TORONTO — In an era when anti-Semitic notions and reactionary beliefs are prevalent in the Islamic world, Tarek Fatah, a Canadian of Pakistani Muslim ancestry, stands out boldly and courageously as a refreshing exception.
Fatah, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, is a secular liberal democrat who upholds social and political pluralism, promotes progressive ideas such as gender equality, despises Islamic radicalism, opposes Shariah law and supports Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Now, in a move bound to rally his friends and upset his enemies, Fatah has written a hard-hitting book, The Jew Is Not My Enemy (McClelland & Stewart), in which he roundly denounces and condemns anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel.
Fatah claims anti-Semitism is “endemic” in Islamic societies and quite common in Canada among Muslims.
“So much so, I had to write a book about it,” he said in an interview last week. “I wanted to put this information out into the open.”
According to Fatah, Muslim anti-Semitism is largely rooted in the Hadith, a collection of the Prophet Muhammad’s oral proclamations written centuries after his death. Israel and its policies have contributed to anti-Semitic feelings, he noted.
Although he admits the Qur’an contains “some pretty harsh language about Jews,” he maintains it essentially preaches respect for Judaism.
Far from considering himself a lonely voice in the wilderness, Fatah, a journalist and broadcaster who worked in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia before settling in Canada, says his unorthodox views are not really that uncommon among his fellow Muslims.
”In my fight against Muslim anti-Semitism, I am not alone,” he writes in his latest book. “Muslim voices around the world are making brave attempts in the face of intimidation and slander to fight the rise of jihadi Islamism.”
Although he has never personally met an anti-Semitic Iranian, Indonesian, Turk or Bosnian, Fatah believes anti-Semitism enjoys a disturbing degree of acceptance in Canada’s Muslim community.
The virus has particularly affected young, Canadian-born Pakistanis, who cloak their animus in leftist rhetoric. He branded them “the foot soldiers” of Islamic radicalism.
Fatah denounced Omar Khadr – the Pakistani-Canadian Al Qaeda recruit who gained notoriety and a long prison sentence after killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan – as “a very dangerous man” and “self-confessed killer” who has never renounced the doctrine of armed jihadism or Shariah law.
Describing himself as “a thorn in the side” of Islamists, Fatah said he has a “moral and ethical duty” to combat Islamic radicals. “They’re not just anti-Jewish, but anti-Canadian. I want to drag them out of the ninth century.”
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Fatah says the doctrine of armed jihadism informs the mindset of the leadership of mosques – imams and boards of directors – across the country.
In his book, he writes “The contemporary narrative of jihad” in mosques around the world has become “a breeding ground for anti-Semitism.”
He added, “I don’t know of any Canadian politicians, left or right, who have uttered a word against armed jihadism.”
Fatah, who has visited Israel, believes Muslims should reconcile themselves to Israel’s moral and legal right to exist as a state within secure and internationally recognized borders.
At least two verses in the Qur’an, 5:20 and 5:21, he holds, authenticate Jewish claims to Palestine and Jerusalem.
Fatah does not believe Israel is an apartheid state. “That’s bullshit, and you can quote me. If you want to see an apartheid state, go to Saudi Arabia, which is an oppressive society ruled by the religious police, or Iran.”
He calls on Israel to end its “illegal and immoral” occupation of the West Bank, saying a “just peace” and the creation of a Palestinian state is not “a favour” to the Palestinians, but “an absolute necessity for the survival of the Jewish state.”
Once this happens, he thinks, Muslim anti-Semites will lose “the most powerful excuse to whip up” anti-Semitism. “Not that Islamist Judeophobia will disappear, but the oxygen that nourishes it will be cut off.”
In his view, Islam can be reconciled with modernism and universal human rights through democracy, which, he acknowledged, is sorely absent in the Middle East.
Fatah was born in Karachi in 1949. His ancestors in the Punjab were Hindus who converted to Islam in the 19th century. Although his parents were Orthodox Muslims, they sent him to a Catholic school. His father has an adopted Jewish sister.
At the end of 2001, following 9/11, he and like-minded Muslims established the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC). Its advocacy of “progressive” forms of Islam, gay rights, separation of religion and state and opposition to Shariah law aroused criticism and indignation in some Muslim circles.
Fatah was the MCC’s communications director and spokesperson until the summer of 2006, when he resigned over concerns for his safety.
He stepped down from his position after he and other members objected to the MCC’s participation in anti-Israel demonstrations during which banners of Hezbollah and Hamas and posters of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were raised.
Last year, in an article in the National Post, Fatah accused the Canadian Arab Federation of having turned itself into “a mouthpiece for Hamas and Hezbollah in Canada.”
Fatah’s first book, Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, was a finalist for the Donner Prize.