Douglas Todd: Would Saudi Arabia’s jailed blogger be accused of ‘Islamophobia’ in Canada?

Less contradictory than the article argues. Virtually all of the recommendations that came out of the committee examining M-103 applied to all forms of racism and discrimination (dissenting Conservative recommendations focused more on definitional questions of Islamophobia).

The additional funding for the multiculturalism program was general in application save for programming directed against racism and discrimination encountered by Black Canadians).

Just as one can criticize the policies and practices of the Israeli government without being antisemitic, one can criticize the policies and practices of the Saudi government without being anti-Muslim. In the case of the former, the IHRA definition of antisemitism provides some (imperfect) guidance that could form the basis of discussion for a comparable approach to criticizing the policies of Muslim countries, beyond basic human rights.

So while some Muslims may argue that any criticism of Saudi Arabia is anti-Muslim or Islamophobic, some Jews also argue that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic. It depends on the nature and form of the criticism:

Would jailed Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi end up being accused of Islamophobia if he were released from his Riyadh prison cell and allowed to come to Canada?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is taking contradictory symbolic stands.

In August, it provoked a diplomatic dispute with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by tweeting support for Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 and flogged for criticizing the country’s hardline religious leadership. Canada has even offered citizenship to the free-speech advocate, his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their children.

But how does that jibe with the federal Liberals also pushing through Motion 103, which urges all-out war against “Islamophobia?” The Liberal politicians behind M-103 refused to respond to requests to define Islamophobia. And their deceptive gamesmanship would end up jeopardizing Badawi’s right to free expression if he were to ever to come to Canada.

Among other things Badawi has equated a host of Saudi Arabian Muslims with terrorists, which many Canadians think is an offensive and Islamophobic accusation to make.

Can Trudeau’s government have it both ways? How can it champion Badawi’s right to freely criticize Saudi Arabia’s form of Islam at the same time that Liberal MPs make a virtue of condemning anyone who disparages Islam, including the deadly rules in many theocratic Muslim countries, which legislate that people should have their heads cut off for leaving the 1.5-billion-member faith?

Ali Rizvi, Canadian-based author of The Atheist Muslim, was one of the first to point out the lack of logic from Canada’s liberal-minded politicians, which include NDP and Green MPs. “People like my good friend Raif Badawi is in jail and he has been flogged 50 times simply for blogging,” Rizvi, who has lived in Saudi Arabia, told CBC’s The Tapestry.

“It’s interesting to me that if he finally made it to Canada and joined his wife and kids here, a lot of his ideas would be considered ‘Islamophobic’ by Liberals over here because of the criticisms he makes.”

An Angus Reid poll suggests many Canadians agree with Rizvi that the Liberal government has muddied the waters of free speech when it comes to criticizing religions and religious people, something which has been going full bore in the West since the Christian Reformation 500 years ago.

Half of Canadians said it’s not necessary for federal politicians to formally condemn “Islamophobia.” And 55 per cent say the problem of anti-Muslim sentiments in this country has been overblown by politicians and the media. Presumably most Canadians feel the country’s existing anti-hate speech laws already cover extreme hostile attacks on ethnic or religious groups.

The federal Liberals have managed through all this to get themselves into a pickle over free speech.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s August tweet calling for the release of Badawi and his sister led to Saudi Arabia retaliating. It cancelled trade deals with Canada and cut short the educations of nearly 15,000 Saudi students in Canada, even while confusion reigns about the fate of the more than 1,000 Saudi physicians in training in the country.

The trans-national furore is taking place as Badawi’s circumstances grow more dire. Even though an initial charge of apostasy, which is punished by death, was withdrawn, his health deteriorates in his small, stinking, shared cell. He has four years left in his sentence, which was to include 1,000 public lashes with a whip (he’s had 50 so far). He’s not alone in his degradation. In other Muslim-majority countries, online critics of the religion have been hacked to death, including a Bangledesh blogger who was also a friend of the Canadian author of The Atheist Muslim.

What has Badawi actually said to suffer such egregious punishment?

He has censured Muslims’ for their intolerance and argued against unequal religious attitudes towards women. He has promoted “live and let-live” secularism to replace Islamic theocracy and attacked Muslim schools that he says are filled with terrorists. And he has criticized Muslims in Arabic countries for failing to follow the lead of Europe, which has a separation of religion and state.

“States which are built on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear,” he writes in 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think (published by Vancouver’s Greystone Books).

“We should not hide the fact that Muslims in Saudi Arabia not only disrespect the beliefs of others, but (they) charge them with infidelity, to the extent that they consider anyone who is not Muslim an infidel,” he has said.

Badawi was outraged when Muslims in New York City called for a mosque to be built near the site of the destroyed World Trade Center, where 3,000 people were murdered in the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaida terrorists, whom Badawi directly linked to Saudi Arabia.

“What increases my pain is this (Islamist) chauvinist arrogance, which claims that innocent blood, shed by barbarian, brutal minds under the slogan ‘Allahu Akbar,’ means nothing compared to the act of building an Islamic mosque whose mission will be to … spawn new terrorists.”

Badawi’s costly bid for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, for the right to openly denounce Islamic practices, puts him in a similar boat as the staff at France’s satiric Charlie Hebdo magazine, the Danish newspaper editors who published cartoons of Mohammed, and British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, whom have all suffered for finding fault with Islam.

In 1000 Lashes, Badawi defiantly chooses to follow the dictum of the late French existentialist Albert Camus, who said, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

Badawi’s courageous existence is a clear revolt against Saudi Arabia’s bullying Islamic authorities. It should also cause some censorial Canadians to squirm.

Source: Douglas Todd: Would Saudi Arabia’s jailed blogger be accused of ‘Islamophobia’ in Canada?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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