A Muslim leader’s cancelled speech, and some earlier comments

Zijad Delic had meant to send a reassuringly moderate message

Zijad Delic, the executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress, has made public the speech he would have delivered today, had Defence Minister Peter MacKay not cancelled Delic’s scheduled address to his department as it marks Islamic Heritage Month.

It seems Delic had meant to send a reassuringly moderate message and use the platform offered to him by the Defence department to urge other Islamic leaders to start talking about helping Muslims feel at home in Western democracies.

“Contemporary Muslim scholars should be seriously discussing proactive models of Muslim life in Western societies,” Delic (would have) said, “and helping the diaspora communities everywhere to adjust and thrive as citizens of their host countries—not making Islam difficult and confusing for them.”

It’s worth reading his whole text. However, he doesn’t touch directly on hot-button topics. As it happens, I interviewed Delic briefly last year for a story, but ended up not quoting him. I still have transcript of some of  his answers, though. Given the news, some points might be worth noting now.

I asked him about the way some Muslim and Arab groups have devoted so much energy to opposing Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, and to supporting the Palestinian cause. Delic replied that Muslims are hardly alone in taking those positions:

“Millions of Canadians differ on the issue of Afghanistan and the issue of Israel and Palestine. We are talking about fairness and justice.

“In terms of Afghanistan, Canadian Islamic Congress has a clear position—that we should work on solving the problem of Afghanistan not through military intervention but, as the government at the very beginning stated, through development, diplomacy and defence.

“We firmly believe that our troops have to do what they have done for fifty and more years—they are peace brokers. Peacekeeping. Positive image.”

I followed up by asking him on whether the CIC’s emphasis on opposing Canada’s involvement in the fighting in Afghanistan might not give comfort to extremists who favour the Taliban’s extreme brand of Islam. His reply:

“We disagree with the Taliban at the very foundation. We totally disagree with them. [But] we have to negotiate with everybody, enemies especially.”

On the image of Muslims in Canada, I mentioned to him that among the worshippers coming and going from the mosque in my Ottawa neighbourhood, I rarely saw a burka—until recent years. Was I wrong, I asked, to be unsettled by what looks like a shift, among some, toward a more fundamentalist Islam? He said I was worrying about a negligible group:

We are talking insignificant numbers [wearing the burka]. The majority of Muslim women don’t wear hijab at all. There will always be people who are traditional, people who are middle-ground, and people who are liberal. We have to learn how to deal with it in Canada, just like in any other place.”