February 21, 2006
By Rory Leishman
In 1996, Prof. Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard University predicted in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order that "the single and most dangerous dimension of the emerging global politics would be conflict between groups from differing civilizations." Subsequent events, including the Sept. 11, 2001, Islamist attack on the United States and an array of terrorist bombings in Bali, London, Madrid and elsewhere have served to confirm this thesis.
Underlying these global conflicts is the propensity for people in different civilizations to harbour hardened beliefs on issues in conflict that are so radically divergent as to impede rational communication and understanding.
For evidence of this dilemma, Canadians need look no further than to the uproar over the decision by Ezra Levant, publisher of the Western Standard, to republish several of the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper.
Like the editors of Die Welt in Germany, Le Monde in France, the Volkskrant in the Netherlands and several other leading European newspapers, Levant contends that news media in the West have a duty to make these cartoons available to a wide audience so informed citizens can evaluate the reason for worldwide Muslim outrage.
Many Canadians disagree with Levant. They argue that news editors should refrain from republishing the cartoons, if only out of respect for the feelings of Muslims.
However, few of Levant's non-Muslim critics have gone so far as Mohamed Elmasry, the national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He insists that Levant should be charged with disseminating hate propaganda. The Criminal Code provides a maximum penalty upon conviction for this offence of two years' imprisonment.
"I think there is a fine line between freedom of the press and freedom to incite hate. These cartoons cross that line," Elmasry said. "Canada has a hate literature law and we will be able to test it to see indeed if the law protects the well-being of minorities."
Elmasry cannot be dismissed as an unrepresentative Islamist extremist. As the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, he speaks on behalf of the largest independent voice of Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Canada, yet he has no understanding of the meaning of freedom of the press.
Moreover, it's not just on the cartoons issue that Elmasry harbours extremist views. Last year, he was investigated, but never charged, with perpetrating hate propaganda for asserting on the Michael Coren Live talk show that every Israeli man and woman over the age of 18 is a valid target for Palestinian suicide bombers.
In a statement earlier this month, Elmasry described the Taliban terrorists of Afghanistan as "a popular movement with strong grassroots support." He added: "Many Afghans . . . perceive Americans -- and the Canadians who follow them -- as hostile foreigners occupying their country. Is it any surprise that some turn to suicide bombing?"
Elmasry also has a high regard for Hamas, an organization dedicated to eradicating Israel. Last week, the militant party featured a suicide bomber on its website, declaiming to Israeli Jews: "We will not leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood, and our children's thirst with your blood."
While most Canadians are horrified by such bloodlust, Elmasry has betrayed little concern. In a statement on Feb. 9, he asked: "So why are both Israel and the West so upset that the Hamas movement won more seats than any other party in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections? And why are Palestinians, who have suffered injustice for generations, not allowed to aspire toward peace with justice by electing -- without fear -- those who they believe will lead them closer to this goal?"
Here we have a classic example of the clash of civilizations. While Muslims like Elmasry laud Hamas as a movement leading the Palestinians toward peace with justice, most people in the West deplore Hamas as a bloody, Jew-baiting, terrorist organization.
Of course, Elmasry does not speak for all Canadian Muslims. Yet with just a few prominent exceptions, progressive Muslims who share the Western understanding of freedom, democracy and peace with justice are reluctant to criticize Elmasry and other reactionary leaders of the Muslim establishment. That is regrettable.