The attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario in June 2021 that left four dead and a nine-year-old boy seriously wounded was a horrific event that inspired condemnation across the country. Canadians everywhere were properly appalled, and the incident produced an outpouring of sympathy for the orphaned boy and his surviving relatives.
It also prompted Canadian politicians at all levels of government to vow action against what they called “Islamophobia.” Unfortunately, some of these responses may end up increasing the spread of hate in this country rather than reducing it. If Canadians are truly offended by discrimination and hatred in society today, they should be demanding that their governments act scrupulously and transparently in how and where they claim to be fighting hatred. This includes taking a close look at who really benefits from government-funded anti-hate campaigns.
The Muslim Association of Canada
One of the most significant beneficiaries of the official government response to last year’s attack on the Afzaal family in London is the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC). In the wake of this terrible crime, the organization received generous provincial funding to produce a series of videos for Ontario schools. It also received over $3 million in federal grants for anti-hate, youth engagement and security funding over the past three years. Given this public investment, it is appropriate to consider the MAC’s own track record with respect to combating hate and advancing Canadian values such as freedom of conscience and tolerance of all religions.
The MAC is a national Islamic organization based in Mississauga, Ontario that boasts 55,000 members and claims to be Canada’s “largest grass-roots Muslim organization.” It has (as of this date) 13 local chapters and operates 22 community centres and/or mosques, nine full-time schools, 11 weekend schools, two Quran schools and four childcare centres. Its religious perspective, as its website explains, is based on “the writings of the renowned reformist, Imam Hassan al-Banna.”
Al-Banna was founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical movement within Islam that today operates directly or through affiliates in dozens of countries. The followers of Al-Banna (an Egyptian who died in 1949) seek to establish Sharia law; some adherents wish to create strict religious theocracies like those in Iran, Gaza and Afghanistan. The Muslim Brotherhood was designated a terrorist organization by Egypt, Saudi Arabia (site of Islam’s two holiest shrines) and several other Arab countries, and was dissolved and prohibited in Jordan. The brotherhood’s defenders in Western countries deny it deserves this label; Canada and the United States have not designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
The MAC explicitly disavows any adherence to the Muslim Brotherhood. And yet its website clearly states its devotion to its founder’s teachings: “Al-Banna considered Islam to be a comprehensive system of life, with the Quran as the only acceptable constitution.” (Emphasis added.) That worldview – stated in the MAC’s own words – is sharply at odds with key Canadian – and Western – principles including the rule of secular constitutions and laws, separation of Church and state, and equal tolerance of all religions.
And there is more to Al-Banna’s story than one might learn from the MAC’s glowing website portrayal. Al-Banna was an open admirer and supporter of Haj Amin Al-Husseini. Also known as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini was on friendly terms with the Nazis and spent from 1941 until the end of the Second World War in Berlin. More than a mere guest, a recent article in Tablet magazine notes Husseini was “internationally renowned as a collaborator with Nazi Germany as a result of his meeting with Adolf Hitler in Berlin in November 1941, and his Arabic language tirades to ‘kill the Jews’ broadcast to the Middle East on the Third Reich’s short wave radio transmitters” which, the article continues, “fanned the flames of Jew-hatred both in Europe and on the radio in the Middle East.” Husseini was paid by the Nazi regime and interacted with some of its worst elements, working to prevent Jews from escaping Eastern Europe as the Holocaust got underway and supporting efforts to form an SS Division manned by Muslims in Nazi-occupied Bosnia.
This was the man Al-Banna described as a “lion,” a “hero,” a “miracle,” a “great leader” and “a great, stubborn, terrific, wonderful man.” Not before the war, mind you, but in 1946, after the full horrors of Naziism and the Holocaust were known to the world. Al-Banna had already read – and enjoyed – Hitler’s Mein Kampf by this time. “Germany and Hitler are gone,” Al-Banna wrote in his welcome-home letter, “but Amin Al-Husseini will continue the struggle.”
A Problematic Guest List
One way to address the confusion over the MAC’s beliefs and to discern its true perspective on Canadian values of tolerance and diversity is to consider the message brought by speakers it invites into this country to instruct and train its members. There are a number of problematic examples. One involves Tareq Muhammed Al-Saleh Al-Suwaidan, invited in December 2020 for a MAC event and then again in August 2021 for a Muslim Student Leadership Event organized by the MAC. The latter presentation was ultimately cancelled after the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) publicly denounced the invitation in a press release. I also criticized the invitation on social media before it was cancelled.
Al-Suwaidan is a wealthy businessman and motivational speaker. He is the author of the notorious Arabic-language “reference book” Al Yahood: Al Mawsua Al Musawra (The Jews: The Illustrated Encyclopedia). In an introduction to this work, Al-Suwaidan states that it is meant to explain Jewish history and “their wickedness, treason, and deception which they practiced with all nations so not to be deceived by them and by their promises of false peace.” It is widely regarded as an anti-Semitic tract.
According to Al-Suwaidan’s own words, as quoted in translation on the CIJA’s website, “The absolutely most dangerous thing is the Jews…They are the greatest enemy…we hate them. They are our enemies. We should instill this in the souls of our children until a new generation rises and wipes them off the face of the earth.” (Emphasis added.)
Al-Suwaidan’s track record explains why other countries, including Italy and Belgium, have seen fit to bar him from entering. And even though section 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada states that it is a crime to willfully and publicly promote or incite hatred against an identifiable group, he remains welcome in Canada. In fact, Al-Suwaidan has visited this country over 40 times. In his own words, he says he finds our country “very moderate, very understanding, very accommodating…very respectful.” He could have added also very naïve.
“Spare Not One of Them”
The MAC’s history with Al-Suwaidan is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern involving individuals directing hatred at identifiable groups. In 2017, an imam preaching at a MAC-owned mosque declared, “O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them. O Allah! Purify Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews!” (The Al-Aqsa mosque is in Jerusalem.) The imam subsequently recanted his statement.
Also in 2017, Vancouver-based imam Tarek Ramadan, preaching in a MAC-operated mosque, called for sending “money, weapons and expertise” to Palestinians to fight “Zionists” in Israel “by any means necessary.” The Jews were presented as “an impure gang” and Zionists as “the worst of mankind.” The video has been posted online by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI-TV). Rather than being embarrassed, much less appalled, the MAC reportedly shared the speech on its official YouTube channel. (It is no longer available.) The incident was widely denounced by the Jewish community. The following year, B.C. Premier John Horgan rescinded a provincial statement of appreciation for Ramadan due to his anti-Semitic statements.
The MAC has also invited Mohammed Rateb Al-Nabulsi. According to a recording and translation by MEMRI-TV, Al-Nabulsi has said that, “Homosexuality involves a filthy place, and does not generate offspring. Homosexuality leads to the destruction of the homosexual. That is why, brothers, homosexuality carries the death penalty…In Canada, if you have a Canadian sexual partner, you are eligible for Canadian citizenship. It’s frightening, we are extremely lucky in our countries.”
That the MAC has invited a speaker like Nabulsi, who attacks our country for protecting the rights of gay people and other sexual minorities, should be extremely worrying for Canadians who value the diversity of their society and Western values in general.
This support for the death penalty for gays and lesbians has been echoed by Abdullah Hakim Quick, featured on the MAC’s website as part of its “Scholars Summit.” He has referred to Jews and unbelievers as “filth” and, like Nabulsi, says that the answer to homosexuality is death. Prior to 2014, Quick was invited to spread his message at the Assalam Mosque in Ottawa (which is not part of the MAC). This mosque was later stripped of its charitable status because, as the Canada Revenue Agency said in a statement, it “allowed its resources to be used for activities that promote hate and intolerance.” This sanction was denounced by the Canadian Council of Imams as an example of “Islamophobia.”
There is no sign that the trend of problematic guests at MAC events is in retreat. The MAC’s most recent national conference, held in Toronto at the beginning of July and entitled “Thriving in the Path of Allah,” boasted an invitee list as contentious as previous events. Among the invitees included a return visit by noted homophobe Al-Nabulsi.
Also in attendance was Muhammad al-Shinqiti, a Mauritanian academic. Al-Shinqiti recently distinguished himself by calling Amir Khoury, a Christian Arab policeman in Israel who was killed in the line of duty during a terrorist attack, a “traitor” for giving his life to protect Israeli and Ukrainian citizens. He has also heaped praise on the controversial Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has issued fatwas condoning the murder of Americans in Iraq and has issued statements supporting Palestinian suicide attacks in Israel.
In response to media coverage pointing out the hateful nature of the public pronouncements of some of the invited speakers to its 2022 conference, MAC issued a statement claiming this was “a blatant attempt to discredit a respectable Canadian institution and renowned Muslim scholars” and, further, was evidence of “Islamophobia.” The statement argued that that the MAC’s teachings and events are grounded in its values of “justice, mercy, peace, respect, security, equity, dignity and equality.”
This is the MAC’s standard approach to criticism. It attacks its critics as bigots and promotes its own viewpoint as reflecting the values of modern Canada. And while expressing hatred for Muslims because they are Muslim is an abject thing that must not be tolerated in Canada, it is incorrect to use the term “Islamophobia” to describe all criticism of Islam or Islamic groups. Criticism of any religion or organization is a legitimate and necessary facet of any pluralistic society that values freedom of speech and independence of thought. It is not some sort of mental illness.
Perhaps the clearest perspective on the MAC’s views can be found in the results of its $225,000 contract with the Ontario government to produce a set of educational videos meant to combat Islamophobia. The series “Islam Awareness” was released in December 2021 and entails approximately 50 videos comprising six hours of content meant for students, teachers and guardians in the school system. The videos cover numerous topics about Islam and reactions to it. As such, it provides a significant window into the organization’s political and religious demands. It is often difficult to discern the MAC’s commitment to “justice, mercy, peace, respect, security, equity, dignity and equality” from watching the videos.
In the 20-episode module “Dismantling Islamophobia in Schools,” each segment begins with the “teacher” quoting or referring to the Koran. Presenter Asma Ahmed, for example, begins one lesson by reciting in Arabic, “In the name of Allah, the most merciful, the most merciful.” This is the sign of an acolyte reciting a prayer or invocation, not a subject-matter-expert neutrally delivering information. The MAC appears to be proselytizing in Ontario schools to young people who are ostensibly there to learn. It is impossible to imagine any educational component of the Ontario curriculum beginning with an invocation to the Bible or Jesus.
Without explanation or evidence, Ahmed claims that adherents of Islam are the victims of discrimination and should receive the same protection as Jews. Yet all Canadians already have the same legal protection against discrimination – including Jews and Muslims. In a subsequent episode Ahmed claims there is a “Global Islamophobia Industry” involving Zionists, Christians and feminists conspiring to spread hatred towards Muslims. The only explanation for this comes from books written by Islamist authors. In another video, the MAC presenter makes the bizarre argument that hostility towards Muslim women is responsible for the PTSD suffered by Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan, by arguing that “gendered Islamophobia” was responsible for Canada entering the war in the first place.
The videos also complain about the observance of Christian religious holidays in the school system, suggesting this too is Islamophobic. Worse, the series claims our entire legal system has the same defect. As the MAC’s video producers and presenters see it, the practice of separating politics and religion – what Canadians call secularism – is yet another manifestation of the many-headed monster known as Islamophobia. This principle, of course, differentiates Western societies from the Islamic religious theocracies that the MAC appears to admire, and is a bulwark both for the protection of our liberties and to ensure that people of all religions – or no religion – have the same rights and protection under our laws.
Targeting Law Enforcement
The MAC’s agenda does not confine itself to the educational establishment. In April it launched a lawsuit against the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), demanding it end a long-running audit of the organization. “The audit is a textbook example of prejudice and discrimination,” a MAC statement read. It claims its religious rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms have been infringed by the CRA’s insistence on carrying out its duties. The MAC is also pressing for a moratorium on any further CRA audits of other Islamic organizations. And the Trudeau government appears to be contemplating just such an accommodation. Last year, for example, the prime minister publicly declared that the CRA should not “target” Muslims.
The group has also lashed out at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), complaining that its practices are also discriminatory. How? In seeking to identify and prevent extremists from entering Canada, uniformed officers question those who arrive at our borders, some of whom are Muslim. That’s also Islamophobic in the MAC’s eyes. Last year, in the lead-up to a “National Action Summit on Islamophobia,” the group demanded that Ottawa commit to reforming all its federal law enforcement agencies, including not only the CRA and CBSA, but also the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, “among other government agencies.”
The apparent goal of this effort is to exempt the MAC and other Islamic organizations from nearly any bothersome government scrutiny. “Systemic Islamophobia in government institutions is among the most serious aspects of anti-Muslim hate,” the group alleges in its open letter. The same claims can be found in the MAC’s Ontario video series meant for schools.
And yet continued government vigilance is not without foundation. In 2014, the MAC was found by the RCMP to have contributed funds to IRFAN-Canada, a federally-designated terrorist organization that sent $14.6 million to Hamas, itself a terrorist group. Hamas violently took over the Gaza Strip to establish a theocracy whose goal is the elimination of the Israeli people. MAC denies it has had any connection to IRFAN-Canada since 2011.
Being Raped by Islamic State Terrorists “Promotes Islamophobia”
It appears that the MAC’s desire to impose its theocratic beliefs on the broader Canadian society is now bearing what many Canadians would regard as bitter fruit – namely, the suppression of legitimate views in the name of countering “Islamophobia.” Last fall, for example, the Globe and Mail reported that the Toronto District School Board had sabotaged the activities of a Toronto-area book club for teenaged girls with which it normally partners. Called A Room of Your Own, the book club holds virtual discussions with authors while an invitation is sent to students and teachers to promote the event in their classes.
School authorities suddenly decided to prevent students from attending two lectures, one of which featured Nadia Murad. The problem? In 2014, the then-20-year-old Iraqi Yazidi woman was kidnapped into slavery by the terrorist group Islamic State, where over three months she was repeatedly beaten, burnt and raped. Murad escaped and made it to safety in Germany, where she wrote her autobiography and began campaigning against human trafficking and the use of sexual violence as a tool of war. The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State was published in 2018, and that year Murad shared in the Nobel Peace Prize.
Murad’s incredible journey appears to have become irrelevant in the Ontario education system because the priority in the province’s schools now is to fight “Islamophobia.” It seems the school bureaucracy is working hard to track down anything that might deviate from this new doxa. Thus these bureaucrats of tolerance took aim at the book club, as it appeared that Murad’s testimony could have given students “bad” thoughts: they might question Islamist terrorism, which in turn might promote Islamophobia. When the story broke, school board officials denied any censorship was involved and pleaded it was simply a “misunderstanding.”
The bitter fruit: In the name of fighting Islamophobia, the Toronto District School Board suppressed sharing the story of Iraqi Nadia Murad, who was enslaved and raped by the Islamic State, escaped and wrote The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, later sharing in a Nobel Prize.
This, unfortunately, is where Canadian multiculturalism has led us. In the name of openness and tolerance, we tolerate hateful messages and open our schools to those who associate with them. At the same time, anyone who contradicts our national diversity dogma is shunned or expelled, even a heroic and internationally-renowned activist who defied the Islamic State, works to end the trafficking of women and has shared a Nobel Prize.
Critical inquiry lies at the heart of the search for truth and is part of the foundation of Canada’s democracy. Placing one religion beyond criticism is not a sign of tolerance or diversity. It is a sign of delusion.
Frédéric Bastien has degrees from the Université de Montréal and the Institut universitaire des hautes études internationales de Genève, teaches history at Dawson College in Montreal and is the author of La Bataille de Londres. The opinions he expresses are his alone.
Source of main image: The Canadian Press Images/Mario Beauregard.