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December 19, 2011

A letter of appreciation to London Police Service

Dear Chief Duncan and Officer Marcel:

First of all, my heartfelt "thank you" to you and the London Police Service for the historical event in London, addressing Islamophobia, in which you took the bull by the horn to tackle the scourge of hate, which by extension, is not only towards Muslims, but also towards people of other faith, colour, race, social strata, sexual orientation etc.

Islamophobia is not a passing nightmare; many Muslims have lost their lives and many more have been physically attacked, marginalized, racially profiled, and Islamic institutions vandalized, and in some cases fire-bombed.

Closer to home, last week, Dec 4th, at the Hamilton downtown Mosque, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim cartoons inciting violence and hate were posted on the entrance. The intention may have been to terrorize Muslims and make them fear for their safety, but one can only hope they do not go ahead with the actual crime.

In many parts of Europe the far right parties who are notorious for their virulent hostility to ethnic minorities, and who espouse anti-Muslim hate, are on the ascendancy, as evidenced by their recent electoral successes, and, what is even more worrisome is the fact that what had been traditionally confined to the margins of dominant political discourse is progressively penetrating its mainstream, with parties of the centre absorbing much of the far right's populist rhetoric, substituting the classical east-west bipolarity at its core with one of "Islam" versus "West".

In the US, there are major Conservative “foundations” contributing millions of dollars to Islamophobia networks, which, along with the mass media and the internet are fanning this hate 24/7.

During the 2008 presidential election, a group called the Clarion Fund made national news by distributing 28 million DVDs about the so called “radical” Islam in newspaper inserts helping fuel the anti-Muslim sentiment.

As an engineer, I find it is inconceivable that Laws of Physics could be defeated by anyone, least of all cavemen from Afghanistan. I sit back and think about the awesome power that was unleashed on the fateful day of September 11th, the detailed planning and execution of which would have required super-computers, the logistics involved in carrying out so meticulously such a sophisticated, technologically advanced operation, the cooperation and coordination which would have been required of numerous government agencies, as well as for the preparations prior to 9/11 which academics believe may have made possible the demolition of the towers, particularly the tower which was not hit by any plane, the mysterious disappearance, without wreckage, of a huge passenger airliner which was supposed to have been shot down over Pennsylvania, and the attack on the most fortified, secured and guarded place on the face of the earth, the Pentagon.

While 9/11 enabled the masterminds to invade and destroy Arab/Muslim nations and massacre millions of innocent people, we would be injudicious to think that the criminals have magically gone away. I shudder to think what they may be masterminding next, to the peril of not only Muslims, but all citizenry.

The 9/11 terror attack, blamed on Muslims, turned the smoldering anti-Muslim hate to be ignited into almost an inferno, worldwide, and open the doors for bigots and hatemongers to crawl out of their woodwork in astonishing numbers.

Even in our 'gentler’, ‘kinder' nation of Canada, hate and intolerance is on the rise among certain groups. While the vast majority of Canadians are fair-minded, polls indicate that dislike for Muslims is steadily on the rise, which is very upsetting, especially because Muslims did not deserves such a backlash. To the contrary, Muslim contribution to the welfare of Canada is second to none, performing our duties in various fields, as medical professionals, engineers, architects, professors, lawyers, business people, police and military personnel, tradespeople of various kind and so on.

Even in our friendly, cosmopolitan, multicultural and religiously pluralistic society of London, bigotry raised its ugly head this summer at the “Prayer-Fest” held by the Christian Heritage Party. It took us by surprise by its intense expression of anti-Muslim hate. Such kindling of hate is bound to awaken scores of Breivek's clones that could be living in our midst, and abet them to spring into action. We cannot be indifferent to such development. This is not the London our Mayor Mr. Joe Fontana, you, and other great Londoners want the city to be famous for.

Therefore, the efforts by the London Police, to confront Islamophobia, by raising awareness and discussing strategies for preventing hate, was a positive community engagement initiative, timely and in the right direction. As the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. By initiating this process, you have pointed to the direction you wish to see London moving, and also established a special relationship and trust between the Muslim community and the London Police – giving us confidence that the London Police cares and we are not alone in our struggles to overcome this social evil. Your endeavour to unite our community beyond religious affiliations and to create an appreciation for our shared humanity is a welcome undertaking.

I also wish to thank the distinguished panel of presenters, Police Chaplains Imam Dr. Munir El-Kassem, Rabbi Ammos Chorny, Father Jim Mockler, Rev David Carrothers, as well as, Lawyer Mihad Fahmy, Engr. Hanny Hassan (recipient of the Order of Canada), Ms. Laura Elliott, (Executive Superintendent TVDSB), Dr. Mohammed Baobaid, (Academic Researcher), for the concerns and goodwill they expressed, and the stimulating and well researched presentations.

The Police Chaplains have immense capacity to promote social harmony and justice, and to shine the light that will dissipate the darkness of hate. The representative from the School Board (TVDSB), which helps shape the formative years of our future generation and mold their behaviour, and character, to promote peaceful coexistence, was also a great addition to the panel.  I will be amiss if I did not say a special "Thank you" to you, Police Chief Mr. Duncan, for taking time off your busy schedule to oversea, and participate in the meeting, giving weight and fillip to the conference.  I am sure there are others, who worked with you and contributed to the success of the event, including Police Services Board Chair Mr. Mike Deeb and my appreciation to all of them.  To be honest, I also liked the fact that there were some who held opposing views. Had they been not there, it would have been a monologue. A Forum like this, gives them the opportunity to air their opinions, vent their misgivings and even their anger and hear and learn from scholars endowed with knowledge. If such questions were not allowed to be raised, they would remain ticking time bombs to explode one day.

One of them, proudly stated that his family ancestor, a carpenter, came from France in1658, and helped build this nation, implying that he was more of a stakeholder than, others, for example Muslims.

If he would attend future informative forums like this, he would be pleasantly surprised to learn that Muslims are not the new “other”; Muslim ancestors arrived in the Americas, almost 150 years BEFORE his ancestor from France came here.

The earliest Muslim immigrants came as slaves from Africa beginning perhaps as early as 1501. Their absolute numbers are open to substantial disagreement, with one foremost scholar, Allan D. Austin, putting their number at 40,000 (for the United States alone) and another, Sylviane Diouf, estimating 2.25 and 3 million (for the Americas as a whole). Estevanico of Azamor may have been the first Muslim, who was also known as "Stephen the Moor". There is a group of people, known as Melungeons who are of mixed heritage of Native Americans, Europeans, and Muslim Moors. Perhaps Nancy Hanks, the mother of Abraham Lincoln, was Melungeon. It somehow seems fitting that one of America's greatest Presidents should be of mixed race and probably Muslim heritage.

Thus, American views of Islam influenced debates regarding freedom of religion during the drafting of the state constitution of Pennsylvania in 1776. Constitutionalists promoted religious toleration while Anticonstitutionalists called for reliance on Protestant values in the formation of the state's republican government. The former group won out, and inserted a clause for religious liberty in the new state constitution.

Returning to the Event hosted by you, Rabbi. Ammos Chorny touched my heart; his sincerity and honesty, and his reminiscence of the history of the Jewish people and their soaring to great heights, under the Islamic rule, and his rising to his feet spontaneously to respond to a questioner who thought that 'freedom of expression' gave him license to denigrate others, was truly admirable!  Muslims who attended the event, and others with whom I talked about it, felt the event was a great beginning to promote goodwill and harmony among people of various backgrounds. I hope your efforts will bring together Canadians from all walks of life to push back against anti-Muslim rhetoric and make it unacceptable for Canadians, and especially public figures of any kind, to espouse anti-Muslim hate (or for that matter anti-Semitism and other forms of hate).

We need to focus on what unites us and to call out rhetoric and actions that divide us, based on Canadian values of freedom, truth, fairness, justice and diversity.

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