In a recent video appearance before the Canadian national security and defence committee, charged with preparing a report on threats to national security, former Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned the Canadian government that “you should be looking out for the sprouting of mosques and Islamic centres. You should be looking out for the establishment of Islamic schools and anything that costs money.” (click here for more information)
Hirsi Ali is famous for her involvement in a controversial Dutch film “Submission” and for the death threats made against her subsequently. She has renounced Islam and now lives in the US, where she is now at Harvard University’s JFK School of Government. She has also been associated with the right-wing US thinktank the American Enterprise Institute.
So, what if anything is wrong with what she said? A lot, unfortunately.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are preachers of hate and violence in some mosques and Islamic centres, maybe even here in Canada. But before we descend to the usual “all mosques are dens of evil” state, let’s not forget that any religious centre can be the locus of such poisonous talk. Remember Terry Jones? No, not the brilliant ex-Monty Python actor, but the hate-spewing, Quran-burning ideologue in Florida who says that torching Islam’ holy book is not “radical”. Or Myanmar’s Buddhist monk Wirathu whose 969 movement espouses hate against Muslims.
So, are Canadian mosques a huge source of violent extremism? Not in my experience. And I have had the opportunity to visit many across the country.
What about the incoming foreign funding? Is that a problem? Maybe.
If funding comes in from countries where a particular intolerant form of Islam is preached, then it is possible that the money may come with an expectation that this form of the faith will be propagated. It is also an issue if the sponsors have no good idea of the reality of Canadian Islam and the Muslims who live in our society.
But it is important to distinguish between intolerance and extremism. I am no fan of hateful exclusionary Islam, but I know that there are hateful exclusionary Christians here as well. Being hateful does not make you a terrorist. It makes you a pain in the you-know-where, but that’s what you get for freedom of expression. Furthermore, studies have shown that there is not a linear relationship between hate and violence (mind you in some cases you can make that link). Besides, it is up to communities, not the government, to take these preachers and their ideologies to task.
I guess what really concerns me about Ms. Hirsi Ali’s comments are the generality. She seems to suggest that all mosques, Islamic centres and schools need to be watched. Not only is this uncalled for, it would divert limited resources from considering the few places where there may be a problem.
In an earlier blog I noted that the threat here is not existential: it’s serious but the sky is not falling. Taking Ms. Hirsi Ali’s advice to heart will further alienate Canadian Muslims and destroy the relationships painstakingly built with them.
So I say we should not submit to her recommendations