By TOM SPEARS
OTTAWA — An imam whose speech in the nation’s capital was cancelled by Defence Minister Peter MacKay told a public gathering Sunday that having a conversation, even a difficult one, is always better than avoiding it.
Imam Dr. Zijad Delic has been giving talks at community groups and in libraries since MacKay cancelled his speech in Ottawa in early October.
“Civilized people talk and get involved in discourse, no matter how difficult,” he told a packed congregation Sunday at the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa.
“Uncivilized people don’t want to talk.”
Delic is National Executive Director of the Canadian Islamic Conference.
He had been scheduled to speak at National Defence headquarters during Islamic History Month, as part of a multicultural event that included folk dancing and cooking.
But MacKay’s office cancelled the event due to a negative televised statement about Palestinian-Israeli relations -- made more than six years ago by a previous CIC president. Neither Imam Delic (who was not on staff at CIC at the time) nor its current president Mrs. Wahida Valiante was in any way involved.
In fact, Delic has a long record of condemning terrorism and violence. The imam said Sunday that a reporter had asked him whether he was angry about the cancellation.
“Not angry,” he replied. “I am disappointed, but not angry. When people are angry they can’t see past the end of their nose.
He added; “That misunderstanding definitely was not a good move for this beautiful Canadian society. It has made some dents … But I think there is a positive that came out of there. I have received such support from politicians, bureaucrats, educational institutions, (and) religious groups.
“Hundreds of letters have been sent to politicians (and) the papers. So government has to realize that this moderate voice that is present -- and I’m not talking about hundreds of people, but thousands -- needs to be listened to.”
Delic also feels that cancelling the speech sent a disturbing message to the youth of his community. “Many young Canadian Muslims have called me and asked, ‘What’s this? If this can happen to you, then what about others?’ So a moderate voice definitely needs to be part of the discourse.”
Delic said he wrote a paper for the government last March advising them how to use Islam to make young people less radical, and to help them adapt to life in Canada.
Born and raised in Bosnia, he immigrated to Canada in 1995 to escape the fighting. He is now a citizen and described himself as “a proud Canadian Muslim.”
“As groups or religious institutions, we do have our differences,” he told the congregation. “Families have differences. Husbands and wives have differences. If we focus on differences before we focus on similarities, then we will never talk about our similarities.”
Imam Delic spent time before and after the service mixing with congregation members. He appeared chatty and relaxed, and mixed in some lighter notes with the serious talk. He said he has learned to evaluate people by how they react to five factors: rainy days, the elderly, young children, lost luggage and traffic jams.
He also spoke repeatedly about his gratitude that “Canada has opened its doors to me.”