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@example.com.