Is it time to issue moderate cards to Canadian Muslims ?

The recent detention of two Canadian Imams by American immigration authorities on the second anniversary of September 11, 2001 has shocked many Canadians.

Ahmad Kutty, 59, and Abdool Hamid, 37, both of Toronto and both Canadian citizens, were flying to Orlando FL to lead an Islamic prayer service, but were detained by U.S. immigration agents during a Sept. 11 stopover in Fort Lauderdale. The two Imams were finally released after 16 hours of interrogation by American authorities.

Canadian news media reported the story with some mild protest; not because the men’s detention was unfair and unreasonable, not because they were prominent members of a Canadian religious community, not even because they were Canadian citizens, but because they were moderates.

The implication of course is that Canadian Muslims come in other less-palatable varieties, the unspoken term being "extremist." And thus, an entire segment of our country’s population still lives under siege, more than two years after 9/11.

Young Canadian Muslims embarking on careers and professions can no longer even think of applying for jobs with CSIS, the RCMP, Canadian armed forces, their local police service, or in commercial aviation.

Many of them will also recall the bitter example of Mohamed Attiah, a nuclear scientist who was fired from his job with Atomic Energy of Canada, a few days after September 11, 2001.

CSIS and the RCMP can be commended for investing a great deal of energy and expertise in protecting Canada’s security. But along with their diligence comes the dark reality that they are also targeting a religious minority — with devastating consequences.

A Muslim receiving a personal call from CSIS or the RCMP at his or her place of work could easily lose their job. After all, who wants to hire someone who has drawn the interest of government security agents? If such a call is received at home, family, friends and neighbours are subjected to stress, fear and discomfort.

During August alone, Toronto police made 23 arrests of individuals accused by the RCMP of having ties to the international Al-Qaeda terrorist group. All the detainees were Muslim students from Pakistan and India. Even those who were released now have no hope of a future in Canada.

Maher Arar, a Canadian Muslim who was arrested on an airline stopover in New York last October, and then deported to his native Syria, is still in detention there almost a year later. And Toronto Muslim school principal Mahmoud Jaballah, an Egyptian refugee claimant, has been jailed for two years without charge — a situation federal judge Andrew MacKay has denounced as Canada’s "equivalent of Guantanamo Bay."

On the second anniversary of 9/11, the Canadian Islamic Congress has urged the federal government to establish an independent commission to look into its impact on civil liberties in this country. Muslims have been especially affected by more restrictive immigration policies and practices, and by a resultant increase in occurrences of discrimination, racism and racial profiling by law enforcement agencies, as well as at schools and in the workplace.

By establishing an impartial review commission and giving it enough time to travel and listen to people in this country, Canadians will gain a more accurate insight into the lasting effects of 9/11-related legislation and, just as importantly, a greater understanding of Canadian attitudes toward minorities, especially Muslims.

Failing the establishment of such a commission, I propose that our government issue special moderate cards for Muslims in this country, whether citizens or not. Here’s how it would work.

An independent panel of experts is appointed, comprising one Canadian, two Americans, two Israelis and two representatives from the Muslim applicant’s country of birth or family roots. (The panel would be predominantly foreign because most Canadian intelligence reports against Muslims in this country come from the U.S., Israel, or selected Muslim countries.)

Each adult Muslim living in Canada would have to prove to this panel that he or she is "moderate." And it would be up to those individuals to supply any and all evidence in support of their case. If the panel is satisfied, it would issue a wallet-sized card bearing the official stamp MODERATE, and the happy Muslims who qualify for the cards could go about their business, safe in the knowledge that authorities would no longer mistake them for potential trouble-makers.

But there would be a catch as well. Because it’s better to be safe than sorry, this card would only be valid for one year. Muslims would have to reapply annually, with full documentation and references to prove they were still moderate.

Perhaps my proposal sounds outrageous, or at least far-fetched. But it makes more sense than the constant pressure of government-sanctioned profiling and targeting under which so many Muslims in this country are living every day.