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Racial hate alive in Canada, summit told

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While Muslims and Jews gathered in Winnipeg on the weekend to unite against hate, neo-Nazis and skinheads in other Canadian cities rallied in the streets to promote it.

Public demonstrations in London, Ont., and Edmonton show hate exists in Canada, a hate-crime researcher told 100 Muslims and Jews in Winnipeg Sunday.

"Demonstrations like that haven't been seen in Canada since the 1930s by a number of fascist and anti-Semitic organizations," said Helmut-Harry Loewen, a University of Winnipeg sociology professor. And they didn't just come out of nowhere, he told the crowd at the event organized by the Islamic Social Services Association.

"The anger and fear which propels them... is embedded in broader society," Loewen warned.

That anger and fear are at the core of homophobia, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia, a self-described "recovering anti-Semite" told the gathering.

"By scapegoating a particular group of people, you're channelling anger and frustration," said Duke University Imam Abdullah Antepli. He grew up in Turkey when its people were oppressed by tyrants and it was experiencing economic hard times. "You have to blame somebody."

During his formative years, Turkey was "ultra-secular" and nationalistic, and children were taught to believe Jewish people and Judaism were bad, Antepli said.

Kids were given the book Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a bogus anti-Semitic story purporting to describe a Jewish plan for achieving global domination. It was in broad circulation in Turkey back then, he said. When the Nazis rose to power in Germany, it was issued as a textbook.

"The book was trying to poison my heart," said Antepli. As a child, he was indoctrinated by the text that cherry-picked fire-and-brimstone verses from the Torah and illustrated them with graphic atrocities in Palestine at the hands of the Israelis.

"We burned Israeli flags and called 'death to Israel,' " said the Muslim. It wasn't until he attended religious school and learned about Islam that he discovered he'd been misled.

"Islam does not advocate that," he said. "Ours is a God of mercy and compassion." The Prophet Mohammed had two Jewish wives and socialized with Jewish neighbours, Antepli learned.

"I cannot express the kind of shame and guilt I had," said Antepli, who moved to the U.S. and has given the opening prayer at the House of Representatives.

His change of heart wasn't complete until he got to know Jews personally, he said. That included learning about the Holocaust and its impact today. He and 10 other imams toured nine of the death camps two years ago. Antepli said he learned why Jews' blood runs cold when they hear Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad say he wants to wipe out Israel.

"I used to say 'He's just an idiot, he's a crazy person.' I don't feel that way anymore."

The scale and efficiency of the Holocaust show it didn't just happen, said the imam. "Western Europe was prepared for this. For 20 years they were getting the message with how Jews were depicted and dehumanized -- that Jews were less than human beings," Antepli said. Textile manufacturers bought the hair removed from people in the death camps, he said. "There were thousands of pages of accounting showing this was going on for years -- millions of Europeans were part of the system."

Getting to know other people and their religions is key to preventing history from repeating itself, said Rabbi Or Rose, who grew up in Winnipeg and sat next to the imam at Sunday's event.

Legal reversals feared

In the 40-plus years since multiculturalism policy was introduced in Canada, the Criminal Code has been amended to make it a criminal offence to disseminate hate propaganda. In the early 1990s, it changed again with enhanced sentences for crimes driven by hate. It may soon be amended again, said University of Winnipeg Prof. Helmut-Harry Loewen, but not the way the hate crime researcher would like.

"I'm concerned that under the current government, there's an attempt to roll back the gains made in the Criminal Code and human rights laws," Loewen said.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has indicated he wants to look at provisions in the Criminal Code concerning hate crimes and the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Loewen said.

If anything, the government needs to be more vigilant in fighting hate crimes and there needs to be more education to counter hate, said Loewen.

Social media are fanning flames of racism and hate across Canada, said Loewen. "The discourse online is blood-curdling."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2012 A6

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