Protests shut down lecture series on Muslim threat

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • January 26, 2007
WINDSOR, Ont. - A professor at Assumption University here was among those leading opposition to a controversial lecture series at Windsor's Campbell Baptist Church which depicted Islam as a religion of evil and a threat to Canadian values.

The four-week series, The Deadly Threat of Islam, started Jan. 11 and featured as guest speaker Zachariah Anani, a native of Lebanon who the church described as a teenage Islamic militant who was "trained to fight and kill Jews, and to hate Christians and Americans" until he met a Christian missionary, "had a spiritual journey" and converted to Christianity.

The Windsor resident has been featured on 100 Huntley Street, the 700 Club, The O'Reilly Factor and CNN. Campbell Baptist brought him in to share speaking duties with the church's pastor, Donald McKay, on topics such as Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid, The Frightening Facts About Islam, Could Jihad Be Coming to Your Neighbourhood?, Why the Islamic Faith is Indefensible and The Great Divide Between Christianity and Islam.

Anani quoted verses (surahs) from the Quran that advocated Muslims to "fight and slay the pagans wherever (they) find them" and "seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)."

As for the future of the series, it has, at least in its original format linking Islam and terrorism, been cancelled. The brochure for it has also been taken off the church's web site.

 The first lecture caused an uproar in this otherwise harmonious religious and diverse multicultural community with a substantial Arab ethnic presence, with denunciations of Campbell Baptist Church for spreading hate speech.

The Windsor Islamic Association filed a complaint with the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which called for an investigation into whether Anani was violating Canada's hate speech laws. Windsor West New Democratic Party MP Brian Masse also wanted a probe into the Lebanese native's immigration status, questioning how a former "terrorist" could have obtained Canadian citizenship.

As debate swirled in the days following the first lecture, among the more prominent to speak out was Dr. Martha Lee of the Basilian Fathers' Assumption University's Centre for Religion and Culture. Lee, an Anglican  representing the Windsor Women's Interfaith Initiative, chastised "a small group of people" at the church for "instigating hatred and division."

The community braced for a second lecture Jan. 18, when security was tight at the near-downtown church with plainclothes police officers present. The Interfaith group announced it would hand out leaflets before the lecture began. But as a crowd waited for the doors to open Lee and other members of her group were told they could not give out leaflets on church property.

"We've had a pretty frosty reception," she said, "kind of like the weather tonight. It's not going to deter us, that's for sure."

The leaflet, on Assumption University letterhead, quoted from the Quran, Talmud and New Testament verses that "all encourage us to love one another and strive for peace." One surah stated, "If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things." Biblical passages included Deuteronomy 10:19 and Matthew 22:37.

One woman attending the lecture, Helen Peleshok of Leamington, said while she agreed with the leaflet's content, she wanted to know "why do they think we're a threat to them, because we're not. We love those people (Muslims) just like everybody else. We are all brothers and sisters in this world." In fact, during an interview at the start of the series, McKay emphasized the church welcomed Muslims but hoped it could "convert" them to Christianity.

McKay, asked about the Interfaith group's message quoting Scripture, had a blunt response.

"I'm not interested frankly in coming together with other faiths. I really don't believe that there is, at an ultimate level, common ground between Orthodox Christianity and other faiths. Orthodox Christianity is very definitive. Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the light, no man cometh under the Father but my name.' "

He said he stopped the Interfaith women from handing out leaflets on church property because church officials thought it "potentially could cause some emotional distress with individuals."

During the meeting, after singing "O Canada" and "Amazing Grace," the packed hall of more than 500 waited in anticipation for McKay to turn over the podium to Anani. Instead, McKay defended the right of free speech and gave a brief chronology of terrorist events motivated by Islamic extremism. Then he switched gears and spoke not of "militant Jihad" but of an "internal kind of Jihad" or an "internal struggle with evil,"  equating it with the Christian concept of overcoming sin.

"Those who talk about that kind of Jihad have hit upon a very important anthropological truth, or a very important truth concerning the nature of man, and that truth is, to put it in Christian theological terms, that truth is, man is a sinner."

He ended his talk and stepped down from the stage. Anani never did speak.

In a scrum with reporters afterwards McKay said he was "not sure that I want to answer" the question of why Anani did not talk. Instead, he said, "it was important for me to speak. I felt that I had a message that needed to be given," adding that the "most important issues in life" were not political or cultural but "spiritual, and we believe that."

Meanwhile Lee, who is also a professor at the University of Windsor specializing in religion and political apocalyptic movements, said Assumption would be holding its own lecture in March on a related topic, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and You, encouraging people to learn about other faiths in the community.

(Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ont.)

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