No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountability (Gurski) and the piece that prompted it (Gardee)

Phil Gurski on Ihsaan Gardee’s earlier column (reprinted below):

There are times when you read something that makes your blood boil and demands a response. One such time occurred to me last week within the pages of The Hill Times in an op-ed by Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). Entitled “Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security“, this op-ed piece is full of language like “over-reaching and draconian,” “smearing Muslims,” “Islamophobia,” “systemic bias and discrimination,” and “little or no accountability,” all directed at CSIS and other agencies involved in national security.

Gardee paints a picture of CSIS that seems to have it in for Canada’s Muslims and which has undermined attempts by those communities to “establish robust partnerships.” He appears convinced that CSIS is an organization run rogue that has “protracted problems” which leads to the “stigmatization” of those among us who are Muslim.

As a former analyst at CSIS who not only worked on Islamist extremism for 15 years, but who has written four books on the topic—and met with Muslims all across the country to discuss the issues of radicalization and terrorism—I think I am in a better position than him to draw a better picture. And no, for the record, I am not a ‘shill’ for CSIS and more than happy to point to the bad as well as the good within the agency.

So to the first accusation levelled by Gardee: does Islamophobia exist within CSIS? Absolutely—I saw it first-hand and challenged it when I saw it, although it is not as pervasive as he thinks it is. And, yes, the lawsuit containing allegations about Islamophobia among other shortcomings that was settled by five former employees was based on facts, as I outlined quite clearly in a previous Hill Times column. Aside from that, however, everything else Gardee alleges as endemic within CSIS—I cannot speak for another agency such as CBSA as I never worked there and would never purport to know what goes on within its walls—is false. As CSIS won’t publicly address these fabrications, I will, if for no other reason than I toiled tirelessly for a decade and a half to do my small part in keeping Canadians safe from terrorism and don’t want my time construed as wasted in a racist environment.

But if you look at the terrorist/violent extremist environment in Canada since 9/11, which seems to be the timeframe Gardee sees when everything went to hell for Muslim Canadians, the vast majority of attacks have been perpetrated by Islamist extremists. And that does not even take into account the Islamic State ‘foreign fighter’ phenomenon that led to the deaths of countless thousands in Iraq and Syria. Does this perhaps explain why CSIS and its partners have focused on the Muslim community in that time, given that these perpetrators come from that community?

What Gardee appears to fail to understand is that CSIS is an intelligence agency that is driven by intelligence. Intelligence tells it where to put its resources; that and government requirements. If the threat is emanating primarily from a small number of Canadians who happen to be Muslim then that is exactly where you would want our protectors to look, not elsewhere.

I am not saying that CSIS or its employees are perfect. No, they are not as they are human. In addition, there is always room for improvement, and that includes its relations with communities across Canada, Muslims among them. Since 9/11, however, CSIS has done its part with its partners to prevent deaths. I would think that Gardee would at least acknowledge that much.

I thus reject Gardee’s accusations. He owes CSIS an apology for his ill-considered words. Phil Gurski is a former strategic analyst with CSIS, an author and the Director of Intelligence and Security at the SecDev Group.

via No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountability – The Hill Times

Gardee’s op-ed made in the context of C-59:

Once bitten, twice shy. That’s the sense within Canadian Muslim communities when it comes to the Liberal government’s proposed overhaul of national security law under Bill C-59.

The legislation was back before the House last week after examination by the Public Safety and National Security Committee.

Let’s not forget where this first started. Under the previous government, Canadian anti-terrorism laws quickly morphed into overreaching and draconian policies. This was coupled with Muslim communities facing jarring public scrutiny and increasing Islamophobia.

Back then, despite efforts from Canadian Muslims to establish robust partnerships on national security, the government’s response was to smear them as a threat to Canada. The result: trust between Canadian Muslims and the government agencies tasked with protecting us all evaporated after years of work.

The days when the loyalty of Canadian Muslims was being questioned by government officials seem behind us—for now. But that is no standard by which to measure meaningful change.

That very public show of Islamophobic discourse by government overshadowed something even more alarming—the permeating of systemic bias and discrimination against Muslims by and in our security agencies.

In the past several months alone, we have seen sweeping allegations by CSIS employees about racism and Islamophobia within the service and new data that suggests the CBSA disproportionately targets non-whites, particularly those from the Middle East.

These accounts, along with the direct reports regularly received by our organization, only amplify concerns about what Canadian Muslims have been experiencing for years.

To be fair, Bill C-59 does make important, long-overdue improvements to previous laws, including better and more focused review powers and mechanisms as well as some stricter directives to prevent complicity with torture by foreign powers.

Last December, our organization told the House Public Safety Committeethat redress and review were only a partial solution to the problems plaguing Canada’s national security system. Real reform of security work is necessary to address systemic bias and discrimination.

As outlined by experts and civil society, there are several concerning elements in Bill C-59; however, two key issues have recently come to the fore.

First, the government has not substantially reined back the contentious disruption powers given to CSIS—an agency that we know through public inquiries has targeted Muslims with little to no accountability for their actions. There must be a concerted effort by government to confront the systemic bias in the way CSIS approaches and resources its intelligence work. Until real change occurs, these powers which remain unproven in their effectiveness are only an invitation to more abuse and scandal.

Second, the lack of due process in the Passenger Protect Program—Canada’s No Fly List—continues. This has been one of the most troubling instruments of state power for over a decade. There are no reported cases of Canadians successfully getting off the list through the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office which was created in 2016. Families impacted by the list say the inquiries office has been of little to no use. Although recently funding has been earmarked for a new redress system to remove false flagging, how and why Canadians find themselves on this draconian list in the first place remains unanswered.

As we look ahead, the aegis of this legislation does not engender the kind of trust from communities that is needed.

Incidentally, Public Safety Canada’s recently launched Canada Centre for Community Engagement and the Prevention of Violence is pledging a strategy that “reflects the realities faced by Canada’s diverse communities.” Canadian Muslims are closely watching whether this initiative is yet another exercise in falsely framing national security as the “Muslim problem” or whether policymaking will finally take into account the growing threat of far-right extremism in Canada.

In other words, rebuilding trust with our communities cannot be achieved through roundtables and focus groups.

It has been more than a decade since the Arar Inquiry report first outlined some of the protracted problems within our country’s security apparatus. Through the haze of political haste, 12 years later Canadian Muslims are still seeking the partnership with government that ends their national security stigmatization.

Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security

ICYMI: Beware of the Muslim Brotherhood, expert warns

US security expert on the Muslim Brotherhood activities and strategies in North America and the narrative used that he argues prepares the ground for violent extremism:

Authorities should be concerned about the unseen hand of the Muslim Brotherhood gripping sections of Canada’s diverse Muslim community, says a U.S. security expert.

The movement has planted its revivalist interpretation of Islam, political ideology and activism among some Muslims here and sees itself as a minder and broker between them and the rest of society, Lorenzo Vidino, who specializes in Islamism and political violence, told the Senate’s national security committee recently.

“They basically aim to be the gatekeepers to Muslim communities, that whenever politicians, governments or the media try to get the Muslim voice, if there were such a thing, they would go through them, sort of the self‑appointed leaders of Muslim communities,” he said.

Vidino is director of the program on extremism at George Washington University and author of The New Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Columbia University Press, 2010). He sees no direct links to terrorism among the group’s western supporters. In fact, some work to prevent violent radicalization, he said.

“It would be an analytical mistake to lump them, as some do, with al-Qaida or ISIL. These are not organizations that plan attacks in the West, and actually in many cases they do condemn them.”

The problem is more indirect, Vidino said. “Generally speaking, the movement has not abandoned violence as a tool to advance its agenda.” Tactically, it doesn’t pursue violence, “but it’s not heartfelt,” he said.

“They have this narrative where they lump together foreign policy issues with issues like cartoons and so on as part of a big narrative that proves this point that the West hates Muslims and Islam. It’s that mainstreaming of this narrative which is very much the staircase to violent radicalization and the brotherhood does mainstream that. It provides somewhat of a fertile environment.

“That kind of narrative in the mind a 16- or 18-year-old is extremely dangerous, because violence is justified when Muslims are under attack. If it’s OK in Gaza and Afghanistan, why is it not OK in the West, where you’re also telling me that Islam is under attack?”

…. To start, there is no group calling itself the “Muslim Brotherhood” in North America. Instead, a few hundred sophisticated, politically savvy and well-funded supporters in Canada have over the past 50 years created vocal and visible organizations that represent a very small part of the Muslim community. They exert a disproportional influence over mosques, schools and spaces where Muslims come together, said Vidino.

While they don’t take orders from any Arab capital, they “are part of an informal network where you have strong links based on personal and financial connections, and at the end of the day what matters the most: ideology. They all embrace a certain world view.”

Groups sometimes go to great lengths to sever or hide such ties, Vidino told the committee. He said they include the Muslim Association of Canada and what used to be called CAIR-CAN, now the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Another group he identified is The International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy – Canada, IRFAN. Its charitable status was revoked after the government alleged the organization sent almost $15 million to groups affiliated with the Palestinian terror outfit Hamas between 2005 and 2009. IRFAN has since been listed as a banned terrorist organization in Canada.

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the NCCM, said Vidino is misinformed.

“The NCCM is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit grassroots Canadian civil liberties and advocacy organization with a public track record spanning 15 years,” said Gardee. “The NCCM is not a religious group and does not and has never had any affiliations, links, ideological or of any other kind, with the Muslim Brotherhood or any other overseas group.”

Beware of the Muslim Brotherhood, expert warns | Ottawa Citizen.

National Muslim group warns C-51 posturing ‘giving fodder to extremists’

Valid points:

“I quite honestly wanted to tell Ms. Ablonczy, ‘please, stop helping the terrorists win’,” NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee told iPolitics of their tense exchange.

In the exchange Thursday night, Ablonczy said she wanted to “put on the record” what she said was as “a continuing series of allegations” that the NCCM is linked to groups that have expressed support for “Islamic terrorist groups,” including Hamas. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former spokesman, Jason MacDonald, is already being sued by the NCCM for similar comments.

At the time, Gardee bristled at the comments, calling them “McCarthy-esque.”

Gardee later elaborated, warning that, “Violent extremists will now use this kind of thing to say to the young and to the vulnerable and uninformed that ‘See? Even if you are trying to be a part of Canadian society, your country will never accept you’ and that despite what they say, they are in fact at war with Islam and Muslims.”

“It’s seems to be open season,” he said.

National Muslim group warns C-51 posturing ‘giving fodder to extremists’

And in related news, it seems to be open season for inappropriate language by Conservative MPs (see earlier John Williamson apologizes for ‘offensive’ comment on temporary workers program):

“If you aren’t willing to show your face in a ceremony where you’re joining the best country in the world, then frankly … stay the hell where you came from,” he said.

“I think most Canadians feel the same. I may be saying it a little harshly, but it’s the way I feel. I’m so sick and tired of people wanting to come here because they know it’s a good country and then they want to change things before they even officially become a Canadian.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Mr. Miller said some of his comments were “inappropriate.”

“I stand by my view that anyone being sworn in as a new citizen of our country must uncover their face. However, I apologize for and retract my comments that went beyond this.”

Carl Vallée, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said Mr. Miller’s comments went “beyond our clear position.”

Mr. Miller’s comments went further than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who said last week that the niqab, a face-covering veil worn by a small minority of Muslim women in Canada, was “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said recent comments from the Conservative government were “seemingly designed to keep the electorate focused on identity politics in order to distract them from broader issues in an election year.”

“Even with an apology, the damage has been done, and continues to be done, by elected officials who seem intent on debating an issue that has already been fully addressed in our courts and which does little to address the real concerns Canadians have about their day-to-day lives,” Mr. Gardee said in a statement. “It further creates a climate in which Muslim women may be subjected to anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination.”

Again, quick apology but damage done.

Remarks on women wearing niqabs were ‘inappropriate,’ Tory MP says – The Globe and Mail.

:

 

Bill C-51 hearings: Diane Ablonczy’s questions to Muslim group ‘McCarthyesque’

How does the Government seriously think that this ongoing line of unsubstantiated allegations helps increase cooperation with Canadian Muslim groups and Canadian Muslims in generally in helping reduce the risk of radicalization and violent extremism?

Just reinforcing previous examples of divisive language and the lack of a de-radicalization strategy on “soft” measures to reduce what are real risks:

During a question-and-answer session following National Council of Canadian Muslims executive director Ihsaan Gardee’s presentation to the House public safety committee on Bill C-51, Diane Ablonczy used her allotted time to “put on the record” what she described as “a continuing series of allegations” that the NCCM has ties to groups that have expressed support for “Islamic terrorist groups,” including Hamas.

“I think it is fair to give you an opportunity to address these troubling allegations,” Ablonczy said.

“In order to work together, there needs to be a satisfaction that, you know, this can’t be a half-hearted battle against terrorism. Where do you stand in light of these allegations?”

Gardee pushed back.

Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told Diane Ablonczy that her line of questioning Thursday was “entirely based on innuendo and misinformation.” (CBC News)

“First and foremost, I’ll say on the record that NCCM has condemned violent terrorism and extremism in all of its forms, regardless of who perpetrates it for whatever reason,” he told the committee.

“However, the premise of your question is false, and entirely based on innuendo and misinformation.”

Gardee pointed to the group’s history as an independent, non-profit, grassroots Canadian Muslim civil liberties organization with a “robust and public” track record.

“These are precisely the types of slanderous statements that have resulted in litigation that is ongoing,” he said, including a defamation lawsuit launched last year against the Prime Minister’s Office over “false statements” linking the group to Hamas made by now-former spokesman Jason MacDonald.

“The NCCM is confident that the courts will provide the necessary clarity on these points to ensure they are never repeated again,” he said. “The NCCM is not going to submit to a litmus test of loyalty used against Canadian Muslims and their institutions… which underlie such offensive questions.”

“McCarthyesque-type questions protected by parliamentary privilege are unbecoming of this committee,” he said, referring to a style of questioning used by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, imputing guilt with little or no evidence to back it up.

In response, Ablonczy mused that Gardee seemed to have been prepared for her question — as, she said, she thought he might be — before switching topics to hear his thoughts on effective anti-radicalization initiatives.

Bill C-51 hearings: Diane Ablonczy’s questions to Muslim group ‘McCarthyesque’ – Politics – CBC News.

Why online Islamophobia is difficult to stop

More on Islamophobia from both the UK and Canadian perspectives:

Online Islamophobia is also flourishing in Canada. The National Council of Canadian Muslims NCCM is receiving a growing number of reports.

But there are now fewer means for prosecuting online hate speech in Canada. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act protected against the wilful promotion of hate online, but it was repealed by Bill C-304 in 2012.

“It’s kind of hard to say what the impact is, because even when it existed, there weren’t a lot of complaints brought under it,” says Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Though there is a criminal code provision that protects against online hate speech, it requires the attorney general’s approval in order to lay charges — and that rarely occurs, says Zwibel.

Section 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada forbids the incitement of hatred against “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” A judge can order online material removed from a public forum such as social media if it is severe enough, but if it is housed on a server outside of the country, this can be difficult.

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of NCCM, says without changes, anti-Muslim hate speech will continue to go unpunished online, which he says especially concerns moderate Muslims.

“They worry about people perceiving them as sharing the same values these militants and these Islamic extremists are espousing.”

Same issues arise with antisemitism.

Ironic that the government is publicly musing about measures to curtail ISIS and related radicalization messaging on-line given their elimination of s 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (hate speech).

Why online Islamophobia is difficult to stop – CBC News – Latest Canada, World, Entertainment and Business News.

Whither the Muslim Brotherhood | hilltimes.com

Tom Quiggan and Danny Eisen (Canadian Coalition Against Terror – C-CAT) on the Muslim Brotherhood and their advocacy of a Canadian inquiry on the activities of the Brotherhood in Canada, similar to that in the UK:

Those opposing further investigation into the Brotherhood point to the Ikhwan’s current eschewal of violence and its support for democracy as emblematic of changes within the Ikhwan, notwithstanding the historic and ideological indicators cited above. But in doing so, they have often overlooked the fine print of the Ikhwani paradigm and the blazing headlines regarding the Brotherhood’s forays into terror sponsorship. They have ignored Brotherhood definitions of democracy as legitimate only when defined by its version of Sharia, and as a principle that can be accepted or rejected once Islamic rule is attained. They have allowed the Brotherhood’s democratic slogans to drown out its annihilationist proclamations against “international Judaism” and incitement and assaults against Egyptian Copts. They have sidestepped the Brotherhood’s endorsement of suicide bombings, not only against Israel, but in “Iraq, Afghanistan, and all [other] parts of our Muslim world.” And perhaps most seriously they have sanitized the Ikhwan’s moral and material support of Hamas. This terrorist organization, renowned for its rabid anti-Semitism and brutality towards Palestinians who do not endorse their path, is defined in its charter as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Whither the Muslim Brotherhood | hilltimes.com.

In other articles, they cast the net broader:

All this also shines some light on the libel suit recently launched by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and PMO spokesman Jason MacDonald, after MacDonald publicly noted NCCM’s “documented ties” to Hamas.

NCCM was formerly known as CAIR-CAN or the Council of American Islamic Relations-Canada. Its U.S. parent, CAIR-USA, was originally established by the Muslim Brotherhood and later designated by the U.S. Justice Department as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, meaning it might have been suspected but was never charged with an offence. One of CAIR-CAN’s founding directors was also an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial, which pertained to the illegal funding of Hamas. Not coincidently, Hamas is defined in its charter as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. So despite the current denials by NCCM of any connection to the Brotherhood-affiliated CAIR-USA, the two organizations have extensive historical ties, with both groups having made repeated claims in the past that they are connected to each other.

Terrorists in our midst – Winnipeg Free Press

Which in turn provoked a response by NCCM:

Instead, they [Quiggan and Eisen] presented a conspiracy-laden diatribe that, in a sweeping stroke, smeared our long-standing Canadian organization as “terrorists” and despicably suggested we intend to destroy Canada from within.

By painting a far-fetched plot of sedition, the writers deliberately avoided the truth and mimicked the documented anti-Muslim cottage industry south of the border.

Rather than educate, their article misled readers by suggesting associations between known terrorist groups and Canadian Muslim organizations that have roundly condemned terrorism and extremism.

Since 2000, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) has engaged with fellow Canadians, promoting active citizenship and outreach. As a mainstream organization, we have worked tirelessly, educating Canadian Muslims about their rights and responsibilities, building mutual understanding between communities, participating in major public inquiries and appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada.

We participate in important coalitions with respected organizations such as Amnesty International Canada and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law — indeed, to help make Canada an even better place for all.

NCCM’s entire body of work is public and we have consistently denounced all forms of violent extremism and specifically condemned terror groups such as al-Qaida and Hamas. No amount of mudslinging will change these facts.

Anti-Muslim diatribe promotes false suspicion

Given the upcoming court case on PMO comments on NCCM (Muslim group sues PM, spokesman for defamation), we shall see how this debate continues.

When working on radicalization and extremism issues, the easier ones, relatively speaking, were those that involved violence and terrorism. But from a multiculturalism and integration perspective, non-violent extremism, for whatever reason, also can undermine the fabric of society.