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18
Opinion
I
came to live in Canada in 1987, and I love and am grateful
to this nation. Of course it has problems, but they are few
andminor compared to almost any other in the world. I may
want to change aspects of how we do things, but the funda-
mental culture of respect and freedom is sacred. With that in
mind, I went alongwith a SunNews filmcrew in late September
to report on a large protest opposite the U.S. Consulate in
Toronto, composed mainly of Pakistani Muslims. The reason for
the demonstration was the Innocence of Muslims movie trailer
which – by the way – none of the people I spoke to had actually
seen.
Judging by their accents and, frankly, inability to speak very
much English, I assume that they were newcomers to the
country. Even so, they were angry with Canada and demand-
ed that it change. They chanted
“Shame, Shame USA,”
“Down
with Zionism and Israel,” “Punish Blasphemy”
and similar nice-
ties. They insisted that Canada break its ties with Washington
and Jerusalem, and that the Canadian people remove Stephen
Harper from office. I told some of them that this is what an elec-
tion was for, and that they could vote for anybody they liked.
But they wanted change immediately. Omar Khadr’s brother
was there as well, calling for killer Omar to come to Canada, and
saying how proud he was of his terrorist brother who killed an
American medic.
There was a young man who did speak good English who
threatened me. “You better leave this place right now or else,”
he told me. I asked him several times to explain what he meant,
but he disappeared into the crowd of perhaps 2,000 people.
All of this was captured on film, by the way. There was a lot of
abuse, shoving and pushing, and demands that I leave the side-
walk and do what I was told.
It may well be that this crowd did not speak for the mass of
Pakistanis or Muslims in Canada, but it was certainly impressive
to assemble that many people from a single community on a
Saturday afternoon. I was also confused as to why they were
screaming at the USA, when Muslim fanatics had recently mur-
dered four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya. Nor
was the Innocence of Muslims movie made by an American,
but an Egyptian Christian living in California. That the U.S. had
officially and repeatedly apologized for the movie – which
they should not have done, by the way – seemed irrelevant.
Everything was the fault of the Americans and Canadians.
The crowd was also obsessed with Jews and the Holocaust. I
was told numerous times that, because it was illegal to deny
the Holocaust, it should be illegal to offend Muslims. I ex-
plained that it was indeed illegal to deny the Holocaust in a few
European countries, but not in Canada or the U.S. No, they cried,
you are wrong. It is illegal to offend Jews in any way, they in-
sisted, and you will go to prison if you do so. I then asked them
about Islamic blasphemy laws in their homeland of Pakistan,
enabling non-Muslims to be persecuted. Many of them denied
that such a thing existed and that it was all a Western conspir-
acy.
It’s genuinely difficult to know how to deal with all of this. Will
Islam change, will Muslims change, canWestern countries such
as Canada comfortably accommodate communities that do
not accept the very underpinnings of the pluralism that makes
Canada what it is? We are told that all religions are the same,
but nobody seriously believes this any more than they believe
that all political ideologies are the same. What is essential is
that we respect people from every background, every race,
and welcome them to Canada to help build an even greater na-
tion and society. But within that noble attitude lies the neces-
sity to question, and be allowed to question, any belief system
which demands that it not be offended while freely offending
others. I am sure that even writing this column will lead some
people to call me names and call for me to be silenced. Thank
God, however, that we still have freedom of thought and free-
domof speech in Canada and the United States. As to how long
that will continue, I simply and honestly do not know. If we say
nothing when freedom is attacked, perhaps we don’t even de-
serve it in the first place.
Michael Coren
on the set of his
nightly television show.
with
Michael Coren