The International Association for the Study of Canada (a division of the Association for Canadian Studies) and the Canadian Race Relations Foundationrecently commissioned the firms Leger Marketing in Canada and Caravan in the U.S. to ask several questions concerning immigration, integration, and diversity, which included the following question: Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree that “Muslims share our values.”
In each country some three in ten respondents agree that “Muslims share our values.” Disagreement is somewhat greater in Canada with approximately 55 percent of respondents saying they do not think “Muslims share our values,” compared to 50.3 percent in the U.S.
The survey leads us to raise other, arguably more central questions: Are North Americans, who happen to be Muslim, not part of the collective us?
A survey, even a well-intended one commissioned by groups admirably fighting racism, which includes the phrase “our values” might inadvertently suggest that Muslims are outsiders and/or conjure up the us versus them dichotomy. To borrow from Joe’s excellent post, written on the heels of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent speech at the Munich Security Conference
here is some old white-centric framing, with the [‘our’] obviously not including the Muslim … folks, who are othered as a ‘they.’ Presumably this means the [‘our’] are the virtuous … and the stereotyped “they” must conform to this conception of (white European) [values].”
What do Muslims value?
Instead of promoting (deliberately or inadvertently) the idea that Muslims are perpetual foreigners, and/or Islam is antithetical to the professed values of this country’s political culture, we need to educate ourselves. We should not lose sight of the diversity within the Muslim population (or any population for that matter). Muslims who immigrate to Canada do so for a variety of reasons and originate from numerous countries. Islam and Muslims are not new to Canada, though some people who identify as Muslim are new immigrants. The acknowledged history of Muslims in Canada actually dates from the mid-19th century. In fact, the Muslim community is almost as old as Canada itself. Four years after Canada’s founding in 1867, the 1871 Census recorded 13 Muslims among the population.
In the U.S. historical accounts of Muslims include extraordinary tales of African slaves who retained their religion despite great hardship. Furthermore, there are common roots and mutual elements associated with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which all originate from the Abrahamic tradition (see here and here).
A.G. Noorani in Islam and Jihad: Prejudice versus Reality (Zed Books, 2003) provides fundamental concepts indispensable to offsetting prejudice against Muslims and counterbalancing any tendency to romanticize un-Islamic brutalities of fundamentalists whom he argues are impostors abusing the faith as a political weapon. Similarly, as Dr. Amr Abdalla of the United Nations University for Peace points out, the life of Mohammed (considered the founder of Islam, and regarded by Muslims as a messenger and prophet of God) contains more stories of non-violence and forgiveness then it does militancy; and yet–just like in Christianity—certain stories are emphasized to fit particular political goals and ideologies.
Why does this matter?
The final question we raise is “why this matters,” and why it should matter to those of ‘us,’ such as the writers, who are permanently included in the ‘our.’
It matters because Canadians, like many in the U.S., are not immune to fear, prejudice, and/or even hatred, of Muslims and Islam as a religion. It matters especially at a time when the Canadian federal Christian Heritage Party (CHP) is calling for a national moratorium on immigration from Muslim countries to curb what it deems increasing radical Islamist power. Mike Schouten, a CHP candidate, considers the British Prime Minister’s recent words “powerful” for acknowledging that “multiculturalism has, in essence, been a failure” and demonstrating “just how complacent the West has been towards radical Islam”.
Tessa M. Blaikie is a sociology honours students at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.