Mohamad Fakih and Walied Soliman made legal history. Now it’s harder for haters to have their way

Good for them and all of us:

Mohamad Fakih owns a restaurant chain and is a big Liberal backer.

Walied Soliman heads a law firm and chairs Conservative campaigns.

In their political tastes, the restaurateur and the lawyer couldn’t be more different.

But both are Muslims.

Which was enough for them to be targeted for hateful libels accusing them of being closet terrorists. Personally harangued and persecuted for no reason beyond their faith, they were publicly vilified and personally victimized.

Yet both refused to play victim. Today, each is victorious.

In two separate libel cases, they made legal history last month. By calling their persecutors to account — and forcing the legal system to act — they have made it harder for haters to get away with screaming bloody murder in public.

Soliman won a precedent-setting $500,000 defamation award against social media agitator Daniel Bordman, who had publicly accused him of harbouring crypto-Islamist terrorist links and hiding “secret” antisemitism. The case against Bordman was so compelling that the ruling came in a summary judgment (without going to full trial due to the damning evidence).

Separately, Fakih finally saw justice done when a failed Mississauga mayoral candidate, Kevin Johnston, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for contempt of court — after failing to abide by the terms of a $2.5 million libel judgment against him two years ago (and continuing to spew venom).

What unites Soliman and Fakih, apart from their shared faith and charitable works, is that both paid a personal price in public harassment for their high profiles. And for the sin of being successful in their work.

At the intersection of religion and Islamophobia, power and privilege, they found themselves at an inflection point. They could turn the other cheek, and let others fight the battle against bigotry, or they could push back against their persecutors.

“The first instinct is to ignore it,” Soliman told me. “It’s very easy for privileged people — who have the ability to fight — to say it isn’t worth it.”

But as chair of the Norton Rose Fulbright Canada law firm, who has served as campaign chair for both the Ontario and federal Tories, Soliman knew he had no excuse to do nothing. The libels falsely claimed he had “connections to the Muslim Brotherhood” and wanted to impose Islamic “sharia law to … override Canadian law,” the judge noted.

“I hate being the victim, I hate that role,” Soliman said. “If we don’t fight those battles, then who is going to set the precedents?”

To silence his bilious antagonist, Soliman turned to a rival lawyer against whom he is often pitted in legal battles over mergers and acquisitions, but whose judgment he deeply respects: Jonathan Lisus not only agreed to take on the case, but insisted on doing it at no charge.

Let’s connect a few dots here — not conspiracies but connections: Lisus happens to be a Jewish lawyer who took on the case of Soliman, a Muslim lawyer, to shield him against the lies and libels of Bordman — a Jewish social media provocateur falsely accusing Soliman of antisemitism.

But there’s another link. Lisus also fought and won the libel action of Fakih, setting not one but two major precedents with cases that, combined, should give pause to all hate-mongers:

“If you are going to engage in defamatory hate speech, you can lose everything,” Soliman concludes.

Fakih came to Canada from war-torn Lebanon in 1996 (having covered that conflict at that very time as a foreign correspondent, I know where he’s coming from). He savoured the seeming paradise of his adopted country, and revelled in his spectacular success founding the Paramount Fine Foods chain.

But with paradise, and Paramount, came the bizarre torment from Johnston, the failed politician and provocateur (who placed second to Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, winning 13.5 per cent of the vote in 2017). Post-Lebanon, Fakih didn’t see it coming.

“I lived the Canadian dream, I always thought it would never happen in Canada,” he told me. “It was a shock, and it helped me grow up.”

Like many immigrants, Fakih wondered if he would somehow seem like an ungrateful troublemaker for pushing. But when he was called a child killer, with doctored pictures showing “blood on my face,” after hosting a Liberal party fundraiser for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017, he had to protect his family — and his fellow Canadians — from the injustices and indignities.

“I wanted to show them I would not stay silent, that I would stand up to bullying … and live with dignity in front of my children,” Fakih explains. “Coming from a country like Lebanon, I am not a victim, it’s my duty to take them on.”

He won the multimillion-dollar defamation judgment against Johnston in 2019, but it was a hollow victory. Unsurprisingly, Johnston never paid up, but he shockingly refused to shut up — continuing to defame him publicly.

“I thought there would be accountability,” Fakih said. And so he went back to court a second time, this time to hold the justice system itself to account — and won another victory with the jail sentence, four years after he first came under attack.

Fakih’s story does not yet have a happy ending, for it is seemingly never-ending — the bigotry keeps coming back. Just as he had to deal with a defendant who refused to stop libeling him, so too Soliman has had to contend with one Islamophobic attack after another — most recently in last year’s federal Conservative leadership race (best leave his attacker nameless lest he profit from the attention).

Still, the legal precedents that Fakih and Soliman have established, each in their own way, will make it easier for those who follow to win in court. The personal examples they have set will also make it harder for haters to have their way.

But it is the resilience they have shown — by refusing to be victims after being victimized for so long — that may be their lasting legacy. Singled out for being Muslims, they both stood their ground without losing faith — either in their religion, or their country.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2021/11/01/mohamad-fakih-and-walied-soliman-made-legal-history-now-its-harder-for-haters-to-have-their-way.html

Regg Cohn: When it comes to recognizing Islamophobia, some Conservatives recognize that words matter

Of note:

A massacre changes everything. And, sometimes, nothing.

Four years ago, in the face of a Quebec mosque attack that killed six Muslims at prayer, the federal Conservatives closed their eyes and their hearts to the reality — literally — of Islamophobia.

Then-leader Andrew Scheer led the charge against uttering the word Islamophobia. He relied on a pretext of free speech so specious as to be unspeakable today.

What a difference leadership makes — a change of leaders, a change of mind, a change of heart. And another massacre.

Much is being said, now, about how Scheer’s successor, Erin O’Toole, used the word Islamophobia freely and unselfconsciously after this week’s attack against a Muslim family that killed four in London, Ont. O’Toole showed the sensitivity and humanity that were conspicuously absent — in him and his party — back then.

What remains unsaid, however, is that not all Tories were so far behind the times that they were so overdue for change. At the very moment federal Conservatives were playing intemperate word games in Ottawa in 2017, their provincial cousins in the Ontario legislature were displaying tolerance and togetherness in their choice of words.

Then-leader Patrick Brown rallied his Progressive Conservative caucusbehind him to recognize and respect the term Islamophobia, unequivocally and unreservedly, in a legislative vote. How to explain the stark difference between federal and provincial Tories — and the subsequent about-face by O’Toole?

There is no single reason, but there is one common thread: Walied Soliman.

Brown and O’Toole are both close to Soliman, an influential lawyer and persuasive political operator who also happens to be a person of faith. For Soliman, as a Muslim, the massacres were also intensely personal.

“Islamophobia is real,” he wrote on Twitter this week. “Call it out. Call out anyone who doesn’t use the word. Call them out. Shame them. Cut the crap. Enough. If you’ve got a problem using the term you are part of the problem.”

Soliman has known Brown since they were both Young Tories in their twenties, and he later played a key role as Ontario PC chair, helping the party pivot toward broader community outreach. As co-chair of O’Toole’s leadership run, he raised the candidate’s game — and raised money for the campaign.

Soliman tells me he never raised the Islamophobia issue directly with either leader. Perhaps he didn’t have to, knowing that the mere fact that they know him — were thinking about him — might have influenced them.

“They came to their conclusions on their own,” Soliman insists.

But even if he didn’t have to say a word about using the word Islamophobia, they also had to look him in the eye. And they knew what his reaction would be when they said it.

“When they both started talking about it, there was this distinct feeling of happiness that I felt,” Soliman recalls. Even if it took O’Toole a lot longer to find the words, “The first time Erin publicly talked about Islamophobia, it made me very happy.”

It must be said that Soliman himself has been a target for vicious Islamophobia against the backdrop of leadership races and internal policy debates. As chair of the Norton Rose Fulbright law firm — where he has worked with Brian Mulroney, another early champion of tolerance — his high profile attracted slurs about a supposedly hidden agenda for Islamic sharia law.

“I’ve often wondered if my friendships were a burden, that maybe it’d be easier for them if I wasn’t involved, wasn’t a friend,” Soliman muses. But when a person is a friend or a neighbour, he inevitably has influence because “you see them every day, you see their humanity — that’s me.”

The old Conservative word games — the claim in 2017 that Islamophobia was a made-up word because it literally suggests “fear of Islam” — never made sense. Everyone knows what homophobia means to gays who faced discrimination and demonization for centuries, which is why Soliman encouraged Brown to march in a Pride parade.

Not every word must be taken literally. Misogyny means hatred of women, but it is often used interchangeably with sexism, referring to prejudice, discrimination and contempt. The term anti-Semitism is only about 150 years old, but “Jew hatred” goes back centuries and makes the point more powerfully.

The Muslim family killed in London this week had immigrated to Canada from the Islamic State of Pakistan in search of sanctuary. They thought they had found it here, only to be blindsided by bigotry and intolerance, police say, on the streets — on the sidewalk — of an Ontario city.

We live in a time of slogans and slurs. We cannot coexist in a world where words are weaponized or accountability is avoided altogether.

Hate crimes are rising, not falling, but there is a way for us to insulate and inoculate ourselves. It falls to our political leaders to show the way on civility and tolerance, lest we fall victim to the internecine intolerance that we witness in America today.

Democracy alone cannot protect minorities from the perils of majority rule. Only pluralism can preserve our common humanity.

Our leaders must say what needs to be said — on Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and discrimination that badmouth the “other.” And that lead to massacres.

Words matter. Leadership matters.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2021/06/09/when-it-comes-to-recognizing-islamophobia-some-conservatives-recognize-that-words-matter.html