One of the cornerstones of the argument over the last few days for keeping me out of the U.K. is the false claim that I "demonize all Muslims" in my critique of jihad and Islamic supremacism. In reality, I point out that Islamic supremacists claim to represent the authentic interpretation of the Qur'an and Islam, that they make recruits among peaceful Muslims with this claim, that most reputedly "moderate" organizations in the U.S. are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood (as has been abundantly established by the Justice Department), and that genuinely peaceful and non-supremacist Muslims have not effectively countered the Islamic supremacist appeal among Muslims.
All these facts are established anew by the tiny turnout at the small number of Muslim anti-terror demonstrations that have taken place. Several years ago a group called the Free Muslims Coalition held what it called a "Free Muslims March Against Terror," intending to "send a message to the terrorists and extremists that their days are numbered ... and to send a message to the people of the Middle East, the Muslim world and all people who seek freedom, democracy and peaceful coexistence that we support them." In the run-up to the event it got enthusiastic national and international publicity, but it ended up drawing about twenty-five people. And that is about as many as this demo in Toronto drew. Now the group appears to be defunct; its website hasn't been updated since December 2011.
"Progressive Muslims group launched in Toronto to reclaim ‘hijacked’ faith," by Wendy Gillis for the Toronto Star, June 17 (thanks to Rick):
Tahir Gora shouts into a microphone, cuing a response from the sparse group of supporters gathered with him at the steps of Queen’s Park.
“Terrorism,” he yells.
“Unacceptable!” they reply.
Their voices carry across the grassy Legislature grounds that are, with the exception of a few bike cops and pedestrians, deserted. A stack of unused signs, their slogans reading “Hate is not my religion” and “Love it or leave my Canada,” lean up against a nearby pole.
Mighty but small, it was not quite the turnout the newly formed Progressive Muslims Institute Canada had in mind for their first rally, held last week. As one of the organizers mused with a chuckle, there were more white faces than brown in the crowd of roughly two dozen.
But when the goal is as big as reclaiming a faith many Muslims feel has been hijacked by terrorism, you’ve got to start somewhere.
“We thought, enough is enough,” said Gora, the institute’s director and a Pakistani writer and social activist.
The quick succession of Islam-linked terrorism — the Boston Marathon bombing, the alleged plot to derail a Toronto-bound train, the killing of a British soldier in London, among others — was the final push for Gora and a handful of other activists to officially band together, Gora said. Part of umbrella think tank Canadian Thinkers’ Forum, the institute is the latest Canadian Muslim group promoting progressive ideas, including gender equality, separation of church and state, and condemnation of terrorism.
But while many Muslims have long been denouncing the actions of fundamental Islamist extremists, there remains a reticence among some to speak out.
“It’s 25 years that I’ve been in Canada, but I haven’t seen the Muslim community come out to protest,” said rally attendee Rasheed Nadeem. “There are progressive people, but they are silent. They do talk, but in their dining rooms.”
Fear plays a role, said Arshad Mahmood, honorary director of the new progressive Muslims group — “fear of being an outcast, fear of social boycott, fear of being trashed by certain extremist priests,” he said.
Saadia Ali Bokhari is a well known activist in the GTA Muslim community, and has spoken out on controversial issues including supporting the ban of face coverings in Canadian citizenship ceremonies. Because of her activism, she says she has been the recipient of hate and threats.
Last month, she participated in a downtown rally protesting the suspected vote-rigging in Pakistan’s recent election. After a photo of her at the rally was posted online, Bokhari began receiving harassing and threatening messages. She said her brother and sister in Pakistan were also contacted by people saying Bokhari needed to stop speaking out.
Bokhari believes some people are offended by the idea of a vocal, confident woman. “This is what they are doing to discourage me,” Bokhari said.
Mahmood, a Mississauga mortgage broker who moved to Canada from Pakistan in 1999, says another factor keeping Canadian Muslims from demonstrating is the false sense of security that Islamic extremism won’t affect Canada.
“That is a mentality that develops with some people to stay in a comfort zone — as long as it doesn’t happen on my street, I’m comfortable,” he said. At the rally he apologized for falling victim to this thinking, saying: “I am sorry that I didn’t stand up when my religion was being hijacked.”
For some Muslims, terrorism is so foreign to their idea of the Muslim faith that it seems odd to have to decry it, says Max Khan, an Oakville town councillor active in the Muslim community, because “we don’t identify ourselves as being a terrorist group.”
But he believes that community leaders and imams still have a responsibility to condemn terrorism.
“I do hold people who sit on the sidelines accountable,” Khan said.
There is frustration, however, that Muslim statements decrying violent extremism are falling on deaf ears. Dr. Aliya Khan is a member of an interfaith group in Peel and has been working to spread the message that Islam is peaceful. She says many imams are regularly denouncing terrorism, but the media aren’t covering their statements.
This is an oft-repeated claim, but it is absolute rubbish. The media is avid to find moderates, and routinely runs glowing puff pieces about reputed moderates, including some who turn out to be anything but. That's how Anwar al-Awlaki ended up getting praised in the New York Times, which hailed al-Awlaki on October 19, 2001 as one of "a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West."
In December, for instance, several international imams in Toronto for a large conference spoke out against extremist violence and “there wasn’t a peep from the media,” Khan said.
“The imams are feeling very frustrated, and they say ‘we’ve condemned this a billion times, we don’t know what to do,’” she said....
Act against it. Teach against it. Condemnations are not enough.