I think Islam is in a sense, in crisis. It needs to question and re-question itself. — Azar Nafisi


Criticism of religion is a tender subject. Criticism of Islam, in particular, is especially so as is evidenced by the court battle that threatened to take shape between the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jason MacDonald (spokesman for Prime Minister Harper). The NCCM filed a notice of libel in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice over remarks made by Jason MacDonald in dismissing their objection to the inclusion of Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the Beth Avraham Yosef Synagogue in Toronto as part of the delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Harper on a visit to Israel in January 2014. MacDonald dismissed their objection stating “we will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to terrorist organization such as Hamas.” (as cited in CTV News) The NCCM objected to the inclusion of Rabbi Korobkin in the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Harper because he hosted speaking engagements featuring Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, two noted critics of Islam, in September 2013.

The NCCM claimed Jason MacDonald’s comments were defamatory insisting:

[they] were meant or were understood to mean that NCCM is, gives material support to, and/or is affiliated with a criminal terrorist organization. These words are defamatory per se… The defamatory words were stated maliciously in order to discredit and insult an organization that did nothing other than exercise its constitutional right to freedom of expression to criticize a decision made by the Prime Minister. (as cited in CTV News)

The NCCM drew support from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women as its representative Farhat Rehman added: “it exposes the members of NCCM and the whole Muslim community to suspicion, hatred and bigotry.” (as cited in CBC News) The NCCM demanded a public apology and retraction from Prime Minister Harper and Jason MacDonald on pain of further legal action. The libel suit was settled in 2017 when Jason MacDonald retracted his statement stating “that his statement to Sun News “does not accurately reflect the activities” of the council. […] He further accepts that the council is a “civil liberties and advocacy organization” for Canadian Muslims which does important work and which “categorically condemns terrorism, violent extremism and all individuals and groups who espouse violent goals.” (as cited in Toronto Star) The libel suit is settled, but a look into the history of the NCCM reveals some troubling realities.

The NCCM is an anti-defamation group that purports to advocate and speak out on behalf of Canadian Muslims. The NCCM started out in 2000 as CAIR-CAN (Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations), based on the US group CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). In July 2013, CAIR-CAN became the NCCM to distance itself from CAIR. There is ample evidence of the links between the NCCM, in its previous incarnation as CAIR-CAN, and CAIR, despite the insistence that “in 2000, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) was incorporated as a fully autonomous and entirely separate organization from the Washington-based CAIR.” (as cited in Point de Bascule) The most telling piece of evidence is the affidavit provided by Sheema Khan (representing the board of CAIR-CAN) to a court in Ottawa in 2003 concerning the dispute over the trademark for CAIR-CAN. In the affidavit, Khan expressly states:

That CIRC uses the trade-marks CAIR and CAIR-CAN and the name Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada under license from CAIR UNITED STATES. Under the terms of license CAIR UNITED STATES has direct control over the character and quality of all activities of CIRC including the use of its trademark and trade name. (As cited in Point de Bascule)

CAIR was founded in 1994 by three former members of the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP)—Omar Ahmad (IAP President; became CAIR President), Nihad Awad (IAP PR Director; became CAIR Secretary & Treasurer), and Rafeeq Jaber (IAP Chicago Chapter President; became CAIR Vice President). The IAP is a controversial organization accused of providing financial support to Hamas, an offshoot of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and designated terrorist organization. CAIR defines itself as a “non-profit, grassroots organization […] established to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America,” to protect Muslims from hate crimes and discrimination, and to present “an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public.” (as cited in discoverthenetworks.org) In reality, CAIR has a checkered history, to say the least, which includes public support of and illicit fundraising for Hamas.

The NCCM has taken this tack before in taking its accusations of defamation to the courts and human rights commissions with mixed results. In 2006 the NCCM, then CAIR-CAN, settled a lawsuit with David B. Harris, president of Insignis Strategic Research and former Chief of Strategic Planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Harris maintains, however,

I believe implicitly in the accuracy of all that I said on the radio program. I have withdrawn not a word, and never shall. In the course of the interview I posed a question: Shouldn’t someone be looking into CAIR-CAN’s relationship with its more-troubling American relative, CAIR? For this, I was sued for libel. (as cited in Point de Bascule)

He added,

my determined refusal to pen any “apology” or “clarification”, my refusal to pay damages, or any part of CAIR-CAN’s legal costs or expenses, and my commitment through the present statement and other means to keep all of this transparent, paid off. This is a lesson to others in the media and elsewhere who face efforts to silence responsible questions. (as cited in Point de Bascule)

In 2006, CAIR-CAN also settled a lawsuit with David Frum, whom they accused of libel, following the publication of a column in the National Post in which he raised the issue of CAIR-CAN and its links to CAIR. An editor’s note was issued by the National Post as part of the settlement, which states in part “David Frum and the National Post acknowledge that neither Sheema Khan nor the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada advocates or promotes terrorism.” (as cited in DAFKA) However, as David Frum noted, “the lawsuit against the National Post and myself was settled with an editor’s note that likewise offered no apology or retraction.  The settlement of the Harris lawsuit should be of special interest to Canadians. David Harris is one of Canada’s leading experts on terrorism: a former chief of strategic planning for CSIS and now president of the INSIGNIS consulting firm. His views are regularly heard on television and radio. Now he has recovered his full freedom to speak and to alert Canadians to the dangers in their midst. This should establish once and for all that media organizations can broadcast his carefully chosen words without legal risk.” (as cited in DAFKA)

This strategy of accusing critics of Islam of defamation does garner publicity for the NCCM and makes trouble for those who publicly criticize Islam, but what, if anything, does it do to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in Canada? Cutting ties with CAIR is a positive step. If the NCCM wants to be taken seriously as an organization advocating for Canadian Muslims, it will do well to clean its own house and take care not to associate with groups, such as CAIR, rather than cynically trying to shout down its critics.

Posted by Geoffrey

2 thoughts on “I think Islam is in a sense, in crisis. It needs to question and re-question itself. — Azar Nafisi

  1. Pingback: I think Islam is in a sense, in crisis. It needs to question and re-question itself. — Azar Nafisi | BlazingCatFur

  2. Truepeers

    “Whether Jason MacDonald’s comments are defamatory or not is something for the courts….”

    Yes, but while i’m no lawyer it strikes me that they must be defamatory. At least i hope we haven’t fallen to the point where allegations of a substantial association with terrorist murderers isn’t a big PR negative, though sometimes i wonder (are we – mainstream PR – now officially incapable of seeing Islamic texts, history, and today’s popular Islamist beliefs for what they obviously are – dangerous!? or must we make excuses for even the likes of Hamas/the Muslim Brotherhood, especially when Jews are involved?). But a finding of defamation is only the beginning of a trial, after which a defense of truth is available.


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