Lawfare Project questions Canadian Interfaith Conversation’s decision to include pro-Islamists in upcoming conference

Canadian Interfaith Conversation in Ottawa – An Embarrassment to Canada’s Interfaith Community, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, Cardus, and St. Paul’s University

On Friday, The Lawfare Project sent the following letter to prospective participants and attendees of the upcoming Canadian Interfaith Conversation (CIC) “Our Whole Society” conference, scheduled to take place on May 8-9. The letter expresses concern over the CIC’s decision to include as conference presenters Dr. Ingrid Mattson, a longtime leader of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and Ms. Amira Elghawaby, communications chief for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR.CAN), now renamed the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).

***Letter Text Begins Below***

Dear Prospective Canadian Interfaith Conversation “Our Whole Society” Conference Participants, Attendees, and Media Representatives,

The Lawfare Project (LP), a non-profit legal think-tank based in New York City, notes with dismay the apparent failure of ethical due diligence of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation (CIC) in the course of planning the CIC’s pending conference in Ottawa, Canada. Scheduled for Saint Paul University on May 8-9, 2017, and titled “Our Whole Society: Religion & Citizenship at Canada’s 150th,” the conference and its failings appear to be the shared responsibility of the CIC and its “Our Whole Society” partner organizations, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, and Cardus, a Canadian Christian organization.

The LP’s concern stems from the announced presence, among conference presenters, of Dr. Ingrid Mattson, former head of the Islamic Society of North America, and Ms. Amira Elghawaby, a representative of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. These individuals are, in the LP’s opinion, unsuitable candidates for prominent roles in an interfaith gathering purporting to emphasize solidarity and tolerance, and aspiring to achieve a more peaceful world.

Dr. Ingrid Mattson was a longtime leader of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) when it was designated an unindicted co-conspirator in the successful US Holy Land Foundation terror-fundraising prosecution. Mattson‘s current position at Huron University College was the result of an endowment built around money from radical-Islamic sources. Any number of her associates have been problematic from the perspective of Islamist supremacism, as have some of her teachings and preferred theological sources. For more information on Mattson, see the LP’s news release, “Collapse of Mattson Libel Suit Signals Victory for Free Speech and The Lawfare Project,” including its links to court papers.

The LP is unaware of any attempt by Dr. Mattson to repudiate, publicly and by name, the various troubling individuals and organizations with which she is, or has been, connected.

Ms. Amira Elghawaby has for years been communications chief for the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR.CAN), now renamed—deceptively, according to some—the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). NCCM/CAIR.CAN was established as the Canadian chapter of the radical, US-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Saudi-funded organization that was also designated an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial. CAIR derived from the Islamic Association of Palestine (founded by Hamas operative Mousa Abu Marzook, who is now a US Specially Designated Global Terrorist), is said to be a Hamas-supporting organization, and has seen several of its officials and affiliates convicted of terrorism-related offenses. Like CAIR, NCCM/CAIR.CAN is known for its exaggerated claims of “Islamophobia“, claims that have unnecessarily alarmed Canadian Muslims and thereby risked pushing young Muslims into radical hands.  For more about NCCM/CAIR.CAN, see the LP’s statement, “Lawfare Project Concerned about National Council of Canadian Muslims Participation in Global Affairs Canada event.” To the best of the LP’s knowledge, neither Ms. Elghawaby nor her organization have ever condemned, publicly and by name, CAIR and those CAIR officials and affiliates who have been convicted of terrorist offenses. Nor are they known to have publicly condemned Dr. Jamal Badawi, a former, long-serving official of NCCM/CAIR.CAN who recommends light physical punishment for “misbehaving” Muslim wives and has been a high-level Islamic Society of North America official – and a US unindicted co-conspirator in his own right.

In the United Against Terrorism handbook jointly produced by NCCM/CAIR.CAN and the closely connected, controversial Islamic Social Services Association, many people of good faith were shocked to find the handbook’s authors apparently attempting to mainstream Dr. Mattson and other questionable individuals by recommending them as scholars to whom Muslims and broader civil society could defer in matters of Islamic theological interpretation, particularly in counter-radicalization contexts.  To no one’s surprise, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police publicly withdrew its support for the handbook project. NCCM/CAIR.CAN, however, continues misleadingly to distribute the document, with the RCMP name and logo on it.

Was the inclusion of Mattson and Elghawaby in the “Our Whole Society” event the result of incompetence within CIC, its planning committee, and CIC partner organizations?  Was it reflective of one or more planning insiders’ conscious efforts to “launder” the two Islamists in Canada’s national capital, the better to facilitate their access to interfaith, media, government and other influential circles?

Perhaps it was a combination of these things. But incompetence cannot be ruled out, given the fact that a Canadian Interfaith Conversation webpage announcing that CIC executive committee members Mr. Zul Kassamali and Dr. Aileen van Ginkel would become the CIC co-chairs, featured what the Interfaith Conversation seemed to regard as a spiritually uplifting quotation of industrialist Henry Ford.  An accomplished anti-Semite, Mr. Ford produced a notorious hate-book, The International Jew, and his Nazi sympathies helped the auto-builder win Hitler’s 1st Class Grand Cross Order of the German Eagle in Gold with Star.

CIC might find a certain resonance in Mr. Ford’s ability to dupe Christian, Jewish and other well-meaning clerics and others about his true inclinations – and then to use such people for endorsements.

Following a review of the material herein provided and linked, CIC organizers and their Canadian Race Relations Foundation and Cardus partners will face a moral-ethical choice.  On the one hand, they could honestly and forthrightly admit that errors have been made. On the other, they might be too embarrassed to be honest, and might further condemn themselves by doubling down on their invitations to Dr. Mattson and Ms. Elghawaby.  The former, honorable course would avoid opening the CIC, its partners, presenters and sponsors to being used to legitimize individuals and organizations unworthy of the influence that involvement in a high-profile, spiritually oriented gathering could avail them. The latter course would dishonor all concerned and facilitate further penetration by undesirables into influential Canadian circles.

The choice made by the Canadian Interfaith Conversation and its associates will give a revealing indication of the true commitment of those involved, to morals, ethics and the integrity of Canada’s interfaith movement.

There is no shortage of moderate, mainstream Canadian Muslims, and Canada is fortunate to be the home of reputable organizations such as the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow. Seen in this light, the due diligence failure of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and Cardus, is all the more regrettable.


Brooke Goldstein

Attorney at Law

Director, The Lawfare Project

The Lawfare Project