(originally published on July 25, 2005)
Four years after the 9-11 terrorist attacks and thousands of civilians felled by Muslim terrorists later, it finally took the July 7 London bombings to bring 120 Canadian imams to condemn terrorism ever so ambiguously in a much ballyhooed joint statement sponsored by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN). So why now?
One cannot help but suspect that the London bombings hit very close to home for some Canadian Islamic leaders. Not geographically, mind you. Rather, what differentiates the July 7 attacks from the Madrid bombings and 9-11, was that they were not committed by foreigners but by born and bred British Muslims. Add to this the fact that most public statements released by Canadian Islamic organizations in response to the bombings projected fears of an anti-Muslim backlash in Canada and you get a sense of the pre-emptive, PR nature of the Canadian imams’ statement on extremism. The joint declaration starts off with self-congratulating statements on the “positive contribution and near seamless integration” of Canadian Muslims and goes on to say Canada has offered Muslims “a hope that can only be repaid with thankfulness and sacrifice” while emphasizing that Canadian Muslims “care deeply about Canada’s prosperity, its growth and its safety and security”.
That’s just jim-dandy, but when the statement finally comes to the heart of the matter, i.e. condemning terrosism, its ambiguous and imprecise wording, despite the flaunting of seemingly resolute adverbs such as “categorically” and “unequivocally”, finally undermines the breadth and scope of the imams’ understanding of terrorism, and therefore, its unconditional repudiation: “Any one who claims to be a Muslim and participates in any way in the taking of innocent life is betraying the very spirit and letter of Islam”. The use of terms as relative as “innocent life” rather than, say, “unarmed, non-threatening civilians”, certainly leaves room for interpretation. And there is reason to believe this was so intended when one recalls, for example, Islamic leaders’ statements on terror groups such as Hamas which deliberately targets unarmed civilians. CAIR founder Nihad Awad, for one, who has publicly stated he supports Hamas, does not very likely consider mass-murdered Israeli commuters to be “innocent”. Then again, Nihad Awad, prior to founding CAIR in 1994, was a member of the Islamic Association for Palestine, an organization created by senior Hamas leader Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook. Nor did, for that matter, Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) President Mohammed Elmasry consider Israeli adult civilians to be “innocent”, when he argued in 2004 on the Michael Coren Live show that only Israeli children are innocent and that Israelis aged 18 and over are legitimate targets for Palestinian suicide-bombers. It would appear the application of the “spirit and letter of Islam” discriminates strongly between London and Tel Aviv commuters.
The description of the ideology which promotes much of Islamist terrorism is equally shrouded in the vaguest of terms: “We will confront and challenge the extremist mindset that produces this perversion of our faith“. It is up to Muslims to decide whether Salafism (itself divided in many strands), a strain of Islam Ossama Ben Laden is believed to follow, constitutes or not a perversion of Islam. Merely calling it a “mindset”, as if the issue were psychological, and making it appear to stand outside Islam is, however, misleading. The Salafi doctrine has deep roots in the most rigorous of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, the Hanbali School. Its foremost goal is to prevent the Islamic world from reverting to pre-Islamic ignorance of god by fighting the “corrupting” Western influence and accusing less fundamentalist Muslims of takfir (apostasy).
With the backing of Saudi princes, Egyptian and Arab Gulf preachers have spread Salafism to all corners of the world. In Canada, an Islamic youth organization offers on its website a selection of works by top Salafi ideologues celebrated as “great people of Islamic revival”; Salafism is preached from coast to coast in prayer rooms, madrassas and mosques. More specifically, the National Post reported on July 25 that Canadian Muslim Congress president Naiz Salimi alleges that some of the signatories of the CAIR-CAN-sponsored statement have “encouraged segregation, extremism, misogyny and homophobia on an unparalleled scale” and revealed that one signatory is known to have called for a jihad against U.S. forces in the Middle East, while another is reported to be a Salafi preacher. At any rate, Salafism is a word rarely spoken by Islamic advocacy groups. Would they, it would put the lie to the plethora of statements they issue after each Qaeda bombing lecturing Canadians that terrorists could not possibly have acted in the name of Islam or chastising news media who dare connect the words Islamic and terrorists. Had the statement clearly targeted the Salafi ideology, it would also have been the first such declaration adopted by an assembly of imams condemning Salafism and hence be all the more credible and significant for it.
By failing to use neutral terms such as “unarmed civilians” to describe terrorism and to clearly spotlight its source, namely Salafism, the 120 Canadian imams who signed this declaration have proven themselves either unwilling or unable to denounce unequivocally both Islamist terrorism and the ideology which promotes it. Plainly said, this statement hardly differs from the run of the mill statements condemning each new Qaeda bombing. Though it has served CAIR-CAN well as a public relations tool, as its warm reception by the Canadian media and a scheduled meeting with Canadian PM Paul Martin suggest, no amount of PR will stop – when the time comes, and come it will- the first born and bred Canadian suicide bomber from striking. Only when Muslims stand up and resolutely resist and fight Salafism in Canada and elsewhere will the threat of Islamic terrorism begin to subside.