Monthly Archives: June 2012

Iran's long reach into Canada



Iran's long reach into Canada

By Michael Petrou

The Iranian government, through its embassy in Ottawa and various friendly or affiliated organizations, is aggressively reaching out to the Iranian diaspora in Canada, as well as to other potentially sympathetic Muslims in the country.

This July it is funding an "Iranian Students Convention" at the large and well-appointed NAV Centre in Cornwall, Ontario. According to the conference website, guests must be students and members of a "cultural community" or they will not be permitted to attend. Attendees will have their accommodation and meals paid for, as well as a portion of transportation costs.

"This platform is direly needed for achieving the ultimate goal of establishing a network of Iranian academics and professionals across Canada and more broadly across North America," the conference website states. "Such a network will enable the Iranian academics to connect and share their knowledge and expertise to facilitate the professional growth of its members and play a leading role in serving the Iranian community abroad. This network will also help preserve and promote members' Iranian identity and strengthen ties to their motherland."

The website originally crediting the Montreal Toheed Society with planning the conference. This society, which was identified as "an independent network of Iranian students," does not appear to have an online presence beyond the Cornwall conference. References to the society have now been removed from the conference website. An email and phone call to the address and number given on the conference website were not returned.

The conference's major sponsor is Iran's Higher Education Advisory (HEA), which is run out of the Iranian embassy. Hamid Moharrami, head of the HEA, told Maclean's the organization exists to look after the needs of Iranian students in Canada. He said Toheed Society students organized the conference and the HEA is simply supporting them financially. He would not say how much money it is spending.

Moharrami is delivering one of the keynote speeches at the conference. Serge Villemure, director of the Fcholarships and Fellowships Division at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, will give the other. A spokesperson for NSERC emailed a statement to Maclean's: "When timing allows, NSERC is pleased to respond to invitations to speak to student groups about its programs." 

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Canada forbids Iran from opening consulates or cultural centres outside of Ottawa. But this directive is not well enforced. Maclean's exposed an Iranian embassy front in Toronto in 2010. And Hamid Mohammadi, cultural counselor at the Iranian embassy, said in an interview on an Iranian government website that the embassy's work in Canada has included "establishing and strengthening new centres for Iranian studies and Farsi language" as well as sending students and professor to Iran for courses; organizing art exhibitions and conferences; and equipping public universities in Iranian-populated areas with Farsi books.

The Iranian embassy in Canada also works through Iranian student groups at Canadian universities. On Friday, the embassy's cultural centre is sponsoring a panel at York University on "Islam and the Challenges of Modernity." The panel's co-sponsors are the Thaqalayn Muslim Association, a York student group, and the Organization of Imam Reza Circle, which appears to have no online presence that is not linked to this event. Liyakat Takim, a professor of Islamic studies at McMaster University who has previously taken part in Iranian embassy-sponsored events, will speak on the panel.

The embassy is particularly active at Carleton University in Ottawa. The Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University is led by Ehsan Mohammadi, son of Iranian diplomat Hamid Mohammadi. The embassy's cultural centre regularly joins with the Carleton student group to co-sponsor events.

These ties upset some Iranian Canadians in Ottawa who fear that if they openly oppose the Iranian government, their anti-regime activities will be reported back to Tehran endangering their families, and themselves should they return. "They've created a sense of fear," one Iranian student at Carleton told Maclean's.

Ehsan Mohammadi did not respond to an emailed interview request. A phone call to his number went unanswered.

Last fall the Iranian Cultural Association of Carleton University sponsored a panel discussion titled: "Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq: New Systems of Governance; Opportunities and Challenges." Iranian Charge d'Affaires Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani was on the panel. The Iranian embassy was not listed as an official sponsor, though the logo of its cultural centre appeared on promotional material for the event.

Four protesters disrupted the panel, holding up posters with the photos of Iranians they said had been beaten, jailed, tortured, and killed by Iranian authorities.

Among those protesting was Ali Tabatabaie, who is married to the daughter of prominent Iranian reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh. Iranian security officials later showed up at his wife's family's house in Tehran to summon Tabatabaie to court. Tabatabaie believes this was related to his public protest in Ottawa. He is now afraid to return to Iran.

"After the election, almost all my friends and family were arrested," he says. His father-in-law, Mostafa Tajzadeh, is still in prison.

"You feel you have to do something for them, but you know you are far away and you can't. Your family needs you, and you can't do anything. It's very difficult." 

NOTE: I'd like to thank Toronto journalist Arash Azizi for his work translating the Farsi source noted in this article, and others not cited, and for his help guiding me through the labyrinth of Iran's government.

Original source:



Arab Rights vs Women's Rights

Arab Spring vs. Women's Rights

by Raheel Raza
June 21, 2012 at 5:00 am


In a propaganda trap doubtlessly intended to cripple one politically – like so many others of its kind, such as "racist" – if a woman speaks in ways expected of a woman she is considered an inadequate leader; if she speaks in ways expected of a leader she is considered an inadequate woman. If you can dismiss the person, you can dismiss the issue.

In the "Arab Spring" countries in transition, women are now marginalized or excluded entirely from political bodies. Denial of one's fundamental right to participate in the democratic process in one's own country is one form of violence. Yet it is not, unfortunately, alone in the pattern of violence involving restrictions on women.

In much of the Muslim world today, when a Muslim woman speaks out or is qualified to take a leadership role, she is called "militant." In a propaganda trap doubtlessly intended to cripple one politically – like so many others of its kind, such as "racist" – if a woman speaks in ways expected of a woman, she is seen as an inadequate leader; if she speaks in ways expected of a leader, she is seen as an inadequate woman. If you can dismiss the person, you can dismiss the issue.

During the revolutions and uprisings across the Arab world, violence targeting women has been reported frequently as committed by police, soldiers, and militia. There have even been accounts of violence against women by demonstrators.

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in psychological harm or suffering to women." Prohibitions on participation in the political, economic, and social decisions which will affect oneself and one's family are a form of violence. Decisions about women made without consultation with women create psychological harm and suffering. Refusing women the right to support or oppose laws concerning them is a violent act against them.

I attended a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March and heard testimony about women's rights being violated across the Middle East. That women's rights continue to be usurped and that women continue to be dehumanized by Islamists is a reality and a horror.

Another international organization, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, has identified anti-women policies as a danger sign of spreading fundamentalism. These practices, whether they involve limitations on freedom of movement, on the right to education and employment, or imposition of discriminatory laws, under authoritarian and theocratic rule, represent a challenge for women to organize and act together. As Islamic fundamentalism is misogynistic, feminist input in debates about the future of Islam and Muslims is considered "provocative." But Muslim women's ever-greater political leadership in attaining freedom and gender equality is indispensable to defeating fundamentalism.

The first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist, recently said "My dear women: You have revolted from all over the country of Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria in order to construct a dignified life and a better future. Therefore, there is no way that we should bend down or go back."

Many women hoped the so-called "Arab Spring" would bring changes to the Middle East to help them realize their dreams and secure a better life for the next generation of women through peaceful transitions away from dictatorship, and collaboration between men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, government and civilians. But, as Tawakkol Karman also pointed out, "One of the necessities of partnership is for women to obtain their full rights. No dignity and no liberty for a nation which oppresses women and takes away their rights."

Tawakkol Karman, is a member of Al-Islah, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has benefited most from the electoral aftermath of the "Arab Spring" in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. Her position may therefore be considered ambivalent: she is a female rebel within a revolutionary movement that historically has emphasized the subordination of women according to alleged "Islamic" concepts. The "new" MB has followed the model of its current Turkish patron, the neo-fundamentalist Justice and Development Party (known as the AKP), in emphasizing an ostensible commitment to modern principles of equality and citizenship. But in practice, AKP has left its "moderate" promises behind as, recently, it proposed an educational reform that Turkish parents fear would encourage girls, in particular, to quit school after only four years.

For decades, Egyptian Muslim women suffered because divorce was not easy for them to obtain. But the right of women to initiate divorces in court actions ("khul") was established under ex-president Mubarak. Recently, however, an independent member of the Egyptian parliament suggested limiting women's right to initiate divorces. Mohamed al-Omda, deputy head of the People's Assembly Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee has submitted a draft law that would abolish the prerogative of "khul."

In Syria, women have been abducted by pro-regime forces, to spread fear in the population, and there is a mass of evidence involving rape, arbitrary detention, torture, "disappearances" and summary executions. In Libya, rape has been employed as a weapon of war, and the victims are stigmatized into silence. In Egypt, women demonstrators have been sexually assaulted by male protesters, and several women dissidents were detained by the army, and forced to undergo "virginity tests".

Hanaa Edwar, head of the charity Al-Amal ("Hope" in Arabic) has said, "Iraqi women suffer marginalization and all kinds of violence, including forced marriages, divorces and harassment, as well as restrictions on their liberty, their education, their choice of clothing, and their social life."

No commentary on human rights in the Arab world would be complete without mention of the outstanding example of denial of women's rights: Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is so flagrant in its violations of women's rights that one article cannot encompass all of them. A Saudi journalist, Dr. Khalid Al-Nowaiser, wrote on March 21, 2012, in Arab News, "Saudi women urgently need equal rights." He added, "There are always men who want to control women's rights in the name of religion or otherwise."

Many Arab women want emotional and intellectual liberation, including free participation in public life. These are not new demands. The United Nations Development Programme's 2007-08 survey of Middle Eastern women's status revealed that the rate of education among Arab women is the lowest in the Muslim world – in societies where we believe that educating one woman is like educating the entire nation.

Resistance to the establishment of women's rights may be blamed on self-appointed male caretakers of Muslim tradition, who feel threatened by the appearance of a significant number of women in a public space, considered reserved for men only, and who say they see emancipated Muslim women as negative exemplars of Westernization.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has attacked other laws regulating personal status in Egypt. They accuse the National Commission for Women, established in 2000 and chaired by Mubarak's wife, Suzanne Mubarak, of implementing Western strategies to undermine the family and social life in Egypt.

Women can bring about change – call it "The Silent Revolution." Women in Morocco already helped bring about significant improvements in marriage, divorce, and other family law, and polygamy has nearly disappeared there. Many relevant voices have been heard in the past year. Speaking in Rabat, Morocco, in March 2012, Michele Bachelet, a former president of Chile and executive director of the new organization, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, called for greater equality, especially in rural areas, where inequality between men and women is "most marked." At the same time, in Tunis, several thousand women demonstrated outside parliament against any attempt by the new Islamist-dominated government to cut back their recognized rights.

In March 2012, in Saudi Arabia itself, female students at a branch of King Khalid University in Abha, in the country's southwestern Asir region, joined in a major protest against trash piled up on the campus, abuses by administrators, and the corruption alleged against the university president, Abdullah Al-Rashid. The students were attacked by female security guards. When the demonstrations continued for a second day, state security agencies, including the so-called "morals patrols" or mutawiyin, often referred to as a "religious police," gathered at the university in an attempt to suppress the demonstration. Saudi sources reported 53 students injured and hospitalized, and one dead of an epileptic seizure.

Even in the Saudi kingdom, protest and change initiated by women are inevitable. We need only the courage to recognize and support them.

Related Topics:  Raheel Raza

Video Lifts Veil on Arab-Muslim Societies



Video lifts veil on Arab-Muslim societies

Salim Mansur – Sun Media


A young man is pinned to the ground, his head is twisted and a knife held against his throat. In a few minutes the head is severed and held up for display to the public chanting loudly, “Allahu Akbar” (God is great).


The video of this gruesome public execution of an apostate — the victim had converted to Christianity from Islam — somewhere in Tunisia was recently shown on Egyptian television by Tawfik Okasha, the host of Egypt Today, and it has gone viral on the worldwide web.


I came across it in reading a column by Raymond Ibrahim for the Gatestone Institute out of New York. Ibrahim is of Egyptian-Coptic ancestry, fluent in Arabic, worked as a translator for the Library of Congress and is the editor of The Al Qaeda Reader.


There is some dispute about how recent this video is of the public execution of a Muslim condemned as an apostate. But aired on Egyptian television, it was an illustration of the immense regression of Arab-Muslim societies in our time.


The video is chillingly frightful and unbearable for any normal person to watch. I turned it off in horror.


I am certainly not alone in my reaction, nor in feeling revulsion and disgust at the silence of Muslims around the world, by which they give legitimacy to crimes committed in the name of Islam.


While such abominations as the public execution of an apostate — or stoning of adulterers, hanging of homosexuals, lashing of individuals for conduct deemed inappropriate, etc. — are justified by Islamists and their apologists on the basis of Shariah, the silence of Muslims in the West contributes to the view spreading among non-Muslims that Islam itself is the problem.


In killing the young Tunisian for apostasy, the irony is appalling. It was another young Tunisian, who set himself ablaze in despair more than a year ago, that sparked the so-called Arab Spring.


It is now increasingly obvious that despots of the Arab-Muslim world, even those as despicable as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, had an unblinkered understanding of their people. Their despotism reflected the nature of their societies.


The Shariah penalty for apostasy is death. If in the past there was reluctance on the part of Muslim judges and rulers to institute such a penalty, it had to do with the slow evolution of traditional Muslim societies away from the primitive circumstances of the seventh-century origin of Islam.


But under the weight of modernity, traditional and post-colonial Muslim societies crumbled. The general failure of these societies to make progress out of their closed tribal circle has left them a political wasteland.


In such circumstances, Islamists — irrespective of their sectarian differences — are agreed that return to “authentic Islam” means implementation of the primitive seventh-century values read into the Shariah as incontrovertible, divinely ordained Islamic laws.


The result has been Muslims by birth or conversion have been made captives of Shariah — devised by fallible men in the 9th and 10th centuries — on the pain of death.


The world watches, and the burden is on Muslims of reforming Islam, or remaining bound like sheep for slaughter to a primitive legal-political system of totalitarian control disguised as religion.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stain on Canadian Democracy Removed

Stain on Canadian democracy removed

Salim Mansur – Sun Media

In voting 153-to-136 in support of amendments removing sections 13 and 54 from the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Conservatives in Ottawa under Stephen Harper’s leadership took a historic step in defending free speech.

Section 13 has the Orwellian clause of the human rights act, which reads “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” is prohibited.

The weasel word here is “likely” and, by invoking it, authorities have shut down freedom of expression, as the University of Ottawa did when it cancelled the appearance of Ann Coulter, an American conservative author and political commentator, in March 2010.

In times to come, historians might likely note that with this vote Canada turned a corner in its long downward slide into the bog of multiculturalism and political correctness, and began its climb back to once again becoming a robust liberal democracy.

The idea of protecting free speech by placing limits on it, as Section 13 did, in a democracy such as ours, was retrogressive.

Yet this idea was sold to the public by the country’s political-intellectual elite as a policy indicative of Canadian exceptionalism.

Canada’s Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, speaking to an American audience in April 2004, told them forthrightly that “we in Canada are more tolerant of state limitation on free expression than are Americans.”

Instead, Section 13 represented an elite consensus around the opinion that Canadians could not be trusted with their freedom.

Increasingly disconnected with the general populace, Canada’s ruling elite seemed to forget ordinary Canadians went abroad twice within a generation in the last century to protect the freedom of others.

Ordinary Canadians helped defeat the Nazis — possibly history’s worst offenders of freedom — and yet, ironically, the ruling elite considered they could be corrupted sufficiently by some fringe political club or lonely misanthrope to pose a threat to individuals or minority groups in a liberal democratic society.

The temptation of those in power to control or censor free speech, however good the intention, is indicative of the totalitarian instinct lurking inside many of us.

It is a slippery slope that once taken has ended too often, as history illustrates, in some of the worst excesses committed against freedom of individuals.

“The origin of freedom lies in breathing,” wrote Elias Canetti, recipient of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Literature. In other words, free speech is the foundation upon which all other freedoms rest.

And we forget this at our peril, warned Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese human rights activist, political prisoner, and the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize for Peace.

While denied permission by the Chinese leadership to receive the Nobel Prize, Liu Xiaobo sent the following message to his well-wishers: “Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.”

Once Bill C-304 — the private member’s bill moved by Alberta Conservative MP Brian Storseth — receives royal assent and comes into force repealing Section 13, a stain on Canadian democracy will have been removed and free speech made more secure.

 Saturday, June 16, 2012