Sunday, February 26, 2006

Canadian Muslim Embraces Free Speech

Like a breath of fresh air was the following letter to the editor in yesterday's National Post (

As a practising Muslim, I was saddened and angered by the cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a negative way. My anger is directed, not at the Danish cartoonists, but instead at fellow Muslims worldwide who have darkened the image of my beloved Prophet by their atrocities.

I saw a group of Canadian Muslim leaders congratulating Canadian Muslims for their calm reaction to the cartoons. But it is quite easy to remain calm when only a few outlets with small circulations have dared to publish some of those images. This is hardly a show of tolerance and peaceful coexistence; rather it shows a nation willing to sacrifice its freedom of speech because it is terrified of a possible reaction by a small minority in its midst.

Meanwhile, Muslim student groups at Saint Mary's University in Halifax are demanding the expulsion of a professor who posted some of the cartoons on his office door, while Mohamed Elmasry, head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, is threatening to take the Western Standard to court for publishing the cartoon. So much for calm reactions, but thanks for not rioting violently, I guess.

If I were a Muslim leader, I would try to explain to my fellow Muslims that it is freedom of speech that allows us to practise our religion freely in Canada, and the price for this is to accept views critical of ours. If I were the prime minister of Canada, I would declare my unconditional support for freedom of speech, including speech that I may find offensive. And if I were the minister of immigration, I would revoke the visas of the members of that Muslim student group at Saint Mary's University who are international students who now demand expulsion of one of the school's professors. I would remind them that they are merely guests in this country. Guests do not impose their views and ways on their hosts.

But as a private citizen, all I can do is to buy a copy of Western Standard, enjoy my Danish pastry and write opinion letters to Canadian newspapers and media to let them know that Mr. Elmasry does not represent the views of all Muslims in this country.

Amir Sanizadeh, Ottawa.

If only Mr. Sanizadeh's courageous voice were not drowned out by the cacophony of "I-am-outraged-and-I-strongly-condemn" letters flooding newspapers in Canada.

I have also been very disappointed by evangelical leaders who presume to speak for the majority of Canadian Christians as they express disappointment at the republication of the Danish cartoons in the Western Standard and venture to suggest that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute (check out for an effective rebuttal of this notion). An interesting point to note: the early Christians were accused of being "haters of mankind" by Roman philosophers because of what they believed and taught. In particular, the Romans were offended by how the early Christians dishonoured their religion. Good thing our spiritual forefathers weren't as concerned about expressing their opinions, even in the face of being accused of spreading hatred, as some of today's Christian leaders seem to be.

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