Muslims have nothing to apologize for
Imams shouldn't have to condemn unproven terror allegations they have nothing to do with
By Maher Arar, Citizen Special September 2, 2010
Since the events of 9/11, imams and prominent members of the Muslim community have increasingly felt compelled to apologize for and condemn the acts of some Muslims who are arrested under anti-terrorism laws. They have usually done so even before finding out all the facts about the cases in question, and have mostly relied upon early information which, at best, has been selectively filtered by the security apparatus, or at worst, maliciously leaked to the media by "unknown sources." I see two clear problems with this apologetic reaction.
First, these apologies imply that the arrested individuals are guilty, not just before a fair trial, but before any clear details of the case are released, exchanging the presumption of innocence for the attitudes of a lynch mob.
Secondly, even if you were to accept guilt without a trial, what message is being sent by Muslims apologizing for such a terrible crime? Do Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, or Buddhists apologize for the actions of adherents who are alleged to have committed serious crimes? An apology suggests that there is fault to be found simply in being Muslim, when in fact, Muslims are no different than any other people: Muslims value the same peace and security, and have the same worries about the safety and well-being of their families.
So what is the motivation for these apologies? In a word: fear. Not just the broad fear that all Canadians feel when terrorism occurs, but the specific fear that affects just Muslims, the fear of being held personally responsible for the actions of others, due to a shared religious identity.
This fear is not irrational. It has plenty of fuel provided by sensational front-page headlines that portray Muslims and Islam negatively whenever a group of terror suspects is arrested. Terms such as "Islamic terrorism" and "Islamic fundamentalism" are frequently used. Reading the media coverage of last week's arrests one can clearly see the emphasis on the fact that these individuals were Muslims. Their ethnic background was less important and as such was only mentioned after the third day of intensive media coverage.
Let us compare this with the media coverage of the firebombing that took place in Ottawa three months ago. We all know the facts by now: a bomb went off at an RBC branch with an estimated property damage of more than $300,000. No media coverage I saw described the event as an act of terrorism, despite the fact the bombing was politically motivated. It was rather described as a "firebombing," and the suspects were labelled "anarchists," "bandits," or "bombers." I can cite many similar examples, such as the bombing of gas pipelines in British Columbia and the recent bombing of a Canadian Forces recruitment centre in Quebec, all of which had the potential to harm the public.
Another example that comes to mind is the coverage of the many priests who have been accused of sexual abuse of children. Despite the fact that these accusations are widespread, do we see terms such as "Catholic pedophilia" or "Christian pedophilia" used in the media to describe this crime? Of course to do so would be outrageous, since Christianity does not condone this heinous act. But time and time again, Muslims are compelled to immediately condemn any fellow Muslim who is accused of terrorism or security-related crime, in what seems to be a desperate, and perhaps even frightened, attempt to avoid being painted with the same brush.
The media are a powerful institution; they have the ability to defend the innocent by wielding the well-researched truth, but they have equal strength when it comes to damaging reputations in the simple act of "reporting the news." The only way the public will know the full truth about last week's arrests is through a public, open, and transparent trial.
Until that day comes, I for one will withhold judgment.
Maher Arar is publisher of Prism, an online magazine that provides coverage and analysis of national security issues. In 2002 he was arrested by U.S. officials and sent to Syria where he was detained and tortured for more than a year. In 2006 a federal commission of inquiry formally cleared him of all terrorism allegations.