By Amira Elghawaby
July 10, 2015
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 line-up 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
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
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
Amira Elghawaby is the communications director of the National Council of
Canadian Muslims (NCCM).