Canada must embrace Muslim minority


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OTTAWA -- For the most part, Canada's commitment to multiculturalism and its protections of fundamental freedoms are sound.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/02/2015 (2774 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — For the most part, Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism and its protections of fundamental freedoms are sound.

But there are times in our history when Canada has shamefully turned on certain people because of who they are or where they came from.

We always later saw the error of these ways, apologizing for residential schools and Japanese internment camps, for example.

John Woods / The Canadian Press Shahina Siddiqui, President of the Islamic Social Services Association holds the handbook, United Against Terrorism - A Collaborative Effort Towards A Secure, Inclusive and Just Canada, at a press conference in the Winnipeg Central Mosque in Winnipeg Monday.

But at a Senate committee hearing last Monday a Manitoba Muslim leader, defending herself against accusations she herself was a terrorist sympathizer, said racist backlash against Muslim Canadians for the actions of terrorists has got to stop or history is going to repeat itself.

“We have to stop it now because we have the experience of Japanese internment,” Shahina Siddiqui said. “We did that to Japanese-Canadians out of fear. I hope this is not going to go there.”

If there was any real question about just how ingrained the fear of Muslims in Canada has become, it was answered Monday at that hearing.

Invited to speak in her capacity as the head of the Islamic Social Services Association about security threats in Canada at a committee studying the issue, Siddiqui was put on the defensive as Sen. Lynn Beyak demanded she explain her organization’s ties to terrorism.

“How can we trust community organizations to help us develop a counter-radicalization narrative when they themselves are affiliated with organizations that have ties to terrorists?” Beyak asked.

And she later said, her voice thick with incredulity, shouldn’t Siddiqui just stop “being offended” and grow a thicker skin, noting the terrorists who killed the Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris last month did so because they were offended at the cartoons the magazine published.

Siddiqui said if anyone has any real proof her organization or anyone she is affiliated with are radicals, they should produce it, but that innuendo and character assassinations were not helpful. In fact, she said, if the government continues to go after Muslim leaders such as herself, it will break the community and make it weak.

But Siddiqui is not alone. Much as Canadians feared Italians or Germans during the Second World War, today the enemy is Islam, and the fear is taking over.

When a senator of Canada, in an official committee, perpetuates the same myths and innuendoes, it is clear just how ingrained that fear has become.

It doesn’t matter how often Muslim leaders such as Siddiqui denounce terrorists. It doesn’t matter the vast majority of the more than one million Muslims who call Canada home are peaceful people.

Beyak did not want to speak to the Free Press about the hearing.

Siddiqui herself said she expected a little more from the Senate. But she also said while young people who saw or heard about what happened approached her this week feeling hurt and upset, they also “found it empowering to know that we can speak up and not be afraid.”

It is counterproductive for the government to ostracize all Muslims, to paint them all as sympathetic to the terrorist cause. The more they push Muslims to the fringes, the more young people will be drawn to the propaganda of IS and others.

Lorne Dawson and Daniel Hiebert, co-directors of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society, also testified at the committee Monday and discussed some of their research looking at what makes a young Muslim susceptible to radicalization.

Difficulty fitting into Canada and finding a way to be both Canadian and Muslim are at the top of the list.

We need people like Siddiqui, who is spending her time now trying to counsel Muslim families and train other community organizations to understand the scope of the problem facing their children, to recognize the warning signs, and to combat the relentless and well-funded recruitment efforts of IS.

Much as all Protestants were not responsible for the Ku Klux Klan nor all Catholics for the IRA, all Muslims are not to blame for the actions of a radical few.

The faster the rest of Canada accepts that and the more Muslim youth find a way to be both proudly Canadian and proud Muslims, the easier the job of preventing radicalization will be.


Mia Rabson is the Free Press parliamentary bureau chief.


Updated on Friday, February 27, 2015 6:34 AM CST: Replaces photo, changes headline

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