Onus on Muslims to stop extremist ‘cults,’ Canadian MP says

Moderates urged to take action, reflect on why they came to Canada

Liberal MP Wajid Khan, a Muslim who represents the Toronto-area riding that is home to several of the men charged last week in an alleged terror plot, says the solution to the problem of terrorist violence in the Muslim community is simple and utterly straightforward.

“The onus is on our community to address this problem,” he declares.

“We’re talking about a cult, a small number of extremists. The majority of us are moderates. But these are the voices that haven’t been heard. That has to change. We can’t let these people get their roots down here.”

The former Pakistani fighter pilot and prisoner of war also says Muslims have to spend some time reflecting on why they came to Canada in the first place.

“I came here by choice. This country excited me with its evolution and opportunity,” Mr. Khan says. “I’m absolutely passionate about it.”

Mr. Khan arrived here in 1974 and he says that around that time — and in the period up to the early 1990s — immigrants from Pakistan, Iran and other countries in central Asia were “educated professionals who easily integrated into Canadian society.”

In the past decade, however, he says that global turmoil has generated a new type of immigrant, one that is “more orthodox and slower to blend into Canadian society.”

He adds that barriers to entering various professions have also made it difficult for those with specialized training and status in their homelands to find their place in this country.

Still, the fact that so many of the recently arrested terror suspects from his riding were born in Canada was, he concedes, “totally shocking.”

In fact, although he describes him as “a completely ordinary guy,” Mr. Kahn intersected with Qayyum Abdul Jamal, the caretaker and radical speaker at Mississauga’s Ar-Rahman Islamic Centre. Invited to speak at the strip-mall site last year, Mr. Kahn was introduced by Mr. Jamal, who preceded him with a rant against Canadian institutions and, in particular, the deployment of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Mr. Jamal said the soldiers were allegedly raping Muslim women.

Mr. Kahn left after telling the assembled group that they shouldn’t accept the “misinformation.”

“That reinforces my message that our community must be more vigilant. We mustn’t allow others to spit venom. We have to speak up and tell them to stop,” Mr. Khan says.

“We should set some standards for imams, establish where and how they are trained. We shouldn’t let some of the people who are preaching do so,” Mr. Khan says.

His suggestion for the next few weeks is, in fact, to stop the preaching and start discussion with those who come to pray about how to address the current crisis.

Furthermore, he says parents have to stop turning a blind eye if they notice changes in the behaviour of their teenaged children.

“If a child is abused or falls victim to drugs or other crimes, we intercede and seek help,” he observes. “Why is this any different? It’s a crime, too. A very dramatic one maybe, but just a crime.”

What else needs doing?

“We need to emphasize hope and the tremendous opportunities this country offers,” he says. “It’s perfectly possible to have a strong Muslim identity and be a successful member of Canadian society. In fact, it’s imperative.

“It’s also time for us to reach out, to develop the desire to change things,” he insists. “Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism, to continued immigration is at stake.”

Mr. Kahn plans to deliver that message today to deputy House leader Jason Kenney, when they meet to discuss the situation and some strategies for handling it.

“I know these people, how they think and what they feel. This is my community,” says Mr. Kahn. “I have the pulse of the Muslim community and I know how and where to reach out.”

Ideally, he says he’d like to start that outreach with a non-partisan mission to travel across Canada and speak at mosques and other venues where Canadian Muslims gather. If Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, a fellow Muslim, wants to join him, he adds, so much the better.

Mr. Kahn claims he is taking a considerable personal risk in speaking out publicly against the dark elements in Canada’s Muslim community. But he also concedes that he is not a typical Pakistani immigrant.

He came from a family of wealth and privilege — he and his wife, a physician, were educated in private, Roman Catholic-run schools in Pakistan. Although his uncle was a general in the Indian army and his father a magistrate in the Anglo-Indian regime, he fought for Pakistan’s independence.

A fighter pilot, he was taken prisoner of war in 1971, repatriated in 1972 and served two more years in the national air force. In 1974, he and his wife left the country to travel the world, starting with Greece and Europe. After settling on relocation in Canada, he got his commercial pilot’s licence, but failed to find a job in aviation.

“I wasn’t discouraged at all. I knew I’d find my place, my opportunity,” he insists.

After starting out as a salesman in a Mazda dealership, he took it over in two years, building it into the largest dealership in Canada. He made sure his son went to a French school and became bilingual.

Because of his willingness to hire and train new Canadians, he became increasingly involved in community affairs. That culminated in political involvement with the Liberal party. He ran successfully in 2004 and again in 2006.

Although he ardently supports Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan, he says he voted against it recently in Parliament.

“We have no choice but to be there, but it still warrants a proper debate. We didn’t get that debate,” he declares. “The average member of Parliament has no idea of what’s going on there, of what’s involved. We should have been there 20 years ago instead of allowing the Taliban to start and flourish.”

He adds: “As a fighter pilot, I know that area so well. It’s geography, it’s people, all the nuance there. That’s why I want to speak out and help find a solution to this.”

Seems he has at least one more mission to fly.

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Ottawa Citizen, Canada
June 10, 2006

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday June 10, 2006.
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