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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Raheel Raza, a leading Muslim reformer, award winning writer, professional speaker, diversity consultant, documentary film maker and interfaith advocate. A founding member of the Muslim Canadian Congress, she is the author of Their Jihad . . . Not My Jihad. Visit her site at RaheelRaza.com.
FP: Raheel Raza, welcome back to Frontpage Interview.
In our recent interview, we discussed your confrontation with the developers of the Ground Zero mosque and the threat you received from Sharif El Gamal because of it. Today, I would like to talk to you about your subsequent confrontation with Tariq Ramadan. You don’t seem to be taking too much time off between rounds.
Tell us what happened this time around in your courageous battle, as a Muslim, for freedom and against radical Islam.
Raza: Thanks Jamie.
On Thursday, September 17, International PEN, with support from three other organizations and the Norwegian Mission to the UN in Geneva, hosted a public meeting called “Faith and Free Speech, Defamation of Religions and Freedom of Expression” at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The consensus that emerged from the meeting was that criminalizing defamation of religion is not the way forward.
During the proceedings, there was an open session hosted by PEN about the issue of defamation of religion basically saying that freedom of expression should include the freedom to criticize religion. Among the speakers was Tariq Ramadan. He spoke at length about “the West,” “Western values” and so on. I was amazed at how most Muslim speakers inevitably bring the larger debate down to the lowest common denominator, which is the victimhood status for Muslims in the West.
Adding fuel to fire was the Pakistani Ambassador who is a spokesperson for the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference). The Ambassador said that this panel was useless and he ranted for 5 minutes (way over time) about how Muslims are victimized and harassed in the West. At this point I put my hand up and told both of them off. The Ambassador got up and left the room when I started to speak.
FP: What did you say exactly?
Raza: This is what I said:
I am a Canadian of Pakistani origin and I’d like to totally rebut what the Honorable Ambassador has said. I have lived in the West for 25 years and I don’t know where he has been living, but I think Muslims have more freedom in the West than they have ever had in many Muslim lands.
When you talk about interfaith dialogue, there in absolutely no intra-faith dialogue going on between Muslim communities. Dialogue is a two way street, Mr. Ambassador. Sir, I am responding to what you said, so it is rather rude of you to get up and leave. However, I will say that for the rest of the audience here that this is absolutely unacceptable. And freedom of speech is the most important human right we have. And I totally support freedom of expression, even if it is against my faith. When he speaks about Geert Wilders, Geert Wilders has the absolute freedom to say exactly what he wants. It does not affect me personally and neither does it harm my faith.
The Western world was the first country, the Canadian Prime Minister and Americans were the first to condemn [the plan for] the burning of the Koran by the Pastor Terry Jones.
I would never have the absolute freedom to say what I want, the way I do here, in my own country of birth, so, certainly we are talking of equal treatment of Muslims here in the West.
I would also like to comment about… Professor Ramadan spoke at length about Western values, the Western World. This is not a debate between Muslims and the West. Unfortunately that’s what it comes down to, which is being divisive. We’re speaking here of human rights that extend to all faiths so, let’s get over this victim ideology that we, Muslims, are being persecuted.
And let’s talk about the freedom of speech of everyone in the room here today, and let’s get to the point of freedom of speech, and freedom of religious expression.
The video of Raheel Raza’s rebuttal can be seen here:
FP: What exactly was happening at the conference that you think provoked this stand you took?
Raza: Well, overall, it became clear that the idea of victimology plays well into the hands of the Islamists and so I wanted to make a clear definition between political Islam — who I call Islamists — and Muslims, like me, who are practicing and trying to promote the spiritual message of Islam.
The OIC have a powerful grip at the UN because their numbers are high and they have an unspoken agreement to stand up for each other, regardless of cause. So if the word “Sharia” is ever used in any resolution or speech and is connected to, for example, stoning of women, since Sharia is associated with the Muslim religion and is practiced in many Muslim countries, they will object and not allow that point to be documented.
FP: What was Ramadan’s response to you?
Raza: When I finished, he looked pointedly at me and spent the rest of the discussion explaining that he was not speaking entirely about the West, but that there are problems and we must learn to “listen” to the extremists as they are trying to say something. Then he contradicted himself by saying that Geert Wilders knows exactly what he is saying and doing and does it intentionally and we don’t need to listen to him. I found Prof. Ramadan waffling on many issues and he lacked clarity.
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