People immigrate. Religions don’t.

By Amy Awad, National Post 27/02/2014

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI), a national public policy think tank, claims its mission is to make “poor quality public policy unacceptable.” Their first debate of 2014 is tonight.

Unlike recreational debating societies, MLI is supposed to be providing real policy alternatives. But the resolution being debated tonight is informed by fear: “Muslim immigration is no threat to Canada or the West.” Can you imagine if the word “Muslim” were replaced by any other religious or ethno-cultural group — say “Jewish” or “black”?

Over the past century, Western democracies have held public debates on whether or not blacks ought to be given certain rights, and whether Jews threatened the European societies in which they resided. The debates were based on the problematic premise that blacks, Jews or other minorities were monolithic groups with defined characteristics, and that those characteristics were more important than the humanity they shared with everyone else.

Similarly, can we really start a debate about “Muslim immigration”? There is no such thing. Rather, there is immigration of a large variety of Muslim individuals from a broad range of countries and cultures around the world with a wide range of religious practices. Recall that 20% of the world’s population is Muslim. It is not possible to generalize about the threat they may or may not pose to Canada. We should not accept the very premise of this debate.

Even more troubling are the implicit consequences of the question. After all, MLI aims to provide “policy alternatives.” What policy alternative is being suggested or implied? Are we prepared to close immigration to individuals of a particular faith? Would we limit the democratic rights of Muslims already in Canada? Can a secular state with constitutionally enshrined religious freedom be excluding people based on their faith?

And what about people who become Muslim after immigrating to Canada? Do we ask them to leave? After all, Islam is a faith. People adhere by choice and not by birthright necessarily.

If we are not prepared to go that far, why stir up xenophobic sentiment?

There is some comfort in knowing that attendees will likely get a healthy dose of reality from author and journalist Doug Saunders, whose most recent book, “The Myth of the Muslim Tide,” provides a strong rebuttal to scaremongers. However, one wonders if this debate could have been framed in a way that doesn’t confirm the misplaced fear and suspicion present in our zeitgeist.

Muslims have been living in Canada since the late 1800s. They are an extremely diverse group of people who continue to contribute immensely to society in numerous ways. Think Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, former Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed, Ottawa University’s former Dean of Engineering Tyseer Aboulnasr, the late Lt.-Commander Wafa Dabbagh, Ontario Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi, Toronto Maple Leafs player Nazem Kadri, or television producer Zarqa Nawaz. By focusing on an alleged “threat,” the real and meaningful contributions of Canadian Muslims will likely be lost in the discussion amidst polemics of suspicion.

Amy Awad is the Human Rights Coordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims.…