Recently the Canadian government cut their funding to the Canadian Arab Federation. The reason? According to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney:
CAF president Khaled Mouammar believes Canada should regard Hamas and Hezbollah as “legitimate organizations,” Kenney said.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah are on the Canadian government’s list of groups “associated with terrorism,” according to the public safety department’s website.
“Here we have in Canada, someone who, until the end of this month at least, was receiving public subsidies from my department, who says … these organizations that are essentially anti-Semitic and seek the destruction of Israel … should be able to operate in Canada,” Kenney said.
People in Canada “need to exercise freedom of expression responsibly” and should be wary of the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism cloaked in debates about Israel’s actions in the Middle East, Kenney said in a speech to University of Toronto students.
In a recent rally against Israel’s war on Gaza, Mouammar referred to Kenney as a “professional whore” for supporting Israel’s war on Gaza. First things first. This recent feud began first when Kenney criticized the CAF for flying the Hamas flag at a pro-Gaza rally calling for the end of the war on Gaza. This was followed by Mouammar referring to Kenney as a “professional whore.” At this point I would be remiss to not analyze the inherent sexism in this comment. “Whore” is a highly gendered word. The word defines a woman through her sexuality solely. Words like ‘whore’ are used to depict women against whom they are used as immoral and deviant sexual beings. Similar behaviour, such as that attributed to the women against whom this word is used, would not be seen as deviant among men. (See here for an interesting discussion of the word.) Additionally, the word ‘whore’ uses the profession of prostitution, into which too many women are forced through social and/or economic conditions, to cause insult to whomever it is being used against. Using it as derogatory term ignores and trivializes the often oppressive and dangerous conditions of those women who work in the industry.We feel that Mouammar’s use of the term was sexist in nature and, as the CAF has since said, “unfortunate” though no apology has been issued to the public for using this term. It is equally as unfortunate that the inherent sexist nature of the word has not been addressed by anyone in the media or the CAF.
However, as unfortunate, and sexist, as it was, it does not warrant denying funding to the CAF. To deny Arab immigrants the many benefits they gain from this funding because of one man’s unfortunate comment seems illogical and petty on the part of the Canadian government.
But apparently this is not the reason for the cut of funds. Supposedly, the CAF propagates anti-Semitism. However, no media nor government sources have thus far provided any evidence of such propaganda. There are no anti-Semitic comments on their website, nor have any anti-Semitic comments surfaced in news reports. If anything, the organization Independent Jewish Voices have stated that they have never felt the CAF as an anti-Semitic organization and have criticized Jason Kenney and the Canadian government for their actions. I bring this up not to show any support of the CAF but to state that evidence that the CAF has made anti-Semitic comments has thus far been non-existent while evidence otherwise exists.
From the news sources, it seems, that the “real” reason behind the cuts come from an extremely troubling and problematic association being created between pro-Palestinian ideology and supporting terrorism. As seen in the quote above, Mouammar’s call for the Canadian government to treat Hamas and Hezbollah as legitimate governments, has been viewed as anti-Semitic. Considering Jimmy Carter has called for dialogue with Hamas, and, as Walkom points out, the British government is reopening talks with Hezbollah, this view is not uncommon nor unique to CAF. Nor to Muslims. However, many are painting support for the people of Palestine and criticizing Israel’s policies toward Palestinians as hate. And this is a scary and dangerous association. Coupled with the Canadian government’s recent banning of George Galloway, it comes across as a bullying tactic to quell any pro-Palestinian voice.
Such criticism is additionally problematic when one thinks back to not too long ago, when Mark Steyn, noted Islamophobe, published a clearly anti-Muslim piece in MacLean’s magazine. Many Muslims were angered and wanted an apology. At that time many cried foul saying that Steyn had the right to say what he did. Its a matter of freedom of speech after all. But now, many of the same people who were supporting MacLeans under the right to freedom of speech, are applauding the government for their actions toward the CAF. Can we say hypocrisy? And Islamophobia too?
Although the CAF is an organization for Arabs, of all religious backgrounds, there is no doubt that they have been associated with Muslims and Islam in the media. As can be seen in this piece from the National Post where Tarek Fatah assumes that those who don’t support the CAF’s position are labeled traitors to the “Muslim cause.” He then pits the CAF against his “secular Muslim Canadian Congress” stating that a member of the CAF called the MCC “house Negroes,” a term popularized by Malcolm X * consequently creating a picture of the CAF as a group against secular people. Margeret Wente supports Fatah in her article when she says
Although the CAF purports to speak for the community, it doesn’t care for Muslims who don’t share its views.
She is assuming that the community the CAF represents is Muslims when in fact they advocate and support Arabs in Canada. Not Muslims. They can overlap but are not one and the same thing.
Arabs and Muslims are being painted as foreigners in this debate and xenophobia regarding Muslims is ringing through loud and clear in the media reports. In her article Wente’s contempt toward and dismissal of immigrant and minority advocacy and support groups cannot be hidden.
Like other groups that purport to speak for immigrants and minorities, the CAF is highly skilled at grantsmanship. The grant proposals from these groups are full of jargon such as “racialized,” “ethnocultural youth” and “marginalized neighbourhoods.” Most would not exist at all without the government. The people who run them go to one another’s conferences, serve on one another’s boards, and approve one another’s grants. It isn’t clear how well they reflect the views of the groups they purport to represent, or how effective they are at helping immigrants. But they are quite effective at using the problems of immigrants to create jobs for themselves.
So why do such folks deserve our money? They don’t. But this is Canada. Only in Canada can people enjoy the largesse of the state by attacking it.
She then gives an example of a young Muslim girl who questions the assertion that Canada is a racist society, as an example of how many ungrateful and manipulative immigrant and minority groups really can be. After all, this one Muslim girl didn’t experience racism. And she suggests that those who do criticize the racism they encounter in Canada and from the government should be punished by that government by being ignored. They should not be taken seriously. The consequence to this is of course that instead of engaging with those with concerns and complaints, the concerns of immigrants and minorities will not be addressed and the cycle of racism will be perpetuated.
She then ends her article with
The young Muslim woman has a different take. “Why not focus on your new home?”
New home? The assumption here is that those who criticize the government’s racism are new to the country and this is a completely inaccurate assumption. Ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslims and Arabs, have been in Canada for generations. Many Muslims know no other home but Canada. However, even if many Muslims are new to the country that does not deny them the right to criticize the actions of the government.
Fatah joins in on the xenophobic bandwagon when he says
Any future funding of the CAF should be made conditional to a guarantee that the organization will not behave as a mouthpiece of Hamas and Hezbollah in Canada, and will embrace Canadian, not Iranian, values.
The end result is that such voices like Fatah’s and Wente’s legitimize ignoring dissent and criticism coming from minority groups. They paint Muslims as “new foreigners” who don’t understand Canada’s “enlightened” values. Therefore their complaints of the Canadian government, whether they be criticizing the governments unconditional support of Israel or the inherent racism in Canadian society, should not be acknowledged, because newcomers should don’t really know Canada. (Didn’t Stephen Harper say that once?) The public is then told to ignore any further complaints by Muslims (other than the progressives who adopt “Canadian values”), regardless of how legitimate or serious. Muslims, and Arabs, are painted as ungrateful and whiny moochers using tax payers’ dollars to satisfy their devious, and as Fatah says “foreign affairs,” agendas.
And, where in the world did Fatah bring Iran in from?
Regardless of what one may feel toward the CAF, there is no proof that they have incited hatred toward any group. The use of the word ‘whore’ by their president was appalling. However, accusing a group of inciting hatred based on their pro-Palestinian ideology sets up a very dangerous precedent for all Canadians, not just Arabs or Muslims. It becomes a way of silencing a very legitimate concern – oppression. However, as Muslims are already a racialized group, such actions from the government make freedom of speech for Muslims very fragile when we say anything that does not coincide with and please the Canadian government.
* The use of the term “house Negroes” of course is also problematic and needs to be addressed. I will very briefly address it here as it did not fit into the flow of the article nor has it been the focus of the media coverage. Malcolm X used the term in a speech given in 1963 to describe an African American who is willing to please the the White man, at his own expense as well as at the expense of others of his race. Since then the term has often been used by many to refer to people they see as, what many nowadays refer to as, the native informant. The term should not be used without an accurate understanding of its history and its flawed reasoning as Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell explains. Dr. Yolanda Pierce addresses the issue here and Racialicious has addressed it here. This member of the CAF should have used the term “native informant” instead.