This school board [Peel] just became the 1st in Canada to adopt a strategy to fight Islamophobia

Of interest and relevance given the demographics. Will be interesting to see the performance measures that assess the effectiveness of the strategy:

Six years ago, a school board west of Toronto was making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Security had to be stepped up after racist outbursts at board meetings, a man was filmed tearing pages out of a Qur’an during discussions about religious accommodations, and Muslim students were told they would have to choose from sermons approved by the board for their Friday prayers.

Today, the Peel District School Board (PDSB) is the first in Canada to adopt a strategy aimed at dismantling Islamophobia and affirming the identity of Muslims students, who comprise the largest reported faith-based identity at the board — about a quarter of its student population.

And the timing isn’t without significance, said the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“The PDSB has set a tremendous example with this anti-Islamophobia strategy that other school boards across the country would be wise to study, examine and follow,” the council’s education director, Aasiyah Khan, said in a news release.

‘Historic step forward’

“It’s really fitting that this announcement is being made in the lead-up to the sixth anniversary of the Quebec City shooting, which really changed this country,” she added. “This is a historic step forward.”

The announcement comes after a 2020 review by Ontario’s Ministry of Education found anti-Black racism to be a significant challenge at the board. The board also noted “blatantly Islamophobic resources and teaching materials” had been used in classrooms, affecting the well-being of Muslim students and staff, in a report dated Wednesday.

The anti-Islamophobia strategy sprang from a motion put forth by former PDSB trustee Nokha Dakroub in September 2021 that proposed, in part, anti-Islamophobia training for all board staff members.

The strategy relies largely on the definition of Islamophobia created by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, namely: “stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia leads to viewing Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.”

“These systemic attitudes foster an unwarranted culture of suspicion and surveillance of Muslims and the Muslim community,” the board says, pointing to the example of a cash reward being offered to surveil Muslim students at Friday prayers in schools.

Strategy outlines 6 key pillars

The board’s plan also notes Islamophobia often intersects with other forms of oppression including racism, such as anti-Black and anti-Palestinian racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ hate and systemic oppression.

The strategy, developed with input from the NCCM, the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, lists six key pillars for the board to work on:

  • Building capacity to implement the strategy.
  • Affirming and celebrating Muslim identities, including using resources that acknowledge Muslim contributions across subjects like math, science, history and the arts to “counter the erasure of Muslim identity in the historically Eurocentric curriculum.”
  • Creating learning and working environments to intentionally disrupt Islamophobia, including annual mandatory anti-Islamophobia training for staff and establishing prayer or contemplation spaces for staff or student use.
  • Foster meaningful engagement with Muslim communities, including partnerships with community agencies and ensuring culturally appropriate referrals to services.
  • Supporting the mental health and well-being of Muslim students and staff, such as by recognizing Muslim beliefs and practices can differ between individuals and groups and creating “safe spaces” for groups such as Muslim Students Associations.
  • Implementing responsive hiring and supportive measures, including supporting the advancement of racialized employees into leadership roles.

‘Calls almost every day’ over Islamophobia in schools

In a news release, Khan added anti-Muslim hate is an issue that endures in schools even today.

“We’ve gotten calls almost every day for the last few weeks about horrific issues relating to Islamophobia in our schools, some violent, and some systemic.”

Samya Hasan, executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, experienced that kind of anti-Muslim discrimination firsthand as a student and said it can lead to Muslim youth questioning their identity having low self-esteem.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of youth, and their parents, about stories of things like being called a terrorist, or girls, having their hijabs pulled off from their heads, or being dismissed by teachers in the school system …  And not to speak of tons of microaggressions that happen on an everyday basis.”

That, in part, is why the strategy also commits to collecting data to measure its success.

Those metrics will measure the percentage of Muslim students who feel their school is a safe and inclusive environment, for example, as well as the number of human rights complaints made to the board’s human rights office, hate incidents and Muslim staff members’ well-being.

“The development of a strategy to affirm Muslim identities and dismantle Islamophobia is only the first step in an ongoing journey,” the board said in its strategy document.

“Fostering an environment that is free from Islamophobia will require the efforts of all members of the PDSB community to meaningfully engage in this important work”

News of the strategy comes as Canada marked another first.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the appointment of Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s first special representative on combating Islamophobia. Elghawaby will advise the federal government on how to better fight discrimination against the Muslim community.

Source: This school board just became the 1st in Canada to adopt a strategy to fight Islamophobia

Ottawa appoints special representative to combat Islamophobia

Of note, she has recently been a regular commentator at the Star:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced the appointment of Canada’s first special representative to combat Islamophobia.Amira Elghawaby, a journalist and human rights advocate, will serve as an advisor and expert as the federal government works to fight religious intolerance and systemic racism.

In a news release today, Trudeau says he is looking forward to working with Elghawaby, and calls her appointment an “important step” to combat Islamophobia and build a country where everyone is respected.

Speaking at an event to mark her appointment, Elghawaby says she is deeply honoured and humbled to serve the Muslim community in the new role.

Source: Ottawa appoints special representative to combat Islamophobia

Art instructor who showed images of Prophet Muhammad in class sues Hamline University; school officials say calling it …

Legitimate lawsuit and university admin having to scramble:

A former art instructor who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in class has sued Hamline University, saying administrators defamed her and reneged on an offer to teach in the spring semester.

Attorneys for Erika López Prater announced Tuesday that she had sued the university for defamation, religious discrimination and breach of contract, among other things. Less than two hours later, the university’s president and board chair said in a joint statement that they had “learned much” about Islam and that the previous decision to describe the incident as Islamophobic was “flawed.”

The St. Paul private college found itself at the center of a painful debate over academic freedom and religious tolerance this month as news of the university’s decision not to renew López Prater’s contract spread across the globe. Instructors rallied around López Prater, saying the university’s decisions could have a chilling effect on professors who teach controversial material. A prominent local Muslim organization supported administrators, saying they had to act to protect students with diverse religious beliefs while a national Muslim group said it didn’t consider the teacher’s conduct wrong.

Scholars and religious leaders have sometimes disagreed about whether Islam permits images of the Prophet Muhammad. Some Muslims argue that the images are strictly prohibited to avoid idolization. Others have images of the prophet in their homes.

During a class in October, López Prater showed two centuries-old artworksthat depict the prophet receiving revelations from the angel Gabriel that would later form the basis for the Qur’an. López Prater said she provided a disclaimer in the syllabus for the course and spent “at least a couple minutes” preparing students for the images. One of her students, Aram Wedatalla, president of the Muslim Student Association, said she heard the professor give a “trigger warning,” wondered what it was for “and then I looked and it was the prophet.”

In the lawsuit, attorneys for López Prater said she shared her syllabus with a department chair and others at Hamline University and no one raised concerns about her decision to show the images.

“Students viewing the online class had ample warning about the paintings,” wrote attorney David Redden. “Students viewing the online class also had ample opportunity to turn away from their computer screens, turn their screens away from them, turn off their screens, or even leave their rooms before the paintings were displayed.”

Redden wrote that a department leader initially told López Prater “it sounded like you did everything right.”

A few weeks later, she received an email informing her that the university would no longer offer the spring semester online art history class she’d been in discussions about teaching. In early November, the university’s Office of Inclusive Excellence sent a campus email saying actions taken in her class were “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic” — a statement disputed by some Muslim scholars and advocacy groups.

Redden wrote that Hamline University had made López Prater a “pariah,” quashed dissent from others seeking to support her, and allowed people to defame her in the student newspaper and during a “Community Conversation” event discussing Islamophobia in December. He accused the university of violating its own policy on academic freedom and of discriminating against López Prater “because she is not Muslim, because she did not conform her conduct to the specific beliefs of a Muslim sect, and because she did not conform her conduct to the religion-based preferences of Hamline that images of Muhammad not be shown to any Hamline student.”

Throughout it all, Redden wrote, López Prater “suffered immediate, severe, and lasting emotional distress, including various physical manifestations of that distress.”

The university declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday night. In a joint statement, university President Fayneese Miller and board Chair Ellen Watters didn’t discuss the lawsuit but said the flurry of news coverage had prompted them to “review and re-examine” the university’s response.

“Hamline is a multi-cultural, multi-religious community that has been a leader in creating space for civil conversations. Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” the pair wrote.

“In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed,” they wrote. “We strongly support academic freedom for all members of the Hamline community. We also believe that academic freedom and support for students can and should co-exist.”

The university said it will host two events in the coming months: One will focus on academic freedom and student care, and the other on academic freedom and religion.

Source: Art instructor who showed images of Prophet Muhammad in class sues Hamline University; school officials say calling it …

CAIR Announces Official Position on Hamline University Controversy, Islamophobia Debate

Somewhat tortured language trying to appease everyone but ends up IMO largely in the right place.

Bu the qualification that “encouraged schools to consider the perspective of students who argue that displaying depictions of Prophet in the classroom is harmful and also unnecessary, given they represent a small and late-stage part of the vast Muslim art history” rather than encourage students to have a broader perspective:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today released an official, nationwide position statement in response to a controversy at Minnesota’s Hamline University involving visual representations of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) in the classroom.

“Although CAIR’s national headquarters normally does not comment on local issues that arise in states with one of our state chapters, we must sometimes speak up to clarify where our entire organization stands on issues of national concern,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “This is one of those times.”

In its statement, CAIR reaffirmed its longstanding policy of discouraging the display of images of the Prophet while also noting that the academic study of ancient paintings depicting him does not, by itself, constitute Islamophobia. CAIR also said that it has seen “no evidence” that former Hamline University professor Erika Lopez Prater had bigoted intent or engaged in Islamophobic conduct in the classroom.

READ FULL STATEMENT HEREOfficial CAIR Statement on Islamophobia and Hamline University Controversy

In the statement, CAIR said in part:

“For almost thirty years, CAIR has been…exposing, countering, and preventing incidents of Islamophobia. This pervasive form of bigotry harms countless people here in America and around the world. We never hesitate to call out Islamophobia, but we never use the word Islamophobia lightly. It is not a catch-all term for anything that we find insensitive, offensive or immoral. To determine what constitutes an act of anti-Muslim bigotry or discrimination, we always consider intent, actions and circumstances…”

“Although we strongly discourage showing visual depictions of the Prophet, we recognize that professors who analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense. Based on what we know up to this point, we see no evidence that Professor Erika López Prater acted with Islamophobic intent or engaged in conduct that meets our definition of Islamophobia… 

“Academics should not be condemned as bigots without evidence or lose their positions without justification.”

CAIR also expressed support for Muslim students at Hamline University and encouraged schools to consider the perspective of students who argue that displaying depictions of Prophet in the classroom is harmful and also unnecessary, given they represent a small and late-stage part of the vast Muslim art history.

CAIR encouraged school officials, academics, students and others involved in the situation at the local and national level to re-examine the controversy with open minds, and pledged to do what it can to help resolve the conflict.

[NOTE: CAIR noted that its statement today represents the sole official and authorized position of the organization. Any past comments which contradict the statement do not represent CAIR’s position.]

BACKGROUND

Islamic artwork and iconography dating back to early Muslim history center largely around calligraphy and geometric designs because of ancient teachings that limited, discouraged or outright forbade the drawing of living beings, especially Prophets and other figures whose images might be subjected to idolatry. No images of the Prophet were drawn during or anywhere near his lifetime.

Many Muslims therefore consider visual depictions of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) sacrilegious and offensive. However, Muslim artists in some regions of the world did draw paintings depicting the Prophet hundreds of years after his passing, and some Muslims use certain images as part of their religious practices.

Like many other American Muslim institutions, CAIR has condemned anti-Muslim extremists who create or display images of the Prophet to cause offense. CAIR and others have also respectfully discouraged mainstream institutions from showing images of him meant to be positive.

In 1997, sixteen major American Muslim groups, including CAIR, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to respect Islamic teachings and the sentiments of most Muslims by altering or removing a frieze that depicted the Prophet in an attempt to honor him as a “great lawgiver.”

However, Muslim groups did not describe the Court as Islamophobic because its intent was not bigoted.

Source: CAIR Announces Official Position on Hamline University Controversy, Islamophobia Debate

Wheeler et al: The role of Blackness in the Hamline Islamic art controversy

Interesting angle on context, that nevertheless, as author notes, doesn’t justify Hamline’s decision:

In early October, Erika López Prater, a professor at Hamline University in Minnesota, showed her online Islamic art history class an image of the Prophet Muhammad. A Muslim student in the class complained, citing Islamic tradition barring representations of the prophet. Other students joined in to express their view that this incident was part of a larger problem of Islamophobia on campus. The administration agreed, and eventually López Prater’s contract to teach during the spring semester was rescinded.

Since her firing, other professors, including Islamic studies scholars, have rightly rallied around her, drafting petitions and op-eds calling her dismissal a case of censorship trammeling academic freedom. 

We’ve heard little in the media coverage of this fiasco, however, about the students who initiated the complaint — why they objected, who they are and what their lives are like at Hamline and in the Twin Cities. Most of all, we need to understand why a perceived attack on the body and dignity of the Prophet Muhammad may have felt like an attack on them.

What has been written about the students has at times been unfortunate. The Chronicle of Higher Education, for instance, described Muslims who believe it is wrong to display images of Muhammad as ascribing to the “most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view.” Never mind that using the term “extreme” insinuates that these students are violent; the point is not to discuss the history of iconoclasm in Islam, but why these particular Muslims objected to the image when and where they did.

Our many decades of learning and experience as scholars of Black American Islam tell us that the missing context is race. The Muslim students were hurt by what they saw as an attack on the dignity of the prophet, whether they are doctrinally correct or not. This hurt paralleled the attacks on their dignity they experience daily as Black Muslims. Violence toward Black Muslims, rooted in slavery and Jim Crow and perpetuated in post-civil rights America, is an embodied phenomenon.

Attacks on the Prophet Muhammad’s body for someone living in this reality may be felt as an assault from the whole surrounding community. In an interview with The Oracle, the school’s student paper, Aram Wedatalla, who was in López Prater’s class, said, “as a Muslim, and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.”

Black students account for 11% of Hamline’s student body, according to U.S. News & World Report — a smaller percentage than Black residents’ in Minneapolis (but about the same as African-descended people in the city’s metro area). In a forum at the university in early December, according to The New York Timesa student panel of Black Muslim women “spoke tearfully about struggling to fit in at Hamline.”

Beyond Hamline’s campus, Islamophobia in Minnesota is often colored Black: Muslims in Minnesota, especially Somalis, have faced discrimination and violence as well as state-sanctioned Islamophobia, often in the form of police harassment.

The Countering Violent Extremism program, launched by the Obama administration in 2011, aimed at partnering with the American Muslim community to reduce violence; it ended up marginalizing Musllms further. Minnesota Somalis were disproportionately affected by CVE, as the program was known. The Trump administration’s iteration of CVE “rebranded and refunded the programs, exacerbating ongoing racial discrimination, surveillance, and police brutality in the Twin Cities,” according to one study.

Minnesota’s Black Muslims have also watched as their elected representatives, Keith Ellison and Ilhan Omar, have received death threats and been called terrorists.

Anti-Muslim anti-Black violence is not just a problem in Minnesota. It’s an historic national issue. Black Muslims have been depicted in the media as irrational, violent and incompatible with American values for nearly 100 years. Look no further than how Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali (depending on the decade) or the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad were described by journalists, academics and law enforcement. Consider how images of the Black Muslim boogeyman (and in later cases, boogeywoman) were used to justify harassment and discrimination against Black Muslims and by 9/11, all Muslims.

This is the context missing from the current conversation about López Prater’s firing.

The solution, however, is not be to ban images of the Prophet Muhammad in the classroom or to fire professors for doing their jobs. (No report has shown that the students even asked for López Prater to be fired.) There is immense theological diversity and varying views among Muslims on the permissibility of depicting Muhammad, as López Prater is aware; she made efforts to soften the blow to Muslim students who might be offended.

In the eyes of these Muslim students, she and the university did not go far enough, but rather than address students’ concerns as a community, the university administration chose to deal with its institutional Islamophobia as a problem between an overworked and underpaid contingent faculty member and marginalized students.

We live in a deeply Islamophobic society where Muslims face both interpersonal and institutional oppression that affects how young Muslims experience everyday life. This incident is simply the latest example. López Prater has unjustly lost her job, and Hamline University Muslim students have been vilified in the media, while the underlying problem — Islamophobia — still persists on Hamline’s campus and beyond.

(Kayla Renée Wheeler is an assistant professor of critical ethnic studies and theology at Xavier University. Edward E. Curtis IV holds the William M. and Gail M. Plater Chair of the Liberal Arts at Indiana University. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

Source: The role of Blackness in the Hamline Islamic art controversy

An art treasure long cherished by Muslims is deemed offensive. But to whom?

Abject surrender to extremists and a further closing of minds:

It is a beautiful painting found in a 14th-century Persian manuscript, the “Compendium of Chronicles”, a history of Islam. It shows the Prophet Muhammad receiving his first Quranic revelations from the angel Gabriel. Christine Gruber, professor of Islamic art at Michigan University, describes it as “a masterpiece of Persian manuscript painting”.

Last October, an instructor at Hamline University, Minnesota, displayed the painting during an online class on Islamic art. The instructor (who has not been named) had warned of what she was about to do in case anyone found the image offensive and did not wish to view it. No matter, a student complained to the university authorities.

David Everett, Hamline’s associate vice-president of inclusive excellence, condemned the classroom exercise as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic”. A letter written by Mark Berkson, chair of the department of religion, defending the instructor and providing historical and religious context for her actions, was published on the website of The Oracle, the university’s student newspaper, and then taken down because it “caused harm”. The instructor was “released” from further teaching duties.

It is a depressing but all too familiar story. From The Satanic Verses to the Danish cartoons to Charlie Hebdo, the last decades have spawned a succession of often murderous controversies over depictions of Islam deemed blasphemous or racist.

What is striking about the Hamline incident, though, is that the image at the heart of the row cannot even in the most elastic of definitions be described as Islamophobic. It is an artistic treasure that exalts Islam and has long been cherished by Muslims.

Yet, to show it is now condemned as Islamophobic because… a student says so. Even to question that claim is to cause “harm”. As Berkson asked in another (unpublished) letter he sent to The Oracle, after his first had been removed: “Are you saying that disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm’?”

That is precisely what the university is saying. “Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom,” wrote Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and Everett in a letter to staff and students. In what way was showing the painting “disrespecting” Muslims? Those who did not wish to view it did not have to. But others, including Muslims who desired to view the image, had every right to engage with a discussion of Islamic history.

Universities should defend all students’ right to practise their faith. They should not allow that faith to dictate the curriculum. That is to introduce blasphemy taboos into the classroom.

Hamline has effectively declared whole areas of Islamic history beyond scholarly purview because they may cause offence. And not just Islamic history. As Audrey Truschke, associate professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University, observed, Hamline’s action “endangers… professors who show things in class, from premodern Islamic art to Hindu images with swastikas to Piss Christ”.

One can only wonder that the university bureaucrats who declared representations of Muhammad to be proscribed by Islam did not ask themselves why, if this was true, there were figurative Islamic paintings to show the class in the first place? There has developed a historical amnesia about the many Islamic traditions, especially Persian, Turkish and Indian, which have celebrated portrayals of Muhammad; portrayals found in manuscripts, paintings, postcards, even in mosques.

While there have always been debates on this issue within Islam, the strict prohibition on picturing Muhammad is primarily Sunni and relatively recent. The growth of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist strand of Islam that developed in the 18th century and came eventually to be the ideological cement of modern Saudi Arabia, has been particularly important. Saudi petrodollars have allowed the fanatically austere character of Wahhabism to find greater global purchase.

Even so, Gruber observes, as late as 2000, a senior Saudi-based legal scholar recognised certain portrayals of Muhammad as both “permissible and laudable”. Only in the wake of 9/11, and the emergence of more fundamentalist forms of Islam, did the absolute prohibition of images of Muhammad become more widely accepted.

The actions of Hamline University are a threat not just to academic freedom but to religious freedom, too. They implicitly disavow the variety of traditions that constitute Islam and condemn those traditions as in some sense so bigoted that they cannot be shown in a class on Islamic art history. University bureaucrats are, as non-Muslims, taking part in a theological debate within Islam and siding with the extremists.

That is why, the historian Amna Khalid observes, it is as a Muslim she is most offended by Hamline’s actions that have “flattened the rich history and diversity of Islamic thought” and “privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view”. In an age in which there are demands for the syllabus to be “decolonised”, she adds, “Hamline’s position is a kind of arch-imperialism, reinforcing a monolithic image of Muslims propounded by the cult of authentic Islam”.

Perhaps the most damaging aspect of Hamline’s action is the use of the language of diversity to eviscerate the very meaning of diversity. This is an issue not confined to Hamline. Too many people today demand that we respect the diversity of society, but fail to see the diversity of minority communities in those societies. As a result, progressive voices often get dismissed as not being authentic, while the most conservative figures become celebrated as the true embodiment of their communities.

Here, liberal “anti-racism” meets rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry. For bigots, all Muslims are reactionary and their values incompatible with those of liberal societies. For too many liberals, opposing bigotry means accepting reactionary ideas as authentically Muslim; that to be Muslim is to find the Danish cartoons offensive and the depiction of Muhammed “harmful”. Both bigots and liberals erase the richness and variety of Muslim communities.

The Hamline controversy shows how the concepts of diversity and tolerance have become turned on their head. Diversity used to mean the creation of a space for dissent and disagreement and tolerance the willingness to live with things that one might find offensive or distasteful. Now, diversity too often describes a space in which dissent and disagreement have to be expunged in the name of “respect” and tolerance requires one to refrain from saying or doing things that might be deemed offensive. It is time we re-grasped both diversity and tolerance in their original sense.

Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist. His book, Not So Black and White, is published by Hurst (£20).

Source: An art treasure long cherished by Muslims is deemed offensive. But to whom?

RCMP probes elaborate scam targeting Canada’s largest Muslim organization

Weird. Await results of investigation with interest:

Canada’s largest Muslim community organization has been rocked by meticulous forgeries of RCMP and Canada Revenue Agency records, which weave an elaborate fiction about federal investigators using paid informants to build a terrorist-funding case against the charity.

For more than a year, the Muslim Association of Canada has been receiving documents from an anonymous sender that suggest authorities are attempting to entrap the organization, sowing turmoil within the grassroots group. It operates 22 mosques and community centres and 30 schools in 13 cities.

A Globe and Mail investigation has found that the records mailed to MAC are fake. The trove of documents, amounting to hundreds of pages, includes printouts designed to look like internal government e-mails between criminal investigators, fake RCMP search warrants andphony records of money transfers through the SWIFT interbank system to offshore accounts supposedly associated with informants within the charity.

The Canada Revenue Agency referred the matter to the RCMP after The Globe shared some of the documents with the tax collection agency. The RCMP said in a statement that they are reviewing the documents.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, MAC is not convinced the documents are fake. The organization is calling on the federal government to launch an independent investigation aimed at determining whether someone in a government department or agency is engaging in “Islamophobic tactics against the Muslim community,” Sharaf Sharafeldin, MAC’s president responsible for strategy, said in a statement.

“The documents are quite intricate, detailed and troubling,” Mr. Sharafeldin added. “The documents or their contents must have come from a source within the federal government or its agencies as no one outside of the federal government or its agencies would have had access to such information.”

In April, 2021, the 25-year-old charity began receiving the documents in packages with no return addresses. MAC has so far received 11 deliveries of purported government files. They detail a non-existent seven-year effort by tax collectors and the RCMP to find evidence that MAC is funnelling donations to extremist groups. The last package arrived in late November.

Relations between the Muslim organization and the CRA have been fraught for years. Since 2015, the tax agency has been conducting a very real audit of MAC’s activities as a registered charity, a possible prelude to revoking its charitable status. That investigation is unrelated to any accusations of terrorist funding.

MAC has called this continuing CRA audit an “existential threat,” because losing charitable status would make it harder for the organization to raise money to run mosques and schools, as its donors would not be eligible for tax breaks. It mounted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms challenge against the CRA in April to stop the audit, arguing the agency is tainted by Islamophobia and systemic bias toward Muslim Canadians.

Canada’s Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson, François Boileau, said in an interview that he was “completely flabbergasted” to learn that someone is impersonating CRA investigators.

“Wow. Someone, somewhere is going to a lot of trouble inventing this scheme. So there is something very troubling,” he added.

The fake records sent to MAC, which were obtained by The Globe, make it seem as if the charity is riddled with informants supplying the RCMP and the CRA with details of its operations. A purported Mountie “Informant Manifest” lists six informants who are supposedly working with the National Security Joint Operations Centre, as well as 18 “secondary asset” informants.

The informant list includes what it describes as six current donors to the association, seven current members, a current board member of MAC, as well as a custodian, a banker and a food-service provider for the charity.

Perhaps the most explosive documents sent to MAC are purported records of cash payments and SWIFT wire transfers to RCMP and CRA informants who are supposedly supplying investigators with information on the organization.

The purported transfers show 13 payments into offshore bank accounts, supposedly for the benefit of three informants. All but one list the Bank of Canada as the sender. The documents show the equivalent of more than $320,000 being deposited into accounts in the British dependency of Guernsey.

But the Bank of Canada, in a statement to The Globe, said the SWIFT transfer documents bearing its name are forgeries.

“We can confirm that the documents purporting to be SWIFT transfer records are not genuine,” the bank said.

The central bank declined to say specifically what was inauthentic about the SWIFT documents, to avoid giving people tips on how to create fake wire transfers.

The fake records sent to MAC portray the Canada Revenue Agency as being under pressure from its leadership to nail the Muslim charity for wrongdoing. The documents make investigators appear willing to bend or break the rules in order to do so.

An e-mail dated March, 2022 and purportedly sent by Wayne Welch, an investigator with the CRA’s criminal investigation division in Mississauga, mentions the “urgency that the chief has placed on breaking ground on having a smoking gun on MAC.” It continues by saying: “We need to be more creative if not downright dirty in roping these bad actors in.”

One e-mail purports to show CRA leadership trying to use sex as bait. “It is agreed that scandal is the best leverage here. Please put our girl in play. He’s married. Let’s see if he bites,” the e-mail says. It’s not clear who the target at MAC is.

Another e-mail, purportedly sent in April by Shalini Shan-Hernandez, with the CRA’s criminal investigations division, paints a picture of a failing investigation. “There just isn’t the kind of material we need for a solid case,” says the message, addressed to Eric Ferron, the director general of the CRA’s criminal investigation directorate. It continues by saying: “Also, the assets have started being a little sketchy, since the larger payments have gone out.”

The records make it seem as if U.S. law enforcement is pushing the CRA for results and directing it to find an informant inside MAC’s leadership. “We on this side of the fence are concerned about the pace of your sourcing,” a June e-mail purportedly from a Federal Bureau of Investigation official named Mustafa S. appears to tell the CRA’s Mr. Ferron. “It is imperative that we are in a position by year’s end to move into the next phase of operations. To this end we need to establish a foothold in the executive of MAC.” The FBI agent is a real agent, but his e-mail address on the documents is incorrect.

Whoever sent the documents included what appear to be two RCMP search warrants – one from 2014 and another from January of this year – that purportedly show the Mounties had obtained court approval to wiretap and search MAC’s offices. While the warrants look authentic, they are missing key information, such as courthouse addresses and the locations of MAC offices. An extensive search of court records by The Globe did not turn up these warrants.

But The Globe did obtain a legitimate warrant filed in April, 2014. It focuses on another Muslim charity, and briefly mentions MAC. An affidavit that was part of an RCMP application for the warrant says that MAC provided more than $296,500 to the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy (IRFAN) between 2001 and 2010.

In 2011, IRFAN was designated a terrorist entity by the Canadian government for providing $14.6-million in resources to organizations with links to Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and is designated a terrorist organization by Ottawa. The CRA revoked IRFAN’s status as a Canadian charity in 2011.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki wrote to MAC in October, 2020, to assure the group it “was perfectly legal” to have made donations to IRFAN when “they were a legitimate registered charity.” Commissioner Lucki said “no charges were laid against your organization as a result of this investigation,” which was dubbed Project Sapphire.

The documents sent to MAC also describe a conflict between the RCMP and Ottawa’s Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre (FinTRAC), which monitors money flows for terrorism financing.

The e-mails make it appear as if FinTRAC officials were accusing RCMP investigators of bias, and of rejecting evidence FinTRAC had gathered on MAC as part of Project Sapphire.

“Our findings, thus far, indicate no transactions that meet the criteria for intentional criminality,” says a May, 2014, e-mail purportedly from Michael Boole, a manager at FinTRAC.

In a second e-mail also dated May, 2014, Mr. Boole purportedly questions whether there is a “political aspect” to the RCMP’s conduct. In a third e-mail supposedly sent that month, he admonishes the force. “It is also not part of our mandate, either in this project or in general, to target certain groups or manipulate data to fit certain agendas,” he appears to tell the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team.

A June, 2014, e-mail purportedly shows Mr. Boole telling the RCMP to back off.

“I will put this as diplomatically as possible. This is unacceptable. We will not acquiesce to your demand for conformity to the pre-determined scenario you have formulated,” the e-mail says.

But Mr. Boole, who is now manager of the anti-money-laundering unit in FinTRAC’s intelligence sector, has sworn these e-mails are fake.

In an Oct. 3, 2022, affidavit filed in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice, Mr. Boole said he had “not heard of the Muslim Association of Canada” until the summer of 2022, when he was contacted by federal lawyers who were analyzing an earlier batch of suspect documents sent to the charity.

He said that, during the period the e-mails cover, he did no work “on any matter related to suspected terrorist financing.”

The CRA’s Ms. Hernandez and Mr. Ferron have also sworn affidavits saying they did not author the documents sent to MAC.

Source: RCMP probes elaborate scam targeting Canada’s largest Muslim organization

Nakua: Tackling Islamophobia begins by rebuilding trust with the Muslim community

Not sure how “deeply planned” policies and practices that result in Islamophobia and other forms of racial or religious discrimination were, although there is clearly an anti-Islam cottage industry. And of course, compared to the earlier incidents cited, there has been a recognition and shift towards addressing right wing extremism.

One needs to be careful labelling every example of differential outcomes or treatment as automatically racist. One needs to look at the particulars and the reasoning and evidence before making that judgement. Differences signal potential racism and discrimination that need to be probed and understood:

The first anniversary of the killing of four members of the Afzaal family in London, Ont., passed with marches and vigils and a commitment to fight Islamophobia. Last winter, another grim anniversary of the Quebec City mosque massacre was commemorated in a similar manner. Both left an indelible imprint on the Muslim community across the country.

One glaring similarity in the two tragedies is the preference to identify and restrict the solutions towards Islamophobia through a narrow and ineffective focus on hate crimes. However, to truly address Islamophobia, we need to look at the deep systemic racism that exists in Canada.

Islamophobia is a complex phenomenon. It must be seen through the larger context of systemic racism such as anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism and anti-migrant discrimination. Fundamentally, Islamophobia is an outcome of the racialization of Muslims as an “other” — mostly through targeting the expression of their “Muslimness.”

Islamophobia has been on the rise since 9/11. Under the “war on terror” and the anti-radicalization framework, Muslims were securitized within public, political and media discourses. These policies stigmatized Muslims and made it easy to propagate dangerous Islamophobic discourses. This normalization process rose to a crescendo around 2011 when it moved from the fringe towards the centre as its political utility became evident.

One example of systemic Islamophobia was exposed in two recent reports that examined the targeting of Muslim-led charities by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

The first report, by the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), traced systemic biases in Canada’s anti-terrorism financing and anti-radicalization regimes.

The second, titled Under Layered Suspicion, examined three audit reports of six revoked charities and identified a number of systemic biases. These included casting Muslims and their lifestyles and activities as inherently foreign or in the role of the outsider.

These reports expose one of the major failures of the anti-terror policies. The concentration of counter-terrorism resources was not based on a comparative risk analysis. There had been neither a substantial assessment of other potential threats of terrorism nor an informed system-wide decision to proceed on this basis.

The staging for these audits could be traced to a 2015 hearing by the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence where Lorenzo Vidino, an American legal scholar with connections to numerous anti-Muslim think tanks in the United States and Europe was a key witness. A Georgetown University report says Vindino’s research “promotes conspiracy theoriesabout the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the United States.” He has also openly advocated for the delegitimization of Muslim community organizations by asking for an “Al Capone law-enforcement approach” to shut them down on tax breaches. By doing this, he used a common Islamophobic allegation that mainstream Muslim organizations are influenced by foreign entities such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Another example is the reasonable accommodation debate in the province of Quebec. The Bouchard-Taylor Commission, televised across the province, soon became a platform to normalize hate and welcomed Islamophobia to the public square. Successive governments in Quebec became obsessed with “religious symbols in the public sphere,” introducing four bills within 10 years, including Bill 21. Two hundred and fifty academics co-signed an open letter in Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper calling that law discriminatory.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is challenging Bill 21 in court because in its assessment the legislation unfairly targets people who express their faith through what they wear. Even Charles Taylor, co-author of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission report, explained that Bill 21 must be understood “in the context of a society full of Islamophobia.”

However, the Quebec government has shown a great apathy towards tackling Islamophobia and instead has pursued a strategy to stifle any meaningful criticism.

These examples demonstrate the reality that Islamophobia is more than hate crimes. It is the result of deeply planned and developed practices that create and proliferate systemic racism. It will require considerable ingenuity, as well as political will, to change things.

Tackling Islamophobia begins by rebuilding trust with the Muslim community. This starts with strong government leadership to review the anti-terrorism laws and policies, and replace them with new fit-for-purpose alternatives.

The government must also invest resources to address systemic institutional Islamophobia that we are witnessing in the CRA, the Canada Border Services Agency, the RCMP and CSIS, among other government agencies. The CRA should suspend the review and analysis division (RAD) of the charities directorate until the federal government revises its risk-based assessment model and reforms its anti-terrorism laws.

More immediately, the minister of national revenue should declare a moratorium on the targeted audit of Muslim charities by RAD until the review has concluded.

The recent announcement by the federal government that it would establish a special representative on combating islamophobia is a good start. However, producing statistics and narratives of Islamophobia will not solve it. We need to address it directly from a systemic perspective. It should be part of a federal office with clear mandate and sufficient resources to implement a purposeful agenda to correct past wrongs, and to compel us as a society to imagine a new norm that is more inclusive and equitable.

The ugly legacy of Islamophobia should never be allowed to persist. This starts by recognizing that Islamophobia is more just hate crimes.

Source: Tackling Islamophobia begins by rebuilding trust with the Muslim community

Calls to combat Islamophobia prominent in record-setting June for federal advocacy

Of note. Reflects the anniversary of the London killings:

Representatives of Canada’s Muslim population were on Parliament Hill in June calling on Ottawa to do more to combat Islamophobia during an advocacy event held on the anniversary of the fatal attack against an Ontario Muslim family.

“That attack forever changed the way that Muslims view their relationships with Canada and the country as a whole, and so we noticed a need for more,” said Fatema Abdalla, the communications coordinator with the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). “We placed our call for more to be done against systemic Islamophobia, and we’ve been calling for that for many years, but there’s so much more that needs to be done.”

The NCCM led the way in federal lobbying in June, filing 64 communication reports for the month. This was more than twice the number of communication reports contributed by other leading advocacy groups during the month, which included the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), which filed 29 reports, and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), which filed 26.

All but three of the NCCM’s communication reports for last month were for activity on June 6, when the organization’s representatives were on the Hill for a federal advocacy day.

Communities across Ontario held marches and vigils on June 6 to commemorate the lives of a Muslim family killed on the same date last year in London, Ont., On June 6, 2021, Yumna Afzaal, 15, her mother Madiha Salman, 44, father Salman Afzaal, 46, and her grandmother, Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed when a vehicle jumped a curb while they were out for a Sunday walk. Police believe the driver targeted the family because of their Muslim faith.

The youngest son, who family members have asked not to be named, was injured but survived.

Abdalla told The Hill Times that this wasn’t the only attack of its kind in Canada, and referred to the terrorist attack on Jan. 29, 2017, where 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette shot and killed six worshipers at a mosque in Québec City.

To help protect Canada’s Muslim population, the NCCM’s representatives are pushing for the Liberal government to develop a national action plan to combat Islamophobia. The plan should include a national support fund intended to help survivors of hate-motivated crimes, and funding to improve security at mosques, according to Abdalla. NCCM members would also like the federal government to create a provision in the criminal code that mandates a special process to deal with hate crimes, including stiffer penalties for violent offenders and a rehabilitation path for specific and relevant offenders.

NCCM representatives met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.), and nine other federal ministers during the advocacy event on the Hill. The NCCM is represented on the federal lobbyists’ registry by CEO Mustafa Farooq and assistant advocacy officer Amar Abdisamed.

During the advocacy day, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.) announced that Ottawa has begun the hiring process to find a Special Representative on Combating Islamophobia. This announcement fulfilled a Liberal government commitment made in January, according to an NCCM press release from June 27.

Islamophobia is a daily reality for far too many Muslim communities in Canada and around the world, according to Daniele Medlej, the director of communications in Hussen’s office, in an emailed statement to The Hill Times on July 20.

“From the Quebec Mosque shooting to the London attack just last year, we are reminded of the devastating consequences Islamophobia can have,” said Medlej in the email.

Medlej did not provide details on when the federal government is hoping to have filled the role of Special Representative.

In the email, Medlej said the Special Representative will serve as “a champion, advisor, expert and representative” to the Liberal government, and will collaborate with domestic partners, institutions and stakeholders to support Canada’s efforts to combat Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate, systemic racism, racial discrimination and religious intolerance.

The Liberal government is committed to getting the appointment of the Special Representative right, and will share more details as they become available, she added.

“[The Special Representative] will impact Canada’s fight against Islamophobia by enhancing our efforts, addressing barriers faced by the community, and promoting awareness of the diverse and intersectional identities of Muslims in Canada,” said Medlej in the emailed statement. “Our government stands with, and continues to support, Muslim communities across Canada. We unequivocally condemn Islamophobia, hate and discrimination of any kind.”

Also on June 6, the NCCM welcomed an announcement by Liberal MP Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre, Ont.), who said she plans to begin public consultations on a private member’s bill that would aim to hold intelligence and justice officials accountable for breaches of the “duty of candour” they have towards the Federal Court. The duty of candour refers to the responsibility that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) officials and Department of Justice lawyers have to present a judge with all the relevant facts, including information that may sway the judge against their request.

Zahid’s announcement followed complaints she has received from her constituents and from racialized Canadians in general about being unfairly targeted by CSIS, as previously reported in The Hill Times.

The NCCM argued in the June 27 press release that violations of the duty of candour by intelligence officials has caused serious and long-term harm to marginalized communities.

June was a record-breaking month for federal lobbying, with 2,587 communication reports in total posted for that month, according to a search of the federal lobbyists’ registry on July 21. June had the highest total of communication reports for that month since at least 2009, which is the earliest that online records are available for June. The previous record for June was 2,468 communication reports filed in June 2021.

Source: Calls to combat Islamophobia prominent in record-setting June for federal advocacy

Expert says genocide is part of humanity, often result of propaganda

Unfortunately true, as recent history illustrates, whether Rwanda, China in Xinjiang, or as Russia is trying to do in Ukraine:

As the images of mass graves and murdered civilians in Ukraine flash across our screen, we think of those who commit genocide as pure evil.

But a man who has dedicated his life to fighting the bigotry that causes genocide and has discovered more than 3,100 execution sites and interviewed more than 7,400 victims around the world knows better.

“A human being has the capacity to heal people, to save people, but also the capacity to do the worst crimes,” Father Patrick Desbois said. “The first thing to accept is that genocide is inside humanity.”

Desbois, an author and founder of Yahad-In Unum (Together In One), a non-profit organization dedicated to discovering genocidal practices, spoke Monday night inside the Arizona Ballroom of the Memorial Union as part of Genocide Awareness Week, put on by Arizona State University’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Desbois, who has received several awards for his work documenting the Holocaust, including the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, said the perpetrators of genocide often are ordinary people who become embroiled in extraordinary situations.

He cited the case of Sabrina Harmon, a former U.S. Army reservist who was convicted of war crimes for her involvement in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Baghdad during the Iraq war.

“I always say to my students (at Georgetown University) that I’m sure she was a normal girl,” Desbois said. “I’m sure she was not a monster. Genocide is not in a hell place away from everything. It’s not true.”

Genocide often is the result, Desbois said, of propaganda feeding brainwashed minds. It was that way in Nazi Germany, in Angola in the 1970s, in Sudan and in Ukraine, where Russian president Vladimir Putin justified his country’s invasion with the propaganda that Ukraine is “openly pro-Nazi.”

“Hitler never missed people to do the job,” Desbois said. “There is no country where Hitler said, ‘Oh, nobody wants to do the job for killings. He found people to do everything, to dig the mass graves, to fill the mass graves, and even if Jews are not dead, they are buried alive, to take the belongings and sell them by auction, etc. etc.

“Because when you brainwash people, when you make propaganda to designate a target, you wake up the criminals. And you find clients for everything … Why are young soldiers coming from Russa doing awful things in public, under cameras from CNN? Why can Putin deny it every day?

“Propaganda is still strong. Propaganda has a capacity to whitewash the brain. And when people are brainwashed, any violence is possible … Everybody can be a victim. Everybody can be a killer. It depends where you are.”

Desbois said propaganda – and the resulting Neo-Nazi movement — is in part responsible for the rise in anti-Semitism around the world, including the United States. According to FBI statistics in 2020, Jews living in America are the target of 58% of all religiously motivated hate crimes.

Desbois said that when he posts something about the Holocaust on his Facebook page, “there’s always somebody who denies it, for any reason.”

“I will never forget the first time I went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I took a cab from the airport and had an Arab driver. I gave the address, and he brought me to the museum. After I went to pay, he told me, ‘You go to a place which shows the genocide that never existed.’”

That attitude, Desbois said, is why it’s important to teach high school and college students about the Holocaust. Already, he said, the Holocaust is not taught in schools in Mexico, Asia, China, India, Russia, most African countries and most Arab countries.

“I see year after year students (at Georgetown) know nothing about the Holocaust,” Desbois said. And the young generation, they will have very few chances to meet a (Holocaust) survivor. They will meet people who say, ‘Ha, it never existed. It’s a Jewish trick to make money to build Israel.’

“So, it’s a strong responsibility to teach, to train a generation of leaders and to do it so that they have the capacity to resist the huge movement of hate.”

Holocaust by Bullets,” a program and exhibit by Yahad-In Unum, can be seen in the Hayden Library through April 17. Members of the ASU community can access the free exhibit any time during library hours. Non-ASU community members can access the exhibit during docent-led tours from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays.

Source: Expert says genocide is part of humanity, often result of propaganda