A couple of years ago, I remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal in which the phenomenon of “lawfare” was featured. Lawfare occurs when a person misuses the legal system to intimidate others from criticising him/her and threatens to bring personal liability action. The term was applied to a number of scenarios: when it is the context of terrorism, it has also been called “judicial jihad”.
Are we seeing lawfare in action in Montreal? Controversial imam Hamza Chaoui is apparently suing the Mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, for calling him an “agent of radicalisation”, thus impugning Mr. Chaoui’s reputation and unfairly targeting him (see story here). At the time of this writing, the issue remains unresolved. This all seems to have started when the city refused Mr. Chaoui a permit to open an Islamic centre, citing concerns over the extreme nature of his religious teachings.
What were those teachings? Well, among other things, Mr. Chaoui is alleged to have said that:
1) women should have designated guardians who would vet marriage proposals
2) corporal punishment is a valid type of correction
3) democracy is incompatible with Islam
4) severe punishments should be used on those who do not comply with Sharia (i.e. Islamic) law (e.g. stoning and whipping)
It is worth noting that two Canadian terrorists, Martin Couture-Rouleau (he was killed on October 20, 2014 after running down two Canadian Forces members in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) and Chiheb Esseghaier (recently convicted in the Via passenger train plot), attended mosques or prayer rooms where Mr. Chaoui preached. It is also important to note that Mr. Chaoui has not been linked to either extremist.
So, radical or not?
The answer is clearly yes, if Mr. Chaoui indeed made these statements. The view that Islam forbids democracy is held only by the extreme fringe of Muslims in Canada. Most Muslim leaders encourage followers to vote and participate in Canadian democracy. Tick. The quote about women is so 12th century (and that may be an insult to those who lived back then) and is a very radical view to hold in this century, at least in Canada (maybe not in Mr. Chaoui’s native Morocco). Tick. And Mr. Chaoui’s views on corporal punishment, while shared by others in Canada, can clearly be described as far from mainstream in 2015. Tick. As for the application of Sharia law in Canada, I think that we already have a criminal code in this country. Tick.
I count 4/4 radical, extreme views as evidence of radical ideology. But the more important question is whether Mr. Chaoui is an “agent” of radicalisation. That is more problematic.
I suppose that as a religious leader in a position of influence, Mr. Chaoui should be careful what he says since he runs the danger of leading impressionable minds to extreme ends. Whether or not he has done just that is hard to tell with what we know. As I have stated on many occasions correlation (the fact that he believes and promotes these abominations) does not equal causation (i.e. people in Montreal were radicalised because of what he said).
So we are left with this: Mr. Chaoui subscribes to a few radical (and many would say unacceptable) religious views but it is far from certain that he is an “agent” responsible for the reaction of others.
Mr. Chaoui has a right to seek recourse with the Canadian justice system to undo what he says is libelous allegations by His Honour. We all do.
But isn’t it just a tad ironic that Mr. Chaoui is using the very system of justice that he sees as incompatible with Islam?