"Dr. Elmasry, we received intelligence reports that the Jewish Defence League is having two bus loads coming to town this Sunday. We will give you police protection," the senior local police officer informed me in person. "You are a man of honour. You have our support." It was not clear if the JDL was coming from the U.S. or from Canada, or from both countries, he told me.
I had no idea that I had been targeted by the JDL, so I thanked the officer, took his cell phone number, and prayed for the protection of myself, my family and the police officers who would be assigned to protect me.
This police warning was given to me three days before the date when the JDL was supposed to come to town (Sunday, October 31, 2004). Apparently, they read media reports on an editorial published by the National Post, one of CanWest’s newspapers, on Friday, October 22, 2004.
On Tuesday October 19, 2004 I was invited to be one of four guests on a regional TV talk show whose modest viewing audience totalled less than 25,000. The show was about defining terrorism.
After that show, the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith Canada circulated a truncated version of the interview transcript, in which one unqualified answer of mine to one question was taken totally out of context; it also ignored comments by a Jewish guest on the same show who happened to be an official of B’nai Brith Canada.
It was a gross injustice.
My unqualified answer to one question on the show was then blatantly misquoted by the National Post — mis-represented to the public exactly as the CJC wished. Moreover, the National Post editorial was published on the same date (Friday, October 22, 2004) as the CJC’s own media communiquÃ© about the incident.
It is uncommon that an editorial reflecting the viewpoint of a newspaper’s own editorial board would be that quick to respond to an issue. In this case, it was on the same day.
The CJC must have been delighted that the National Post gave that type of coverage — free, and with such speed. The National Post editorial ended by reminding the readers of its "strong support for Israel."
CanWest media outlets in all of Canada’s main cities followed the National Post’s lead on that story. Israel’s Jerusalem Post, also mirrored without question what the CanWest Canadian papers published.
Then other Canadian media followed the National Post lead, and just as blindly. None tried to view the full interview tape of October 19, 2004 or assigned reporters to read the full transcript of the show.
News media carelessly reported that while on the show, "Elmasry said Israelis over 18 were legitimate targets for suicide bombers." When I pointed out to one reporter — using the actual transcript as proof — that I never, ever said those words, he wrote back, "My apologies. It was a mistake." His apology never got into print — never.
Another gross injustice was committed.
Immediately after the show, I realized that it had been a mistake to discuss the issue of terrorism with that particular host. In fact, a well known Canadian military analyst wrote to me soon afterwards, saying that my case confirmed his decision never to appear on that show again after having his own negative experience with the host.
But for me it was too late. The media campaign of disinformation was already in full swing.
I have been writing and speaking on Canadian public issues for some 30 years. So I did not make any excuses for failing to articulate my views more clearly on the TV show.
I promptly issued a detailed public apology saying, "It has always been a core belief of mine that killing civilians — any civilians, for any cause — is an immoral act of the worst kind and I will never change in this conviction. Failing to articulate my beliefs clearly, completely, and forcefully on that occasion, was the biggest mistake in my 30 years of public life."
But the two Jewish groups were not satisfied. They began putting pressure on my university to fire me.
It was yet another gross injustice, directed this time against both me and my family. Yet I was not on the TV show in my capacity as a university professor.
Although I have made my living for the past 30 years as a professor, teaching and doing research; and although my peers and students all over the world think highly of my record, I was on that TV show solely as national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.
To ramp up the pressure on my university to fire me, a Toronto Jewish businessman had threatened to withdraw his financial support for a chair of Jewish studies. Again, the National Post was quick to publicize his threat. And one of their columnists interviewed the offended businessman, which further increased the negative pressure on my university.
In fact, one UW university official told me that during his many years in office, he had not experienced anything like this pressure levelled against one professor.
When the university turned the Jewish groups’ demand for firing me over to an independent judge, however, the case was dismissed and my public apology was accepted.
But pressure from the Jewish groups continued and another gross injustice was committed. A former vice-president of B’nai Brith Canada, also a professor at another university, produced a letter I had sent him back in January 2000, a full five years ago. The letter had nothing to do with his organization, or mine.
I was a founding member of my university’s Middle East Studies and I had written to ask him, in his capacity as a political science professor, whether he could substantiate claims he’d made on a national TV show, that the Iraqi government during the 1990s was using the UN oil for food program to buy WMDs.
I asked if he had done original research on the subject and gave him the benefit of the doubt, noting that TV shows usually do not give academics a chance to provide references. He never replied to my letter and I did not pursue the issue.
But the professor used this irrelevant letter to exert more pressure on my university to fire me. He also faxed the letter to the National Post and the same columnist who had written so eagerly about Jewish donors withdrawing their financial support now gave free publicity to the case of the former B’nai Brith official against me.
The university again turned this case over to an independent judge, and it was dismissed, but not without personal and professional cost.
The individuals and organizations who targeted me and my family in their efforts to influence the university to dismiss me from my job were unjust to the worst degree.
The Canadian media in general are not supportive of Canadian Muslims. But the industry does have a brave few professionals who dare to speak the truth. It was uplifting when one of them wrote to me: "Hang in there brother. You are too valuable to lose in this country. Let the ignorant howl for your blood. The silence over the Occupation remains deafening." He was the editor of Catholic New Times.
My family and I have been grateful for the countless messages of support we received from Canadians and from people of all faiths around the world. Some were academics, some students; many were activists, politicians, faith or ethnic community leaders; and some were ordinary citizens of this beautiful world of ours.
I will never forget one message from a well-known Jewish Canadian professor who is active in the peace movement. "I’m sorry to hear they’re after you," he wrote. "I am more and more aware how repressive the atmosphere has become, here, as in the United States. I have a background in the history of ideas and keep thinking of how the old Enlightenment thinkers had to use all sorts of tricks to frustrate the censors. We too find ways to get the message across and this will become more effective, not less so. It is sad that things have come to this, but I’m also convinced that the repression is a hysterical reaction to Israel’s failures in the court of world opinion. Nothing you said can do you any lasting damage. This will blow over. With my very best wishes…"