Elmasry hanged by his own words
ROSIE DIMANNO – Toronto Star Oct 27, 2004
“… hateful, inflammatory and unworthy of a respected large circulation daily newspaper…”
These were the words of Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, in a complaint filed with the Ontario Press Council earlier this year.
The complaint was directed towards a column in the Toronto Star — which I wrote — after Israel’s targeted assassination last March of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, the terrorist organization he co-founded at the start of the first Palestinian intifada in 1987, as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
And these are Elmasry’s words, during a discussion of terrorism on The Michael Coren Show last week, wherein he declared that all adult Israeli civilians (over 18), regardless of gender, are fair targets, ostensibly because a term of military service is mandatory for nearly all Israelis. “They are not innocent if they are part of a population which is … (the) total population of Israel is part of the army … even if they have civilian clothes … The same if they are women in the army … anybody above 18 is a part of the Israeli popular army.”
Coren gave Elmasry ample opportunity to reconsider or qualify his statement. Elmasry did not modify his view. He never indicated — far from it — that he didn’t personally share the view he’d just espoused.
In a later interview with The Globe and Mail, Elmasry amplified his position on the legitimacy of targeting Israeli civilians: “Israel has a people’s army and a draft and therefore they should be considered legitimate targets. They are part of the occupying power, and Palestinians consider them targets for suicide bombers as well as other means.”
Only in this interview did Elmasry begin to back off any personal endorsement of terrorism aimed at civilians. “Suicide bombings is a technique they are using out of desperation. It’s not for me to say if it’s okay or not. In the final analysis, it has done more harm than good.”
It was a feeble clarification and most certainly not an apology for a position that palpably justified terrorism against civilians, a view swiftly denounced by other Muslim and Arab organizations in Canada.
Over the weekend, the CIC issued a statement in which it sought to convince that Elmasry was articulating the beliefs of some Palestinians rather than asserting his own views.
This is disingenuous because Elmasry was quite emphatic — his comments not susceptible to interpretation — on Coren’s show. The CIC further added that Elmasry regretted his remarks, but there has been no apology, even as other Muslim community leaders have called for him to resign.
I began this column with an excerpt from Elmasry’s complaint (along with one other individual) against the Star for two reasons: First, to be candid about my history with him. The Press Council — an agency that enjoys precisely the degree of professional respect within my industry that it deserves — upheld the complaint. That complaint focused on a paragraph in which I expressed no regret about Yassin’s assassination.
Yassin, committed to the annihilation of Israel, fell victim precisely to the tactics that he’d extolled. The council focused on one phrase in particular, wherein I described how hatred is “bred in the bone” in some societies. In a future column, I will lay out that case more quantifiably, citing from some Arab school textbooks and widely disseminated preachings from various Muslim religious personages that not only promote virulent hatred of Jews (and Christians) but clearly incite the faithful to violent jihad. It’s a lesson taught in some societies from the most tender age, as even Saudi Arabia’s education ministry — largely responsible for exporting these objectionable textbooks to Muslim countries — has belatedly acknowledged and vowed to amend.
Whenever terrorism is justified as a matter of political course or tactical expediency, no matter who’s doing it, is not hatred bred in the bone — or planted in the soul, however you wish to express it?
Second, and more to the point, I use Elmasry’s own words to illustrate his own professed objection to inflammatory opinions and how they are expressed. What can be more inflammatory than justifying the killing of all Israelis? Oh, pardon me, only those over the age of 18.
I can find no evidence that Canadian Muslims or Arabs have ever been polled on the righteousness of killing all adult Israelis. But I will accept, without qualms, that they are opposed to the concept that Elmasry postured on behalf of Palestinians (many of whom are not Muslim; this is a dispute about land and sovereignty, not religion).
Elmasry — as head of the CIC — has done a grave disservice to Canadian Muslims by justifying terrorism against civilians (or even military members in Israel, where service is mandatory).
His comments will further stoke the suspicions of those who view Muslims as somehow more intrinsically disposed toward violence, no matter how many times we’re reminded that Islam is a great religion of peace and tolerance, despite the corruption of its core tenets by some jihadist elements.
More specifically, Elmasry’s argument will undermine public support of the Palestinian cause by yoking it, favourably — in his own words — with indiscriminate terrorism.
It is hardly a stretch to accuse Elmasry of promoting hatred not just against Israelis but against Palestinians. His words were no less unclear than the messages draped across ballistic missiles showcased at an Iranian military parade recently: “Crush America” and “Wipe Israel Off The Map.”
It would be instructive, I think, to more closely evaluate the thrust of Elmasry’s commentary, even within the revisionist context that he was merely expressing a view held by Palestinians.
Is Elmasry correct in his characterization of Palestinian society, and their support/justification of violence against Israeli civilians to rid themselves of Occupation?
This is an area that has been extensively polled in the region.
A survey taken last month — the fourth anniversary of beginning of the second intifada — by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip found that 59 per cent of Palestinians polled supported suicide bombings in Israel, and 41 per cent were opposed. That might seem to support Elmasry’s assertion, but what I see in the numbers is a significant divide in public opinion.
And that divide, the internal conflict over the means and effectiveness of the intifada, is more palpably illustrated in the survey’s other findings:
Sixty-four per cent of Palestinians believe armed attacks will help achieve an independent and sovereign Palestine, yet an overwhelming majority, 86 per cent, want the mutual cessation of violence, and 59 per cent said they would support measures to prevent attacks in Israel when a political agreement to halt the violence is reached.
According to the survey, total support for all “Islamists” (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc.) had dropped to 32 per cent. Eighty-six per cent of Palestinians felt a loss of personal security and safety after the intifada.
Significantly, the largest group (44 per cent) responded that they viewed unemployment and the spread of poverty as the most important problems confronting Palestinians today, followed by the continuation of occupation (35 per cent), and the spread of corruption and lack of internal reform (15 per cent).
The survey also found doubts about the “seriousness” of the Palestinian Authority in holding elections, implementing reform and dealing with corruption.
Palestinians are not stupid people. They can see the tremendous losses that have accrued to them from the intifada and the repercussions of violence aimed at Israel, which always comes back with even more destructive force: 2,800 Palestinians killed in the past four years, every accord and roadmap for peace derailed.
Israel remains the enemy. But Palestinians increasingly take a more discerning view of their own leaders and those who profess to speak on their behalf.
People like Mohamed Elmasry, even though I doubt most Palestinians have ever heard of him. Hung — in this country — by his own words.
Muslim leader’s remark was clear to me
By Michael Coren — For the Toronto Sun Tue, October 26, 2004
I have hosted The Michael Coren Show — a daily TV program — for more than six years. It runs every weeknight at 6 p.m. on CTS, a faith-based station that is carried on basic cable in almost all of Ontario and on satellite in the rest of Canada.
I’m proud of what we do and it’s always slightly irritated me that in spite of our large audience and quality of debate and guests, we receive so little publicity. We can’t afford a large press department and, let’s be candid, we’re not treated equally in the media because of the religious foundations of CTS.
After the events of the past week, though, I’m not sure if I can complain anymore about lack of exposure. A week ago today, we featured a show on terrorism. A panel of four people were asked, who is a terrorist and who is a victim?
One guest was Dr. Mohamad Elmasry, a professor at the University of Waterloo and president of The Canadian Islamic Congress. On camera, he said all Israelis were legitimate targets for Palestinian suicide bombers: “They are part of the Israeli army, even if they have civilian clothes.”
I asked him to reiterate, clarify or even withdraw his statement. Withdrawal did not occur. So anyone, I responded, over the age of 18, man or woman, even a doctor or a nurse, is a valid target? El-Masry answered with a simple “Yes.”
We never ambush people on our show, and I made sure that in this case my guest had plenty of time to reconsider. Indeed, we carried the discussion over a commercial break into another segment of the program. The second Muslim guest, a lawyer, appeared obviously stunned by the remarks and disassociated himself from the statements.
As of yesterday, the story had been covered in almost every newspaper in the country, and carried by wire services from Alaska to Alabama. Television and radio pounced on it as well.
Muslim and Arab organizations have expressed outrage at the remarks and called for Elmasry to resign. His university has condemned the comments. Jewish leaders are profoundly angry — and government security officials in Ottawa are even reviewing tapes of the show.
The situation has not been helped by a weekend press release from Elmasry’s organziation that referred to his comments as “regrettable and misunderstood.”
“Dr. Elmasry, did not, does not, and will not condone the widely-held Palestinian view that any form of armed resistance against civilians that includes suicide bombing constitutes a legitimate military operation against the Israeli occupation,” the statement says.
Elmasry “was presenting not his own views, but those of a significant segment of Palestinians under occupation,” it continues, quoting him as saying: “I sincerely regret that my comments were misunderstood and, as a result, caused offence.”
Now just hold on. If Elmasry regrets the comments, surely he should make a public apology and confirm that he does not in fact believe that every adult Israeli is a valid target for a suicide bomber.
I can only judge by what he said, repeatedly, as he sat only feet away from me. It was abundantly clear to me. In fact, Elmasry gave a long preamble where he compared the intifada to the French Resistance to the Nazis during World War II.
Here is what I find deeply ironic about all this. Elmasry’s group issues a regular report outlining what it sees as anti-Muslim attitudes in Canadian media. The report complains of insufficient Muslim voices in journalism and biased reporting.
Yet the president of this organization is invited onto a one-hour show to give his opinions and allowed by the host to repeat those opinions. They are then reprinted in hundreds of newspapers. In this case, it seems it is not the media or some anti-Muslim fanatic who has shamed Muslims but the leader of the Canadian Islamic Congress himself.
I know many if not most of the leaders of Canada’s Muslim and Arab communities, and I have never heard such an extreme statement. I am confident Elmasry that the comments Elmasry made on my show do not represent the views of Canada’s Palestinian diaspora, nor the vast majority of Muslims in this country.
The Israel/Palestine issue demands a new paradigm of justice and equality. It does not require violent platitudes and feeble generalizations.
We have to be able to admit when we’re wrong. Especially when we’re so terribly, horribly wrong.