Media Neglect Sources of Homegrown Islamist Extremism
September 18, 2010
By Rory Leishman
[Note: The following column was scheduled to appear in The London Free Press on September 11, but was rejected for publication by the newspaper's Managing Editor Joe Ruscitti.]
Following the arrest of three more Canadian citizens on terrorism charges last month, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews warned: “We are not immune from international or home-grown radicalization. I have said this before: The threat is real and we cannot be complacent.”
Consider the evidence: The great majority of suspected terrorists arrested in Canada in recent years were either born and raised in Canada, or had spent most of their formative years in this country. And the same is true of all 11 of the Toronto 18 suspects who were convicted of conspiring to storm Parliament Hill and set off a series of devastating truck bombs in downtown Toronto.
That’s not all. An Environics poll conducted three years ago found that 10 per cent of a representative national sample of Canadian Muslims admitted to feeling that members of the Toronto 18 were completely or somewhat justified to plan their attacks. How can that be? How could tens of thousands of Muslims living in Canada sympathize with Islamist terrorists who were plotting the greatest mass slaughter of civilians in Canadian history?
Part of the answer can be found in some mainstream Muslim publications in Canada. For example, in July, Al Bilad, a monthly newspaper published in Arabic and English in London, Ontario, featured a poem that glorifies an Islamist homicide bomber who pleads to her mother:
“Yumma, tell my son that I did not abandon him, never!
I did it for his freedom and our peoples (sic) right to be able to live free, forever!
Yumma, tell my husband that he will always be my all,
I know he understands and he knows why I took that call.”
Following the publication of this ode to terrorism in Al Bilad, all Canadians who are alert to the peril of home-grown radicalization should surely boycott the newspaper. Yet the current issue includes advertisements for Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party; Irene Mathyssen, NDP MP for London–Fanshawe; Khalil Ramal, Liberal MPP for London-Fanshawe; Jim Chahbar, Conservative candidate for London–Fanshawe; and Ed Holder, Conservative MP for London-West.
Home-grown Islamist extremists are also liable to draw inspiration from groups like the Muslim Association of Canada, a fundamentalist organization with chapters in 11 Canadian cities. MAC leaders state on their national website: “MAC adopts and strives to implement Islam … as understood in its contemporary context by the late Imam, Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Banna was one of the prime advocates of violent jihad in the 20th century. In Islam`s Predicament: Perspectives of a Muslim Dissident, Salim Mansur, professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario, notes: “Banna preached a dangerous mix of religion and violence…. He is not just the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, but he is also the source of modern fundamentalist politics in the Arab-Muslim world. His teachings evolved and mutated into the politics and terrorism of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.”
Banna has also helped to inspire the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), a terrorist organization banned in Canada. The Hamas Charter lauds Banna as “The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory” and commends his incendiary declamation: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
One might suppose that moderate and peaceful Muslim leaders would repudiate the Muslim Association of Canada as well as all other organizations inspired by Banna. Yet among the speakers in a recent series of lectures presented by the London chapter of MAC were Sheikh Jamal Taleb, Imam of the London Muslim Mosque, and Dr. Munir El-Kassem, Muslim chaplain at the University of Western Ontario and Imam for the Islamic Centre of Southwestern Ontario.
Toews is right: Home-grown radicalization is a real threat. It is confined mainly, but not entirely, within the Muslim community. Surely, Parliament should shake off its complacency and conduct urgent national hearings into how all loyal and law-abiding Canadians can best combat this serious and growing menace to our national security.
Ruscitti advised me that he would not publish this column, unless I eliminated the sentence referring to Imams Taleb and El-Kassem. Ruscitti explained:
As you might imagine for the time it has taken me to send this, I’ve put a good deal into reconsideration, as promised.
So as not to bury the lede, and but for one stumbling block that may yet scupper things (though I hope not), I’m prepared to run the thing.
It comes after much reflection over the content itself, your arguments and a small bit of consultation with colleagues.
While I’d like to think I do my best (and will continue to do so in this new role) to stand firmly behind free speech, the marketplace of ideas, and time-tested distinctions between opinion/columns and news reporting, there is another important distinction to be made, and that is the one that brings us to the stumbling block: the distinction between the roles of a local or community newspaper and a national or international one.
Let me get more directly to the point: Under the banner of free speech, I can comfortably defend (though I may not entirely agree with) your taking to task of Al Bilad and the politicians advertising in it as well as your drawing down of the Muslim Association of Canada when the inevitable calls come.
Where I will run into trouble is when Sheikh Jamal Taleb and Dr. Munir El-Kassem phone.
The rule, at least at The Free Press for as long as I can remember, is if you’re taking someone to task whether by direct call-out or inference and that person is local (by that I really mean within arm’s length of The Free Press circulation area), then that person has a right to a phone call to defend or otherwise their actions, column or not.
There are exceptions, of course — I’m thinking in general of politicians who act for the public and etc — but it’s a reminder I’ve given many times, for example, to [Free Press columnists] Ian Gillespie and Morris Dalla Costa.
Maybe it’s just my rule, I don’t know, and I may not be able to mount a winning argument that such a rule does not round off the edges of the principles of free speech, but feels too much like ambush by pen and not so unlike gossiping behind someone’s back, only in public, if that makes any sense.
In short, if you’ll agree to leave out the second sentence of the penultimate paragraph (“Yet among the speakers . . . of Southwestern Ontario.”), I’ll agree to run the column this weekend.
I’m afraid that’s the best I can do.
And, incidentally, I want you to know I generally agree with the main thrust of the column — bit of a rarity, but there you go.
I responded as follows:
I regret to say that we have evidently arrived at an impasse: I cannot imagine any valid arguments that Taleb and El-Kassem could advance to justify their indisputable collaboration with the Muslim Association of Canada. Besides, given the limited space I have in a 700-word column, I could not do justice to whatever defence they might offer. For these reasons, I have concluded in consultation with others that you should publish the column as is and give Taleb and El-Kassem an opportunity to publish a rebuttal. Only in this way can Free Press readers weigh for themselves the opposing viewpoints on this vitally important and intensely controversial issue as presented by both sides.
Ruscitti disagreed and refused to publish the column. That was disappointing. Even more disturbing is the failure of the Free Press newsroom to follow up on the information in the aborted column: The London Free Press has yet to publish any news report on the poem glorifying an Islamist homicide bomber in Al-Bilad or the collaboration of Imams Taleb and El-Kassem with the local chapter of a national Islamist organization.
What accounts for such neglect? The London chapter of MAC is well known to Free Press editors. On September 4, the newspaper published a letter to the editor stating:
Certainly the London imams and other Muslim leaders I know are concerned not only for the souls of their people, but also for their civic duty as citizens of London and of Canada.
While some young folk may be influenced by radicalism disseminated on the Internet from around the world, anyone who has had teenagers, or worked with them, knows their primary influence is usually their friends. That’s why the Muslim Association of Canada has established a youth centre in London where young people can gather under reliable adult supervision.
I shared a Ramadan iftar (meal) at a wonderful, warm, friendly gathering in the youth centre last Sunday evening.
Surely, the Free Press should inform its readers that the Muslim Association of Canada is dedicated to propagating the ideas of a radical Islamist, Hassan Al-Banna.
The Free Press is not alone in neglecting this story despite its obvious implications for our national security. Neither the National Post nor The Globe and Mail has carried a single report on MAC. While the Toronto Star, CBC and CTV have each published an occasional puff piece on MAC, none has reported its alarming links to Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Macleans magazine stands out as a commendable exception in its coverage of this issue, having carried several reports citing the link between MAC and Banna. For example, in an article published as recently as September 10, Macleans foreign correspondent Michael Petrou noted that Bloc Quebecois MP Meili Faille had gone last year on a $6,000 junket to the United Arab Emirates that was paid for by the Muslim Association of Canada. Petrou wrote:
The MAC, according to its website, “adopts and strives to implement Islam, as embodied in the Qur’an, and the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and as understood in its contemporary context by the late Imam, Hassan Albanna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. MAC regards this ideology as the best representation of Islam as delivered by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).”
The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the primary foundation movements of modern political Islamism. Hamas is a spin-off franchise. Although it has become more moderate in recent decades, the Muslim Brotherhood’s ultimate goal is not to promote the practice of Islam within parliamentary democracies, but to create Islamic states. It is a powerful and spreading movement, and I suppose one could make the argument that Canadian MPs should learn more about it. But I’m especially uncomfortable with a group that champions Hassan al-Banna’s illiberal and anti-democratic agenda footing the bill for one of our elected representatives’ flights and hotel rooms.
In a column, “Canadian takes on Islamist movement“, that was published in the Toronto Sun and also, to its credit, in the London Free Press on April 17, Prof. Mansur reported:
“Point de bascule, or the tipping point, is a Montreal-based French language webmagazine. It is dedicated to explore and expose Islamist activities in our midst, particularly in Quebec.
Point de bascule is the creation of Marc Lebuis, a remarkable French-Canadian with a passionate interest in global affairs and a deep concern about the dangers of Islamism to his country.
Last Thursday, Point de bascule held a press conference open to the mainstream media and public to discuss the latest lecture tour of Tariq Ramadan in Montreal and Ottawa sponsored by Islamist organizations, such as the various chapters of the Muslim Association of Canada, for fundraising purposes.”
Mansur’s conclusion is worth underlining:
“Marc Lebuis and Point de bascule are truly the David in this mighty difficult contest with the Goliath — the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] and their petrodollar support — that would not be the case if the mainstream media and our political representatives were doing their job.”