Unfortunately for the cartoon flap still raging in parts elsewhere, they live in Canada–where EVERYTHING is different. The Globe and Mail’s Michael Valpy elaborates:
The difference is illustrated by events in France in 2004 and Canada in 2005, said Tarek Fatah, a leader of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
In France, few if any representative voices within the French Muslim community were heard in the news media speaking in favour of a law banning conspicuous religious symbols, such as the traditional Muslim head scarf, in public schools.
This was the case even though a significant percentage of French Muslims had no problem accepting the law within the cultural context of French secular society.
The powerful Muslim opposition that was heard, Mr. Fatah said, came from “the mosque structure” but “the mobilization of moderate Muslim voices never happened.”
In contrast, in Canada in 2005, the news media pointedly reported that the most vociferous opposition to an Ontario law permitting Islamic religious tribunals to arbitrate family and marital disputes came from Muslim organizations themselves.
In Mr. Fatah’s view, the mainstream Muslim community in Canada has recognized the need to take what he calls “ownership of the word Muslim.” It has become actively involved in Canadian political life and not marginalized as is the case in many Western countries.
“It’s a shift, for Canadian Muslims, that has not happened anywhere else.”
Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said violent demonstrations simply aren’t a fit with the Canadian Muslim community — which, because of Canada’s immigration requirements, he said, is the most highly educated Muslim community in the world.
“They would find legal and peaceful means of protest far more productive,” said the imam and professor at the University of Waterloo. “With demonstrations, you cannot have full control over who does what.”
His organization, the largest Muslim umbrella group in Canada, has actively discouraged demonstrations over the cartoons and has spoken publicly against the violent protests — as has the Muslim Canadian Congress.
Earle Waugh, a University of Alberta Islamic scholar, said most Muslim immigrants to Canada do not feel sidelined, a factor significantly fuelling the protests in European countries.
“There is no sympathy within the Canadian Muslim community for a radical approach,” he said. “No sympathy for the fundamentalists.”
Canada has had no legacy of Muslim colonies like that of the British and French, and no history of migrant Muslim guest workers like that of Germany.
In other words, Canada has no history of either antagonizing or oppressing Muslims. Its institutions are not structured that way. It does, however, have a strong secular-democratic tradition, as well as an immigration policy which has for years been favoring the educated professional over the unskilled worker, thus making it more likely that modern, moderate Muslims will become citizens. All of these factors play in.
Most significant for me, though, is our secular-democratic tradition, which Muslims here value so strongly that they prefer it over the Sharia laws that, if we are to believe the media hype, are supposedly the fastest-growing menace to secular democracy in the world. It grants them the freedom to practice their faith unmolested, and hate crimes against Muslims are treated as seriously as hate crimes against any other group. Muslims are, plainly and simply, equal citizens in Canada. As a result, they take their citizenship very seriously–and treat it as an honor.
And that sense of equality and good citizenship pays dividends: Muslims here generally don’t feel threatened. Neither are they seeking to terrorize anyone else into adopting Islam as their religion. They are not ghettoized, for there are no ghettoes here. That’s not to say that they have no communities, only that their communities are more integrated with others. They get along well with their non-Muslim neighbors. It is, in short, a very different situation from that which prevails in France!
Canada’s multicultural society puts it at a distinct, if largely unheralded advantage. Straight Goods publisher Ish Theilheimer notes:
Canada has done an admirable job of resisting the charms of the fundamentalists. We have built a multi-cultural, diverse society that […] does not interpret any creed’s word in sacred texts as literal truth, does not zealously preach and advocate anyone’s gospel and does not assert the position that its national culture and interests are superior to any other.
Fundamentalism is not inevitable here or anywhere else. To hold it in check requires ordinary people to see real benefit in an ecumenical (sic) view of the world. The majority of people need to be convinced they will benefit even as others benefit, and that the world is more than a zero-sum exercise.
I like to think we have succeeded at that!
It’s a comforting thought that I live in a country that isn’t being hit with a rising tide of anti-Islam sentiment. I hope that serenity prevails. And that the rest of the world sits up and takes notice without our having to brag too loudly.
In the meantime, the voices of reason up here keep right on talking.