LATE NEWS: Radicals drive out liberal Pakistani-Canadian Muslim leader
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Tarek Fatah, the outspoken liberal communications director of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), has resigned, citing concerns for his personal safety and that of his family.
He said he would also resign from the MCC’s board, severing all official ties with the organisation he helped found. “It’s not just for me. It’s for my wife and my daughters,” he said in an interview to the Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading liberal newspaper. “Part of it is also to get out of the limelight.”
The report noted that Pakistan-born Fatah’s socially liberal views have always been controversial within the Muslim community, and in the past month he has been the subject of an e-mail campaign aimed at the Canadian news media. In his resignation letter to the board, Fatah wrote that he wanted to step down because of “an increasing heavy load of work”. He said he would stay on in his current capacity until the MCC finds a replacement. Along with his resignation, Fatah has filed a report with Toronto Police detailing what he says are a number of threats he has received since 2003. A police investigation is under way.
In his resignation letter, he wrote, “This has been a particularly stressful three months and I have tried to do my best and times I have succeeded and at other times messed up.”
The report said Fatah had always carried a high profile, both with the Muslim Canadian Congress - known for its liberal interpretations of Islam, including its support of homosexuality - and as the host of Muslim Chronicle, a CTS TV current-affairs show that focuses on the Muslim community. But in recent months, he said, he has been coming under increasing fire. There was the e-mail campaign against him and he is more worried than ever about threats after the arrests of 17 terrorism suspects in Toronto in early June. Fatah’s unpopularity among conservative segments of the Muslim community flows from his being a strong advocate of gay rights for Muslims and the inclusion of secular voices in the Muslim community. He publicly and vehemently opposed the adoption of Sharia law in Canada. Recently, many Muslims were angered by his very vocal campaign against British imam Sheik Riyadh ul Haq, who was ultimately refused a visa to attend a conference in Toronto. Haq’s address was transmitted live by satellite instead. Many of his Muslim critics have also accused Fatah of “hogging the media spotlight”.
Fatah is frequently a subject of animated discussions on blogs and Internet chat forums, and early last month, a student group based in Montreal began bombarding five news outlets - The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, CBC and CTV - with e-mails insisting that he does not represent the Muslim community and should not be recognised as a legitimate voice. Fatah was quick to respond to accusations about his views. “My position is that same-sex marriage is a human right and whether someone believes it is valid from a religious perspective is not the question. Most Muslims do not believe homosexuality is permitted but that is not the question,” he said.
Fatah has fiercely advocated for a separation of church and state, although he said he has no issue with Sharia arbitration as long as it is not part of the state legal system. The Globe and Mail report noted that Fatah has become controversial even in liberal circles. “He has alienated a lot of people,” said Tariq Amin-Khan, assistant professor of politics and public administration at Ryerson University in Toronto. On June 30, Fatah was identified by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) as one of four people who are anti-Islam in an article in the CIC’s weekly Friday Magazine, which is sent to e-mail subscribers. The article, ‘Smearing Islam and Bashing Muslims, Who and Why,’ was written by Mohamed Elmasry, CIC’s director. He wrote that Fatah “is well known in Canada for smearing Islam and bashing Muslims”. Elmasry levelled similar accusations against the Muslim Canadian Congress last October.
Fatah said he is concerned because he understands the implication of statements such as “anti-Islam” and “smearing Islam”. He said they are akin to fatwas, pronouncing blasphemy, a crime that under Sharia law is punishable by death. “Anyone can issue a fatwa,” Fatah said. “ And anyone can issue a counter-fatwa. There is no clergy that oversees the process. This is a complete hijacking of the system, and everyone is complicit.”
Wahida Valiante, vice-chair of the Canadian Islamic Congress said, “Tarek Fatah’s views are diametrically opposed to most Muslims. There is a tremendous amount of discussion in the community. His point of view contradicts the fundamentals of Islam.”
In 2003, Fatah was attacked both physically and verbally at an Islamic conference when dozens of young Muslim men mobbed him while a cleric shouted out that he had insulted the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In 2006, he was accosted on Yonge Street by a man who accused him of being an apostate. His car windows were smashed. Fatah wrote to the Canadian police, “This is as close as one can gets to issuing a death threat, as it places me as an apostate and blasphemer.”