Canadian Muslim organizations not consulted on new Office of Religious Freedom

The Toronto Star – January 20, 2012

The Canadian Conservative government has launched a new office meant to promote religious freedom worldwide through a foreign policy focus to aid oppressed religious minorities in places such as Egypt, Pakistan, China and Iran. But in the months since the federal election, when the Office of Religious Freedom first appeared on the Tories’ platform, the foreign affairs department has released few details about how the new body will operate or when, exactly, it will come into being.

The new entity — which will cost $5 million, employ five and, Lavoie said, launch in early 2012 — has rankled a number of Canadian religious organizations, human rights groups and academics, who remain unsure of what it hopes to achieve and whose interests it will serve. Muslim groups especially have lamented the lack of information. Wahida Valiante, past president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said it was self-defeating for the ministry to stand behind a “wall of secrecy,” since religious issues are often racked with controversy. “We know very little,” echoed Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There is concern over how this is going to operate and what its methodology is going to be.”

A closed-door consultation between the minister and roughly 100 religious leaders and politicians, held in Ottawa on Oct. 3, drew criticism over the ministry’s invited speakers list: representatives from major Christian and Jewish organizations participated, while members of Eastern religions, like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism, were left out.

Also present at the October consultation was Thomas Farr, first director of the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom, a component of the U.S. State Department since 1998. Farr’s involvement signaled to some that the Canadian office would be heavily modeled on its American counterpart. That body was originally pushed by the evangelical Christian lobby, said University of Toronto law professor Karen Knop.

Activists ask 2012 candidates to sign religious freedom pledge

An advocacy organization for persecuted Christians has asked the 2012 presidential candidates to sign a pledge stating they would make religious freedom a priority in the United States and overseas if they win the White House.
Open Doors USA joined with religious freedom activist Tom Farr of Georgetown University to draft the pledge, which was unveiled Monday (Nov. 28). As of Wednesday, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., was the sole signatory among the candidates.
“The right of religious freedom must be applied equally to all religious communities in America, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others,” reads the pledge.
“At the same time, religious freedom does not mandate belief, but protects the right not to believe.”
The pledge calls for the candidate, should he or she become president, to nominate federal judges who support religious liberty. It also asks candidates to make religious freedom promotion a foreign policy priority and urges the appointment of a religious freedom ambassador “who is a person of stature, experienced in matters of religious freedom and diplomacy.”

GOP candidates show sharp differences on national security and terrorism

Clash on civil liberties: The Republican presidential candidates clashed repeatedly over foreign policy and national security issues Tuesday night, revealing clear differences on the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan, aid to Pakistan, the Iranian threat, immigration, and the balance between protecting the homeland and preserving civil liberties.

The debate opened with a clash over the USA Patriot Act and the trade-off between civil liberties and homeland security. Paul called the Patriot Act “unpatriotic.” He said that there is no need to “sacrifice liberty for security” and that the criminal justice system had effectively dealt with Timothy J. McVeigh, who was responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Gingrich responded: “Timothy McVeigh succeeded. That’s the whole point. Timothy McVeigh killed a lot of Americans. I don’t want a law that says after we lose a major American city, we’re sure going to come and find you. I want a law that says, you try to take out an American city, we’re going to stop you.”

As part of the discussion, Santorum said he would support profiling “radical Muslims” to prevent terrorist attacks. But he was quickly criticized by Paul, who offered: “What if they look like Timothy McVeigh? He was a tough criminal.”

In anticipation of Tuesday’s debate, the Democrats mounted a full-court press to preemptively challenge Romney and the Republicans and to promote the president’s foreign policy record. Polls show that the public gives Obama good marks on foreign policy and terrorism, in contrast to low numbers on the economy and the deficit.

Prevent-Update Published

07.06.2011

On Tuesday, the coalition government published their updated version of the Prevent Strategy, the Labour government’s counter-extremism and de-radicalization strategy. This update was announced by David Cameron in his speech in Munich earlier this year.

 

As the Guardian reports, the ‘strategy is based on the so-called “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation. Developed inside neocon thinktanks in the US, it contends that individuals start off disillusioned and angry, gradually become more religious and politicised, and then turn to violence and terror’. However, according to various studies, this is not necessarily the case, and a leaked memo by government officials confirmed that the government is aware of this misperception. Yet, the new Prevent document does not offer much clarification on the links between marginalization, disillusionment, extremism, and radicalization. Furthermore, despite evidence by the former head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller, who ‘said that the invasion of Iraq had radicalised a new generation of young British Muslim’ (The Guardian), links between Islamist extremism and foreign policy are not discussed in any detail. The Guardian claims that ‘combating extremism and terrorism requires a nuanced, less confrontational approach’ than Prevent. Similarly, the BBC questions the success of this policy.

 

In the past, Prevent had been criticized for losing its focus on counter-terrorism. Instead, Prevent programmes (and funding available for preventing extremism) were mixed up with more general integration and cohesion programmes. Therefore, the new strategy separates de-radicalisation from community cohesion programmes. Previously, strong criticism was voiced by several Muslim communities who felt they could only receive funding for local projects if they were attached to the idea of Muslims being terrorists. Through this, they felt they were constructed as a “suspect community”. The new policy made some changes to the funding scheme, which does not base the funding on the size of the Muslim population any more, but the willingness to subscribe to “British values”; decisions then have to be made by local councils and liberal-democratic ministers.

 

Wikileaks Cables: US Worry Over UK Home-Grown Extremism

13 December 2010

US concerns that the UK was struggling to cope with home-grown extremism have been revealed in new Wikileaks cables.

One cable said the British government made “little progress” in engaging with the UK’s Muslim community after the 7 July 2005 terror attacks in London.

The communication was delivered to Washington from the American embassy in London in August 2006. The cable said tensions continued, with some British Muslims blaming UK foreign policy for inciting extremism.

Report: “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy”

A group of 32 experts presented the report “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy” to the White House. Academicians, governmental officials, and religious leaders are among those contributed to the report.

Given the increasing importance of religions around the globe, the report argues for serious engagement of religious communities and also educating foreign service officers about religions. This is especially important, the report asserts, when it comes to relations with the Muslim World. The report cites President Obama’s speech in Cairo in last June and calls for yet broader constructive engagement.

The report argues for education of religions in the federal sector for better educated US foreign policy officials can better address foreign policy challenges. It also advises that foreign service officers are allowed to engage religious communities while serving abroad.

Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy

A group of 32 experts presented this report “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy” to the White House. Academicians, governmental officials, and religious leaders are among those contributed to the report.

Given the increasing importance of religions around the globe, the report argues for serious engagement of religious communities and also educating foreign service officers about religions. This is especially important, the report asserts, when it comes to relations with the Muslim World. The report cites President Obama’s speech in Cairo in last June and calls for yet broader constructive engagement.

The report argues for education of religions in the federal sector for better educated US foreign policy officials can better address foreign policy challenges. It also advises that foreign service officers are allowed to engage religious communities while serving abroad.

First Canadian Bomb Terror Suspect Pleads Guilty

It was a scheme to bomb downtown Toronto that even a confessed conspirator, 22-year-old Saad Khalid, now acknowledges as “a despicable crime.” Prosecutors say the ringleaders of the so-called “Toronto 18” debated whether to plant metal chips in bombs to maximize the number of people injured – and spoke of their coordinated explosions dwarfing the impact of the 2005 London subway bombings that killed 50 commuters.

Khalid asked a Canadian Superior Court judge for clemency during sentencing. Having already pleaded guilty to involvement in the foiled bomb plot, he became the first person arrested to speak of the crime. “I am not a lunatic who is hell-bent on destruction of Western civilization,” said the middle-class McMaster University student. His mistake, he said, arose from a “disagreement on the issue of Canadian foreign policy, specifically Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.” He also told Mr. Justice Bruce Durno he has a better understanding of Islam since being jailed.

Foreign secretary David Miliband calls domestic problems the cause of terrorism in Pakistan

In a meeting with the Muslim community in Glasgow, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband explained the aims and objectives of the United Kingdom’s foreign policy and addressed the community’s concerns. He said Pakistan’s domestic problems, not the presence of United States and British forces in Afghanistan, were the cause of terrorism in the country. Military rules, preventing strengthening democratic institutions, and various lingual, ethnic and sectarian problems were some of the causes of internal terrorism, Miliband argued.

Commenting on the British Muslim community, Miliband said the most important thing was that the British Muslim community considered themselves British, and they felt a passionate commitment to their faith as well as their country.

Al-Qaeda No. 2 insults Obama with racial epithet

In a message purportedly from Al-Qaeda’s No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, the speaker criticized president-elect Barack Obama’s foreign policy positions on Afghanistan and Israel, and condemned his worldview. Al-Zawahiri also stated that the president-elect has “a heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits” him.

The message also made reference to Obama’s heritage, condemning the fact that while his father was a Muslim, Obama is a Christian. “You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America,” the message said.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned the statement’s “threatening rhetoric and racial slurs.”

See full-text articles:

Washington Post

CNN

BBC

FOX News

New York Times