'Whatever happened to your column this week?'
Here's a Labour Day Weekend Real Story Special about antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, the 'observer effect' in the news racket and how Liberal Canada isn't that liberal at all.
Not the column I wanted to write this week, but it looks very much like I must.
That’s what I told my editors at the National Post and the Ottawa Citizen, 24 hours before my Wednesday morning deadline, about what to expect in my regular column this week.
The column usually runs online Wednesday afternoon and in print editions Thursday. My column did not run on Wednesday, or Thursday. When it appeared it was online only, in both newspapers, late Friday.
My lede: Another year, another conference, another tableau of speakers associated with antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny and hatred.
National Post version: Antisemitic Egyptian sheikh was to be hosted by Ottawa-funded Muslim group: Nashaat Ahmed was pulled from the speaker list of the Muslim Association of Canada's annual convention after inquiries from the Post. Ottawa Citizen version: Muslim conference pulls a controversial speaker amid antisemitism accusations: The Muslim Association of Canada itself, which meets this weekend, continues to back a highly politicized version of Islam embraced by few in Canada.
I’m not bitching about my editors here. Extremely sensitive subject, due diligence and all that. But the backstory to all this is, in its way, more interesting and more helpfully instructive than the “story” itself. A teachable moment, you could say.
None of this is helping Canada’s harmlessly devout Muslims
This is important: As necessary as they are, I don’t like writing stories like this. Muslims have enough untoward attention drawn to them as it is. The column about the MAC conference wasn’t even the column I’d initially planned to pursue this past week. And the hassle getting it published is why this Real Story newsletter is coming to you late, too.
Despite our due diligence the MAC is now threatening to sue, alleging that I’m part of an elaborate smear campaign against the organization and against Nashaat Ahmed’s free speech rights involving “translations manipulated with the intention to deceive,” apparently based on “comments made over two decades ago.”
I wouldn’t know about any of that. In my report, the bloodcurdling utterances attributed to Ahmed in two independent translations from the Arabic, and partly a third, come from earlier this year, last year, 2016 and 2006. But it’s not like there’s a paucity of indecences to select from. Honest Reporting Canada, which monitors mostly Canadian media coverage of Israel, assembled quite a compendium back on August 24. The MAC is quite upset with Honest Reporting, as you might imagine.
Just in case you missed it a few paragraphs back, I’m not bitching about my editors here. As things turned out, our efforts may have contributed to events even before the column appeared, owing to the awkward questions I’d put to the Canadian Heritage Department and to the MAC.
This happens in journalism. It’s a bit like what happens in quantum mechanics: The observer effect is the phenomenon in which the act of observation alters the behavior of the particles being observed. This week the consequence of mere observation was a jumble of double-confirming disputed translations and waiting for MAC and the Canadian Heritage Department to respond to questions, and missing a deadline as a result.
I figured something like this would happen because it’s what happened when I set out to report on the MAC’s annual conference last year. We gave them ample opportunity to respond. They didn’t, and after the story appeared under the lively National Post headline The Liberals are funding hate. How else to describe the speakers at this Toronto convention? the MAC accused me of engaging in “a blatant attempt to discredit a respectable Canadian institution and renowned Muslim scholars.”
They also insinuated that the National Post was in on a plot organized by “individuals associated with the Jewish Defense League (JDL), which is identified as a terrorist organisation by the United States government.”
It was because of last year’s rigmarole that I sent my queries to the MAC in writing on Monday - and sent a copy of those queries to my editors - giving the MAC more than enough time to respond by deadline. They didn’t. And quite the drama unfolded in the interregnum between Monday and when the column finally appeared Friday.
Sheikh Nashaat Ahmed was by no means the only “controversial” speaker on the MAC line-up of their conference this weekend, underway at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. And he wasn’t the only speaker pulled: So was Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s first Special Representative on Combating Islamophobia. After my inquiries about the propriety of her attendance at the MAC event, she vanished from the conference program.
Like the MAC, Canadian Heritage didn’t get back to me by deadline either, even with 24 hours advance notice. And after Heritage spokesman Daniel Savoie got around to telling me Eghawaby was pulled from the MAC speakers’ lineup, and I asked him why, he never did get back to me.
The backstory to it all involves the perturbation of quite a few delicate sensibilities. I’d rather not have any old jackass taking this edition of the Real Story and making an out-of-context mess of it on Twitter and such places, so what follows is for paid subscribers only.
Come on in and put your feet up. Admission is less than the Calgary price of a cup of coffee and a lousy tip.