Imam Certification

The Dissenter and the Senator

Senate report leaves bitter taste with Canadian Muslims

Amira Elghawaby, communications director of the

National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)

Reading this week’s Senate interim report on countering terrorism was spit-out-your-cereal unbelievable.

Thankfully most Canadian Muslims were likely observing their Ramadan fasts when news of it broke; but it’s enough to make anyone lose their appetite.

The report is contradictory in places, nonsensical in others, and at times based on unsubstantiated claims. None of this should come as much surprise to those who watched the at-times farcical Senate hearings which led up to it.

A parade of pseudo-experts on national security, including activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman who has never lived in Canada but was asked to pontificate about the country’s Muslim communities, were woven into a lineup that did include some legitimate experts. They were not enough to save the further discrediting of what is supposed to be a chamber of sober second thought.

The report’s recommendations in fact speak to a prejudicial and colonial mindset among those in high places and should alarm all Canadians.

More than suggesting imams be vetted and certified by the state – clearly discriminatory and patronizing – the report further suggests that community members and leaders need to be vetted as well. In other words, Canadian Muslims need to receive a state-sponsored stamp of approval before participating in dialogue with our government.

Considering the government’s track record when it comes to silencing dissent, with its infamous list of “enemies,” it’s pretty obvious who would or wouldn’t be approved. Good Muslims are those who accept the government’s talking points and refrain from critique. Bad Muslims are those who both critique and march to their own tune.

Once upon a time, colonizers pitted the colonized against one another in similar fashion, rewarding those who were pliant with recognition and relegating the others to the peripheries. These dynamics have no place in a modern democracy.

As our organization and other prominent Canadian Muslim institutions and individuals have experienced, silencing critical Muslims doesn’t simply mean they’re not on the Prime Minister’s Ramadan dinner guest list.

No, silencing Canadian Muslims in this country means accusing them of terrorist leanings, sympathies, thoughts, dreams, what have you. And it means that if they have the wherewithal to defend their reputation against such slander, the government uses taxpayer dollars to fend off their claims.

But even that shouldn’t be allowed to happen, according to another cringe-worthy Senate recommendation. Public officials should be free to defame Canadian Muslims. The report says that: “Government should encourage provincial governments to implement legislation that protect Canadians who are participating in the public discourse from vexatious litigation.”

This would be amusing if it wasn’t coming from the Senate of Canada. Even droller is the suggestion that the government of Canada should police speech. Someone needs to remind Senators that we live in a democracy and that the Criminal Code already provides for the prosecution of anyone promoting hatred, or terrorism. Even speech deemed offensive is protected.

Throughout the hearings on Bill C-51, experts and civil-society representatives advised the government that stricter laws and more invasive policing would not necessarily achieve the goal of eradicating the threat of extremist violence.

What many did learn is that Canadians risk losing cherished civil liberties in this law-and-order strategy that appears to be more about fear and bluster than about protecting Canadians.

This latest report takes this disturbing zero-sum game one step further: deliberately alienating and marginalizing the vast majority of Canadian Muslims and their institutions and making it that much harder for law-enforcement agencies to do their work on a basis of mutual trust and respect.

Given the recent white-supremacist shooting south of the border, and our own cases of right-wing extremism in Canada, it’s startling that the Senate completely ignores what expert testimony and law-enforcement briefings indicate is also a real and significant threat.

The Senate’s interim report is little more than a poorly disguised propaganda piece timed for election season. It’s not a serious analysis of what Canadians require “to counter the terrorist threat in Canada.” At best, it’s a missed opportunity. At worst, it’s a distasteful setback.

First published in the Globe and Mail July 10, 2015

Senate recommendation misunderstood

Daniel Lang, senator for Yukon and chair of the

Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.

As chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, I would like to clarify our recommendation surrounding the training and certification of imams in Canada. I would also like to explain why it appears that the Muslim community has been “singled out” for special treatment.

The carefully crafted recommendation asks that “the federal government work with the provinces and the Muslim communities to investigate the options that are available for the training and certification of imams in Canada.”

Crucially, the recommendation is made in response to testimony from members of the Muslim community as well as experts who confirmed that radicalization begins with person to person or person to group contact.

The witnesses who appeared before the committee over the past nine months continuously brought up the fact that radicalizing messages mixed with religious ideology was being advocated by some foreign-trained imams in Canada.

Professor Salim Mansur told the Committee “Radicalization occurs among Muslim youth when identity politics facilitates their indoctrination into jihadi politics by Islamist preachers and activists in the community” and stated clearly that “if you are not prepared to tackle radicalization and those who radicalize our youth, we will always be playing catch-up.”

Ms. Homa Arjomand, a former Iranian refugee who led the international campaign against Sharia law in Ontario testified that “Under the notion of freedom of religion, the state has legally funded religious schools and centres and placed the children under religious dogma and tradition. With money pouring from Saudi Arabia, Iran and other states, and with [mullahs] and imams being imported to Canada, the result is very obvious. The state has paved the path for more segregation, isolation and discrimination.”

Imam Syed Soharwardy who leads 13 mosques in Canada warned that “there are people preaching open intolerance in this country.” He went on to state that it is this “intolerance ideology that makes a person become a potential recruit for the terrorist organization? This ideology opens the door for recruitment.”

Another member of the Muslim community, Michelle Waldron, whose family has been directly affected by radicalization warned Canadians that foreign-trained imams are “blurring the line between traditional Islam and their politically motivated ideology, which opens the door to violence and strife.” She told the Committee that her son Luqman Abdunnur, who was reportedly under national security investigation was radicalized at a mosque in Ottawa, and arrested three days after the October 2014 Parliament Hill attack. Ms. Waldron call on the Committee to “Create a certification or licensing standard for clergy and religious leaders in Canada.”

While the Committee did not go this far, it felt the suggestion was worthy of further, open exploration, discussion, and debate.

During the course of our hearings, former Liberal cabinet minister and ex-British Columbia premier Ujjal Dosanjh, himself a victim of terrorism, also urged the Committee to consider greater scrutiny of religious institutions.

Muslim witnesses were among those warning about the hazards posed by religious/political interpretations of jihad. Several witnesses pointed out that this doctrine has served as the impetus and justification for today’s Islamist terrorism. There is reason to believe that perpetrators were persuaded that such thinking about “jihad” justified the killing of a uniformed Canadian Armed Forces’ warrant officer in Quebec, the murder of a National War Memorial sentry in Ottawa, as well as assorted Islamist fundamentalist plots and hostilities in Canada and around the world.

Canada is not alone is discussing the options to prevent Islamist radicalization. Some European countries have gone further than what our Senate Committee contemplated.

Since 2004, the Netherlands passed laws prohibiting foreign imams from practicing there, and today, Belgium, France, Austria and Germany are requiring that imams be trained and certified within their country. Confirming our concerns, just last week, France announced it had deported 40 foreign trained imams since 2012, and in Tunisia, where 38 tourists were recently murdered, the government announced that it will close 80 Salafist/Wahabbi mosques. Algeria, which has experienced years of civil war, now has restrictions relating to foreign-trained imams.

We are confident that this recommendation to encourage the Muslim communities to train their religious leaders in Canada, along with the other twenty-four in our Report, are timely, prudent and necessary responses to the security reality facing all Canadians. Daniel Lang is senator for Yukon and chair of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.

First published in the Ottawa Citizen July 16, 2015