The FMCG mandate continues to be to: serve as a clearing house and focal point within the Department for issues concerning relations with the Muslim world; build the Department's policy capacity on this subject; and take the lead in providing timely, strategic advice on relations with the Muslim world, and the lead in creating a policy framework for our overall approach to this subject. As such, the FMCG should be consulted at headquarters and by posts on the broad range of issues affecting Canada's relations with Muslim communities, including public diplomacy efforts, and will take the lead in coordinating the Department's response to many of them. For this cross-cutting unit to work, it is essential that two-way consultation exist between it and the other units in the Department. Therefore, the FMCG will continue to engage with a network of officers throughout the department through regular meetings and as required on a day-to-day basis, and will look forward to early consultation by other units in the Department.Pipes comments:
In addition, we will shortly be creating an Advisory Group that will serve to discuss strategic policy issues brought to it by the FMCG. The Advisory Group will be composed of senior officials from across the department and meet at least on a quarterly basis, to provide policy advice and guidance to the FMCG Chairperson.
In the coming weeks, the FMCG will be seeking to fill three full time positions - a Deputy Director, a Policy Officer, and an Operations and Public Diplomacy Officer. The evolution to operational capability is absolutely vital and begins to put us at par with other key partners. The UK, Netherlands, Germany, and others all have such a capability already well-established. Currently, the FMCG is ably staffed by Crystal Procyshen who serves as both a policy and operations officer, and who should be your first point of contact.
(1) Muslims will from now on have a special say with regard to Canadian foreign and trade issues touching on Muslims.While Pipes is quoting from a 1997 article of a young student, who may since have matured, it's worth noting that this kind of student can get a job in the DFAIT; we will return to Ms. Procyshen later. This story has only yet received limited attention in the blogosphere (see here; and here; and here; and here). One of Pipes' commenters, "Alan", assuming that Muslims are being given special treatment, typifies the negative reaction this announcement has so far been given by Canadian bloggers:
(2) The privileging of Islam proceeds apace, with Muslims in at least four Western countries giving "strategic advice on relations with the Muslim world."
(3) This is a terrible mistake. Belonging to a certain group should not give one special authority in dealing with that group, and especially not in a governmental context.
(4) The only person yet to be charged with an offense under Canada's new Anti-Terrorism Act is Mohammad Momin Khawaja; and he was, at about the time of his arrest, a computer consultant for DFAIT.
(5) One can only guess at the intellectual environment of FMCG but one of the individuals mentioned as a player in it, Crystal Procyshen, wrote a strident article against Israel in 1997, "JERUSALEM! What is the TRUTH? Travel and Truth:A Volunteers' Experience in Palestine." It includes such gems as these (original spelling and spacing retained as is):
"The Israelis, in order to fulfill their political prophecies of a Zionist state where they would be safe from persecution, are propogating a recurring cycle of hatred towards the Palestinians as they struggle to expand the state of Israel. ...
"Since the Israelis illegaly occupied the autonomous regions of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, they routinely torture, kill and deprive Palestinians of their rights. Under Israeli control the Palestinians have no freedom of movement, no freedom of speech or press, no jury of peers,no trials,imprisonment without just cause,no right to education,no right to an attorney, no right to property,no right to trade or profit from good crossing borders."
Christian Communities Working Group Operational Unit?This comment of course raises but cannot solve the question of how to define what is proper to religion and what to affairs of state, and of where the two have any business engaging in strategic dialogue. The separation of church and state that grows out of the Christian tradition with its admonition to distinguish what is owed Caesar and what God, is but one of many possible ways that humans can organize the relationship between religion and politics. We will never be able to construct a metaphysics that neatly defines and delimits for us a concept or domain like religion, because religious thinking emerges, historically, prior to Plato and the birth of western metaphysics, and our metaphyiscs has never neatly summed up the role of its more fertile forebear. Metaphysical reasoning prospers by forgetting the primacy of the more primitive forms of language and thought that continue to shape all human scenes; metaphysics constructs an empire of its concepts, assuming that its manner of conceptual thinking is original to human reason; but, in fact, human language and reason first emerge from our relationship to the sacred (see the Plato link, above).
Buddhist Communities Working Group Operational Unit?
Sikh Communities Working Group Operational Unit?
Jewish Communities Working Group Operational Unit?
Bahai Communities Working Group Operational Unit?
One can only draw three conclusions
(a) Islam is to be treated better than all other religions
(b) Islam isn't *only* a religion
(c) a and b
We understand our relationship to the sacred in terms of our scenic consciousness of how our communities are organized around centralized values. While we can generally distinguish religious and political scenes in terms of the importance accorded to divine or ordinary human actors on them, and according to whether the scene is interested in remembering the fundamental (religious) origins of the community, or the further articulation (or forgetting) of these origins in more secular (political) contexts, a full and proper understanding of a culture will not allow us to divorce its secular or political reason from its religious past.
Each culture and each historical moment relates the religious and political in its own particular ways. So while one might think it a good idea if Christians in Canada were to lobby the Department of Foreign Affairs for a Christian Communities Working Group, as a way of drawing attention to, and action against, the many Muslim regimes that actively persecute their Christian minorities, we are not surprised that Foreign Affairs has yet to construct such a working group. Christianity, as a religion, does not do much to provide for its followers' worldly politics. Its primary focus is on the Kingdom of God, not on this world (though there is at times some pressure, sometimes misguided, to assimilate the two). Not suprisingly, Christians, with all due respect to the Vatican, are not primarily thought of as a political entity to be reckoned with. And when they do get involved in world affairs, Canadians calling themselves Christian are perhaps more likely to denounce Israel than to champion the dire cause of their co-religionists in, say, Pakistan.
Islam, on the other hand, appears to our western eyes to be as much a political as a religious entity, for many reasons that are no doubt familiar to those of us observing many Muslims presently calling for a return of the Caliphate or the eventual conversion of all humanity to the one true faith. The political nature of Islam may also be apparent in the government's recognition of Muslim communities in Canada as having an interest in Canada's relations, not simply with other nations, but with the Muslim Umma or worldwide community of Muslims itself. (I assume that some recognition of the Umma as a worldwide political force that must be taken into account alongside our more traditional focus on nations and regions is implied by the statement in the Administrative Notice, that "For this cross-cutting unit [FMCG] to work, it is essential that two-way consultation exist between it and the other units in the Department. Therefore, the FMCG will continue to engage with a network of officers throughout the department through regular meetings and as required on a day-to-day basis, and will look forward to early consultation by other units in the Department.")
A cynic might say that the creation of the FMCG is just another bureaucratic powerplay, where those who have an interest in "muslim commmunities" gain a march on those working with regions or nation states. In any case, the bureaucrats' initiative now raises for the not-previously-consulted citizens, the question of how our country should relate to the Umma. Do we acknowledge our "Muslim communities" as political actors, with a role in giving strategic advice about specifically Canadian relations with "Muslim communities" abroad, or do we insist rather on our western distinctions between religious and political interests being upheld, regardless of how some Muslims see differently the difference? Does being a Canadian citizen imply a duty to uphold a certain vision of international order, i.e. one that fosters the growth of nations and states and resists the growing and often disruptive role of non-state actors in a world where many states, especially in the Muslim world, risk collapsing?
According to one Canadian citizen group studying the document leaked to Pipes:
"Canadians should be deeply troubled by this announcement and what it says about the agenda of Canada’s foreign affairs bureaucracy," explained Joseph Ben-Ami, Executive Director of the Institute for Canadian Values. "Certainly, if foreign affairs functionaries were concerned about ethnic sensitivities or religious tolerance, they would have created a department to deal with Hindus and Christians, whose populations approximate that of the Muslim world. Why the favouritism?"Perhaps the "favouritism" could be justified by the peculiar nature of Islam, though any such argument would, at this point, have to fall to our suspicions that the FMCG is staffed by anti-western apologists for violence committed in the name of Islam, violence that the apologists would redefine as being caused by problems or failures of "development", or some such, as in this abstract of a paper delivered at a 2002 conference by FMCG's contact person, Crystal Procyshen:
"Development as Struggle: What Role for Islamic Insurgents?"If the Department of Foreign Affairs weren't home to young scholars (and their presumably more circumspect but sympathetic employers) lost in metaphysical abstractions, pomo irony, and queer conceptualizations of Jihad and its destabilizing effects - does anyone really know what position is being taken in this paper abstract? - might there be a case for a diplomacy focussed on Muslim communities?
Current essentialist scholarship on Islamic insurgency organizations erodes serious study as to how Islam matters, why these groups emerge, and how they embed themselves within the national politics, regional dynamics, and community development of the Muslim Middle East. Furthermore, their dire predictions of pan-Islamic victories overlook the ubiquitous failures of these groups to achieve any presumably 'destabilizing' goal. This study conflates two predominant theoretical frameworks of Islamism in order to ameliorate their separate analytical shortcomings. First, it discusses how, when, and why political Islam matters as a response by grassroots, libratory movements to perceived oppression/ modernization. Second, it delineates so-called 'external' theories of Islamist struggle, which concentrate on mobilization. Third, it explores 'internal' doctrinal theories (those by Islamist thinkers) and their description of the process of jihad (liberation and development). As will be examined, both theoretical traditions fail to account for the structural-contextual constraints of domestic political-culture, class divisions, and external influences that disrupt the transition phase between jihad and the, as yet, elusive outcome of an Islamic state. Hezbollah's resistance against Israel serves as the crucial case study, while the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and al-Qaida are employed as foils throughout.
To my mind it comes down to a question of whether we want to encourage "Muslim communities" to see themselves as political actors, by recognizing the political or worldly nature of Islam. If there is any hope for the reform or modernization of the Islamic world, it seems to me it will require much more emphasis being put on individual nations and their secular politics than on Muslim communities as such. We need to encourage greater identification with ethnic and any nascent national identities - on the Turkish or Indonesian, and hopefully Afghan and Iraqi, models - and do all we can to deny the validity of a political Islam that dreams of an expanded Umma and/or a renewed Caliphate. If there is any hope that the Muslim world can join modernity, it will require states that are responsible to self-interested nations not to a theology and Sharia law that has already proven its many problems in adapting to our now single global civilization with its integrating economic and market system.
Does creation of the FMCG not do something to undermine our relations with traditional nation-states like, say, France or Turkey? If Canadian Muslims, because they are Muslims and not simply Canadians, are to have a voice in shaping our relations with "Muslim communities" are we not advancing the legitimacy of the Umma as a political entity, at the expense of secular states? And aren't Canadian strategic interests in some sense specifically Canadian, and not, as would be impossible, all things to all people under the multiculti sun?
Those of us interested in renewing the Canadian Covenant must insist that "Muslim communities" in Canada not be treated any differently from other "religious" communities in Canada, regardless of how differently Islam constructs question of "church", state, and people. We cannot be all things to all people; we must have a policy that reflects a specifically Canadian vision of a proper international order. We must champion nations and national sovereignty and fight against the imperialism of political Islam and its clients in the anti- and trans-national ("multicultural") left.