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November 13, 2011

The values of Muslim Canadians

The Canadian Charger

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The tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks came and went and many things still haven't changed. There is still a sense of fear that lingers in the minds of many people that it is just a matter of time before something like that happens again. Whether those fears are legitimate is another story.

Sometimes fear is born from misinformation, disinformation, exaggeration, and in the case of Muslims that call North America their home, misunderstandings.  Understanding who Muslims are, what they believe, and how their values differ (or are similar) from(to) Judeo-Christians is extremely important in making a tolerant and safer society.

In a recent study by The Macdonald-Laurier Institute entitled What Do Muslim Canadians Want?, Christian Leuprecht and Conrad Winn hope to answer some of these misunderstandings. They pose the question: to what extent do the values and opinions of newcomers differ, if at all, from those of Canadians as a whole?  According to the Institute “Canadians will find much to reassure them, but also much to ponder” in regards to the study’s conclusions.

According to the Institute, the study “is intended to contribute to an understanding of Canadian Muslims’ attitudes to the pluralist-democratic values that matter deeply to Canadians.”

The framework of the questions and answers in the study are based on Muslim Canadians fitting into one of “three broad explanatory perspectives”; Confrontational, Assimilationist, and Divided Community.  

These three perspectives can be basically described as the idea that Muslim Canadians will either conform to a “somewhat homogeneous pattern of alienation from” Canadian life, “generally embrace Canada and its democratic values”, or hold “diverse views on all the potential elements of an Islamist agenda.”

As Canada’s “fastest-growing religion and Muslims the fastest-growing non-Christian communities” it is becoming more and more important that Canadians understand Muslim values.

To put it into perspective, a poll conducted in 2010 by Leger Marketing, 55% of Canadian respondents disagreed when asked whether “Muslims share our values.”

Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, was quoted in a National Post article shortly after the polls results were released as saying, “the principal thing that worries me when you see these results is the tendency to generalize,” he said. “There is a tendency to see an incident arising with someone who is Muslim or a group of people who are Muslim are involved and there seems to be a ready tendency to generalize to the entire group.”

In order to try and address this generalization Leuprecht and Winn asked the questions of a sample size of 455 Muslims as well as “a small sample (n=47) of Christians from Arab countries for comparative purposes”.  The questions were administered through “a telephone survey in Ottawa and qualitative data from focus groups held across the country.”

The questions addressed Canadian Muslims satisfaction or dissatisfaction with Canada today, their views on politics and more specifically the Caliphate and Sharia Law, their approval or disapproval of terrorist organizations, and finally their opinions on the governments of the United States, Israel, and Russia.

With respect to the first question the “(e)nthusiasm for Canada was loud and clear…in all groups, pointed questions about what people like or dislike about Canada tended to yield democracy and freedom as virtues and job barriers as the most prevalent grievance.”

“Women in an Ottawa group spoke of Canada as embodying peace, freedom, safety, and…an Egyptian born male praised freedom of speech in Canada, where “militants” and people with pro-American views are both welcome to express their opinions.”

The results in regards to “Sharia law is diverse, with a plurality favouring Sharia as an option for Muslims dealing with family law issues… Respondents were divided on each of the two questions, with resistance to the establishment of a Caliphate being stronger than resistance to the introduction of Sharia law.”

As Muslims the Caliphate and Sharia law are part of their history and heritage, and it is to be expected that many of them would feel that it would make for a positive influence on their lives and the lives of people around them. It is similar to asking them if they believe the world would be a better place if everyone was a Muslim.  The answer would of course be yes.

However, this still doesn’t mean that the 15% of Canadian Muslims that believe Muslims should be required to be ruled by Sharia law will actively try and change the current political system.

Moving on to the subjects of terrorism and international affairs, this is where Leuprecht and Winn believe “red flags were raised” in their study. “Survey respondents were asked to score their degree of approval or disapproval of four Muslim extremist groups, two non-Muslim groups, and the Iranian regime”.

The results range from 24% of respondents “totally” supporting The Muslim Brotherhood to only 3% having the same support for Al Qaeda.  There was a significant amount of respondents that answered, “I don’t know” to their support of the terrorist organizations, and Leuprecht and Winn make a good assumption that these answers “may be a way of signaling a discreet form of sympathy with the cause albeit not necessarily with some of the means.”

Some may see these results a little differently.  Alex Wilner in his article Deadly Attitudes: Radicalization and Home-­ grown Terrorism in Canada says he finds the “levels of approval for a number of proscribed terrorist organizations” surprising. He believes that “even a small percentage of Leuprecht’s and Winn’s respondents show(ing) some form of acceptance for these and other groups is clearly problematic.”

The problem may arise in the methodology of the study.  It would be more interesting to find out why some of the respondents support the terrorist organizations because often the ‘why’ is more important than the ‘what’.

Of course Leuprecht and Winn see a need for further research for this very reason.  They note that the “sheer complexity of Muslim opinion, including its apparent variation by national origin, cries out for more and better research on its character, causes and extent.”

Hopefully though Canadians will find solace in the fact that the main findings of the study are that Canadian Muslims have, “a general tendency to see Canada as welcoming and pluralistic, not racist. Canadian Muslims admire immensely Canada, its freedoms, and its lawfulness. Even when they believe that social acceptance, the media treatment of Muslims, and hiring practices are less than desirable, they do not find Canada to be racist and inhospitable. They certainly do not find Canada racist or inhospitable by world standards, including the standards of Islamic countries. They do not find Canada to be Islamophobic. Jobs and employment opportunities are the biggest concerns of this Canadian minority.”

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