Originally published under the title "Gwynne Dyer vs. Farzana Hassan."
Military historian Gwynne Dyer (left) thinks ISIS does not pose a risk to the West. Toronto Sun columnist Farzana Hassan (right) begs to differ.
The Toronto Reference Library hosted a talk by author Gwynne Dyer about his new book on Monday, but it quickly turned into an animated discussion on Islamism.
In Don't Panic: ISIS, Terror and Today's Middle East, Dyer argues the birth of ISIS and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria does not pose any substantial risk with regard to terrorist attacks on Western countries.
Facing the London-based author on the panel was Toronto Sun columnist Farzana Hassan. She not only disagreed with Dyer's surprising analysis of the lack of an Islamist threat, but suggested it was based on naivety and a lack of recognition that the doctrine of armed jihad is endemic to orthodox Islam, to which many Muslims adhere.
Hassan held her own, despite hisses from a largely partisan crowd when she said she was proud to write for the Toronto Sun and that she considers the current rise of the international jihadi movement as a "civilizational struggle" against medieval forces, who envision a worldwide caliphate and are serious about their goal.
Toronto's literati cheered Dyer as he defended the right of Islamist women to wear the niqab.
It was excruciating to sit in the audience and watch Toronto's literati and intellectual class cheer Dyer as he defended the right of Islamist women to wear the niqab, as if it was some sort of liberating symbol.
Toronto artist and graphic designer Charles Fisch best expressed my frustration when he tweeted: "What's wrong with White liberals? Cultural Relativism, Political Correctness, Naiveté."
It seemed Dyer was surprised to face a critique of his work at the hands of a Muslim woman instead of the usual "we are victims of Islamophobia" rhetoric.
Notwithstanding the fact that most Islamists in the West are second generation and born here, Dyer suggested the next generation of Muslims in the West will reinterpret Islam and the doctrine of jihad to suit the West.
While not losing her smile, Hassan appeared livid. "We do not have to reinterpret the doctrine of armed jihad as you would like us Muslims to do," Hassan said. "We have to repudiate this doctrine."
For a moment, the nearly 500 people sat in stunned silence. Then a handful clapped in a feeble display of solidarity with the brave Muslim woman on the stage.
When the question and answer session began, the president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, poet and author Munir Pervaiz, asked Dyer if he had visited a single mosque in Canada and heard what was being preached to the congregation.
How does it feel to tell a Muslim woman who has faced Islamist death threats that she should 'not panic' about ISIS?
A nonplussed Dyer answered that 50% of the mosques in Canada were under the influence of Saudi Arabia, without answering whether he had ever been in a mosque or not.
Pervaiz later told me he was alluding to a Friday congregation just last week in Mississauga, where an Arab cleric told the congregation, "Liberalism, secularism and modernism need to be disavowed as they are equivalent to the three pagan goddesses Prophet Muhammad destroyed when he conquered Mecca."
"Dyer should know ISIS is not a pussy cat; it's a man-eating tiger," he added.
The event ended with Dyer walking away in a huff, so I didn't have a chance to ask him a question for this column. Here it is:
"How does it feel to tell a Muslim woman who has faced death threats by Islamist thugs inside Canada that she should 'not panic' as ISIS is no threat to the West?"
Tarek Fatah, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress and columnist at the Toronto Sun, is a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum.