28 Sep Author in slander trial says Muslim school’s teachings go against Quebec values
Via National Post(Canada), Author in slander trial says Muslim school’s teachings go against Quebec values
MONTREAL – Author Djemila Benhabib, on trial for slander for comments made about a Muslim private school, testified Wednesday that the religious instruction offered at the school has no place in Quebec.
Benhabib said alarm bells went off when she read the Qur’anic passages children attending the Muslim School of Montreal were made to memorize. The passages, which she called “an offence to human dignity,” spoke of the beautiful virgins awaiting male believers in the afterlife, while non-believers endured “scorching fire and scalding water.”
She was equally alarmed by photos on the school’s website showing girl students as young as nine all wearing the Islamic headscarf.
In the 2012 radio interview that landed her in court, Benhabib said children attending the school underwent indoctrination “worthy of a military camp in Afghanistan or Pakistan.” She added that the school’s model society is one where women are submissive and men commit honour crimes against their sisters.
Testifying as the only defence witness, Benhabib said her family left Algeria for France when Islamic fundamentalists gained more power. She arrived in Quebec in 1997.
“The school’s societal model is not the Quebec societal model,” she said. “It is not Quebec values.”
She said her comment about military camps was not intended to refer to terrorist training camps, as alleged in the school’s lawsuit. She was referring to a hierarchical atmosphere, where there is no room for questioning and texts are interpreted literally, she testified.
Benhabib added she recognized her comments could be hurtful, but she stands behind them. “My criticism was severe because what I saw was serious,” she said.
Cross-examined by the school’s lawyer, Julius Grey, Benhabib acknowledged that she has not spoken out against sexism in religions other than Islam.
When her lawyer objected, questioning the relevance of the question, Grey told the court he was trying to demonstrate that Benhabib “has an obsession with Islam.”
She acknowledged that she had not conducted deep research into the school before writing a blog post about it and giving the radio interview. She never contacted the school to make inquiries and she never visited.
Instead she relied on a promotional pamphlet she was sent and the school’s website.
“The Internet site was a window into the school,” she said. “It gave me a precise idea of what goes on at the school.”
Benhabib’s books chronicling her struggle against Islamic fundamentalism have won prizes, and she has become a leading voice in favour of secularism in Quebec.
But Grey sought to undermine her credibility by introducing into evidence a ruling from the Quebec Press Council this year finding she plagiarized material in a column published online in 2014-15.
The school is seeking $95,000 in damages. The president of the school’s board of directors testified earlier Benhabib’s interview had caused a decrease in enrollment and created a state of panic as teachers and students feared repercussions for being likened to terrorists.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Carole Hallée will hear closing arguments Thursday.