A leading Islamic group in Canada is preparing legal action under the country’s hate-crimes laws against the broadcast of Rev. Jerry Falwell’s assertion that “Muhammad is a terrorist.”
Canadian Islamic Congress President Mohamed Elmasry told WorldNetDaily he believes criminal charges could be brought against “the person who made the statement and any accessories he used.”
Lawyers retained by the Muslim group also are preparing a formal complaint to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission against all Canadian channels that broadcast the Oct. 6 interview on the U.S. news magazine program “60 Minutes.”
Canada’s genocide and hate-propaganda law bars a public statement that “willfully promotes hatred” against groups “distinguished by color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” The code has an article that excuses statements expressed in “good faith,” including religious expression, but judges have ruled against defendants deemed to have intentionally incited hatred. It also has a defense if the accused establishes that the statement in question is true.
Violators of the law are subject to a prison term of up to two years. Critics of the controversial statute say its vague wording can be used to criminalize legitimate public dialogue. Parliament is now considering a bill that would add “sexual orientation” as a protected category of people, creating a scenario in which the Bible or Quran could be considered “hate literature” for condemnation of homosexual behavior.
On the “60 Minutes” broadcast, Falwell told CBS interviewer Bob Simon: “I think Muhammad was a terrorist. I read enough, by both Muslims and non-Muslims, [to decide] that he was a violent man, a man of war.”
Falwell told WND just before the interview was aired that his intent was not to attack Muhammad.
“I have avoided that. But [Simon] was pressing me on the issue of Muhammad’s behavior, his involvement in war, and I simply said what I do believe, that Muhammad is not a good example for most Muslim people.”
Coming out of the closet
Elmasry claims the airing of the program resulted in an increase in verbal attacks against his group.
“It seems that many hatemongering people came out of the closet, and we began receiving more than usual hate e-mail and voice mail,” he said.
Elmasry played for WND a recording of a voice mail received after the group publicized its intent to press hate-crime charges. The caller said:
“OK, I’ll leave you a brief message. You can charge me with a hate crime. Muhammad was a pedophile. Muhammad was a mass murderer. Muhammad was a demon-possessed maniac. Muhammad was a false prophet. Islam is a false religion. The Quran and the Hadith are both books of lies and deception. Now would you like to charge me with a hate crime? Feel free to. Islam is a religion for idiots and backwards people. It is a religion of violence and hatred. Want to charge me with a hate crime? Feel free. Those who follow Islam are deceived. Muhammad was a child molester. Have you got all of this on tape? Gooood.”
Elmasry insists this kind of speech should not be protected by law.
“Of course free speech is OK,” he said. “But when free speech actually produces psychological assault on people’s identity and people’s psyche, it does more harm than good. You have to draw the line somewhere and say this is very harmful to society at large.”
He asserted that such public expression is especially harmful “for teen-agers, who become suicidal and lose self-esteem. And people who don’t have a strong faith, they lose sleep, and hate crime actually produces discrimination, and people lose their job because of that.”
The Canadian Islamic Congress – a broad non-sectarian group, according to Elmasry – says its aim is to “promote, advance, co-ordinate, facilitate, demonstrate and implement the teachings and practices of Islam amongst Muslims and non-Muslims in Canada and abroad.”
Leaders of other Islamic groups have pointed to a deadly riot in Kashmir as evidence of the danger of “hate speech.” Five people were killed Oct. 11 in Hindu-Muslim clashes during a general strike to protest Falwell’s remarks.
Some have argued, however, that the riots simply backed Falwell’s inference that Muhammad inspires violence.
A press release by the Canadian Islamic Congress about the Falwell comments referred to a case reported last month by WorldNetDaily of an Ontario man convicted of hate crimes in 1998 for an incident in which he distributed pamphlets about Islam outside a high school.
In one of the pamphlets, defendant Mark Harding listed atrocities committed in the name of Islam in foreign lands to back his assertion that Canadians should be wary of local Muslims.
The Islamic group noted that during Harding’s trial, professor Jane McAuliffe of the University of Toronto, “an expert witness called by the Crown,” said, “There is no legitimate support in the Quran or Islamic religious doctrine for the position that Islam advocates violence.”
Elmasry maintained Falwell is not qualified to comment on Islam.
“If you want to compare a religion you have to compare it with another religion,” Elmasry said. “The Old Testament, the Torah, has more violent verses than the Quran, and so if you put the two books side by side you can understand.”
In a commentary written by Elmasry, which he forwarded to WND, the Islamic leader said the wide perception that the Quran sanctions violence must be “addressed all the more urgently in light of a recently released Al-Jazeera TV documentary in which the al-Qaida leadership claims apparent Quranic justification for the events of Sept. 11, 2001.”
Elmasry argues that Quranic verses have been “intentionally misused by some Muslims and non-Muslims alike to advance wholly political agendas, with total disregard for accompanying teachings that overwhelmingly condemn self-aggrandizing militarism and offensive war-mongering.”
Many Christian scholars argue that Christians who commit violent acts in the name of God can find no justification from the actions of Jesus and from New Testament teachings, whereas Muslims can point to the Quran and Muhammad’s life and words to find a basis for destroying anyone who opposes Islam.
Elmasry has accused Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes of producing “hate literature” for his assessment that “Islamism,” or militant Islam, not Islam itself, is a threat to the West. Elmasry wrote to the editor of Canada’s National Post that the “Canadian Islamic Congress and many of your readers were greatly concerned about the physical, mental and emotional safety of many Canadian Muslims upon the publication of Daniel Pipes article ‘Behind the veil of Islam,'” Aug. 7, 1999.
The Islamic leader said it “took Daniel Pipes a full-page feature to tell us in a pseudo-scholastic analysis that Islam is not a threat to the West, but fundamentalist Islam and ‘Islamism’ are. Worst still, he finishes his article with ‘Islamism is a deep, up-to-date phenomenon that has the power to do mischief not in the distant valleys of Afghanistan, but right here in Canada.'”