First published at True North on October 16, 2019.
There’s no such thing as a simple answer when it comes to Salim Mansur.
The academic and journalist-turned-political candidate wants every question and every issue raised to be understood in what he says is the “necessary context.”
It makes for long conversations, though no doubt thoughtful ones.
Mansur is the People’s Party of Canada candidate in London North Centre, one of the highest profile and most vaunted candidates of Maxime Bernier’s fledgling populist party. Though this wasn’t the path Mansur had envisioned for himself even four months ago.
In June, Mansur was nine months into a campaign for the Conservative Party of Canada’s nomination in the same riding when he received a terse email from the party’s executive director notifying him his candidacy had been “disallowed.” No reasons were provided, though Mansur told me in a later interview that the Conservative campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, had told him there were concerns his past writings on Islam would be slammed in the media as “Islamophobic.”
Instead, the Conservatives acclaimed Sarah Bokhari, a Muslim woman from outside London, as their candidate.
It would seem like a blow against racism to replace a so-called “Islamophobic” candidate with a Muslim one, except there’s one problem. Mansur is, himself, a Muslim as well. His decades of writings and public statements have been in opposition to Islamism, not Islam itself.
The disqualification from the Conservative party and subsequent PPC candidacy is the latest iteration of a battle Mansur has been waging for decades. Or as he describes it, one being waged against him.
I’ve known Mansur for several years, meeting him first when I was a student at the University of Western Ontario, from which he retired last year. Though I was never in one of his classes, I sought him out because of my familiarity with his work. When I launched the podcast that ultimately led to my career in radio, he was its first guest.
He’s always been a fearless and credible commentator on immigration and multiculturalism, even when I’ve disagreed with his conclusions. This is why I was happy to assist him, as a friend, not in my capacity with True North, when he launched his nomination campaign. In the interests of disclosure, I’ve had no role in his PPC campaign, nor any other campaigns during the election period, but I consider Mansur a friend and a great Canadian.
I conducted a series of interviews with Mansur for this article both on the phone and in his downtown London campaign office.
Just over a month after being disqualified by the Conservative Party of Canada, Salim Mansur received a standing ovation when he was announced as the People’s Party of Canada candidate by Maxime Bernier himself in a London hotel conference room.
“We in the People’s party with Maxime Bernier are the only people in Canada, at this time in our history endangered by globalism and Islamism, fully prepared to engage in a national conversation on the subject,” Mansur said in his nomination speech.
Though this wasn’t always his position. Just three months prior, he published a video on YouTube entitled “The Conservative Party Stands Up For Canada.”
In it, Mansur makes the pitch that the Conservatives are not only the best choice for Canadians to defeat Justin Trudeau, but the only choice.
“I am confident the Conservative party under Andrew Scheer’s leadership understands the threats confronting Canadians, and has the resolve to counter them,” Mansur says before listing numerous sources of “pride” for him in the CPC platform, from fiscal management to tackling mass migration to standing up for freedom of speech.
“Let me remind you that since the act of Confederation in 1867 there are only two parties that have governed Canada: the Conservative party and the Liberal party,” he says. “That is not about to change, and any change that goes to weaken and divide the Conservative party can and only will benefit the Liberal party.”
Despite the apparent contradiction in these two speeches, Mansur explains it with his own take on Ronald Reagan’s famous quip that he never left the Democratic party, but rather it left him.
“I didn’t leave the Conservative Party of Canada,” Mansur says. “It was the Conservative party that kicked me out.”
The party has never provided any details officially about why Mansur was disqualified, though in a televised London North Centre debate, Sarah Bokhari, the Conservative candidate, said “Mr. Mansur was disqualified by the Conservative party because he’s been saying some questionable things for the ethnic communities.”
Mansur, who’s devoted his career to combatting radical Islam within small corners of the Muslim community and the western world more broadly, says his expulsion from the race is evidence of an Islamist infiltration into the political system.
“The word given to me for why I would not be the candidate is because I’m Islamophobic, Mansur says. “So from there you can draw the inferences that the leadership is bent upon appeasing the very people who for 20 years have been hounding me, which is the Muslim Brotherhood…. It is very clear to me that the party didn’t want me because then I would be, in a sense, the point man taking on the Muslim Brotherhood. But the party doesn’t want to discuss that.”
“The party is in full mode of appeasing the Muslim Brotherhood,” Mansur charges. “The four establishment parties – Liberal, Conservative, the NDP and the Green – are in full appeasement of the Islamists in the country. Except for PPC.”
Without any official statement from the Conservative Party of Canada, it’s difficult to accept or dispute Mansur’s interpretation of things. It’s well documented that the Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimate-seeming organizations in Canada and the United States have no doubt been embraced in the political process. However, it’s also plausible that the Conservative leadership, wishing to run a safe, centrist campaign, simply wanted to avoid a candidate who would obviously force the Conservatives to take a stand on the issue of Islamism.
It’s a necessary discussion in Canada, though clearly not an easy one.
Though Mansur’s critics may characterize him as being on the fringes, that simply isn’t accurate. His books on multiculturalism and Islamic reformation have been widely cited by academics and politicians. He was frequently called upon by the previous Conservative government to testify before various parliamentary committees.
Less than two years ago, Mansur was given an award on the Senate floor by Conservative senator Linda Frum, recognizing him for his work to promote interfaith dialogue between Jews and Muslims.
Mansur’s Conservative nomination campaign was endorsed by a long list of prominent Conservatives, including former national campaign manager Tom Flanagan and former member of parliament Diane Ablonczy.
This support shouldn’t surprise anyone given how long Mansur has been involved in Conservative politics.
In his first two elections as a Canadian citizen, he voted for Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals. But in 1984, he cast a ballot for Brian Mulroney. Since then, he’s been a stalwart rightward voter, even joining the Progressive Conservatives in 1988 before aligning with Preston Manning’s burgeoning Reform movement.
“I voted Liberal, but things changed,” he says. “My thinking changed. My understanding changed.”
Mulroney’s support for free trade was what initially galvanized Mansur’s support of the PCs, though it was Manning’s interest in Mansur’s writing on multiculturalism that sparked a friendship between the two. This eventually led to Mansur running for the Canadian Alliance in 2000, then supporting the campaign that brought the Alliance and Progressive Conservatives together as the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003.
Mansur was born in Calcutta in 1951, just a few years after the Indian partition created the Muslim-dominated state of Pakistan. It was tensions from that partition that led to the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 that would threaten Mansur’s life. This not only triggered his move to Canada, but also shaped his outlook on the clash between liberty and the radicals seeking to upend it.
“In my teenage years, I lived through horrendous military dictatorship that turned into a genocide,” Mansur says. “To me this was not an abstract question sitting in some academic library and writing about it. This was a real question…. We are so privileged in Canada. We are so privileged in the United States. For children growing up here, all of this is abstract. The real concern is about people being able to live their life as God has given them the right to live their life – according to their choices, according to the values they treasure, according to the tradition that they want to defend.”
Those rights have been under “systematic attack” throughout the 20th century, Mansur says, whether it was communist China, the Soviet Union, or Arab dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East.
“We have repeatedly seen war – genocide. I spoke about that, and wrote about that having experienced it,” he says.
Mansur breaks away to talk about the work of political philosophers John Milton, John Locke and Bertrand Russell – authors he began reading as a teenager even before coming to Canada.
“I read them with the lived experience,” he says. “I didn’t read them as an academic or an undergraduate or graduate student in a classroom with professors. I read them as I was going through the experience. I was reading Russell when I was in my teenage years, seeing what was happening with the massacres taking place, and the repression taking place. I, too, was under repression. My friends were killed. My family members were attacked. I was attacked. I survived, somehow.”
Members of his immediate family were killed, however. He ultimately came to Canada in 1974 as a war refugee, sponsored by an aunt who was living here. The dire situation in his native land got his refugee file accelerated.
That slaughter has a death toll of as many as three million people – making it one of the most deadly conflicts of the 20th century, sandwiched between the Holocaust and the massacre at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
“It was Islamists,” Mansur says. “I came to Canada. I went to university. I did all of that. And then, suddenly, I see the very people who had brought the disaster in the part of the world from where I fled were now ensconced right here in Canada. So I started talking about it. I started writing about it.”
As the Taliban in Afghanistan was gaining steam in the 1990s, Mansur was, as an academic and a journalist, closely monitoring the impact on south Asia. Afghanistan became the nesting ground for al Qaeda, birthing the 9/11 attacks.
Mansur understood Muslims needed to be the most prominent voices criticizing terrorism. He was shocked when people in the mosques would tell him to keep quiet.
“People came around and said, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t talk about this,’” Mansur says. “Especially the pro-Pakistani mosques, because of the Pakistani connection to Saudi Arabia…. These people in the mosque were basically fundamentalists – those who wanted to hold onto or take back the country as the Taliban was doing with Sharia law.”
While Sharia law is a well-known concept now, at the time it was just the subject of internal discussions amongst Muslims, Mansur says.
“I was opposed to that, but I was in the mosque, I would go to the mosque, I would engage with people, but they told me to stand down or cool down.”
Then came September 11.
You often hear people described as 9/11 conservatives – liberals who moved to the right when they saw the threat of Islamic terror. Mansur was a 9/11 pariah – a Muslim who realized the complacency, or in some rare cases complicity, of western Muslims in the radical Islamist current sweeping the world.
When Mansur ran for the Canadian Alliance a year prior, he found a great deal of support from the Muslim community. Many were conservatives; others knew and supported him as a friend; some were just eager to see Muslim voices represented in Parliament.
“Looking back, it was as if on a dime the world changed. On September 11, 2001, everything changed,” Mansur says. “It pushed me out of the (Muslim) community here in London.”
The more radical-minded Islamists within the Muslim community wanted an insular, exclusive society with their own laws and their own values.
“I was on the other side,” Mansur says, explaining how he felt – and still feels – people should engrain themselves in Canadian society.
“I’m a Muslim, but I’m reconciled with the modern world. In fact, that is the critical split inside the Muslim world – those who want to bring the Muslim world of the 13th century into the 21st century, and those who want to build a democratic society. That’s what I was trying to make these people understand. Their children are going to grow up as Canadians. Islam is their personal faith, but they have to be part of the Canadian society.”
The pushback from the Muslim community got so strong that Mansur, who is still a devout and observant Muslim, had to withdraw from the local mosque. It was either that or shut up about radicalism, though Mansur says the latter was never an option.
“To me it was a responsibility to warn my fellow Canadians that this is now the problems of the Middle East and the problems of the third world coming right into our society,” he says. “How are we going to confront this?”
Confronting this evil has come at a cost, however. Mansur has faced death threats, not to mention threats to his livelihood by activists insisting on de-platforming him.
In 2006, Mohamed Elmasry of the now-defunct Canadian Islamic Congress sent a formal complaint to the University of Western Ontario accusing Mansur of “hate-literature” and demanding the administration “instruct” him “to refrain immediately from promoting himself and his opinion columns through by (sic) associating them, in print or broadcast media, with one of Canada’s great universities.”
The school, to its credit, did not buckle. Two years later, Elmasry sent another complaint to Western, calling Mansur an “embarrassment” to the university and urging the school to investigate his “classroom approach and research methods.”
As taxing as the ongoing opposition is, Mansur says it’s only strengthened what he sees as a moral obligation to speak up about freedom and the fight to preserve it.
“It became the very principle upon which I stake my own philosophy,” he says. “My anchor – my worldview – is of freedom.”
For the last 30 years, he saw that anchor as having a foothold in the Conservative party, which he always understood to be rooted in the classical liberal tradition, even with the oft-cited big tent coalition of red Tories, blue Tories, libertarians and social conservatives.
Mansur says blue Tories like him are being forced out.
It’s easy to be skeptical of this claim given that Scheer himself comes from the blue Tory side of the conservative movement, having worked in both the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties before being elected as a Conservative member of parliament in 2004.
Scheer is also a social conservative, albeit one who’s worked to mute the pro-life presence in the Conservative caucus and slate of candidates.
Hamish Marshall, the Conservative campaign manager, is often criticized by left-wing conspiracy theorists as being on the “far-right” for his past directorship with Ezra Levant’s Rebel News.
Despite this, a belief that the Conservative party is no longer a conservative party is a cornerstone of the PPC’s existence. Mansur says even in the weeks before his candidacy was disallowed by the CPC he had started to grow concerned about a number of decisions the party had made.
Chief among them was the Conservatives’ treatment of their own their own MP, Michael Cooper. Cooper was the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, but was booted from the post and had his words edited out of the official transcript after he rebuked a Muslim committee witness’ claims about conservatism being linked to violent killers.
“That gave me a sense that this party has lost whatever little remained of that blue Tory, small-c conservative (identity) with which I was associated,” Mansur says. “So I think the fair analysis is that I did not change. The party has changed. That is, the party under this leadership has changed. Hopefully a new leadership will bring it back.”
He thinks many of the Conservative members who backed Maxime Bernier in the 2017 leadership race will support the People’s party, though he’s aware that many will stay loyal to the Conservatives. This was a reality with which Mansur had to reckon even on his own campaign team.
“I said to my people in London that I am considering running for the PPC,” Mansur says of the period following his disqualification by the Conservatives. “I’m not going to allow the CPC to dictate my life and my politics. My friends who were with me in this campaign for the past 10 months, they made their decisions. Some decided to break away from me and remain loyal to the Conservative party and others chose to follow me and come with me and my campaign.”
The campaign has been far from uneventful. In the early days of his candidacy, Mansur’s son died in a car accident in British Columbia. Mansur learned this at the PPC’s convention in Ottawa, where he was due to give a speech.
His campaign signs have been vandalized, and his office windows broken.
And he was barred from an “all candidates” event at the London Muslim Mosque, where he used to pray.
The mosque hosted debates for the various London ridings’ election candidates, excluding from each one the local People’s party candidate. The reason, according to a mosque statement, is that the PPC “does not respect our religion and our people.”
“It is one thing to have differences of opinion on matters of foreign and domestic policy which go to the heart of the notion of democracy and why we have election campaigns. However, it is another thing entirely to show a complete lack of respect to an entire religion. And since our community has felt the wrath of Islamophobia and hate, we cannot give a platform to a party that cannot respect our faith or our people,” the statement said.
Call it a fitting twist for a man whose greatest frustration seems to be that no one wants to listen to what he sees as the pressing issues of our time.
Mansur relishes his status as a “public intellectual.” Through our conversations he often refers me to sections of his books. It’s not uncommon to feel as though you’ve wound up in an academic lecture while speaking with him. Like anyone who enters politics, he feels he has something to offer, though it doesn’t come from the opportunistic place it does for so many others. It’s clear Mansur has a heart for Canada – and is driven more by frustration than arrogance that his warnings about Islamism and globalism haven’t been heeded by the Conservatives.
Mansur is convinced that the Conservatives will not win the election. He hopes for a scenario in which the People’s party has enough members of parliament so as to be able to drive the agenda rather than the power going to the left-wing parties.
For the PPC to have success, Mansur says conservative voters need to get over what is at times an obsession with beating the Liberals.
“I think the bulk of the Conservative party members are obsessed with the idea that the priority for the country is to defeat Liberals,” he says. “That’s the compromise that they’re making. They’re bending or softening their position for the larger context that the Liberals have to be defeated, and that any sort of wavering on that issue will only weaken the coalition that makes up the CPC.”
He wants to see the Liberals defeated too, but notes that the People’s party is more concerned with what replaces the Liberals than the Conservatives are. If current trends keep up, Mansur says “you can kiss goodbye in our lifetime a conservative party forming a government in Canada.”
While he wants to be elected, he doesn’t see that as being essential for his campaign to be a success.
“I don’t see myself as a winner or loser,” he says. “I see myself as contributing to the conversation, and then it’s up to the people.”