Sunday, February 19, 2006

Canadian Islam gets media savvy


It's the savvy new face of Canadian Islam: Prominent Muslim organizations in the media room of Parliament's Centre Block yesterday applauding the country, its mainstream media and political leaders for their response to the cartoon controversy.

They issue a statement praising "the values that we share as one nation -- values that bind us together in citizenship and common humanity." They declare that "Canadians have collectively responded to the publication of the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a manner that has strengthened our nation."

The savvy face is visible the same day in Toronto: Another national Muslim organization condemning the "irresponsible, dangerous" actions of a Pakistani Islamic cleric who calls for the death of the artist who drew the cartoons published in a Danish newspaper.

At the same time, the organization, the Canadian Islamic Congress, is careful to explain that what the cleric is saying is against the Koran's teaching.

Around the world the past several days, demonstrations against the cartoons have been violent and destructive. In Canada, where demonstrations have happened at all, they've been peaceful and small with community leaders preferring to appear on national radio and in major newspapers to offer insights.

There even was talk at the Parliament Hill event that the Muslims -- so accustomed in the past to thinking of themselves as Canada's alien "others" -- are starting to become as effective as Jewish organizations in getting their message out.

"I'd like to think we're getting better at it," said University of Ottawa engineering professor Tyseer Aboulnasr, who put together the Parliament Hill news conference.

"Over time, you start to learn how the system works."

She spoke of being overwhelmed by how enthusiastically so many Islamic groups -- nominally at arm's-length from one another over differing religious interpretations of their faith -- banded together for the event.

Her first goal, she said, was to bring Muslims together to speak with one voice. Her second was to demonstrate that Muslims can legitimately complain when things go wrong but they also should speak up when things go right.

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