From Islam’s defence to rejoicing in cancer

Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Joseph Brean, National Post · Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2010

Mohamed Elmasry’s campaign against Islamophobia in the media has been fought on many fronts, from libel claims in court to failed hate-speech complaints at three human rights commissions.

But the most unusual legacy for the retired head of the Canadian Islamic Congress is on the Internet, where his Canadian Charger website has, after a year of operation, found its place as a weekly clearinghouse for everything from poetry, cartoons and reflections on Islamic cultural history, to wildly paranoid conspiracy theories about Americans and Jews.

It has run articles titled “The Holocaust Old and New,” comparing Israelis to Nazis; “Israel in Ottawa,” which documents the influence of Canada’s Jewish lobby groups; and “Americans, the Murderers.”

An editorial in support of Israeli Apartheid Week was illustrated with a picture of a dead baby in a diaper with a bullet hole through its chest. And when an NDP MP recently apologized for wrongly describing the historical origins of Israel, the Charger said she had nothing to apologize for, because “Canada, like the U.S., is an occupied country where the Israel Lobby is the chief arbiter of truth. Anyone who undermines Zionist dogma can expect to be savaged by the Lobby’s media thugs.”

This week, though, as it solicited donations in honour of its first birthday, The Canadian Charger went one step further with an article that gleefully rejoiced over syndicated columnist Christopher Hitchens’ recent diagnosis of throat cancer.

As it did, the website that was created to refute cheap shots at Islam took perhaps the cheapest shot imaginable, arguing that Mr. Hitchens, a one-time leftist who has moved to the right, deserves his sickness because of his political beliefs and writing about Iraq.

In doing so, the Charger raised questions about whether such alternative online media, with their famously low costs and wide reach, are capable of holding itself to common standards of decency.

The cancer is “something to be celebrated” and a “boon for humanity” according to the Charger’s top story on Monday, “because it deprives the war propaganda machine of one of its most erudite apologists.”

“As I was contemplating this revelation, I couldn’t help feeling that the neoconservative armchair warrior was getting his just desserts,” wrote Joshua Blakeney, a Masters student at the University of Lethbridge, where he studies under a prominent 9/11 conspiracy theorist, Prof. Anthony J. Hall, who is quoted in the story and is also a Canadian Charger contributor.

“It is fair to say that if cancer is good enough for babies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and soon Iran, then it is good enough for [Mr. Hitchens],” he wrote.

In an interview on Monday from Egypt, Prof. Elmasry, who teaches microchip design at the University of Waterloo, said the Charger “had in mind to be a voice for all those Canadians who could not express their views in the profit-driven Canadian media.”

He gathered respected academics and writers to lend their names and submissions. He wrote his own wide-ranging and erudite columns on such topics as “What if Europeans Had Not Discovered Africa?”

He wanted to promote social justice, and to speak for marginalized groups like blacks, natives, immigrants and Muslims.

“We did not mean to be so left wing,” he said. “This is not by design.” He said the political slant is an artifact of the submissions they received, not his intentions.

He said the name, meaning a war horse, was “carefully selected to be very expressive,” as was the logo of a white steed, taken from a painting by Canadian artist Ibrahim Shalaby. He said the Canadian Charger was designed for battle.

Prof. Elmasry rejected the impression the Hitchens article scored cheap rhetorical points by rejoicing in his cancer.

“I don’t think so. Nobody will feel happy about somebody else’s misery, especially striking a man with cancer. But I think the point in that article was that he was a warmonger, to use that expression, in the last number of years, and the fact that he did not respect the life of the “other” including women and children who have been suffering from cancer because of American involvement in depleted uranium,” Prof. Elmasry said. “Perhaps he’s tasting how these babies suffered, and their mothers and families, and are still suffering. You have to really read the whole article to put things in perspective.”

In an interview, the author Mr. Blakeney said he is British, and so has a certain empathy for Mr. Hitchens. He also said his father died of cancer, so he does not take it lightly.

“I wouldn’t rejoice in some-one’s sickness unless it was someone as ghastly as Christopher Hitchens,” he said. If he were truly to get his “just desserts,” he would have to go to hospital in Iraq, he said. Regardless, his absence from writing “could well reduce cancer rates,” Mr. Blakeney said. “He is a dangerous demagogue who made a career out of selling aggressive wars that cause cancer…. I haven’t stooped to his level.”

His article goes on to argue about “the implausible and wholly debunked official explanation of 9/11,” and criticizes Mr. Hitchens for spreading the “Likudnik myth” that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Mr. Elmasry said he was especially proud of the Canadian Charger’s success in reaching young people. He also reflected on his three failed hate speech complaints against Maclean’s magazine, which led to an acrimonious public debate over hate speech, and eventually to the Charger itself.

“I feel sad that there was a double standard,” Prof. Elmasry said. “When the [hate speech] law was used to fight anti-Semitism, it was OK, and everybody was cheering it. Nobody complained then. But when a Muslim group used the same law [Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act] to protect the innocent in the community from hate speech, everybody thought about freedom of speech

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  1. Unfortunately I’ve seen this before on muslim sites.

    When Rifqa Berry was diagnosed with cancer some muslims were absolutely gleeful about saying she deserved it because she left islam. It was appalling.

    It’s just another difference between them & us, it’s who they are.

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