UPDATE: Don't miss the report on this event from Elane at Dust My Broom. It really completes the sad picture.
Last night, a friend of Covenant Zone went to hear a Canadian Islamic Congress-sponsored seminar on "Islamophobia"(pdf of poster) at a Burnaby Sunni mosque, Masjid Alsalaam, featuring: 1) Canadian Islamic Congress head, Mohammed Elmasry; 2)Elmasry's now famous young protege in the invoking "human rights" to punish "hate speech" game, Khurrum Awan; 3) devoted anti-"Zionist", radical leftist, rabble.ca editor, NDPer, and public school teacher, Derrick O'Keefe. They were joined by a surprise additional speaker, not mentioned in the pre-talk publicity: the Judeophobic (Felton would insist on "anti-Zionist") conspiracy theorist extraordinaire (his books are thick!), Greg Felton.
Now our friend arrived at the talk late, and missed the introductory remarks and at least half of Mohammed Elmasry, the first speaker's, address. What's more our friend reported that the four speakers all rambled on in an "unprofessional" and unengaging speaking manner and so he was not able to maintain full attention. So, his report on the evening, based on written notes given verbally, over the phone, to the present writer (who organizes the notes for coherency and adds only a few comments of his own, drawing on his questioning of our friend about the event), is somewhat schematic in nature. While our friend tried to capture the speakers' more memorable words in his notes, he cannot always be sure of the exact words used.
Nonetheless, my friend has been careful to report only what he recalls being said, and without any conscious literary license. He is disgusted at what he witnessed from the speakers, but he wants to report honestly.
The recently built Burnaby mosque impressed our friend with its clean modern look, and with its fine wood paneling. The large central room of the mosque had an internal divider and the meeting was held on one side so that when the meeting took a break for prayers most people left the one side and crossed the divider into the other. Our friend counted the audience at about 140. He estimated that about 120-125 of these were Muslims judging from the number who went to pray. The women sat on the right of the room, the men on the left. There were about 80 men and 60 women. Almost all ages were represented from young children to the relatively elderly. The women almost all covered their heads, but in general the dress, manner, and speech of the audience was rather Westernized. The crowd seemed temperate in their general disposition. They did not seem widely impressed by the speakers. Not all audience members applauded each speaker and the applause was lukewarm, polite but not enthusiastic. There was no kind of "gatekeeping" being done, no one trying to appear vigilant about outsiders; our friend felt welcome and was politely shown where to sit upon his late arrival. At the end of the speaking, an impressive table of food was laid out and all were invited to partake, though the woman who was apparently chairing the event suggested the ladies defer to the men and let them get food first.
Given his late arrival, our friend had little to say about Elmasry's talk. What he could tell me was that Elmasry was, at one point, emphasizing the importance of Muslims knowing their Koran and Hadith, and the history of their faith, in order to know how to respond to the allegedly widespread "Islamophobia" of the contemporary West, and to stand firm in their faith. It seems to have been implied that someone well-educated in matters Islamic will find it easier to deal with critics. One might have thought that more knowledge might also lead to doubts or a respect for how much is unknowable and uncertain to the truly learned person, hence the need for a humble faith; but this was not apparently how Elmasry approached the question.
The next speaker was Derrick Okeefe who began by noting that he is writing a book with Afghan politician Malalai Joya. He also tried to impress the crowd with his credentials by noting how he had attended the Cairo conference against imperialism and zionism (I'm not sure what year O'Keefe attended) which was for him a wonderful experience. He joked how he had been honoured to be smeared by people back in Canada (apparently those who think hanging out with Hezbollah and Hamas types is a mark of political shame and moral and intellectual failure).
O'Keefe told some story about an immigrant woman in France who was refused citizenship for "lack of assimilation", or something like that. O'Keefe then implied that Muslims might fear a similar fate in Canada in future. He went on to discuss the public debate recently unfolded in Quebec over what constitutes "reasonable accommodation" of immigrant cultural differences, again implying this debate was a threat to Muslims, a sign of Western Islamophobia of which, he declared, we have recently witnessed a wave. Nonetheless O'Keefe thinks "progressives", among whom he counts himself, are in the majority in Canada. Thus, it seems to have been implied, the Islamophobic wave must be explained as something that a powerful minority promotes.
Without being explicitly Judeophobic, O'Keefe complained about media complicity in this Islamophobia, claiming that much of the Canadian media is in the hands of two or three families. (For non-Canadian readers, this should be taken as in large part a reference to the Jewish Asper family.) He complained that one can't raise money in Canada for a popular political party like Hezbollah, which gets labelled terrorist by the government. He complained about Canadian General Rick Hillier referring to the Taleban in Afghanistan as murderers and scumbags. O'Keefe made some comment about writers using a defense of "satire" as an excuse for their Islamophobia. One supposes he meant Mark Steyn. O'Keefe apparently doesn't like Irshad Manji and made some attempt at a joke about Canada having lost her to the United States. He slagged Terry Glavin and suggested there are no shortage of writers who will tell "them" (the Islamophobes? the ignorant Canadians?) what they want to hear.
Khurrum Awan began his talk by making some kind of apology that confused our friend. He referred to some memo he had received from his employer and suggested this was an explanation for why, despite having come all the way from Ontario, he was not as prepared to speak as he might have been.
It seems Awan told something of the story he has often told in the Canadian media and kangaroo courts about his fight against Maclean's magazine. He began by claiming there had been some long history of hate speech in Maclean's and in the National Post so that he and some law school friends decided to do something about it after counting 22 Islamophobic articles in Maclean's penned by Mark Steyn and by Barbara Amiel who is Conrad Black's wife, he desired to point out.
Our friend's mind was elsewhere when he heard Awan complaining about some writer's comment about "sheep shaggers" but those words jolted him and brought thoughts of Awan's apparent lack of concern for the young ears and perhaps the sensitivities of the women in the audience. Awan also made some sex-related comment about Aisha, the Prophet's bride, but unfortunately the logic or point in invoking this story was lost on our friend.
Awan claimed that the celebrated writer, Oriana Fallaci, whom he compared to Ernst Zundel, had been cited by some UN body for hate speech. He called Mark Steyn names along the lines of rightwing Muslim-hating bigot.
Awan said Maclean's magazine had refused to treat with him and his aggrieved lawschool friends when they first complained about the "Islamophobic" articles, because Maclean's just assumed they would go away if ignored. They didn't know Khurrum Awan, apparently.
He also said the Canadian Muslims had Jewish people to thank for going after North Vancouver columnist, Doug Collins, showing that the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal could be used to sanction hate speech. Muslims like himself, he implied, were only doing what Jews had already done. This no doubt explains why he feels somewhat upset at the waves of criticism he and his fellow "sock puppets" have received.
Awan complained about certain well known journalists for their bigotry: our friend remembers mention of the names Margaret Wente, Christopher Hitchens, Christie Blatchford, Daniel Pipes; David Warren was mentioned as not quite as bad. Referring to "right wing" writers he made some comment like "all of you know what kind of people they are".
He suggested that in response people should write letters to the editor. If the letters are not published people should complain to the press councils, though that wouldn't work with reprobate publications like Maclean's that are not a member of any press council.
Awan declared the Canadian criminal law useless for going after hate speech. Apparently the legal test to prove criminal hate speech is demanding; and so there needs to be an easier way to shut up what Awan considers to be hate mongers.
So Muslims have to mobilize politically. British Columbia Muslims should go after the media - particularly the one company that apparently controls so much of it. And they should threaten to punish the government with their votes and voices if it thinks to dismantle the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
Awan tried to get some symbolic credit for the sixteen or seventeen thousand dollars that he said he and his young law school friends have spent in pursuing Maclean's; and he bragged that they had cost Maclean's two million dollars in legal expenses and lost circulation. He said that "we" need your help; and he called on the audience to give money to help fight Islamophobia.
Then came Greg Felton who spoke for about 10 minutes, about half the time of the other, pre-announced speakers. I was quite interested to ask my friend if Felton had been introduced so as to give some sense to the audience of his public reputation and his peculiar capacity for writing thick books explaining how the United State of America has been progressively taken over by the "Zionist lobby" over the course of modern history, or peculiar essays on how the Ashkenazi Jews are not actually descendants of the Biblical Hebrews but of some central Asian tribe that converted to Judaism for relatively recent benefit, and whose claims to a homeland in Israel are thus bogus.
However, it turns out Felton was simply introduced as an "extra speaker", and as a friend, by Dr. Naiyer Habib, Elmasry's mostly silent partner in the recent kangaroo court prosecution of Maclean's magazine at the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. Only Felton's writing about the Maclean's/Mark Steyn affair and his attacks on "right wingers" who are attacking the various Canadian Human Rights Commissions were highlighted in his introduction. But in the course of his comments, Felton did make some apparently self-referential remark about how if you want an investigation into what happened on 9/11, they call you a conspiracy nut. (Poor Greg has been called worse than that!)
Felton also spoke about the "reasonable accommodation" debate as some kind of threat to Muslims. He made some complaint about how antisemitism is a prejudice held by some marginal class, while anti-Muslim prejudice is a social norm. He went on to make some half-understood comment about Zionists and anti-Muslim hate mongers.
He mentioned that it was ironic that Judeophobic Doug Collins, or Collins' prosecution, had enabled Khurrum Awan in the latter's BC Human Rights Tribunal fight.
He spoke of "genocide" in Palestine. He called the media an attack monster. He claimed that the goal of some Islamophobes was to turn Muslims who complained into some kind of violent rabble so that the Islamophobes could turn around and say "see, we told you so". So, Felton implied, using the Human Rights Commissions to attack Islamophobes was the right approach.
Questions from the floor
Then came four questions from the floor. A microphone had been set up at the back of the room. The questions were described by our friend as "loaded" (i.e. sympathetic to the speakers) and rambling, despite a call to avoid speech making. Our friend summed up the questions thus:
1) Why is the media one-sided? Awan responded and used the National Post as his example. They have an agenda. 4/5 of what they write is to serve their owners' agenda. Only 1/5 represents the views of minorities. He called on people to write letters, lobby, take legal action, to fight this agenda. It may have been at this point that he called the radical leftist O'Keefe, whom our friend believes to be a publicly declared atheist, a "brother". Our friend remained confused throughout the evening by a question at the top of his mind: why are Muslims hanging out with highly secular Western atheists with nihilist "values"? (The arguments made at this blog about the growing left-Islamist alliance, and the central role of Israel and America hatred in this, have not apparently fully convinced. Then again, it could be that there are few other people this cast of characters can call on to back each other up in a public forum.)
2) Why didn't "we" complain when Iraq and Afghanistan were invaded? Elmasry replied that "we" did complain, vociferously, but no one (presumably in the media or goverment) paid attention. This was taken to be a call for financial support.
3) Why don't we have a blog for our media? O'Keefe replied that this was an important suggestion. Felton chipped in that blogs are replacing newspapers.
4) Why can't we start a paper on the internet? Elmasry replied that we need lots of dollars for that.
I will defer to later the question of why or if Mohammed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress and frequent spokesperson for Islam in the Canadian media wanted to appear before a largely Muslim public with Greg Felton, not to mention Derrick O'Keefe. For now, I will leave that speculation to readers. Of course, it seems that Felton was not entirey desired, to the extent his name never made it on the public promotional material for the evening. Was Felton just a late addition, or was he intentionally left off the publicity material because his presence, while deemed of value to the Muslim public, might nonetheless attract the kind of public outrage that befell the Vancouver Public Library for giving Felton a forum during "freedom to read week"?