Dr. M. Elmasry and Micahel Coren

The other side of the Elmasry Affair

Saskatoon, Tuesday, December 7, 2004, by : Marjaleena Repo


The Elmasry Affair has for over a month now produced a virulent crop of media frenzy. It could have been a tempest in a teapot were it not for the hurricane that was deliberately created, devastating the name and reputation of Dr. M. Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress and leading spokesperson on issues affecting the Canadian Muslims and casting a shadow on all Muslims in the country who are habitually blamed for actual and perceived misdeeds of their fellow religionists.

TV show

On October 19, Dr. Elmasry was one of four panelists on Michael Coren’s Toronto TV show, confronting the difficult task of defining terrorism. The one hour show, with its countless commercial interruptions, is by its choppy nature ill suited for complex and controversial matters, but the guests nevertheless wrestled with the topic, producing a fair amount of heat but, predictably, less light.

by Israel

Early in the show, a panelist, Adam Aptowitzer, chair of B’nai Brith’s Institute for International Affairs, declared that the Israeli state is morally justified in using terror against Palestinians, such as razing of homes in payback for a family member’s suicide bombing mission:
“When Israel uses terror to go in and I say, it uses terror to destroy a home and convince people, you know, to be terrified of what the possible consequences are, I stay that that is an acceptable us of [terror], to terrify someone.”
He restated his position several times during the show.) Another panelist, “terrorism consultant” Peter Merrifield, likewise declared from “a tactical standpoint“ (his words) that
“by targeting their loved ones and their families, it is in essence a deterrent, I am not saying it is right, but I understand the concept behind it.”
All of this was received by the host with nary a lifting of an eyebrow. But when Dr. Elmasry attempted to differentiate between the aggressor and the victim, with examples of the illegal U.S, invasion of Iraq and the decades of lawless occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel, all hell broke loose. During his efforts to define terrorism as acts against “totally innocent” people (children and others not involved in the confrontation), he ended up stating that Palestinian 'terrorists’ would view all Israeli citizens over the age of 18 as part of the illegal occupation, and therefore “legitimate targets.” He did not endorse this view, in my opinion, but merely presented it in the same fashion Mr. Merrifield had done.

to listen

The host would have none of it, and losing all his charm and civility proceeded from then on to prevent Dr. Elmasry from elaborating and clarifying his position, interrupting, scowling and barking at him, and adding some gratuitous insults as well. Even the parallel Dr. Elmasry drew between the resistance to Nazi occupations in various European countries and the resistance by the Iraqis and Palestinians drew another loud dismissal from Mr. Coren.


In his post-debate column in the Toronto Sun the same Michael Coren who had slid by statements defending Israel’s state terrorism, continued his attack on Dr. Elmasry. Mr. Merrifield could say that he “understood the concept behind it” but Dr. Elmasry was not allowed such “understanding” when it came to Iraqis and Palestinians engaged in acts of resistance against illegal military invasions and occupations of their territory. To understand is not necessarily to endorse, except in Dr. Elmasry”s case. In an instant he had become an anti-Jewish, anti-semitic terrorism supporter, despite his track record and repeated statement during the show to the contrary.


The rest is history. Dr. Elmasry’s name was mud and major newspapers demanded his resignation at the head of the CIC, by Jewish and other organizations (including the Canadian Auto Workers). His job as a professor has been threatened and someone launched a complaint against him under Canada’s hate law. Columnists have had a heyday piling on Dr. Elmasry, with one vicious and derogatory article after another, all sounding as if they had been waiting for a long time for the opportunity to take him down. Perhaps the most outrageous were the two columns by Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star who had just lost an Ontario Press Council case in which Dr. Elmasry had complained about her demeaning generalization of all things Muslim in an earlier column. Her columns now reeked of revenge. Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail and Diane Francis in the National Post were similarly merciless in their attacks Dr.Elmasry and the CIC, demanding severe consequences, and even, as in Francis’ column, projecting a deportation of Dr. Elmasry along the lines planned for holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel.


Oddly anti-climatic was the brief news item two weeks later on November 3 that Adam Aptowitzer had had to resign his position with the B’nai Brith for his statements on the show, which were brought to light in news releases by Arab Canadian organizations. Beyond a few news reports about Mr. Aptowitzer’s resignation (and a mild mea culpa by Toronto Star’s ombudsman), there has been complete silence: no apologies, no recanting and no corrective editorials and columns from those who previously rushed to judgment. (It is doubtful to me, after having viewed the tape half-a-dozen times, that any of the critics had actually seen and heard the debate, beyond reading a truncated transcript. Although Ms. Blatchford claims to have done so, she must have repeatedly fallen sleep during Mr. Aptowitzer’s and Mr. Merrifield’s statements, or simply chose to ignore them to suit her purposes.

no one

A month later amid vociferous publicity Dr. Elmasry’s reputation is in shreds and his organization’s clouded, while Mr. Aptowitzer was able to quietly step down and his organization remain on its high horse as if their man’s utterances meant nothing. Should he also not be “investigated” and threatened with dire consequences and should the assorted Jewish organizations not be invited to eat some humble pie, too? (Michael Coren has yet to write a column about the pot calling the kettle black.)

this is why
there is
in the

There are some lessons here for all of us: Unlike the saying, what is sauce for the goose appears NOT to be sauce for the gander. Double standards and hypocrisy rule the media when it comes to the conflict in the Middle East. No one may entertain any ideas of “understanding” the reason and logic of Palestinian resistance (or Iraqi for that matter), including in their most terrible manifestations. There is no similarity, we are told, between the resistance in Palestine and Iraq and that in Europe during the Nazi occupation of various countries. The latter was good, honourable resistance to foreign aggression; the Iraqis and Palestinians are merely “extremists”, “rebels,“insurgents” (in their own countries, yet!); and, of course, “terrorists” who should find better ways of resisting the violence directed against them by United States and Israel.
un-Canadian These are unacceptable lessons that thinking and fair-minded Canadians will have to challenge to the hilt .

Marjaleena Repo is a writer and researcher on social, political and justice issues, with a special interest in the media and in civil liberties. She lives in Saskatoon and can be reached at mrepo@sasktel.net.

  Coren, Michael Muslim leader's remark was clear to me, October 26, 2004, The Toronto Sun
  Transcript of Dr. Mohamed Elmasry's Remarks on Michael Coren Show, October 19, 2004, Muslim News web site
  The Coren Tape: Islamic Congress say media and two jewish groups owe apology to organization, its president, Canadian Muslims, and the Canadian Public November 8, 2004, Arab 2000 web site
  Dixon, George, and Elmasry, Mohamed,Elmasry Statement from UW November 17, 2004, University of Waterloo web site
  Global Sunday, Fundamental Criticism, October 29, 2004, canada.com web site
  Felton, Greg, Prejudice and distortion constitute 'honest reporting' when a Muslim speaks plainly, November 10, 2004, Media monitors web site
  Clark, James, Defend Mohamed Elmasry, November 10, 2004, Socialist Worker web site


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