Zachariah Anani knows all too well the dangers of Islamic extremism: He embraced the ideology for several decades and found himself in the trenches of terrorist activities and a hatred that consumed his existence. But the seven men sitting in the front row of his Jan. 11 lecture in an Ontario church told a different tale: "Islam is tolerant," they said.
Anani challenged their assertion and asked one of the men to explain the penalty for Muslim conversion to Christianity. "It took three of them to admit it is death," Anani told WORLD. "So much for the tolerance."
Instead of serving as a launching pad for further debate or an avenue for moderate groups to condemn acts of terrorism, the lecture series at Campbell Baptist Church in Windsor sparked a wave of controversy and a call from local Muslim groups for Anani's arrest and deportation. The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says the lecture violated Canadian hate crime laws and has requested a formal investigation, while others in the community are now claiming Anani's terrorist past is grounds for deportation.
Anani, a Windsor resident since entering the country as a refugee from Lebanon in 1996, is one of "the three ex-terrorists," a trio of Islamic militants-turned-peace-activists who frequently speak about their past terrorist involvement, conversions to Christianity, and the dangers of radical Islam ("Brothers to the end," July 16, 2006).
CAIR Canada's communications coordinator Sameer Zuberi says Anani's speech met the definition of hate propaganda by "promoting a feeling and sentiment of fear in the population" where a threat is nonexistent: "It's not as if people are knocking on their neighbors' doors with a knife in hand ready to kill them because of Islam," Zuberi said.
Anani denies spreading hatred and says he speaks against violence, not Muslims: "The very first thing I said in my lecture is you have to make a difference between Muslims and Islam, between people and doctrine." He brushes aside the threats as mere attempts to muzzle his message, a trend he is accustomed to. Death threats, angry letters, and physical attacks have not stopped Anani from his public speaking, and he claims full confidence in Canada's judicial systems to prevent his deportation.
Campbell Baptist pastor Donald McKay is less optimistic about his country's capacity to uphold justice: "We are concerned that-and we don't think we're exaggerating the situation-25 years from now in Canada, maybe less, our opportunity to preach the gospel in Canada will be eliminated because of Shariah law."
Several attempts to recognize Shariah (Islamic law) formally as an acceptable means of settling legal disputes have been thwarted in Canada, but some Muslim lobbyists continue to push for its acceptance on the grounds of religious freedom. Other Muslims argue that Islamic tribunals could result in oppressive rulings similar to those they fled.
Non-Muslims are not the only targets of censorship in Islamic countries. Publicly criticizing Iran's clerical rule in 2004 almost cost Shiite professor Hashem Aghajari his life. After mass demonstrations by Iranian students, his death sentence for blasphemy was overturned and replaced with five years in prison (two of them suspended) for "insulting Islamic values." This theme is repeated throughout the Muslim world-often with less favorable outcomes.
Zuberi said his organization is open to debate and claims Islam encourages critique when conducted respectfully. But when questioned about terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, CAIR is silent, and Zuberi said he is not qualified to discuss specifics-such as the frequency of Quranic-sanctioned deaths as punishment for conversion-since he is not an Islamic scholar.
Where extreme Shariah law is enforced, free speech is frequently the first liberty denied, and criticizing Muhammad, the Quran, or the religious rule of the land can have dire consequences. Those within the borders of free and democratic countries are also forced to contend with accusations of blasphemy-cleverly labeled "hate crimes" or "Islamophobia"-against Islam. Meanwhile, the real crimes are overlooked, and at times condoned.