Sometimes, a Canadian approach to communication, with tact and politeness, can, in no doubt well-intentioned civility, leave out vital truths. Petition e-411 became passed not too long ago. I like most of it. “We, the undersigned, Citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to join us in recognizing that extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and in condemning all forms of Islamophobia,” petition e-411 concluded. Mr. Samer Majzoub from Pierrefonds, Quebec, submitted the petition on June 8 at 5:45am (EST). The Canadian House of Commons adopted the petition to raucous applause.
In full, petition e-411, which garnered 69,742 supporters, contains truths about issues important to every Canadian community based on the hate crimes faced by individual Muslim citizens and groups because these individuals and communities are fellow individual Canadians and their respective communities. Petition e-411 stated:
- Islam is a religion of over 1.5 billion people worldwide. Since its founding more than 1400 years ago, Muslims have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the positive development of human civilization. This encompasses all areas of human endeavors including the arts, culture, science, medicine, literature, and much more;
- Recently an infinitesimally small number of extremist individuals have conducted terrorist activities while claiming to speak for the religion of Islam. Their actions have been used as a pretext for a notable rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in Canada; and
- These violent individuals do not reflect in any way the values or the teachings of the religion of Islam. In fact, they misrepresent the religion. We categorically reject all their activities. They in no way represent the religion, the beliefs and the desire of Muslims to co-exist in peace with all peoples of the world.
The denouncement, the denunciation, and the resistance of hatred, internal and external, seems like a good thing in most cases to me (of course, tolerance of the intolerance can be bad, too). Denunciation of hatred, prejudice, and bias against religious individuals based on their religion seems like a good thing. It’s contestable whether Islam as a set of beliefs and suggested practices is actually represented in its full by the individual, ordinary Muslim, or even the Muslim community in Canada at large. Petition e-411 appears as good-intentioned, half-truths, in this light. That is, Muslims and the Muslim community appear to follow the doctrine, practices, and beliefs of Islam, as with other religious systems, texts, individual religious community members, and the larger religion’s community to one degree or another.
The claims in the beginning of the petition remain true. I respect ordinary believers of all faiths everywhere in addition to the noble aspects of the traditions and the contributions to global civilization over millennia. Muslim scientists, philosophers, and leaders have contributed consistently to global civilization for ~1,400 years. Individuals and majorities of societies have done so following some, most, or all of the tenets of Islam – positive things done in the name of Islam deserving of praise. Indeed, the same, or similar at least, argument applies to Christianity for ~2,000, for instance. More positive things deserving approbation. In simultaneity, while speaking of history and religion, individuals and societies committed aggression in words and violence in deeds, with the majority, following some, most, or all of the tenets of Islam (or Christianity). Both the positive and the negative remain true in historical contexts for ~1,400 years. Petition e-411 states truths on the positives and leaves out the negatives in the ~1,400-year history of the religion. Canadian politeness and tact seem like concerns in this context, of communication of “good-intentioned, half-truths,” to me.
I hold other mild concerns with petition e-411 – namely, the amorphous term “Islamophobia.” On the one hand, hate crime laws can cover the ongoing, deplorable,mildly increasing prejudice, hate, and violence against individual Muslims (or fellow Canadian citizens), e.g. women harassed with racial slurs, and forced to wear or not wear religious symbols, and vandalization of religious community property, e.g. setting ablaze important community buildings like Mosques, which implies denouncement of other religious, ethnic, or gender based bias as well – verbal, emotional, social, and physical. If that is meant by the term, I affirm NDP leader Mulcair in his approval of petition e-411. Neither persons nor property of communities deserve such ill-treatment. On the other hand, those well-meaning within and without Muslim communities sometimes conflate criticism of religious beliefs, ideas, and practices with ridicule of individual believers or communities thereof. Indeed, some, in an irony fitting for Monty Python, have critiqued those critiquing Islamic principles as “racist”, thereby shedding light not on the minds of the accused but of the accusers. The non-scientific, by which I mean non-taxonomical, idea of ‘race’ needs to be kept in mind to claim to read racism in others’ hearts and minds, often where it is neither justified nor present. Besides, Islam equates to ideas and acts – theology plus recommended practice, not people or a race. If that is meant, then I disagree with Mr. Mulcair. However, as this term proliferates, knowingly or unwittingly, in its vague, ill-defined form, both interpretations seem dependent on the individual. Signatories to petition e-411 might sign with one interpretation or the other in mind. That’s another problem. Hence, the opening about half-truths.
It amounts to well-intentioned half-falsehoods in some ways and truths in others. These extremists and terrorists don’t represent all Muslims, but the implication appears to be that Muslims can’t be extremists and terrorists because extremists and terrorists aren’t “Muslims”. You see the problem -that’s not true. The violent extremists and terrorists from religions represent terrorists’ and extremists’ interpretations of religions, as, for this example, the majority ordinary Muslims represent the ordinary interpretation of Islam. To only see the negative would be anti-Islamic bias, to act on it would be anti-Muslim prejudice, it’s like sexism. To only see the negative seems like hostile sexism, men appear all bad or women appear all bad. To only see the positive seems like benevolent sexism, men appear all good or women appear all good. The undercurrent, respectfully, is Mr. Samer Mazjoub, and the non-partisan set of signatories, speak for those “over 1.5 billion people worldwide.” They are guilty of that which they criticise, stereotyping – benevolently stereotyping, especially as the signatories and Mr. Mazjoub speak for a sector, but not even close to the entirety, of the Muslim community. Indeed, and therefore, to only see the positive, as petition e-411 does in one religion, is to be benevolently prejudiced for a religion, and in this case for Islam. (Q.E.D.)
My hope and expression in solidarity with ordinary Canadian Muslims, as with Mr. Samer Majzoub and the sector of the Canadian-Muslim population that he represents, is to “categorically reject all” extremist activities, but, in contradistinction to him on a crucial point requisite for a panoramic perspective, with acknowledgement of the extremist activities as an interpretation of Islam with real consequences by an “infinitesimally small number.” We live in the developed world’s upper echelons of well-being and standard of living in a culture bent towards politeness and tact. It is too easy to speak of the good of religion alone because the environment of Canada in general remains positive. The act of speaking in honest terms would neither embolden enemies nor diminish allies, but represent the breadth of religion via acknowledgement of the good and the bad.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.