by Farzana Hassan
March 23, 2009
Things are heating up in the sweepstakes for the most incompetent department of Canadian government to face Islamic radicalism. For a while, bets were on Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, which, for 11 years, had the president of the extremist-sympathizing Canadian Arab Federation – big on Hamas and Hizballah – on its board. His job there was to decide who was too dangerous to let into the country.
But now "Heritage Canada," a Canadian government department whose bid for the title is made with the help of the Calgary-based independent Centre for Faith and the Media (CFM) has jumped in the fray.
Heritage Canada pushes a multiculturalism agenda, and the CFM seems to be a one-employee outfit with a volunteer Board of Directors of sympathetic religious people – with one exception. Positioning itself as a link and information clearinghouse between journalists and religious communities, CFM has been decisive in moving Heritage Canada into committing blunders.
The current fiasco started when Heritage Canada funded the Centre to start something called "The Muslim Project." This initiative involves a series of cross-Canada "roundtables" prominently displaying CFM's sole paid employee, Executive Director Richelle Wiseman, as moderator. The end-product? A "study" of media portrayals of Muslims and Islam in Canada, due out within the next year or so.
Heritage Canada bureaucrats would have known something could go wrong with a Muslim-oriented project dealing with this subject if they'd only looked at a "journalist's guide" to Islam on the sponsoring CFM's website. The Islam "guide," which was pulled from the site last month, recommended that Canadian reporters seek out the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as an authoritative source of information about Muslims and Islam. CAIR, of course, is the Washington, DC radical-Islamist organization that is funded by the Saudis and qualified by the US Justice Department as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism-financing trial. A parade of its senior officials and affiliated people has made its way into penitentiaries on criminal charges and an FBI agent testified that it was a front organization for Hamas.
The Islam guide was copyrighted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada (CAIR-CAN), the Canadian chapter of CAIR. It isn't clear whether Canadian bureaucrats were confused by CAIR-CAN's usual disinformation about "distancing" itself from CAIR – which then-CAIR-CAN Chair Sheema Khan acknowledged in a sworn December 2003 affidavit was her chapter's mother organization. No one can figure out whether Heritage Canada and the Centre for Faith and the Media "interfaithers" knew that CAIR-CAN refuses to name and condemn the Hamas, Hizballah and other killers placed by Canada's own government on a list of banned terror groups. Or that CAIR-CAN is a defendant in a 9/11 New York lawsuit. Or that CAIR – including CAIR-CAN – had been responsible for all-out attacks, through the use of "silencing" libel lawsuits, on the constitutional rights of virtually any Canadian and American media that dared to ask about the organizations' links and agendas. This looks like a pretty weak "partner" for a Centre that aims to help the media.
Much worse was to follow, and it indeed appears that the CFM's Muslim Project might be substantially in the hands of those who would be most reviled by moderate members of the very Canadian faith community in whose name the Centre hopes to work. A review of available roundtable announcements and other evidence, for example, makes the case. One gets the impression that an intimate and symbiotic relationship seems to have developed between the well-meaning, but apparently unaware CFM, and CAIR-CAN.
One example suffices. Among several public roundtables featuring CAIR-CAN operatives was a "media training" session in Montreal. The event consisted of the CFM Executive Director as moderator, and three panelists: CAIR-CAN Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee, Sameer Zuberi – somewhat misleadingly advertised in one source as a human rights advocate and student – and a cleric named Sikander Hashmi. Elsewhere, Zuberi was better known only weeks before as CAIR-CAN's communications coordinator and "human rights" advocate. Meanwhile, Hashmi was described as a "freelance journalist and Imam"; his very few internet articles include one slavishly quoting from a CAIR-CAN communications officer ... Sameer Zuberi. There couldn't have been much for CFM moderator Wiseman to "moderate" as she sat in the middle of this hard-line trio.
Add to this the fact that the sole Muslim Director on the CFM Board was Nova Scotia-based Dr. Jamal Badawi – or had been until the entire list of CFM board members was yanked and "went to black" on about March 17, 2009, as rumours of strange links had the Centre in a swirl. There is also the disturbing fact that Badawi is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land trial, as is the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), on whose executive he sits. He has also been on the board of directors of CAIR-CAN.
This mess has several serious implications.
First, under cover of a multi-religious, if essentially Christian institute, CAIR-CAN is being permitted to project itself as "moderate." Its representatives pontificate as "Muslim leaders" – to use CFM's website terminology – at taxpayer-supported public roundtables that even include media representatives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Canadian Television Network. With roundtables targeting journalists and journalism schools, Heritage Canada, through the CFM, is inadvertently allowing the Canadian wing of a US unindicted co-conspirator to groom the present and future generation of journalists. In the process, they are squeezing off the stage those few moderate Canadian Muslims who have been determined enough to stand up to the CAIR-CANs and ISNAs of North America.
Second, the Wahabbi lobby, of which CAIR-CAN and ISNA are prominent members, has led in radical and unjustified efforts to portray Canadian Muslims as victims of mass-prejudice and bigotry. Ignoring the objections of the moderate Muslim Canadian Congress and solid law-enforcement statistics that refute such advocacy, these organizations push this destructive myth, regardless of the resulting risk to social cohesion, of alienating Muslim youth, of undermining security and quieting responsible debate about extremism. Needless to say, such claims are used to rationalize emotional and never-ending demands for state-sponsored privileges that are rightly withheld from other religious communities.
It is a good guess that CAIR-CAN's endgame is a Centre for Faith and the Media "study" that certifies, once and for all, the truth of the contrived word "Islamophobia" and the victimhood of Canadian Muslims – particularly at the hands of media. This outcome would put further pressure on journalists to watch their step, especially in the context of Canada's free speech-repressing "human-rights" commissions whose excesses have been revealed in the Maclean's - Mark Steyn case. Maclean's, Canada's leading newsmagazine, found itself under siege for publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn's bestselling America Alone. The radical Canadian Islamic Congress laid formal complaints before human rights commissions in various Canadian jurisdictions, multiplying the costs to the magazine of defending – successfully, as it turned out – against this doubtful use of quasi-judicial administrative systems.
Consistent with attempts of the international Organization of Islamic Conference to impose, through the United Nations, worldwide Sharia blasphemy norms, an Islamist-influenced CFM report would set the stage for further attempts to bring Canadian reporters and others into line.
Thus might Heritage Canada's government money and an unsuspecting media center be maneuvered to constrain media freedom and the free flow of ideas. It might even bring a reprise of the embarrassing – and one hopes, long dead – immediate post-9/11 experience of watching members of the tactless Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Security outreach unit, completely unschooled in issues of radical Islam, quoting in public briefings from CAIR-CAN's own deceptive "victimhood" material.
There are also implications, here, for citizens' ability to rely on well-meaning religious and quasi-religious institutions in interfaith matters. For the most part, the CFM board that has overseen these developments has consisted of a range of distinguished, highly-intelligent and honourable Canadians, from former Alberta legislator Jocelyn Burgener and respected Calgary Herald journalist Licia Corbella, to religion writer Joe Woodard and the Canadian Readers Digest's Peter Stockland. But, in the end, the organization has been used as a welcome mat for radical Islamism.
Neither is Heritage Canada or the Centre for Faith and the Media alone. Canada's Manning Centre, another respected institution, scurried along to join the post-9/11 penchant for interfaith outreach. Led by conservative political icon Preston Manning, but without apparent familiarity with difficult Islamist issues, the Manning Centre established an interfaith unit that stumbled. At last report, the Manning Centre had given a special place in its consultations to associates of the Islamic Society of North America, and the resulting embarrassment cannot be far behind.
Given current trends in the Canadian government and NGO sector, there will be a great deal of embarrassment to go around.
Farzana Hassan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and author of "Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest." She is the former president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, an organization representing progressive and secular Muslims. She can be reached at [email protected].
Reader comments on this item
Centre for Faith and Media Responds
Submitted by Canadian blogger, Apr 3, 2009 18:58
April 2nd, 2009 | Published in Religion and Politics
Over the past few weeks, three journalists took action against the Centre for Faith and the Media based on allegations and assertions which lack truth and are closer to rumour-mongering than anything resembling journalism. None of these journalists called me or anyone at the Centre to verify their facts before writing these articles and blogs, which are potentially damaging to the good work of this organization.
It seems that the basis of good journalistic practice - checking facts with original and multiple credible sources – has gone the way of the typewriter.
At issue is the fact that the Centre for Faith and the Media has received a contribution agreement from the federal ministry of multiculturalism to provide media relations training to Muslim communities in Canada. This includes convening discussion panels where local journalists, journalism professors, and local Muslim spokespersons, leaders, and students, can engage in open dialogue about how Muslims are treated in Canadian media, and how that treatment can be improved.
In each of the eight cities where the project is (or was) taking place, the makeup of the panels has been varied. We have endeavored to involve people from many different Muslim traditions, and points of view within Islam. We have seen the participation of women wearing hijabs, women without hijabs, Sunnis, Ismailis, representatives of the Islamic Society of Nova Scotia; the Muslim Students Association of Concordia University; the Canadian Council of Muslim Women; the Muslim Council of Calgary; Islamic Social Services Association Winnipeg; the Muslim Social Services Network Toronto; and CAIR-CAN. In Ottawa, we hosted Maher Arar and his wife Monia, who spoke about the role of the media during their ordeal. In our final events in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, we will engage Shia, Ahmaddiya and Muslims from other groups and organizations.
We have had excellent journalists participate on our panels: in Winnipeg, Terry McLeod of CBC and Greg Lockert from the Winnipeg Free Press; in Toronto, Jonathan Kay of the National Post, Stuart Laidlaw from the Toronto Star, and Peter Kavanagh from CBC National Radio. In Halifax, Rob Gordon of CBC and Dan Leger from the Halifax Chronicle Herald. In Montreal, Jeff Heinrich from the Montreal Gazette, and Laurie Julie Perreault from La Presse. In Ottawa, Graham Green, editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Citizen, and Evan Dyer of CBC Radio. In Calgary, Graeme Morton from the Calgary Herald, and Faiz Jamil from CBC Calgary. In Edmonton and Vancouver, we will involve equally terrific journalists from local major media outlets.
The Centre has come under fire for having several members of CAIR-CAN on our panels. Because CAIR-CAN exists primarily to interact with the media on behalf of Muslims in Canada, it was logical to find that its members are articulate when it comes to media issues and not simply complainers about poor coverage. They are interested in helping the media pursue fair, balanced and accurate stories to reflect the diversity of Islam in Canada. At no time have they had work subcontracted to them by the Centre. They have simply been panelists contributing their own points of view.
Our original Journalist's Guide to Islam has been removed from our website and will be replaced by a full Media Directory of Islam in Canada which is part of the what The Muslim Project will deliver. A wide range of Muslim groups are being polled and asked to submit information, contacts, and links to make this resource much better than our previous directory.
Allegations that CAIR-CAN had links to terror arose in 2004 with a comment made on an Ottawa radio station by Mr. David Harris, who was subsequently sued by CAIR-CAN. David Frum, writing in the National Post, also linked CAIR-CAN to terrorist activities, and the newspaper was also sued by CAIR-CAN. The suit against Harris was dropped in favour of continuing to press the National Post to settle, which it did finally by printing an editor's note of apology from Mr. Frum, stating that CAIR-CAN was not linked to terror. This was published in the National Post on Sept. 17, 2005.
The pertinent text of that apology is as follows.
"David Frum and the National Post acknowledge that neither Sheema Khan nor the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada advocates or promotes terrorism."
Despite the stringent vigilance of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which is watchful of many Muslim individuals and groups, CAIR-CAN has never been found to have ties to terrorist organizations, either by CSIS or the RCMP. Still, rumours persist that CAIR-CAN has links to terror. Thus, the Centre, by having people from CAIR-CAN on panels with journalists to discuss how reporters do their job, is now accused of being in bed with terrorists. This borders on defamation and puts good people, board members, and reputations at risk. It also smacks of the McCarthyism of the 1950's, when if you knew someone who knew someone who might be a communist, then you were a communist too.
The Centre, along with other organizations seeking to engage Muslims across the country, will no doubt encounter some Muslims deemed "questionable" or illegitimate by other Muslims. This is similar in the Christian community, in which Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses are regarded as cults and not true Christians. But this does not change the need to engage a wide range of people in discussion and dialogue, to persuade and educate, to expose and challenge views, to do what a democratic society does: Let a range of ideas and views be expressed, challenged, asserted, debated, and put through the rough and tumble of public scrutiny.
There are an estimated 1-million Muslims in this country. Those of us working in the public sphere need to find ways of communicating to all of them, and not write off some because they may hold some views and opinions the rest of us do not share. We do not endorse the full range of views and theological or political positions held by some who have taken part in our panels. That goes for the journalists as well as the Muslims.
Finally, let me say that so far, the Muslim Project has highlighted to me that some people are bent on pursuing division and alienation. The Centre chooses a more open approach. We do not promote terror or jihad or Islamist ideology, but good journalism. We promote dialogue. Ironically, we have been victims of religious stereotyping - one of the very things the Centre was founded to combat.
All the more reason the Centre for Faith and the Media, and many other groups reaching across religious and ideological lines, need to continue to dialogue, and take the heat in pursuit of the light.