Guest Column: Justin Trudeau's Islamist Revival
by David B. Harris
Special to IPT News
December 20, 2012
Nothing says bug-eyed clerical fanaticism more than inviting a hate-spewing Saudi cleric to address your religious revival meeting. But this is part of the under-reported history of the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Convention, a conference that Justin Trudeau, a frontrunner in Canada's Liberal Party leadership race – and son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau – will address this weekend in Toronto. It's also why moderate Muslims and non-Muslims are aghast at the prospect of Trudeau's presence legitimizing the conference and some of its notables.
Although organizers pitch the gathering as "A Unique Youth Effort" "to help overcome new challenges of communication and integration" and "reviv[e] the Islamic tradition of education, tolerance and introspection," there is reason to be concerned. Aspects of the multi-year history and present-day manifestations of RIS invite questions about ideology and influences at play.
This year's conference was initially sponsored in part by IRFAN-Canada, an international Muslim relief entity that has seen its federal charitable tax status yanked by Ottawa, as a result of the Canada Revenue Agency's belief that millions in contributions went to "relieve" the Hamas terror organization. Although exposure of this background forced IRFAN's eleventh-hour cosmetic removal as an RIS sponsor, it is not evident that all remaining sponsors are clear of radical taint. UBS Bank recently blocked the overseas account of British-based charity and RIS 2012 sponsor Islamic Relief, a situation which an Islamic Relief official reportedly attributes to the technicalities of counterterrorism regulations. Meanwhile, some have questions about the uneven ideological record of one or two prominent figures attached to sponsoring organization Zaytuna College, an Islamic institution in Berkeley, Calif.
And, yes, the inevitable Tariq Ramadan, the charming, soft-spoken and dupe-seducing scion of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood – a man who famously called for a moratorium, rather than a ban, on the stoning of women, and avoids condemning Hamas – will also speak at the event. Ramadan is an RIS veteran speaker whose apparent Muslim Brotherhood link offers little reassurance when taken in concert with a Brotherhood strategic plan for Canada and the United States which prescribes "a grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house."
Meanwhile, a journalist has exposed expected RIS 2012 speaker Yassir Fazaga as a fixture of Peace TV, an outlet with radical presenters, including Yusuf Islam – the former Cat Stevens – who called for author Salman Rushdie's death and spoke at the 2009 RIS.
But, years ago, those of us in intelligence who studied RIS conferences had concluded that RIS's problems exceeded even these present-day issues.
Indeed, the RIS's history of invited speakers includes some dignitaries who would give pause to people of conscience, especially when speakers might be considered models for youth and other convention attendees. For example, there was distinguished American neo-Nazi William W. Baker at the 2004 gathering. Known for establishing something dubbed Christians and Muslims for Peace (CAMP), Baker has rounded publicly on "belligerent American Jews." "[H]is apparent goal," wrote a reporter a year or two before his RIS invitation, is "the creation of a united Christian-Muslim front against Jews and other groups."
Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes complained that now-disgraced former RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, then-Toronto Police Chief (and now federal Tory Minister) Julian Fantino and Mayor David Miller appeared at the Toronto conference, "thereby giving it – and by implication, William W. Baker – their blessing." Zaccardelli's pander-filled speech was memorable. Even the social-democratic NDP's Jack Layton could not resist addressing an RIS meet.
Another RIS invitee was Sheik Bilal Philips, a Canadian imam who is an unindicted co-conspirator in that bombing, favors death for homosexuals in Muslim lands, and fancies punitive amputations, lashings and public executions. From Kenya to Germany to Australia, he has been banned and deported on national security grounds.
The bug-eyed invitee mentioned above was reportedly Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudais, imam of Mecca's Grand Mosque. Well before his invitation to speak at the 2004 RIS, Al-Sudais said "Jews of yesterday are the evil forefathers of the even more evil Jews of today: infidels … prophet murderers, the scum of the human race, accursed by Allah, who turned them into apes and pigs." "[A]n ongoing continuum of deceit, obstinacy, licentiousness, evil, and corruption," too. Christians?: idolators – "worshippers of the cross" – as were hideous "idol worshipping Hindus."
This was a bridge-building too far, and Canada's government barred entry to the Saudi imam.
As it did to RIS 2010 invitee (and previous speaker) Indian physician-preacher Zakir Naik, thought to have a crush on Osama bin Laden. "[E]very Muslim should be a terrorist," says Naik, and Jews are "our staunchest enemy." At the 2005 RIS, Naik pressed Islamic Sharia law upon America, complete with death penalties for homosexuals, heavy veiling for women. There was more than a dash of false equivalence in his comparing of the targeted civilian deaths of 9/11, and the accidental civilian casualties in Afghanistan combat. Naik's ambiguous position on suicide bombing included the view that it "should be done under proper guidance" – surely a constructive thought for susceptible youth juggling contemporary responsibilities and trying to reach that life-balance between school and demolitions. Naik is progressive inasmuch as he believes wives should be beaten only "lightly."
Several years ago, Britain's Sheikh Riyadh ul-Haq spoke at an RIS convention in Toronto. Reports point to Indian-born ul-Haq's enthusiastic paraphrasing of the Quran in remarks made on another occasion: "the ones who are bitterest in their enmity towards Muslims, the most unrelenting, unforgiving, are the Jews and the mushrikeen, idolators in all their forms." Today's "chief idolators," he adds, are the Hindus.
U.S. authorities have taken an interest in RIS, and detained some American Muslims returning from the 2004 RIS conference in Toronto. Department of Homeland Security: "we had credible intelligence that conferences similar to the one from which these individuals were leaving were being used by terrorist organizations to fundraise and to hide the travel of terrorists themselves." The Saudi-funded, extremist-sympathetic Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – later an unindicted co-conspirator in a major terror funding U.S. prosecution, and the mother group of a Canadian chapter, CAIR-CAN, now attacking critics of this week's conference – sued the American government, and lost.
Border authorities, asserted the supportive U.S. appeals court, "had reason to believe that terrorists, or those with terrorist ties, would be attending the RIS conference."
It was at this Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference – presumably in the midst of some of its participants' condemnations of liberal coexistence – that a jargon-laced greeting was read aloud from a letter from then-Prime Minister Paul Martin. "[T]his year's conference," he intoned on behalf of the Government of Canada, "adds to the fabric of our nation and strengthens our social foundations by making our communities more dynamic, culturally rich, and cohesive." U.S. border authorities might have taken another view.
Now comes the Reviving the Islamic Spirit 2012 conclave. You've heard about Tariq Ramadan and the rest, but what about other invitees who will be joining this month's Toronto conventioneers?
Jamal Badawi: Professor Emeritus, St Mary's University, Halifax, and held by the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report to be "a leader in many of the most important organizations of the Global and U.S. Muslim Brotherhood." Unindicted co-conspirator in the aforementioned terror funding trial, and an executive member of the Islamic Society of North America, an unindicted co-conspirator organization. Former board member of the Muslim Association of Canada, an organization boasting of its Muslim Brotherhood ideology. A pamphlet by Badawi that was available at an earlier RIS appeared to justify the practice of polygamy.
Imam Zaid Shakir: A U.S. cleric tending to trade in 9/11 conspiracy theories, aiming for Islamic rule of America, and believing that the U.S. government is at war with Islam – a poor example for the Muslim youth at any conference. At the 2005 RIS, Shakir seemed consumed with portraying the United States as a stain on humanity, a catalog of "slavery and genocide, oppression and military aggression." It is unsurprising that his ideology was condemned by moderate American Muslim leader and retired U.S. naval Lt. Cmdr Zuhdi Jasser, and by the American Anti-Defamation League. Shakir has spoken at RIS conventions on a number of occasions, and is a senior faculty member of RIS 2012 sponsor Zaytuna College.
Edina Lekovic: Policy director at the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood-linked Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Exposed in 2007 by leading American counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson as having been managing editor of UCLA Muslim students' newspaper when its 1999 "Spirit of Jihad" issue counseled Muslims: "When we hear someone refer to the great Mujahid … Osama bin Laden as a 'terrorist,' we should defend our brother and refer to him as a freedom fighter." Bin Laden had declared war on the United States in 1996.
Almost all of the foregoing information was on the public record before Trudeau accepted his speaking invitation. No wonder the moderate Muslim Canadian Congress and Muslims Facing Tomorrow organizations are joining so many other Canadians in raising questions about public officials who would become involved in this kind of enterprise.
Worse yet, there are now reports of enormous prospective increases in Canada's already-world-beating per capita immigration, some of it from countries associated with extremism and subversion. As suspicions deepen that much of this intake reflects a Harper government desire to "import" grateful voters for coming elections and profit from resultant demographic shifts, Canada is left to face policy outcomes that will continue to inflate its radical ranks, fill conferences of the RIS sort, and imperil Canadians' future. In the end, the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention stands as a warning of the need to press ambitious political figures of all stripes to resist the temptations and perverse political incentives endangering that future.
David B. Harris is a Canadian lawyer with three decades' experience in intelligence affairs, and serves as Director of the International Intelligence Program, INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc. He is on the advisory board of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow (MFT), although opinions expressed here are his alone.
Reader comments on this item
readers beware ....
Submitted by MM, Jun 16, 2013 18:23
My jaw dropped wide open when I read this piece of bogus information. I attended the RIS described and this was my second year attending. As far as I know Zakir Naik has not been a speaker at RIS in the last few years and I am not necessarily a fan of his. However, the portrayal of this family-friendly and innocuous event as something harbouring terrorist or extremist connections is completely laughable and would be so to ALL the families that attended, majority of which were very appreciative of Justin Trudeau's visit as there was great warmth and thanks shown to him by the audience. The biggest highlights for all the young people that attended were the Islamic pop artists that drew typical teenage fan hysteria to the apprehension of the parents of course. I don't know if the author of this post even attended the RIS but this "political" and devious depiction of what was a conference of religious lectures, food, praying, Islamic entertainment, and a very popular and busy convention of retailers of clothing, jewelry, perfumes, knick knacks, and so forth is very disturbing and completely falsified. And yes, I am a fan of Tariq Ramadan and Hamza Yusuf (of said Zaytuna Institute who was unable to attend this year some said as his mother was ill) and I would trust them to promote peace and harmony ANY day amongst all peoples over what the writer of this post is trying to do - which seems to be create false divisions and tell lies. By the way, I recounted my attendance to my mother who lives on the other side of Canada and is Catholic and she thoroughly enjoyed hearing about Justin Trudeau's attendance at this event - as we both respected his father Pierre.
Think Again: Muslims in American, 2013
Submitted by Khalilah Sabra, Jan 4, 2013 11:22
Think Again: Muslims in American, 2013
Although President Obama insisted, "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others," Muslims saw no relief from the practice of discrimination against American Muslims by excluding them from the economic, social, and public life of this nation.
I also sensed that Muslims became even more fed up with the patronizing, superficial way Islam is discussed in certain quarters, including the media.
Eleven years after the 9/11 tragedies, many American journalists continue to tell a story about Islam while failing to bridge cultural gaps to accurately put news about Islam and Muslim communities into context. The result is a nation which remains adrift in the kind of slapdash Islamic illiteracy that denies liberty and justice for all.
The limited explanation of the religious, social, political, and geographical facts about Islam today, has denied the essential information Americans need to humanize, analyze and put news about Islam and Muslim communities into context.
Despite that fact that Islamophobia was officially recognized as a form of intolerance alongside xenophobia and antisemitism at the "Stockholm International Forum on Combating Intolerance, nothing significant has been achieved to combat this form of racism. Worse, state legislatures continue throughout this nation to called for a ban on the non-existing threat of Sharia law in America and proclaim that the vast majority of mosques in our country harbor Islamist terrorists or sympathizers. By doing so, this core of American leadership promotes the harming and negative stereotypes of Muslims and holds Muslims collectively responsible for the actions of an individual Muslim person or group.
2012 experienced occasions in which citizens abused and violently attacked Muslims. Discrimination included verbal abuse, indiscriminately accusing Muslims of responsibility for the attacks, removing women's hijab, spitting, using the name "Muhammad" as a pejorative epithet, and assaults. More deplorable was the greater receptivity towards anti-Muslim and other xenophobic ideas and sentiments.
More recent attacks involved a man being pushed onto the tracks of an elevated subway station in Queens and crushed by an oncoming train. The woman selected her victim because she believed him to be a Muslim or a Hindu. The victim was born in India and was allegedly shoved from behind and had no chance to defend himself. In the same city, a man was stabbed repeatedly outside a mosque by a would-be killer who shouted anti-Muslim comments, police said. The assailant told his victim that he just does not like Muslims.
None of these charges are meant to sidestep the reality that terrible things have been done in the name of Islam, but we are witnessing a very real phenomenon, dipped if the tragedy of 9/11, serving to increase the anti-Muslim, fear-filled, and hate-inspired agenda of a specific group of "Americans" who've carelessly watched this country rapidly lose its position as the world's democratic leader because it made a pitiful choice of failing to provide democracy to all of its people.
Collectively, Muslims also made a choice. Every choice has consequences. Our choice was to exist by being treated unlike others in this nation. We did not organize ourselves, lobby well on our own behaves, protect our religious freedoms, or preserve the our Islamic identity for our children. Instead, we hid in the shadows of this nation hoping that as individuals, we might escape the fate of other Muslims who have been politically, socially and economically damaged.
If you are a Muslim who've made such a choice, complaining about the pain may fall on deaf ears. More evil is done by those who won't make the decision to do the right thing. The history of this country teaches us that things just don't become right on their own. Collectively, we are all responsible for actions that should never be tolerated by a civilized society and we all have a responsibility in maintaining such a society's civility.
It's time to put the past behind us and think again.
In June 1963, just five months before he was shot and killed, John F. Kennedy delivered these words at the American University. This historic speech, delivered at the height of the Cold War, is now remembered as one of Kennedy's finest speeches. "So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."
There is nothing naïve about democracy's impulse to change the world into a better place. Because all it takes the genuine intention to promote dialogue, diversity and respectful inclusion — one citizen at a time denouncing stereotypes — to send forth more sensible endeavors that will ultimately create more tangible rewards for an entire nation.
Muslim American Society Immigrant Justice Center (MASIJC)