MCpl Robert Bottrill / Canadian Forces
Canadian troops guard an officer while he discusses reconstruction with a local Afghan official.
Every morning, the National Post editorial board start their work day by discussing the assignments that lie ahead — editorial topics, blog posts, op-ed columns, etc. Typically, the process is a swift, unremarkable division of work load and writing duties amongst the editorial board members and columnists with a known interest in timely news items. Today, while discussing the decision by National Defence Minister Peter MacKay to cancel a planned speech by Imam Zijad Delic, sharp divisions emerged between Comment section editor Jonathan Kay and Post columnist Barbara Kay. Their discussion is reproduced below in truncated form.
Barbara Kay: Why is there a paid “Muslim Working Group” permanently embedded in at National Defence, whose job it is to advise the government on their foreign policy wherever it touches on areas of Muslim density? Why not a “Christian Working Group” or a “Sikh Working Group”? Can you imagine if there were a “Jewish Working Group” to advise on the Middle East? Don’t make me laugh. To me this is a scandal, and I don’t understand why it has not been addressed. Some of the people in this group hold very insalubrious views or are attached to groups with discomfiting agendas.
Jonathan Kay: If we were at war with people who claimed to be fighting for Sikhism, or Judaism, or Christianity, it would be perfectly legitimate and beneficial for Defence to have working groups that would help them understand how best to wage the battle against those fighting under the banner of those creeds. I don’t know why the DND’s effort in this area is a matter of controversy among Canadian conservatives — unless it were a forum for radicals, which, given MacKay’s action in this case, it clearly is not.
Barbara: Should we have had a German working group during the Second World War? If the government wishes to know the views of Muslims — not self-appointed spokespeople, which these members are — they can canvas them in any number of ways. Or they can hire an ad hoc consultant for discrete problems. And from what I have seen, non-Muslim experts are more objective on Muslim cultures than many Muslims are. Once you have embedded a group in your department, you are going to find it hard to disagree with what they tell you and still maintain a collegial relationship. Sorry, but this is an unacceptable commingling of church and state, and I consider it indefensible for any religious group to have such an entitlement. Nobody approached Tarek Fatah or Salim Mansur to be part of this group, which tells you a lot right there. Why not include these experts, some of Canada’s most reasonable, patriotic Muslims?
Jonathan: My understanding is that many patriotic German-Canadians and German-Americans did volunteer their services and expertise during the Second World War — and no doubt, some of them were organized in what today we would call “working groups. Under your logic, we shouldn’t have done that, because it would have been too politically correct.
It’s worth noting that the American government also had a “working group” to help it win the battle against fascist Italy: The Mafia. They gave the government plenty of help prior to the invasions of Sicily and the Italian mainland 1943 and 1944. “Lucky” Luciano was allegedly the guy who led this effort, though his “working group” was supervised from inside prison
Barbara: It’s more likely that Defence invited the Muslims in as an appeasing gesture rather than a step towards victory, and that the motives for the Working Group are not to defeat radical Islam, but to spin it and promote the idea that radical Islam is not our enemy at all. You don’t need an embedded working group to help the military reach out to Muslims. The Israeli government doesn’t hire Arabic leaders to advise the Mossad.
Jonathan: That’s because Israel has something even more influential — a parliamentary caucus of Israeli Arabs.
Barbara: So who is stopping anyone from forming a Canadian Muslim party? That’s a fine way to get one’s viewpoint across and has the added advantage of being in accord with democratic principles. We’ve had a Communist party for generations, but the military never formed a panel to think about how best to reach out to them.