Canadian premier’s remarks condemned

September 14, 2011

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has condemned a statement by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper that considered “Islamic terrorism” as the biggest threat to Canada.

“Harper’s statement will only exacerbate the misunderstanding and suspicion between the West and the Islamic world and obstruct global efforts to confront bigotry and hatred between religions and cultures,” Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC Secretary-General, said, as quoted by Saudi daily Arab News on Wednesday.

In an interview with CBC News last week, Harper said the biggest security threat to Canada a decade after 9/11 was “Islamicism” (sic). The word does not exist.

“The major threat is still Islamicism … When people think of Islamic terrorism, they think of Afghanistan, or maybe they think of some place in the Middle East, but the truth is that threat exists all over the world,” Harper said.

In his comments, the OIC chief said such misleading statements from the prime minister of a sovereign country would create chaos. “The usage of Islamic terrorism is wrong like the usage of Christian terrorism or Jewish terrorism. Islam is a religion of peace and mercy,” the secretary-general said as he reiterated the organisation’s commitment to combat terrorism and extremism in all its forms. “Our stand is based on Islamic teachings that reject terrorism and violence,” he said, according to the Jeddah-based daily.

Ihsanoglu said OIC countries were the main victims of terrorism, suffering heavy human and material losses.

Saudi Arabia, home to the OIC offices, witnessed a series of bombings and attacks since May 2003 that claimed the lives of 350 people.

Hassan Al Ahdal, director-general for media and public relations at the Makkah-based Muslim World League, said he was dismayed by Harper’s remarks.

“Such irresponsible remarks should not have come from a prime minister,” he said. “It will give fuel to extremists to carry out terrorist attacks and deepen the division between Islamic and Western cultures. It will also encourage Islamophobes to carry out more attacks against Muslim minorities.”

Al Ahdal hoped that the Western thinkers would condemn Harper’s remarks “in order to strengthen good relations between Muslims and the West.”

He said Harper’s remarks would make Muslim countries and parents consider not sending their students to Canada, fearing they would face bad treatment.

“It is quite unfortunate to see that Islamophobia is spreading in the West. Earlier, we have seen such attitudes from the right-wing extremists. Now it has been taken over by leaders like Harper, Sarkozy and Merkel,” he said, quoted by the Saudi daily.

Al Ahdal urged Muslim countries to take a firm stand against such Islamophobic remarks.

“I hope all Muslim countries will call their Canadian ambassadors to express their strong protest against Harper’s remarks and inform them such incidents would affect Canada’s relationship with Muslims,” he said.

In Canada, the anti-Islam remarks sparked outrage amid calls to the prime minister to apologise to Muslims.

Nycole Turmel, New Democratic Party’s interim leader accused Harper of creating a climate of fear by singling out “Islamicism” as the country’s biggest security threat. In putting the focus solely on Islam, Harper is creating an environment that actually fosters further insecurity, she said.

Bob Rae, Liberal Party’s interim leader, warned against identifying Islam with terrorism.

“The enemy is not Islam, it’s extremism, violence, and hatred,” Rae said in a posting on Twitter. “It’s the way religious beliefs are twisted and perverted,” ipolitics reported.

The Green Party said that Harper “failed to distinguish between the practice of Islam and the activities of radical Islamic militants.”

“Imagine the uproar if the Prime Minister of Norway had blamed all Christianity for the actions of a radical Christian extremist! Prime Minister Harper owes an apology to all Canadians and especially Muslim Canadians.”

According to Elizabeth May, Green Party leader, “Greens stand with the other opposition parties that find this type of fear-mongering to be disrespectful and distasteful.”

“Scapegoating an entire religious group simply promotes intolerance and provides support for the few destructive elements in society who promote divergence rather than harmony,” Joe Foster, Green Human Rights critic, said.

For Eric Walton, Green Party international affairs critic, “Harper is attempting to rile fear against an entire religious group in order to bring back police-state type security measures.”

Writing in the Calgary Herald, Riazuddin Ahmad, asked the prime minister “to define this new word, Islamicism, as it does not exist in any English dictionary.”

“By coining such undefined terms when discussing terrorism threats in Canada, Harper is demonstrating his ignorance of Islam at best and contributing to Islamophobia in Canada at worst,” he wrote.

“Would Harper define the Norwegian terrorist attack as Christianism, as he so flippantly defines the terrorist acts of some extremist Muslims as Islamicism? Of course not, and rightly so. Harper has insulted an estimated 1.1 million peaceful adherents of Islam in Canada who do not subscribe to any acts of terrorism in the name of any religion or cause, by maligning Islam through coining this undefined term. He owes an apology to Canada’s Muslims.”

Sebastian Murdoch-Gibson, a news writer with the student newspaper Argus, wrote that “by providing the answer that he did, the Prime Minister suggested that the existence of this country as we know it could conceivably be ended by Islamic radicals.”

“This conclusion is drawn on the basis of a single attack which took place in another country over a decade ago. I find it very hard to believe that Islamic radicalism poses a real threat to Canada to begin with… Islam is a religion which has never been responsible for a single act of terror in this country’s history. By saying that it is the chief threat to our security, we marginalize a people and in doing so promote, in them, the very radicalism the government says we need to be afraid of. If we tell people that they are our enemies, they will become our enemies.”



About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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