Hussein Hamdani travelled to Pakistan with Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan and CSIS head Jim Judd in September 2005
Source: The Globe and Mail, June 9, 2006, p. A1
Original title: Alienation at home, criticism from abroad
Suspects’ families suddenly become pariahs within the Muslim community
The families of many of those arrested in an RCMP sweep last Friday have become ostracized from the Muslim community, members of that community have told The Globe and Mail.
A former student at Mississauga’s Meadowvale Secondary School, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said those close to the families have avoided calling them for fear of also coming under suspicion.
“I don’t know. Do you think if we called them, it would be okay?” the former student asked a reporter, after saying that his family and other families have decided not to approach the suspects’ relatives.
But even the few community members who have tried to contact the families, he added, have been largely unsuccessful — either no one answers or they hang up.
One man who frequents the Al-Rahman Islamic Centre said his wife chastised him for going to the home of one of the accused to show support for his family. A television camera caught the man on film, he said, and when the footage aired that night, his wife told him to think of their children.
On the surface, ostracism would seem the inevitable fate of the families of anyone accused of a high-profile crime. But within the Muslim community, avoiding any of the suspects’ friends, families and hangouts is often seen as a method of survival: If you’re caught talking to a suspect, the thinking goes, you’re also a suspect.
A recent example of this phenomenon is the case of the notorious Khadr family. The Khadrs have earned an unenviable place in the history of Canadian terrorism suspects. Ahmed Said Khadr was killed in battle in Pakistan; one of his sons, Omar, is in a U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, facing charges related to the killing of an American soldier in Afghanistan. Another son, Abdullah, is accused of supplying weapons to al-Qaeda, and is currently fighting extradition to the United States. “People have this picture of us as these very arrogant, selfish, scary people who did not care for anyone,” Zaynab Khadr, Abdullah’s sister, told the website cageprisoners.com , which draws attention to the cases of detained Muslims, late last year. “It’s a very difficult situation, when you are living in a place where you know you are not wanted and people are actually fighting to get you out of the country.”
While many may argue such abandonment is justified, given the crimes of which the suspects are accused, a perception of guilt by association is a serious problem not only for the Muslim community, but also for the people charged with hunting down alleged terrorists. The more a community feels besieged, the less likely members of that community are to help police.
Hussein Hamdani, a lawyer and member of the government’s cross-cultural roundtable on security, remembers an incident that took place in September of last year, when he was travelling with then-deputy prime minister Anne McLellan and CSIS head Jim Judd to Pakistan to discuss security matters.
While in Pakistan, Mr. Hamdani heard news that a report had come out condemning the spy agency for declaring Bhupinder S. Liddar, a Sikh Canadian public servant, a security risk. CSIS deemed Mr. Liddar untrustworthy partly because he had previously worked with MPs who were sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
“I took Jim Judd aside and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ” Mr. Hamdani recalls. “If you flag everyone who supports Palestine, that’s 98 per cent of the Muslim population. I support Palestine — am I a security threat?”
Since Muslim communities in Canada tend to be very tight-knit — bound not just by their status as a religious minority, but often by ethnic ties, as well — a large number of Muslims in Toronto share at least one thing in common with one or more of the terrorism suspects.
Yaseen Poonah, a leading member of Young Muslims Canada, grew up in Mississauga. He attended the Al-Rahman mosque twice, but never met any of the accused.
The 27-year-old said the arrests have been harder on youths than their parents.
“We’re the young people. We’re the ones who are targeted,” he said. “It’s different for us than for our parents, because we were born and raised in Canada.”
But after years of community work, in an effort to build up goodwill toward the Muslim community following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Poonah now believes his group is back where it started.
“All that we’ve done in the community is now thrown out the window,” he said.
Credit: With reports from Joe Friesen and Greg McArthur