I had many thoughts in the wake of two recent acts of disgraceful anti-Muslim behaviour here in Canada.
And that was before the incredible results of the referendum this week in the United Kingdom in which 52 percent of those who voted cast their ballots in favour of leaving the European Union. Racism and anti-immigration attitudes, encouraged and exploited by populist politicians, made the difference in an outcome that defies reason. It is a crushing blow for those of us who know in our hearts the only hope for the future of this troubled world is for people of all nationalities, cultures, and religions, or none, to live together in peace. We need to build bridges, not walls.
It could have been a member of my family attacked in a London, Ontario supermarket by a woman wearing, of all things, a red T-shirt with “Canada” prominently displayed in white along with the maple leaf, this country’s national emblem. That was one of my first thoughts after the two, disgraceful anti-Muslim incidents a few days earlier.
The alleged attacker’s face, captured on the victim’s cell-phone camera, is twisted in malevolent rage. That image went international, to be interpreted rightly or wrongly, as somehow representative of an Islamophobic attitude in Canada.
This is the country where a Conservative federal government ran a blatantly anti-Muslim campaign for re-election last summer and fall, a campaign that fuelled that stance by focussing out of all proportion on the non-issue of a Muslim woman who refused to remove her hijab head-covering to take the oath of Canadian citizenship.
The Conservative MP in our local Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound riding who earlier supported his government’s position calling for removal of the hijab with that outrageous, public, “go back to hell where they came from” comment was re-elected. But to the great credit of Canadian voters, The Harper government was defeated, replaced by a majority Liberal government and a Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, with a much different attitude. He called it “sunny ways.”
The majority of Canadians rejected hate as an expression of government policy. That’s if you count those of us who also voted for the NDP in all parts of Canada. That includes Quebec; but I think it’s fair to say national NDP leader Tom Mulcair paid a heavy price in that province for his principled stand against the forced, citizenship-oath removal of the hijab during last year’s election campaign.
The election of a “sunny ways” Canadian government was a hopeful event, one that did much indeed to help stop our country’s descent into what I don’t hesitate to call dark ways.
But no one should be under any illusions: the struggle continues. South of the border the fate of a great country hangs in the balance as the man who would be president fans the flames of hate and fear, especially of Muslims. It can’t help but encourage those in this country and in other parts of the western world who have similar attitudes.
It’s perhaps easy to fall into that trap, given the terrible crimes being committed in the world by criminal fanatics. They should be brought to justice. But as U.S. President Barack Obama so correctly said recently, talk of “war” only gives those fanatics what they want.
One of my adult granddaughters converted to Islam a few years ago. I know what’s in her heart: all she wants is to live in peace with her daughter and the good man she loves. But that could have been her, the victim of an unprovoked attack, simply because she was wearing her hijab. The actual victim was a fourth or fifth generation, young Canadian woman, with her four-month old baby.
Religious freedom, the right to choose one’s faith, or none, without fear of terrible consequences, is one of the great things about living in Canada. And it still is, despite that shameful incident.
And does any sane person think it’s anything but disgusting that a severed pig’s head was left in a gift-wrapped box on the steps of a Mosque in Quebec City?
I was doing a little shopping in a supermarket in Owen Sound a few days ago. I saw a couple with their three young children in one of the aisles. It was, I confess, my assumption they were Muslim because the woman was wearing a hijab. They appeared to be from a Middle Eastern country. But otherwise they could have been any family in any Canadian town or city.
I thought of the recent hate attacks directed at Muslims and for a moment felt like saying something, like sorry for that, or welcome to Canada. But I didn’t. I sent kind thoughts their way. I smiled as I often do at people. But I didn’t want to center them out, as if they were so different.
We’re all people, all citizens of the global village; we can, and we will, all live together in peace some day. That’s my prophecy.
It will happen, it must happen; but obviously it won’t be easy, especially with unprincipled leaders who pander to the “dark ways” of human nature in their pursuit of power.
One might well ask, where are the great ones who will lead us, inspire us to go forward with hope toward a better, brighter, peaceful future for humanity and this beautiful, little blue-green jewel of a planet that is our world?
In response, and with apologies to Thomas Wolfe and John Milton, I would say, look inward, angel.
A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times in June, 2016.