In the past half century, the country has embraced multiculturalism. Many religious groups make up the cultural mosaic of Canada: Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and others, including many of the Islamic faith in Canada. By and large, they and other religious groups live normal lives contributing honestly and peacefully to the general public good.
This country is justifiably proud of its diversity and celebrates its multiethnic heritage in pageants and festivals up and down the country. That makes the very hostile reaction to Liberal MP Iqra Khalid’s Motion 103 (a non-binding resolution condemning Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination) so shocking.
Mind you, opponents to Motion 103 have been quick to point out that Canadians already have plenty of protection against discrimination on religious and other grounds.
According to the Canadian Human Rights Act, “discrimination is an action or a decision that treats a person or a group negatively for reasons such as their race, age or disability.” The act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended.
Resistance to Motion 103 could be about what distinguishes Islam, and more importantly Islamic culture, from the rest. Every religion has internal conflicts and resistance to modernization, but Islam has elevated those conflicts to the point of civil war.
Apart from the headline wars raging in the Middle East, at least two civil wars are being fought within Islam. There is the ancient and ongoing Sunni-Shia schism, and the more recently sparked and much more violent conflict between Islamic modernists and traditionalists. The latter conflict spawned the Islamic State (IS) and has spilled beyond Islam: certain hardline Islamists now embrace a violent hatred of the West.
What’s poorly understood, particularly by westerners, is the extent to which IS and other Islamic traditionalists are reinventing their own past in order to support their strict medieval version of Islam.
In reality, Islam has a storied past. Its cultural achievements in mathematics, philosophy, banking and commerce laid the foundation of western European civilization. Islamic achievements, including Arabic numerals, fractional reserve banking and double-entry bookkeeping, have been credited with triggering the rise of the West. It’s arguable that there would not be a modern West without these advances, which makes our historical amnesia so troubling.
Islam is a monotheistic religion that shares its Abrahamic origins with Judaism and Christianity. Abrahamic religions share a particular trait: the word of God is written down in a book. In the case of Islam, that book is the Qur’an, considered by strict adherents to be the verbatim word of Allah.
This reality greatly empowers imams (religious leaders in Islam). Regrettably, some imams exploit their narrow interpretation of the Qur’an in an attempt to wage jihad against what they see as the decadence and immorality of the West.
Clearly, western fears of Islamist-inspired violence are not irrational. Indeed, the security services of Canada and other western nations actively seek intelligence from within these extremist groups in order to protect innocent citizens from terrorist attacks.
Many are concerned that Motion 103 would inhibit any kind of discretionary judgment in respect to Islam. Might criticism of IS and its brutality be considered a kind of Islamophobia? Would criticizing Islamic terrorism be classed as a hate crime in such circumstances?
That’s hard to imagine but given the existing protections against unwarranted discrimination in Canada, Motion 103 clouds rather than clarifies the Islamic question.
The vast majority of Islamic people in Canada are good citizens – they place their civic responsibilities ahead of their religious beliefs.
Rather than doubling down on another parliamentary gesture, MPs should put resources to work helping Canadians more fully appreciate the progressive history of Islam and its importance in the making of the modern world.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.