Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
The National Council on Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is getting support from Canadians of all faiths in its plan to sue the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for accusing it falsely of having “documented ties to a terrorist organization.” NCCM has demanded that the PMO retract the accusation and apologize.
Foreign Minister John Baird, asked for evidence about NCCM’s alleged ties to terrorists, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Canadians should go to Google and “come to their own conclusions.” He didn’t say why the government took no action if NCCM had violated the law.
I found nothing in Google that says NCCM is tied to Hamas. As Omer Aziz, a Cambridge University scholar, wrote in the Globe and Mail: “The NCCM was previously known as the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) Canada branch. Its ostensible parent organization had been established in 1994 by three leaders of the Islamic Association of Palestine, a group a US court found to be linked to Hamas. The federal judge in that case recently acknowledged CAIR’s argument that the evidence produced by the US government “largely predates” Hamas’s designation as a terrorist organization. The only “link” between today’s National Council of Canadian Muslims and Hamas then, is that an earlier incarnation of NCCM was loosely tied to an organization that was founded by three individuals from another organization two decades ago that had links to Hamas. If this absurd chain of guilt-by-association is confusing, it should be: it is the equivalent of calling someone a racist today because they knew someone who was racist twenty years ago. One expects this palling-around-with-terrorists drivel from Sarah Palin, or a haranguing drunk in a bar, not the office of the prime minister.”
I wrote in the Saudi Gazette that it would be a mistake for NCCM to sue the PMO. I received supporting letters, including those from imams and others. But two respected Canadian Muslims disagreed. One wrote that legal recourse is justified and that NCCM has done it before successfully. The other stated that if NCCM does not sue the PMO the charge would stick and those associated with NCCM and their families, could be hounded by security agencies.
This might have been plausible if NCCM had taken the PMO’s allegation lying down. It didn’t. Executive Director Ihsan Gardee denounced the accusation publicly and challenged the PMO to substantiate its allegations. He explained in the Toronto Star why NCCM plans to sue the PMO. His article produced an avalanche of supporting letters.
Canadians have ridiculed the PMO’s crude allegation. Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada, spoke for many when he said that the allegation “is particularly troubling in the wider context in which outspoken voices of dissent, both inside and outside of government, have faced serious repercussions when they advanced views unpopular with the government. That has led to a growing climate within circles whereby voices are being silenced.”
Diana Ralph wrote: “As a Canadian Jew, I am appalled that the Prime Minister’s Office would slander National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) as having terrorist ties. NCCM is Canada’s most conscientious and reputable Muslim civil liberties organization. It is a responsible and essential voice of reason, integrity and human rights for all.
“NCCM had pointed out that the PM’s delegation to Israel included a prominent Islamophobic spokesperson and a representative of the Jewish Defense League, correctly labeled a terrorist organization in the US. The Harper government responded to this legitimate concern by attacking the messenger. This is consistent with other heavy handed attacks on free speech.
“The Tories slashed the funding for the Canadian Arab Federation when its executive director raised concerns about the PM’s support of Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2009-10. It also slashed the funding of Kairos Canada for speaking out for Palestinian rights. And it funded and endorsed the Canadian Parliamentary Association to Combat Anti-Semitism’s attempts to make it illegal to criticize Israel. Shame on the PMO.”
NCCM’s denunciation of the false charge earned it support from Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian and British Columbia Civil Liberties Associations, the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims and many other organizations. The government is known to muzzle its own ministers, public servants, scientists and others. There is no evidence that Canadians, including the security agencies, are taking the accusations seriously.
Why take an action that could be expensive and time-consuming, promote further Islamophobia (the media are carrying reports of the trial of some Muslims for planning terrorism in Canada), and distract Muslims from their major challenge — uplift the vulnerable in the community (mentally ill, victims of violence, youth turning to drugs, violence and crime and so on) — and gain the trust of fellow Canadians?
Why not devote the money and energy that would go to the court case to galvanize Canadians from coast to coast for political work? The federal election is just a year away. If Muslims participate massively, donate and volunteer their time to politicians and parties that favor sensible policies on the economy, human rights and dignity, justice, education, ecology and foreign policy they would make Canada an even better country for themselves and for all Canadians. Why not go that route?
— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.