Muslims in Canada: Concerns and Perspectives
By Khalid Hasan
Daily Times, January 23, 2007
WASHINGTON: Wajid Khan, a former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighter pilot who was shot down over India during the 1971 conflict and now a member of the Canadian Parliament, has come under attack from his own Muslim and Arab ‘brothers” for having visited Israel.
But Khan, who remained a Prisoner of War (PoW) in India for over a year, has refused to express regret over his mission, which his supporters have stressed was undertaken in the interest of peace and resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to a column appearing Monday’s edition of the Canada-based Globe and Mail, Khan ruled out resigning from his parliamentary post, as some of his co-religionists have demanded. The paper quoted Khan as telling Muslim community leader Tarek Fatah: “Listen to me very carefully, my community is the Canadian community; I am not the ambassador of some country to Canada; I am an MP representing Canadians and my primary interest is Canada’s welfare. I am not in politics to represent some overseas group or government. Yes, I am a Muslim, but I cannot be held hostage by self-appointed community leaders who have their own hidden agendas.”
Khan’s assertion was in response to a joint statement by Canadian Arab Federation President Khaled Mouammar and Canadian Islamic Congress President Mohamed Elmasry, in which they demanded that he publish his Middle East report to the prime minister, while attacking his credibility and mocking his competence.
In their joint statement, Mouammar and Elmasry claimed there was nothing in Khan’s “past or present activities and experience that would qualify him as suitable for such a sensitive mission”. They also alleged that “most of the countries he as visited know nothing about him as a representative of Canada”.
Elmasry went on to say: “Wajid Khan is not a professor of political science . . . and his knowledge of the Middle East is very limited. He’s a Member of Parliament and he so happens to be a Muslim, and he does not represent the Muslim viewpoint.”
The paper quoted community leader Fatah, when asked to comment on the joint statement, as saying: “The words were clumsy, yet the underlying message was clear: Wajid Khan’s ancestry is Pakistani, not Arab. He is not a good Muslim, and he does not qualify to speak for the Arab community.”
Offering his own perspective of the joint statement against Khan, Fatah went on to say: “Ethnic politics has sunk to a new low. Once more, religion has been inserted to deride one’s political opponent.”
He also said that while valid, the demand that Khan’s report be published remained “suspicious”, pointing out that neither the Canadian Arab Federation nor the Canadian Islamic Congress could explain why they never made similar demands of Sarkis Assadourian – the Syrian-born Canadian MP who acted as globetrotting special adviser to a former prime minister.
He also said that reports on Khan’s fact-finding trip indicated that he supported a much more pro-Palestinian position than that pursued by the Conservative government prior to his mission. Thus, Fatah argued, for Canadian Arab and Islamic leaders to slam an MP who clearly supported their cause indicated, at best, poor leadership, if not outright “misguided jealousy”.
Salma Siddiqui, a vice-president of the secular Muslim Canadian Congress, appeared to agree with Fatah’s perspective. Although keen to distance herself form Khan’s politics, Siddiqui – an Ottawa businesswoman and long-time Liberal – issued a statement in defence of the former Liberal MP.
“Attacks on Wajid Khan have very little to do with the merits of his Middle East trip. It is more to do with a sense of misguided jealousy many Islamists feel when seeing a secular Muslim MP being chosen to advise the prime minister.”
The Globe and Mail also noted that Khan’s refusal to meet Hamas and Hezbollah representatives during his trip might also have riled his critics. So too could his denunciation of Canada-based Islamist extremists at the time of the alleged Toronto terror plot, which resulted in one imam threatening him with political oblivion in the next election.