Islam and Innocence: Canada’s Predicament

Despite the attack on the Ottawa parliament, Canada has still not woken up to the global scale of the Islamist threat

Dispatches Islam
Canada's parliament: Justin Trudeau initially refused to call the attack terrorism (photo: W. Lloyd Mackenzie, via Flickr)

On Monday, October 20 two Canadian soldiers walking along the streets of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu in Quebec were deliberately run down by a car driven by Muslim convert Martin Couture-Rouleau: 53-year-old Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed. His murderer was chased by the police and the car he was driving overturned in the chase; he managed to climb out, attacked his pursuers and was shot dead. He was carrying a large knife at the time and the assumption is that he was planning to behead the two soldiers, echoing the murder of Lee Rigby in London last year.

Two days later, on October 22, 24-year-old army reservist Corporal Nathan Cirillo was standing as a ceremonial guard in Ottawa at the nation’s war memorial, just a few yards in front of the mock-gothic and British-influenced parliament building. Another Muslim convert, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, drove close to the monument, shot Cirillo in the back, killed him and then ran inside the House of Commons. He was seconds away from rooms containing dozens of MPs and even the Prime Minister and was only stopped when the Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, a retired police officer in his late fifties whose position was until then considered largely ceremonial, produced a small sidearm and shot Zehaf-Bibeau dead.

It would be reassuring to explain that Canada lost its innocence that week and that, while never abandoning its moderation and civility, suddenly took the threat of Islamist terrorism seriously. Not so. Not so at all. The leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, initially refused to describe the attacks as terrorism and the leader of the New Democratic Party, Canada’s Labour Party, still will not do so. Those politicians who did admit that the organised murder of two Canadian soldiers and an attempt to slaughter MPs was perhaps terroristic, then exhibited what has become a notorious adjectival complaint. It wasn’t “Islamic” or “Muslim” terrorism, it was just terrorism. Terror for terror’s sake perhaps, or as part of an obscure hobby, or merely a result of childhood trauma. Both killers were described as being mentally ill, which now seems to be the verdict reserved almost exclusively for Islamist murderers. I don’t recall IRA, UVF or in Canada French separatist terrorists ever being considered mentally ill. Perhaps it’s just that mental illness is on the rise these days. Both killers, by the way, had been under police supervision, had had their passports confiscated and were openly supportive of jihadism and Islamic State.

The attacks came only a few weeks after an anti-terrorism pamphlet was issued in Winnipeg by a Muslim organisation working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who along with Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) form the core of the nation’s anti-terrorism forces. The pamphlet drew qualitative parallels between terrorism and Islamophobia, argued that there was no connection whatsoever between terror and Islam, that the phrase “moderate Muslim” should never be used because all Muslims were moderate, and generally painted a blurred picture of a country where Muslims were treated very poorly but never harmed a halal fly. At first the pamphlet was lauded but then — probably after a phone call from the Conservative government — the RCMP partially withdrew their support. But the damage was already largely done, and two weeks later the State Department in Washington tweeted their support for the clumsy propaganda.

It’s not a dysfunction confined to Canada of course but this is a country that partly, perhaps largely, defines itself at least in establishment circles by not being American, and Americans are seen as conservative, nationalistic and at war with Islam. It may be risible but it soaks Canadian political opinions. Yet both Democrat and Republican administrations have laboriously, and incorrectly, insisted that Islam is a religion of peace and that there is no link between Muslim teachings and international terrorism. It’s a mantra we hear in almost all of the Western world now; as though if we say it often and loudly enough it will suddenly come true. But the Canadian situation is even worse because relativism was pumped into the bloodstream of the nation’s body politic long ago. It’s not so much that our leaders and opinion-formers are physically afraid of speaking truth to Islamist power — though that is a factor; it’s not even that they are frightened of being accused of the canard of Islamophobia or racism, though that is even more of a factor. It’s that to admit, even to oneself, that some religions and cultures are more violent and less tolerant than others is to question the entire underpinnings of one’s philosophy, ideology and even secular theology. It’s not that Cameron, Obama, American celebrities, British talking heads or Canadian chattering class doyens are bad — it’s that they’re terrified of questioning everything they have believed since they can remember.

What has happened in Canada is a case in point. While we have not had a 9/11 or the July 2005 bombings, the so-called Toronto 18, an Islamist terror group, had planned to attack various national institutions and behead the Prime Minister. Beyond terrorism, we also saw the Shafia case, where in 2009 three young women and their stepmother were murdered by their father, brother and mother (it was an Islamic polygamous family). It was quite clearly an “honour” killing but when one moderate Muslim leader publicly called it such and demanded that Muslims admit to and transform such a culture, he himself received death-threats and was forced into silence. Most media outlets faced no such violence but acted out of self-censorship. When they did speak of “honour” killings, they were at pains to patronisingly tell us that there was no connection between such misogynistic barbarism and Islam. In fact, more than 90 per cent of “honour” killings have an Islamic context and Pakistan is the epicentre of the crime.

Canada and Britain are facing similar threats: an attack upon their values, virtues and foundations by a politicised version of orthodox Islam, but one that is denied by the non-Muslim and often post-Christian arbiters of what is supposed to be right thinking and accepted wisdom. Denial, it seems, is not just a river in Egypt.

This came particularly and personally apparent to me when Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Vincent were killed, and not merely because of the obvious horror. The day between the two murders was the publication date of my book Hatred: Islam’s War on Christianity (Random House US, £16.66). It seemed churlish to complain of death threats and abuse when two good, brave men had actually been murdered; yet because the book was published by Random House, a very large and important house, it gathered a great deal of publicity in North America, and I had indeed been facing various and numerous threats for some time. Coming as it did at such a time, however, the reaction in Canada was greater than we had estimated. While there were any number of positive interviews and articles there was also a wave not so much of criticism but of refusal to believe the premise or to question its reasons. There was a sliding scale of obfuscation and dishonesty. It began with “This is payback for the Crusades”, slid into “It’s not really happening”, reformed to “All persecution is wrong but the Americans are responsible for all of this” and ended with “Yes it happens, but it’s totally contrary to what Islam teaches.”

It is self-evidently a sensitive and delicate area — most of radical Islam’s victims are Muslims — but beyond nuance is fact. To a certain extent Christians are the metaphorical canaries in the mine, or at least examples of what tends to occur when Islam abandons its self-applied cringing minority status and becomes rather more demanding and insistent. Most of the countries where Christians live as minorities under Islam have, of course, been Muslim-dominated for centuries but that was not always the case. Egypt was a Christian country with Jewish and pagan minorities until Muslim cavalry charged in from Arabia. While there were some genuine conversions, most were at the point of a sword or after years of having to pay up to 50 per cent of one’s income as a Christian “head tax” living in a Muslim state. This, added to the forced exile and slaughter of Christians, soon established a Muslim preponderance. Other Christian Arab countries were more inviting of Muslims in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries and soon found that they had made a mistake. Not that most European countries face the possibility of a Muslim majority or an Islamic invasion, but when a vibrant, self-assured culture insists on compromises from an ambivalent, self-doubting host the result can be surprising and profoundly dangerous.

The suffering of Christians today in the Islamic world is nothing short of grotesque, and such conditions are not confined to any one region. In Egypt the Christian population is at least 10 per cent and could be 15 per cent; rather like Jews in the former Soviet Union, people are reluctant to tell the authorities who they are. Discrimination is frequent, violence common, murder far from rare. Pogroms have occurred and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has made conditions far worse. In Iraq and Syria the secular dictators Saddam and Assad did at least refuse to persecute Christians. The situation was not perfect but nothing at all like the bloodbath we have now. The examples I quote in the book are legion. One of the people I interviewed, for example, was Sister Hatune Dogan, a Turkish-born nun who is a member of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church under the Holy See of Antioch. “I met with a man who had gone out one morning to tend his fields,” she explained. “He did so in all innocence, as part of his daily routine. He suddenly looked up and saw a body, then another, then another. All of them with their heads cut off. He looked to the next field and then to the next and realised there were hundreds of murdered and decapitated people, all of them Christians. He still shakes even now when he describes the experience because of the trauma.”

In Pakistan Christians are murdered by mobs, beaten by policemen and arrested under the state’s blasphemy laws. In Turkey, priests are beheaded, seminaries closed down and in the 1950s there was a full-scale pogrom against Christians. In Indonesia, a country founded on secular principles, there is manic anti-Christian violence, and in 2005 three Christian schoolgirls were beheaded by a Muslim gang. In Nigeria, the attacks are so numerous in the northern sharia-based states that I had to concentrate on a single period for my chapter in the book simply to save space. In Saudi Arabia it is illegal to be a Christian, in Iran the authorities have executed converts to Christianity, even in the Maldives there is anti-Christian persecution. Bangladesh, Sudan, Gaza, Malaysia, almost everywhere there is an Islamic majority the persecution occurs. Christians do suffer elsewhere, especially in China and North Korea, but this is about control in nations where the ruling ideology targets all dissidents and is, anyway, effectively moribund. There have also been attacks in India, but the government has dealt with these incidents quickly and efficiently and they are historically and culturally contrary to Hindu teachings.

We cannot say the same for Islam. While most Muslims may despise intolerance, the Koran and Hadith simply do not consistently call for co-existence and religious equality; every time a Muslim apologist explains that the faith teaches there is no “compulsion in religion” they must be challenged with the law of abrogation, where Islam insists that what was said or written later in Muhammad’s life has greater authority than that said or written earlier. Muslim subjugation of Christians and other minorities is not some geopolitical accident. We can debate it but please let us not pretend and lie.

Canada is as innocent as it ever was, and the United States and Britain little different. Parts of Europe are beginning to ask vital questions, sometimes joined by brave Muslims who know an Islamic reformation is essential. But I called the book Hatred for a reason. I write this article, by the way, as I look at the spent bullets I keep on my desk, picked up from the floor of a church in Baghdad where more than 50 Christians were killed by an Islamist gang during Mass in October, 2010. They lost their innocence there some time ago.