Last week, something known as the Islamic Party of Ontario enjoyed some brief notoriety, thanks to various conservative commentators at the Toronto Sun eager to pounce on anything that appears to paint Islam and Muslims in a poor light.
Within hours of the existence of the party becoming public, Tarek Fatah of the Sun wrote a column that the party’s founder, a figure named Jawed Anwar, had labelled Fatah an “Islamophobe” and an “open enemy of Islam.”
This, wrote Fatah, “is the equivalent of declaring me an apostate, which makes it a duty of other Muslims to kill me and thus secure a place in Paradise for themselves.” Not so according to other Muslims, who dismissed Fatah’s claims as paranoid nonsense.
I’ve known Fatah for many years and he is an estimable scholar who has in the past been threatened, occasionally very seriously, by radical Islamists. But he sees danger and conspiracy surprisingly often.
In the case of the Islamic Party of Ontario, there are questions about its legitimacy. The name has been reserved with Elections Ontario, but whether it has enough support to gather the 1,000 signatures needed to officially be considered a political party in Ontario is another story.
When Fatah’s column was published, Anwar had a mere 60 followers on Twitter, most of them conservatives, anti-Muslims and bots. That number has gone up to 187 as of this week. Again, many are harsh critics of Islam – like Georganne Burke, a former member of Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer’s leadership team – and others among them are the very same people who have been writing of the peril the party allegedly poses to Ontario.
In fact, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Anwar previously used the Islamic Party of Ontario website to support the Ontario PC party, in particular former leadership contender Tanya Granic Allen’s efforts against the province’s sex-ed curriculum.
Various social media posts also reveal that in February 2018 Anwar delivered a speech at an event in support of Doug Ford.
But that didn’t stop the risible David Menzies of The Rebel from speaking out about this terrible “threat,” or interviewing another Sun columnist, U.S.-based Candice Malcolm, about it. Not coincidentally, Malcolm is also the founder and senior fellow of the True North Initiative, which describes itself as an “independent, non-profit research and educational organization dedicated to advancing sound immigration and security policies.” The two fellows listed on the organization’s website are Andrew Lawton and Anthony Furey.
Lawton is a former conservative talk-show host who ran unsuccessfully as a PC candidate for Ford in the last election, and was obliged to apologize for past tweets about Islam, women, race and the LGBTQ community. He blamed mental illness.
Furey is a columnist and opinion editor for the Sun newspaper group who isn’t shy about pushing far-right conspiracies, including during last year’s Danforth shooting. He shared Fatah’s piece about the Islamic Party of Ontario on Twitter, as did white nationalist and former mayoral candidate Faith Goldy, who wrote that, “The province I was born and raised in Ontario, Canada is about to get its very own ISLAMIC PARTY [her emphasis]. No joke.”
Yet social media roared with accusing questions as to why “mainstream media” were not covering the story.
A better question to ask is why does the Sun use Muslim columnists like Fatah and Farzana Hassan, who do not speak for the majority of the Islamic community, but see threats where none exist? This plays into the hands of white nationalists who can then quote “Muslim journalists” as supporting them. The best way to combat extremism is by assuring Muslims that they are trusted and welcome.
There certainly are Islamist extremists in Canada, but far fewer than in most countries. To be sure, right-wing extremists have killed far more people in Canada.
The vast majority of Muslims in Canada are moderate and even secular. For Canada’s right-wing, Muslims are marked as the “other” and something to be feared and hated.
Lawton wrote about the Islamic Party of Ontario on his website, acknowledging the party would remain fringe, but arguing that “people should be concerned about the Islamist influences targeting mainstream, electable political parties. There are suit-wearing apologists for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood wandering the corridors of power in Canada who believe the same things as the Islamic Party of Ontario but are far less brazen about expressing them.”
I’ve heard the same thing said about Jews, LGBTQ people, socialists and even – not so long ago – Roman Catholics. The song remains the same. Division leads to power, which is something Conservatives understand and are exploiting on an increasing basis.