By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, December 22, 2012 - 0 Comments
The prepared text of Justin Trudeau’s speech to the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto tonight.
I am here today because I believe in Freedom of Expression.
I am here today because I believe in Freedom of Peaceful Assembly.
I am here today because I believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees those sacred things to you, to me, and to all people with whom we share this land.
But mostly, I am here today because I believe in you.
I believe in the contributions you have made to our country. And I know that together we will make even greater contributions in the future.
Let me begin with a story. A story from your history. One that I hope will stay in your minds as you think about our common future.
By Rosemary Westwood - Monday, December 17, 2012 at 11:15 AM - 0 Comments
A global movement promotes a more progressive reading of the Quran
France’s first gay-friendly mosque recently opened in Paris to widespread criticism from Muslim groups. A local Islamic leader, rector of the city’s Grand Mosque, said it goes against Islam. A Facebook post labelled its members’ sexuality a “disease.” Founder Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed is ignoring the hateful comments: “We don’t care.” Rather, he points to the praise he has received, including an email from a lesbian Muslim, who told him he was “opening the doors of the Islam of tomorrow.” Zahed, a gay Muslim married to a man, opened the mosque in a donated room on the outskirts of the city, but plans to reopen next year with a library and office in central Paris.
He is part of a growing global movement promoting a more progressive reading of the Quran. The Paris mosque is a member of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), a U.S.-based organization with chapters in Ottawa, Toronto and five U.S. cities (and plans for a Danish chapter). The movement focuses on inclusivity, says MPV’s L.A.-based founder Ani Zonneveld, a singer-songwriter. “In 20 years it will be the norm for women to be leading prayers,” she says, and for gays and lesbians “to be included as equals.” She asks, “How can you say Islam is a religion of peace, when you discriminate, when you are unjust? Justice is the foundation of peace.”
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 9:24 AM - 0 Comments
Are you a 14-year-old boy seeking a mickey of Sambuca but you’re four foot three, absent fake ID, and your older brother refuses to break the law on your behalf? Don’t worry about it. Sun News has got your back.
Thanks to this awesome
Just for Laughs Gags segmentexposé on the evil scourge of political correctness, you will never have to go thirsty again. Just pick up a burka at the local Islamic fashion outlet, walk over to the LCBO and voila: Sambuca’s in the bag (don’t forget the chase!)
And don’t forget to tell your friends.
Not only will you be able to break the law and avoid detection, but you’ll be doing our country a great service by exposing the profound hypocrisy of institutionalized cultural sensitivity.
It doesn’t matter, of course, that no one would have conceived of LCBO burka fraud until the Toronto Sun invented it. All that matters is that Canadians know the truth:
Burkas = underage drinking. They are weird and dangerous. And it is our duty to try one on every once in a while and conduct a freak experiment in the name of freedom.
Thank you Sun News.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Why the debate over the veil is much more complicated than you think
No item of female apparel summons more attention, animosity, debate or censure in Western society than the veil covering Muslim women. That’s saying something in a culture inured to the sight of sweatpants with “Juicy” on the backside, Abercrombie & Fitch’s padded “push-up” swimsuit tops for eight-year-old girls, and women teetering on skyscraper porno heels as hobbling as the “chopines” worn by 16th-century Venetian prostitutes.
Governments are racing to restrict the veil in its various declensions: hijab, chador, abaya, niqab, burka. France and Belgium banned face-and-body concealing burkas and niqabs last year; similar legislation is in the works in other European countries, echoing campaigns to rid cityscapes of minarets. Last June, Muslim women were singled out by FIFA, the world soccer body, which banned players from wearing Islamic headdresses on the grounds they could cause a “choking injury.” The Canadian federal government drew its first line in the sand last month when Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced a ban on face veils during the swearing-in of the citizenship oath. Quebec’s Bill 94, which would deny essential public services to women in niqabs in the name of “public security, communication and identification,” is wending through the legislature.
So what’s really going on here? Why are women many see as subjugated the ones being censured? Part of what’s driving this is the visceral response a veiled face summons in the West: it’s a mystery and a threat. Unless you’re a surgeon, a goalie, a bride or a belly dancer, masking one’s face is anti-social, a prelude to robbing a bank or attending a Ku Klux Klan meeting. Faces confer identity, legally and socially. Covering them can signal Darth Vader menace. It’s dehumanizing.
By John Geddes - Friday, December 16, 2011 at 4:50 PM - 0 Comments
‘It’s not in accordance with any interpretation of Canadian law’
Fierce debates over religious symbols and beliefs are nothing new in Canada. Should a Mountie be allowed to wear a turban? Should a Sikh boy be permitted to carry a symbolic dagger in school? Should Hutterites who disapprove of photography on grounds of faith be excused from having their pictures on their driver’s licences? These controversies all ignited heated disputes over cultural sensitivities and legal rights. But none arguably has generated reactions quite so intense as Muslim women who cover their faces by wearing the niqab or burka—a practice Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has now challenged on unusually sweeping grounds.
Kenney decreed this week that immigrants who wish to become Canadians will no longer be allowed to keep their faces covered while taking the citizenship oath. He made the move after a Conservative MP from a Toronto suburb reported seeing four burka-clad women taking part in a recent group citizenship ceremony. Kenney said it’s hard for a presiding judge to tell if a veiled woman is really speaking the oath. But that practical quibble was clearly secondary to him. “It is,” he said, “a matter of deep principle that goes to the heart of our identity and our values of openness and equality.”
Past clashes of this sort have focused on balancing religious rights against pragmatic policy considerations. In 2009, for instance, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that a small Hutterite community’s objection to photography was trumped by the government’s need to have a secure system for driver’s licences. Cases involving the Sikh kirpan have focused on minimizing the danger of the ceremonial daggers being used as weapons. When it comes to veils and citizenship ceremonies, though, Kenney didn’t dwell much on practicalities. He said allowing women “to hide their identity from us, precisely when they are joining our community, is contrary to Canada’s proud commitment to openness and to social cohesion.”
By Alex Derry - Monday, September 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM - 1 Comment
A new ban against street prayer in France sends Muslims looking for space to worship
Just as Muslims throughout France prepared for their Friday prayers, the government passed a ban on Sept. 16 outlawing the increasingly common practice of praying in the street. Despite the ban being seen by some as an example of Nicolas Sarkozy’s government kowtowing to right-wing voters seven months before an election, and a small group of worshippers protesting the new measure in Paris, many among France’s five-million-strong Muslim population welcome the prospect of getting off the streets, provided they have somewhere else to pray.
France has enforced the separation of church and state since 1905, but a growing tide of anti-Muslim sentiment among the country’s more right-leaning groups has put pressure on Sarkozy to crack down on religious displays in public spaces. Particularly in cities, such as Paris and Marseilles, mosques are located in small buildings and storefronts with little space, leaving many worshippers no other option but to face Mecca in the street. Marine le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has equated Muslims praying in Paris’s streets to the Nazi invasion of France in the Second World War, albeit “without the tanks or soldiers,” but instead with fundamentalist displays in a proudly secular society. “Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism,” Interior Minister Claude Guéant told Le Figaro. “All Muslim leaders are in agreement.”
Mohammed Salah Hamza is one of those leaders. As the imam who leads some 2,000 Muslims at a makeshift mosque in a vacant fire station in northern Paris, which opened on the day the ban became law, he says that moving worshippers into an actual place of worship is “the beginning of a solution.” But Hamza called on the government to be more accommodating to France’s Muslim population—the biggest in Western Europe—and opposed being herded into makeshift spaces. “We are not cattle,” Hamza told France’s TF1 News. The 2,000-sq.-metre fire station was only handed over to worshippers under a three-year lease two days before the deadline, after an uneasy accord was reached with municipal authorities. In Marseilles, a disused hangar was set aside as a temporary mosque in a similar deal, but is in a state of such disrepair that it was unusable for the Sept. 16 deadline. Guéant estimates that half of the country’s 2,000 mosques have been built in the last decade.
By macleans.ca - Friday, September 16, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 2 Comments
Debating the impact of the attacks and how it changed Canadian life, laws and liberties
Last week in St. John’s, Maclean’s and CPAC hosted a round-table conversation entitled, “How has 9/11 changed our world?” In this wide-ranging discussion of the emotional, practical, political and cultural fallout in the decade following the attacks, Maclean’s columnists Andrew Coyne and Paul Wells were joined on the stage by David Collenette, Canada’s minister of transport at the time of 9/11 attacks, Sukanya Pillay, director of the national security program for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Tarek Fatah, political activist, author, broadcaster and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. The discussion was moderated by CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen. The following is an edited excerpt.
Andrew Coyne: I don’t know what future historians will make of the grand sweep of September 11 and its place in world history, but there’s no doubt the last 10 years of our lives have been in the shadow of it and very much dominated by it. If there’s one thing that we should certainly remember on this anniversary it is the nature of the threat that al-Qaeda presented and still to some extent presents. It is, I think, unique and new, something new in world history, the combination of the willingness to inflict casualties on just an enormous scale, and the technological capacity married with it. I do think, though, we should, if we’re putting everything in the balance, take stock of the fact that 10 years later we have seriously degraded al-Qaeda’s capacity. We’ll discuss a lot of the pros and cons of how the battle has been fought, but I just want to leave people with the impression that it was a battle worth fighting, and it’s been broadly successful.
Paul Wells: The question before us is how did his happen, and I think it’s a combination of two things, extremism—or, to use a simpler term, evil—on one side, and complacency on the other. The extremism persists, and the complacency is gone, but it’s important to understand what those 19 men in those airplanes were trying to do: they were trying to provoke the West. The nature of asymmetrical warfare is you use the limited means at your disposal to essentially trip up a much larger and more powerful opponent, and to some extent those 19 men have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. We have to keep our vigilance up, we have to keep working. This is not a war that is going to go away just because a zero comes up at the end of the anniversaries. I think we are still in this for a very long time, which is why we have to make sure that, in defending our values, we don’t betray them.
By macleans.ca - Monday, September 12, 2011 at 11:07 AM - 213 Comments
56 per cent feel differences impossible to overcome: poll
Results from a recent poll reveal that a majority of Canadians surveyed feel there is an ideological rift between the Muslim world and the West which is “irreconcilable.” Of the 1,500 consulted in the week before the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, 56 per cent felt the West and the Muslim world could not overcome their perceived differences. Thirty-three per cent felt they could be reconciled, while 11 per cent did not answer the question. The poll was conducted by Leger Marketing on behalf of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, whose director, Jack Jedwab, told Postmedia News that the survey’s results contradict “a fundamental idea in multicultural democracies like ours that conflicts between societies can be resolved through dialogue and negotiation.” However, Jedwab said the result provided a slight “ray of hope” in that 52 per cent of Canadians say it’s wrong to conduct extra airport security checks on people who “appear to be of Muslim background.”
By Ruth Sherlock - Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
Tourists have fled, the economy has collapsed and Egypt’s nascent democracy has stalled
The Egyptian revolution took the world by storm. As images of the mass protests beamed into homes around the globe, millions looked on, captivated by what people power could accomplish. Feb. 11, the night beleaguered president Hosni Mubarak resigned, will forever remain an iconic moment, with its scenes from Cairo’s Tahrir Square of Egyptians celebrating new-found freedom and the end of 30 years of autocratic rule. For many of the protesters who had spent years risking their lives by planning revolution in a tightly controlled state, and then 18 days battling against tear gas, bullets, and brutality in a popular uprising, that evening in Tahrir Square was the closing chapter. As influential blogger and activist Wael Ghonim tweeted, “Mission accomplished.”
The Egyptian military stepped in to fill the leadership vacuum. To shouts of “the people and the army are one,” it quickly suspended some provisions of the unpopular constitution. On March 19, a set of constitutional amendments that paved the way for elections was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum that drew record numbers of voters. The military’s 18-member ruling council has set a firm end date for its leadership: parliamentary elections in September will permit legislative powers to be transferred to a civilian government, while executive powers will be handed over after a presidential election in November. This was to be the road map to the “new Egypt.”
But more than a hundred days on, the revolution appears to be faltering. The ideals that drove the revolt still exist, in continuing calls for reform and institutional change. But in the aftermath of the uprising, the most populous country of the Arab world is also struggling to maintain law and order, wrestling with a dying economy, facing continued protests and strikes—and battling to keep the lid on boiling religious divisions. During those heady days in Tahrir Square, Muslims and Christians appeared to have found a new unity. But no longer: the last four months have witnessed continued outbreaks of sectarian violence.
By Adnan R. Khan - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 23 Comments
How bin Laden’s murder strengthened anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan
In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Pakistanis are gearing up for a fight. But contrary to what many people might think, it’s not in defence of the world’s late King of Terror. In fact, Pakistanis have been remarkably silent about his death. Protests reported in the world’s media have been small—a few hundred diehard extremists ushered onto the streets by Islamic fundamentalist parties, the odd prayer session with a few dozen souls to help guide bin Laden into heaven.
Bin Laden was a hopeless cause to most. “He never really gave Muslims anything to believe in,” says Ali Ibrahim, a shopkeeper in Islamabad. “Except violence. But violence and jihad, where has that gotten us?” Dozens of other Pakistanis who spoke to Maclean’s echo Ibrahim’s sentiments. But what even they admit is that the driving force behind bin Laden’s murderous campaign was valid. “Millions of Muslims believe the U.S. is the greatest threat to Islam,” says Omer Malik, a lawyer in Islamabad. “Osama went about it all wrong, but he did prove to Pakistanis that America is the problem.”
The death of bin Laden has only strengthened that view. In the months leading up to his killing, Pakistanis—many fuelled by Islamic extremism—were already building up a solid foundation of anti-Americanism, premised on a decade of violence (which they blame on the U.S., for bringing it to their doorstep), CIA covert operations inside Pakistan, and a barrage of missile strikes from unmanned drones in the country’s Tribal Areas targeting al-Qaeda-linked militants. Now, the daring, dead-of-night operation carried out by U.S. commandos against bin Laden on May 2, apparently without Pakistani knowledge or consent, has hit at the heart of what many Pakistanis fear: the U.S. is willing—and able—to operate in their country with impunity.
By Julia Belluz - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:45 AM - 0 Comments
For family members of the Canadian victims of 9/11, bin Laden’s death does little to ease the pain
There was no jubilant eruption in Abigail Carter’s Seattle home when she heard the news. While enjoying a dinner of grilled salmon and curried cauliflower with friends, her daughter Olivia screeched from her bedroom: “Mom! Osama bin Laden is dead! And everyone is celebrating. It’s so weird.” The 15-year-old couldn’t understand why people were so excited about a man’s death—even if the man in question was the mastermind behind the 9/11 plot that killed her dad, Arron Dack, a Toronto-raised vice-president of a financial software company.
In many ways, Olivia’s ambivalence is shared by family members of some of the 24 Canadians who lost their lives when the World Trade Center was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. After nearly 10 years, they say they have pretty well forgotten about bin Laden, and don’t believe his death will curb the threat of terrorism. “We may have gotten the face of the organization,” says Abigail Cater, “but the organization continues. It also doesn’t change the fact that Arron is still dead.”
In Winnipeg, Ellen Judd was ﬂipping between news channels in search of the latest on the federal election, when the news out of Abbottabad, Pakistan, broke. “I didn’t want to look at [the joyous crowds],” says Judd, still mourning the death of her partner Christine Egan, who was in the south tower visiting her brother when the planes hit. “If we celebrate this as a military victory, we’ve missed the point.” Bin Laden’s death heightened Judd’s sense of solidarity with everyone who has been touched by the war—especially those in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I have much more in common with the widows in Afghanistan than I do with anybody celebrating in the streets today,” she says. “They are trying to live their ordinary lives just as Chris and I were trying to do.”
By Nicholas Köhler and Stephanie Findlay - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:05 AM - 2 Comments
How a series of terror attacks totally changed the Western way of life
The ancient Yemeni port of Aden, on the southwest tip of the Arabian Peninsula, reaches into the blue waters separating the Middle East from the Horn of Africa to form a natural harbour. Yet the safe haven for foreign ships has over the years been less than friendly to visiting foreigners. “Aden is a terrible rock, without a single blade of grass or a drop of good water,” the 19th-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud wrote after arriving to work in the coffee trade. It remained a desperate place even a century later, when, in the early 1990s, the United States used the city as a staging ground to service its troubled military venture across the gulf in Somalia, and as an R & R spot for soldiers due back in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
On Dec. 29, 1992, a security guard at the swank, modern Aden Hotel spotted two men apparently fitting a bomb to the underside of a car parked in the hotel lot outside, a not unusual occurrence in wild Yemen. Seeing the guard, one man stood and was striding directly toward him when the briefcase in his hand exploded, dismembering his arm and spewing shrapnel into the guard and the man’s accomplice. Though foiled, the attack was evidently part of a broader plan: later that day, at the Goldmore Hotel, another Aden resort, an explosive device planted in a hallway closet killed a hotel worker and a 70-year-old Austrian tourist who had just sat down to eat dinner with his wife.
Yemeni police later uncovered an arsenal of weaponry associated with the plot, including 25 other explosive devices, two anti-tank mines, two machine guns and a pistol. That stash and the large quantity of cash recovered from a suspect’s apartment pointed to an operation of means and sophistication. The two bombers at the Aden Hotel, who’d survived their injuries, described attending training camps in far-flung Afghanistan operated by a still-obscure religious leader and veteran of the anti-Soviet Afghan mujahedeen campaigns. Osama bin Laden had recently run afoul of the ruling family in his native Saudi Arabia and now lived in the basketcase African nation of Sudan, raising horses, growing sunflowers and using his business acumen to fund terrorist exploits.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 12 Comments
Profiling the world’s most hated terrorist
The compound was neither a mansion, nor a fortress; it was a prison. For months, maybe even years, the planet’s most-wanted man hid behind its high, razor-wire topped walls, trying to obscure his presence from spies, satellites and drones. The house had no phone or Internet connections. Garbage was burned in the courtyard. And afraid of being recognized simply by his tall, skinny frame, he could not even venture outdoors.
In the end, the first real contact Osama bin Laden had with the outside world since he fled Afghanistan in December 2001 came when a team of U.S. Navy Seals touched down at his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hiding spot Sunday. Forty minutes later, he was dead—shot through the head in a bedroom, his blood spreading across a shabby oriental carpet.
The 54-year-old’s death came as he had often predicted, from the barrel of an American gun. Perhaps he even welcomed it. “I’m fighting so I can die a martyr and go to heaven to meet God,” bin Laden once told Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a British-based Arabic language newspaper. “We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the difference between us two,” he proclaimed on another occasion. And few, in the West at least, will term it anything but justice. Author of deadly bombings in East Africa and Yemen, the Saudi-born scion of a multi-millionaire construction magnate had been at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list since 1998. Then on Sept. 11, 2001, he dispatched teams of hijackers to fly passenger jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, murdering 2,933 people. (Forty more died when a fourth plane was brought down in a Pennsylvania field, short of another presumed Washington target.) The fires set that day still burn across the globe.
For a decade now, Osama bin Laden has been the object of our fascination and the repository of our fears. Academics and the press have parsed his hidey-hole communiqués looking for an ideology or explanation. Booksellers’ shelves are crammed with dozens of biographies and oral histories, purporting to deliver the “inside” story of his and al-Qaeda’s rise. Yet the motives, life and now death of a figure destined to go down as one of history’s greatest villains remain muddled.
Some accounts of the bedroom firefight say a woman tried to shield bin Laden with her body. The Americans think it was his wife, although which one, or even how many he had (some sources suggest four, others five) is a mystery. The same for a son reportedly left dead in the compound—one of his 13, or 19, or maybe 23 children. The fate of the terrorist leader’s body, spirited away and said to have been buried at sea, is already the subject of conspiracy theories. Osama’s violent demise may offer “sober satisfaction,” as Stephen Harper put it, but it won’t end the questions. Killing the myth may prove even harder than killing the man.
The date and place of Osama’s birth—March 10, 1957, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—are clear. But not so much the circumstances. As one of the 52, or maybe 54, offspring that Muhammad bin-Awad bin Laden sired with his 22 wives, perhaps that’s understandable. The elder bin Laden emigrated to the kingdom around 1930. A porter in his native Yemen, he found a new calling in construction, building a palace on the cheap for King Abdel Aziz ibn Saud and securing a lifelong patron. Lucrative contracts for roads and bridges followed, as well as prestigious commissions to renovate Islam’s holiest sites in Medina and Mecca. By the time of Osama’s birth, Muhammad was among the country’s wealthiest men. But he remained renowned for his piety—praying at three different mosques each day, never having more than four wives at one time in accordance with religious law, and renovating the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem at cost. He was also a fierce believer in the prevailing Arab cause. In the wake of the 1967 Six Day War with Israel, Osama once told an interviewer, Muhammad tried to have his company’s 200 bulldozers converted to tanks so he could launch his own invasion.
He had met Osama’s mother, Alia, during a visit to Syria in the mid-1950s. The marriage—his 10th—lasted only a few years and produced just the one child. By some family accounts, Alia was more of a concubine than wife. In others, she was a headstrong and sophisticated woman who demanded a divorce and adopted Western dress when outside the country. What is certain is that Osama adored her. “First comes God and then his mother,” Osama’s half-brother Ahmad Muhammad al-Attas told journalists in the months after 9/11. During his years of exile in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, bin Laden made a point of calling her frequently, even though security officials at home and in the U.S. were surely monitoring the calls.
Osama’s relationship with Muhammad, who died in a September 1967 plane crash, was not as close. One friend claims bin Laden only met his father five times. But he was accepted by his many half-siblings, and given an inheritance—shares in the family firm that were worth somewhere between US$8 million and $250 million, according to widely divergent accounts. Whatever the amount, he didn’t do much with it. Compatriots remember him as a quiet kid, who enjoyed picnics and soccer games, and had one notable passion—horseback riding.
While many of his brothers and sisters travelled and studied abroad, Osama preferred to stay in Saudi Arabia. There have been reports that he once travelled to Sweden as a teen, and Chicago as a young adult, but the only confirmed voyages were annual visits to Syria to see his mother’s family. As a student at the prestigious al-Thager Model School in Jeddah—where the royal family educates its boys—he was considered passably bright. In 1978, he entered King Abdul Aziz University to study economics, management and business administration. Already married and the father of two boys—he had wed his 14-year-old first cousin, Najwa, when he was 17—he didn’t stick at school for long, and was soon back working for the family firm. But what bin Laden did discover during his brief post-secondary career was his first spiritual mentor, a Palestinian firebrand named Abdullah Azzam. A follower of the Muslim Brotherhood, Azzam was a deep believer in the concept of jihad. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the religious scholar issued his own fatwa, declaring it every Muslim’s duty to join the struggle.
Soon after, Azzam left Saudi Arabia for the border regions of Pakistan to minister to the mujahedeen. Bin Laden followed. Some sources suggest the two men worked together raising money and setting up training camps for the fighters. Others like Michael Scheur, in his recent biography of the terrorist leader, claim Osama spent five years doing the bidding of Saudi intelligence, using his family’s equipment to build hospitals and cut roads through the border mountains to ease arms deliveries. By the time they officially set up a joint operation in 1984—the Maktab al-Khadamat (services office)—to welcome foreign fighters, bin Laden had become a recognized force in his own right, possessed with the kind of confidence that made men follow. “He was a natural leader,” Khalid al-Batarfi, a friend, told Peter Bergen, the author of The Osama I Know. “He leads by example and by hints more than direct orders. He just sets an example and then expects you to follow and somehow you follow even if you are not 100 per cent convinced.”
In 1986, bin Laden set up al-Masadah (the Lion’s Den), his own training camp for Arab recruits in the mountains. But the man who was teaching others to fight had yet to see action. In the spring of 1987, the base—garrisoned by 50 or so fighters—came under attack from a much larger Soviet force. According to some accounts, the mujahedeen held out for a great victory. In others, they suffered heavy losses and retreated in disarray. For years afterwards, Osama was always pictured holding a Kalashnikov rifle he claimed to have taken away from a Russian he killed in hand-to-hand combat that week. As reports of the battle spread, his prestige grew. In the following weeks, he and other foreign commanders met to form a loose alliance of jihadis, which would ultimately morph into al-Qaeda. It was the beginning of bin Laden’s legend.
The FBI’s wanted poster is scant on details. “Usama” bin Laden is listed as between six foot four and six foot six and “approximately” 160 lb. His languages are Arabic and “probably” Pashtu. (What is not noted is that he also studied English in high school.) There are no known scars and marks. He is left-handed, walks with a cane, and has used the aliases the Sheik, the Prince, the Emir and the Director. But as of the morning of May 2, one hard fact had been added: the label “deceased” under his picture.
The emerging narrative of his death suggests the $25 million reward the United States government has been dangling for his “apprehension or conviction” played no role in the Abbottabad raid. So too the Pakistani authorities, who managed not to respond to a helicopter assault and lengthy gun battle at a compound located just a kilometre away from their chief officer-training school, the Kakul military academy, and nearby several other bases.
Official links to bin Laden have always been a touchy subject. In addition to Saudi support during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, it has long been reported he and his men also received training and arms from the CIA. Certainly he was once—and given his final location, almost assuredly still— friendly with elements of the Pakistani intelligence service.
In 1989, when the 32-year-old returned home to Jeddah after the Russian withdrawal, he was considered a hero. There were talks with Prince Turki Al Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, about overthrowing the Communists in Yemen—although the prince ultimately decided that such a war would be a little too close to home. In August 1990, when Iraq invaded neighbouring Kuwait, bin Laden offered his services and followers to defend the kingdom in the event that Saddam pushed on. He was turned down.
Osama’s rift with the West is often attributed to his anger over the garrisoning of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in preparation for the first Gulf War, a supposed “desecration” of Islam’s holiest sites. But he had already begun formulating a vision of global jihadism back in Afghanistan, working closely with a new mentor, the Egyptian radical Ayman al-Zawahiri. In 1991, his anti-government proclamations became too much for the Saudis and he was asked to leave the country. He made his way to Sudan, where a hardline Islamic regime had seized power in 1989. Still, in those days he was hardly considered a global threat. In Khartoum, he operated in the open as a businessman, building roads for the government and importing medical equipment and supplies. It was Zawahiri and his continued attacks on Egyptian targets that drew the most attention. His friend bin Laden was considered to be a sympathizer, and perhaps financier.
At the behest of the Saudi government, friends and family continued to visit Osama in Sudan, trying to convince him to sever ties with his former Afghan comrades. At one point he supposedly mused about resigning from al-Qaeda to pursue life as a watermelon and peanut farmer. But in 1994, the bin Laden family found it necessary to take out advertisements in Saudi newspapers officially disowning Osama. (Although money continued to flow his way, and relatives travelled to see him in Afghanistan as late as January 2001 for the wedding of his son, Mohammed.) The Saudi government stripped him of his citizenship and he replied with an open letter calling for the royal family’s violent overthrow.
It was the actions of Zawahiri’s followers, including a 1995 suicide bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, which killed 17, that eventually got the pair expelled from Sudan. In May 1996, bin Laden chartered a private jet and flew to Kandahar, where he was greeted with open arms by the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Omar.
Al-Qaeda’s early Afghan days were idyllic, according to some. Followers, including Toronto’s Khadr family, congregated at a rough compound near Jalalabad. In their retelling, Osama was more like a sitcom dad than the father of a global terrorist movement. “He’s a normal human being,” Abdurahman Khadr told the CBC in 2004. “He has issues with his wife and his kids. Financial issues, you know. The kids aren’t listening. The kids aren’t doing this and that.” His sister Zaynab recalled a man who loved horseback riding, playing volleyball, and target shooting with the kids. Although he seemed a little strict, even by radical fundamentalist standards. The female bin Ladens “have lots of restrictions, where they go, when they go, where they come, when they come, who visits them and how long they can stay in their house and all that,” Zaynab explained.
Osama also harboured some prejudices against creature comforts, forbidding his family from having running water, electricity, or even using ice. “He is against drinking cold water,” said Abdurahman. “He didn’t want them in any way to be spoiled.” Conspicuous non-consumption was a bit of an obsession for the rich Saudi. In the stifling heat of Khartoum, he refused to install air conditioning. “We want a simple life,” was one of his mantras.
What bin Laden didn’t seem to shy away from was publicity. In the late 1990s, as his fame as a terrorist grew, he gave regular interviews to foreign journalists, and even held a press conference with Zawahiri in 1998 to announce the formation of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews. A few months later, al-Qaeda staged its first major operation, bombing the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing 224. President Bill Clinton responded by firing more than 100 cruise missiles at bin Laden’s Afghan camps, but al-Qaeda’s leadership escaped unscathed. The Taliban, already internationally isolated, resisted UN sanctions and blandishments like a $5-million reward, and refused to hand the Saudi over. But they didn’t necessarily enjoy the grandstanding. Even long-time bin Laden deputies like Abu Musab al-Suri (captured in 2005 and sent to a secret Syrian prison) found it all a bit much. “I think our brother has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause,” he wrote in 1999.
It took a good long while for the Americans to figure out that they had missed their chance to kill bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora in December 2001. The ferocious assault by Afghan tribal militias, backed by U.S. and British war planes, killed more than 100 al-Qaeda fighters, including 18 commanders. Foreign troops, Canadians among them, returned to the scene several times over the following months, looking in vain for the corpses of Osama and Zawahiri. Eventually the CIA obtained a videotape of Osama hiking through the mountains into Pakistan and realized just how close they had come. It showed a U.S. plane dropping a bomb on the caves. “We were there last night,” remarks bin Laden.
Audio tapes from the al-Qaeda leader would surface occasionally. (By 2010 there were more than 40 authenticated messages.) In October 2004, he appeared in a video, looking disturbingly robust and well-groomed. After George W. Bush won re-election, nothing was heard from bin Laden for more than three years. Many speculated that he had been killed in a drone attack, or died from a medical condition, like his supposed kidney diseases. All the time, the hunt—and the wars that flowed out of it—went on.
The secret U.S. commando organization responsible for the terrorist’s assassination, the Joint Special Operations Command, has a budget of more than $1 billion a year. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to an Afghan campaign that has cost more than $450 billion since 2001, and a loosely related invasion and occupation of Iraq that is closing in on $800 billion. Still, in the afterglow of bin Laden’s killing, which sent euphoric crowds into the streets of Washington, New York and other cities, many will say the expense and effort were worth it.
However, eliminating the face of terror doesn’t rid any of us of the problem. Footage of the Abbottabad compound show a large satellite dish which surely enabled bin Laden to follow the deadly exploits of his followers, clones and imitators around the world.
One can only hope that he found channel surfing much less pleasurable in his final months, as Arabs throughout the Middle East took to the streets to rise up against their dictators. Not in violent jihad, as bin Laden has envisioned, but in largely peaceful protests demanding rights, reform and democracy.
History will record that when revolution finally came to the region it was inspired by a simple Tunisian fruit-seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself ablaze to protest government corruption and indifference—an unwanted man who may end up having far more influence than the world’s foremost fugitive.
By Erica Alini - Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 42 Comments
The disposal of bin Laden’s body in the north Arabian Sea fuels the critics and the conspiracy theories
On May 2, shortly after 1 a.m., Osama bin Laden’s body was washed and wrapped in cloth on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. A military officer read out prayers, his voice closely echoed by an Arabic translator. A few moments later, the bundle was eased into the north Arabian Sea. A rather digniﬁed—albeit inglorious—end for the world’s most wanted man.
Judging from Pentagon briefings, the handling of bin Laden’s burial was as smooth an operation as the 40 minutes of action that led to his killing. The decision to dispose of the body at sea, experts say, came out of a concern that a gravesite might become a shrine to the terrorist who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. Besides, U.S. officials said, no country seemed eager to become the final resting place for bin Laden’s remains. Even his native Saudi Arabia is reported to have refused to accept what was left of him.
And though the decision to dispose of him at sea was dictated by pragmatism, according to the official narrative, the burial did not neglect cultural sensitivity. Though Muslims usually lay their dead to rest in the ground with the head pointed toward the holy city of Mecca, U.S. officials say that bin Laden’s body was washed and shrouded according to the Islamic rite, and the burial occurred less than 24 hours after death, as prescribed by tradition.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, February 18, 2011 at 12:10 PM - 2 Comments
A farce about inept Islamic terrorists comes as a shock but is wickedly entertaining
You don’t have to be Salman Rushdie to know that mixing satire and Islam can be a perilous business. Even Tina Fey felt obliged to add a disclaimer as she made a sensitive crack about Allah in her recent New Yorker piece on the controversy around working moms: “It is less dangerous,” she wrote, “to draw a cartoon of Allah French-kissing Uncle Sam—which, let me make it very clear, I have not done—than it is to speak honestly about this topic.” So to see a film like Four Lions—a brilliant farce about a London cell of inept Islamic terrorists—comes as a shock. It’s hard to believe such a nervy comedy even exists, never mind that it’s so wickedly entertaining.
Four Lions, which opens in Toronto next week, marks the feature debut of British writer-director Chris Morris, best known for his satirical work in television and radio. As Morris has taken pains to point out, his film does not mock Islam, just terrorists. The official synopsis boasts that it does for jihad “what This Is Spinal Tap did for heavy metal and Dr. Strangelove [did for] the Cold War.” Which is a fair assessment.
This hilarious satire is the story of a gang that can’t shoot straight, a quartet of bumbling terrorists who are like the Four Stooges of jihad. They quarrel like a puerile garage band over their martyr videos, shake their heads to blur surveillance photos, and eat their cellphone SIM cards like communion wafers so the police can’t track them. Their ringleader is Omar (Riz Ahmed), who is dying to blow up something—anything—along with himself. He has a loving wife and young son who are both warmly supportive as he shows them his martyr video bloopers.
By Brian Bethune - Friday, February 11, 2011 at 7:00 AM - 36 Comments
From evolution to safe sex, Benedict revealed himself to be a surprisingly activist Pope
In this story first published in 2011, Brian Bethune considered the ways Pope Benedict XVI was changing the Catholic Church:
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not according to confounded Vatican watchers. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was already 78 years old when he became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. He was widely seen as the arch-conservative doctrinal enforcer, the sharp spear point wielded by his charismatic rock star predecessor—Joshua to Pope John Paul II’s Moses, in the words of one Jewish scholar. The consensus opinion was that Benedict would provide a quiet, business-as-usual continuance of John Paul’s 27-year reign and, given his age, a brief pontificate that would allow the 1.1 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church time to catch its breath and consider its future options.
No one, it seems, asked Benedict what he thought of the caretaker idea.
From inflaming the Islamic world by quoting medieval anti-Muhammad remarks to welcoming disaffected Anglicans into the Roman fold, becoming personally embroiled in the clerical sex-abuse scandal, endorsing the (sometimes) use of condoms, writing a passage in his newest book exonerating Jews from the charge of killing Christ, and a host of less headline-grabbing initiatives (including a casual acceptance of the theory of evolution), Benedict—as he celebrates his 84th birthday and sixth anniversary as Pope (April 16 and 19, respectively)—continues to be far more active, innovative, and outright newsworthy than expected.
By Jane Switzer - Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 26 Comments
Former German central banker claims Muslims are unwilling to integrated
With his controversial book dominating the German integration debate, former German central banker Thilo Sarrazin is spreading his message to the English-speaking world: immigrants must integrate, or leave the country. Last week, Sarrazin defended his views on restrictive immigration on the BBC’s call-in radio talk show Have Your Say. Sarrazin’s book, Deutschland schafft sich ab (translated as “Germany is Doing Itself Away”), claims, among other things, that immigrant Muslims are reluctant to integrate into German culture and tend to rely heavily on social services.
Though the majority of callers lambasted Sarrazin for his views, the integration zealot is no stranger to controversy. Last September, he was removed from the executive board of the Deutsche Bundesbank after criticizing Islam and describing Arab and Turkish immigrants as unwilling to integrate. Sarrazin ended the BBC show with characteristically blunt advice for a caller named Kübra, the daughter of Turkish guest workers in Germany who experiences discrimination regularly for wearing a hijab. His answer? It’s her problem: “It is your own choice to wear a head scarf and to live in Germany. You could as well live in the U.S. or Turkey.”
By Jane Switzer - Thursday, October 14, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s memory suffered another blow when Turkish officials seized his former yacht as part of a human trafficking sting
Just as the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the secular Turkish state, is slowly being eroded by the current Islamist government in Ankara, his memory suffered another blow when Turkish officials seized his former yacht as part of a human trafficking sting on Sept. 28.
The state-run Anatolian news agency reported the MV Savarona had been leased to a Kazakh businessman, who used the state-owned luxury vessel to throw sex parties. Two underage girls and eight women, all said to be prostitutes, were removed after authorities in the city of Antalya confiscated the yacht. The sex ring had been under observation by police for seven months, and reportedly charged between $3,000 and $10,000 for a night with the prostitutes. Eight people were arrested for human trafﬁcking and detaining the women, who were said to have originated from Russia and Ukraine.
The Turkish government bought the yacht in 1938, and Atatürk spent a few weeks aboard the Savarona before dying later that year. He remains highly exalted among many Turks because of the economic, social and cultural reforms he introduced to transform the former Ottoman Empire. Insults to his memory can be punished with a jail sentence.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
A far-right party wins 20 seats in Sweden
As a wave of anti-immigration sentiment sweeps across Europe, Sweden has seemed relatively immune. The country prides itself on a tolerant attitude, not to mention generous welfare and immigration policies (it brought in some 40,000 refugees in the first four years of the Iraq war). This makes recent election results all the more surprising. On Sept. 19, Swedish voters re-elected the ruling centre-right coalition—but gave the far-right Sweden Democrats 20 seats, inviting them to make their first entry into the national parliament.
Led by Jimmie Åkesson, who’s called Islam the country’s biggest security threat since the Second World War, the Sweden Democrats stirred up controversy throughout the campaign. One advertisement, which showed an elderly white woman trampled by a horde of burka-clad women pushing baby strollers, was banned from television but scored tens of thousands of hits on YouTube. The party wasn’t allowed to join in televised debates, but the country’s attitudes to immigration may now be aligning more closely with some of its neighbours’.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had asked voters for a clear majority. For now, at least, he’ll have to work with the fragile minority government he’s got.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 4, 2010 at 3:34 PM - 0 Comments
For the sake of clarity, I dropped a note to the Defence Minister’s press secretary with the following question.
Is there anything Imam Zajid Delic has said himself that concerns Minister MacKay or had any impact on the decision to revoke Mr. Delic’s invitation from the Defence department event?
The answer received is as follows. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 4, 2010 at 1:24 PM - 0 Comments
This discussion can contribute to the debate on how Muslims can further engage in, participate in and contribute successfully to Canada and how Canadian policy makers can help in this process of inclusion of almost three percent of Canadians successfully. It should be noted that there is nothing in Islam that commands Muslims to withdraw from their society, or even to become visibly ghettoized, in order to be closer to God.
On the contrary, in order to be in full harmony with their identity, Muslims need to exercise even more vigorously the choice and freedom to practice Islamic teachings in a Canadian context. At the same time, they must consciously develop the Canadian image and pattern of their identity for both the present and future. This is not only their social but an Islamic religious responsibility as well. Therefore, it is critical that the Canadian Muslim leadership and Canada’s policy makers realize that more engagement of Muslims in Canada should be made a priority.
By Adnan R. Khan - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 19 Comments
Salafi preachers travel the globe preaching the ‘true’ Islam. Their converts are fertile ground for jihadists.
Canada’s Muslim community is reeling again after the arrests of three of its own last week in another alleged homegrown terrorist plot. In particular, the case of the dancing doctor, Khurram Syed Sher, has raised some serious questions, not only for those who practise Islam but for those who make their living from identifying threats to Canada’s security. How does an educated, Canadian-born Muslim and Canadian Idol aspirant with all the apparent hallmarks of moderation allegedly turn to violent jihad?
That question has become central to the discourse on the future of jihad, in Canada and among Muslims around the world. Canadians, who have already witnessed the case of the Toronto 18, are not alone in their concern over the radicalization of young Muslims previously considered immune to violent ideologies. In Pakistan, a spate of attacks over the past year has focused attention on a growing trend of radicalization among educated young people. One attack, in December 2009 near the capital of Islamabad, on a mosque frequented by Pakistani military officers, led to the arrest of a group of middle-class Pakistanis who had studied at some of the top universities in the country, and hailed from families with addresses in the posh, tree-lined laneways of Islamabad. They certainly did not fit the typical militant trope: the madrasa-educated fanatic out to cleanse the world of the infidel.
By Jane Switzer - Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 8:20 AM - 0 Comments
An international message
Controversial Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders last week announced his intention to spread his “stop Islam, defend freedom” message across the West via international alliances in an effort to ban sharia law and immigration from Islamic countries. Wilders told reporters on July 15 the movement would initially launch in the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Germany later this year. Though it is starting at a grassroots level, Wilders said he hopes the initiative will eventually influence legislators, or spawn its own lawmakers.
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 375 Comments
MARK STEYN: Nicholas Kristof is just the latest great thinker to talk himself into a rosy view of Islam
Despite being a bit of an old showbiz queen, I’m not much for the huggy-kissy photo wall of me sharing a joke with various luvvies. I make an exception on the bureau behind my desk for a shot of yours truly and a beautiful woman, Somali by birth, Dutch by citizenship, at a beachfront bar in Malibu at sunset. I like the picture because, while I look rather bleary with a few too many chins, my companion is bright-eyed with a huge smile on her face and having a grand old time—grand, that is, because of its very normality: a crappy bar, drinks with cocktail umbrellas, a roomful of blithely ignorant California hedonists who’ll all be going back home at the end of the evening to Dancing With the Stars or Conan O’Brien or some other amusement.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali can’t lead that life. She lives under armed guard and was forced to abandon the Netherlands because quite a lot of people want to kill her. And not in the desultory behead-the-enemies-of-Islam you-will-die-infidel pro forma death-threats-R-us way that many of us have perforce gotten used to in recent years: her great friend and professional collaborator was murdered in the streets of Amsterdam by a man who shot him eight times, attempted to decapitate him, and then drove into his chest two knives, pinning to what was left of him a five-page note pledging to do the same to her.
By macleans.ca - Friday, April 30, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Madonna ﬁddles while Joni burns, Close encounters you might not want, and In his brother’s footsteps
Madonna ﬁddles while Joni burns
Canadian singer Joni Mitchell rarely gives interviews—a good thing for Bob Dylan and Madonna. Mitchell unloaded on her fellow folkie, the former Bobby Zimmerman, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “Bob is not authentic at all,” she said. “He’s a plagiarist and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.” As for Madonna, Mitchell linked her to America’s decline into the “stupid and shallow.” Madonna, she said, “is like Nero, she marks the turning point.” Madonna also inspired the wrath of supermodel Paulina Porizkova, in an online essay on the abuse of cosmetic procedures. She’s a Botoxed blond “who cannot frown,” Porizkova writes, while the much enhanced reality star Heidi Montag is “a cheap, plastic pool float.”