Canada Calling – Sarajevo Mayor Visits Toronto Audience
By Faisal Kutty – More than 11,000 people have been killed and 60,000 wounded in Sarajevo alone since April 1992 when the city was besieged by Serbs, says Dr. Tarik Kupusovic. Kupusovic, the Muslim mayor of Sarajevo, was the guest of honor at a fundraising event in Toronto organized by the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) of the University of Toronto and the Bosnian Canadian Relief Association (BCRA).
More than one thousand people were in attendance at the mayor’s first public appearance in North America on Oct. 24, 1995. Dr. Kupusovic told the multicultural and multireligious audience that he came on behalf of all the people of Sarajevo, not just the Muslims. He said the city’s current population of 360,000 includes about 45,000 Serbs, 25,000 Croats and a few hundred Jews and Gypsies who all are equal citizens and equally targeted in this war—though he did admit that “this is not a war between ethnic groups but a war against Muslims.”
The mayor talked about how the various groups lived peacefully prior to the Serb assault and land grab. But about two dozen protestors outside the lecture appeared to disagree. They waved signs like “Muslims Terrorize Balkans for 600 Years” and “Muslims-Terrorists.” Protest leader Alex Dimitrijevic claimed that the mayor was only representing the Muslims. “This is a man coming on a humanitarian mission from a multi-ethnic city,” responded Sofiya Adelman, spokesperson for the BCRA. “He is trying to get aid for Muslims, Serbians and Croats.”
The harassment did not begin on the night of the program. In the days before the lecture, the MSA noticed that posters for the event were being torn down systematically. The MSA continued to replace the posters but then hate graffiti including phrases such as “Die Muslim,” “Death to all Muslims,” and “Serbs are the Chosen People” began appearing on posters.
When this prompted media criticism, the harassment took on a new form. According to Hussein Hamdani, chairperson of the Committee for the Mayor of Sarajevo’s Visit to Toronto, “When the local media picked up on the hate, they changed their tactics and started writing ‘canceled’ on the posters.” Sasa Marinkovic, president of the University of Toronto Serbian Students’ Association, as well as a number of other Serbian groups, have said that their groups disagreed with the graffiti and did not have any part in defacing the posters.
Hamdani, a graduate student in political science, says he received at least one death threat, warning him to cancel the event for his own good. In view of such incidents the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the local police increased security for the mayor. The Hate Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan Toronto Police also is investigating the poster graffiti because it advocated death against an identifiable group.
Dr. Kupusovic, who became the mayor of Sarajevo in April 1994, spoke about how tenacious the city’s residents are. In spite of the danger, underground schools and universities organized in small groups began operating throughout the city soon after they were officially shut down. The people have a great craving for normalcy, says the 42-year-old former academic. “We can’t think of a fourth winter without food, water and shelter.”
He called on Canadians to support Bosnians and said that “moral support is the first step toward some concrete support.” An engineer by training, he told the attentive crowd that he hoped to raise finances from international humanitarian groups, non-governmental organizations and foreign governments to help rebuild his city and “restart its economy.”
The mayor also stressed the importance of cultural, educational and technical exchanges between Canada and Bosnia. On this front, the Canadian public appears ready to assist. Hamdani says he has received a number of proposals from professors offering assistance ranging from help with the rebuilding of pipelines in Bosnia to general assistance in rebuilding the war-ravaged nation.
The lecture was one of the main events in the mayor’s one-week visit to Canada organized by the BCRA, a Toronto-based relief organization. Aside from a few other fundraising speeches, including one at the Holly Blossom Synagogue, the BCRA also arranged meetings with the mayors of Toronto and Etobicoke. At the time of writing they were trying to arrange meetings with the mayors of Ottawa and Montreal as well as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. For information or to contribute: BCRA, Unit 209, 4174 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke, Ontario, M8X 1X3, tel. (416) 236-9411 or fax (416) 237-0656.
Canadian Muslim Groups Distance Themselves From Louis Farrakhan
The Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association (CMCLA), a Toronto-based Muslim advocacy group, led a group of Canadian Muslim organizations in issuing a statement against some of Minister Louis Farrakhan’s teachings in anticipation of negative fallout from the “Million Man March.” The group’s fears were proved right. The media coverage did not distinguish between Islam and the Nation of Islam.
In Toronto about 50 men from the Black community led by the Black Action Defense Committee marched to Queen’s Park (Provincial Legislature) to show their solidarity with marchers in Washington, DC.
The statement endorsed by the Islamic Center of Toronto, the Islamic Foundation, Voice of Islam and the Islamic Circle of North America (Canada) stated: “Some of Farrakhan’s teachings—revolving around Black supremacy, the divinity of W.D. Fard and the prophethood of Elijah Muhammad—are clearly antithetical to mainstream Islam, which has an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 adherents in Canada.”
“We don’t agree with Farrakhan’s theology and racist teachings,” says Irfan Khan, communications director of the Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association, “but we understand the frustration felt by African Americans and support them in their struggle.” The statement approved of the Nation’s emphasis on self-help, struggle for equality, discipline, commitment to family values and empowerment of the Black community, but opposed the Nation of Islam’s racist teachings.
The Muslim position received widespread coverage in the mainstream media throughout Canada. Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith Canada said, “It has taken courage by these Canadian Muslim organizations to come forward and to state officially that Farrakhan’s teachings are discriminatory and in fact are a violation of the universal message of Islam.”
CMCLA Receives Apology on Behalf Of Muslim Community
In September the Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association received two complaints from Muslim women wearing hijab (Islamic head scarves) about discriminatory treatment. The first involved three women who were harassed by undercover security staff from the Hudson’s Bay Company, one of the largest department store chains in Canada, ostensibly because of the way they were dressed.
Two men allegedly followed the women around the store in an effort to mock and intimidate them. Two trips to the manager’s office were to no avail. The manager, when given a description of the men, denied that they could be security. During the second meeting with the manager the women noticed a photograph of one of the men on the wall. He was identified as the “loss prevention supervisor.” The women’s request to meet the men to inquire as to what they were doing was denied by the manager. Perhaps because of the hijab, during the later meeting, the manager reportedly remarked to the women—all three of whom are university students brought up in Canada—that she also was a new Canadian.
The CMCLA contacted the Hudson’s Bay Company head office and informed it of the incident and the aftermath. A vice president was appointed to investigate the matter. In a letter to the CMCLA the company subsequently wrote, “The Bay wishes to apologize enthusiastically for this incident…We are most pleased to have had the opportunity to review this matter and hope that your community realizes they are always welcome at the Bay.” In a separate letter the manager involved apologized to the women and wrote, “I can personally assure you and the Muslim community that this type of incident will never recur.”
To obtain more information or to contribute: CMCLA, Unit 13, 27 Lapsley Rd., Scarborough, Ontario, M1B, tel. (416) 321-2087, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAF Campaign to Free Palestinian
The Canadian Arab Federation and the Solidarity Committee With Wahid Baroud staged a protest on Oct. 21, 1995. The demonstration in front of the Immigration Minister’s Toronto office attracted about 50 people, despite bad weather conditions.
Baroud, a Palestinian who came to Canada in 1990, has been detained since June 6, 1994 pursuant to a Security Certificate signed by the minister of immigration, Sergio Marchi, and the solicitor general, Herb Gray. Since then, the only contact Baroud has had with his wife, who has successfully obtained refugee status, and five children, two of whom are Canadian citizens, has been through a glass divider.
Many observers believe that the government is resorting to detention in cases involving Arabs and Muslims even in situations with very little justification. A statement released by CAF states: “Like Baroud, several individuals from Arab, Iranian and Kurdish communities, among others, have been detained for long periods of time (some for over two years) with no chance of appealing their detention or arguing their case in court. This amounts to administrative detention, illegal under International Law.”
In Baroud’s case, upon his arrival in Canada in 1990, he was interrogated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and he did not hide the fact that he had been a member of the PLO. Nevertheless, his detention order was issued only in 1994.
In response to a letter written at the request of the Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association by New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Svend Robinson, Minister of Immigration Marchi wrote that the detention was justified on the ground that Baroud is “a member of an organization that there are reasonable grounds to believe is or was engaged in terrorism.” This is even though the Federal Court of Canada held that there was no evidence that Baroud took part in any terrorist operations.
The Canadian Arab Federation, Al-Shura, Voice of Islam, the Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association and others are calling on the minister to release Baroud as he does not constitute a security threat to Canada.
For information: Solidarity Committee With Wahid Baroud, 5298 Dundas Street W., Islington, Ontario, M9B 1B2, tel. (416) 231-6850.
Faisal Kutty is a free-lance writer based in Toronto.
Note: First Published: December 1995, Pages 36, 112
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