October 1, 2014 | The Canadian Jewish News

Confronting Qatar’s Terror Sponsorship

The shocking brutality of the Islamic State (IS), also referred to as ISIS or ISIL has finally galvanized public and political support for decisive action. But other terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah should not get a free pass while eyes are on IS. 

Defeating these groups requires a multi-faceted approach that includes cutting off the flow of funds and fighters. This means confronting the world’s state sponsors of terror – even those working diligently to present themselves as Western allies. 

Qatar ranks high on this list. 

This may seem surprising. After all, Qatar hosts the largest U.S. airbase in the Middle East, as well as several western university campuses, including two Canadian schools: the College of North Atlantic and the University of Calgary nursing school. It owns fashionable stores and soccer teams in European countries, and has sunk millions of dollars into a major U.S. think-tank – presumably to enhance its image in Washington, D.C. policy circles. Combined with an open investment climate, Doha has projected a welcoming, Western-friendly image.

But a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable casts a pall over this carefully tailored image, describing Qatar as the “worst in the region” on counterterrorism co-operation. Qatar has also funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas, and is a vociferous supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ parent organization. The Brotherhood’s activities are now being curtailed by the U.K. government after the movement was found to be complicit with armed and extremist groups.

Qatar has provided a safe haven for the Taliban, and at one point paid millions of dollars in bribes to Al Qaeda to prevent an attack on Qatari soil – with utter disregard for how that money would be used to murder innocent civilians elsewhere. Qatar is preparing for joint naval operations with Iran, the world’s pre-eminent state sponsor of terrorism. As for IS, it is not yet clear if Qatar has funded this entity directly or has been deliberately lax in preventing fundraising. 

It is clearly time for Canada to re-examine its relationship with Qatar. 

To its credit, Canada has passed some strong anti-terror legislation, such as the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA). The JVTA enables the Canadian government to designate foreign states as sponsors of terror. Once designated, these countries can be sued in Canadian courts for their terrorist involvement. 

The JVTA is an ideal tool to incentivize Qatar to curb its support for terrorism. Listing the sheikdom as a state sponsor of terror would make it vulnerable to civil lawsuits by Canadian victims of Hamas and other terrorist groups.  The designation would be especially impactful because Doha truly cares about its reputation and position in the West. In fact, mounting pressure has already led Qatar to expel from its territory several senior Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members who had been living there comfortably. The negative public exposure and potentially severe financial consequences resulting from being sued under the JVTA may deter Doha from continuing down its current course.

Additionally, Canada should reject the request by Qatar’s media mouthpiece, Al Jazeera, for unconditional broadcasting rights on Canadian television. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) was asked earlier this year to remove the condition that television distributors edit out hate speech or images before broadcasting Al Jazeera Arabic over Canadian airwaves. This stipulation should not be removed unless the channel can prove it no longer broadcasts comments that normalize and glorify terrorist violence or that promote hatred on the basis of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. 

Whether Al Jazeera should be aired in Canada goes beyond ordinary issues of free speech. The real question is whether a terror-sponsoring foreign government, which has bragged about its control over the channel’s reporting, deserves to have an unencumbered voice in Canada. The answer should be no. 

If Canada is truly committed to combating terrorist groups like Islamic State and Hamas, then their patron states must be confronted. Let’s start with Qatar. 

Sheryl Saperia is director of policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.