The Canadian Front Against Radical Islam
As I have observed elsewhere and earlier, Canadian Muslims are different from American Muslims. Most Canadian Muslims emigrated to the "true north, strong and free," as the country is described in its national anthem, from India, Pakistan, East Africa, and other Commonwealth countries, earlier than the main influx of foreign born Muslims to the U.S. They therefore often came to Canada prior to the onset of significant radicalization of South Asian Muslims in their countries of origin, and they include many Ismaili and other Shia Muslims, whose intellectual diversity and lack of conformism are well-known.
By contrast, numerous Arab, South Asian, and Somali Muslims who arrived in America in the past two and a half decades have brought with them a culture of grievance, especially against Israel and India but also, finally, against the U.S., although it has welcomed and assisted them. These pathologies are, I am pleased to report, largely absent from the communities of Bosnian and Albanian Muslims that arrived in the U.S. during the recent Balkan wars.
Dominance over American Islam by the Saudi- and Pakistani-backed radical networks I have called "the Wahhabi lobby" has rendered American Muslims confused and passive in the face of radicalism, and mediocre in their religious development. Not so the Canadian Muslims. Over the fateful weekend of 19 March, I journeyed to Toronto, the main Anglo-Canadian city, to lecture on the Wahhabi threat to Islam and the world. My visit was sponsored by a most excellent Canadian educational group, the Forum For Learning.
Toronto has been identified as "the capital of anti-Islamist Islam." I believe this to be true for North America, though the effort against radical Islam can claim more "capitals" in Europe and in Muslim lands. I arrived in Toronto following the investment of Bahrain by Saudi and other military and police forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council, and just as Canada was preparing to take a lead posture in the rescue of the fearless Libyan resistance.
My thoughts were also occupied by the approach of Nevruz, the Iranian "new year" holiday celebrated from the Balkans to Central Asia, by Shia and Sunni Muslims. Among certain Sufis, Nevruz is identified with the birthday of Imam Ali, progenitor of the Shia sect.
While in Toronto, I observed another aspect of the difference between Canadian and American Islam. In Canada, South Asian Muslims have good relations with Hindus from the subcontinent. This amity is sadly lacking in the U.S., and in Britain demagogy about "Azad Kashmir" defines the discourse of the established Muslim leadership. By contrast, in Toronto numerous Hindu people of good faith and generous mien came to hear me.
My lecture in Toronto outlined the "counter-jihad" against Wahhabis and other radicals claiming the mantle of Sunnism, as well as against the Tehran tyrants, who murder their own people at home and abroad in horrific ways. Battles of differing intensity are being waged by Muslims in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and now Syria. Slow progress toward reform continues in the Saudi kingdom. Activism by the martyred but indestructible Iranian Green opposition movement and its peers among spiritual Sufis and secular leftists also proceeds. These events impend not only on the potential for democracy in the Islamic lands, but on the future of Islam as a whole.
In Egypt, the powerful, fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood (MB) may undermine democratization. In Libya, the people fighting against the dictatorship have an admirable history, spanning more than a century, of opposition to Wahhabism. In Bahrain and Syria, Iran plays a sinister role, agitating the Shia majority in the first country while providing military and political support to the Alawites, a heterodox Shia sect that dominates the army and the Baath party in Damascus. The "Arab Spring" has left the rest of the world in awe, and diverted attention from the anti-terror struggle in South Asia.
Since my Toronto presentation was intellectual rather than military or theological, I concentrated on the menace represented by takfiri groups, including the Wahhabis, MB, the Deobandis and Jamaati jihadis in Pakistan, and the Justice and Development Party in Turkey – i.e., movements that define Muslims who dissent from fundamentalism as apostates. I described my own journey to Islam, my encounter with Wahhabism in the Balkans in the aftermath of atrocious armed conflict, and my warnings before 2001 about the Saudi Wahhabis – who inspired Al-Qaida – to U.S. representatives, who ignored or rejected such cautionary advice as "obsessive" and "conspiratorial." I further delineated the writing of my book The Two Faces of Islam, the founding of the Centre for Islamic Pluralism (CIP), and what makes CIP different from other Muslim antiradical groups.
We are traditionalists, Sufis, and secular Muslims, Sunni and Shia, who direct our message and our attention mainly to Muslims. We do not pander to the biases of non-Muslims or attempt to present ourselves as religious reformers. We want social reform in the Muslim lands, and for the religion to be left to develop as it will. But to attain these goals we must defeat the takfiris and Tehranis alike. Once the radical fundamentalists are beaten, and seen to be beaten, a libertarian Islam, in Muslim democracies, may flourish.
The Canadian province of Ontario, where Toronto is located, has been the scene of convoluted debates over proposals to introduce Shariah law, in the guise of "Islamic mediation" or, worse, "Islamic arbitration." We hold to the traditional Islamic guidance, dating to the Prophet Muhammad himself, commanding us as Muslims to accept the laws and customs of non-Muslim countries in which we may live. We also affirm the similarly well-established Islamic principle that shariah cannot be imported into non-Muslim territories. We have produced an extensive study of shariah ideology in Western Europe and have concluded that the Muslims of Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain do not want shariah. In our view, the rejection of shariah extends to so-called Islamic mediation and arbitration, since we cannot be assured that such procedures will be governed by sensible and moderate clerics.
This perception is reinforced by a remarkable incident in the American state of Florida, where a local magistrate, Judge Richard Neilsen, ordered at the beginning of March that shariah-based arbitration should be recommended by the state authorities in a civil dispute between a Shia mosque, the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, and four members removed from its board of trustees. An Islamic scholar in Texas decided that the quartet had been dropped from the board unjustly. In a ridiculous display of patronizing rhetoric presumably intended to flatter the Muslims and assure them of his goodwill, Judge Neilsen commented, "Islamic brothers should attempt to resolve a dispute among themselves. If Islamic brothers are unable to do so, they can agree to present the dispute to the greater community of Islamic brothers within the mosque or the Muslim community for resolution."
The Shia mosque, however, rejected the adoption by the American court of shariah guidelines in their dispute, arguing through their attorney, Paul Thanasides, as follows: "The mosque believes wholeheartedly in the Koran and its teachings… They certainly follow Islamic law in connection with their spiritual endeavors. But with respect to secular endeavors, they believe Florida law should apply in Florida courts." The Shias in Florida are correctly, in my opinion, obeying the directives of the Shia marja (a cleric worthy of emulation), Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husseini Sistani of Najaf, Iraq.
In this area, Shias are exemplary in their respect for civil law. But in other matters, many Shias have begun following a path of shame that, in the period surrounding the birthday of Imam Ali, must cause dismay among moderate Muslims. In 2009, when the courageous people of Iran attempted to rid their country of the heretical and brutal tyranny of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the fake marja, Ali Khamenei, the Shias in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, and in the West said nothing about the bloodshed running in the streets of the Iranian cities. The Iranians had risen and demanded justice, imitating Imam Hussein, the great Shia hero, son of Imam Ali and grandson of Muhammad, killed at Kerbala in 680 CE. Because the Iranian regime of hatred and homicide controls Shia mosques abroad, the non-Iranian Shias were silent when ideological militia and common criminals assaulted and killed Iranian demonstrators.
Shias outside Iran have adopted a similarly twisted attitude regarding the Saudi-led occupation of Bahrain, treating it as a crime equal in significance to those carried out in Libya. These Shias were wrong about Iran and have repeated their error in dealing with Bahrain. And as this column is written, it appears the Shias will take a third false step, in exercising a similar self-censorship about the sudden emergence of the democracy movement in Syria, which is aligned with Iran. Shias in New York have called for "a day of rage" this weekend (27 March) against "the cruel and criminal governments of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Yemen, and Libya." Libya appears tacked on to the list of regimes the Shias despise, because, although it has no Shias, Libya's liberation occupies the center of global attention. But there is no mention of Iran, and the cruel and criminal government of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, or Syria, and the cruel and criminal government of Bashar al-Assad. Nevertheless, the blood of Iranian Shias and the people of Syria cries out, as loud or louder than that of the Bahrainis, and of supreme importance in the struggle for the soul of Islam, many times invoked by Westerners in the years since 11 September 2001, and today a genuine war, with many fronts.
Shia speechlessness in the face of evil is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. Beginning in 2006, we saw Shias in Pakistan fail to effectively resist massacres by the Taliban in which believers were slain with terrible perversity. One Shia faction has even joined the Pakistani Taliban front. The Shias appear willing to accommodate the Taliban no less than the Tehranis. These are dark days for the Ahl ul-Bayt or People of the Prophet's Household, as the Shias style themselves. Complicity with oppression has stained their banner, and it will be difficult for them to claim the support of Muslims and other people of goodwill, if they do not stand up against Tehran and Damascus, as well as Riyadh and its satellites. These issues are pressing in Canada and America, even if the weapons employed there are those of argument and organization, rather than swords, firearms, and NATO aircraft.