‘The latest hand-wringing on multiculturalism and its first cousin, immigration, in reality is a debate about Muslims’

Muslim-bashing dilutes our democratic values

By Haroon Siddiqui

Toronto Star, 11 June 2006

Bigotry increases in times of trouble, as we have seen in our own age.

An anti-French backlash was palpable in English Canada when bilingualism was introduced in 1969 and a year later we had the FLQ crisis. I felt it in the Prairies when the paper I worked for, The Brandon Sun, had the foresight and courage to support the Official Languages Act and oppose the War Measures Act.

The recession of the early 1990s stoked anger at multiculturalism and helped spawn the anti-immigrant Reform party.

The 1990 Oka crisis, the 1999 Mi’kmaq fisheries dispute in Nova Scotia and the Nisga’a land deal in British Columbia led to charges that “race-based rights” for First Nations would undermine common Canadian values.

On all those occasions, as also during the recent standoff in Caledonia, pessimists said racism lurks just below the surface and can bubble up any time. Congenital optimists like myself dismiss such episodes as aberrations, confident that the Canadian social equilibrium will always reassert itself.

The post-9/11 period, even while helping Canada become more Canadian, is slowly Americanizing our public discourse. It has fanned an anti-Islamism that resembles the old anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism.

The arrest of 17 Muslims on terrorism charges has made matters worse, and also rekindled the debate on multiculturalism: Are we being too tolerant of different cultures? Do we instill enough “Canadian values?” Should we make newcomers sign a code of ethics?

Quebec once flirted with just such “a social contract” between immigrants and “the host society.” But it had to give up the hare-brained idea.

We already have a social contract. It is the rule of law. That is our common holy parchment, bonding the native-born and the foreign-born together. Anything else is populist humbug. Or an attempt by the powerful to dictate to the weak.

The latest hand-wringing on multiculturalism and its first cousin, immigration, in reality is a debate about Muslims.

When some people say we must rethink immigration, they are not talking about the problem of economic integration of newcomers. They are pointing fingers at Muslims: Do these bearded men and burqa-clad women – their infinitely small number magnified by the media – belong in Canada?

Yes, they do. Similar doubts were raised earlier about Catholics, Orthodox Jews and others.

Muslims are no less integrated than other comparable groups. In fact, evidence points to higher levels of education and lower rates of crime among them.

Yet there’s a drumbeat of Muslim-bashing, conflating the criminality of a few with all. This assertion of collective guilt takes many forms.

Any time some Muslims somewhere commit an atrocity, a chorus of voices demands of Muslims everywhere: “What do you have to say about this?”

They should have to say nothing more than Christians or Jews or Hindus must for the wrongs of their co-religionists. As Lieutenant-Governor James Bartleman rightly said: “We would not condemn the Italian community because of the Mafia. We would not condemn the Irish community because of the IRA.” Or Serb Canadians for the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the name of religious nationalism.