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Human Rights lawyer Matas says there are

By Rhonda Spivak, October 13, 2010

Liberal Member of Parliament Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre) has spoken out against  the  cancellation by Canada’s  Defence Minister Peter Mackay of    a planned speaking engagement in honour of Islamic Heritage Month in Ottawa  by  Imam Zijad Delic, executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

In a statement posted on the website of the  Liberal Party  on October 6, 2010  Neville said "Imam Zijad Delic was asked to speak because his mandate has always been one of breaking down misconceptions and prejudices and creating a better dialogue between faiths."

Mackay  made a decision to prevent Imam Zijad Delic from  gving his talk at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa, because the former head of the  Canadian Islamic Congress  Mohamed Elmasry had made anti-Semitic statements in 2004. Elmasry  said  in 2004 that Israelis over 18 were legitimate targets for suicide bombers and later apologized for and retracted the remarks

According to the Liberal Party website  Neville  also said that " any connection of statements from six years ago that have nothing to do with Imam Delic or the Canadian Islamic  Congress in 2010 is a clear and calculated denial of the facts at hand."

Neville also said "The theme of this speech was the evolution of Islam in Canadian life.There's no better example of that evolution than when you have an Imam of Mr. Delic's stature in a leadership role in this organization."  added Neville in the statement. "This is someone whose work for truth and reconciliation in Bosnia was exemplary, who has always spoken of building bridges between faiths, rather than walls, because he has seen up close the tragic consequences of intolerance."

A statement by the Defense Ministry  last Friday said “These types of  [anti-Semitic] comments don’t support Islamic Heritage, they simply divide Canadians and promulgate hate, and they have no place in [Islamic Heritage Month] celebrations. Instead, Monday’s celebrations will focus on the evolution of Islam in the Canadian Forces and the positive contribution of Canada’s Muslim community to our society.”

In a telephone interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Neville said she believed that the Conservatives were playing the “politics of fear and division” in Ottawa, and “It’s time for  bridge-building not dividing.”

Neville said that there is a much better “climate of tolerance and dialogue in Winnipeg, where there is an Arab-Jewish Arab dialogue group that is ongoing” in the province where people are genuinely trying to hear and understand each other. The Arab-Jewish dialogue in Winnipeg is comprised of  a core group of  approximately 15 community leaders and business people of the local Arab and Jewish community, and also has reached out to other members of both communities]

Neville added “That  [Arab-Jewish Dialogue]is fostering a climate of tolerance, and I think we are doing far better here than they are in Ottawa. There is a real effort of bridge building between communities… They in [ Ottawa] could learn from what is happening in Winnipeg..That’s the kind of approach that should be taken.”

Imam Delic told CTV his organization views suicide bombings as a “totally un-Islamic act.”

“There is no such thing in the Qur’an that would tell Muslims to go and kill a Jew, for indeed that is against our basic concepts,” he said.

But  according to an Oct. 2 Globe and Mail report, Sohail Raza, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, another national Muslim organization said he was pleased with the government’s decision.

“The Canadian Islamic Congress has publicly been anti-Semitic… This is not the kind of garbage we want in our Canadian way of life, so we welcome the stance of Peter MacKay,” Raza said.

Imam Delic said he believed Mackay unfairly targeted his group, which seeks “better relations between Canadian Muslims and the general Canadian population.”

 Liberal Multiculturalism Critic Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West) said, "This is another move designed to appease the Harper government's hard right base. The Prime Minister is taking his directions from leaders on the extreme Christian right like Charles McVety, who has no interest in a substantive dialogue about Islam in Canada."

While Imam Delic has called the Canadian Islamic Congress a bridge builder, the lobby group has previously attacked a major Canadian magazine, Maclean’s for running articles that it disliked. 

The Congress helped launch controversial human-rights complaints against Maclean’s magazine several years back, alleging the publication promoted hatred against Muslims. The offending writing included commentary by bestselling Maclean’s columnist Mark Steyn whose book, America Alone, argued that Western values in Europe and elsewhere are under threat from the rising demographic weight of Muslim communities. 

According to the Globe and Mail, Imam Delic at the time defended the campaign against Maclean’s by saying free speech has its limits. 

Following the  attacks on Maclean’s, the majority of delegates to a Tory party convention  in late 2008 voted in favour of scrapping the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s power to probe complaints under the “hate messages” section of the Canadian Human Rights Act. 

 In an article in the National post on Saturday October 8, Joseph Brean who interviewed Iman Delic wrote that Delic himself described the Canadian Islamic Congress as until recently “a mess” that needed to be “purified from within” and “totally Canadianized.”

“We cannot change an organization in two years. It takes a lot of time to remove some of the stuff,” he said, referring to 9/11 conspiracy theorists on the board of the CIC’s biggest project, Islamic History Month Canada (IHMC).

As Brean wrote, the Canadian Islamic Congress also has a  student essay contest on the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine, and has  honoured  “ Zafar Bangash, the firebrand journalist who hosted a conference of Iranian propaganda and told police he could not guarantee the safety of any protester who got too close.” (Imam Delic had Bangash as a speaker and shared the stage with him at a Canadian Islamic Congress fundraisng event this past June.)

 The Canadian Islamic Congress has also demanded that Hamas be delisted as a terrorist group, and has supported the United  Nation’s “defamation of religion” resolutions, a project of Muslim states to combat criticism of religion in general and Islam in particular, widely seen as an affront to free speech. 

According to the article in the National Post, Iman Delic has proposed  that the Anti-Terrorism Act be repealed because the criminal code is sufficient, and the expanded government powers marginalize Muslims. Read more here.

David Matas, 

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.