Manitoba·Opinion

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim

The Western public has long imposed the “extreme versus moderate” dichotomy onto the Muslim community in an attempt to separate out the “bad apples.”

Once seen as a 'terrorist,' it seems that no amount of public outcry can wash away one’s perceived “sins"

The Harper Conservatives want to come off as tough as possible on crime and terrorism, and have tried their hardest over the years to portray Omar Khadr as a hardened terrorist with no remorse. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Getting pegged as an "Islamic extremist" in post-9/11 Canada is akin to being condemned as a child molester or serial killer.

No matter what new information surfaces, one is essentially "type-cast" for the rest of one's life.

The Canadian Muslim community knows this well, as they've watched individuals like Omar Khadr go through this kind of public condemnation.   

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled this month that Khadr, who was 15 years old when he threw a grenade that killed an American medic in Afghanistan, was penalized as a juvenile in 2010 (by a U.S. military commission), as opposed to an adult, which means that the eight years he was sentenced to for all five counts of war crimes were meant to be served concurrently, not consecutively.

It's the third time that the court has ruled in Khadr's favour, but the 28-year-old "Guantanamo's Child" continues to divide Canadians.

The Harper Conservatives want to come off as tough as possible on crime and terrorism, and have tried their hardest over the years to portray Khadr as a hardened terrorist with no remorse.  

It's unclear if Canadians still buy this image, but once enshrined into the public consciousness as a "terrorist," it seems that no amount of public outcry can thoroughly wash away one's perceived "sins."

Some see Khadr's case as an extreme example of what can go wrong when systems trusted to deliver justice become coopted by a state of political fear. Yet in such an atmosphere of McCarthyist paranoia, even so-called "moderate" Muslims have suffered similar fates.  

The Western public has long imposed the "extreme versus moderate" dichotomy onto the Muslim community in an attempt to separate out the "bad apples."

The criteria for what qualifies as a "good" or "bad" apple has always been terribly arbitrary, but one should at least be able to expect from this categorization that the so-called "moderates" don't have to worry about being targets for irrational, fear-based public scrutiny.

Unfortunately, this hasn't been always the case.

Just ask Hamilton-based lawyer Hussain Hamdani, whose "moderate Muslim" status is supported by several security clearances from the Canadian government, with whom he has worked on several occasions to combat homegrown terrorism.

Many in law enforcement and elsewhere have praised him for his work with the RCMP and others to pull young people away from the "tendrils of extremism and terror sects."

Still, this establishment-oriented reputation didn't really help Hamdani when Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney suspended him earlier this month from his advisory role on Public Safety Canada's Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security.

The ouster came after the French TVA network alleged that Hamdani is essentially a terrorist-sympathizer because of what he said and who he associated with in his days as a university student.

Blaney's office is supposedly looking into the matter, and states that it has known about the accusation for "some time."

Hamdani says that the move is politically motivated, since he has been vocally critical on Bill C-51, while expressing support for Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. All of this, he notes, irks Harper, who's administration is looking for suitable people to target these says in order to look tough on terrorism leading up to October's election.

Unfortunately for Canadian democracy, Hamdani's narrative makes a lot of sense.

It fits with the Harper administration's modus operandi and track record, which is littered with cases of similar targeting and antagonism.

It's the Harper version of political hardball, and, now that it's almost election time, anybody is fair game.

The "extremist-moderate" framework changes form once again. All of a sudden, not only does "moderate" mean working with the RCMP and receiving multiple security-clearances, it also means that one better not have said anything remotely controversial while attending university.

TVA says that Hamdani contributed to a section of a 1996 document for groups to start a Muslim Student Association on their campus titled "Islamization [sic] of campus politics," and had the gall to advocate for policies against same-sex marriage.

This may come off as rather impolitic to some, but it's also apparently a crime of some sort.

The document was circulated by the well-known, fear-mongering website Point de Bascule, run by the prolific Islamophobe Marc Lebuis.

If Mr. Lebuis has the time to spare, he may find it interesting to look up what the Conservative Party's elected officials had to say when they were university undergrads.

It may be absurd to judge a person in the present by what he or she wrote back in college, but this appears to be the prevailing logic in Canada these days, and Mr. Lebuis seems to have to the time and resourcefulness to help apply such logic equally, across the board.

That a shoddy website trading in half-baked accusations like Point de Bascule can actually contribute to the making of public policy in Canada is truly astounding.

It is a damning reflection of the quality of this country's political dynamic these days regarding issues of national security.

The unsubstantiated, paranoid, and racist accusations leveled by Lebuis is the kind of information that elected officials use to distinguish between "good" Muslims and "bad" ones.

The entire endeavor is not one with the goal of making people safer, but one of political convenience. Individuals like Hussein Hamdani and Omar Khadr are just in the way.

Steven Zhou is a Toronto-based journalist and writer.

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