Provincial PC candidate for Scarborough-Guildwood Gary Ellis (second from left) and federal multiculturalism minister Jason Kenney (right) listen to questions and concerns raised by local residents at Masjid Al-Jannah in Scarborough on Oct. 1.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper called “Islamicism” the biggest threat to Canada in an interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, Scarborough resident and PhD student Asma Bala found it hurtful and shocking to hear such language from her own prime minister.

Concerned with what she says is the increasing presence of Islamophobia, she decided to address the issue, and took it up with Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism at the Masjid Al-Jannah mosque in Scarborough on Oct. 1.

Kenney came out to endorse the election bid for the Conservatives with local candidate Gary Ellis.

“He [Harper] did not distinguish what he meant by that,” Bala said, “but what he did do with that statement is paint 1.6 billion Muslims in the world with the same brush, and he made us out to be fanatics.”

Citing an Islamic organization in Calgary which asked for but did not receive an apology, Bala asked, “If we’re going to talk about respecting faith tradition, how can we marginalize a very important community?”

Kenney told Bala she wasn’t taking into consideration all the other comments Harper made before that positively addressed Muslims. He gave the example of the Toronto 18 group’s arrest, when Harper said the arrests should not be interpreted as a judgment on any community, and that those with violent intent do not represent Islam.

But Bala’s concerns did not stop there. She said she was alarmed that funding to the Canadian Arab Federation as well as KAIROS — a Christian aid group that works for social justice causes — was cut.

KAIROS had criticized the actions of the Israeli government in the past — their funding was axed in 2009. In December 2009, Kenney told an audience in Jerusalem, the cuts were due to the government’s efforts to clear out anti-Semitic groups. They lost their funding because of their leadership role in a sanctions campaign against Israel, Kenney said. KAIROS responded saying that claim was false.

Bala also expressed concern over Canada’s decision to allow Geert Wilders, into the country, but deny George Galloway, a British politician and anti-war advocate.

Geert Wilders, a right-wing politician in the Netherlands sums up his views by saying, “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam.” He has compared the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, and has campaigned to have the Qur’an banned in the country. He advocates ending immigration from Muslim countries to stop the “Islamisation of the Netherlands.”

“The fact that one doesn’t agree with opinions or statements of someone is not sufficient under the Immigration Refugee Protection Act to prevent them from coming into the country,” Kenney explained for Geert Wilders.

As for Galloway, Kenney explained, he was rejected on the grounds that he gave 40,000 euros to the Palestinian group Hamas, which Canada has listed as a terrorist organization.

“I think he played the old political trick of avoiding what I asked him,” Bala said after the event.

“I specifically asked him about Stephen Harper’s comments – he didn’t speak to them. He spoke around them … he didn’t address that interview that I was talking about.

“For me, if you’re going to say that Muslims are good people, and then you’re going to come out in a big, public interview and say that the biggest threat to this country is ‘Islamicism,’ I think you do more damage than good,” Bala said.

Bala said Kenney didn’t explain the reason for KAIROS’ funding cut, nor did he give justification as to why Wilders was welcomed in, and Galloway wasn’t.

“I think it was interesting for Minister Kenney to be in a mosque, to be present with Muslims, speaking about respecting traditions and values, while completely avoiding a question on something the leader of his party has put out as being a sentiment,” Bala said.

Bala says Islamophobia comes in many forms.

“It can be very subtle as we saw in there,” Bala said.

Published in the Toronto Observer

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