Recently journalist Haroon Siddiqui tried to answer the question “Why is it “politically toxic” to say that the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario be scrapped?” In his piece in the Toronto Star entitled “Why Tories are worrying about rights tribunal” Siddiqui presents an eye-opening, yet seemingly obvious, role that Muslims have unwittingly played in scaring Canadian policy makers into doing things they may not have done otherwise, had they not been so damn terrified of us “big, bad Muslims.”
In answering his question Siddiqui explains that the “subtext here is Muslims.” In other words, in many controversies, in many controversial and difficult decisions, there has been an undercurrent of fearing Muslims. The Ontario controversy of funding religious schools would not have occurred had there not been the prospect of funding Islamic schools. The decision to not allow religious arbitration in Ontario would not have been made had it not been for Muslims asking to be allowed to religiously arbitrate. This fear of Muslims hurt not only Muslims, but other religious groups who had already been using religious arbitration but were now not able to.
And now the fuss over human rights tribunals has been sparked because Muslims accused Macleans of printing Islamophobic content. Otherwise, before that, human rights commissions were going about their same business with very few complaints. It was only when Muslims got involved that accusations of silencing free speech and freedom of press were thrown around.
Siddiqui’s piece reveals an underlying fear of Canadian Muslims which is based on the false and harmful belief that Muslims are somehow not really Canadian. The assumption, if one looks at Siddiqui’s examples, is that Muslims living in Canada, do not understand “Canadian values” * like freedom of speech, religious freedom, or the law.
In the Sharia debates, which lead to the outlawing of religious arbitration, the detractors of Islamic religious arbitration were up in arms worrying about Muslim women. The fear was that if Muslims were allowed to decide for themselves on certain civil matters we would most certainly fail in any attempt for justice. Muslims, unlike the Christians and Jews who had been arbitrating for years before us, were not deemed capable of meting out fair and equal justice. That was something only the Canadian courts and Christian and Jewish arbitrators could do – not Muslims ones. It was assumed that somehow Islamic forms of justice, unlike other religious forms, were inferior to secular Canadian ones and thus had no space in the Canadian arena.
With the religious schools kerfuffle we saw a similar uproar when funding for all religious schools was suggested. Funding Christian schools for some reason has been and still is fine. And funding other religious schools would have been fine. But it’s those damn Muslims again. Governments could not fund an Islamic school where they teach God knows what kind of un-Canadian stuff.
And finally, the recent fuss over human rights tribunals has been spurned by Muslims using the tribunal to fight Islamophobia. This regardless of the fact that other religious groups have used (and probably abused) the human rights tribunal in the past without a peep from others (with the exception of a few).
There seems to be an “understanding” among non-Muslim Canadians that there is something inherently pathological about Muslims and Islamic beliefs. Therefore, Muslims and our beliefs cannot be allowed into the public arena. The “understanding” that Muslim values counter and clash with Canadian ones further others Muslims. What are Muslim values and what are Canadian values? Are they really distinct from one another? And aren’t the values of Canadian Muslims also Canadian? And where in this debate between Canadian versus other values do our indigenous populations come into play?
A “Canadian versus Muslim” dichotomy creates the illusion that somehow there exist distinct value systems that are at odds with one another and cannot co-exist. Consequently, a hierarchy is created in which one “set of values” (Canadian) is deemed superior to the other. Those whose “set of values” are deemed inferior are themselves seen as inferior and less Canadian. Additionally, this dichotomy leaves no room for a discussion of Canada’s indigenous peoples pushing them out of “Canadianness” altogether.
* Very arbitrary and subjective phenomenon. I am not using in the sense that distinct Canadian values exist. Rather I am using it as many use it to other certain people.