Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) has today created a "Muslim Communities Working Group Operational Unit" (FMCG). This is explained in an administrative notice from David Mulroney, assistant deputy minister for bilateral relations, to "All employees at Headquarters, at missions and at regional offices," and leaked to me.
The FMCG grows out of the "Muslim Communities Working Group" that was created in mid-2005 under the direction of Arif Lalani, DFAIT's director of its South Asia Division. "The idea was to take a unique approach to an emerging cross-cutting issue for the Department and the government as a whole by bringing together officers from across the Department in a virtual working group." That group has been a success, answering
ever-increasing demands for operational work–producing speeches for MINA [the minister's office], writing briefing notes, providing general advice, organizing consultations, and managing emerging issues such as the recent Prophet Muhammad caricatures issue. The officers in the Working Group have provided incredible service, well beyond the normal call of duty, essentially putting in countless hours in addition to their already demanding job packages.
Mulroney thanks them for their contribution but notes that "we cannot do the job with a volunteer fire department" and announces that the FMCG will now have a full operational capability. The mandate and chairmanship remains the same but now it "will have clear operational capability and responsibility." Its mandate
continues to be to: serve as a clearing house and focal point within the Department for issues concerning relations with the Muslim world; build the Department's policy capacity on this subject; and take the lead in providing timely, strategic advice on relations with the Muslim world, and the lead in creating a policy framework for our overall approach to this subject. As such, the FMCG should be consulted at headquarters and by posts on the broad range of issues affecting Canada's relations with Muslim communities, including public diplomacy efforts, and will take the lead in coordinating the Department's response to many of them.
In taking this step, Mulroney goes on to indicate, Canada is merely catching up with its peers: "The evolution to operational capability is absolutely vital and begins to put us at par with other key partners. The UK, Netherlands, Germany, and others all have such a capability already well-established."
Mulroney (who is slated to become the foreign affairs adviser to the new prime minister, Steven Harper) signs off in a slightly menacing tone, stressing the seriousness of the FMCG: "This unit is a priority for the Deputy Minister and for me. I count on your active collaboration with the FMCG in the service of the Department's and the government's interests."
Comments: (1) Muslims will from now on have a special say with regard to Canadian foreign and trade issues touching on Muslims.
(2) The privileging of Islam proceeds apace, with Muslims in at least four Western countries giving "strategic advice on relations with the Muslim world."
(3) This is a terrible mistake. Belonging to a certain group should not give one special authority in dealing with that group, and especially not in a governmental context.
(4) The only person yet to be charged with an offense under Canada's new Anti-Terrorism Act is Mohammad Momin Khawaja; and he was, at about the time of his arrest, a computer consultant for DFAIT.
(5) One can only guess at the intellectual environment of FMCG but one of the individuals mentioned as a player in it, Crystal Procyshen, wrote a strident article against Israel in 1997, "JERUSALEM! What is the TRUTH? Travel and Truth:A Volunteers' Experience in Palestine." It includes such gems as these (original spelling and spacing retained as is):
The Israelis, in order to fulfill their political prophecies of a Zionist state where they would be safe from persecution, are propogating a recurring cycle of hatred towards the Palestinians as they struggle to expand the state of Israel. …
Since the Israelis illegaly occupied the autonomous regions of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem, they routinely torture, kill and deprive Palestinians of their rights. Under Israeli control the Palestinians have no freedom of movement, no freedom of speech or press, no jury of peers,no trials,imprisonment without just cause,no right to education,no right to an attorney, no right to property,no right to trade or profit from good crossing borders
(April 7, 2006)
Apr. 15, 2006 update: For discussion and further elaboration of this topic, see "How do you solve a problem like sharia?" "Canada's Foreign Ministry creates pro-Moslem policy unit," "Diplomatic Sharia Comes To Canada," "Islamic Supporter Leading Group in Foreign Affairs Canada?" "Canada and the Umma," "Radical Jewhater to head new Canadian Islam-kowtowing foreign-policymaking organ," and "Canadian Government Terrorist Supporter."
May 3, 2006 update: DFAIT will be offering a "A Survey of Islamic Civilization" course on May 16 and 17, according to an administrative notice jointly sent out by Arif Lalani, director of the Muslim Communities Working Group Operational Unit (FMCG) and the director of the Centre of Learning for International Affairs and Management. The course description reads as follows:
This is a pilot course intended to provide a critical introduction to the historical, political, economic, cultural, and social dimensions of Islamic civilizations from the early Islamic period to the present. Given current security and political developments in the modern Muslim world, particular focus will be on the evolution and diversity of interpretations and practices that continue to have contemporary relevance in the public sphere. Through lectures and interactive sessions, officers will enhance their understanding of cross-cutting issues and socio-political dynamics that have resonance in the Muslim world today.
The instructors have an surprising Ismaili bias:
Dr. Abdou Filali Ansari, Director of the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations
Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Northwestern University
Professor Azim Nanji, Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies
Dr. Suha Özkan, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Middle East Technical University
Professor Khalid Medani, Political Science and the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University.
Arif Lalani, director of the Muslim Communities Working Group Operational Unit at Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Comment: My informant does not recall "any other civilizational course ever having been offered" at DFAIT in this way – not Chinese civilization, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Byzantine, or any other.
July 21, 2006 update: The Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council may have been inspired by the Canadian FMCG to issue a call today for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to hire a Muslim advisor "to travel with her as an advisor during her trip" to the Middle East. MPAC calls the presence of such a person "invaluable" in helping her understand "the sentiment on the streets of the Arab and Muslim worlds." MPAC also presumes to tell her "you should not leave the region until the hostilities and bombings end."
Nov. 21, 2007 update: The FMCG co-sponsored, along with the UK's "Engaging the Islamic World Group," a two-day conference at the Department of Foreign Affairs reports Jeff Davis of Embassy, "to discuss the extremism and de-radicalization of Islamist movements, how to better integrate Muslim populations in their countries, and how to engage domestic Muslim populations in the foreign policy-making process." Participants included diplomats, academics, and Muslim leaders. A number of governments, including the UK, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Spain, Holland, Slovenia and Scandinavian countries, sent delegations of Muslim relations specialists from their foreign ministries.
Jan. 28, 2008 update: All employees at DFAIT headquarters are invited to a 3-day course, today through the 30th, on "Islam and Muslim Communities: Perspectives for Foreign Policy" offered in part by FMCG. The memo announcing the course, jointly sent by Randolph Mank, director general of the Asia South and Pacific Bureau, and Valerie Raymond, director general of the Canadian Foreign Service Institute, promises instruction in five important areas, and I quote:
- Core elements of Islam, its historical development and diversity of contemporary practice
- Relationship between religion, politics and culture and how this is manifested locally and in the international sphere
- Islamism – implications for democracy and governance and relevance in fragile states
- Contemporary debates and challenges involving human rights, Sharia law, and democracy promotion
- Canadian government initiatives to engage Muslim communities internationally
While all are invited, the course has two target audiences: "Ottawa-based officials focused on bilateral, multilateral and/or thematic issues related to Muslim communities abroad including human rights and democratic governance" and government employees "from DFAIT and partner departments across government who are being posted to Muslim-majority countries."
Feb. 25, 2008 update: FMCG joins with the "West, Central and Great Lakes of Africa Division" to screen a film today, The Imam and the Pastor,
followed by a discussion on interfaith dialogue and interfaith conflict resolution with Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, the co-directors of the Interfaith Mediation Center (IMC) in Nigeria, and the main characters in the film. Once bitter enemies, Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye eventually overcome their enmity and established a strong friendship. The film presents their story – an extraordinary journey full of grassroots peace-building initiatives that provide lessons on how to resolve interfaith conflicts.
Update on the status of the Muslim Communities Working Group (FMCG)
From: Greg Giokas, Director, South Asia Relations (GSB)
To: All employees at Headquarters, at missions and at regional offices
Summary: In accordance with DFAIT's New Business Model, the Muslim Communities Working Group (FMCG) wound down its activities in August.
In accordance with DFAIT's New Business Model, the Muslim Communities Working Group (FMCG) wound down its activities in August. Recognizing the importance of cross-cutting issues to the Department, some of the FMCG files have been redistributed, including:
- The Islam and Muslim Communities: Perspectives for Foreign Policy course will be hosted by CFSD in 2011 and will continue to be held on an annual basis.
- Responsibility for liaison with the Aga Khan Development Network on cross cutting issues, including those related to the Aga Khan, and the Centre for Global Pluralism will reside with POD (Policy Planning Bureau), with POR as the lead division. This is in line with the Policy Staff's engagement and outreach mandate and its specific research work on "non-traditional actors" in the global system.
- Inquiries related to the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations will also be addressed by POD with Marketa Geislerova (POR) as the lead officer.
In addition, resources relevant to the past work of the FMCG will remain available on the GeoConcerto Intranet site with reference pages on specific issues pertaining to Islam and Muslim communities abroad.
For all other inquiries, please contact Jodie McGrath (GSB) or Kate Solomon (GSB).
Comment: The shuttering of this ignominious group presumably has something to do with Harper Government policies.