Barbara Kay delivered the following remarks on Monday, Jan 29 in the presence of Senator Linda Frum and other dignitaries in Toronto, Ontario. The event was sponsored by Canadian Coalition Against Terror (CCAT).
My first encounter with the formidable Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, occurred a decade ago in Montreal at the Hotel Omni.
I was in attendance at a press conference, organised in the form of a panel arranged by Marc Lebuis, who founded and still runs the online publication, Point de Bascule (“tipping point”). Point de Bascule tracks networks and individuals in Quebec who carry water in one way or another for the jihadist movement.
The panel’s theme was “Political Islam threatens our freedoms.” Besides Marc, the group consisted of Raheel, Tarek Fatah and Salim Mansur, Canada’s three most vocal Muslim activists in the campaign to delegitimise what is known, variously, as radical Islam, political Islam or Islamism.
Through his journalism and books, Tarek has established himself as Canada’s most pugnaciously outspoken anti-Islamist. Gentle scholar Salim Mansur (vice-president of the Council of Muslims Facing Tomorrow and also a recipient of a Senate Sesquicentennial Medal) has emerged as Canada’s most intellectual and politely outspoken anti-Islamist. Raheel, it is fair to say, is not only the most glamorous of the three but her warmth, poise, diplomacy and people skills have made her an extraordinary ambassador for this urgently necessary cause.
I wrote about my experience that morning in a column, which began with the words, “I had the privilege of spending a few hours today in company with the most courageous people in Canada.”
Raheel captivated us all with her elegance, high intelligence and wit. As I recall, the first words out of her mouth were “I have been sued for calling extremists ‘extremist’ and I am listed on the 10 ‘World’s Most Hated Muslims’ list. I’m No. 6. I hope to be No. 1. Obviously, I’m doing something right.” Which of course evoked a big, slightly nervous, laugh.
Raheel is smart to use humour as her opening gambit to break the thick ice of this topic. All thinking people are nervous and apprehensive about the aims and strategies of political Islam in the West, and most of us aren’t quite sure about what we can and cannot say to express our fears. Never more so than today, when our political leadership almost daily demonstrates heartbreaking naiveté on what they are dealing with. As former Justice Minister in the Liberal government, Irwin Cotler, once said of our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, “I don’t know if Justin has an appreciation of evil.”
The hall that day was filled, though mostly by concerned Quebecers, not so much by media. Applause broke out frequently, such as when Salim said, “Islam is my private life, my conscience…but I am first and foremost a Canadian” and “it is only in free societies where you meet Islam as spirituality rather than as political religion.”
Raheel was magnificent. She shared her joy in living in a country where she is free to be as spiritually religious as she wants without fear of political coercion. “No Muslim country would recognise the rights I enjoy here,” she said. On a sobering note, she observed that a fatwa had been issued against her, which came from Saudi Arabia. Raheel knows her movements are monitored. How, she asked, did they even know about her words and activities if she had not been informed upon by Islamists in Canada?
Raheel said the things that day that non-Muslims are afraid to say, or must say with such exquisite and nuanced care that the effect is absurdly muted. Raheel asked the most basic and obvious of questions: Why do politicians court and flatter and collaborate with Islamists? It was a rhetorical question of course, for the dual answer is that: i) their chosen Muslim friends became their friends because they are well-schooled in the craft of soothing political blandishment and institutional infiltration; and ii) multicultural correctness forbids politicians from even raising the question of the nature of the ideology their chosen Muslim friends espouse. The government’s paralysis in the face of legitimate demands for a definition of the toxic word “Islamophobia” at the centre of Motion 103 is an ominous case in point.
And as for the feminists, Raheel went on, where are they? Raheel has boldly incurred the wrath of traditional Muslims for daring to call for her right to lead prayers to mixed genders, but our feminists did not support her; they were too busy making a case for the niqab as just another cultural expression of female liberation. Raheel and I find common purpose in insisting on female face cover as a retrograde and misogynistic custom that has no place in a democracy. But when I say it, I am called an Islamophobe. When Raheel says it, they must hold their tongues.
Another common purpose we share is exposing the often terrible effects on girls and women stemming from cultural honour codes. The documentary film Honor Diaries, which Raheel made in collaboration with eight other women’s rights activists, explored the issues of gender-based violence and inequality in Muslim-majority societies, although the phenomenon is, I should add, not restricted to Muslim-majority societies.
Raheel’s personal story was featured alongside those of the other activists. That film has taken her all over the world and given hope and strength to oppressed women who have no voice to claim their rightful human estate.
To return to that day and that press conference in 2008: There were a few journalists there from Radio-Canada, the francophone arm of CBC. But after the meeting, although they had free access to interview Raheel, Tarek and Salim, instead they clustered around a hijabi woman from the audience, an NDP candidate who had come for the sole purpose of objecting to the panel’s criticisms. In the Q&A she declared herself offended by what they had said. This was a dog whistle to the press, for whom an offended Muslim was far more enticing than confident Muslims promoting democratic principles.
That for me was a telling moment. The choice those journalists made that day spoke volumes about the liberal media in Quebec (actually there is no other kind in Quebec) and in Canada, where almost all the mainstream media share the same tendency to privilege the uniquely Muslim victimhood narrative over respect for proponents of democratic Islam. They are so terrified of being perceived as Islamophobic that they gravitate unconsciously to the polar extreme – to the kind of Islamo-reverence we see in our Prime Minister and his entourage. That morning Raheel made an instant groupie of me, and soon after, I am proud to say, a friend and sometimes public co-activist.
Raheel’s Wikipedia entry describes her as a “journalist, author, public speaker, media consultant, anti-racism activist, and interfaith discussion leader.” She is all this and so much more. She has been invited to speak to the U.S. Congress, the UK House of Lords, to Sweden’s government and the United Nations. It is appropriate and gratifying to see her receiving the recognition at home that she often finds abroad.
Wherever and whenever Raheel speaks, the regressive left gnashes its regressive teeth. In the U.S., the progressives have sold their souls to CAIR, apologists for Islamism, and deeply hostile to reformists like Raheel. Just last week Raheel Raza was invited to speak to the Minnesota House of Representatives by Rep. Roz Peterson (R). A Democrat representative reflexively labelled her an “extremist,” demanding Raheel be censored and disinvited from speaking. But Rep. Peterson stood her ground and would not be bullied. Raheel took the tension in stride, as she always does, and her appearance proceeded without incident.
Sen. Warren Limmer (R) issued a bold press release, stating: “Ms Raza is a practising Canadian Muslim and an outspoken opponent of radical Jihadism. She is a fierce advocate of women’s rights and has dedicated her life to fighting against the radicalisation of our youth.” But not a single Democrat was present to hear her speak. Shame on them.
Raheel is a Canadian treasure. But her light has been hidden under the bushel of political correctness for too long. Thankfully, not everyone in our government is too blinkered or too intimidated to recognise her worth. I am so proud to stand here this evening and to be considered a member in good standing of this honourable circle, in the presence of Linda Frum, the senator I admire above all others for her strength of character, high principles and intellectual independence.
Raheel, I do not know what the opposite of a fatwa is in Islam, but in the Jewish tradition, when we wish to honour someone of outstanding integrity, we sometimes speak of the Crown of the Good Name. As Rabbi Shimon says in the book of religious commentary, Ethics of the Fathers, there are three crowns—the crown of learning, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty; but the Keter Shem Tov, the crown of the good name, surpasses them all.
And that is what the Senate Sesquicentennial Medal represents to me. The Keter Shem Tov you wear tonight emanates courage and lucidity. May you and the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow go from strength to strength in all your endeavours, dear Raheel, and continue to be a light unto our nation and the world, as you already are to the many grateful Canadians who are here with us in spirit to honour you tonight.