Under pressure from a controversial Muslim lobby group, a Canadian party official has been censured for his angry defense of Rev. Franklin Graham’s Christian relief work in Iraq.

When Stephen Leach fired off an e-mail to the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Canadian affiliate for its excoriation of Graham’s plans for Iraq, he thought he was acting as a private citizen.

However, the Muslim group apparently discovered Leach’s affiliation through an Internet search and turned the e-mail into a public campaign. Leach is vice president of the Progressive Conservative party’s Oshawa, Ontario, riding, or district.

In his e-mail to CAIR, he called the group’s recent demand Graham be barred from working in Iraq a “hate crime.”

Leach wrote: “North America was not founded on Muslim principles, else, we wouldn’t be the strong continent we are today. We would be a [backwoods] civilization, like many Muslim nations found in the Middle East today.”

In response to concerns about his e-mail, Leach said, “This is my opinion, this is no opinion based on anybody else but my own.”

But CAIR Canada issued a news release calling on party leaders to repudiate the remarks. After some negotiation, Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark agreed last week to denounce Leach’s comments, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported.

CAIR Canada said when it “contacted leader Joe Clark for a statement regarding the party’s position on Islamophobia, his office refused to intervene, characterizing the issue as a private conflict between individuals.”

Nevertheless, Clark eventually helped draft a joint statement with CAIR Canada’s spokesman, Riad Saloojee, which said the remarks “were completely unacceptable and inappropriate.”

A CAIR news release said Sheema Khan, chair of CAIR Canada, concluded a conversation with party officials saying she was satisfied the Progressive Conservative Party would continue to be an ally of CAIR “in the defense of the principles of multiculturalism and inclusiveness.”

‘Despicable practice’

Last month, CAIR’s U.S. spokesman, Ibrahim Hooper, criticized Graham and other evangelical Christians for using humanitarian concerns as a “cover” for their “true motive” – to convert Muslims to Christianity.

“They go after them when they’re most vulnerable and hope they can get them to leave their faith,” he told Beliefnet. “It’s a very despicable practice.”

The Muslim leader, who has said he wants the U.S. eventually to become a Muslim nation, said, “Franklin Graham obviously thinks it is a war against Islam.”

“This is a guy who gave the invocation at President Bush’s inauguration and believes Islam is a wicked faith,” Hooper said. “And he’s going to go into Iraq in the wake of an invading army and convert people to Christianity? Nothing good is coming of that.”

Leach’s e-mail to CAIR Canada said:

“Your organization has publically (sic) endorsed a HATE CRIME against Christians as Billy Grahams son is working to assist helping out refugees from Iraq.

“If this was the other way around, no one would doubt a HATE CRIME had been purpetrated (sic).

“I am shocked and dismayed by the belief structure being upheld by Muslims in North America where everyone has the freedom of speech and religion.

“North American was NOT founded on Muslim principles, else, we wouldn’t be the strong continent we are today. We would be a bag woods (sic) civilization like many Muslim nations found in the Middle East today.

“I demand a public apology by your President to Mr. Graham immediately and would recommend you work WITH Christians and Jews, and not against them as your faith would have it.

“Yeah, we are the infidel (sic), but in North America, thank God you are a minority religion and not one which the vast majority of North Americans adhere to.

“Truely (sic) disgusting!! Hell, even I fly the Red, White & Blue and I’m not even an American. I’m Canadian. :) God Bless America, God Bless the Allies, God Bless the soon to be [free] Iraqi’s (sic), their freedom paid for in blood of those nations which actually give a damn about them.”

Further discipline?

A party spokesman said it is now up to Leach’s local party leader to decide whether further disciplinary action against him is required.

The CAIR Canada chair Khan apparently was satisfied with the outcome, stating in the joint release, “I am confident these internal [party] matters are being addressed with the seriousness they deserve.”

Leach told the Ottawa Citizen he did not think it was fair to drag his party into the controversy, but insisted members of the Conservatives and the government share his opinions.

“Because of the role they play right now, they don’t say such things publicly,” he said.

Leach also refused to apologize for his remarks, vowing to “never back down.”

“I was just upset that these people can condemn an organization like Franklin Graham’s,” he said. “That is fear-mongering, hate in itself.”

A group calling itself Anti-CAIR has set up a website “exposing the truth about the Council on American-Islamic Relations,” which it calls “just one of many anti-American terrorist-sponsoring organizations hiding behind the religion of Islam in the United States today.”

Responding to CAIR’s criticism of the Pentagon for inviting Graham to speak at a Good Friday service, Anti-CAIR issued a news release stating, “While ACAIR supports the rights of members of the Islamic faith to oppose the appearance of Rev. Graham, we do not understand the involvement of CAIR in the dispute.”

ACAIR charged: “CAIR is an Islamic fundamentalist organization dedicated to the overthrow of the United States Constitution and the installation of an Islamic theocracy in America. CAIR is not qualified to speak on behalf of mainstream Muslims in America.”

Anti-CAIR also has defended Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, whose nomination by President Bush to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace has generated a CAIR campaign.

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