By Arab News
By Mohammed A. Ali Khan
Does the surge of desecration at mosques in Canada represent a new trend or simply the frustration of an unhappy soul?
The evidence suggests that these are isolated incidents and that the Muslims’ interaction with fellow Canadians of other faiths remains largely positive.
In the last two years mosques or construction sites have been vandalized in Gatineau, Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton, Waterloo, and Vancouver. The Outaouais Islamic Center in Gatineau, Quebec, was vandalized twice last week — following two earlier attacks — with attempts to smash windows, set cars on fire and the spraying of hate messages. Another mosque in Aylmer, Quebec received a letter asking Muslims to leave Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney condemned these attacks, as did B’nai Brith Canada and the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Quebec authorities stepped up vigilance and search for the culprits. They had nabbed teenagers for the earlier attacks. Canadian laws impose stiffer penalties for hate-related violence.
Muslims aren’t totally surprised. A CBC poll last year suggested that most Canadians believe that Aboriginals and Muslims suffer the worst discrimination. A survey two years ago by Angus Reid said that Canadians believe that Islam promotes violence, and they view Muslims and Sikhs unfavorably. Other polls suggest that Canadians who interact with Muslims are impressed. Several Muslim organizations are pursuing interfaith dialogue, mostly with Christians.
Churches, synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and schools have also suffered vandalism. Such attacks have been attributed to racists and bigots because polls show that most Canadians welcome diversity as enriching Canada.
The Gatineau mosque serves 5,000 Muslims. It received nearly $30,000 in 2010 to strengthen its security. The government is helping nonprofit organizations to improve their security systems against hate-related crimes. Royal Canadian Mounted Police has sent out reminders that organizations can apply for grants of up to $100,000 till next month.
Fortunately, such incidents are relatively few. Though the crime rate is low, Statistics Canada reports that hate crimes are rising.
News from abroad — of bloody repression in Syria, Iran and elsewhere, Muslims blowing each other up in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and attacking Christians in Nigeria, Egypt and Indonesia — tarnish the image of Islam and of Muslims. Sections of the media, racists and bigots promote Islamophobia consistently. It didn’t help that Prime Minister Harper said on national television last September that “Islamism” posed the worst threat to Canada. Just what is Islamism, how is it related to Islam or to Canadian Muslims who are serving Canada faithfully every day and just how Islamism, whatever it is, threatens Canada has never been explained.
The incidents show that Canada, while being a great country, suffers from the stress modern life produces. One in five Canadians needs treatment for depression or mental illness. Jobs are harder to find by immigrants and mainstream Canadians. The divorce rate is high. Alcoholism, family violence and suicides, especially among Aboriginal youth, are heart-rending.
The country is being transformed. Mosques, temples, gurudwaras and pagodas have sprung up in major cities. In areas of Toronto, one sees more brown and black faces than white. Muslims are contributing in every field, right up to House of Commons and the Senate. In the universities Muslim students arrange an Islamic awareness week every year, with official approval, which provides knowledge about Islam. In North America converts lead in spreading Islam’s true message. Muslims are now the largest group in Canada after Christians – with about a million people out of 32 million – and the number is rising.
This poses a formidable challenge. Canada’s Muslims come from Indonesia to the West Indies and almost every country in between. Their education levels, understanding of Islam, temperament, wisdom, culture and outlook toward Canada, Canadians and life itself differ markedly. They are building mosques, which they need for prayers, religious instructions and other activities, and this is no small achievement. Some are reaching out to fellow Canadians and providing social services. But, as a community, they have not extended the same energy to building bridges with Canadians of other faiths or to serving the Muslim community. Some needy Muslims have to turn to other communities or the government for help.
Formerly only skilled immigrants came. Canada’s family reunification program and offering asylum to those found to face more than a mere possibility of facing persecution, cruelty or unusual treatment or punishment in their own countries now brings in Muslims who find adjustment to life in Canada hard.
Unemployment, divorce rates, crimes, drug addiction, alcoholism and family violence have risen among Muslims. In Ottawa far more Muslim youth are in detention than their numbers warrant. Some Muslim organizations are trying to deal with these challenges sporadically. There is no long-term plan, vision, unity or sustained cooperation between Muslim organizations, even in the capital city. Efforts to unite Muslims and Muslim organizations and encourage them to act with wisdom, discipline, team spirit and patience draw mostly yawns or vague offers of moral support.
There is no national organization in the country to unite and uplift the Muslims, build bridges with fellow Canadians of other faiths and plan for the future. The Council of Muslim Communities of Canada, the Islamic Society of North America Canada and the Canadian Islamic Congress were established and made some efforts. But poor leadership and mismanagement turned off their supporters and they stumbled. Perhaps the new generation of Muslims will improve the situation. Perhaps.
– Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge. He is a former president of the Ottawa Muslim Association and founder of the Muslim Coordinating Council of the National Capital Region which sought to uplift the Muslim community and build understanding with fellow Canadians of other faiths.