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September 2, 2010

Media ugly attacks against Canadian Muslims

Scott Stockdale

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With the arrest of Misbahuddin Ahmed, Hiva Alizadeh and Dr. Khurram Sher on terrorism related charges this past week, accusations of "Islamic terrorism" are once again dominating the news in Canada. Salam Elmenyawi, president of The Muslim Council of Montreal (MCM), is reminding Canadians that everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty; and the accused have the right to be tried in a transparent and fair court with the protection of their constitutional rights.

News reports tell us – in part - that the arrests are a result of a year-long investigation; all three suspects are Canadian citizens, who had become radicalized by the al-Qaeda ideology; and these three men posed a real and serious threat.

Meanwhile, at least one national newspaper reported the above information and then added: “While the men allegedly talked about conducting terrorist attacks and made preparations, their plans were considered ill-defined. Police were never certain exactly what they were plotting.”

Mr. Elmenyawi said media commentators, as in the past, are using this case to launch very ugly attacks against the Muslim community.

“Those who hold the microphones make comments that create a public backlash, regardless of the information in the case. Even if there were a serious terrorist attack, that's no justification for disparaging an entire community. These are people who have an agenda and they're going to milk it (the current charges) to the maximum.”

Mr. Elmenyawi said he wants to make it clear that the MCM condemns terrorism, along with all Canadians.

“We stand united with all our fellow Canadians against all criminal acts and in the ongoing efforts to safeguard the security and well-being of our nation,” Mr. Elmenyawi said.

In response to an oft-repeated criticism, in the media, that Muslim leaders are not speaking out enough against terrorism, Mr. Salam said this is simply not true.

“We've been condemning terrorism since the cows came home. They say we're not condemning terrorism. They're not listening. This means they don't respect us as human beings.”

He may have added that part of the misconception stems from the fact that Muslim leaders condemning terrorism are not as prevalent in the mainstream media as spokespeople for some other religions, or some other causes, whatever they may be.

Mr. Elmenyawi noted that there has never been any life lost in Canada as a result of attacks by people claiming to be Muslims, in contrast to the Air India disaster – the biggest terrorist attack in Canadian history – which was perpetrated in the name of another religion.

As for those who do perpetrate or plan terrorist acts in the name of Islam, Mr. Elmenyawi condemns them in no uncertain terms.

“All Muslims reject attacks against civilians ... Anybody who talks about or plans terrorism is betraying Islam, betraying Canadians and I'm totally disappointed in them.”

At the same time, he said there are situations in the world that have resulted in disputes, which may cause some to respond with violence; but these disputes are not motivated by religion.

“This doesn't justify in any way committing an act of violence against anyone. These are situations that we have to seriously and sincerely work to resolve, that breed those kinds of things (terrorist acts).”

Meanwhile, Mr. Elmenyawi expressed outrage at some of the media coverage of the latest terrorism related arrests in Canada.

“I was watching the CBC Wednesday and Thursday. Even before they were charged they were calling them “those terrorists”. On Friday night I watched CBC’s Newsworld. They kept repeating it every half hour.”

While this kind of repetition is bound to have an effect on viewers' perspectives on the case, Mr. Elmenyawi said people forget that 7 of the Toronto 18 suspects had their charges dropped, while many others made plea bargains.

Moreover, he said that judges found serious abuses of the rights of several others who were previously charged under the (Security Certificate); and at least two of those charged, were exonerated by our courts.

“Two of the people spoken about as suspected terrorists are now living freely in Canada, having children and contributing to Canadian society.”

He said we all have to act with total fairness; and like all Canadians, he hopes and trusts that we will continue to have fair institutions.

“I feel in the end justice will prevail. I urge all Canadians to be patient.”

He added that justice must not only be served by our courts, but the appearance of justice being served is just as important.

“The appearance of justice being served is important so nobody feels they are being targeted or persecuted.”

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