By Stewart Bell
Saturday, April 6, 2002
Page: B1 / FRONT
MARKHAM, Ont. - The call to Islamic revolution can be heard in the dank caves of Afghanistan and the speeches of Iran's bearded mullahs. But one of its most strident voices emanates not from the Arab world, but from an industrial mall in the suburbs north of Toronto.
The sign outside the low brick complex in Markham, behind a commercial strip so Canadian it has two Tim Hortons, identifies suite No. 8 as the office of Crescent International, a 12-page bi-monthly publication that calls itself the "newsmagazine of the Islamic movement."
Founded in Toronto during the 1970s but now published in several countries and on the Internet, Crescent has a weighty mission: to spread Iranian-style revolt to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and any other country where Muslims are in the majority, including Israel, once the Jews flee.
The English-language publication fawns over Iran's fundamentalist regime, reprints verbatim the communiques of Palestinian terrorists and describes Osama bin Laden as a "famed Arabian" (May 1, 1997) who "stands up to the West in the name of Islam" (Oct. 16, 2001).
U.S. accusations against bin Laden are characterized as "baseless" (Aug. 16, 1999) and the Taliban deserves "credit" (May 1, 1997) for not handing him over to the Americans. Elsewhere in the paper, the Sept. 11 attacks are described as "successful."
They hit "legitimate targets, some might say, in view of the West's global record. In the case of the Pentagon, the argument may be valid" (Sept. 16, 2001).
Nor does it really matter who was behind the attacks, the newsmagazine says, because the West is responsible "for the far greater tragedies taking place in Iraq, Palestine and now in Afghanistan" (Oct. 16, 2001).
Israelis are "thieves and bandits from Europe and America" and should go "back where they came from: the U.S., Canada, Europe, Russia, whoever is willing to take them in," Zafar Bangash of Toronto wrote in the Jan. 1, 2001, edition.
The West (ironically, the adopted home of the newsmagazine's editors) is described as "murderous, racist and virulent" (April 1, 2002). Canada is a "fully paid-up member of the Anglo-Saxon mafia, which is responsible for most of the recorded genocides in the world" (Feb. 16, 1998).
The March 16 edition handed over a page to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that just staged the deadliest suicide bombing of the current intifada. A statement by Hamas leader Ahmad Yaseen advises, "Sons of Islam everywhere, jihad [holy war] is an obligation upon you, to establish the Rule of Allah on Earth, and to liberate your lands and yourselves from the hegemony of America and its Zionist allies."
In a plea for more suicide attacks, Yaseen adds: "So choose either a life that pleases a friend or a death that enrages the enemy." Those who die in jihad will be rewarded by Allah, he says. "Jihad, then victory or martyrdom," the statement ends.
These days, few Canadians would be surprised to hear such angry rhetoric coming out of the slums of Pakistan or Lebanon. But not only is Crescent International the brainchild of a Canadian, it was also recently honoured by the Canadian Islamic Congress.
This Muslim lobby group, which has frequently attacked federal counterterrorism measures, last year gave Mr. Bangash, the newspaper's Pakistani-Canadian founder, its award for media excellence. In its citation, the Islamic Congress called Crescent "a respected newsmagazine of the Islamic world."
The Congress bestowed its award on Mr. Bangash just a few months after he wrote his remarkable column telling Jews to leave Israel and warning, "The struggle for the liberation of Palestine will not be easy; it will demand an even greater price in blood than has already been paid. But nobody ever said that the Islamic movement will find anything easy."
Crescent International began three decades ago in Toronto as a small community paper serving local Muslims. "Gradually we grew out of that and became so to speak an international paper," Mr. Bangash said during an interview. Crescent is now considered a leading world voice for Islamic revolution. It is printed in Canada, South Africa and Pakistan, has offices in England and distribution facilities in Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Australia. It has its own Web site, muslimedia.com.
It is also aligned with a London-based think-tank called the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, of which Mr. Bangash is director and which describes its mission as "struggling for Islamic revolutions and the establishment of Islamic states in other Muslim countries of the world."
In the book Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews, author Khalid Duran describes Mr. Bangash as "a Sunni Muslim following 'the line of the Imam,' that is, Khomeini," the late Ayatollah and father of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Crescent International is described in the book as a "paper propagating Khomeinism."
"I don't know if 'Khomeinist' is accurate," responds Mr. Bangash, "but we are, of course, in favour of the Islamic revolution in Iran and we have taken a very clear and forthright stand on the way Muslim governments ought to be conducting their affairs."
Put simply, the newspaper's editorial position is that all Muslim countries should model themselves after Iran. "It is our belief that there is not a single Muslim country with the exception of Iran today that is truly independent, free to make their own policies free from foreign dictation."
If Muslims were allowed to freely choose their governments, he argues, they would adopt Iranian-style Islamic rule. "But that is something the people have to bring about," he adds. "My contention is that if the Muslim masses were given a free opportunity, that they would opt for that, but right now it is denied to them."
The notion that another dozen or more Irans could be on the horizon is not something many followers of world affairs would welcome, nor would many Iranians. Ruled by a cadre of unelected clerics, Iran is one of the world's most repressive societies and a leading state sponsor of terrorism.
The religious government that replaced the rule of the shahs two decades ago replaced one form of tyranny with another, driving thousands of Iranians into exile, many of them to Canada. When Crescent International and the Iranian government co-sponsored a conference in Ottawa two years ago to honour Khomeini, Iranian refugees demonstrated outside over human rights abuses in their homeland.
Iran is "a totalitarian regime, heavily engaged in oppression and terrorism within its borders and abroad," said Pedran Moallemian, former president of the Iranian Community Association of Ontario and the first Iranian-Canadian to run for a seat in the House of Commons.
Mr. Moallemian, who came to Canada at age 16, said that despite the rosy image painted by Crescent, Iran is a country ruled by a clergy appointed for life and an impotent president and parliament in a country that has never held free elections.
Tehran's foreign policy consists largely of supporting Islamic terrorism, including the famous call for the assassination of author Salmon Rushdie. Iranian women cannot travel without the consent of their husbands, nor divorce without consent, or become judges, and are stoned to death for adultery, he said.
"If this is a Utopian society, we certainly have different views about what Utopia looks like."
Crescent has been a long-time proponent of the idea that the Western world is out to get Muslims. The war in Afghanistan and the counterterrorism measures of the past six months have only given the newsmagazine new fodder.
Mr. Bangash was critical of both the Taliban and bin Laden, whose strategy of violence he called "the most stupid approach to take because you cannot convince the U.S. by attacking the U.S. You cannot force the U.S. to change its policies; you have to change your own situation in Muslim countries."
But he also defended the Taliban for not delivering bin Laden to the Americans. "They took a perfectly legitimate position. They said, 'Please give us proof; if you give us proof we are prepared to consider what you are saying.' "
As for Sept. 11, Mr. Bangash said he believes U.S. authorities knew about the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks beforehand but let them happen in order to have a pretext to attack Afghanistan. "Perhaps the U.S. government or part of the U.S. establishment wanted this to happen because they had perhaps another agenda to pursue.
"And I think they have done this, which was basically to get rid of the Taliban, because they were obstructing the U.S. plans to build a pipeline across Afghanistan to bring oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region."
Last summer, Mr. Bangash was involved in a dispute at the York Region school board over Holocaust education. He defended a school district volunteer who had distributed material the board considered anti-Semitic, and complained that Holocaust education is on the curriculum while the Palestinian "genocide" is not.
Mr. Bangash compared Israelis to Nazis and defended the decision to publish the provocative communiques of the Hamas terrorist group, such as the one of August, 2001, which called for "an open confrontation in each and every part of Palestine, using all means, mobilizing all Palestinian combat potentials: the factions, police and all those owning weapons in the Palestinian Authority and among our people."
"As far as the Palestinians are concerned," Mr. Bangash said, "they are the oppressed people, they have every right to defend themselves against Israeli occupation and Israeli brutality and we are saying, 'Yes, we support them in that.' What else do they have, how else can they defend themselves, how can they protect their children?"
When he received his media excellence award from the Canadian Islamic Congress, Mr. Bangash vowed to "help put Canada on the map." Whether most Canadians want to be known as a country that incites Iranian-style revolution is another matter.
"I hope fellow Canadians will be shocked by this Trojan Horse, which brazenly gives voice to the enemies of basic Canadian policies and values," said Manuel Prutschi, national director of community relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress.
Mr. Moallemian said he is outraged by the way Crescent abuses Canada's free society to promote such a repressive government, and fears it will reflect badly on Iranian-Canadians, but he said he respects their right to state their views.
"I don't think he should be stopped," he said. "However, we should not close our eyes and believe that what he says is the view of Muslims or something that in any way reflects the views of Iranians in Canada."