Muslim groups call push to certify imams 'racial and religious discrimination'

Daily Brew
The federal government should outlaw membership in a terrorist group, bar radicals from Canada and look at forbidding the glorification of extremists to protect the Canadian way of life, says a Senate committee. The Senate chamber sits empty on September 12, 2014 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A Senate committee recommendation that the government train and certify imams in order to curb Islamic extremism has Canadian Muslim organizations crying foul.

The Senate security and defence committee on Wednesday released a report with 25 recommendations aimed at combatting violent extremism. They reflect the views of the committee's Conservative majority, but do not have the support of its Liberal members.

Among them is a call on the federal government to “investigate the options that are available for the training and certification of imams in Canada.”

The recommendation stems from concerns that foreign-trained Muslim religious leaders are preaching radical ideologies.

“The committee heard testimony from members of the Muslim community and others that some foreign-trained imams have been spreading extremist religious ideology and messages that are not in keeping with Canadian values,” reads the committee’s interim report.

“These extreme ideas are said to be contributing to radicalization and raise serious concerns if they continue to go unchecked.”

But Canadian Muslim organizations say the recommendation is tantamount to religious discrimination, and it unfairly paints Muslims as villains.

“Are they going to be requiring this of Catholic protests and United Church ministers and rabbis? Why the focus on Muslims?” Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, said.

Some imams teach radical ideas, but so do some Christian leaders, Hogben said.

“And I don’t think anybody's going in and curtailing their freedom of speech,” she said.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) echoed Hogben’s sentiments.

"This report, while ostensibly about improving national security, in fact stigmatizes and marginalizes Canadian Muslim communities and portrays them as a threat rather than as a partner in the fight against violent extremism," executive director Ihsaan Gardee said in a statement.

Gardee said there’s no need to unfairly target imams when the criminal code already has provisions to deal with people suspected of promoting terrorist ideology.

“This recommendation bears the hallmarks of racial and religious discrimination and is contrary to the Charter and human rights codes. It is not the role of the state in a democracy to regulate religion,” he said.

Radicalized youths

The radicalization of Canadian youths has increasingly become an issue of national security in this country, with reports of Canadians going abroad to train with terrorist organizations like ISIS. In its report, the Senate committee estimated there are more than 318 Canadians “supporting the extremist jihadist movement or seeking to leave Canada to join it.”

Before he murdered Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and stormed Parliament Hill with a rifle last Oct. 22, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau made a video in which he praised Allah and condemned Canada for sending its soldiers to the Iraq.

Martin Couture-Rouleau, who struck and killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with his car on St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., was an aspiring ISIS fighter.

While the radicalization of Canadian youths is worrisome, government involvement in mosques isn’t the answer, Hogben said.

“What we’re hearing more and more is the young people joining groups outside of Canada are getting a lot of their information from the Internet, so maybe they’re targeting the wrong area,” she said.

What’s more, she added, painting Muslims as potential threats only serves to alienate the youths most at risk of radicalization.

“If young people feel that somehow they are the problem, they may end up becoming the problem,” she said.

NCCM spokeswoman Amira El-Ghawaby told Yahoo Canada News there are more effective and less divisive ways to prevent radicalization.

Muslim communities in Canada have been very active on that front, she said, pointing to the United Against Terrorism handbook, published by the NCCM, the RCMP and the Islamic Social Services Association.

"What we and other civil society representatives and experts have continuously said is that this problem is multi-faceted and requires a multi-pronged approach that engages various stakeholders. This should include engagement with mental health practitioners, social workers, teachers, religious leaders, law-enforcement agencies, and community youth and leaders," she said.

"The vast majority of Canadian Muslims are committed, both civically and religiously, to support and contribute to effective grassroots programs and strategies that promote positive civic engagement and advance an accurate understanding of the faith."

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