Canada

Some Islamic conferences radicalizing youth: critics

Critics are warning that some spiritual conferences held by Muslim organizations in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada provide platforms for extremist views and could radicalize young people.

Critics are warning that some spiritual conferences held by Muslim organizations in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada provide platforms for extremist viewsthat could radicalize young people.

One such conference, Reviving the Islamic Spirit, which was held at the CNE grounds in Toronto last December,bills itself as organized by young people for young people to celebrate Muslim identity and faith.

But along with lectures on how to be a better Muslim were others like the one by Indian doctor and cleric Zakir Naik, who suggested how Sharia law could help Western countries.

Naik talks about capital punishment for those who commit rape and also for a person who is "involved in homosexuality."

Tarek Fatah, who hosts a weekly television program The Muslim Chronicle, said such talk is dangerous, particularly for thousands of young men in the audience. More than 14,000 Muslims gathered for the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference.

"What it does is it legitimizes the undemocratic, authoritarian and sometimes supremacist views of the Saudi and Wahhabi view of Islam, which negates anything that is modern," Fatah said.

The concern about the radicalization of young Muslims has surfaced in wake of the arrest of 17 people, mostly young men, in connection with an alleged bomb plot in Ontario.

Steven Emerson, who runs the Investigative Project on Terrorism in Washington, has been monitoring Muslim conferences for more than a decade. He said the conferences today have a dual purpose.

"Well, traditionally, radical Islamic conferences —atleast in the post 9/11 environment —have been careful not to be too overt in terms of their extremist ideology, but have used it for more secretive meetings behind closed doors or to disseminate materials that are quite radical."

Audio and videotapes, pamphlets and books with titlessuch as How to be a good Muslim and Muslims living in non-Muslim lands can be found at the conferences, with thetheme of providing guidance for young men and women.

But there are also titles that talk about conspiracies to blame the September 11 attacks on Muslims.

The Investigative Project sends people all over North America to monitor conferences. One man, identified as "Mahmoud" to protect his identity, saidthe material he buys at the conference bazaars is often offensive and racist.

"There is anti- Semitic literature that I picked up. There was one theme in these bazaars, they denigrate Christians and Jews," he said.

Organizers of Reviving the Islamic Spirit say they don't vet the material that is sold at their conference.

But Mahmoud calls that unacceptable for a gathering aimed at young people, and saysMuslim organizations should take responsibility for the materials that are sold if they are serious about keeping radicals out.

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