The wide-scale persecution of Muslims in Canada occurs mainly in the minds of an aggrieved and politically motivated few.
Most Muslim immigrants came here for personal freedoms, because Canada is a country where freedom of expression is a cherished value, writes Raheel Raza.
There is one particular aspect of the long-drawn human rights debacle involving Mark Steyn and Maclean's magazine that continues to trouble me. This concern goes far beyond the principals involved in a hearing before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
My unease lies in the constant use of the term "Islamophobia." Since I don't want to spend an inordinate amount of time counting how many times the "I" word was used by the complainants in the Steyn case, all I can say is that it's one too many. One might think there's an epidemic of Islam-bashing rampant in Canada. We have conferences and panels on Islamophobia. It's a hot topic at the pulpit. The bungling of some Canadian institutions in handling terrorism suspects only adds fuel to the fire.
Let's take a moment to debunk Islamophobia. The term was first coined in the 1980s but gained momentum after 9/11. In 1997, the British Runnymede Trust think tank defined Islamophobia as the "dread or hatred of Islam and therefore ... the fear and dislike of all Muslims," stating that it also refers to the practice of discriminating against Muslims by excluding them from the economic, social, and public life of the nation.
But many Muslims in the West use Islamophobia as a penalty card against free speech whenever there is criticism of Muslims. This reactionary response is stifling dialogue, debate and discussion -- all signs of a healthy thriving democracy. When I last checked, Canada still was one, but I fear Canadians are being held hostage by a small group of people who insist they speak for all Canadian Muslims.
They certainly don't speak for me.
Don't get me wrong. As a devout Muslim, I cherish and respect my faith. However, the question I ask is how much Islam is harmed by those demonizing it. From Dante's Inferno to the Danish Cartoons, there have always been people who demean Islam. Does this harm the faith? No.
We would have to be very insecure in our faith to think that the workings of evil minds and dirty politics would harm a strong, vibrant religion that has flourished for 1,400 years despite hostility and hate. I see no need for us to be apologists or defenders of the faith. Islam will survive, thank you.
But will Canadian Muslims thrive while trying to choke anyone who says boo? If an illegal immigrant is deported, is it Islamophobia? If suspects are picked up suspected of plotting to behead our prime minister, is that Islamophobia? Only in the minds of those Muslims who want to give the impression that they are always the victims.
I would like to ask what these Muslims were thinking when coming to Canada. Did they imagine they were coming to a sacred land where everything would be halal and holy? Also, were they forced to come here?
Most of us came here for personal freedoms. Canada is a country where freedom of expression is a cherished value. This includes the freedom to criticize the followers of a faith if they're indulging in stupidities.
The most recent example of inane behaviour is a Toronto imam blatantly going against Canadian law and blessing polygamous marriages. I can't think of a single Muslim country where brazen actions against the laws of the land would be accepted. But if non-Muslims voice critical opinions on this murky issue, Islamophobia will be used as a trump card to shut them up. Many of us would like to be invited to this imam's farewell-from-Canada party soon.
My version of Islamophobia is an extreme fear at the way Islam has been misused, misquoted and misrepresented by some Muslims. Stifling intellectual debate; trying to pass off cultural values as Islam; unreasonable accommodation requests; intolerance against others while screaming racism for themselves and total disrespect for the culture of this land we live in and call home -- to me, this is Islamophobia.
We need to understand that one of Islam's strengths is the concept of reasoning. Perhaps Muslim communities need to reason that one person doesn't speak for all Canadian Muslims. Maybe we need to create better bridges and dialogue with our Canadian counterparts to understand that all new and settling groups face challenges, and it takes sacrifices and maturity to deal with a plethora of issues, including racism. This maturity means strengthening ourselves from within first, and learning to treat others as we want them to treat us.
Raheel Raza is an intercultural and interfaith diversity consultant and author of Their Jihad ... Not My Jihad.