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.