Creating divisions in a land of harmony and peace


Creating divisions in a land of harmony and peace
Creating divisions in a land of harmony and peace

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

Western democracies thrive on political parties attacking each other, especially during an election campaign. Such arguments spotlight their proposed policies on major issues and help the voters  decide which leaders are most likely to serve their interests.

This year Canada will have a federal election and the main parties - the governing Conservatives, the official opposition the New Democrats and the opposition Liberals, and even the small Green party, have begun vying for support.

But this year is becoming ugly. The opposition parties and many in the media are accusing the Conservative government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of promoting Islamophobia and dividing Canadians in order to divert attention away from the government’s record and to help portray them as the true defenders of the country.

In major cities throughout Canada, thousands of people demonstrated against a proposed new terrorism law that grants new powers to the security agencies without providing effective oversights to ensure that those powers are not abused. Former prime ministers, Supreme Court judges, academics and others have called the bill, which is ostensibly designed to combat terror, a threat to the rights of all Canadians. The Aboriginals have stated that they will challenge the government’s move in court.

The Conservatives’ scaremongering, however, is garnering public backing as they attack jihadists as being a serious threat to the safety of Canadians. Critics have said the government is playing with fire by creating divisions in the country.

Most Canadians know of several terrorism attempts in Canada in recent years that the authorities thwarted. But last October, two Canadian Muslims, one a disillusioned Christian who had converted to Islam and the other a drug addict with a criminal record, killed two unarmed Canadian soldiers. They stated, as did other terrorists, that they acted because Canada had joined the war against Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. The attempted terrorism has been condemned by Canadian imams and Muslim organizations.

The prime minister’s statements have been criticized by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.  The NDP leader has been speaking strongly against the government stance for months. Now Liberal leader Trudeau has chastised the government. “We all know what is going on here. It is nothing less than an attempt to play on people’s fears and foster prejudice, directly toward the Muslim faith. This is not the spirit of Canadian liberty. It is the spirit of the Komagata Maru (which was carrying Sikh immigrants but was turned back). Of the St. Louis (which was transporting Jewish refugees but was not allowed to land in Canada).” He was referring to Canada’s denying entry to Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and blacks earlier in the 20th century. He also condemned the internment of Japanese and Italian Canadians during the Second World War.

Harper and Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister for Multiculturalism, deny that they are against Muslims. Harper has stated that moderate Muslims oppose the niqab (veil) and he once praised Canadian Muslims for trying to thwart extremism in Canada. The government made niqab, which only a few Muslim women wear, an issue when it declared that a Muslim woman  could not take the oath of Canadian citizenship unless she removed the veil. The courts ruled the government action unconstitutional but the government said it will appeal against the court’s decision.

Harper has singled out the mosque as a possible source of terrorism though security services acknowledge that  imams and Muslim leaders are working with them to stop terrorism.

Ironically,  Canadian Security Intelligence Services documents, obtained by the Toronto Star, state that right-wing and white supremacists have been the “main ideological source” for 17 percent of isolated terrorist attempts worldwide followed by 15 percent for Muslim extremists and 13 percent for left-wing and “black power” groups. 

Such violence also takes place in Canada, but it does not get similar media and government attention. Last June, for example, three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers were shot dead by Justin Bourque in Moncton, New Brunswick. Last month, three people were arrested for plotting to open fire at a shopping center in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was not branded as terrorism.

Now the government is not only repeating that jihadism threatens Canada, it is also stating that the niqab is against “Canadian values.” The same thing could, of course, be said about temples and synagogues and about the headwear of Sikhs, Jews and Catholic nuns. But nobody in the government is stating that.

Conservative member of Parliament Larry Miller said that any Muslim woman wanting to  take the citizenship oath wearing a niqab should “stay the hell where you came from.”

Tory MP John Williamson asserted that “… it makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while we bring in brown people to work in these jobs.”

Such statements do not reflect the Canadian people’s values. They are nevertheless dangerous for the harmony that prevails in Canada. 

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.