The Third Jihad draws straight, spurious lines of continuity from the Ottoman Empire to the modern day, blithely ignoring pesky historical “flies” such as the emergence of the modern system of nation-states, the colonial and post-colonial encounters between “Islam” and “the West,” the Cold War, and the processes of modernization and globalization that have been so instrumental in shaping the contours of political Islam. Juan Eduardo Campo makes an incisive analogy: “One can only imagine the objections that would be raised if a respected American Studies scholar were to interpret Chicano or African American gang activity in American cities in terms of ancient Aztec or African warrior religions, while neglecting to discuss the immediate social, cultural, and economic causes.”

Provided with no description of the different ways Islam has been interpreted and enacted throughout its history, the unfortunate viewer of The Third Jihad is left to imagine that the “version of Islam” spread through subsequent jihads is synonymous with the worst behaviors of Muslims documented in the film: extremism, oppression, and intolerance. (Incidentally, the branch of Islam that seems to constitute The Third Jihad’s greatest concern – Wahhabism – only achieved prominence in the early 20th c. CE, a period entirely elided in the film’s telescoped history. Wahhabism was considered a form of heresy by the 18th-century Ottoman Empire.) Moreover, the film’s insinuation that Islam as a religion was spread purely by the sword is misleading: even Daniel Pipes notes that in the prevailing classical conception of jihad, its purpose was “political, not religious. It aim[ed] not so much to spread the Islamic faith as to extend sovereign Muslim power.” Bernard Lewis’ castigation of the Muslim empires for using means other than “peaceful persuasion” to expand is historically anachronistic – is there any empire which extended its sovereign power without using force?

The film situates this piecemeal history within a cosmic clash between two “religiously-defined civilizations” which will only end when “they [the Muslims] triumph universally” (according to Bernard Lewis). The “clash of civilizations” thesis has been discredited ad nauseum (see, for instance, Francis Robinson’s “Islam and the West: Clash of Civilizations?”), so I will refrain from entering into a full rebuttal of it in this piece. However, one wonders if Zuhdi Jasser realizes that if Bernard Lewis was correct – that the “Islamic” and “Western” civilizations really are fundamentally incompatible – his dream of creating “a world where my children can grow up, and there’s no conflict in their hearts between being American and being Muslim” would be unattainable.

“The real war is not a war against a bunch of terrorists. It’s a war between the values of freedom and democracy, and the values of barbarism.” – Dr. Tawfik Hamid, “former Jamaa Islameia terrorist”

The Third Jihad plays as fast and loose with contemporary politics as it does with history to extend its Manichean grand narrative to the current age. Sundry conflicts are stripped of their contexts and presented as fronts in a unified Islamist movement. In Dr. Jasser’s analysis, “When we look at the conflicts in India, Chechnya, Indonesia, Gaza, Iraq, Somalia, and countless other countries,” what’s at root is “the quest for Islam to become the dominant religion.” No allusion is made to the history of violence between Muslims and Hindus in India, or the brutal repression of Chechen separatists by the Russian government, or America’s pre-emptive war in Iraq, or the 60-year Israel/Palestine conflict. The Muslim actors in these theaters are robbed of all rational political motivation: “It’s an entire movement,” states Rudy Giuliani, “and the idea of it is hatred for our way of life.”

But as writer Melanie Phillips suggests in The Third Jihad, “surely it’s more sensible to look at what they [radical Muslims] actually say they’re doing.” For example, Al-Qaeda’s 1998 declaration of jihad “against the Jews and the Crusaders” outlined three goals of the jihad: the withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia, an end to sanctions against Iraq, and the establishment of Islamic control over holy sites in Jerusalem. These objectives were obviously not driven by abhorrence for American “freedom and democracy,” but rather by specific elements of American foreign policy that have crippled freedom and democracy in parts of the Muslim world. Portraying the situation as an ineluctable “clash of civilizations” – in which the enemy “hates us for what we are, not what we do” – may provide absolution for America, but it does nothing to address the root causes that give rise to violence. Obviously violent Islamism and anti-Americanism do exist, but The Third Jihad mischaracterizes both its motivations and its scale.

“Islamism is like cancer. You either defeat it or it will defeat you.” – Dr. Tawfik Hamid

Ironically, The Third Jihad mirrors the “us-against-them” logic and rhetoric of the anti-American radical Islam it so decries. And its farrago of innuendo and half-truth is extremely persuasive. Following the screening, a member of the audience stood up and drew a parallel between Islamism and Nazism, arguing that Islamists have to be destroyed as the Nazis were – a dangerous proposition, considering the blurry line the film draws between radical Islamists and the rest of us Muslims. But that is the inescapable conclusion of The Third Jihad’s perverted message. If the dog is to be put down, it must first be declared sick.

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This post was originally published at Muslimah Media Watch.

Last week, Canadian Governor-General Michaëlle Jean caused a huge storm in the media by eating a piece of seal heart while on a visit to an Inuit community in Nunavut, northern Canada.  In the context of increasing international (and domestic) outrage against the seal hunt in Canada, Jean had this to say about her act (all quotes from this article):

“These are ancient practices that are part of a way of life,” Jean said, framing her gutsy gesture as an act of solidarity with the Inuit. “If you can’t understand that, you’re completely missing the reality of life here.”

(For those of you wondering what on earth this has to do with Muslim women, don’t worry, I’ll get to it.)

Michaëlle Jean. Source: Canadian Press, via Toronto Star website

Michaëlle Jean. Source: Canadian Press, via Toronto Star website

Enter PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)  Let me be clear that I am a strong advocate that animals should be treated ethically, and that I don’t oppose the objectives of an organisation like PETA.  Their methods, on the other hand, are horribly problematic, and PETA has come under criticism time and time again for campaigns involving offensive representations of slavery, the Holocaust, the KKK, non-status immigrants, and women (several times over.) (Warning that some of the linked articles contain partial nudity and/or images of torture of humans and animals.)

PETA’s response to Jean eating the seal meat was predictable:

“It amazes us that a Canadian official would indulge such blood lust. It sounds like she’s trying to give Canadians an even more Neanderthal image around the world than they already have,” said Dan Mathews, vice-president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

After essentially labelling traditional Inuit hunting practices as “blood lust” and Neanderthalic, the PETA spokesperson claimed that the indigenous people’s hunt was not the main target of their anti-seal-hunting campaign.  However, as the article then tells us,

That doesn’t mean animal-rights activists approve of Inuit seal-hunting traditions. PETA yesterday likened Jean’s sampling of seal heart to “taking part in the beating of women in the Middle East because it is part of local practice.” (emphasis mine)

Yeah.  So what we can learn from PETA is that:

1. The Middle East is the only place where beating of women happens.

2. Beating of women is an integral part of Middle Eastern cultural practices.  (You know, they’ve probably got it on all their travel brochures.  “Come visit the Middle East, and celebrate our cultural pride by taking part in the time-honoured tradition of woman-beating!”)

Do I even have to go into all the ways that that’s wrong and offensive?  It’s as if people have these images of oppressed Middle Eastern women (usually interchangeable with Muslim women, of course) just waiting around in their heads so that they can be expressed in metaphors that are completely out of context. Sigh…

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The Toronto Star recently published an interview with famous atheist thinker Christopher Hitchens, author of God is not Great.

Christopher Hitchens (Source: Toronto Star)

Christopher Hitchens (Photo source: Toronto Star)

The bulk of the article talks about Hitchens’ impact within North America, with a particular focus on the ways that he has challenged Christian communities.  There were, however, a few choice references to Islam:

For example, the article describes Hitchens as “a man who’s called the Muslim practice of wearing a headscarf “witless plagiarism” of Judeo-Christian tradition.”  Considering that Islam in its entirety is generally understood by Muslims as a confirmation of many Jewish and Christian traditions and beliefs, I’m not sure why the headscarf itself is getting singled out as supposed “plagiarism.”  On the other hand, this was a more creative anti-headscarf comment than most of the accusations of being oppressive and/or anti-Western, so he can have points for originality despite the lack of logic behind it.

The spectre of a death threat – specifically from Muslims – is also raised.  The journalist asks at the beginning “Why hasn’t anyone dropped a fatwa on him in the past little while?”  The article finishes with the following paragraphs:

“If I write a book saying, `The Prophet Muhammad sucks,’ it’s of no interest at all to any Muslim scholar or cleric,” says Hitchens. “I dwell in the world of jahaliya, of ignorance. I don’t know any better.

“Whereas (Dutch critic of Islam) Ayaan Hirsi Ali was raised Muslim and so, technically, was Salman (Rushdie). They can be accused of apostasy.”

Though he has a teenage daughter (with writer wife Carol Blue) and certainly no death wish, there is a hint of wistfulness as Hitchens says this. The search for that proper brawl continues.

First of all, the word fatwa refers to a religious decision or decree, and not to a death threat.  While it is true that certain individuals have, at various points in history, issued fatwas that called for the death of someone, the vast majority of fatwas have absolutely nothing to do with killing anyone.  The use of this word as synonymous with death threats creates an image of Muslims as collectively ready at a moment’s notice to attack the next person who insults Islam.  Using the word “fatwa” in this way is helpful for fearmongering, but is completely inaccurate.

Second, this idea of “wistfulness,” almost longing for a death threat to be imposed (by Muslims, of course), again paints Muslims as violent and irrational, people whose views are so antithetical to proper, civilised Western ideals that the only way to tell that you have succeeded in these Western ideals is if Muslims want you dead (I’ve written about this elsewhere too.)  Zarqa Nawaz has a short film entitled “Death Threat” in which a young woman attempts to have a death threat written against her as a way of gaining attention for a book she wants to publish, and media comments like these make me feel like perhaps Nawaz’s satire is not so far off from reality.

Third, as the article points out, no death threat has been issued.  One might conclude that perhaps Muslims aren’t that violent, fanatical, or scary after all.  But no: despite the lack of uproar from Muslims calling for Hitchens’ downfall, the suggestion remains that those scary violent Muslims continue to pose a danger, even with absolutely no evidence to demonstrate the existence of such a threat.  It starts to feel like some kind of urban legend, or ghost story, with little grounding in reality.

However, more than the content of the article, what bothers me is the placement of the references to Muslims and Islam.  Although nothing of the body of the article refers to Muslims specifically, references to Muslims bookend the article as if to suggest that it is only the opposition from Muslims – and not, for example, from the Christians mentioned several times in the main part of the article – that Hitchens has to fear.  Hitchens is established as a daring intellectual whose current safety has been ensured only because of his inability to “pick a real fight,” rather than the possibility that maybe people just aren’t that interested in fighting him in the way the journalist suggests.

I’m not trying to argue that Muslims wouldn’t disagree with Hitchens – indeed, I would assume that most would disagree, at least with his main arguments – but, although it may seem shocking to some, Muslims have ways of expressing disagreement that don’t involve death threats.

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More a “boy who cried wolf” than a Cassandra1, Ezra Levant has been busy sounding false alarms on Canada’s human rights institutions while promoting his new book Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights. The Nanaimo Daily News reports: “Free speech is being trampled in Canada under the guise of protecting human rights, says Calgary author, journalist, lawyer and political activist Ezra Levant, who was in Nanaimo on Friday.”2

Levant’s mission to curtail the powers of Canada’s 14 human rights commissions was inspired by his own case with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, launched by complaints regarding his decision to publish eight of the infamous “Danish cartoons” in the Western Standard. And so while Levant castigates all attempts to limit the exercise of free speech by appeal to the human rights commissions, he reserves particular concern for Muslim Canadians’ application to them. “It’s a soft jihad, not with bombs and guns but I put it to you it was far more effective . . . I tell you that did more to our culture of freedom than 9/11 did.”2 (Perfectly correct, Mr. Levant: The post-9/11 breach of Muslims’ and Arabs’ rights and liberties at the hands of the Canadian state – particularly egregious examples being the extraordinary rendition and torture of Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed Abou-Elmaati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Benamar Benatta3 – absolutely pales in comparison to your courageous battle to publish eight political cartoons.)

Levant labels this “soft”, stealthy mode of jihad “lawfare”2, a term he defines to mean “the hijacking of Western legal processes by Islamic radicals.”4 His blog entry on lawfare quotes long passages from National Post columnist Barbara Kay’s “excellent Op-Ed” on soft jihad: “The soft jihad is gradualistic and law-abiding, but no less desirous of Islamic domination of the West than its violent counterpart. Soft jihad strategy exploits liberal discourses and weaknesses in our legal system . . .”5

Fortunately for us Canadians, reality bears scant resemblance to the Levant-Kay model of maleficent Muslims insidiously exploiting the liberal state to achieve Islamist ends. Of the thousands of complaints lodged with the human rights commissions annually (the Ontario Human Rights Commission alone received over 3,000 new complaints in the 2007-2008 fiscal year6), Levant identifies a grand total of three separate cases which were initiated by so-called “foreign-born jihadis” (note the implication that being “foreign-born” should mark one for suspicion): the complaints against Maclean’s magazine (submitted to the Ontario, British Columbia, and Canadian Human Rights Commissions), the Halifax Chronicle-Herald (to the Nova Scotia commission), and the Western Standard.4 A mere three cases has Ezra Levant shaking in his boots? A handful of human rights complaints is hardly an augury of incipient large-scale jihad.

Ezra Levant’s opinion on the human rights commissions is not only factually baseless, but also theoretically untenable. Levant purports to be a defender of liberal democracy, but his position is highly problematic even within the framework of liberal democratic thought. His argument is predicated on the assumption that freedom of speech is the cardinal liberal value, permitted to trample unbridled over all competing considerations. As Barbara Kay wrote somewhat melodramatically in her aforementioned “excellent Op-Ed”, “It is no exaggeration to say that Levant and Steyn [who wrote the offending article in the Maclean’s case] are fighting for the defining ideal of Western civilization which, once lost, would spell the beginning of the end of all our other freedoms” (emphasis added).

However, freedom of speech is hardly the sole “defining ideal of Western civilization.” Rather, as democracy theorists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan point out, protection of minority rights against the “tyranny of the majority” is also a fundamental feature of any liberal democracy. Indeed, freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination are both enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that curbing hate speech, far from representing “the beginning of the end,” is a reasonable and justifiable limit on free speech7.

Ezra Levant’s own commitment to freedom of speech is not unconditional, given that he supported the government’s decision to bar George Galloway from speaking in Canada8. It seems that Mr. Levant is perfectly able to tolerate circumscriptions on the exercise of free speech, provided those restrictions are in line with his personal politics. In other words, his stance on free speech and the human rights commissions appears to be less a principled stand than self-serving hypocrisy.

  1. Cassandra was a prophetess in Greek mythology whose accurate warnings weren’t heeded.
  2. “Freedom of speech being trampled: Levant.” Nanaimo Daily News. May 23, 2009.
  3. None of these victims of extraordinary rendition was ever charged, much less convicted, of any crime.
  4. “Lawfare – a tactic of the ‘soft jihad’.” July 23, 2008. From Ezra Levant’s blog.
  5. “Paving the way for ‘soft jihad’.” The National Post. July 23, 2008.
  6. See the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s annual reports.
  7. “The weighty matter of hate.” The Toronto Star. March 23, 2008.
  8. “George Galloway.” March 20, 2009. From Ezra Levant’s blog. Levant stated on his blog, “I don’t see this as a free speech issue; I see it as a sovereignty issue – keeping out an undesirable foreigner who has no right to be here, and who boasts about violating our criminal code [referring to Galloway’s ‘track record of providing financial assistance to terrorist groups like Hamas’].” Galloway did lead an aid convoy into Gaza earlier this year, but given that the convoy entered Palestine with the permission of the Israeli government (and that other delegations of Canadians and Americans took aid into Hamas-controlled territories following the assault on Gaza), this cannot seriously be considered a violation of Canada’s criminal code. One can only conclude that he was barred from Canada not for his actions, but for his political opinions, making the Galloway case very much an issue of free speech.

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Originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

The Fédération des femmes du Québec (Federation of Quebec Women; abbreviated as FFQ) recently had a special assembly in order to clarify its position on whether headscarves should be permitted for people working in the public service.  (The question of “reasonable accommodation” for minority groups has been the subject of intense debate in Quebec for the past few years; see here for one overview of a major report that was produced on the subject.)

This assembly was held after the organization expressed last fall that the debate about headscarves was a challenging one for the FFQ, with its commitments to both integration and secularism.  That statement can be found in the appendix of this document (in PDF, and in French), which articulates the reflections and proposals of the FFQ’s board of directors regarding the issue.

In brief, the FFQ’s board considered the issue from three angles: secularism, discrimination against immigrant women, and a feminist analysis.  From the secularism point of view, they argued that a ban on wearing visible religious symbols is not a neutral ban, since not all religions involve symbols that religious practitioners view as obligatory, while many Muslim women wear it for precisely that reason.  While they firmly support the idea of the state itself being religiously neutral (although a place where all are free to practice their own religions), they also argued that the neutrality of the State is not guaranteed simply because religious symbols may be absent.

On the topic of discrimination against immigrant women, they talk about the high level of unemployment among immigrant women (especially, for example, among women of North Africa), about the importance of the State as a major employer, and about fears of a headscarf ban causing further alienation and unemployment for immigrant women.  (I do wish they had talked about Muslim women who aren’t immigrants…)

Last, they acknowledge feminist principles as ones that*

are based, among other things, on the necessity of respecting the rhythm, the choices, the values and the needs of the women involved while avoiding applying principles rigidly, through our own frame of reference and our own desire for autonomy and change.

The list of reflections ends with an affirmation that the organization is categorically opposed to any imposition of religious practice, including the imposition of the headscarf.

The special assembly on the issue, held May 9, supported the recommended position, and issued a press release affirming that the headscarf should neither be imposed by the religious community, nor denied by the state.  For those who speak French, FFQ’s Michèle Asselin sums up the decision nicely in this video:

So, to recap, the organization’s board of directors publishes recommendations based on series of reflections that they have had, taking into consideration issues of secularism, discrimination against immigrant women, and feminist frameworks.  At a general assembly, members of the FFQ vote to endorse the perspective taken by the board of directors, again based on those three bases of analysis.  Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Ha.  Not a chance.  Molehill, meet Kilimanjaro.

The mountain, in this case, is based in the claims being made throughout the media that the FFQ has been infiltrated by Islamists (yes, that is the actual kind of language being used.)  These claims come out of a message that Samira Laouni (a community activist and former NDP candidate whom I’ve discussed before) posted on a Muslim discussion board, related to the upcoming FFQ meeting (quoted from this article):

Hello to everyone,

I send you this information that, in my opinion, is of crucial importance.

It appears that the Federation of Quebec Women will hold, on May 9, an extraordinary assembly on the wearing of the veil in the public service.  If we are not well enough represented, it is possible that the opinion of the FFQ will join that of the Council of the Status of Women (which has said it is AGAINST the wearing of the veil in the public service), and we will see ourselves obliged to take off our scarves before entering the doors of public buildings.

What we should do?  Simply, first, become member of the FFQ (cost: five dollars, you can do it at the organisation’s headquarters.)  Second, attend this assembly to make our votes count.

Dear friends, our mobilization for this cause is very urgent and important.  If you have other questions, do not hesitate to contact me.

The ethics of joining an organization in order to influence its decisions are a different discussion, although this is not exactly the first time that such a move has been proposed–the idea of joining an organization that is about to make a decision that could potentially affect your access to jobs and services might be just a bit more understandable. Moreover, if the FFQ’s policies did allow someone to join and then be able to vote right away, the move is entirely legal.  According to this article, however, the FFQ requires someone to be a member for at least 45 days before they are able to vote, and they have only received seven new memberships in the past six weeks: hardly enough for an infiltration.  Laouni’s message was apparently posted March 18, 51 days before the meeting, so anyone who didn’t move on it within the first six days would have been ineligible to vote anyway.

Furthermore, the ultimate decision to oppose the prohibition of headscarves had already been recommended by the FFQ’s board of directors.  Even if the “Islamists” had attempted some kind of takeover, the opposition to a headscarf ban was already planned, and the ultimate decision appears to have little to do with any “Islamist” influence.  In fact, had the “Islamists” actually infiltrated the FFQ, it is unlikely that the final statement would have included such an emphatic commitment to the organization’s strong stance in favor of secularism and against religious fundamentalism.  In other words, I just really cannot understand how or why this ever became an issue.

But there are some good mountain-builders out there.  Djemila Benhabib, who seems like a Québécoise version of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, describes the FFQ decision as a result of being “strongly supported by representatives of the Canadian Islamic Congress and Muslim Presence.”  She further condemns the FFQ for “sacrificing millions of women who are fighting for their lives” for the sake of “a handful of Islamist militants.”  Her (melodramatic) statements have been quoted in many of the other articles about this issue, prompting the the FFQ to issue a response, in which they clarify that they have no connections with either of the organizations that she mentioned, and continue to stand firmly against fundamentalism and extremism.  (Just for the record, Quebec doesn’t even HAVE millions of Muslim women, let alone millions who are supposedly “fighting for their lives” against the imposition of the headscarf. *rolling eyes*)

Another article portrays one Muslim woman’s hesitation to join the FFQ (based on her unwillingness to be endorsing some of the other FFQ’s positions, as well as a feeling that a group of new Muslim members might stick out) as an example of her wanting to be more discreet in her takeover attempts, rather than a legitimate counterargument to the strategy suggested by Laouni.  The author also takes some of the most inflammatory comments posted by other Muslims on the same site as a way of indicating how scary and intolerant Muslims can be (although I would argue that any site with discussion groups on any topic runs a high risk of being taken over by people with the most offensive and extreme viewpoints, and non-Muslims sure have their share of these too.  See the comment section of any newspaper site for examples.)

Even the articles that seem more sympathetic to the FFQ’s decision are often problematic.  One journalist writes that “I would say that the Federation of Quebec Women is right, even though I don’t ignore that it was infiltrated by several Islamist apostles.”  She goes on to say that

I don’t like the veil either.  I also understand the emotions of the Muslim women who have fought against radical Islam in their own countries and who feel betrayed by the principle of tolerance.

This focus on the veil as oppressive and necessarily a sign of “radical Islam” – as something that women should be fighting against – is a common theme in many of the articles.  Whether or not they agree with the FFQ decision, most of the journalists seem to at least agree on hating headscarves.  In fact, even the FFQ decision said little about the potential that the headscarf could be a positive thing, and their repeated emphasis on rejecting the imposition of religious clothing suggested that, although they weren’t going to come out and say it directly, they remained uneasy with the idea that someone could choose to wear hijab for her own reasons.

While it seems to give a nod to other reasons for wearing hijab, and while it supports the FFQ decision, this article (in English) finishes by emphasizing the stereotype of the oppressed women who are forced to wear the scarf:

Some Muslim women say they choose to wear the hijab. During its hearings, the Bouchard-Taylor commission heard from at least one who did, and who described herself as a feminist.

Prohibiting religious symbols in the workplace would force such women to choose between giving up their religious freedom and giving up their jobs.

And what of those who, as Benhabib says, are forced to wear the hijab by their fathers or somebody else? A ban on religious symbols in the workplace might force them to give up jobs in which they come into regular contact with other Quebec women with different, “liberated” values.

How would isolating these oppressed women help them?

There’s a whole lot more out there on this issue, but you get the picture.  Women in hijab are oppressed, and any attempts to argue otherwise are a result of infiltration by Islamist forces.

Obviously.

*All documents and news articles quoted in this article were originally written in French.  All quotes are my own translations.

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It seems Ezra Levant, right-wing blogger, journalist, lawyer and author, is on a mission to rid Canada of human rights commissions. Many of you may remember Levant from the Danish cartoon controversy a few years ago (see here for an interesting analysis and discussion) when his now defunct magazine ran the cartoons and was subsequently charged with hate speech by the Alberta government via the Alberta human rights commission.

In his latest book, which I have not read, he argues that human rights commissions are unnecessary in Canada. In a recent CBC radio interview he explains that he thinks human rights commissions have lost their relevance because apparently everyone gets along. Yes, that’s right. We all get along. Apparently, according to this argument racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, Islamophobia, etc. don’t exist anymore.

In his short piece in the metronews.ca Levant complains about how he was a victim of the Alberta HRC.

My case, and a similar case involving Mark Steyn and Maclean’s magazine, brought the hidden worlds of HRCs into the light.

Ezra Levant. Image via CBC

Ezra Levant. Image via CBC

Regardless of what one may think of the case against Levant, for him to use his case to demonize and insult all HRC’s demonstrates how little understanding he has of the reality of Canada’s minorities. Just because he feels slighted by the HRC he advocates that the rest of us not have access to legal recourse if our human rights have been violated. And considering Canada IS still racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, classist, etc., the likelihood of minorities needing the services of an HRC are very high.

He forgets though that Maclean’s magazine was not sued because they printed Mark Steyn’s Islamophobic, fear-mongering article, an argument which Johann Hari soundly refutes, but rather because Maclean’s refused to allow a Muslim organization to print a rebuttal argument to Mark Steyn. Macleans it seemed was complicit in spreading an Islamophobic argument and not interested in dialogue or presenting a balanced view. And in today’s current state of heightened fear of Muslims, articles such as Steyn can indeed incite hatred and violence. Just look at what happened to this mosque in the US after the distribution of the Islamophobic DVD “Obsession.”

Levant’s argument sounds a lot like that of the bitter straight, middle class, White man who is complaining about how he is the truly marginalized person in Canada now. We’ve all heard the poor, rich, straight White man argument before. Levant appears completely clueless about his own privilege. He still occupies the most powerful position in Canada – rich, straight, White and male – and as such does not face the daily oppression many minorities in Canada do. How can Levant know that we get along when he is neither a racial, gender, class, nor sexual orientation minority? How does he know what being a victim of racism, sexism, homophobia, or Islamophobia feels like and how important and necessary getting justice for that oppression can be? Simply put, he cannot.  Yet, he seems to assume, without actually having the lived the life of an oppressed person, that oppression doesn’t exist. Of course it doesn’t exist for him – he occupies the position of the oppressor. From his position of power it is simple for him to claim that the human rights commissions are irrelevant. They don’t help him. They don’t provide a legal recourse for possible oppression he would face. They defend the rights of the marginalized against those who violate them – the powerful.

In this book review, which reads more like an Islamophobic rant than a book review, Jesse Ferreras explains that Levant  “puts aside all his tribal affiliations and expresses genuine concern for Canadians’ right to free speech – and for all Canadians, from Spartacists to Western Separatists. This review goes further in depiciting Levant as the poor victim. That poor, poor rich White man. He continues:

A victim of such tribunals himself, he outlines in deeply-researched detail how human rights commissions in various provinces are threatening actual rights such as public health, free speech and operating a business without pot smoke flying into your face.

Levant may have researched his book, regardless of how problematic that research may be, but Ferreras fails at this essential task.

His complainant? Syed Soharwardy, a radical Muslim cleric who wants to bring Shariah law to Canada. A man who blasted Christians who were helping out with tsunami relief efforts, charging that such groups were kidnapping Indonesian children.

How does he know Soharwardy is radical? How does he know Soharwardy wants to bring Shariah to Canada? To all of Canada or just as a means of arbitrating on family issues, just like Christian and Jewish groups were doing for years in Ontario? And what were the charges of kidnapping children based on? Considering many stories of child exploitation were coming out of the region such accusations don’t seem so outrageous and some context, or research, to these accusations would have been helpful.

I can actually appreciate Levant’s argument that certain cases that human rights commissions have taken on may seem unnecessary.

He tells of how a woman with a skin disease didn’t want to wash her hands while working at McDonald’s because it hurt. McDonald’s, as a corporation, needs to adhere to the strictest health standards – so after putting her on medical leave, giving her money for treatment and finally concluding that things wouldn’t work out, they let her go. She filed a complaint against the restaurant and a commission gave her $50,000 – solidifying the human right not to wash your hands while in the employ of the service industry.

He tells of Gator Ted’s, a restaurant in Hamilton frequented by an obnoxious man who bragged about having medical marijuana. He’d smoke it in the restaurant’s door and flaunt it as though he was an enemy of the state. The restaurant owner told him to stop smoking it near the door – and he got slapped with a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The owner has since tried to settle the complaint, which would ultimately mean allowing the obnoxious pothead to smoke there – a violation of Ontario liquor laws, which could shut down his restaurant.

However, without full information on the cases which has not been filtered through someone who seems to think that everyone gets along and that human rights commissions are useless, I do not feel comfortable making judgments on those cases. Nonetheless, regardless of the necessity or lack thereof of these particular cases, to abolish human rights commissions based on these few cases would be a grave injustice to ethnic and religious minorities, including the Muslims of Canada. Considering incidents of racism and Islamophobia are just as common today as they ever have been, the human rights commissions serve their purpose and are a necessary recourse for the oppressed – the real victims of hate and oppression.

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The Winnipeg Sun’s Michael Den Tandt recently wrote a piece, the title of which appears promising, but the content of which works to remind us who is and isn’t a “real” Canadian. Although he does argue that Khadr should be brought back to Canada his opinion about Khadr illustrates a certain rhetoric about what it means to be Canadian.

The article, Khadr should be brought to Canada, begins by describing Khadr using that infamous and highly overused and abused word – “Islamist.” Considering the wide variety of Muslims and Muslim ideologies that have been called Islamist I have a hard time even knowing what an “Islamist” actually is. The definition seems to change all the time depending on who is trying to malign whom and which Muslims one is trying to discredit. However, its main use seems to be to create a fear and distrust of the person being labeled as such.

This week a Federal Court judge ordered the Harper government to ask the Americans to send Omar Khadr — a former Islamist insurgent captured after a battle with U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2002 — back to Canada.

Tandt does not anywhere define what he means by “Islamist” yet he uses the word as if it was simply understood that Khadr was an “Islamist.” All we know is that Khadr was fighting in Afghanistan against a force that had invaded their country. Some may call that defending a country under attack. However, this specific descriptor is used purposefully to create a specific image of Khadr – one of someone “we” should fear. We do not know if he did indeed adhere to the ideology of what some have termed “Islamism” – or the joining of religion and state, basically political Islam. Therefore to term him an “Islamist” based on the fact that he allegedly killed an American soldier, in battle, is inaccurate and fear-mongering. Tandt neglects the fact that the US and Canada have invaded Afghanistan. Afghanistan did not attack us. The war on Afghani people was unprovoked and instigated by the US. Would we not expect them to fight against an invader?

Omar Khadr fought on the wrong side in the Afghan conflict. Simply: He fought for the enemy.

Canadian soldiers today fight alongside U.S. soldiers no different from the man Khadr is alleged to have killed in that notorious firefight.

Khadr is a Canadian citizen. His actions arguably make him a traitor.

Tandt has failed to understand the complexity of the issue. It is not a simple issue.

Khadr is indeed a Canadian citizen and thus should be afforded his charter rights. However, Khadr, like many other Canadians, does not affiliate with only one nation. And this is the reality of being Canadian. A reality Tandt refuses to recognize. For Khadr, and many like him, the invasion of Afghanistan was not seen as an attack on just Afghanistan, but on the Muslim nation, or ummah. The notion of “one ummah” states that all Muslims are one nation and an attack on one Muslim country is an attack on the whole Muslim nation. Therefore, Khadr’s affiliation with Afghanistan was based on the idea that all Muslims are one nation and should protect each other. Regardless of what one may think of this concept it is the most likely reason provided to Khadr.

And this brings me to my next point. Khadr was a child when this incident occurred. He was 15. This is a very important component of the equation which many will mention, as does Tandt, but few will discuss its actual meaning. At the age of 15 people can be easily manipulated. This is why the world agrees that child soldiers, such as Khadr, should not be prosecuted or punished, but rather rehabilitated. The assumption is that true consent could not be provided to engage in such actions. Tandt negates the true meaning of Khadr’s status as a child soldier by referring to him as an “Islamist” and traitor against Canada, as if to convince us that his status as child soldier should be ignored because he is supposedly wants to blend religion and politics and was fighting against Western forces.

Such a dangerous discourse makes two oppressive assumptions. First, it tells us that Muslim child soldiers should not be afforded the same mercy and sympathy other child soldiers are entitled via international laws. Muslims, we are told, who fight against the West are all Islamists and thus an evil which should be fought. Second, it tells us that those child soldiers who fight against Western forces should not be considered child soldiers and thus should not be given their rights under international law. The assumption here is that Western forces, even those who invade sovereign countries, are engaging in a benevolent mission with pure intentions, unlike those other forces child soldiers in other battles fight against.  Western forces are somehow seen as superior and to fight them is just plain immoral.  Muslim children who fight Western forces are no longer seen as manipulated children, the victims of geopolitical oppressions, but rather as “Islamists” and traitors who have themselves chosen to fight.

Painting Khadr as an “Islamist” and traitor neglects the realities of this situation and thus creates one picture of what a real Canadian should be. This rhetoric does not allow for the existence of those Canadians who have more than one affiliation – ethnic and religious minorities. It does not allow these minorities to truly struggle with the fact that one nation they identify with would attack another nation they identify with. It assumes that ones identification with Canada should be greater despite the fact that Canada has invaded and occupied the other nation.

Tandt does argue that Khadr should be brought back to Canada and be dealt with under Canadian law. However, his ethnocentrism taints the whole argument. By depicting Khadr the way he does Tandt assumes the superiority of Canadian military actions and thus assumes an inferior opinion of those who disagree. This common rhetoric is not just about Khadr. It reflects a discourse that impacts many others. The multiple identity reality of Khadr is the reality of many Canadians. Although the majority of those Canadians would not take the route Khadr was made to take by his family, they nonetheless often struggle with the meaning of having these multiple identities, one at war with the other. Discourse such as that present in this article does not allow space for such struggles and forces these Canadians to choose sides, otherwise risk being labeled un-Canadian.

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