A Call for Solidarity from the People’s Commission Network and No One Is Illegal Montreal
The People’s Commission Network and No One Is Illegal Montreal call for solidarity with Muslim communities and individuals in Canada and Quebec who are experiencing even more intense Islamophobia and racism as a result of the media coverage of last week’s “Project Samossa” arrests of Hiva Alizadeh, Khurram Sher and Misbahuddin Ahmed. Journalists have actually visited mosques where the people arrested have prayed, thereby greatly intensifying feelings of being vulnerable, under surveillance, marginalized and profiled simply for being Muslim or being perceived as such.
The People’s Commission and No One Is Illegal Montreal are also concerned for the well-being of the three men who have been named by media as part of the alleged plot and are currently overseas. In recent years, we have seen similar RCMP and CSIS suspicions – even without intense media attention – result in the overseas detention and torture of Maher Arar, Abousfian Abdelrazik, Abdullah Almalki and others. None of these individuals were ever charged with any crime and their names were later officially cleared. However, their lives continue to be marred by the immediate consequences of CSIS and RCMP actions, consequences that include tarnished reputations, the loss of freedom of movement, and, in one case, a freeze on all assets.
A few organizations and individuals are speaking out against the storm of racism the arrests have unleashed (see, for example, the statement by No One Is Illegal Vancouver. The People’s Commission and No One is Illegal Montreal support these statements of concern and encourages all organizations and all individuals who are opposed to racism to speak out and vigorously and categorically reject the ways of thinking that lead to an exceptionalization of “terrorist” cases (especially those involving Muslims), to an assumption of guilt, and to profiling that is affecting entire Muslim communities.
To date, no credible evidence has been produced – let alone established in court – that any of the men who have been so very publicly accused are guilty of any wrong-doing or even any crime. In fact, it hasn’t even been established that there was a plot in the first place. Although they were immediately painted as inspired by Al Qaeda, there is nothing to indicate that the men arrested are anything other than Muslim. Although, like the majority of Quebecers, they may well oppose the occupation of Afghanistan and Palestine and be concerned for the well-being of people currently subject to all the violence of war and torture, such attitudes should be celebrated, not criminalized or viewed as suspect.
In the current climate of racism, the People’s Commission and No One Is Illegal Montreal are concerned that the men will not be treated fairly by a criminal justice system that has proven itself far from immune from Islamophobia and that relies on the unjust anti-terrorist law adopted in 2001.
In the public sphere, the men are not being presumed innocent until proven guilty. The sensationalist media coverage has suggested that the police acted on information provided by CSIS and that the RCMP made their arrests when they did because of suspicion that money was going to be transferred overseas for unspecified “terrorist purposes”.
CSIS’s record of incompetence and abuse should inspire immediate scepticism about the cases. In particular, the fact that, according to its own oversight bodies, CSIS continues to use information that comes from torture should lead to questions about the credibility of the allegations and the information that CSIS received from Pakistan and Afghanistan which is supposed to have led to the arrests. (See www.peoplescommission.org/en/csis for more on CSIS and its use of torture-evidence.)
The involvement of the RCMP should also raise red flags for all who are familiar with past operations such as Operation Thread, which were similarly deliberately brought to public attention by RCMP press releases and press conferences. The long-standing RCMP practice of infilitrating organizations and the ambiguous role RCMP under-covers have played in suggesting and facilitating violence in such operations should also be recalled. It is important to ask what political purposes were served by bringing these cases to the attention of media at this particular time.
The statements by the Minister of Security, Vic Toews, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, inciting paranoia and literally encouraging people to spy on their neighbours, friends and family, show how the arrests are being used to further political agendas. Recently, the Conservative government has been cutting off funding for organizations which disagree with its foreign and domestic policies, criminalizing community organizers who challenged the G20 process, and creating scapegoats (such as the Tamil asylum-seekers) to justify its anti-immigrant policies. The comments of Toews and others close to the Conservative party are aimed at silencing Muslim voices and more broadly eroding social solidarity.
Solidarity as well as actively and collectively struggling against injustices are our only safeguards against state repression, exploitive economic policies and destructive environmental practices.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Write letters to editor objecting to racist framing of media coverage. In particular, write to the Star to object to their reporter’s intrusion into a Montreal-area mosque.
Letters must be short (100 words), include name, mailing address and daytime phone number of the writer; state “Letter to the Editor” in subject; and content should be in the body of the email (i.e. don’t send an attachment).
- Globe and Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- National Post: email@example.com
- Montreal Gazette: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Toronto Star: lettertoed@thestar
- Toronto Sun: email@example.com
- Ottawa Citizen: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ottawa Sun: email@example.com
- Hill Times (Federal Parliament): firstname.lastname@example.org
- Winnipeg Free Press: www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/send_a_letter/
- London Free Press: www.lfpress.com/comment/letters/write/
2. Ask organizations you are involved in to issue a statement insisting on innocence until proven guilty, rejecting the use of torture-evidence, and denouncing Islamophobia
3. Distribute CSIS Watch materials and encourage people not to collaborate with CSIS:
- If CSIS comes knocking (flyer in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Turkish)
- CSIS visits videos (in English and French)
- Top Ten Reasons not to Speak to CSIS (French, English, Turkish):
4. In Montreal, join in organizing the People’s Commission’s “Whose Security? Our Security!” popular forum, which will take place in February 2011.
To get involved in organizing the forum, email us at email@example.com