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Posts Tagged ‘National Post’

Barbara Kay seems not to like open secularism.

Her National Post opinion piece “Religious Symbols Don’t Belong in Public Schools” (May 25, 2009) begins by announcing that last year’s Bouchard-Taylor commission report on reasonable accommodation has backfired: Quebecers today are less willing to reasonably accommodate than before the report came out! Poll responses report an 8% increase in those who consider non-Christian immigrants ‘threats’ to Quebec society. While I wouldn’t tie this directly to the release of the report (correlation, causality, what?), it still points to a curious dynamic in Quebec secularism and culture. The Movement Laique Quebecois (MLQ) recently called for a parliamentary affirmation of the secular character of the province and a “secular charter” ensuring “neutrality around religion in publicly funded fields”. This translates specifically into requesting a ban on ‘religiously symbolic’ clothing for doctors, teachers, and judges.

Kay supports the MLQ and goes further to approve the French model of laïcité, where the ban on what she calls “religious garb” was extended to schoolchildren as well as their teachers. Schoolchildren, she writes, shouldn’t be set apart from their peers by their clothing, because group bonding at school is best encouraged through what she calls “external sameness”. I don’t disagree with her about that – school and military uniforms act similarly to promote “external sameness”. (Prison uniforms too, for that matter.) But the eradication of (external) difference is often less about group bonding than it is about the exercise of social power and the promotion of homogeneity.

Kay then quotes a recent column by Christian Rioux implying that the French policy “put an end to the escalation of fundamentalism” – implying that schoolchildren wearing hijab, for instance, were its “public vehicle” (!). Did Muslim French young women wearing the hijab in school know they were the “public vehicle” of “Islamic fundamentalism”? I think someone should tell them – maybe they missed the memo.  The not-so-subtle implication is that the ever-present threat of ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ (the big bearded boogeyman) can be countered even in Quebec – but only if we can keep the publicly-employed or the publicly-educated from wearing their religion on their sleeves. (Or, to be more precise, on their heads.) Kay notes that the debate (l’affaire du foulard) in France “fizzled and died”, and declares that this “points to an obvious, welcome fact: Although their voices were shrill and seemed to point to widespread support, Islamic fundamentalists were revealed as a minority in France’s Muslim community.” Right, because only an “Islamic fundamentalist” would wear a hijab to school. The alternative Kay describes, taken by all but the “fundamentalists”, is ‘integrating’ into “France’s heritage culture”. But what is a ‘heritage culture’? Cultures change and adapt; they’re historical; they transform and shift. Does a “heritage culture” do those things too? Can a “heritage culture” go beyond ‘reasonably accommodating’ non-Christian immigrants to, say, letting them participate in and shape that culture? “Heritage culture” seems too often to be used as a euphemism for, well, less pretty ideas of cultural legitimacy.

For example, one of the specific changes recommended by the Bouchard-Taylor report was removing the crucifix from the wall of Quebec’s National Assembly: “Still in keeping with the notion of the separation of Church and State, we believe that the crucifix must be removed from the wall of the National Assembly, which, indeed, is the very place that symbolizes the constitutional state…” (“Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation”, full English edition, p. 20) and “This cross…suggests that a very special closeness exists between legislative power and the religion of the majority. It seems preferable for the very place where elected representatives deliberate and legislate not to be identified with a specific religion. The National Assembly is the assembly of all Quebecers” (p. 152). The report was simply recommending removing the crucifix from its current place to somewhere more appropriate (less symbolically loud, less imbricated in the workings of legislation), but Jean Charest, the Quebec premier, “quickly rejected” this recommendation, saying “we cannot erase our history.” For all the angst over secularism, Quebec politics continue to be conducted under the aegis of the cross! The justification offered by the premier is significant: the crucifix in the National Assembly is not a religious symbol but is a historical artifact. It is part of the “heritage culture”. (By the by, it was installed there in 1936, which really isn’t that long ago. How long does it take for something to become part of the “heritage culture”?) Could one extrapolate this reasoning to the prayers that were still said at municipal council meetings – are those also part of the “heritage culture”, or are they “religious”? Or – perish the thought! – might they be both, requiring a more complicated picture of the intersection of religion and culture?

Reuters Picture - Crucifix on the wall of the National Assembly

Reuters Picture - Crucifix on the wall of the National Assembly

There’s a lesson to be learned from the French ban on conspicuous religious symbolism, Kay says. She doesn’t describe this lesson in detail, but implies that a similar ban on ‘religiously symbolic garb’ in schools as well as in public offices would 1) promote group bonding through accelerated integration; 2) stop dead any rise in “Islamic fundamentalism”; and also 3) stimulate some reactionary alarms about a supposed “curtailment of rights”: there will “doubtless be the usual suspects charging the group with racism”. Whether or not it is racism is another discussion, but I do think it’s fair to suggest that the MLQ’s demand is rooted in a more fundamental discomfort with difference. Only by eradicating religious symbolism on the part of those in the employ of the state, its argument must run, can Quebec secularism be secured. The question then is how far this logic will go. What about religious symbolism in the workplace? Can a car saleswoman wearing hijab be truly neutral as she works in the public sphere?

The obvious and immediate response, of course, is to reassure everybody involved that in fact nothing bad will happen if a teacher is wearing a kippah while teaching history. Essentially, though, this isn’t a debate between those who see an obligation to wear certain things and those who want to avoid contaminating the public sphere with religion. At its more fundamental level, this is a debate between different models of coexistence, and indeed of different models of secularism. Secularism is a fact of Quebec society, as the Bouchard-Taylor report repeats (p. 133), and so doesn’t need to be constantly reaffirmed. Rather, the report recognizes that there are different models of secularism available, just as there exist different (and equally legitimate) kinds of social unity, and so the question remaining is which secularism Quebec will adopt.

The MLQ includes in its demands the “publication of a white paper” or parliamentary commission on the place of religion in public life. Why does this sound familiar? Oh, right, because the Bouchard-Taylor commission report called for a white paper too (pp. 153-154), as a way of contributing to and structuring the debate on Quebec secularism. The difference between the two, however, seems to be that the report takes the time to outline what it means by secularism (see its chapter 7, “The Quebec System of Secularism”, pp. 132-154). It outlines what it views as four key principles (1) the moral equality of persons; 2) freedom of conscience and religion; 3) state neutrality toward all religions; and 4) the separation – or, better yet, the reciprocal autonomy – of religions and the state) and then describes two very different models: “rigid” secularism, adopted by those seeking to erode religious belief and practice in the cause of integration, and “open” secularism, which seeks not to eradicate but to build dialogue across those same differences. The Bouchard-Taylor report strongly advocates an open secularism, which, it says, is the model that Quebec has historically developed.

Barbara Kay, on the other hand, presents arguments for a rigid secularism that refuses public difference in the name of public unity. “Let diversity flourish in our private lives,” she concludes. “Let unity flourish in public.” I would argue, with the Bouchard-Taylor report, that a fuller, deeper sense of community is possible without leveling all religious and ethnic particularities. Coexistence, that is, does not require uniformity. The report has this to say on the topic of ‘religious’ attire in the public sphere:

prohibitinagents of the State from wearing religious signs has a twofold cost, i.e. the restriction of a)
the freedom of conscience and religion of the individuals concerned and, possibly, of b) equality of access to jobs in the
public and parapublic service. If, as we saw in Chapter V, no right is absolute, a liberal democracy must always have compelling
reasons for infringing the basic rights and freedoms of part of the population. Is the appearance of neutrality aimed at by the rule
prohibiting agents of the State from wearing religious signs a compelling reason?
The appearance of neutrality is important but we do not believe that it warrants a general rule that would prohibit agents of the
State from wearing religious signs. If such a prohibition is better justified, as we will see later, in the case of certain specific
functions, what is important, above all, generally speaking, is that agents of the State display impartiality in the performance of their
duties. A State employee must seek to accomplish the mission attributed by legislators to the institution that he serves. His acts
must neither be dictated by his faith nor his philosophical beliefs but by the desire to achieve the purposes inherent in the position
that he occupies. Why should we think that the person who wears a religious sign would be less likely to display impartiality,
professionalism and loyalty to the institution than the person who does not wear such a sign? Why, therefore, dwell on external
displays of faith? Should we not also demand of State employees that they relinquish any conviction of conscience?34 It would
obviously be absurd to do so. Why think a priori that people who display their religious affiliation are less likely to take things into
consideration than those who do not externalize their convictions of conscience or who externalize them in a much less visible
manner (the wearing of the Catholic cross comes to mind)? Why refuse one person the presumption of impartiality and grant it to

prohibiting agents of the State from wearing religious signs has a twofold cost, i.e. the restriction of a) the freedom of conscience and religion of the individuals concerned and, possibly, of b) equality of access to jobs in the public and parapublic service. (…) The appearance of neutrality is important but we do not believe that it warrants a general rule that would prohibit agents of the State from wearing religious signs. (…) [A State employee’s] acts must neither be dictated by his faith nor his philosophical beliefs but by the desire to achieve the purposes inherent in the position that he occupies. Why should we think that the person who wears a religious sign would be less likely to display impartiality, professionalism and loyalty to the institution than the person who does not wear such a sign? Why, therefore, dwell on external displays of faith? Should we not also demand of State employees that they relinquish any conviction of conscience? It would obviously be absurd to do so. Why think a priori that people who display their religious affiliation are less likely to take things into consideration than those who do not externalize their convictions of conscience or who externalize them in a much less visible manner[?] Why refuse one person the presumption of impartiality and grant it to the other one? (p. 149)

The Bouchard-Taylor report isn’t without its problems, but it – and the position of the Federation de Femmes du Quebec, as covered here by Krista two weeks ago – seems far more aligned with the spirit of ‘reasonable accommodation’ than Barbara Kay. Rigid secularism, on the other hand, promotes a curious attitude toward religion: ‘Want to follow a non-Christian religion?’ it seems to ask. ‘Well, okay, as long as it doesn’t show itself publicly.’

There’s another side to this whole question, though, and that has to do less with rigid secularist anxieties than it does about the way the debate is framed. Why are these material items (pieces of cloth, for example) considered religious symbols (as in the title of Kay’s op-ed)? A symbol, according to certain semiotic theories, is a ‘conventional sign’: something socially recognized to stand for something else. Because it stands in for something else, it is in a sense displaceable: signs can approximate each other, so it shouldn’t really matter that much to you if you wear a large crucifix or a small one. By calling the offending articles ‘symbols’, the debate is blindsiding and completely excluding those – like many Muslim women – who consider their adoption the fulfillment of a duty rather than symbolic expression.

If symbols are conventional signs, is there consensus on what the public presence of the kippah represents? Do we agree on what a hijab represents? The debate centers on signes religieux ostensibles – and seems to imply that, collectively, the presence of large crosses, hijabs, kippahs, and other supposed evidences of religious practice signals the incursion of religion into the public sphere. Public officials, the MLQ and Barbara Kay argue, compromise the neutrality of the state as soon as they metaphorically represent religion.

The ironic thing is, though, that throughout all this discussion, the state takes on itself the right – and the mandate – of carefully defining the purpose, function, and form of ‘religious symbols’. (The crucifix is “historical” but the hijab is “religious.” It’s like a game of symbols, but the state is making up the rules…) It dedicates itself to marking the limits of religion, the site of religion, the proper domain of religion. It defines what is correct religious practice. And, finally, it outlines the proper expression of religiosity. The state, that is, engages itself in theological reflection!

So much for the separation of religion and politics.

See also:

Talal Asad, “Trying to Understand French Secularism,” in Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World, ed. Hent de Vries and Lawrence Sullivan (Fordham UP, 2006) (pdf online here)

Joan Scott, The Politics of the Veil (Princeton UP, 2007)

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Last week’s National Post editorial (“Islam and democracy”, May 11, 2009)
National Post editorial board: Islam and democracy
Posted: May 11, 2009, 8:30 AM by NP Editor
Editorial, Full Comment
In the heady foreign policy free-for-all that followed 9/11, thousands of articles were written about whether Islam is compatible with democracy. The pessimists argued that the religion’s basic tenets — jihad, a lack of separation between mosque and state, a rejection of true religious pluralism — are fundamentally incompatible with democratic values. Optimists, such as George W. Bush and the men he’d surrounded himself with, took the opposite view: They believed Muslims would quickly build successful democratic societies once the Middle East’s political order was overthrown through invasion and regime change.
Both sides got it wrong. As several currently newsworthy examples show, Islam and democracy are perfectly compatible in stable Muslim societies. But in societies where that stability is lacking — such as Iraq, Afghanistan and a growing list of failed states — radical Islam drives nations toward totalitarianism and nihilistic violence. While it doesn’t destroy democracy on its own, the extremists’ appeal to Islamic purity acts as a powerful accelerant once a society starts to burn.
First, the good news. In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, Islamist politicians felt compelled to moderate their message in the country’s recent election campaign — and fared poorly anyway. While it once was feared that Jemaah Islamiyah would turn the country into a southeast Asian version of Afghanistan, Indonesians have turned against radical Islam decisively in the years since the 2002 Bali bombing.
Similarly, in India (whose 150-million-plus Muslims rank as the world’s third-largest Islamic constituency), the recent elections were largely peaceful, and a planned boycott in Muslim-majority Kashmir attracted a mixed response. Turkey, too, remains a (generally) stable democracy, despite the election of a party with Islamist roots seven years ago.
It’s also worth noting that here in North America, we see little evidence that Muslims have rushed to reject Western political values in favour of some kind of shariah state-within-a-state, as many culture warriors once feared. Notwithstanding a few headline-grabbing episodes, Canadian Muslims generally have channeled their activist efforts into mainstream politics. The same is true in the United States.
Even in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, national elections have attracted high turnout –an amazing result given the deadly risks voters in those countries face on election day.
The question is: Why haven’t these nations become thriving, peaceable democracies? Why does the Arab Middle East (Iraq excepted) remain the land that democracy forgot? And why are a growing list of Muslim lands — including Somalia, Yemen, Lebanon, Gaza and Pakistan — all engaged in civil wars or explosive political stand-offs involving Islamofascistic jihadis?
All of these terrorist movements actually involve only a small corps of highly motivated jihadis — typically numbering in the mere thousands. But they’ve successfully exploited widespread, long-standing pathologies that have eroded popular support for the existing power structure: governmental corruption and dysfunction, unemployment and economic stagnation, murderous tribalism and sectarian alienation, narco-economics and a general paranoia of Western influences.
Islam has shown itself to be a useful rallying call against “infidels.” It supplies a ready-made banner under which to organize and unite reactionary xenophobes. And al-Qaeda’s in-house theologians have become skilled in cherry-picking Koranic passages and hadiths to justify any form of slaughter.
But it is important to remember that, like the communist ideology that inspired insurgencies in the post-war decades, militant Islam is actually a political artifice. In Pakistan, it was deliberately whipped up by a cynical military government seeking popular legitimacy in the 1970s (and was thereupon spread to Afghanistan and Kashmir by the country’s secret service). The same goes for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s. As with communism, Islamism will fade from history once ordinary people observe how cruel and hypocritical it is in practice — a process that is already well under way in Iran, which is now entering its fourth decade of clerical rule.
The war on terrorism has been waged under the slogan that our enemy “hates freedom.” That is literally true in the case of hard-core Islamofascists. But it doesn’t describe the majority of ordinary Muslims, who are simply looking for someone to fix their toxic societies. Our role in this struggle is to show them that, unlike the jihadis, we can offer them something better than a different brand of repression.
National Post

The National Post editorial board’s recent  “Islam and democracy” (May 11, 2009) is typical of myopic progressivist discourse that sees fit to voice concern over the lamentable state of World Muslim Democracy (WMD*). Myopic, because it refuses a broad historical perspective and insists on discovering monolithic and exclusive causal chains, and progressivist, because of its unflinching faith in itself as having developed a solution to the problem it defines. This attitude is persistent: it crops up across political spectrums and pervades worries about Muslim modernities. (I think you could probably read its ubiquity as overcompensation for some deep-structural anxiety of liberalism itself, but that’s another story for another time.) The editorial rehearses with enthusiasm the tired commonplaces of this sort of discourse, and so is a perfect example of the way self-congratulatory progress narratives incorporate into their world-picture what they call global “Islamism”.

The editorial sets itself against the background of the many articles fretting over whether Islam can coincide with democracy:

In the heady foreign policy free-for-all that followed 9/11, thousands of articles were written about whether Islam is compatible with democracy. The pessimists argued that the religion’s basic tenets – jihad, a lack of separation between mosque and state, a rejection of true religious pluralism – are fundamentally incompatible with democratic values. Optimists, such as George W. Bush and the men he’d surrounded himself with, took the opposite view: They believed Muslims would quickly build successful democratic societies once the Middle East’s political order was overthrown through invasion and regime change.

The “pessimists” assume that “jihad”, a “lack of separation between mosque and state”, and “a rejection of true religious pluralism” are “basic tenets” of Islam. This, of course, is gross (and irresponsible) simplification, but the National Post editorial does not question it; it appears to assume – along with “the pessimists” – that these caricatures are indeed “basic tenets”! (As an aside, the phrase ‘mosque and state’ is obviously riffing off the European history of confessional strife today contained in the phrase ‘church and state’, but remains only barely intelligible: the mosque is not the church of Islam; it does not function in Islam as the church does in Christianity; equating the two is at best lazy and at worst an attempt to impose the categories of one domain onto another.) The “optimists”, on the other hand, locate the problem with Muslim states not in Islam but in the political situation ‘on the ground’. Instead of developing this into a fruitful historical argument attentive to the many factors (some of them “Western”) troubling the political climates in the states under question, however, the “optimists” assume that – once certain obstacles are removed – they will develop into ‘successful democracies’. This only underscores the naivete of their position. They forget that today’s liberal democracies emerged through historical processes that, like any other, had more to do with contingency and happenstance than natural/teleological necessity.

While the editorial (rightly) goes on to declare both positions mistaken, it fails to interrogate a more basic assumption shared by both positions: namely, that “democracy” provides some sort of gauge against which “Islam” is to be measured. The editorial never spells out what “democratic values” actually are (after all, some most horrific crimes – including genocides – have been performed with the formal sanction of ‘democracy’), and so readers are left to conjecture that these are roughly the cardinal virtues of political liberalism (tolerance, freedom of speech, etc.). What the editorial intends by “Islam” is somewhat more difficult to decide. Regardless, it is this assumption implicit throughout the article that qualifies it as exemplary myopic-progressivist literature. The burden of proof is on Islam to demonstrate its compatibility with liberalism, but – for all our posturing as ‘critical thinkers’ – that question is never reversed. Why not, as feminist anthropologist Saba Mahmood has suggested, turn to theoretical resources offered by other traditions (such as Islam) to tease out the parochialisms and blind-spots of liberalism itself? Oh right, because there aren’t any.

Both “pessimists” and “optimists” are mistaken because, the editorial proclaims, Islam is compatible with democracy in stable societies but can help produce “totalitarianism and nihilistic violence” when less stable conditions obtain. When we reconstruct this scenario from the editorial as a whole, we can condense its argument to the following: a small number of “Islamo-fascists” who “hate freedom” are good at exploiting both scripture and the popular anxieties and political sympathies of “ordinary Muslims” which, when set in the context of failed states with rampant social “pathologies” (e.g., corruption, unemployment), stokes the fires of Muslim rage and translates into undue political support for “Islamist” parties.

This would be a coherent (though, I’d argue, misguided) argument if it were at all substantiated. As it stands, however, we are led through a convoluted series of emotive loops that merely regurgitates the stock phrases of such literature. First we are given “good” news: that – newsflash! – it is possible for Muslims to vote peaceably. (I.e., the latent violence lurking deep in the murky heart of your local neighbourhood Muslim does not always jump out to explode things at polling stations…) There is more good news: Canadian Muslims generally participate in mainstream politics and adopt Western political values. (The rather unsubtle implication is that Muslim Canadians don’t have a legitimate claim on Western political values – they need to adopt them. And, we might add, so much for multiculturalism.) We are then urged to wonder at the high voter turnout of the newly democratic Muslims of violent Iraq and Afghanistan. (No mention here, of course, of the measly 41% of eligible Albertans who voted in the last provincial election – of which a bare 52% vote share yielded an overwhelming parliamentary majority to the Conservative government (72 of 83 seats – so much for representation). Perhaps we should better ask: is Alberta compatible with democracy?)

The essential question at the heart of all this verbiage, we are told, is why benighted Muslim states do not boast thriving democracies. “Why does the Arab Middle East,” writes the editorial, “remain the land that democracy forgot?” Instead of investigating the complex power-relations at play in Middle Eastern post-colonies, however, the Post editorial opts to reduce discussion to answering why Muslims are so easily violent (“a growing list of Muslim lands…[are] engaged in civil wars or explosive political stand-offs involving Islamofascistic jihadis”).

A word on terminology seems overdue. The editorial’s indiscriminate (and apparently interchangeable?) reference to “Islamism”, “radical Islam”, “militant Islam”, “jihadis”, and “al-Qaida” leaves a trail of broken denotations and connotations in its wake. Use of the term “Islamofascism” is especially laughable, and recalls the Bushian drumbeats of war against a ridiculously-figured “Axis of Evil” – itself so described to rhetorically organize the powers of good against those of evil, as well as recall the Second World War. (Conflating National Socialism and the political aspirations of certain Muslim movements, it has also been argued, dilutes the horror of the Holocaust, and so could be seen as a paradigmatically anti-semitic gesture.)

“Islam,” the editorial writes, “has shown itself to be a useful rallying call against ‘infidels’.” (No hint here that Islam could be a rallying call for anything, let alone anything non-reactionary. Or that use of the word “infidel” speaks more to Western fantasies of a savage Orient than to historically-substantiated vocabulary.) “Al-Qaida’s in-house theologians” justify slaughter (as do, one might incidentally add, apologists for murdered innocents dismissed as “collateral damage”) – but the scales will eventually fall from “ordinary Muslims”‘ eyes, and then “Islamism will fade from history”. “Our role in this struggle”, we in the non-Muslim West, is to show these ordinary Muslims that “we can offer them something better than a different brand of repression.” The Post makes no pretentions at tempering its whiggish moralism. Having conducted an argument based on flagrant oversimplification and misconstruals, the editorial board is able to position itself as holding out the messianic promise of future redemption for the Muslim world. “Islam and democracy”, favoured hobbyhorse of imperial liberalism, is in this editorial trotted out once again to perform before an approving crowd. It canters and lopes around a ring, and the Post pirouettes on its back. Ultimately, however, such discourse speaks less about futures of democracy in Muslim states than it does about the progressivist need to self-validate.

* I don’t think it’s a coincidence the Weapons of Mass Destruction we used to hear so much about (WMD1) and World Muslim Democracy (WMD2) share an acronym. The parallels are too neat. For instance, if, having invaded a country, we can’t find WMD1, we can always say we did it for the sake of advancing WMD2. Having invaded, the prospect of finding WMD1 is practically foregone: we invade, ourselves using WMD1, in order to promote WMD2, and afterward can discover evidence of WMD1 in the form of (our own) empty shell casings scattered across the desert! We might have to then search harder for any tattered vestiges of WMD2, but can always install our own government and call it what we want.

** See the Gallup report “Do Muslims Want Democracy and Theocracy?” for relevant analysis with empirical basis.

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While reading this National Post piece by Stewart Bell I got thinking about fear and Canadian-ness. In the piece Bell discusses  a recent report released by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, a partnership of think-tanks in Britain, the United States, Israel and Jordan.

From white supremacist propaganda to radical Islamist recruiting videos, the Internet is awash with extremist content, but a report released yesterday says it is time to “end the current climate of impunity” enjoyed by those responsible.

The report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence calls on authorities to go beyond simply shutting down Web sites used to promote violent political extremism and to prosecute those behind them.

“We propose the selective use of takedowns in conjunction with prosecutions as a means of signalling that cyberspace is not beyond the law,” writes the centre, a partnership of think-tanks in Britain, the United States, Israel and Jordan.

While the report’s focus is Britain, the Canadian government was consulted by the study’s authors and Canada is experiencing similar problems with extremist groups using the Internet to recruit and radicalize followers.

Apparently, in Canada, the problem is not that police do not have the resources to shut these sites down but rather that the police do not use the resources at their disposal.

Initially my thought was “Great! Maybe now they will go after those white supremacist sites that threaten and terrify so many Canadians and that promote violence against so many Canadians.” But alas, it seems this is not the intention.  I should have known. We’re not the Canadians they’re thinking about when they think about protecting Canadians. The authorities want to protect ‘real’ Canadians.

While extremist groups of all stripes use the Internet, Canadian intelligence officials are particularly concerned about the radicalization of young Muslims, which the government calls a “serious problem” and a “direct and immediate threat” to Canada.

Really? So groups that call for ridding Canada of people of colour are not a direct threat to Canada? Does the terror that people of colour feel not count? What about the sites inciting hatred toward Muslims and Arabs? Does the fear that Muslims feel not count? Does the Islamophobia we Muslims living in Canada experience not count as a threat to Canadians? Or are we not real Canadians?

It seems we don’t count. Whether we be Muslims or not, it is not our safety and fear the authorities are concerned about. We are told to fear Caribbeans and Sikhs because they’re gang bangers. We are told to fear East Asians because they’re drug smugglers. We are told to fear Muslims and Arabs because they’re terrorists. But the question is who are they implying should be scared? Those who are scared, those who are threatened, those who authorities are hoping to protect are White and Christian. They are the Canadians authorities seem to mean when they dismiss the sources of fear for people of colour and Muslims. However, the threats to people of colour and Muslims ARE a threat to Canada because we live in Canada. We are a part of Canada.

Instead it seems that Muslims, who are Canadians, are being reported as a threat to their own country. When was the last time a crime by a white, non-Muslim was described as a threat to Canada? The way in which this statement is worded creates a dichotomy  – Muslim vs Canada. This statement has pitted the young Muslim against Canada. All of a sudden he is no longer a part of Canada. He is a threat to the country. Unless they are implying that these young Muslim men are a threat to themselves as well.

And of course, all this is to say nothing about addressing the real causes of the radicalization of these young Muslim men. But that is for another post.

Muslims for too long have been seen as foreigners. This despite the fact that we have been in Canada for generations. Yet, Muslims, along with people of colour, are still seen as not real Canadians. Our concerns are placed behind the concerns of White, non-Muslim Canadians. This is still an unfortunate reality and too often leads to feelings of alienation and displacement within the Canadian context.

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