Douglas Todd: How Quebec’s religious restrictions compare to harsh regimes

Not sure of the utility of such comparisons compared to more like countries:

Continuing to prove Quebec is a distinct society in North America, the francophone province’s decision to restrict certain public servants from wearing religious symbols has got the rest of the world buzzing.

Quebec’s government, with firm support from voters, will no longer allow its judges, police officers, teachers and others in positions of “authority” to wear head scarves, turbans or other religious symbols on the job.

Although widely condemned in English-speaking Canada and the U.S., Quebec says Bill 21 protects the religious neutrality of the secular state, similar to France’s laïcité laws. Quebec politicians cemented their secularist approach by removing a large crucifix from the legislative building.

How does Quebec’s ban compare to less-discussed religious restrictions in the rest of North America? And how does it contrast with the world, where constraints on religious minorities often lead to imprisonment, mass detention, job termination, clandestine worship, floggings and even execution?

I attended two conferences in October at which the convolutions of religious freedom were front and centre. You couldn’t have asked more informed scholars, journalists and officials from around the globe for perspective on what is happening in Quebec, which, somewhat like France, emphasizes that diverse religious beliefs are fine, but should be private.

Penn State sociologist Roger Finke, who charts a startling range of global religious-freedom conflicts, is concerned about Quebec’s new law, but knows it pales in comparison to elsewhere.

Theocratic Saudi Arabia, for instance, allows no other religion than Islam to be practised. In Egypt “societal discrimination against non-Muslims is extremely high,” with members of minority faiths frequently thrown into jail. In China, an officially secular state, Christians and others are “forced underground.” About one million Uighurs Muslims have been imprisoned in China’s mass camps.

“When compared to the beheadings in Egypt, the re-education camps in China and the numerous imprisonments and killings around the globe, Quebec’s Bill 21 is mild,” Finke said after speaking at a religion and law conference at Brigham Young University.

“However, it is clearly denying a freedom. This can deny people the ability to openly express their beliefs as well as follow the guidelines of their faith by wearing hijabs, turbans, veils and other dress,” Finke said, expressing a widespread view among English-speaking North Americans.

But it’s not as if the rest of multicultural Canada lacks quarrels of freedom of religion and belief. Diverse religious leaders rebelled when the federal Liberals launched a summer-jobs program that required groups to declare themselves supportive of abortion rights to get funding.

And the Supreme Court of Canada’s refusal of Langley’s Trinity Western University request to open a law school, because it has a Christian code of conduct that restricts LGBQT people, is seen by many in the U.S. as a stark infringement of religious freedom.

Still, such North America battles are relatively minor. After a conference of the International Association of Religion Journalists in Salt Lake City, executive director Endy Bayuni outlined ways religion is restricted in his homeland of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

The biggest threat to religious freedom in Indonesia, population 264 million, is its decades-old blasphemy laws, says Bayuni, a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.

“Hundreds of people have gone to jail under this law, on the pretext that they have insulted religion. A Buddhist woman was given a two-year jail term under the blasphemy law for complaining about the sound of the call to prayer from a mosque near her home,” said Bayuni.

“Her home was attacked and several Buddhist temples in the town were razed by a mob. The perpetrators only received one- to two-month jail terms. The leaders of the Ahmadiyyah and Shia (schools of Islam) have also gone to jail for blasphemy because their faith is considered an affront to Sunni Islam.”

Although Indonesia, like 95 per cent of countries, formally guarantees religious freedom in its constitution, the twist is it only officially recognizes six faiths: Islam, Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Therefore, people from smaller religions often can’t get birth certificates, marriage licences or hereditary rights because of their beliefs. That’s not to mention, Bayuni said, “anyone going around proclaiming to be an atheist would be attacked.”

Asked about Quebec’s new law, Bayuni said former Indonesian strongman Suharto also banned head scarves, mainly because they were seen as signs of radicalism. Nowadays more Muslim women are wearing them. The only thing banned in Indonesian schools and workplaces is the burqa, which covers the entire body and face (with a mesh over the eyes).

A journalist from Malaysia, Zurairi Abd Rahman, helped explain just how different religious freedom frictions are in each nation. After the International Association of Religion Journalists conference (disclosure: I’m on the board of the organization) Zurairi said the main threat in his country, in which Islam traditionally gets highest official status, is the way non-state organizations are pressing to ensure Muslims dominate the country’s top posts.

“The same lobby is now pushing the narrative that Christians and liberals are trying to take over the government, which would then abolish Islamic institutions,” said the news editor at The Malay Mail, who goes by the pen name Zurairi AR.

Muslims are also being squeezed by “Islamicization,” said Zurairi. “Activist Maryam Lee was recently investigated for allegedly insulting Islam” after writing a book, Unveiling Choice, “detailing the personal experiences of women who have stopped wearing head scarves.” Shariah law, which applies only to Muslims, is becoming increasingly harsh, he said, and broadened to govern such things as “adultery, ‘cross-dressing’ and ‘insulting Islam.’”

Malaysia would not follow the lead of Quebec and attempt to ban displays of faith in the public service, Zurairi said. A key threat to religious freedom in Malaysia is in many ways the opposite of that in Quebec: Some companies and schools are forcing women to wear hijabs.

Elizabeth Clark, professor of law at Brigham Young University, said she understands why Quebec and France have responded to the once-overwhelming political power of the Roman Catholic Church by ensuring schools and government remain “religion-free zones.”

Quebec is attempting to uphold both gender equality and LGBQT rights by emphasizing religious belief should be purely private, Clark said. But she believes it’s going too far “with regards to the impact it has on the religious freedom of those seeking to manifest their beliefs through wearing head scarves.”

Religious freedom dovetails intimately with other human rights, including freedom of opinion, says Finke, making a strong case. Even though Bill 21 will only affect a small number of Canadians, and no freedom is absolute, its implications are worth understanding and questioning.

Source: Douglas Todd: How Quebec’s religious restrictions compare to harsh regimes

India’s Supreme Court awards disputed religious site to Hindus in landmark ruling

Will be seen as another manifestation of Modi’s Hindu bias:

India’s Supreme Court on Saturday awarded a bitterly disputed religious site to Hindus, dealing a defeat to Muslims who also claim the land that has sparked some of the bloodiest riots in the history of independent India.

The ruling in the dispute between Hindu and Muslim groups paves the way for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site in the northern town of Ayodhya, a proposal long supported by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu-nationalist party.

Representatives of the Muslim group involved in the case criticized the judgment as unfair and said it was likely to seek a review of the verdict.

In 1992 a Hindu mob destroyed the 16th-century Babri Mosque on the site, triggering riots in which about 2,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed across the country.Court battles over the ownership of the site followed.

Jubilant Hindus, who have long campaigned for a temple to be built on the ruins of the mosque, set off fire crackers in celebration in Ayodhya after the court decision was announced.

Thousands of paramilitary force members and police were deployed in Ayodhya and other sensitive areas across India. There were no immediate reports of unrest.

“This verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody,” Modi said on Twitter.

“May peace and harmony prevail!”

Still, the verdict is likely to be viewed as win for Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its backers.It comes months after Modi’s government stripped the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir region of its special status as a state, delivering on yet another election promise to its largely Hindu support base.

Neelanjan Sircar, an assistant professor at Ashoka University near New Delhi, said the court ruling would benefit the BJP, which won re-election in May, but a slowing economy would ultimately take centre stage for voters.

“In the short term, there will be a boost for the BJP,” said Sircar. “These things don’t work forever … Ram Temple isn’t going to put food on the table.”

Hindus believe the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, a physical incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and say the site was holy for Hindus long before the Muslim Mughals, India’s most prominent Islamic rulers, built the Babri mosque there in 1528.


The five-judge bench, headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, reached a unanimous judgment to hand over the plot of just 2.77 acres, or about the size of a soccer field, to the Hindu group.

The court also directed that another plot of 5 acres in Ayodhya be provided to the Muslim group that contested the case but that was not enough to mollify some.

“The country is now moving towards becoming a Hindu nation,” Asaduddin Owaisi, an influential Muslim opposition politician, told reporters.

Modi’s party hailed the ruling as a “milestone.”

“I welcome the court decision and appeal to all religious groups to accept the decision,” Home Minister Amit Shah, who is also president of the BJP, said on Twitter.

Appeals for calm

The Sunni Muslim group involved in the case said it would likely file a review petition, which could trigger another protracted legal battle.

“This is not a justice,” said the group’s lawyer, Zafaryab Jilani.

Muslim organizations appealed for calm.

The Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the parent organization of Modi’s party – had already decided against any celebrations to avoid provoking sectarian violence between India’s majority Hindus and Muslims, who constitute 14 per cent of its 1.3 billion people.

Restrictions were placed on gatherings in some places and internet services were suspended. Elsewhere, police monitored social media to curb rumors.

Streets in Ayodhya were largely deserted and security personnel patrolled the main road to Lucknow, the capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Ayodhya residents were glued to their televisions and mobile phones for news of the ruling, which delighted Hindus when it came.

“Everyone should come together to ensure that the construction work begins at the site without any delay,” roadside vendor Jitan Singh said over the chants of “Jai Shri Ram” (hail Lord Ram) from fellow shop-keepers.

Source: India’s Supreme Court awards disputed religious site to Hindus in landmark ruling

Abuses in Nigerian Islamic Schools Spark Regulation Demands

Pretty horrifying:

Nearly 1,000 people have been freed in the past month from Islamic schools in northern Nigeria where they reportedly experienced abuse.

In one such case, police sources said hundreds of men and boys had been freed from a school in Katsina, many of whom had been chained to walls, beaten and sexually abused.

The four raided schools, all in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria, have much in common.  All had managers who portrayed themselves as Islamic clerics teaching students how to be good Muslims.

All the facilities also operated as reform centers to discipline misbehaving children. And all were in poor communities, drawing little attention — until now.

Activists have sought regulation of private Islamic schools for years, but strong traditions have stood in the way.

One such tradition involves a concept among Nigerian Muslims called almajiri.

“Almajiris, according to Islam, means those who migrated to somewhere in search of Islamic knowledge,” said cultural historian Bukar Chabbal. “That is the original conception — one under a strict teacher who teaches them.”

Almajiris are usually boys. A parent will send a son to live with an Islamic scholar, known as a mallam, for many years in the hope that the child will receive a sound education in Islamic doctrine.

There are an estimated 10 million almajiris in Nigeria, often seen on the streets begging for food. According to their Islamic teachers, begging helps the students learn humility.

But Chabbal and others say parents are abusing the system, giving their children away to Islamic clerics because they can’t afford to raise them themselves.


Sending unruly children to Islamic schools to be disciplined is another traditional practice.

Aliyu Mohammed Tonga, an activist for almajiri children, said that “as I can recall, when we were young, what our parents used to tell us is that someone has been taken to so-and-so person and has been corrected.”

Muslim groups in Nigeria are condemning the raided schools, saying the owners are not real clerics and the schools are not true almajiri schools.

Activists like Aliyu say regulation is necessary, to separate the good from the bad.

“Anybody can come in, even the criminal can come in in disguise and say, ‘I’m a mallam,’ and he can do what he can do, and that is what happened,” Aliyu said.

President Muhammadu Buhari has directed Nigerian police to find abusive so-called Islamic schools and disband them.

Source: Abuses in Nigerian Islamic Schools Spark Regulation Demands

There is No Room in Islam for Clerics Who Abuse Women—Not in Iraq, Not Anywhere | Opinion

Of note:

Child abuse revelations have rocked the Catholic church in the last generation, leading to lasting damage to how the Church is viewed worldwide and even shaking the faith of some believers.

Some speculate that a similar scandal is brewing in Shia Islam, with abusers exposed to be using egregious misrepresentations of religious law to facilitate their attacks.

The limelight has been shone on this in a recent BBC documentary, provocatively titled “Undercover with the Clerics.” Girls as young as 13 were essentially pimped out by Iraqi men who claimed religious legitimacy. Specifically, the men stated they were followers of Grand Ayatollah Syed Sistani, despite the fact that the cleric has condemned their actions as abhorrent not only to Islam’s values but to Iraqi law and human rights.

Those human rights have come on in leaps and bounds in Iraq since the toppling of Saddam and his dictatorship in 2003.

Civil society has gone from being all but non-existent to becoming one of the more vibrant examples of life in the region. Iraq’s constitution guarantees that at least a quarter of the country’s members of parliament are women (a slightly higher percentage than in the current U.S. House of Representatives.)

This renaissance is most pronounced when it comes to Iraq’s Shia Muslims.

Despite being a religious majority in the country, the community’s members are still recovering from decades of repression under Saddam. But in in the mere 16 years since Saddam’s removal, Iraq’s Shia, including Shia clerics, have gone from being brutally persecuted to forming the backbone of Iraq’s civil society. This makes it all the more shocking that what is an overwhelmingly progressive, democratizing institution is now being accused of providing cover for abusers.

The man who bears no small amount of responsibility for this progress is Ayatollah Ali Sistani, one of the leading global authorities in Shia Islam with perhaps 200 million followers. The 89-year-old cleric is the antithesis of Islamophobic ideas of a Muslim scholar: he has single-handedly driven the embrace by Iraq’s largest confessional community of elections and democracy, and has relentlessly campaigned for human rights in general, and women’s rights in particular.

I have visited Iraq several times every year since 2003. On many of those visits I have had private meetings with Ayatollah Sistani. I cannot remember ever meeting him without him mentioning women’s rights.

In Iraq, these issues are not an ideological luxury; they are a societal necessity. There are over a million war widows in Iraq, many of whom have no access to welfare or assistance. This has become exacerbated in recent years as the international community’s attention has shifted towards Syria, and policy makers tend to view Iraq through a security, rather than a humanitarian, lens.

Iraq’s largest charity, the Al-Ayn foundation, was formed and is supervised by Syed Sistani’s office. It is funded directly from within the Shia community, allowing it a continuity of service that is difficult when dependent on international donors and NGOs.

It looks after more than 57,000 orphans and widows in everything from healthcare to education to psychotherapy. The potential of Iraq’s Shia clerics for social good has become clear since they were allowed to function independently in post-Saddam Iraq.

Al-Ayn also has safeguarding procedures to internationally recognized standards, far beyond what some Western aid volunteers adhere to. All staff undergo thorough background checks and only contact beneficiaries through official channels. Syed Sistani has personally insisted, for example, that only female members of staff deal with vulnerable women beneficiaries.

This makes it all the more infuriating to see the allegations the BBC report that so-called Shia Clerics are using the cover of religious institutions to coax Iraqi women and children into prostitution.

Any abuse of vulnerable women and girls, anywhere, must be absolutely stamped out. When it is done in the cloak of religion, it is even more repugnant. Syed Sistani has issued an absolute and unequivocal disavowal of those acts, and instructed his followers to root out these behaviours wherever they are found.

It is not entirely clear what claim the abusers can make to being clerics themselves, or if this religious affiliation is as deceptive as the rest of their trafficking scam. The main abuser’s most demonstrable link to religion was his title of “Syed” which can, as the program noted, mean that he is a descendant of the Prophet’s family, but can also mean “Mister.” Based on decades of intimate knowledge of the Iraqi Shia clergy, I would like to believe that these men are imposters. But whether they are or not doesn’t substantially change how the Shia community should respond to these revelations: if they are imposters, they need to be exposed as such; if they are—or ever were—clerics, they deserve condemnation all the more.

Reports like these, where religious legal instruments such as fixed-term marriage, or mut’ah, are abused, disgust me and all Muslims.

That those abuses repeatedly victimize vulnerable women and children is bad enough. But they also feed into Islam’s worst sectarian divides. Distortions and actual malpractices of the mut’ah concept are also seized on by fanatical anti-Shia jihadists like Daesh. Fixed-term marriage between consenting adults exists in Shia religious teachings as a way, for example, for an engaged couple to get to know each other without contravening gender boundaries. It is a marriage relationship with strict requirements, and rights, for both parties. As Syed Sistani’s office stated in their own comments to the BBC team, they are not mean to pimp out women, least of all underage girls.

To some extremists, however, the notion of mut’ah marriages is falsely used to feed their narrative that Shia Muslims are not Muslims at all, but infidels, who do not believe even in the sanctity of marriage.

It is essential that the most vulnerable in every society, whether they are Iraqi widows seeking assistance, parishioners in the far-flung world of the Catholic church or British children appearing on popular BBC shows, are protected. And at the same time, we must protect important institutions from those criminals and charlatans who abuse not only their innocent victims, but also the organizations to which they claim to be affiliated and whose values they so obviously betray.

Source: There is No Room in Islam for Clerics Who Abuse Women—Not in Iraq, Not Anywhere | Opinion

Maldives overcomes Islamic opposition and appoints two women as Supreme Court judges

Of note:

Male, September 5 (Maldives Independent): In a historic vote on Tuesday, parliament confirmed the president’s nominationsof former judges Dr Azmiralda Zahir and Aisha Shujune Mohamed as the first female justices of the Supreme Court.

Both nominees were approved with 62 votes in favour. Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed Abdulla cast the sole dissenting vote while Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim abstained.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party controls 65 seats in the 87-member People’s Majlis.

Shujune, whoresignedfrom the civil court in 2014, was among the first two female judges appointed to the bench in 2007. Dr Azmiralda was the most senior female judge in the country until herresignationfrom the High Court in May 2016.

President Solih’s nomination of the pair last month sparked a backlash from religious scholars who contended that Islamprohibitswomen from serving as judges.

Clerics condemned the move on Twitter and some shared an opinion issued by the fatwa council, in which the advisory body backed the view that women cannot pass judgment on criminal matters or property disputes. There was a consensus among scholars of all sects of Islam that judges must be male, they said. Some scholars from the Hanafi sect say women can adjudicate civil matters and family disputes but most scholars do not agree with any exceptions, the council noted.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party, which is part of the MDP-led ruling coalition,backedthe council’s opinion but acknowledged the lack of consensus on the question. The party called for respect of differing opinions on disputed matters and appealed against branding people as disbelievers or apostates. A person who endorses an incorrect opinion should not be considered a sinner, it added.

Tuesday’s confirmation vote came after parliament’s judiciary committee evaluated the nominees, both of whom were sent for approval after endorsement from the Judicial Service Commission.

During the final debate, MDP MPs reiterated the ruling party’s stance that the appointments would be an important step towards empowering women and achieving gender equality. Opposition lawmakers also backed the appointment of women to the bench and Independent MP Ahmed Usham commended the nominees as qualified and capable individuals.

The former judges were nominated after parliamentamendedthe Judicature Act to increase the size of the Supreme Court bench from five to seven justices.

Source: Maldives overcomes Islamic opposition and appoints two women as Supreme Court judges

Female imams lead prayers, a first in France

Of note:

Several French Muslim women are trying to lead prayer sessions in France. They face major opposition, but on Saturday two French women who converted to Islam led the country’s first non-segregated prayers where wearing of the veil was not compulsory.

Eva Janadin and Anne-Sophie Monsinay led prayers before a congregation of 60. Men and women kneeled, side by side, in a room in Paris hired for the occasion.

For security reasons the location remained secret: an indication that fundamentalist Muslims are still struggling with the move towards a more “inclusive” expression of Islam in France.

Un temps de prière mixte et progressiste, où le port du voile n’est pas obligatoire. «Nous apportons notre pierre à la construction d’un islam de France adapté aux acquis de la modernité», explique l’imame Eva Janadin

In a report by Le Parisien, Ann-Sophie Monsinay said they had faced opposition but that thankfully “there had been more encouragement than threats”.

Source: Female imams lead prayers, a first in France

Liberal backbencher accuses his own government of ‘pandering’ to Sikh separatists

By way on context, Brampton Centre has the lowest percentage of Canadian Sikhs of the five Brampton ridings (7.8 percent), with the other ridings ranging from 13 to 33.8 percent). Other significant religious groups include Muslims and Hindus (8.5 and 9.6 percent respectively, all figures from the 2011 NHS:

MP Ramesh Sangha seemed to place the blame on Sikh Canadian cabinet ministers and other MPs, noting that Trudeau supports the status quo in India

South Asia-related politics is again causing turbulence for the Liberal government, as one of its own MPs charges that his party has been “pandering” to Sikh separatists, threatening Canada’s relations with India in the process.

Ramesh Sangha, who represents Ontario’s Brampton Centre riding, delivered the surprising critique of his caucus colleagues during a recent Punjabi-language television interview. His comments revive an issue that has been an irritant for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for more than two years, flaring up during his ill-fated tour of India last year.

Indian officials have previously accused the Liberals of trying to win favour with Canadians pushing for an independent Sikh homeland — known as Khalistan — in the Punjab region of India. Punjab’s state governor even charged that Trudeau’s four Sikh cabinet ministers are Khalistanis. They have strenuously denied the accusation.

It is less expected to hear such complaints from a member of the government itself — two months before a federal election.

“There is no doubt, there cannot be two opinions that the Liberal party is pandering (to) Khalistan supporters,” Sangha said in the interview on 5AAB, a Punjabi-language channel based in Mississauga, Ont. “One thing is for sure, when we raise this issue, it will raise an anti-India slogan or demand the division of India on some ground. In that, ultimately our relations, the Canada-India relationship will certainly develop cracks.”

The interviewer asked if he thought the party had a “soft corner” for Khalistanis. “It does,” he responded.

But Sangha seemed to place the blame on those Sikh Canadian cabinet ministers and other MPs, noting that Trudeau himself has made clear he supports the status quo in India.

“(The prime minister) said in strong words that we don’t want a divided India, we want a united India and we will work for that,” said the MP. “Sikh ministers, MPs of our Sikh brotherhood, these brothers of mine, they have their own … These are their own views and as long as they demand it, it is viewed that they are separatists. When this view surfaces, India also voices its hard view.”

He said his observations were not based on being friends with Capt. Amarinder Singh, the Punjab state governor, but stemmed from his role with a Canada-India parliamentary association.

“I have observed this issue very closely,” Sangha said.

The MP, a lawyer serving his first term in Parliament, could not be reached for further comment Monday.

A statement from Trudeau’s office did not address Sangha’s remarks directly, but firmly denied the government was sympathetic to the Khalistani movement.

“Canada’s position on a united India is unwavering and we are unanimous as a government on this issue,” said the statement. “Canadians have the right to freedom of expression and speech and they have the right to peacefully express their views.”

Sikh-Indian tensions have played an over-sized role in Canadian politics in recent years, thanks in part to the large concentrations of electorally active Sikh-Canadians in several swing ridings in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta. Almost all those constituencies voted Liberal in the 2015 election.

The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has voiced concern previously about Trudeau and other Liberals appearing at Sikh-community gatherings that also featured tributes to alleged terrorists, and objected to a 2017 resolution passed by the then Liberal-dominated Ontario legislature that declared a 1984 massacre of Sikhs in India a “genocide.”

Singh, the governor of Punjab, fanned the flames further when he alleged the same year that the four Sikh-Canadian cabinet members were Khalistanis, and refused to meet with one of them, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Singh did sit down with Sajjan and Trudeau on the prime minister’s state visit to India in February 2018, voicing satisfaction at their strong rejection of the separatist movement.

But the issue caused the Liberals more trouble on that trip when it came to light that a convicted Sikh terrorist, Jaspal Atwal, had been invited to two official functions, including one where he was photographed with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife.

And yet, government attempts to get tough on alleged Sikh extremists have also proven politically tricky for the Liberals.

The latest edition of an annual Public Safety Canada report on terrorism released in December 2018 mentioned Sikh extremism for the first time, sparking outrage among community leaders who felt the citation tarred the religion as a whole. The report’s wording was later changed to talk about unspecified separatist movements in India.

Punjab governor Singh, in turn, criticized that change, and later accused Canada of “covertly and overtly” supporting Sikh extremists, suggesting India might need to pursue sanctions against this country.

Source: Liberal backbencher accuses his own government of ‘pandering’ to Sikh separatists

Election news has outdated ideas about social conservatives

Part of the Policy Options series on the elections with Ray Pennings of Cardus painting a more nuanced picture of social conservatives, noting the range of views and that they are generally not single issue voters.

Also noteworthy, is the increased religiosity of immigrants as various surveys have shown:

It seems surprising that just 15 years ago, Parliament’s vote redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships passed 158-133 with 16 MPs absent. Ninety-three Conservatives, 32 Liberals, five Bloc Quebecois MPs, and one New Democrat (as well as two Independents) cast a “social conservative” (so-con) vote on this question. These dissenters knew they were swimming against strong cultural trends, but were still part of the mainstream in their political parties.

Much has changed since then and the upcoming federal election campaign will test the commitment of Canadians and their political leaders to tolerance and including people whose views may not fit today’s cultural mainstream.

Current trends and the so-cons

For example, the Liberals and NDP today require MPs to take socially liberal positions; it’s no longer acceptable to leave certain issues to individual conscience.  Conservative leaders perform a delicate dance, insisting party policy rejects attempts to re-open issues like abortion or same-sex marriage, while ostensibly defending the free speech and conscience of so-cons within their party.

Given trends during the last two decades, so-cons feel more ostracized and marginalized than ever. Whether it’s on abortion (Morgentaler 1988), LGBTQ issues (same-sex reference 2004, Trinity Western 2018), prostitution (Bedford 2013), or euthanasia (Carter 2015), Supreme Court of Canada decisions have catalyzed significant socially liberal turns.

Few so-cons, therefore, expect politics to answer their concerns. Most political appeals for their votes contribute to a cynical mood at best. They also feel profoundly misunderstood.

The so-con label is one that, for the most part, is imposed, not chosen.  The small percentage who embrace the label are divided between purists and incrementalists.  Most voters who fit the so-con profile are silent observers. For them, “so-con” is a reluctant identity, disowned because it is most frequently heard as an epithet or insult. The coverage of so-con issues in politics and media tells a story in which they do not recognize themselves.

CBC and the Angus Reid Institute partnered in 2016 to conduct a comprehensive poll that examined the values, beliefs, priorities, and identities of Canadians. As a result, the poll suggested five basic mindsets among the electorate. The mindset dubbed “faith-based traditionalists,” including so-cons, made up 20 percent of the population, the survey found. The group was over-represented among immigrants in Canada less than a decade and visible minorities. And whereas 11 percent of Canadians said they attended religious services weekly, a third of this cohort did.

In their 2017 book Religion and Canadian Party Politics, David Rayside, Jerald Sabin and Paul E.J. Thomas attempted to map the policy outcomes of religious activism in an increasingly secular context. They concluded that reality was far more complex than the popular narrative assumed. For example, assuming all so-cons hold the same views on such issues as abortion and sexual diversity is somewhat outdated, they noted. Another recent factor (at least since the 2015 federal campaign) is the increased prominence of minority religions, which has added to what the authors termed “a new ‘axis’ of contention…centered on the place of minority faiths in the social fabric.”

So what does all of this mean for media coverage of so-cons and their potential influence on the 2019 federal election campaign?

First, nuance is required in defining so-con issues. Few so-cons expect politics to solve their issues, certainly not in the short-term.  For example, on abortion, a typical church bulletin includes notices about pregnancy support centres, adoption, counselling programs, and other hands-on activities; these far outnumber political messages.

It would also be a mistake to reduce so-cons to single-issue voters on hot-button issues. We know this because those “faith-based traditionalists” in the 2016 poll overlap significantly with the one-fifth of Canadians labelled as “religiously committed” in a 2018 Cardus and Angus Reid Institute study. These two surveys, based on different criteria and tested through at least four polling samples between 2016 and 2018, point to similar conclusions. The “religiously committed” group tended to be more pro-immigrant than the overall population; and were less white and Christian than typically presumed. Forty-nine percent of Canadians born outside the country reported, in the 2018 poll, receiving material support from faith-based communities on their arrival and 63 percent relied on faith communities to form a community or network.

Environmental issues are also significant for many faith communities, given that stewardship of creation is a significant theme in most religious traditions. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s faith toolkit for churches includes environment among priority concerns. Likewise, poverty relief is a significant concern, demonstrated by hands-on involvement and financial support for faith-based social service agencies.

Looking for signs of respect

Being used as fodder in a political culture war context has a perverse impact. Religious pro-life supporters, convinced that abortion involves something more than a collection of tissue, are expressing love for their neighbour. Some do it caringly, others less delicately. However, the declaration that anyone who veers from a publicly accepted orthodoxy is violating human rights is debilitating to democracy. Remember the Canada Summer Jobs attestation debacle – when the beliefs of potential employers, including anti-poverty groups and church camps, disqualified them from government grants? That sent a loud message that so-cons were unwelcome in public life.

Quebec’s new secularism law takes things even further. Turban-wearing Sikhs, and those of any faith wearing religious symbols, are effectively being banished from provincial public service. While religious freedom in Canada is very different than in countries where believers risk their lives to follow their convictions and worship, denying privileges in society based on people’s beliefs still matters greatly. During the October 2019 federal election campaign, so-cons will undoubtedly look for signs of genuine respect as they consider how to cast their ballots.

Fifteen years has marked a hasty change in the place that so-cons have in Canada. Most so-con Canadians, who like others pay relatively little attention to politics but vote as a matter of responsible citizenship, face an increasingly hostile culture. They view themselves as good citizens, loving their neighbour through their personal relationships and also by donating and volunteering in their faith communities and neighbourhoods. But those stories are rarely reported. So-cons only see themselves in the news when others declare how outdated or unwelcome so-con views are.

That hostility is seen in the numbers. When a Cardus-Angus Reid Institute study in 2017 asked if the presence of religion in public life was a net positive or a negative in society, the results were startling. Those who were religiously committed, regardless of tradition, were more positive about the contribution of others, including those of different faiths. Those who were least religiously committed were reluctant to acknowledge the benefit to society of anyone but themselves.

Sadly, it would seem that the constructive involvement of faith in Canadian public life has taken a back seat to a culture war mentality with so-cons perceiving themselves on the defensive.

The question for political leaders and the media is the extent to which so-cons will be respected players in the 2019 campaign game or be tossed around as a political football. While the resistance offered by a group religiously committed to live by the Golden Rule may be less militant than other political actors, the upcoming campaign will still test Canadians’ commitment to tolerance and inclusiveness toward those whose views may not be in the cultural mainstream.

Source: Election news has outdated ideas about social conservatives

Identity politics in the West: Islam – no longer the bogeyman

Not sure that this is the case but interesting read:

When the head of the economic wing of Germanyʹs CDU party, Carsten Linnemann, publishes a book titled “Political Islam does not belong in Germany”, SPD party member Thilo Sarrazin interprets the Koran under the title “Hostile takeover”, and Germany’s new defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, chairwoman of the CDU party, explains on her first trip to the Orient how the Bundeswehr’s Tornado reconnaissance planes are stopping the caliphate of the “Islamic State” from rearing its ugly head again, we may get the feeling that we’ve hit rock bottom.

We are scraping at the last vestiges of some already quite solidified dregs. All that talk about the Islamic menace, the Islamic challenge, the Islamic threat so keenly cultivated in the West over the past thirty or forty years has now run dry.

Not long ago German policymakers were still busy planning hundreds of new positions in the police forces and intelligence services to observe and track down political Islam. But in the meantime it seems to be dawning on the more alert minds among us that Islam is not (or no longer) an appropriate spectre to be combatting.

This trend is somewhat linked to the situation on the ground. Political Islam has lost its inner credibility, across all the forms in which it appears.

The failure of political Islam

The authoritarian regime of the Islamist Erdogan is wobbling: Turkey is weaker now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “only” a democratically elected prime minister and could present Islam as a source of inspiration for modern governance. The radiance of his early days has faded.

The AKPʹs political swan song: “the authoritarian regime of the Islamist Erdogan is wobbling: Turkey is weaker now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was ʹonlyʹ a democratically elected prime minister and could present Islam as a source of inspiration for modern governance. The radiance of his early days has faded,” writes Buchen

The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood was not able to rise to power anywhere, with the exception of its brief interlude with Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. The fact that the latter collapsed and died while acting as a defendant in court resonates with its own symbolic power.

The heir to the throne of the “Keeper of the Holy Places” of Islam, Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, has been exposed to the whole world as a cowardly murderer.

The caliphate of the “Islamic State” has foundered, vanished from the map. Who would have thought that possible? Talk shows aired in 2015 made mention of the name “Islamic State” a dozen times at least. Coming from the mouths of academic and non-academic experts, it had a ring of permanence, of a lasting challenge.

That talk has turned to ashes. Even criminal organisations have to abide by certain rules in their internal relations and forms of provocation against the general social norm if they are to survive for long. This is ancient knowledge, recorded for posterity by the Jewish-Arab philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda, who lived in Zaragoza in the 11th century.

Fragile existence

Al-Qaida and its competitor, the “Islamic State”, continue to exist in the supra-national underground; this cannot be denied. But they are fragmented, and the rivalry between the two groups vying for leadership in the violent spectrum of Islamism is now leading to some curious phenomena.

In Yemen, Al-Qaida got its hands on an unreleased propaganda video made by its rival and used it to expose the “Islamic State” to public ridicule. And here we are in the midst of a satire, which the British film “Four Lions” presented as early as 2010 as a suitable form for portraying the Islamic menace, long before the current CDU leadership took up the subject in all seriousness and without any black humour.

It is of course intellectually risky to name Erdogan, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad bin Salman and al-Qaida in one breath. But it’s a risk that those warning of the threat of political Islam are only too glad to take. It is after all part of their raison d’etre. If we want to be realistic, though, we have to look this construct or – to put it in ultramodern terms – “frame” squarely in the eye.

The French scholar Olivier Roy was perhaps the first to recognise the pitfalls of this way of looking at the world and to discern the real weaknesses of “political Islam”. His book – “L’echec de l’Islam politique” (The failure of political Islam) – was published way back in 1992.

Roy warned against trying to explain modern Islamism, particularly its most radical manifestations, based on Islam alone. Trying to derive the current phenomena mainly from the nature, history and culture of Islam runs the risk of constructing something that does not stand up to a realistic and enlightened diagnosis of the present.

Roy pointed out that contemporary Islamism is instead a by-product of the globalised world, of its unshakeable belief in progress and its forms of communication. These forms and thought patterns are so pervasive that Islamism must be understood more as a reflection of modernism (or post-modernism) than as a new edition of classical, original Islam. Simply believing everything the Islamists claim about themselves makes things too easy.

Olivier Roy met with a great deal of resistance to his insights. 11 September 2001 then seemed to furnish incontrovertible proof of the Islamic threat and its overwhelming importance.

But what has happened since then? Wars have been waged to eradicate this threat. Military interventions in Islamic countries have come one after the other. Thanks to the immense resources thrown at the project, several advances in military technology have been made in the process, the perfecting of remote-controlled drone war, for example.

But wiser minds agree today that no progress has been made in resolving any problems. While a partial problem like Osama bin Laden was “solved”, many new ones have been created. What is the situation like today in Afghanistan, in Gaza, in Yemen, in Libya, in Mali, in Syria and in Iraq? An error seems to have been made in the analysis of the underlying issue. Olivier Roy was right from the start.

Islamic states in dissolution

The dire new problems do not consist of ever-new Islamist movements that throw themselves in the paths of the invaders and their helpers and strike with steadily growing brutality in the countries of the West. They consist of the disintegration of entire societies, the dissolution of regional structures and the collapse of what were once quite sovereign states.

Successfully allied against the USA and its partners in the Middle East: it would be a mistake to attribute the regional successes of the Islamic Republic to the power of Shia fundamentalism, i.e. to a further manifestation of “political Islam”. In the chaos that prevails, Iran appears to some – despite or because of its anti-American rulers – to be a force for order whose claim to regional leadership is accepted as being the lesser evil

In the resulting chaos, those who have somehow survived to this point can appear to be strong. They include – besides Israel – the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Although the mullahs are skating on thin ice in their domestic policies, they are succeeding in their foreign and regional efforts in exploiting the weaknesses of their main opponent, the USA, and its alliances. Iran has mobilised Shia allies on a large scale. The conflict between Shias and Sunnis is indeed a major factor in the Middle East today.

But here as well it would be a mistake to attribute the regional successes of the Islamic Republic to the power of Shia fundamentalism, i.e. to a further manifestation of “political Islam”. In the chaos that prevails, Iran appears to some – despite or because of its anti-American rulers – to be a force for order whose claim to regional leadership is accepted as being the lesser evil.

Islam is breaking up on its own and no longer fits the image of a major enemy. Donald Trump has been quicker to grasp this than the leaders of the CDU and those who oppose the “Islamisation of the West”. At the beginning of his presidency, his identity policy still focussed on imposing entry restrictions on citizens of certain Islamic countries. In the meantime, however, he has begun directing his rage more at blacks who live in cities he describes as “rat and rodent infested messes” and “Hispanics” who want to cross the border from Mexico or live “illegally” in the USA and who should be deported.

Giving way to old-fashioned racism

Islamophobia is segueing into old-fashioned racism. The new enemy in Western identity politics are people of colour, those who speak a different language and those who are judged to be somehow or other inferior. Racism has the advantage of being more comprehensive. Of course, Muslims are also included.

The trend has long since washed up on Europe’s shores. Arab clan criminality, the frightening reproductive power of Africans, uninhibited by civilisation, or their genetic predisposition to pushing children in front of ICE trains: it is impossible to overlook the shift in the discourse on the question of identity.

The hairdresser Alaa S. from Chemnitz was not sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for an alleged but unproven knife attack because he is a Muslim, but because he is an asylum seeker and refugee. Without thorough indoctrination in racist dehumanisation, it would not be possible to let refugees drown in the Mediterranean, or to turn away those who are rescued from Europe’s coasts for days and weeks on end. The duplicity of events taking place at America’s and Europe’s southern borders has already been noted, and rightly so.

Demonstrators in front of Berlinʹs Brandenburg Gate, “#indivisible” against racism and right-wing populism: of course this new racism is provoking resistance. Those affected are raising their voices. Many citizens reject such identity politics, partly on the basis of the historical experiences in America and Europe. They are aware of the fact that the prosperity of our middle classes is bought on the backs of people in other parts of the world. Climate change threatens to make this truth even more evident

Of course this new racism is provoking resistance. Those affected are raising their voices. Many citizens reject such identity politics, partly on the basis of the historical experiences in America and Europe. They are aware of the fact that the prosperity of our middle classes is bought on the backs of people in other parts of the world. Climate change threatens to make this truth even more evident.

In time, one could cynically say, there will come a further intensification of the discourse. The American journalist James Kirchick tells the tale of a “race war of the left”. He sees “white men” as victims of a new racism practiced by progressive forces. Kirchick turns perpetrator into victim and victim into perpetrator. This follows exactly the same line as Donald Trump, who set out at the beginning of his term to put an end to the “carnage” his white followers were allegedly suffering from and to restore their rights.

Kirchick’s essay on “the leftʹs race war” was published on 15 August under exactly that title on the website of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. That’s not a good sign. “Race war” was a key term in Adolf Hitler’s vocabulary. He already used it early on to describe the political programme of the Nazis. What do Kirchick and the F.A.Z. insinuate as being the intentions of “the left”?

When asked, the F.A.Z. responded that the author had addressed the “political debate in the United States, which is being carried out partly with racist arguments”. The newspaper deemed the text to be “an important contribution to the debate.”

The victory of global capitalism and liberal democracy are apparently the end of the story. To some, it would appear, any means are justified to enable this culmination – something of an eternal coronation – to continue as undisturbed as possible under “white supremacy”.

Source: Identity politics in the West: Islam – no longer the bogeyman

With hajj under threat, it’s time Muslims joined the climate movement

Given the dependence of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries on oil and oil revenues, strikes me as secondary issue in relation to climate change. However, it might provide an entry point for discussions:

According to research published last week by US scientists, hajj is set to become a danger zone. As soon as next year, they say, summer days in Mecca could exceed the “extreme danger” heat-stress threshold. The news comes just weeks after over 2 million people completed their journey of a lifetime. The environmental threat to the holy pilgrimage is a panic button for British Muslims like me, signaling that the climate crisis is endangering an age-old sacred rite.

Hajj is a pillar of Islam that I’ve yet to undertake, and the physical endurance required will only become more gruelling in coming decades – scientists predict that heat and humidity levels during hajj will exceed the extreme danger threshold 20% of the time from 2045 and 2053, and 42% of the time between 2079 and 2086.

Environmental stewardship may well be advocated by my faith – the Quran states that humans are appointed as “caretakers of the Earth” and the prophet Muhammad organised the planting of trees and created conservation areas called hima – but it hasn’t mobilised Muslims on a mass scale for what the world needs now: a global eco-jihad.

Fazlun Khalid, founder of Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences and author of Signs on the Earth: Islam, Modernity and the Climate Crisis, has been on a green mission for over 35 years, but his biggest challenge has been to motivate Muslims. “Islam is inherently environmental, but modernity has induced all of us to distance ourselves from nature. The reason I don’t give up is my grandchildren – what kind of planet will they inherit? How can they perform hajj under those conditions?”

Khalid previously gathered a team of scholars and academics who drafted the Islamic declaration on climate change adopted at the International Islamic climate change symposium in Istanbul in 2015 (an event co-sponsored by Islamic Relief, a global charity that is again calling on Muslims to take action now if they want to safeguard the pilgrimage for future generations). Maria Zafar of Islamic Relief UK said: “Hajj has physically demanding outdoor rituals which can become hazardous to humans. It isn’t only Mecca, other sacred sites will be at risk too, like the religious sites in Jerusalem, the Golden Temple in India – it will affect what we hold dear to our hearts. We think that climate change is distant from us, but there is no area of life that it won’t touch.”

If we are truly to tackle a catastrophe as huge as the climate crisis, we have to make it personal. Without a personal stake, it remains an abstract and we unite in perpetuating it. So if money is the only form of emotional investment for some, and if economics wields more power than the will to save our planet, we must use it. Next year Saudi Arabia is hosting the G20 summit, so let’s pressure the country to consider the financial threat due to a loss of religious tourism. Hajj is lucrative: economic experts have said revenues from hajj and umrah (a lesser pilgrimage undertaken any time of year) are set to exceed $150bn by 2022.

Source: With hajj under threat, it’s time Muslims joined the climate movement