Before I put out this op-ed, I have had some serious trepidation. I am fully aware that once some people finish reading this, they will spare no time to stick a label on me. They will be gladly calling me a "racist," a "self-hating Asian" and even an "Islamophobe," despite the fact that I have dedicated myself to community work, political activism, diversity and equity issues for the most part of my adult life.
But now, given what is happening right around us and in the world at large, means that it is high time to pause and talk about things bothering some Canadians, and doing it without a political agenda, without interference, and without shouting down the other side. Whether we like it or not, the clash of cultures is at our doorstep, staring at us squarely in the face.
We can pretend it doesn't exist. We can pretend that political correctness has overridden all our primal instincts, and that we can put this to rest once and for all. Yet the very real issue of the clash of culture is at our doorstep. Because I truly believe, if we don't show up to the debate, WE LOSE.
The event that happened on Jan 29 in Centre Culturel Islamique Québec shocked our nation. Six innocent men were gunned down by Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old Université Laval student. Twenty more were seriously injured. Of course the event sparked various conspiracy theories here and south of the border. Who is Alexandre Bissonnette? What was his motivation? Was this a premeditated crime? Was he inspired by the alt right or was this an ISIS ploy?
Fast forward a few weeks, Iqra Khalid, a Mississauga MP tabled a symbolic but important motion in the House of Commons, asking the government to condemn Islamophobia and all other forms of racism. It has created a huge public outcry. Right-wing pundits like Ezra Levant spared no effort to cash in on this "golden opportunity." He organized a rally in a Toronto hotel with several of the federal Conservative leadership candidates attending. No doubt these Tory candidates all wanted to carve out a piece of this leadership race for themselves. With 14 of them in the race, they need to shore up the support from the base for themselves. What is surprising is that the massacre in the Quebec mosque has not generated more sympathy or support for MP Khalid's motion.
If we turn the clock back four weeks earlier to January, the Peel District School Board had a very contentious meeting where the issue of Muslim prayers reached the boiling point. Police were present at that meeting. One woman was thrown out. Needless to say, while Iqra Khalid's motion may be well intentioned, the term "Islamophobia" has further divided all of us.
One thing is certain. At this point it is widely acknowledged that we are steadily heading towards a clash of cultures in Canada that up until now has been inconceivable. As Canadians, we must question ourselves honestly. Has "political correctness" stifled much needed debate, chastised those who disagree, and in the end, ultimately damaged the very fabric of our secular liberal democracy? It is no surprise that an Angus Reid poll conducted in October 2016 found that 68 per cent of Canadians want minorities to do more to "fit in."
It is true that Muslim Canadians face unprecedented discrimination, prejudice and sometimes harassment in this country. It is very possible that the vitriol and hatred spewed by the ever ascending alt-right movement inspired the horrific act of Alexandre Bissonnette. We must never forget that extremists in that religion only total a few thousand out of 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the threat of Islamic terrorism is real. The usage of the very phrase "Islamic terrorism" does not make us bigots or Islamophobes.
While religious diversity is one of our values in this country, we must recognize that many Canadians do not take prayers in public schools well. Many take great pride in the separation between church and the state. Some Canadians may view gender segregation in a public swimming pool as a refusal to accept gender integration as one of our values. Many more Canadians, myself included, despised Stephen Harper's crusade to make women remove their veils when they take the citizenship oath. But nobody can deny that this issue still strikes a nerve with Canadians.
Public opposition to the Niqab (a cloth covering part of the face as part of traditional Muslim devotional dress) is deep and wide. A Ledger poll released found that 82 per cent of Canadians supported the Conservatives' position that there is no place for Niqabs in citizenship court. In Quebec the figure was 93 per cent. Are all those people Islamophobes and bigots? That is an awfully hard case to make. This is really a debate about our values, equality and the limits of tolerance.
How far are we prepared to go to accommodate religious and cultural differences? At what point must new immigrants be prepared to immerse themselves in Canadian society and values, so some of their actions would not make us feel like it is an encroachment to our social norms?
That is why debate about what shape and form multiculturalism should take place in Canada is crucial. Trump's campaign pledge to ban Muslims from entry to the United States is not only unconstitutional; it is despicable and plain stupid. If this were a struggle between enlightened ideas versus something decidedly wrong in a certain interpretation of Islam, the answer of course, is not to ban Muslims, but rather, to ask more from Muslims. Some of the fringe elements in the progressive left make it so combustible to even scrutinize or criticize Islam, as we do with other religions, so freely in the West.
In turn, those on the far left, fail to recognize or appreciate the diversity of Muslims. When they so self-righteously issue a "Fatwa" to shut down any critical thought or reasonable discussion, when they so conveniently use the term "Islamophobe" to describe anyone who merely raises questions about jihadism's relation to Islam or the government's immigration policy, they subject Muslims to the soft bigotry of low expectations.
We should strongly support and encourage moderate Muslims in our society and ensure their voices are heard and respected. We need to empower the actual reformers of the Muslim community while making every effort to truly understand a non-skewed version of Islam.
I support MP Iqra Khalid's motion on condemning Islamophobia. I would like to see her table two more motions: one to encourage an open and honest dialogue between interfaith and different ethnic groups, the other to recognize the culture clashes Canadians experience and devise a strategy to adequately address them. In some ways, we are all in this together. Unless we take active steps to reach out, to talk and listen to each other, the chasm will divide us further until we reach a point of no return.
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