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Canada's Muslim Community Must Act Now To End Islamophobia

11/20/2015 11:00 EST | Updated 11/20/2016 05:12 EST
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Canada's Muslim community has come under fierce prejudicial scrutiny over the last couple of years.

The 2013 Via Rail plot and the Ottawa attack in 2014 were preposterously rendered by some as representative of Canada's million-plus Muslims, that the community had something wrong with it. This scrutiny hasn't been helped by the barbarism of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), an Orwellian oxymoron given Islam's stress on peace.

ISIS's attack in Paris led to a spate of violent Islamophobic attacks on Canadian Muslims who, not surprisingly, strongly condemn ISIS. Xenophobes abuse these events to tarnish Canada's Muslims with violence -- ironic given some 40 per cent of violent crime (in the U.S., as a proxy for North America) is committed under the influence of alcohol, which most Muslims don't drink.

Indeed, of the top 20 countries by homicides per capita, none are Muslim, and the most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, has a homicide per capita rate which is less than half of Canada's.

What made these years really nauseating for Canadian Muslims was that Stephen Harper got in on the pogrom. In 2015, he linked radicalization to mosques -- despite the word that mosques were the one place where radicalization was not taking place!

My exchanges with law enforcement, from ministers to police officers, went on to confirm this. Harper's office then tried to link the National Council of Canadian Muslims with Hamas --and got sued. He then got disquietingly close to Islamophobic hate groups.

And if we needed cherries on top, having tried to ban Sikhs in the RCMP from wearing turbans, he tried to ban Muslim women from wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies -- and failed both times. You will note that I've not even talked about Bills C-24 and C-51. Enough said.

No wonder that with Muslim kids being teased as terrorists on school playgrounds and ministers contemplating filtering Syrian refugees by their religious identity, that some Canadian Muslims responded. They didn't embrace Canada as their home -- and all that goes with it, from a love of hockey to Adolphe-Basile Routhier's lyrics -- only to be discriminated against.

Unfair media articles were challenged. E-mails were being sent to MPs. There was push back on social media -- Facebook became a galvanizing platform for people to come together. And in coming together, the community increasingly crossed sectarian and ethnic lines (no mean achievement) to develop initiatives to take on the swelling toxicity.

One such organisation did remarkably well -- The Canadian Muslim Vote, a motley, Robin Hood-meets-iPhones-meets-Tim Hortons-in-a-mosque-basement crew, has been instrumental in driving Muslim participation in federal elections.

Historically, Canadian Muslim voter participation has hovered at 46 to 51 per cent, which is pointedly lower than participation by other Canadian religious communities. This low turnout has done little for Canadian Muslim concerns being heard by elected politicians, which helps explain Harper's pogrom.

Thanks to The Canadian Muslim Vote, Muslim voter participation in the 2015 federal election saw a massive jump to 79 per cent, more than 10 per cent up on the national average. In nine key GTA ridings, where The Canadian Muslim Vote had boots on the ground, participation stood at an astonishing 88 per cent.

That only a measly 1.6 per cent of Canadian Muslims are affiliated with the Conservatives is something that the strictly politically impartial The Canadian Muslim Vote crew could only shrug their shoulders to. C'est la vie.

The Canadian Muslim Vote success needs celebrating, but more importantly, its momentum needs to be built upon. Canada's Muslim community still has several challenges. It shouldn't be hard to build on that momentum -- many educated and accomplished Canadian Muslims, the sort with the resources to hit home, have been energized and connected in response to Islamophobia.

Fortunately, and unlike a couple of years ago, a window of opportunity has opened where several provincial governments and Ottawa are enlightened and willing to partner to deal with problems. Eleven Muslim MPs were elected to Ottawa alone in 2015, and one is a cabinet minister. If the stars are aligned, what then are the key challenges that the community should take on?

The answers aren't obvious. The community will cite Islamophobia and Muslim extremism (its symbiotic, parasitic partner) as possibly the most serious challenges. Yes, these are worrying and will to some extent haunt the next generation. The community may alternatively cite racial prejudice. Most Muslims are brown. Yes, that too will persist. There is also gender discrimination, bordering in rare instances on misogyny. It's a legacy of the pre-modern social cultures that some Muslims have migrated from, and something of a hidden cancer in the community. Uncovering these tribulations, why do they persist? Why, for instance, is Islamophobia increasing? The real challenge is that the Muslim community lacks the tools to engage its most serious problems. The community lacks the appropriate institutions. How so?

First, there are too many Muslim initiatives and organisations that are strategically, operationally and administratively uncoordinated, and most of which are mere "mom-and-pop" shops -- suggesting they are grossly inefficient in deploying their resources. It's quite normal for two small initiatives to work on the same issue in the same town without knowing of each other.

The Canadian Muslim non-profit sector is a supreme landscape for mergers and acquisitions. This is never easy in the profit-driven private sector, let alone the non-profit sector, because issues of ego, emotion and personality always interfere. It is essential that the sector rolls up into large institutions to take on the large challenges it faces.

Second, most of the resources that the Muslim community does provide for by way of social and charitable causes are being used for humanitarian disasters beyond Canada or go into mosques -- neither of which do anything for the Canadian Muslim community's challenges here and now.

(And a word on mosques -- far too many of them, though not all, are managed and "led" by folks who live in the wrong century, engage the wrong community and offer the wrong solutions. The track record of Canada's mosques -- the community's supposedly most important institution -- in dealing with the community's most pressing community-wide challenges such as Islamophobia and gender discrimination, has been embarrassing.)

And finally, as a corollary, there is hardly any funding available to the issues that most worry Canadian Muslims here and now. In fact, most work in hitting Islamophobia, Muslim extremism and various forms of discrimination is being done either on a sub-shoestring budget or on a voluntary basis. The Canadian Muslim Vote is one such example, as is the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

There is something wild about the expectation of meaningful impact on difficult issues -- using volunteers and peanuts alone. The Muslim community, and especially its emerging wealthier members, needs to stop leaning on volunteers and start funding proper organisations to deal with stuff that demands serious full time and quality resources.

That, or Canada's Muslim community will rue in a few years the window of accelerated opportunity which it now has.

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