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Controversy over a Muslim leader.

On October 19, 2004, The Michael Coren Show, a daily TV program, carried a panel discussion on terrorism. One guest was Dr. Mohamad Elmasry, a professor of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. On camera, he said that all Israelis were legitimate targets for Palestinian suicide bombers: "They are part of the Israeli army, even if they have civilian clothes."

Coren wrote in the Toronto Sun for October 26 that he asked Elmasry to reiterate, clarify, or withdraw his statement, but no clarification or withdrawal was forthcoming. "'So anyone, I responded, over the age of 18, man or woman, even a doctor or a nurse, is a valid tar get?' Elmasry answered with a simple 'Yes.'"

Coren points out that Elmasry's comments were covered by almost every newspaper in the country and carried by wire service from Alaska to Alabama. Arab organizations have condemned the remarks and called on Elmasry to resign from the Islamic Congress. Elmasry's university also has condemned his comments and, of course, Jewish leaders were profoundly angry. The situation was not helped by a press release from Elmasry's organization referring to these comments as "regrettable" but "misunderstood." Elmasry "was presenting not his own views, but those of a significant segment of Palestinians under occupation." Then it quoted him as saying, "I sincerely regret that my comments were misunderstood and, as a result, caused offence."

Coren bridled at this. If Elmasry really regretted the comments, he said, then surely he should have made a public apology and declared that he does not believe that every adult Israeli is a valid target for suicide bombers.

"I can only judge by what he said," Coren added, "as he sat feet away from me. In fact, Elmasry gave a long preamble where he compared the Palestinian intifada with the French Resistance to the Nazis during World War II."

What Coren found ironic in all this was that Elmasry's group issues regular reports outlining what it sees as anti-Islamic attitudes in Canadian media and biased reporting. "Yet the president of this organization is invited onto a one-hour show to give his opinions and allowed by the host to repeat those opinions. They are then reprinted in hundreds of newspapers. In this case, it seems, it is not the media or some anti-Islamic fanatic that have shamed Muslims but the leader of the Canadian Islamic Congress himself."

Coren said he was confident that Elmasry's comments do not represent the views of the vast majority of Muslims in this country. He ended by saying, "We have to be able to admit when we're wrong. Especially when we're so terribly, horribly wrong."

Elmasry's critics said that his apology was too little and too late. Ed Morgan, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, commented that it is impossible to tell whom the Canadian Islamic Congress represents and whether it has any more depth than Professor Elmasry and a few of his colleagues.

An editorial in the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) pointed out that a similarly unsettling opinion had been expressed in a lecture at an Islamic Society in Vancouver by Sheikh Younus Kathrada, who called Jews "the brothers of monkeys and swine" and reminded his followers that the Prophet had urged his followers to kill the Jews.

"It is only other Muslims who can change attitudes within the Muslim community," CJN observed. Only other Muslims can discredit the Elmasrys and the Kathradas and their odious opinions and expel from within the hearts of their co-religionists the intolerance and hatred that are passed off as ideology or theology."

The question "Who speaks for Muslims in Canada?" was brought up by Naseer (Irfan) Ayed in the Globe for October 27. His answer was that there is no one Islamic point of view, and that people like Elmasry and Kathrada do not represent the views of large numbers of Canadian Muslims.

Two days before this, however, Lorne Gunter had raised a very important issue which the Elmasry affair provokes in the National Post. Canadians, said Gunter, accept multiculturalism, meaning that all cultures are respected as long as their adherents agree to abide by the laws of Canada and tolerate adherents of other cultures. But are there no overarching Western values to which all Canadians must adhere? Should we or should we not impose on newcomers cultural perspectives which they may find offensive? Our unwillingness to do so has meant that the Elmasrys can nurture their abhorrent thoughts and preach their justification for terrorism. "Unless and until official Ottawa can break free of the delusion that there is nothing especially worth defending in Western pluralism," Gunter concluded, "it will never fully engage the terrorists."

Further light on Elmasry himself was thrown by a Financial Post column by Diane Francis on November 16, 2004, entitled "Elmasry steps over the line once again." On January 19, 2000, a letter with his signature on University of Waterloo letterhead was sent to Professor Aurel Braun, a University of Toronto political scientist. It concerned Braun's appearance on a CBC television show on which he criticized Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi regime for diverting oil-for-food funds to buy armaments. Braun's allegation was true, Diane Francis says, but in a very belligerent way Elmasry demanded where was Braun's proof. Furthermore, he sent copies of his letter to the CBC, the head of the International Relations Program at the University of Toronto and U. of T.'s Vice-President and Provost--evidently in an attempt to intimidate Braun. He identified himself as "VLSI Research Group, Faculty Member--Middle East Studies," even though he is a professor of computer engineering. He gives the initials "FRSC" after his name which means that he is claiming to be a fellow of a very prestigious society, the Royal Society of Canada--which seems unlikely. All told, this is a very curious episode and the University of Waterloo ought to look a little further to make clear whether Elmasry's claims are more accurate than his misidentification of himself as a member of a Middle East studies group.

Meanwhile, Jewish groups questioned the sincerity of Elmrasy's apology and called for a public apology and explanation to the student body of the University of Waterloo on why his remarks were wrong. Otherwise, they said, his apology was simply a gambit to keep his position (Canadian Jewish News, Nov. 25, 2004).


Dr. Elmasry has apologized to his university thereby saving his job and career.

The important point raised by Gunter, however, has not been settled and needs extensive discussion and action because it goes to the heart of Canadian Society. Mr. Gunter himself does not seem to be aware that the issue of "multiculturalism" is itself the source of confusion and obfuscation.

David Dooley is an associate editor of Catholic Insight. He is English Professor Emeritus of Saint Michael's College of the University of Toronto
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Title Annotation:Dr. Mohamad Elmasry
Author:Dooley, David
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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