How Canada, land of political correctness, became the latest front in the Syrian civil war

"If you believe in free speech," said the email, "please cancel Robert Fisk's tour." Now, where have I seen these ruthless tactics before...


The Syrian civil war has “spilled over” into... Canada. Now you might say that the land Generals Wolfe and Montcalm died for on the Plains of Abraham doesn’t have a lot in common with the Arab world. Canada, like America, is a land of the free and a refuge, indeed, for Arabs fleeing their dictators. This may be one of the reasons why ailing, 85-year-old Paula Coulton was ready to hear me speak in her Ontario town – itself frozen in -18C this winter – during a 10-city lecture tour. But Canada, alas, is also the land of political correctness and, I suspect, a certain amount of fear.

I should have guessed this when I was told that a group of Arab Muslim residents of Ottawa, Montreal and London, Ontario, objected to my reports of the Syrian civil war; so enraged were they that one faction in Ottawa sent an extraordinary, imperishable email to the organisers of my lectures. “If you believe in free speech,” it said, “please cancel Robert Fisk’s tour.” Bravo!

At one venue I was due to speak in a mosque about the Arab Awakening – and the gents and ladies of this particular Muslim clique managed to persuade their brothers and sisters that it might be a good idea if I did not speak there. The town’s volunteers, a fine bunch of folk with years of sterling work behind them in promoting debates on the real Middle East, felt they had no option but to step back from the mosque venue. And no other hall was available for my talk that night.

Of course, I’ve a pretty good idea why they didn’t want me to speak in Canada. While The Independent scrupulously covers both sides in the Syrian conflict – among my first reports, two years ago, was a description of Syrian militia cruelty in a Sunni village near the northern Lebanese border – opponents of Bashar al-Assad’s vicious regime did not like the fact my last reports came from the Syrian government side of the civil war front lines. They included interviews with Syrian army officers and details of the killing of civilians by armed rebels, as well as by the regime.

Nothing new in this. In the Lebanese civil war and in Northern Ireland, Christians, Palestinians, the IRA and the British Army variously accused me of being pro-terrorist, pro-Zionist, pro-British and pro-IRA. But these Muslim lads and lassies had gone a stage further. They were adopting precisely the same tactics as ruthless regimes used in the past against myself and other foreign correspondents. Two decades ago, I was banned from Bahrain because I reported on secret police torture, carried out – believe it or not – in an institution run by a former British Special Branch officer. Mubarak’s goons harassed me in Cairo when I reported on government torture – fellow prisoners were forced to rape each other – at the Tora jail complex. The Bahrain press cartooned me as a rabid dog. The Egyptian press claimed I was “a black crow pecking at the corpse of Egypt”.

Even more shocking was that the Muslim group was also copying exactly the methods used by lobbyists claiming to represent Israel several years ago. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was prevented from speaking at Concordia University in Montreal – quite shamefully, of course – a supposedly pro-Israeli organisation published a series  of bright-red posters claiming that if I was allowed to speak in Concordia the following week, anti-Semitism on the campus would increase. I challenged this nonsense by tearing down their libellous placards in front of a television crew, spoke to a full house at the university and received a standing ovation.

Not so now in one Canadian town. There these same pressures worked for the Arab Muslims who wanted to prevent me speaking. The venue was changed to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I spoke to a far larger audience – and in a Catholic college. Another victory for Islam. Along with the fact that Mrs Coulton – in the words of her sister – was too sick to travel to hear me speak in Toronto after my earlier talk was cancelled.

All the other lectures I delivered on time – and in the scheduled venues – but I have to say that  this doesn’t particularly matter.  Fisk is no Edward Said or Noam Chomsky and doesn’t pretend to be. But it was an instructive lesson to find that Muslim Arabs living in Canada, resident in Canada and, I’m sure, in many cases citizens of Canada, forgot the basic freedoms of the land in which they have chosen to be. Once anger overcame them, they preferred the suppression tactics of the dictators they hate.

Robert Fisk on Algeria

Buy the new Independent eBook - £1.99 Two decades of reportage on a tragic conflict the West can no longer afford to ignore - by one of the world’s great foreign correspondents

kobo iBooks Amazon Kindle

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Read Next

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner

Sorry Britain, but nobody cares about your little election – try being relevant next time

Emanuel Sidea
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power