Canadian Chronicle – Canadian Islamic Congress Hosts First Conference
By Faisal Kutty – The Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) held a successful one-day conference at the Ramada Inn in Toronto on June 27, 1998. The group, set up last year, aims to establish a national network to empower Muslims in the political, educational, legal and social realms.
“We wish to create an atmosphere to cooperate and exchange information with the greater society,” said Dr. Jawad Minhas, vice president (finance) of the CIC. Minhas, an optometrist by profession, said that “those of us who have a certain love for this country want to contribute to it.” The theme of this year’s conference was “Muslims as a Minority in Canada,” and brought together speakers from Canada and the U.S. More than 150 people from across Canada joined sessions about political participation and media relations. “The single largest group of registrants were students,” said Dr. Minhas, “which shows we’re on the right track.”
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Maher Hathout, senior adviser of the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Hathout, a leading American-Muslim spokesperson, spoke on “Muslims as a Minority, Challenges and Opportunities.” The first panel session of the conference centered on political involvement. Dr. Houchang Hassan-Yari, professor of politics and economics at the Royal Military College, along with Member of Parliament for the Yorkville riding in Toronto Mario Sergio, encouraged the audience to get involved in the political system. The presentations clearly had an impact, as they gave rise to a discussion of whether political affiliation should be on the basis of bloc voting or individual choice.
The second session about media relations provided a great opportunity to present the community’s views on the media to members of the fourth estate. Patrick Martin, foreign editor of The Globe and Mail, and Alison Smith, anchorwoman for CBC News, represented the media, while Professor Jamal Badawi of St. Mary’s University offered the Muslim perspective. Martin said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was at the root of why Muslims are being treated unfairly. He said that Muslims, regardless of their background, are identified with the Middle East. “The majority of Europeans take the side of the Jews,” said the former Middle East correspondent. “They are a little bit more like us.”
Providing specific examples of media bias and unfair targeting of Muslims, Dr. Badawi said: “The media uses the term Islamic bomb but never the Christian, Jewish or Hindu bomb…Terrorism is brutal and does not have any religion.” Smith responded that the fringes and extremists create the news. She asked the audience how journalists are supposed to describe or characterize them. She added that journalists make mistakes and that there are shady ones in the field, but the key to better relations is communication. Smith ended by telling the audience to “encourage your children to join the [media] enemy.”
Both Martin and Smith acknowledged that there is a need for greater sensitivity and better communication between the Muslim community and the media. Dr. Badawi suggested the idea of a directory of Muslims as a resource for the media. “We understand that the media is a business, but they should have the social responsibility and ethics to report on the good and the bad,” he said.
The CIC also presented its first “outstanding contributions to community service” award to Dr. Badawi. The prominent Islamic scholar and activist, a leading spokesperson for Islamic issues in Canada, was selected for the honor for those contributions and others which have gone beyond Canada. The author of several books, he has participated in lectures, seminars and interfaith dialogues in more than 27 countries.
The Canadian Islamic Congress can be reached at 420 Erb Street West, Suite 424, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 6K6, tel. (519) 7461-CIC, fax (519) 746-2929, e-mail: email@example.com.
Toronto Man Convicted of Inciting Hatred Toward Muslims
Mark Harding of “The Christian Standard” has been convicted on three counts of inciting hatred against Muslims. The Metropolitan Toronto Police laid charges against Harding on July 1st of last year. The Criminal Code charge of “wilfully promoting hatred toward an identifiable group” followed weeks of investigation by the special Hate Crimes Unit in response to complaints from Muslims and non-Muslims.
Harding operated a telephone service and published and distributed pamphlets through his organization, The Christian Standard, which describes itself as a “self-supporting group of Christian soldiers serving God and Lord Jesus Christ in Canada and around the world.” Through recorded telephone messages and literature, including a pamphlet titled Are all Muslims living in Canada today Terrorits [sic], the Standard incited hatred against Muslims by charging they are “raging wolves in sheeps clothing” who would terrorize Canadians. The pamphlet also states that Muslims are creating major problems around the world and concludes that “we have the same Muslim believers here in Toronto…”
In a second brochure specifically handed out near the Weston Collegiate high school, the group alleged that Muslim students had turned the school into a mosque. The pamphlet, titled Let’s take a serious look at what’s happening to Western [sic] Collegiate High School, calls on parents to take action against this “threat to our children.”
The trial began with Harding’s defense lawyer, Bruce Durno, trying to prove that Muslims and Christians did not worship the same God. The prosecution relied on the rebuttal of Dr. Jane D. McAuliffe, of the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto, that adherents of Judaism, Islam and Christianity all believe in the same God.
Harding testified that he was a sincere Christian trying to present the gospel to Muslims and apologized for offending Muslims and labeling them terrorists.
During the trial, prosecutor Michael Blain called a number of Muslim witnesses, including Ahmed Mian, who was instrumental in arranging for prayers at the high school targeted by Harding, to testify as to how they felt about Harding’s conduct.
A journalist with the Toronto-based newspaper The Ambition, who also was called to testify and who has followed the case from day one, told the Washington Report she was disappointed that “Only four or five [Muslims] regularly attended the hearings.” She added that the defense tried to put Islam, rather than Harding, on trial. She said the defense painted “Muslims as bloodthirsty killers murdering Christians around the world,” but that the presiding judge, Justice Sidney Linden, was extremely fair.
In the wake of his arrest, a number of organizations around North America have put out statements supporting Harding and asking for donations for his legal defense fund. In fact, another organization calling itself the “Voice of Christian Martyrs” hosts a radio program which regularly attacks Muslims and Islam. Harding has a regular segment on this show, although he has not appeared on the last few shows since he suffered a heart attack in early July.
The sentencing hearing set for early July has been postponed to September in the wake of the appointment of Harding’s attorney to the Bench and Harding’s ill health. The maximum sentence for inciting hatred under the Criminal Code is two years.
Faisal Kutty is a Toronto-based lawyer and free-lance writer.
Note: First Published: September 1998, pages 47, 98
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