Jewish groups call for cancellation of Muslim seminars at U of T

Would that stop hate or stifle free speech?

Jewish organizations are calling on the University of Toronto to cancel an 18-week seminar series led by Toronto-based Islamic scholar Abdullah Hakim Quick. They say Quick has made homophobic and antisemitic comments in the past and should not be allowed to speak on campus.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), Hillel of Greater Toronto and other Jewish groups have expressed their concerns to U of T, reports The Canadian Jewish News.

“The unfortunate truth is that when you have speakers like this, that are divisive, it hurts communities,” says Avi Benlolo, President of the FSWC.  “We hope that the unviersity will make the right decision to cancel it or put it on hold pending review,” he adds.

U of T spokesperson April Kemick told CJN that the “event is a booking by a campus group—one of hundreds that happen over the course of the year—and there is no connection to the university.”

Quick is a University of Toronto alumnus with a Ph.D. in West African History. His controversial comments include one made in a past lecture about “purifying” an Islamic shrine from the “filth of Christians and Jews.” Quick defended that comment in a blog post on Oct. 23. “The implicit and obvious understanding for anyone who heard my lecture—was that I was asking God to heal the spiritual corruption that afflicts some members of religious groups..,” he wrote.

He also described homosexuals as “one of the most dangerous groups coming up to the surface” in comments made 15 years ago. In his blog-post defence, he states: “I pioneered the first social service agency for Muslims in Toronto, Canada whose doors were open to all—rich and poor, Muslim and non-Muslim, gay or straight. As a counselor I learned first-hand of the terrible violence inflicted upon gay people by bullies and thugs and I publicly spoke out against it.”

Quick was also recently in the news for speaking at “Calling the World Back to Allah,” a conference held by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA), a British organization. The event was relocated from the Sheraton Centre, which told OMNI News that: “the event was cancelled due to the organizations’ failure to satisfy a contractual requirement.” But the cancellation also followed news reports that highlighted many of the speakers’ controversial comments, including Quick’s.

Quick’s most recent blog post is bound to offend other Canadians. “Avoid Halloween altogether, it’s a night of negative practices, contrary to Islamic morals,” he writes. “Remember that some Satanic movements have engaged in dangerous acts, like rape and kidnapping on Halloween.”

The calls for cancellation of Quick’s seminars are reminiscent of when students demanded that a speech by Conservative commentator Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa be cancelled. Coulter enraged some students when she suggested in a speech at the University of Western Ontario that a Muslim student “take a camel.” Students protesting Coulter’s apparently racist remark managed to have the Ottawa event cancelled—a move that drew heavy criticism from defenders of free speech.

But Benlolo, president of FSWC, says that the cancellation of this seminar would not hurt free speech. “This is not so much a question of free speech,” says Benlolo. “It’s a question about whether to have someone who’s a bigot and a racist, who has denounced homosexuality and Judaism, be given a legitimate forum at a university to speak,” he argues, adding: “Does it mean that tomorrow a supporter of the Klu Klux Klan will be given a forum under the guise of freedom of speech?”

Quick declined an interview following Benlolo’s remarks, but offered this statement. “I am not anti-Semitic, my track record in Toronto is clear. In the 80’s and 90’s I did scores Inter-faith and anti-racist programs. I have never had a problem like this until an extremist group in London took my words out of context. I have made a public apology to all those who were hurt by the distortion of my words and I sincerely believe that we have other more important issues to deal with in this society than chasing unfounded statements and trying to hurt each other.”