How Prime Minister Trudeau can prove that he is serious about fighting Islamophobia

Last June, I watched the Islamophobia summit that was held online. From the beginning until the end, I sat patiently for long hours listening to speaker after speaker who came to share their own experience with Islamophobia, or to present some of their research and activism on the topic, or to the politicians presenting the policies or legislation they were suggesting to fight Islamophobia.

It is the Liberal government who agreed to hold this Islamophobia summit after the deadly Islamophobic attack in London, Ontario when a young Canadian man drove his truck into a Canadian Muslim family, killing four members and leaving the youngest boy an orphan.

It is under the pressure of several members of London, Ontario community and the outrage and shock expressed by many Canadians that the summit was put together.

I had mixed feelings about the summit.

One on hand, this sort of public stunt can be very politically useful in dispensing with most of the anger and the fear that many Muslim Canadians felt and expressed immediately after the horrible event. It was a high-profile event, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke, several of his ministers did show up and spoke as well as activists and academics. Muslims can feel that their issues matter, and they are being given some attention.

On the other hand, an event is never enough. A day is never enough to address all the issues and angles related to Islamophobia. The speakers were somehow selected, either through the government channels or pushed forward from particular advocacy groups. Forgotten were many voices speaking about themes like national security and Islamophobia, the war on terror and Islamophobia, media and Islamophobia. Perhaps both topics and speakers were picked in an effort to sterilize the discussion in order to not make some politicians feel uncomfortable: a sort of “Islamophobia-washing.”

Just a few months after the Islamophobia summit, an election was called by Prime Minister Trudeau in a bid to flip his minority status into a majority one. Needless to say, his bid failed and we are back to a Parliament that almost mimics the previous one: a minority Liberal government with a Conservative official opposition and the NDP holding the balance of the power. If there was a major difference between the pre-election landscape and the post-election one, it would be the emergence of the People’s Party of Canada of Maxime Bernier, which gained more than 800,000 votes; an unprecedented move opening the door to official hate, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in Canada.

During the leaders’ debate, I don’t remember once hearing the word Islamophobia as if the killing of three generations of the same family motivated by hate wasn’t enough to bring the topic into Canadian affairs.

In his address during the Islamophobia Summit, Prime Minister Trudeau said:

“Today, I’m here to listen to you on what our next steps should be to continue building a country where everyone is welcome, safe, and respected. This is not your burden to carry alone. As a society, this is everyone’s responsibility to take on.”

Later, he added “The politics of division cannot take root if we refuse to be divided. Hate cannot creep into the mainstream if we all speak up against it.”

In order to make the organizers of the summit on Islamophobia accountable and to help Prime Minister Trudeau and his new government stay faithful to his words, I think it is important to set some concrete objectives. We must make the fight against Islamophobia a clear one and not a simple public relations pre-electoral performance that would be forgotten until the next Islamophobic attack.

One of the issue that I didn’t hear during the Islamophobia summit was the strong link between the Canadian national security laws and Islamophobia. As if the two past decades of war on terror with what they brought as new anti-terrorism legislation, war in Afghanistan, spying and arrests of Muslim Canadians had no impact on shaping the narrative about the “dangerous nature” of Muslim Canadians and thus the banalization of their physical harm.

This link is key in understanding the state of Islamophobia in Canada. We can’t claim to fight Islamophobia while in the imaginations of many Canadians, (prompted by some media and some politicians), Muslims still represent a threat to “us.”

To fight this narrative and break the false premise that Muslims represent a threat to our national security, concrete actions should be undertaken by the new government.

I consider the three following cases to be litmus tests for Prime Minister Trudeau to prove he is serious about his statement at the Islamophobia summit about what he said “next steps should be to continue building a country where everyone is welcome, safe, and respected.”

Since 2008 until today, Hassan Diab’s case has remained in a legal limbo. In theory, Diab is a free man but with the real possibility to be extradited to France for another trial. Despite a French judge finding the evidence that he was in Lebanon at the time of the Synagogue attack which he is suspected of bombing in 1980, Diab’s case isn’t closed. Under the pressure of the family, victims and other advocacy groups, a new trial will open, and his extradition will once again be requested.

What does Islamophobia have to do with it?

Diab is a Canadian citizen of Muslim Lebanese descent. The fact that he is suspected in a case of Paris Synagogue bombing makes his case intertwined with the dangerous narrative of “violent Muslims.” The legal treatment of his case showed many times a relentlessness in indicting him that can’t be explained other than by the regional origins and religion of Diab.

Several times, the case of Hassan Diab has been compared to the case of Dreyfuss, a Jewish French military officer who was wrongly accused by his superior of treason because of the ambient antisemitism that prevailed French politics in the 19th Century.

The prevalence of Islamophobia in France is very well documented. Diab found himself caught in those French politics.

Sending an innocent person to France as a sacrificial lamb for some advocacy groups or  to appease the French far-right national politics with another “Arab” conviction is wrong.

With the recent nebulous statement by former justice minister David Lametti about changing our extradition laws, the case of Hassan Diab remains hanging between the hands of Canadian politicians. What is preventing the government from  having enough courage to fight for the rights of one its own Muslim citizens?

Double standards for the two Michaels

From 2006 until today, Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen of Uyghur descent, remains in prison in China despite having renounced his Chinese citizenship. Because of his activism for the Uyghur cause, he was arrested by authorities in Uzbekistan in 2006 and extradited to China where he was sentenced to life in prison. Later, his sentence was reduced to 18 years after he attended a re-education camp, according to Chinese authorities.

His wife, Kamila Telendibaeva living in Ontario with her four children, was interviewed recently and confirmed that she had no news about her husband.

Here’s where the Islamophobia comes in.

Several human rights organizations have documented the prosecution of Uyghur in China. The U.S. Senate passed a law to ban goods manufactured in the labour camps in Xinjiang by Uyghurs. There is evidence of Uyghurs being forced to eat pork and being disallowed to learn their religion in these so-called re-education camps. Uyghurs would not be persecuted if they were not Muslim.

With the recent return of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to Canada, the case of double standards seems very obvious. A strong government campaign was organized for the release of the “two Michaels.” In contrast, Canadian officials have been troublingly silent about Huseyin Celil.

In order to prove that all Canadians are treated the same and that he is serious about fighting Islamophobia, it is crucial that Prime Minister Trudeau call his Chinese counterpart and ask for the release of Huseyin Celil.

There are at least 32 Canadians detained in the refugee camps in northeast Syria. The majority of them are women and children. Many European countries repatriated their citizens from those camps where diseases and violence are widespread.

Despite former public safety minister Ralph Goodale having previously declared that Canada is gathering the legal tools and evidence required to prosecute whomever committed acts of violence during their time in Syria, whether they joined the arms of ISIS or found themselves in situations where they were forced to act against their will, almost nothing has been done by the Trudeau government. Recently, a lawsuit was filed by the families of 26 Canadians detained in these camps against the government to challenge this inertia and pressure the Canadian authorities to repatriate these Canadians.

Islamophobia or being nice to the “terrorists”?

By repatriating the Canadians detained in Syria, Trudeau will be able to break this persistent and misleading link between violence and Muslims. Whoever participated in acts of violence, for ideological reasons, whether Muslim or not, should be brought to court and given due process.

Alexandre Bissonnette killed six Muslim men in the Quebec City Mosque, Guilherme Von Neutegem slaughtered a Muslim caretaker of the Etobicoke Mosque, Nathaniel Veltman killed a grandmother, a mother, a father and their daughter by driving his truck into them in London, Ontario. All these Canadian men were motivated by ideology-driven hatred of Muslims. Yet, those three perpetrators received due process.

Why don’t we do the same for Canadians who went to Syria to join extremist groups? Release them if they are innocent or prosecute them if they committed crimes.

Leaving the Canadians detained in Syria to rot in camps is not proof of political leadership. Keeping quiet about Huseyin Celil isn’t a sign that Trudeau is serious about Islamophobia.

Avoiding the case of Hassan Diab and not changing the extradition laws will only help to continue the normalization of Islamophobia in Canada.

This article was originally published at rabble.ca

Omar Khadr’s Case A Black Stamp On Canada’s Human Rights Record

Canada is in celebratory mood this year, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Confederation. The Canadian government has been funding cultural initiatives here and there to promote the diverse communities living together and to bring the multicultural aspect of Canada.

Internationally, Canada is portraying itself as an open country, accepting refugees from war ravaged countries like Syria. A sort of the antithesis of the American policies recently announced by U.S. President Trump to ban refugees. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes himself as a feminist, taking selfies with young Muslim girls in hijab. A sharp contrast with the previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, whodefunded the Ministry of Status of Women and dehumanized Muslim women by fomenting the niqab debate.

However, amidst this festive and open atmosphere, there is a dark cloud that keeps the rays of the sun from reaching everyone. The case of Omar Khadr is a black stamp on Canada’s human rights record.

Omar Khadr was a child when he was imprisoned by the Americans in the military base of Bagram and later airlifted to Guantanamo Camp, where he was forcibly kept for over a decade. He was subject to physical and psychological abuses. He was betrayed by successive Canadian governments: Liberal and Conservative alike wanted him to stay in jail, far away from the public eye and TV cameras. No other western country dealt with its citizens detained in Guantanamo like Canada shamefully did.

Along these years, some prominent Canadian voices rose up to denounce the treatment of Omar Khadr, but they were not enough to deter the Paul Martin government, and later the Harper government, in refusing to call for the repatriation of Omar Khadr. In fact, then-prime minister Harper and his cabinet ministers kept justifying Omar Khadr’s incarceration by the fact that he was convicted in the killing of a U.S. paramedic. Needless to say, this conviction came as the result of a plea bargain Omar Khadr had made with his American jailors to gain his transfer out of the Guantanamo prison.

Even when Omar Khadr was returned to Canada after the insistence of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he was immediately imprisoned and kept there for three more years.

These days, the case of Omar Khadr has slipped under the radar. Even some human rights activists think that the return of Omar Khadr back home would mark the end of his tragic story. But it wouldn’t. Omar Khadr never received any apology for the treatment he was subjected to in Guantanamo.

For instance, in 2008, Canadians officials flew to Guantanamo specifically to interrogate him and were never interested in his well-being. They offered to buy him a burger and some treats to get information out of him. When he understood that they were there for their own professional interests and not for helping him, Omar Khadr, became uncooperative with them. The Canadian officials pushed him to say what he clearly didn’t know. This behaviour is reprehensible and should be denounced. Unfortunately, Canada never distanced itself from the actions of its officials despite the reprimand of the Supreme Court ruling declaring that Omar Khadr’s rights were violated under the Charter of Rights.

Dennis Edney, the Canadian legal counsel for Omar Khadr, has been a hero in defending his client. Not only did he defend Omar Khadr under difficult circumstances, but he also accepted him in his home and protected him as one of his own children. Recognizing the work accomplished by Dennis Edney on behalf of Omar Khadr should be celebrated by all Canadians and not fought or hidden.

Recently, Omar Khadr had to undertake a 19-hour-long surgery on his shoulder as a result of bullet wounds he suffered when he was shot in the back by the U.S. military. This serious surgery will undeniably delay Omar Khadr’s efforts to progress in his studies and life.

Omar Khadr was stripped of his rights as a child, as a teenager and later as an adult. Today, he is trying hard to put his life back on track and get the education that was denied to him all these past years. As long as Omar Khadr file is still lingering, Canada won’t be able to hide its dark face and celebrate its record on the world scene. It is time for the Canadian government to act swiftly and let the sun shine on Omar Khadr’s life.

This article was published on the Huffingtonpost: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/monia-mazigh/omar-khadr-canada_b_15948786.html

Lettre à un écrivain emprisonné

Que la paix soit sur vous cher Zuhair Kutbi.

Que la paix soit sur votre esprit et votre corps. Cet esprit et ce corps que la prison, le harcèlement, l’intimidation et l’acharnement tentent chaque jour et chaque instant de faire taire, de faire courber, d’effriter et de détruire. Cet esprit et ce corps qui résistent à l’injustice et à l’arbitraire.

Cher Zuhair Kutbi, vous ne me connaissez pas et je ne vous connais pas. Nous ne nous sommes jamais rencontrés, mais en lisant sur vous, j’ai eu l’impression de lire une histoire que je connais tellement bien. Une histoire avec laquelle j’ai grandie et que j’ai maintes fois entendue dire et redire. Une histoire ou peut-être même une berceuse qu’on chante aux petits mais qui fait peur aux grands. Ceux qui oublient qu’ils étaient un jour petits. C’est l’histoire d’un homme qui réfléchit, un homme qui pense, un homme qui lutte pour un monde meilleur pour les siens et pour les autres. Un homme qui se veut une voix de raison dans un monde déboussolé. Un homme qui a choisit l’écriture comme arme contre l’obscurité, contre la corruption, contre l’oppression.

Un homme qui n’utilise pas des bombes ou des grenades pour tuer, pour mutiler ou pour décimer ses ennemis mais un homme qui choisit des mots, de la prose et des phrases pour convaincre, partager, illuminer et rêver. Un homme qui a été injustement arrêté et emprisonné. Un homme soustrait à sa famille et éloigné de ses amis. Pourquoi? Parce que vous avez osé réfléchir dans un monde où on ne réfléchit plus. Parce que vous avez osé critiquer dans un monde où on ne critique plus. Parce que vous avez simplement aimé votre peuple dans un monde où on n’aime plus.

Cher Zuhair, je vous admire pour votre courage et pour votre témérité. Je vous admire pour avoir parlé alors que des milliers comme vous ont choisi de se taire et plutôt plaire. Je vous admire parce que vous aurez pu avoir la vie facile et devenir un « écrivain perroquet ». Oui, un écrivain qui répète ce que les Maitre veulent entendre, un écrivain qui avant même de rédiger une phrase, pense au préalable au bonbon qui lui serait offert par les Maitres. Voilà tout simplement ce que c’est un « écrivain perroquet ». Ce genre si répandu et qui ne pense qu’au bonbon qui est le plus souvent enrobé de sucre mais dans lequel se trouve un poison dangereux. Un poison qui tue à petit feu, un poison qui nous efface la voix graduellement et nous confisque la raison. Un poison qui après un certain temps, nous rend aveugle, sourd et muet. Un poison qui nous fait perdre notre capacité de discernement.

Cher Zuhair, merci de résister. Ne vous sentez pas seul dans votre prison. Il y a des écrivains comme vous qui chaque jour, pensent à vous et vous parlent de loin. Il suffit de tendre l’oreille vers le loin. Loin, du pays des ours polaire et des phoques, du pays de la foret boréal et de la toundra. Pour ces écrivains, vous donnez le courage, pour ces écrivains vous redonner l’espoir, pour ces écrivains vous offrez un des plus beaux cadeaux. Le cadeau qui consiste à trouver un but pour son écriture, un but à l’amour, un but à la vie!

Chez Zuhair, votre lutte et votre résistance nous aide aussi dans nos propres luttes. Surtout ne vous sentez pas seul. Nous pensons à vous, nous nous inspirons de vous, vous êtes un « écrivain phare ». Celui qui nous éclaire le chemin, celui qui se tient fort et debout, celui qui ne baisse pas l’échine pendant la tempête, celui par qui le changement arriverait.

Ce changement dont vous rêvez et dont on rêve tous, viendra un jour, j’en suis sure. Ma certitude, je la puise de notre humanité commune, de nos luttes communes et de nos espoirs communs. Il y a quelques années, un homme que je n’ai pas connu, mais qui a vécu dans le même pays que le mien. Un homme qui comme vous vient du désert. Le désert qui créé des hommes forts et résilients. Ce désert chaud le jour et froid le soir, c’est le lieu des rencontres, c’est le lieu des contraste, c’est le lieu de la vie et de la mort. Cet homme là, dont je vous parle a lui aussi été un incompris, un homme avant son temps, un homme de mots, un homme de rêve. Il avait dit :

Lorsqu’un jour le peuple veut vivre,
Force est pour le Destin, de répondre,
Force est pour les ténèbres de se dissiper,
Force est pour les chaînes de se briser.
Avec fracas, le vent souffle dans les ravins,
au sommet des montagnes et sous les arbres
disant :
“Lorsque je tends vers un but,
je me fais porter par l’espoir
et oublie toute prudence ;
Je n’évite pas les chemins escarpés
et n’appréhende pas la chute
dans un feu brûlant.
Qui n’aime pas gravir la montagne,
vivra éternellement au fond des vallées”.

Je sens bouillonner dans mon cœur
Le sang de la jeunesse
Des vents nouveaux se lèvent en moi
Je me mets à écouter leur chant
A écouter le tonnerre qui gronde
La pluie qui tombe et la symphonie des vents.
Et lorsque je demande à la Terre :
“Mère, détestes-tu les hommes ?”
Elle me répond :
“Je bénis les ambitieux
et ceux qui aiment affronter les dangers.
Je maudis ceux qui ne s’adaptent pas
aux aléas du temps et se contentent de mener
une vie morne, comme les pierres.
Le monde est vivant.
Il aime la vie et méprise les morts,
aussi fameux qu’ils soient.
Le ciel ne garde pas, en son sein,
Les oiseaux morts
et les abeilles ne butinent pas
les fleurs fanées.
N’eût été ma tendresse maternelle,
les tombeaux n’auraient pas gardé leurs morts”.

Aboulkacem Chebbi

Et c’est par ces mots que j’aimerai terminer ma lettre à vous cher Zuhair. Je vous laisse sur ces notes qui vous connaissez certainement mais que j’ai tellement voulu partager avec vous. Pour vous expliquer la raison de mon espoir et pour ouvrir une brèche dans votre cellule et laisser pénétrer la lumière. Cette lumière que malheureusement vos geôliers ne sauraient voir mais que seulement, vous, moi et tous pleins d’autres pourrions distinguer. C’est cette lumière qui éclairera nos chemins vers la liberté.

Que la paix soit sur vous.

Dr. Zuhair Kutbi est emprisonné, interdit d’écriture, en Arabie Saoudite pour avoir critiqué le régime et suggéré qu’il devrait y avoir une monarchie constitutionnelle. Cette lettre a été lu lors d’un évènement au Salon du livre de Trois-Rivières, Livre Comme l’Air, en collaboration avec Amnistie Internationale.

Islamophobia: an entire system and not few isolated acts

It is sad that it took a tragic event to gather to denounce what has been normalized in the last long 15 years.

It took the killing of six good fathers, hard working men, to start talking about what has described the lives of Muslims communities across Canada.

Today, some people are saying that this happened in Quebec because it is a closed society or because they have trash radios that incite all day to hate and racism. These are simplistic explanations; they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Racism, xenophobia, discrimination has been rampant in the past years in Canada and specifically after 9/11. They have been normalized by some media and some politicians and legislation.

It is a general problem. It is not only specific to Quebec City or the province of Quebec; it has been growing in many cities across Canada:

Remember the two Muslim girls who were threatened last fall in Edmonton by a man who was singing the national anthem and showing them a noose. Today this man has not been charged.

Remember the Muslim woman wearing a scarf who has been attacked in the supermarket in London Ontario by a screaming and violent woman. Last June 2016

Remember PEGIDA, this xenophobic anti-Muslim group that was able to hold a protest in Toronto last June 2016.

Remember the Mosque of Peterborough that has been burned last November 2015.

Remember the Muslim woman here in Ottawa who found an offensive and racist note telling her to go back home also in November 2015

But most of all remember what Canada has done since 2001:

The introduction of Bill C-36 the first antiterrorism legislation that took many of our rights away and most of all demonized Muslims as if they are a threat to the security of Canada.

Remember all the security certificates cases that targeted Arab Muslim men: Mahjoub, Jabalah, Almari, Charkaoui, Harkat. Whose wife, Sophie was speaking at teh begining of the rally and who is until today still threatened by imprisonment and torture if deported? If the treatment of these men is not the culmination of Islamophobia to its ugliest form, how else can we justify their imprisonment without due process, the spying on them, their harassment, the stigmatization of their children and their families forever?

We shouldn’t forget the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015.

It was introduced by Harper with the blessing of Trudeau and the liberals. What was described as a lone wolf attack was followed by the most invasive, the most discriminatory and most likely unconstitutional piece of legislation that targeted Muslims, First Nations, environmentalists groups and many other activists.

But that was not the only islamophobic shameful legacy left by Harper and his government:

Remember The Barbaric cultural practices act, The Niqab ban at the citizenship ceremony, the use of the word mosque as an example where terrorist plots are being plotted and what Harper called “Islamicism” as the biggest threat to Canada.

My friends, this is what we are fighting today. Not some isolated acts. Not few bad apples. But a system. A whole system that dehumanized entire communities, a system that created two classes of citizens and two sorts of laws. One for the criminals and one for terrorists aka Muslims. One for citizens and one for refugees. One for the strong and wealthy one for the poor and the vulnerable.

Our solidarity today is needed more than any time before. Working hand in hand with groups and communities will be our path to victory. Today more than any time before, we need to talk to each other, get to know each other and support each other.

And please remember that all is not dark and depressing. There are people around us who are not filled with hate. There are people around us who do not believe the fake news and won’t accept the dehumanization of the Others. The won’t accept there is us and them. There is only US together. Those people are here today and we will not give up until things will be better and until injustice stops.

This is my speech given at the rally held in Ottawa against the Islamophobia and for the refugees on February 4, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando Shooting: Using tragedies to push for Anti-Muslim agenda

In 2004, I run as a federal candidate for the New Democratic Party in the Ottawa South riding. I run in the midst of the same-sex marriage debate in Canada. My position was the following: as a religious person, I couldn’t vote for the same-sex legislation but as I human right advocate I couldn’t oppose rights to other groups who have been persecuted and oppressed. So I decided that in case I will be elected, I would abstain from voting.

My decision was harshly criticised from both sides. Within some party supporters, I wasn’t “progressive” and “liberated” enough. I was just a conservative Muslim wrapped in a scarf, some of them even said Burqa, trying insidiously to impose my backward Muslim views to the party and to Canadians. On the other side of the spectrum, for many Muslims (who anyway voted for the Liberal party and forgot that same-sex marriage legislation was introduced by then Prime Minister Paul Martin) I was a traitor to my religion and beliefs, an opportunistic who simply wanted to get elected.

And I wasn’t elected and both sides were relieved, I imagine.

Today, after the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, once again Muslim religious beliefs are on trial by some media and by some politically motivated groups pushing for their Islamophobic agenda. It seems that each time, there is a violent attack organized by individuals, who happens to be Muslim or have a Muslim name, the whole Muslim religion is on the bench of the accused. After 9/11, the trial was “Islam is inherently violent. It is against freedom and liberty”. After, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015, the trial grew even bigger to include this time “Islam is an angry religion against freedom of expression” and recently after the killing of 49 people in the gay nightclub in Orlando, the newly brought accusation is “Islam is a religion that incites for hate towards homosexuals”. These narratives built on centuries of ignorance about Islam and on deeply entrenched orientalist attitude, quickly become absolute truth and unchallenged especially in some media. As a result, one Muslim representative after another is invited on TV or radio to defend Islam from these stereotypes but the more these defensive reactions are made the more people started to believe the opposite and thus perpetuating the stereotypes.

After 9/11 attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan was made legitimate on the back of Muslim women wearing Burqa. Georges Bush, his wife and Cheryl Blair, wife of Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, all of them used “feminist arguments” to justify the war in Afghanistan. Everyone became feminist over night when it came to liberate Afghan women from Burqa. Even the most misogynistic groups and individual in the US came to agree with the liberation of women. Not totally, as long as it isn’t affecting some American internal policies like abortion for example. And the US troops were sent to Afghanistan. They killed, women, children and men. They arrested, imprisoned people and tortured them. But definitely, they didn’t liberate women.

After Charlie Hebdo attacks, the hypocrisy of the world reached some unprecedented peaks. In a show of solidarity to the French government and to the sacred French values of liberty and freedom of expression, many dictators attended a solidarity rally to show that they support freedom of expression. It didn’t matter if back home these leaders crushed their own people and whether they restrained their freedom of expression of their own. Once again, higher values like freedom of expression is used to divide the world between the “civilized” and the “barbaric” with Islam on the side of the barbaric. Thus, brushing aside centuries of colonialism and post colonialism. Also, feigning to forget that Muslim communities in France have never been accepted in the mainstream media or political circles and that the ongoing marginalization of the Muslim youth, especially boys and young men, is in big part a reason for them to reject French values and join violent ideologies.

With the Orlando attacks, the acceptance of homosexual rights, which is a legitimate mouvement, became the litmus test for Muslims to pass from the “bad Muslims” camp to the camp of the “good Muslims”. Even if those tests are conducted by groups who have been long time fighting LGBT rights with money and policies and guns. As for women’s rights, many discovered themselves overnight pro-LGBT rights as long as the issue, make Muslims and Islam look homophobic and violent.

Islam is not the only religion that doesn’t accept homosexuality. So why are the calls today are directed exclusively to Islam to re-examine its attitudes? Why aren’t we talking more about the extremists white supremacist Christian groups celebrating the killings of homosexuals or the heavy presence (in numbers and in funding) of US evangelical Christians in Uganda for instance, and their role in passing the “Kill the gay Bill” in 2014?

Using women rights, freedom of expression, LGBT rights, as wedge issues to demonize Islam and Muslim should be questioned as this will serve to only to make some bigots more confortable in their bubbles and speeches and won’t help us to see and get to know all the ongoing discussions and diversity of opinions of Muslims on these issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you on the terrorism blacklist? Maybe, but you can’t do anything about it.

Last week, a Vice News investigation revealed that a terrorism blacklist database, known as World-Check and founded in 1999, contains 2.7 million entries, many of them Muslim individuals and organizations.
This list is not a scientific compilation of data; rather, it’s a controversial list that many victims suspect of ruining their lives. Indeed, some non-profit organizations based in the U.K. believe that this list is the sole reason behind the sudden decision of banks to freeze their accounts with no explanation.

World-Check claims that it uses reliable and reputable information about individuals and organizations but they were unable to explain the listing of Mohamed Iqbal Asaria, a British national who was a former World Bank and Bank of England adviser and who was given a Commander of the Order of the British Empire award in the 2005 Queen’s Honours List for services to international development.
Websites run by anti-Muslim proponents like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson are some of the sources used by Word-Check to support their allegations and include names on their list.
According to Vice News, the World-Check list is consulted by 300 government and intelligence agencies, 49 of the 50 biggest banks, pre-employment vetting agencies and nine of the top 10 global law firms.

The question is: how many Canadian individuals and organizations are on the list and is this list being used by our government or other Canadians agencies? If it turns out to be the case, how many individuals have been unduly affected by it?
In Canada, the Financial Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre (FINTRAC) came out of an act addressing money laundering. After 9/11, the legislation was amended to include terrorist financing activities. Thus, FINTRAC was born.

Its mandate is to “facilitate the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities, while ensuring the protection of personal information under its control.” Even if it is explicitly stated that the personal information under the control of FINTRAC is protected, it remains unknown to the public whether FINTRAC has used the services of World-Check and whether it relied on this information in their internal investigations.
Two senior World-Check employees speaking under the condition of anonymity admitted that over an eight-year span, they had never seen a single case of “delisting.” So basically, once you are on the list, you will stay there forever.

What is worrisome is that World-Check isn’t even a government organization regulated by measures and overseen by an independent body; it is a private company that sells data to governments, banks and employment agencies and makes its profits from what is written on the Internet about people.
In a world more and more obsessed with security and where security has become a commodity valued, traded and sought after, companies are building, with zero accountability, a billion-dollar profit industry. Meanwhile, the livelihood and the reputation of innocent individuals and organizations don’t seem worth much, if anything at all.

This article has been previously published on rabble.ca

Will the Canadian government shed light on the no-fly list?

It is a shame that a number of Canadian toddlers and young children are being humiliated at the airport in the name of extra security checks and delayed in boarding their plane with their parents. How as a society have we reached this level of complacency, accepting that such actions are “normal” under the pretext of living in security?
The recent promise by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to open an investigation into the case of six-year-old Syed Adam Ahmed, whose name appears on Canada’s no-fly list, isn’t enough and here’s why.
In 2007, when the Passenger Protection Program (PPP) — copied on the U.S. model — was established in Canada, the Canadian government at the time failed to produce any concrete evidence of the efficiency of such a program. Canada was under a lot of pressure from the U.S. government to have this program and prevent “unwanted” travellers from boarding planes. The problem with this list is that it is shrouded in secrecy. The number of persons listed is not public. It is estimated to be between 500-2,000 persons. The government refused to release the exact number, claiming that this might help the terrorists in their plans to attack or harm us.
Here we have to distinguish between two categories of passengers: those who are denied boarding and those who are delayed boarding a plane.
In the case of the children presented in recent media reports, we are dealing with the second category. It is known as a “false positive.” In other words, these are people who do not represent any threat to security but are going to wrongfully end up on the no-fly list.

Since 2010, the government has been aware of this problem and hasn’t taken any concrete measures to correct the situation. Rather, I suspect the situation has worsened since we now have cases of children brought to us as “false positives.”
This is what Director General of Aviation Security at Transport Canada, Laureen Kinney, declared more than five years ago to the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations about this topic:
“The other point that I might raise is that there have been approximately 850 potential false positive matches that our people have handled in the three years of the program…”
So at that time, this was already a huge number; I wonder how many cases we have today? Why can’t Mr. Goodale give us this number?
Another disturbing question worth mentioning is why this six-year-old boy kept being delayed through the years even though Transport Canada claims that the list is refreshed every 30 days. Indeed, this is what Ms. Kinney said at the same committee in 2010:
“As I mentioned, the list is reviewed every 30 days. It is a built-in process. There is a meeting of the committee that looks at the Specified Persons List. We look at the list every 30 days in that process. The meeting is held without fail. The names that come forward for consideration deal with people who have demonstrated, in some fashion, the capability and intent to pose a threat to aviation security. Absolutely, it is not based in any way on ethnic, cultural, religious or other such factors. It is purely about what has happened, what has been done and what the specific facts of the individual are. Evident from the statistics of the program, the small number of people who have been matched indicate that is the case and it is applied that way in practice.”
So assuming Syed Adam Ahmed’s name was mistakenly added the first time and then brought to the attention of Transport Canada officials, we would expect that they would have refreshed the list after 30 days so his name should have been erased by the second or third attempt at boarding a plane, but Syed Adam Ahmed’s parents said that this ordeal was repeated each time they tried to board a plane with their son, until recently.
And finally, there is the whole question of redress. In a democracy, there must be a judicial review process to accompany any government program to avoid arbitrary decisions and human mistakes that may occur. With these “false positive” cases, there is no such process. People affected are left with no recourse except the media.
Now that more and more parents are coming forward with similar stories about their kids being stopped and delayed in boarding their plane, it is time for the government to act swiftly. An investigation isn’t enough. A total revamp of the no-fly list is needed as well as the implementation of a transparent judicial review that would allow everyone who has been prevented from travelling or delayed in flying to get the explanations they deserve.
Yesterday evening, Minister Goodale issued a statement promising that the government will hold public consultations on the PPP to make sure that Canadians will remain safe while upholding our democratic values. This is a very promising step. It is overdue.

This article was previously published on rabble.ca

Toward a Two-Tier Society

When Bill C-36 — otherwise known as the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act — was first introduced in Parliament, many human rights advocates and legal experts opposed it. One of their main arguments was that Canada didn’t need a specific law to fight terrorism — that the Criminal Code was more than sufficient to allow law enforcement to bring charges against terrorists.

When Bill C-36 (later called the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2001) was first introduced in Parliament, many human rights advocates and legal experts opposed it. One of their main arguments was that Canada doesn’t need a special and specific anti-terrorism legislation; its criminal code is strong and detailed enough to allow law enforcement agencies to bring charges against terrorists.

Bill C-36 was adopted a few months after 9/11. Many thought that would be the exception because of that tragedy but today we can look back and safely say that it was only the beginning of a series of legislation specially tailored for suspected terrorists.

What Bill C-36 did to our legislative landscape isn’t “simply” the introduction of new additional invasive powers granted to intelligence and police forces but rather the fundamental idea that terrorism is a unique offence that should be fought with a fundamentally different set of tools. Basically, the new era post-9/11 allowed the creation of a new world with two parallel justice systems: one for the “usual” criminals and one for the terrorists.

When Canada fought gangs and organized crime mobs in the 90s, the police adapted their tactics to the nature of the “work” this sort of criminals were conducting. Obviously, the police techniques changed to allow more infiltration and more targeted surveillance but once the members were arrested and charged, it was still the same criminal code that applied to them and not any new law that was specifically adapted for gang members.

We do not claim that terrorism shouldn’t be opposed with adapted techniques. Indeed, it should be. But we believe the emphasis should be put on other levels: prevention, political, economical and social policies, and education. And once terror suspects are brought to justice, we believe that they should be judged according to the gravity of their actions and not whether they were labelled as criminals or as terrorists.

This parallel justice system doesn’t stop there. In 2014, the Conservative government came up with a new citizenship law, Bill C-24. Part of this bill became law in May 2015. The new law took us further down the road paved already by the first Anti-Terrorism Act : a road toward a two-tier system. The victim this time is citizenship.

Before Bill C-24, revocation of citizenship was limited to naturalized Canadians who acquired their citizenship by false representations. With the new legislation, dual citizens (naturalized citizens or citizens who were born in Canada but could claim citizenship in another country through one of their parents, notwithstanding that they may have no ties with that country) can have their citizenship stripped away from them if they commit terrorism, espionage or treason. However, if you are born in Canada and can’t be eligible for another citizenship (through marriage or through your parents or any other legitimate reason) then you can keep your citizenship, no matter the nature of the crime you committed.

The new grounds for revocation are broad and appear to be connected to the loyalty to Canada. However, as the Canadian Bar Association pointed out, it is not clear why the loyalty of dual nationals should be put into question more than that of other Canadians. And it is also not clear why our loyalty to Canada should determine our citizenship. Isn’t that another way to divide the society into the ones who seemingly loves Canada and thus do not speak out and the ones who seemingly hate Canada and criticize it. What is the fine line between criticism and hate? This is a slippery slope and we are on the top of it.

Finally, the new process of revoking citizenship doesn’t involve a judge (except in limited circumstances where the Minister decided to hold a hearing), making the system “cost and time efficient” according to the government. There is no accountability and no process to appeal the minister’s decision. Once again the government justified this new legislation by the threat of “Jihadi Terrorism”. And, once again, the end result is the creation of a two-tier system: one for “privileged” Canadians and another one for “supposed terrorists dual citizens.” including those who have been exonerated by a court but the government still consider as terrorists.

And to confirm the relevance of this new legislation, since last June, the government has sent notices of citizenship revocation to a few convicted terrorists.

One of these targeted individuals is Zakaria Amara, who was born in Jordan and has dual citizenship. He was convicted for his role in the Toronto 18 terrorism plot. In a tweet sent by Jason Kenney, the Defence Minister, after the news that Canada revoked the citizenship of Amara, Kenney mentioned that Amara hated Canada so much that he “forfeited his own citizenship” by plotting to murder hundreds of Canadians.

So the blame is not that this new citizenship act created two separate treatments for Canadians but it is the hate this person has for Canada that legitimizes stripping him of his Canadian citizenship. Kenney wouldn’t even use the words “revocation”, “exile” or “banishment”. He only used “forfeited”. As if Amara decided on his own to drop his Canadian citizenship.

This is clearly very ideological position that shouldn’t prevail in a democracy. Our love and hate for a country – our loyalty – cannot and should not determine the legitimacy of our citizenship. Amara didn’t like Canada and was ready to kill innocent people, and as a consequence he was punished with a life sentence of imprisonment. Why do we have to double the punishment and revoke his Canadian citizenship? Can’t he be rehabilitated? Can’t the hate he felt at some point in his life be replaced one day with compassion and understanding? Is sending him back to Jordan going to make us feel safer? Isn’t Canada part of a coalition to bomb the Islamic State and one of the arguments of this bombing is that we have to get rid of the terrorists over there so they don’t come to us. So how sending convicted terrorists to that region make us feel safer? And how is a country like Jordan to react at the prospect of receiving a convicted terrorist? Will they accept him or will he become stateless? Will he be tortured there as further punishment or as a way to try and get information on terrorist suspects or terrorist plots?

Terrorism is an ongoing threat, nationally and internationally. In using it as an excuse to keep us safe, the current Canadian government is creating a two-tier system of justice, a two-tier citizenship and a two-tier society. On the surface, the target is the bad terrorists who have no one to blame except themselves. But on a deeper level, it is all of us, as a divided and weakened society, who are losing the essence of our laws, of our citizenship and of our democracy.

A modified version of this article appeared on ipolitics.

Harper’s recycled anti-terror rhetoric is getting tired

Obviously, the national security experts advising Prime Minister Stephen Harper are not doing a good job. They seem to be whispering new measures into his ears — from the outside these might look new, innovative and effective in fighting terrorism, but in reality when you get closer and on further examination, they’re nothing more than recycled old measures that already exist, hidden in the multiple layers of successive anti-terrorist laws that have been adopted since 9/11.

Of course that doesn’t necessarily make the Anti-terrorism Act 2015 (ATA 2015) look any better, but it makes the prime minister look redundant in his rhetoric and frankly, not very well advised.

Perhaps I am wrong in my quick judgment and it’s the communication staff suggesting these re-packaged anti-terrorist measures, to make them better suited for an election context, “punchier” and more dramatic. I don’t know.

So either national security experts or his communication staff advised Stephen Harper to declare that if re-elected, he would introduce a ban on travel to regions of the world controlled by terrorists.

My point here isn’t to prove how unconstitutional or how flawed this promised new measure is. As, indeed, I totally believe it is. The proposed measure not only restricts the mobility rights of individuals but also aligns Canada with dictatorships that stop their citizens from leaving their home countries to travel to destinations of their choice.

With this logic stretched a bit, are we going to soon expect a travel ban on popular “pedophile destinations” or a ban on “sex tourism destinations” or maybe even a ban on “wedding destinations” since travelling to Cuba or Mexico or Las Vegas to have your wedding might be considered by some as helping the economy of other countries while harming our own economy?

So now let’s go back to the first question: what makes this measure redundant?

Last January, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-51, now known as the Anti-terrorism Act 2015. This law enacted a new piece of legislation named the Secure Air Travel Act. This new legislation would allow the extension of the Canadian “no-fly” list, already established in 2007 under the Passenger Protect Program (PPP). In the PPP, Transport Canada shares information with air carriers about passengers — including name, date of birth, and gender — on the “Specified Person List.” This list is established by intelligence officers, police officers and senior bureaucrats who meet at regular periods and make their recommendations to the public safety minister. If the carriers find a passenger matching the list provided by Transport Canada, then they are bound by law to inform the transport minister, who might decide to issue an “emergency direction” — only if she thinks there is a threat to aviation or public safety. That is the old system.

With the ATA 2015 and under the new provision pertaining to travel, the same list will remain in effect, but it will include the name, date of birth, and gender of any person that the public safety minister:

“has reasonable ground to suspect will engage or attempt to engage in an act that would threaten transportation security or travel by air for the purpose of committing an act or omission that is an offence under certain sections of the Criminal Code, including participation in an activity of a terrorist group, facilitation of terrorist activity, or the commission of an offence for a terrorist group.”

With the new legislation you don’t need to pose a threat to the plane itself — you can be added to the list and thus prevented from travelling if there is reasonable ground to suspect that you are travelling to commit a terrorist act abroad.

But even without ATA 2015, such a measure of banning someone from travelling to areas controlled by terrorist groups already existed in Canada’s Criminal Code.

In 2011, Somali-Canadian Mohamed Hassan Hersi, designated in the media as a “terror tourist,” was arrested at the Toronto airport, prosecuted, and in 2014, sentenced for trying to leave Canada to join a militant group, al-Shabab, in Somalia. Despite all the lingering questions around the circumstances that led to Hersi’s decision to leave Canada, his possible entrapment and radicalization by an undercover police officer who befriended him, Hersi was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He is the first Canadian to be convicted of joining an overseas terrorist group. Hersi was not even charged under the amended Criminal Code of 2013 (the Combatting Terrorism Act or Bill S-7) — he was charged under the Anti-terrorism Act 2001. So that would prove we don’t need Bill S-7, Bill C-51 or even this new measure contemplated by Stephen Harper. Canadian judges already have all the necessary legal tools needed to prevent people from travelling to undesirable destinations.

In the Maclean’s leaders debate, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told Stephen Harper that whoever advised him that it’s constitutionally valid to stop appointing senators “needs to go back to law school.” Well, Harper is not a lawyer, but his national security adviser or communication staff should definitely follow her advice.

This article was published at rabble.ca

Rendition: Canada, Sweden and Denmark share the same barbaric practice

What factor is common to Canada, Sweden and Denmark? The snow, perhaps? The cold weather? The social programs? Or maybe smoked salmon?

How about rendition to torture? And how about cooperation with the intelligence authorities of countries which practice torture with total impunity? These may be some of the darkest common factors shared by the three countries, ones that not everyone is aware of.

In Canada, the cases of Maher Arar, Abdullah Al-Malki, Ahmed el-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin happened between 2002 and 2004.

These cases became publicly known and sparked a huge outcry. Two inquiries were ordered into their cases. But even if Maher Arar was cleared from terrorism suspicions by Justice O’Connor and awarded compensation, the recommendations made by Justice Iacobucci regarding compensation for the other three men have never been followed by the government. Canadians found out from both inquiries that these four Canadians, all Arab-Muslim citizens, were detained in Syria, and tortured by Syrian officials in the same facility known as the Palestinian Branch of Syrian Military Intelligence. What’s even more troubling is that both Canadian judges found that Canadian intelligence officers shared information about their own citizens with Syrian officials and didn’t hesitate in using this information, knowing that it was coming from the dungeons of one of the worst prisons run by the Assad regime.

A tragic pattern

In Denmark, the scenario of this tragic pattern is not any different. In the Al Jazeera documentary Outsourcing Torture, we learn that in the mid 2000s, three Muslim-Danish citizens had a similar fate to the one met by their Canadian counterparts. The only difference is the country of torture: Lebanon.

Ali Ibrahim is a taxi driver of Lebanese descent who had been living in Denmark with his family. In 2006, he was approached by PET, the Danish intelligence service, to become an informant. He refused and PET threatened to make his life miserable.

Hassan Jabbar is a cleric who came as a refugee from Iraq and was living in Denmark for years. He was repeatedly interrogated by the intelligence service for his work with charities in the mosque. And finally, the documentary presents us with the case of Abu Abdullah, who kept his identity secret, as he is still worried about what PET officers could do to him.

The pattern is simple and diabolic: meet with an intelligence officer, refuse to become an informant, arrest takes place in a country with a poor human rights record, torture, interrogation, imprisonment without charge and eventual release.

The three men were arrested during a family visit to Lebanon. Ali Ibrahim was arrested in 2006. Four gunmen arrested him on the streets of Tripoli in front of his wife and children.

He was interrogated by Lebanese intelligence for a week and then released. Immediately after his release, he tried to leave the country to go back to Denmark but was prevented from doing so at the airport. He was arrested and then released a few times. Each time he was transferred from one prison to another and each time he was tortured. He even stayed in the infamous Roumieh prison in the Block B section known as  the “Block of terror.” A UN report, released in 2014, documented the systematic use of torture in Roumieh prison.

All three men declared that they were interrogated and tortured by Lebanese officials and all of them were either explicitly told, or implicitly understood, that the Lebanese torturers were acting under the instructions of Danish intelligence officers.

Ali Ibrahim spent one year in solitary confinement and then two more years with other prisoners before he was able to go back to Denmark. He was suspected to have helped his brother, suspected of terrorist activities, by adding money to his phone card.

Hassan Jabbar was arrested in 2007 by Lebanese officials. In one of his interrogation sessions, the Lebanese interrogator told him “if you didn’t have a EU passport, we would have lynched you by now!” He was later released. No charges were laid against him.

Similarly, in 2010 Abu Abdullah was arrested in Beirut during a family visit. When he was leaving the country, he was stopped and transferred to a detention centre run by the Lebanese Ministry of Defence. He was held there for 21 days, interrogated and tortured by Lebanese officials. He couldn’t leave the country until he was cleared through Danish intelligence.

The pattern repeats

And how about Sweden?

The Swedish stories are as scary and troubling. Immediately after the events  of 9/11, Swedish officials decided to deport two Egyptians citizens who came to Sweden as asylum seekers: Mohammed al-Zari and Ahmed Agiza were handed to CIA operatives operating in Sweden who transferred them to Egypt. Both men were suspected by the Swedish and American governments of terrorist activities.

The Swedish government obtained diplomatic assurances from Egyptian authorities that the men wouldn’t be tortured or subjected to the death penalty and would be given fair trial. This assurance is equivalent to the one you get from a hungry lion to not eat a live rabbit.

Indeed both men ended up in prisons where they were tortured. al-Zari was released after two years without charges. Agiza was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a military tribunal and released in 2011.

It is only in 2004 that these two cases became known to the Swedish public. Human Rights Watch closely followed the cases in Egypt and in Sweden, and in 2008 both men were awarded compensation by Swedish authorities for the damages they endured. Both men were granted permanent residence permits by Sweden.

If the Canadian and Swedish victims of rendition received some sort of recognition for the suffering they received through this barbaric treatment, the Danish victims remain looking for answers to their cases. No inquiries or legal actions have been initiated yet. After many years, the victims live in fear under the shadow of what happened to them.

The globalization that many of us feared in previous years for destroying our local economies, the specificities of our local culture and education systems is alive and well in the “national security” field. The cases mentioned in this article represent clear evidence that countries known internationally as leaders in human rights and champions against torture are being caught up in this new web of globalization that outsources everything from manufacturing clothing to torture.

This column was initially published at rabble.ca