Saturday, January 29, 2011
I went to attend a debate between my friend Tarek Fatahof the Muslim Canadian Congress and Imam Shehary Shaikh at the North American Muslim Foundation in Scarborough. I arrived early and was told the room wouldn't open to 5:30 PM. There were lots of people in attendance, mostly Muslims but many non Muslims as well and some media. There was a prayer ( which I didn't attend) and the we entered the room. The crowd was dividing by sex , men on the left women on the right. Habeeb Ali, the NAMF spokesman, repeatedly said that it was not necessary to sit in a particular way. Anyone could sit anywhere. I was sitting with the men and though some men sat with the women, only one female member of the press sat with the men.
The room filled and Mr Ali told some stories of how Mohammed was open and welcoming to everyone. Then Mr Farooq Khan went to the podium and said there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that Tarek Fatah was not coming. This elicited cries of Allah Akbhar from some of the audience. Mr Khan did tell them to calm down. He then proceeded to call Tarek a coward and tell of how much effort he had expended to organize the event. He then said that the "debate" (now a monologue) would continue. There was some applause and some in the audience again chanted Allah Akhbar. He then introduced the moderator Pastor Neil Bulloch. I left
I spoke to Sohail Raza of the MCC ( I am a member of the MCC) who said that two members of the MCC went into the building to ask about the moderator and they were ejected by security. The moderator was replaced with little notice and no consultation with the MCC. The choice of moderator being mutually acceptable, was a pre condition of the debate. I haven't heard back from Tarek yet, but he tweeted this: Threats of physical violence against MCC vice president Salma Siddiqui disrupt Toronto debate on Islam. A disappointing evening.
Here is the updated press release from the MCC.
Press Release: Attention News Editor
January 29, 2011
An inquisition disguised as a debate fools no one
MCC urges Islamists to abandon medieval authoritarianism
TORONTO - The Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) regrets the attempt by NAMF, the North American Muslim Foundation to turn a debate on Islam into a public inquisition of its founder Tarek Fatah. The 'debate' was to have taken place today between Mr. Fatah and NAMF imam Sheharyar Sheikh inside the NAMF mosque in Scarborough, and was to be moderated by Karen Mock, the Liberal Party candidate in Thornhill.
On arrival at the venue Mr. Fatah was told that NAMF had unilaterally appointed a new moderator after Karen Mock declined to attend, citing ‘family matters.’ In the typical authoritarian style that governs most Islamist organizations, NAMF did not consult with Mr. Fatah on the appointment of the new moderator, nor did they consider the three names suggested by him (Imam Shabbir Ally, Imam Yahya Fadlallah and CBC broadcaster and Islamic scholar Nazim Baksh)
Leading up to the debate, from the appointment of Dr. Mock as moderator to the format of the debate, all decisions were made unilaterally by NAMF, without any consultation with either Mr. Fatah or the MCC. Mr. Fatah did express his reservations about the arbitrary and authoritarian process, but in the interest of free speech and free public debate, reluctantly agreed to participate in the debate as long as it was moderated by Karen Mock.
Mr. Fatah had placed just one condition as a pre-requisite to the debate: a moderator acceptable to both sides. In appointing an unknown moderator without consultation, NAMF acted in bad faith with the intention of creating an uneven level playing field that could prove to be not conducive to a fair debate.
To make matters worse, NAMF issued a statement that no video cameras would be allowed inside the hall. Furthermore, the MCC discovered that the off-duty policemen NAMF had hired for security, had been withdrawn.
In the absence of an agreed-upon moderator, the restrictions on the media, and the withdrawal of police, the MCC has come to the conclusion that what was being promoted as a debate on Islam, was nothing more than an inquisition where Tarek Fatah was to be ambushed. As a result, the MCC has urged Mr. Fatah not to participate in his own inquisition where his own safety would be in jeopardy.
Toronto Police also advised Mr. Fatah not to attend the debate as they could not provide the police protection he had sought after being falsely accused by yet another Imam of "viciously attacked the Quran and Prophet Muhammad." This allegation essentially labels Mr. Fatah of committing blasphemy and as a result, makes him a possible target of attack by radical Muslims.
Speaking about the MCC decision not to participate in the debate, the president of the MCC Sohail Raza said:
"We came to the NAMF Mosque in good faith and to hear a healthy debate, but on arrival discovered a hostile environment, with no moderator, restrictions on media and the absence of any security. As a result, we have decided not to enter the premises and become potential targets of violence.”
Raza asked Islamists to be more forthcoming in the future as an inquisition disguised as a debate fools no one. "On behalf of the MCC I urge Islamic organizations to abandon medieval authoritarianism and embrace democracy," he added.
For more information, please call Sohail Raza at (416) 505-1613
Update: Here is the monologue from "the debate":http://www.youtube.com/user/thenamfca#p/a/u/2/IZD5Xwri-F0
More from Five Feet of Fury and BCF.