Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Canadian Shiites Honor Hezbollah With Billboard

Canada.com - One of the people responsible for a controversial billboard depicting Hezbollah's leader said they did it to honour their freedom fighting families back home -- and it's their Canadian right to do so.

"In Canada we want peace," said Hussein Dabaja, a Lebanese-born Hezbollah supporter. "We're not trying to offend anybody. We have freedom of speech. It's a free country. We can do anything. Every Lebanese in Canada has somebody that died in Lebanon, the freedom fighters. Who is Hezbollah? Our brothers, our family, our parents, our friends. We came to Canada and they stayed there to fight."

The billboard went up Friday in Windsor, and immediately drew fire from the Windsor Jewish Community Centre, the Lebanese Christian political group Kataeb and others.

Among other Lebanese leaders, the sign prominently depicts Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the political and military group representing Shia Muslims. Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by the Canadian government, was created in 1982 primarily to resist the Israeli occupation of Lebanon that lasted two decades.

"The sign shows the Lebanese community finally got a chance to express their feelings about what is going on, to show respect," said sign supporter Ayat Choukeir. "Before we were Canadians we were all Lebanese. To see a part of Lebanon in our city makes us really happy."

Dabaja said the billboard was not meant to be an anti-Jewish statement.

"People who have something against the billboard don't like Hezbollah and they don't want peace," he said.

Dabaja said he's one of a number of local Lebanese community members who had the idea about seven months ago, after discussing other options to honour people back home that included a candle light vigil.

He said community members and leaders of organizations representing about 700 people settled on the billboard plan. Dabaja said support from people has swelled since the sign went up, including some who stopped by Sunday to take pictures.

He said several of Windsor's Lebanese citizens will do what it takes to keep the sign up, short of violence.

"This sign means to me remembrance for the people who are looking for peace in the Middle East," said Zouelfikar Haidar. "It's a point of view. It's paper on the board. It's not a weapon. Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese people. However Hezbollah does it, there is a country occupied and people defending their country. I agree with that, because we've been waiting 25 years for the United Nations to get our land back."

Dabaja said he believes the sign wouldn't have sparked such controversy if Canada's government hadn't labelled Hezbollah a terrorist group.

What the sign says:

In English:

"Lebanese and Arab communities in Windsor city congratulate the Lebanese people for their steadfastness and endeavor to establish peace in Lebanon.

In Arabic, according to Hussein Dabaja:

"The Lebanese community and the Arabs in Windsor city congratulates Lebanese people for its patience and to make peace in Lebanon."