Canadian Muslim leaders wary of Stephen Harper’s Ramadan meal motives

By Amanda Connolly | Jun 24, 2015 |

The heads of two Canadian Muslim groups say they will be watching carefully to see whether the gesture offered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a Ramadan iftar on Monday will result in a change in how the government talks about Muslims.

Although U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron have hosted their own iftars for years, Monday’s meal marked the first time

Harper welcomed 40 members of the Muslim community into 24 Sussex to break their Ramadan fasts alongside members of his government. While the event was billed as aiming to honour the contributions of Muslim Canadians to the country, the leaders of two of the country’s biggest Muslim groups say the government’s track record of heated rhetoric makes them uncertain as to whether it will lead to concrete change in how officials talk about Muslims.

“This event certainly came as a surprise to many given the government’s record of action that has alienated, marginalized, many Canadian Muslim communities,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “Given that it is election season, we hope that this event is not merely a vote-soliciting tactic but a real sign of change of tone and attitude.”

The government’s relationship with Canadian Muslims has grown increasingly fraught over the past year, as efforts to combat radicalization and the controversial debate over attempts to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies have come to the forefront of public attention.

Critics have accused the government of blaming Muslims for terrorism and of sowing fear and prejudice against them, and suggest the Conservatives are trying to use fear of ISIS-inspired violence as a cultural wedge issue to agitate the Tory base in an election year.

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But Gardee says Canadian Muslims are not naive when it comes to examining the government’s motives and its track record.

His organization has been urging Canadians to pay attention to how their representatives — and those seeking to replace them — talk about issues like plurality and diversity in order to make informed decisions in the election.

“The reality is that this event is not occurring in a vacuum. It is an election year all candidates and political parties, including the Prime Minister and Conservative Party, are no doubt looking to burnish their credentials with voters from different communities and that includes Canadian Muslim communities,” said Gardee.

“Alongside this initiative of Ramadan outreach, it’s our hope that the Prime Minister will tone down his government’s rhetoric in relation to Islam and Canadian Muslims and continue to be more inclusive of all Canadians, including those they may disagree with on policy issues…. »