National Post – Hussein Hamdani: Front-line hero or extremist?
Author: Catherine Solyom
Source: National Post, May 27, 2015, pp. A1 and A2
Original title: Front-line hero or extremist?
Tables turn on man who helped Ottawa with would-be jihadists
There’s a campaign to make Canadians afraid of Muslims
MONTREAL • Three months ago, Hussein Hamdani was widely hailed as a hero on the front lines of Canada’s war against homegrown terrorism, regularly pulling teenagers back from the brink of radicalization before they boarded a plane to Syria or Iraq.
He has been the federal government’s bridge to the Muslim community and, at a counterterrorism summit in Washington in February, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney praised the efforts of the Muslim community in Hamilton, Ont., — of which Hamdani is an integral part.
Following recent reports on a Quebec blog, then a news network, however, Hamdani now stands accused of being a radical Islamist — and the federal government has stopped returning his emails.
His swift fall remains a mystery. Hamdani, who is also a corporate lawyer, says he is the target of a fear campaign instigated by politics. The government will say only that his status is under review. At the end of April, the TVA news network reported that Hamdani had been suspended from the Cross Cultural Roundtable on National Security, which he has sat on since 1995.
“I’ve been there longer than Stephen Harper has been prime minister,” Hamdani said from his office in Hamilton.
The Roundtable, which has 15 members from different ethno-cultural communities, is meant to be a bridge between those communities and the government, meeting every few months to “focus on emerging developments in national security matters and their impact on Canada’s diverse and pluralistic society.”
Hamdani has also helped CSIS and the RCMP approach sometimes reluctant groups, while intervening with youths showing signs of radicalization on behalf of their parents.
“I’ve probably done more than anyone else in Canada,” Hamdani says. “And because we’re exposed to certain information that’s not public and we work with the RCMP and CSIS, I have security clearance and my background has been vetted. There are no links to anything of concern.”
That was until a Quebec blog, Point de Bascule, republished some of his student writings in April and alleged he was linked, through his charitable donations, to organizations like IRFAN-Canada, designated a terrorist group by the federal government in 2014 for its links to Hamas.
Point de Bascule, which has been active since 2006, describes itself as an “an independent and non-partisan website describing the means and methods used by Islamist organizations and leaders in order to further their program in Canada.” It is run by Marc Lebuis.
Point de Bascule highlighted the fact that Hamdani urged Muslims to vote against same-sex marriage, for example.
What is curious, Hamdani says, is that none of this information is new. “Islamicization” meant something different in the pre-9/11 world, he explains. Besides, he says, his views on same-sex marriage have evolved.
The federal government knew about his student activism, as well as his role in organizing a World Muslim Summit in Toronto in 2003, another point raised by Point de Bascule as evidence of his radical nature (and listed on his roundtable bio).
In 2004, Hamdani also wrote openly about studying Islamic movements in the occupied West Bank, where he met with Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, an article published the year after Yassin was killed in an Israeli air strike, and the year before Hamdani was named to the Roundtable.
Blaney had Hamdani suspended from the roundtable the day the story appeared on TVA, “pending a review of the facts.” What had changed? Hamdani believes it’s all about politics — and his support of the Liberal Party.
The man behind Point de Bascule, Marc Lebuis, was invited to speak before the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence in February, where he first aired accusations against Hamdani.
But it wasn’t until after Hamdani organized a fundraiser for Justin Trudeau on April 14, and sent a letter to subcommittee members about his intention to speak before the committee, that he was suspended from the roundtable.
But Hamdani and others believe the suspension is also a way to promote the “fear industry.”
“There’s a campaign to make Canadians afraid of Muslims and the religion of Islam,” Hamdani says. “The corollary is that only the Conservatives can save us from the Muslims, so they frighten people before the federal election.”
Ihsaan Gardee, the Executive Director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said it was deeply troubling that the government would choose to act on allegations from a Quebec blogger rather than information provided by Canada’s security agencies.
“At best, it speaks volumes of the low regard for security agencies that protect Canadians, and at worst it’s a political witch hunt based on innuendoes and guilt by association,” Gardee said. “The decision to suspend Hamdani has damaged the trust of Canadian Muslims. It really calls into question whether the government wants to work with Canadian Muslims or use them as a political punching bag.”
So who is Marc Lebuis, and who is behind his website?
Efforts to reach Lebuis through the website, by phone, or through his Twitter account over the last week have been unsuccessful.
Adam Thompson, the clerk for the Senate’s Committee on National Security and Defence, said the committee had no CV or other form of biography on file for Lebuis. Lebuis was presented by the chair of the committee, Conser vative Senator Daniel Lang, as the “founding director of the Montreal-based independent research organization Point de Bascule,” but no further qualifications were given.
There is no business or charity listed as Point de Bascule, or under Lebuis’s name, although the website does accept donations.
Siegfried Mathele t , a post-doctoral researcher at the Université du Québec à Montréal, said he knows of Lebuis as a “pseudo-expert” who has worked for years to gain influence with political decision-makers and the mainstream media, even though he has no links to academic research.
Hi s modus operandi, like that of numerous antiIslam bloggers and organizations based in the U.S., Mathelet explained, is to take anything problematic associated with Islam — like the Boko Haram or ISIS attacks — and link them to people in Canada.
Unlike the U.S. websites, where many are registered charities or funded by foundations that have to declare their donations, it is not known who, if anyone, is funding Lebuis or Point de Bascule, which is said to employ 10 researchers.
Matthew Duss, the lead author of Fear, Inc. 2.0. — a report published by the Centre for American Progress on anti-Islam organizations and their sources of funding — says Muslim-bashing is a very lucrative business in the U.S., and it may be in Canada, too.
Duss believes Point de Bascule may be part of an international “Islamophobia network.”
Hamdani, meanwhile, has yet to hear directly from the federal government about his suspension, even though the U.S. government has invited him to Washington in July to share his expertise in deradicalization.
But the impact of the allegations has been very negative, he says.
“Anyone who is an active member of the Muslim Community has a dossier on Point de Bascule. It was almost a badge of honour. But this has been devastating,” says Hamdani, who is planning to sue various parties for defamation.
“I live and die by my reputation and these are such stigmatizing allegations. There is probably no worse thing to call someone than a pedophile. The second worst is a terrorist. It’s been immensely hurtful and stressful and deeply concerning.”
PHOTO Hussein Hamdani was suspended as an adviser on Muslim issues and security for the federal government in early May. But now, officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of National Security have sought his input. Glenn Lowson for Montreal Gazette