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April 7, 2011

How to take down a mosque: Author speaks at Charger's dinners on Islamophobia

The Canadian Charger

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American writer Stephan Salisbury, author of the bestselling book Mohamed's Ghosts, is the guest speaker at three Canadian Charger fundraising dinners addressing "Why Islamophobia is alive and well?" Salisbury's introductory chapter is headed "How to take down a mosque."

In his book Salisbury tells a story of paranoia.  The Muslims are coming.  He ties it to an earlier hysteria that he himself had lived through.  The Russians are coming.

The main thread of the story revolves around Imam Mohamed Ghoram, who led a congregation housed in a former auto body shop in a poor section of Philadelphia. Official paranoia led to his arrest and eventual deportation.  Immigration irregularities.  But not only was he out.  The whole congregation was in the cross hairs of the government. 

Ghoram’s successor as service leader was also hit with immigration charges and deported.  Other members of the congregation found things becoming uncomfortable, and attendance dwindled till the mosque closed.  The president of the mosque, a U.S. citizen, was harassed to such an extent that he also left the country.

Immigrants without citizenship are particularly vulnerable in the United States, whether they are in the country lawfully or not, and one government agent explained to Salisbury that the immigrant angle was one “tool in the toolbox” that was used to deal with terrorism before it happens.  When he raised questions about particular cases, Salisbury was told ominously that “We know more than you do.”  Have faith.

Salisbury writes about similarities to events in the 1960's, when opponents of the Vietnam War, Black Power advocates, and students objecting to various things were all active.  One key difference is that generally speaking the immigration angle was not in the toolbox.  These were protesters born and bred in the United States.

The Canadian Charger’s Reuel Amdur said in reviewing Salisbury’s book, “Salisbury is younger than I am.  I was at university beginning in the fifties, when McCarthyism was going strong.  Anyone on the left was suspect.  Yet, there is a significant difference in what happened to people caught up in the hysteria then in comparison with those now.  In those days, imprisonment was pretty much reserved for people convicted of something, even if it was for their political affiliation, as for Communist Party members convicted under the Smith Act. Now, people can end up in an American prison for months and years for nothing.  The government makes mistakes and are reluctant to admit these mistakes, or they simply do not know how to stop once a course of action has been taken.” 

Take the case of Benamar Benatta.  He deserted the Algerian military while in the United States for training.  He sought refuge in Canada, just before 9/11.  On September 12, 2001, border officials illegally sent him back to the United States, where he was imprisoned.  While the FBA cleared him of any terrorist involvement that November, he remained imprisoned for close to five years.  He only got out then because vigorous protests in Canada eventually impelled the Canadian government to seek his return to this country.  I can think of nothing comparable in the McCarthy days. 

Then there are the Uighur prisoners who were held in Guantánamo.  Everyone agrees that they had nothing to do with terrorism, everyone including the American government.  Their innocence was apparent soon after their arrival at Guantánamo.  Yet, some of them were held for as long as seven years.  For nothing.

Infiltration and dirty tricks are common to both the current actions of the American government and those of the earlier era.  As an example, a judge awarded the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyite organization, $250,000 in damages against the government in 1986, for 45 years of illegal disruptive tactics, burglary, etc. 

By contrast, incidentally, in Canada the RCMP engaged in disruptive tactics against a Trotskyite group, including distributing a flyer in 1972 purportedly revealing psychiatric information about an activist.  The matter went to court in 1979, but the judge threw the case out, finding that the RCMP officer responsible  was protected in his behavior.  In this instance, Canada’s behavior was even worse than what the United States did in a similar case.

The times they are, as Bob Dylan put it, a-changing–but not necessarily for the better. Five years for an innocent man, even when he was cleared after a matter of a couple months.  Seven for others.  And no recourse.  Likewise no recourse for Maher Arar from the United States for their rendition of him to torture.  “The land of the free” indeed.

Our readers are invited to join Stephan Salisbury for dinner in Ottawa, Toronto or Waterloo on Friday June 10, Saturday June 11 or Sunday June 12.

Donors at the dinners will get a signed copy of Salisbury’s book.

Please buy your tickets NOW:

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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