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Opinion Editorials, February 2009


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Our right to speak:

A Canadian Arab Federation Viewpoint

By Khaled Mouammar, February 28, 2009


 Two pieces in the Feb. 20 edition of the National Post about the Canadian Arab Federation ("Stop funding fundamentalism" by Tarek Fatah, and "Cut off the Canadian Arab Federation" by the Post editorial board) have resorted to omission and decontextualization to present a distorted view of our organization. CAF was founded in 1967 to provide a united Arab Canadian voice, bring balance to lopsided media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict and challenge negative media depictions of Arabs as corrupt and barbaric proponents of terrorism. As long as these stereotypes exist, CAF must continue to challenge them.

CAF represents and advocates on behalf of Arab Canadians from all faith groups. Since its establishment, CAF has elected 12 Christian and eight Muslim presidents. I, the current president, am an Orthodox Christian. The description of CAF as a "fundamentalist" or "Islamist" organization is false, and stems from the ignorant assumptions that all Arabs are Muslim and that Islam is inherently violent.

CAF advocates for human rights and the harmonious inclusion of all newcomers and immigrants to Canada. We also strive to protect Arab Canadians from any violations of their civil liberties. CAF is actively involved in the Colour Of Poverty Campaign, a community-based effort to help raise public awareness about the serious problem of poverty within racialized communities in Ontario. CAF is also one of only a few non-indigenous voices to address the over-representation of First Nations peoples in Canadian prisons. CAF has also defended the rights of racialized groups in post-secondary institutions, supporting academic freedom and freedom of expression for all on Canadian campuses.

CAF rejects the accusation that support for the Palestinian people and criticism of the state of Israel is "anti-Semitic." As Arab-Canadians, we have every right to engage in debates that affect the Arab world. We should not have to fear retaliation from our own government for holding views with which it may disagree. During Israel's war on Gaza, CAF was joined by many Canadians who were critical of Israel's actions, including distinguished Jewish Canadians such as Dr. Anton Kuerti, Dr. Ursula Franklin, Judy Rebick and Naomi Klein. We enjoy widespread support beyond the Arab community.

Statistics Canada reports that there are almost 350,000 Arabs in Canada. Like other Canadians, they pay taxes and are entitled to services and representation in society by groups such as CAF. Granted government funds to run settlement services for newcomers of all ethnicities, CAF has done so successfully for 11 years now. Millions of dollars of government money is granted to various Canadian Jewish organizations that support Israel as it illegally occupies Palestinian land. In 2007 alone, $15-million was given to the United Jewish Appeal Federation, an organization that holds an annual "Walk for Israel."

It is neither hateful nor criminal to criticize our own government's policies, including the manner in which Canada approaches the Arab-Israeli conflict. CAF seeks to engage in debates that expand free speech and the free exchange of ideas. We are alarmed at recent comments by federal minister Jason Kenney, pictured, that we think restrict debate. Kenney has made allegations against CAF that we believe are unfounded, and now threatens to eliminate funding for essential settlement services for immigrants and refugees. This behaviour is irresponsible, vindictive and undemocratic. And it is reminiscent of the repressive regimes from which many of us fled to escape punishment for expressing dissenting opinions.

CAF finds it disturbing that some political leaders have promoted misinformation about Canadian citizens of differing ethnic backgrounds, especially at international events where the targeted communities are unable to defend themselves. This does nothing to serve the interests of Canadians and works instead to marginalize select groups and generate divisions in society. CAF also remains concerned that our tax dollars are being spent -- in violation of Canadian values -- on promoting the interests of a foreign government and occupying power that has been repeatedly condemned for committing serious human rights abuses. -

Khaled Mouammar is the national president of the CAF.

A version of this article was first published by the Canadian National Post, on February 26, 2009. The author also submitted it for publication at in the same day.





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