Toronto celebrates 50 years of Ismaili Muslim community in the city

One of the more successful communities in Canada, integrated while preserving their culture and identity:

She has been a lawyer, a manager of philanthropic foundations and a diplomat in Afghanistan, but Sheherazade Hirji has not forgotten that late afternoon nearly 50 years ago when she was a teenager with her family, making their way through menacing military checkpoints.

“There were lots of checkpoints and people were robbed and they would look into people’s bodies, women’s bodies under their saris, they would look everywhere,” she recalled.

Ms. Hirji and her family were heading for the airport in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. They were among the last to leave, part of the 80,000 residents of South Asian descent in the African country who were suddenly expelled in 1972 by the dictator Idi Amin.

More than 6,000 of them, members of the Ismaili Shia Muslim community, were able to resettle quickly in Canada, after their spiritual leader, the Aga Khan, called on his friend, then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, to provide them with a haven.

Half a century later, standing by the landscaped lawn of Toronto’s Ismaili Centre, Ms. Hirji could contemplate the journey that led her community to become one of Canada’s great refugee success stories.

In the early days, she said, having few possessions and no place to practise their faith, newly arrived Ismailis in Canada would gather in basements, bringing sheets, so they could pray together. Later, they were able to rent school halls.

And now, on Sunday, prominent members of the community had been invited to a bright, spacious atrium at the Ismaili Centre, to hear Mayor John Tory announce that he had bestowed a Key to the City to the Aga Khan and renamed the street outside after the Ismaili imam.

The Ismailis, the mayor said, were part of a lineage of newcomers who had successfully built a new life in Canada, such as the Vietnamese, the Tamils and more recently Ukrainian refugees.

The honours for the Ismaili imam was “the least we could do,” Mr. Tory told the gathering, citing the extensive charities, schools and other philanthropic endeavours supported by the Aga Khan. He said he had been travelling in Pakistan in the wake of the 2013 earthquake and found that the Aga Khan’s humanitarian organizations were helping in the most remote villages.

The appreciation for the Aga Khan mirrored the goodwill accrued by the diligent, hard-working way the Ismailis had integrated into Canadian society. In 1972, the message from the imam to his faithfuls was to “make Canada your home and enrich Canada for the benefit of all Canadians,” Karim Thomas, vice-president of the Ismaili Council for Canada, said in an interview.

“We’ve been received by Canada and by Canadians with extraordinary warmth and with openness. … We’re very grateful for the opportunities that Canada has given us.

Behind the success story of the Ismaili refugees lay also the pain of their sudden expropriation and expulsion in Uganda, said Mahmoud Eboo, the Aga Khan Development Network representative to Canada.

“What people don’t appreciate is the shock and trauma that one undergoes when you suddenly hear overnight that all your possessions are gone. The businesses that you may have worked all your life for your family and your children are taken, your home that you’ve lived in is gone. … You have absolutely no idea what tomorrow will bring for you.”

South Asians had settled in Uganda and other British colonies in Africa since the 19th century. Ms. Hirji’s grandparents had moved from India, so she and her parents were born in Uganda. “I was the second generation born in Africa and so for us Uganda had always been home. It was the only home I ever knew.”

But the community’s prosperity also made it a scapegoat after Idi Amin took power in a coup d’état and ordered their expulsion.

Bringing only what they could carry in a suitcase, Ms. Hirji’s family landed first in Britain. They moved to social housing in Newcastle and her mother took a job in a factory manufacturing silverware.

She and her husband eventually settled in Canada, appreciating the country’s attitude toward diversity.

Canada’s diversity remains a crucial quality in the current circumstances, said Prince Amyn Aga Khan, the Ismaili’s leader’s younger brother, who represented the imam at the ceremony.

“His highness has looked at Canada as a model of pluralism,” he said, “one that is ever more critically, more urgently needed in our increasingly divisive and fragmented world.”

Source: Toronto celebrates 50 years of Ismaili Muslim community in the city

PEN Canada standing up for Salman Rushdie 30 years after ambitious plan to condemn Iran’s state-sanctioned act of terror against him

Good reminder of just how courageous Canadian political leaders, particularly Bob Rae then Premier of Ontario, were. British PM Thatcher was equally principle in providing Rushdie with protection despite his harsh criticism of her policies and reference to her as Mrs. Torture in Satanic Verses.

As noted before, I was posted to Tehran when the fatwa was issued and we were concerned that the Toronto event might impact our safety but fortunately it didn’t.

Proud of the Canadian leaders who stood up for free speech when many did not. Sharp contrast to some of the shallow and tendentious invocations of freedom and free speech that are all too common today:

Thirty years ago, PEN Canada, a non-partisan organization that supports freedom of expression in Canada and writers endangered around the world, staged an extraordinary coup in Toronto. Held in support of award-winning English novelist Salman Rushdie, it went on to have international ramifications – with this country at the root of it.

In 1992, Rushdie was in his fourth year of hiding, under constant police protection for fear of his life. Three years earlier, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran had issued a fatwa calling for his murder, and the murder of those associated with his novel, The Satanic Verses. Khomeini claimed the novel insulted Islam, though his son admitted later that he never read it.

Internationally, political will to stand up to such an astonishing public threat against a private citizen of another country was sadly lacking. But no country was willing to act alone. Louise Dennys, then president of PEN Canada, told the head of the International Salman Rushdie Defence Committee that she believed Canada could break the impasse.

A handful of PEN members – Louise, with Ric Young, John Ralston Saul, Adrienne Clarkson, Marian Botsford-Fraser and Clayton Ruby – hatched an ambitious plan to persuade the Canadian government to condemn Iran’s state-sanctioned act of terrorism against Rushdie. The strategy: to use the annual PEN Canada Benefit to showcase public support for Rushdie in the country and galvanize the government in Ottawa to take the issue to the United Nations. They needed to bring Rushdie to Canada and draw intense media coverage.

This was no easy matter. It required absolute secrecy, the support of MI6 in Britain alongside CSIS and the RCMP in Canada, and a frantic last-minute search for means – ultimately, a private jet offered by an anonymous donor – to bring Rushdie across the Atlantic when the initial flight plan fell through.

Miraculously, they managed it. On Dec. 7, 1992, Rushdie appeared as a surprise guest on stage at the Winter Garden Theatre before an astonished audience of a thousand people. There was a collective gasp as the crowd rose to its feet in applause, even as they suddenly became aware of the 60-some security personnel present in the theatre, talking into their sleeves.

And then Bob Rae, premier of Ontario at the time, came on stage and embraced Rushdie, the first head of government anywhere to publicly stand with him. Rae called upon all governments to “do the right thing.”

It did not end there. The small delegation flew straight to Ottawa. Overnight, a morning press conference was convened. A few hours later, Barbara McDougall became the first secretary of state of any country to meet with Rushdie. Jean Chrétien, then the leader of the Official Opposition, walked him over to the House of Commons where he testified before the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Development and Human Rights.

The result was electrifying. Within 48 hours, Canada became the first country in the world to pass a unanimous, all-party resolution condemning the Iranian government for its shameful record on human rights, demanding the withdrawal of the fatwa. Three months later, at the instigation of the Canadian government, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva passed a resolution condemning Iran’s actions and calling for sanctions.

Remarkably – and sadly, given the cause – a full generation after the epochal 1992 benefit, the organization is again holding an event to stand with Rushdie after the horrific attack on him in August at the Chautauqua Institute, in upper New York State. Together with the Toronto International Festival of Authors, Penguin Random House Canada and the Writers Trust, PEN Canada will hold a reading of Rushdie’s works on Sept. 27.

Thirty years ago, PEN Canada, a non-partisan organization that supports freedom of expression in Canada and writers endangered around the world, staged an extraordinary coup in Toronto. Held in support of award-winning English novelist Salman Rushdie, it went on to have international ramifications – with this country at the root of it.

In 1992, Rushdie was in his fourth year of hiding, under constant police protection for fear of his life. Three years earlier, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran had issued a fatwa calling for his murder, and the murder of those associated with his novel, The Satanic Verses. Khomeini claimed the novel insulted Islam, though his son admitted later that he never read it.

Internationally, political will to stand up to such an astonishing public threat against a private citizen of another country was sadly lacking. But no country was willing to act alone. Louise Dennys, then president of PEN Canada, told the head of the International Salman Rushdie Defence Committee that she believed Canada could break the impasse.

A handful of PEN members – Louise, with Ric Young, John Ralston Saul, Adrienne Clarkson, Marian Botsford-Fraser and Clayton Ruby – hatched an ambitious plan to persuade the Canadian government to condemn Iran’s state-sanctioned act of terrorism against Rushdie. The strategy: to use the annual PEN Canada Benefit to showcase public support for Rushdie in the country and galvanize the government in Ottawa to take the issue to the United Nations. They needed to bring Rushdie to Canada and draw intense media coverage.

This was no easy matter. It required absolute secrecy, the support of MI6 in Britain alongside CSIS and the RCMP in Canada, and a frantic last-minute search for means – ultimately, a private jet offered by an anonymous donor – to bring Rushdie across the Atlantic when the initial flight plan fell through.

Miraculously, they managed it. On Dec. 7, 1992, Rushdie appeared as a surprise guest on stage at the Winter Garden Theatre before an astonished audience of a thousand people. There was a collective gasp as the crowd rose to its feet in applause, even as they suddenly became aware of the 60-some security personnel present in the theatre, talking into their sleeves.

And then Bob Rae, premier of Ontario at the time, came on stage and embraced Rushdie, the first head of government anywhere to publicly stand with him. Rae called upon all governments to “do the right thing.”

It did not end there. The small delegation flew straight to Ottawa. Overnight, a morning press conference was convened. A few hours later, Barbara McDougall became the first secretary of state of any country to meet with Rushdie. Jean Chrétien, then the leader of the Official Opposition, walked him over to the House of Commons where he testified before the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Development and Human Rights.

The result was electrifying. Within 48 hours, Canada became the first country in the world to pass a unanimous, all-party resolution condemning the Iranian government for its shameful record on human rights, demanding the withdrawal of the fatwa. Three months later, at the instigation of the Canadian government, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva passed a resolution condemning Iran’s actions and calling for sanctions.

Remarkably – and sadly, given the cause – a full generation after the epochal 1992 benefit, the organization is again holding an event to stand with Rushdie after the horrific attack on him in August at the Chautauqua Institute, in upper New York State. Together with the Toronto International Festival of Authors, Penguin Random House Canada and the Writers Trust, PEN Canada will hold a reading of Rushdie’s works on Sept. 27.

Source: PEN Canada standing up for Salman Rushdie 30 years after ambitious plan to condemn Iran’s state-sanctioned act of terror against him

Serwer: The Right to Free Speech Is Not the Right to Monologue

Good and thoughtful commentary:

In august, the author Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the neck. The novelist has spent decades living under the threat of a hit put out by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. The religious directive was a response to Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, which Khomeini regarded as blasphemous. For many, the attack was an opportunity to reflect on the importance of free expression, and a reminder of the clear distinction between speech and violence.

For others, it was an opportunity to remind others of the clear distinction between speech and violence, which is something that all those snowflake libs, who are sort of like the fanatic who stabbed Rushdie in the neck, should take to heart.

“We live in a culture in which many of the most celebrated people occupying the highest perches believe that words are violence,” Bari Weiss wrote on her Substack, citing no one in particular. “In this, they have much in common with Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.” She added that “of course it is 2022 that the Islamists finally get a knife into Salman Rushdie. Of course it is now, when words are literally violence and J.K. Rowling literally puts trans lives in danger and even talking about anything that might offend anyone means you are literally arguing I shouldn’t exist.”

As an outlet, The Atlantic attempts to provide readers with a broad spectrum of perspectives based on shared values. One of these values is freedom of speech, a principle to which I and all of my cherished colleagues are deeply committed. The assassination attempt on Rushdie was a direct attack on that freedom, and it should be no surprise that writers here have a great deal to say about it. But I must respectfully disagree with some of my colleagues about the conclusions they have drawn from the attack, linking contemporary left-wing discourse with a fundamentalist theocrat’s call for assassination.

My colleague Graeme Wood pointed to Jimmy Carter’s 1989 op-ed criticizing Rushdie to argue that “over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding.” He acknowledged, however, that “since the attempt on Rushdie’s life, almost no one has advanced these arguments,” meaning a link between the emotional injury of blasphemy and the very literal violence of murder. If our society were truly “Carterized,” I would have expected instead to have seen some prominent American figures make the argument Carter did decades ago.

Another one of my colleagues, Caitlin Flanagan, settled for an exegesis of the views of the Twitter user @MeerAsifAziz1, whose account no longer exists. She argued that “the culture of free speech is eroding every day,” and offered a hypothetical example: “Ask an Oberlin student—fresh outta Shaker Heights, coming in hot, with a heart as big as all outdoors and a 3 in AP Bio—to tell you what speech is acceptable, and she’ll tell you that it’s speech that doesn’t hurt the feelings of anyone belonging to a protected class.”

I’ll make no secret that I believe the focus on the misguided egalitarianism of undergraduates at private colleges has been disproportionate. People like this exist, though, and it’s fair to criticize them. What I frankly find puzzling is presenting this hypothetical student as the avatar of the idea that dangerous speech and ideas must be suppressed, when in statehouses and governors’ mansions, politicians who have the authority to enforce their ideas about censorship with state power are actually putting them into practice. Unlike the hypothetical Oberlin student, these officials are real, and the threat they pose to free speech is not only clear and present, but backed by a certain level of popular demand.

I agree with Weiss and Wood and Flanagan that there is a bright line between speech and violence that must be respected, and that trying to kill someone for offending you is monstrous. Speech is not violence, and to argue so is to imply that violence is an appropriate response. The unacknowledged reality of these three essays, however, is that what I just stated remains the broad, widely held consensus in American life, from right to left. Americans simply do not live under anything resembling the kind of repression in which people are killed for blasphemy with state or popular support.

Weiss, Wood, and Flanagan also noted the objection of a group of writers and thinkers to the PEN association bestowing an award on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical publication that terrorists attacked in 2015 over its caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, murdering 12 people, including several staff members, police officers, a maintenance worker, and someone who was visiting that day. The letter signers described the massacre as “sickening and tragic” while criticizing PEN for “valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.”

Weiss attacked the “civic cowardice” of those who objected, while Flanagan wrote that these writers were pressuring the organization to “abandon its mission” of protecting freedom of expression. Wood described the writers’ position as muddling “the distinction between offense and violence, and between a disagreement over ideas and a disagreement over whether your head should remain attached to your body.”

I would not have signed that letter if asked, not only because I do not sign open letters, as a matter of preference, but because I believe that blasphemy is a human right, and that the message that PEN was sending with the award was an endorsement not of Charlie Hebdo’s content but of the staff’s bravery in the face of an attempt to silence them through murder. But just as I have no objection to the award, I have no issue with people criticizing it because they do not want it to be interpreted as an endorsement of the racist caricatures Charlie Hebdo is known for, even accepting that they are intended with a layer of irony. (I’m not sure how many of the people disseminating these images are aware of the irony.) These may be mutually exclusive positions, but both are consistent with respecting free speech. Indeed, both the writers of the letter and its critics are arguing that there are things you can say but should not.

One of the significant measures of free speech in a given society is how people deal with blasphemy—whether religious offense provokes state censorship or violence. America has a relatively strong record in that respect in comparison with much of the rest of the world, while clearly faltering in others. The suggestion here, however, is that the writers who objected to the award granted to Charlie Hebdo are in some sense justifying the massacre, and therefore defending the notion that violence is an appropriate response to offensive speech. But surely one can defend the right of Nazis to publicly protest while rejecting the tenets of national socialism. If I cannot defend the fundamental right of a speaker to be offensive while objecting to their speech, then what am I actually defending?

In this case, the rights being asserted seem to be the right to be offensive, and the right of the offended to shut up and like it. The former combined with the latter is not an assertion of the right to free speech so much as a right to monologue, which I do not recognize.

The American culture of free speech is indeed under threat, as Flanagan argued. Free speech requires a robust exchange of views without the coercion of threats and violence, and self-censorship in response to social pressure is a genuine risk. Yet by definition, there is no free speech if one person is allowed to make an argument and another is not allowed to object to it. Nor has there ever been a time in American history when freedom of speech was not threatened with proscription by the state, or when one could express a controversial opinion and not risk social sanction. In short, the culture of free speech is always under threat.

In almost every era of U.S. history, the bounds of free expression have been contested. In the founding era, patriots tarred and feathered royalists. Before the Civil War, southern states passed laws that could be used to prosecute the dissemination of abolitionist literature and sought to prevent the Postal Service from delivering antislavery pamphlets, saying they would foment insurrection by the enslaved. Mobs followed the abolitionist Frederick Douglass across the North, throwing rotten eggs, stones, and menacing slurs at the orator at speaking events.  After Reconstruction, white supremacists destroyed the office of Ida B. Wells’s newspaper, The Free Speech and Headlight, following the publication of an editorial arguing that lynchings of Black men accused of raping white women were in fact punishment for consensual relationships. The Red Scares of the 20th century saw Americans forced from their jobs and prosecuted for leftist beliefs or sympathies on the grounds that those were tantamount to a commitment to overthrowing the government. Out of that crucible emerged a civil libertarian concept of free speech that many have mistaken for timeless rather than a product of a certain history and a particular arrangement of political power. The idea that certain forms of speech or expression justify or provoke violence, let alone that blasphemy does so, is not an invention of modern social-justice discourse.

Every generation faces a different challenge when it comes to freedom of expression. Ours includes not only the widespread and growing campaign of state censorship led by Republican lawmakers, but a social-media panopticon that can both deny us the privacy necessary to come to our own conclusions and inhibit the courage necessary to express them. Most of us are not meant to be privy to every misguided utterance of a stranger, nor are we meant to have our errors or worst moments evaluated publicly by people who learned of our existence only as the focus of political propaganda, as the subject of ridicule, or as acceptable targets in pointless feuds between online cliques. (Although it must be said, there are those who thrive in such conditions, and have successfully exploited them for fame, profit, and status.)

Yet, as Aaron R. Hanlon recently wrote in The New Republic, this wave of censorship laws in Republican-controlled states bears scant mention among many of the most prominent self-styled defenders of free speech, or at least, far less than the tyranny of the ratio. But we do not become little Rushdies when our inboxes and mentions are inundated with deranged filth from disturbed strangers, as a result of the public-facing profession we chose and the technological advancements that make us more accessible to such people.

It is not minimizing the power of digital mobs to say that spending decades with the state-backed threat of an assassin’s blade at your throat is coercion of a different magnitude. The wrath of an online mob can be harrowing: harassment, outrageous falsehoods, and threats are not pleasant to bear, and can threaten not just your mental health but your livelihood, and in extreme cases your safety. To pretend that seeking to avoid such an experience does not condition what people say and how they act would be foolish. But to pretend that this is a left-wing ideological phenomenon rather than a structural one, when educatorsmedical providerselection officials, and others from all walks of life are being driven underground by right-wing influencers who can conduct a mob like an orchestra, would be equally foolish.

The United States is living through the largest wave of state censorship since the second Red Scare. Beyond the plague of education gag laws restricting the teaching of unpleasant facts about American history, conservative judges seek to rewrite constitutional free-speech protections to punish the “liberal” media, and conservative states pass laws against public protest and immunize from liability those who would run over protesters with their cars, while law-enforcement organizations hope to use civil lawsuits to sue demonstrations against police brutality out of existence. Conservatives have sought to fire librarians and purge public libraries of books they deem controversial by categorizing them as obscene, as state officials try to punish teachers who provide their students with public information that allows them to access samizdat from libraries in states where it is not forbidden. Not only do abortion bounty laws seek to enforce silence around reproductive health, lest a person discussing the subject prick the ears of some snitch seeking a payday, but the overturning of Roe has coincided with explicit attempts to criminalize speech about abortion. In the strongest labor market in a generation, billionaires seek to use their power and authority to crush workers organizing for better conditions and a living wage.

There is no shortage of major free-speech issues to address in America today, but many of us in the writing profession are primarily concerned with our social-media experience, because that is what we most directly and frequently encounter. Instead of recognizing that the warped behavioral incentives created by social media are a structural problem, we tend to blame the people online who annoy us the most. In many cases, those defending “free speech” are not defending freedom of expression so much as seeking the power to determine which views can be publicly expressed without backlash, and which can be silenced without reproach. When we speak of an idealized past without chilling effects, we are simply imagining a time when the social consensus was repressive and stifling for someone else.

These conflicts are far more complex precisely because there is no clear line where social pressure from those exercising their rights of free speech and association crosses over into censoriousness. State censorship and violent compulsion are relatively easy to identify and oppose, if not always easy to prevent. When does accountability become harassment? When does protest become coercion? What views should be acceptable to state in polite society, and which should be appropriately shunned by decent people? When does a voice of criticism become the howl of a mob? When does corporate speech become corporate censorship? No society in human history has ever had simple answers to these questions. In a free society, sometimes people will choose to be horrible, and there is little to do other than make a different choice and counsel people to do the same.

Presenting these dilemmas as similar to an attempt to silence someone with a theocratic death mark is trivializing, and ahistorical. There has never been a golden age when anyone could say what they wanted without consequence, only eras in which one shared perspective was dominant. Though nostalgia may cloud our perceptions, those times were no more free, even if politics, ideology, or self-promotion might compel us to remember otherwise.

Source: The Right to Free Speech Is Not the Right to Monologue

Tremblay: Le sang de Salman Rushdie

From Le Devoir film critic Odile Tremblay:

« Quand la superstition entre par la porte, le bon sens se sauve par la fenêtre », écrivait Salman Rushdie dans Les versets sataniques.

Ce livre, qui lui valut en 1989 la fatwa de l’anathème en Iran par la voix de l’ayatollah Khomeini appelant à son assassinat, le déchirera jusqu’au tombeau.

Survivra ? Survivra pas ? On aura suivi en quelques jours avec horreur la nouvelle de son assaut par un jeune Américain d’origine libanaise (dix coups de couteau) lors d’une de ses conférences dans l’État de New York, puis l’hospitalisation, l’évolution de son état de santé. L’écrivain indo-britannique s’en sort, mais risque de perdre un œil. Son cou, son bras, son foie sont en piteux état. Il parle un peu, plaisante ; trait d’héroïsme. On imagine sans peine les mois, les années de physio et de thérapies qui l’attendent avant le retour à un certain équilibre physique et psychologique. Philippe Lançon, l’auteur de l’immortel Lambeau, en a su quelque chose, lui qui traversa les affres de la réadaptation après avoir été grièvement blessé lors du massacre islamiste chez Charlie Hebdo.

Espérons que l’attentat contre Rushdie ne sera pas qu’un fait divers décrié par les grands de ce monde (pas tous) puis effacé au profit d’un nouveau scandale. En Iran, des fondamentalistes se réjouissent de son sort. C’est lui qui conservera le vrai pouvoir magique des mots.

Je l’avais interviewé il y a dix ans au Festival de Toronto, quand un film avait été tiré de son roman Les enfants de minuit. Il se disait lassé de revenir sur cette fatwa, qui fit de lui longtemps un reclus, un homme traqué. Dix ans d’escorte policière. Dix ans de fuites et de repaires secrets. Des autodafés du livre, des manifestations sanglantes, le meurtre du traducteur japonais des Versets sataniques, la peur et les cris étaient les jalons de son parcours. Puis vint une accalmie. « Il n’y a que les journalistes pour me demander si ma vie est encore en danger », s’irritait-il en 2012 d’un sourcil hérissé. Salman Rushdie se déclarait heureux depuis une décennie, enfin sorti de cette galère. Pensez-vous… On lui prédit d’autres gardes du corps, de nouvelles retraites. Il était déjà un symbole. Aujourd’hui… Un mythe sanglant.

Depuis l’attentat, tout le monde s’arrache ces Versets sataniques en version numérique. Dans les librairies, c’est la rupture de stock. Les lecteurs trouveront-ils sa prose difficile d’accès ? Près de 35 ans après son lancement, dans un monde où la facilité intellectuelle domine, l’œuvre d’un auteur exigeant et complexe risque d’en égarer plusieurs. Cette dérive-là, l’attentat contre Salman Rushdie nous la rappelle tristement aussi.

Ce roman, une brique touffue de 600 pages, ne tient pourtant pas de la provocation frontale. Tissé d’intrigues multiples sur les mille fléaux du monde, il aborde entre autres l’exode et l’exil, le racisme et la violence policière. Mais en quelques pages, au cours d’un épisode rêvé, le prophète Mahomet, sous le nom de Mahound, prenait des libertés face au dogme officiel. Un imam venait dévorer son peuple. Une jeune fille invitait des pèlerins à traverser à pied la mer d’Arabie, sur la foi du miracle. Rien pour appeler à la guerre sainte. Les imams qui hurlaient le plus fort au blasphème n’avaient guère lu le livre avant de sonner l’hallali, mais le titre du roman faisait déjà scandale.

Les écrivains, les journalistes, les artistes, champions de la liberté d’expression, sont des cibles à travers le monde, en Chine comme en Russie, au Moyen-Orient et ailleurs. Mais ils ne sont pas les uniques victimes de la barbarie. Des personnes parfois sans histoire se font blesser ou tuer pour des motifs religieux, politiques, pour leur couleur, leur genre, leur orientation sexuelle, un regard de travers, un territoire à soumettre par les armes ou parce qu’elles passaient dans le coin. Quant à l’intolérance, comment la résumer aux seules dérives islamiques ? Sur les réseaux sociaux, dans les rues, dans une Amérique déchirée et armée, l’obscurantisme et la pulsion de mort ravagent de concert les esprits.

Rushdie, écrivain athée de culture musulmane, me l’affirmait en substance : la bataille pour la liberté d’attaquer la religion a d’autres moteurs que le combat touchant les crimes raciaux, puisqu’elle touche au monde des idées. Reste que l’extrémisme à pourfendre naît sur bien des terrains, enfourchant les idées et les croyances comme les pulsions discriminatoires de tous acabits, des enjeux sanitaires, des mirages trumpiens, des rêves d’appartenance. La religion fanatisée constitue un vecteur de haine rouge, mais les motifs de polarisation violente sont devenus si nombreux et parfois si futiles qu’on n’aura jamais assez d’écrivains, même incompris, même ensanglantés, pour dénoncer la bêtise humaine qui fleurit partout.

Source: Le sang de Salman Rushdie

Atwood: If we don’t defend free speech, we live in tyranny: Salman Rushdie shows us that

I was in working at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran when Rushdie spoke in Toronto and appeared on stage with then premier Bob Rae. We were worried regarding potential fall-out and possible threats but fortunately none materialized. (I read The Satanic Verses in Tehran, adding another personal twist to my time there).

Usual trenchant commentary by Atwood:

A long time ago – 7 December 1992, to be exact – I was backstage at a Toronto theatre, taking off a Stetson. With two other writers, Timothy Findley and Paul Quarrington, I’d been performing a medley of 1950s country and western classics, rephrased for writers – Ghost Writers in the Sky, If I Had the Wings of an Agent, and other fatuous parodies of that nature. It was a PEN Canada benefit of that era: writers dressed up and made idiots of themselves in aid of writers persecuted by governments for things they’d written.

Just as the three of us were bemoaning how awful we’d been, there was a knock on the door. Backstage was locked down, we were told. Secret agents were talking into their sleeves. Salman Rushdie had been spirited into the country. He was about to appear on stage with Bob Rae, the premier of Ontario, the first head of government in the world to support him in public. “And you, Margaret, as past president of PEN Canada, are going to introduce him,” I was told.

Gulp. “Oh, OK,” I said. And so I did. It was a money-where-your-mouth-is moment.

And, with the recent attack on him, so is this.

Rushdie exploded on to the literary scene in 1981 with his second novel, Midnight’s Children, which won the Booker prize that year. No wonder: its inventiveness, range, historical scope and verbal dexterity were breathtaking, and it opened the door to subsequent generations of writers who might previously have felt that their identities or subject matter excluded them from the movable feast that is English-language literature. He has ticked every box except the Nobel prize: he has been knighted; he is on everyone’s list of significant British writers; he has collected an impressive bouquet of prizes and honours, but, most importantly, he has touched and inspired a great many people around the globe. A huge number of writers and readers have long owed him a major debt.

Suddenly, they owe him another one. He has long defended freedom of artistic expression against all comers; now, even should he recover from his injuries, he is a martyr to it.

In any future monument to murdered, tortured, imprisoned and persecuted writers, Rushdie will feature large. On 12 August he was stabbed on stage by an assailant at a literary event at Chautauqua, a venerable American institution in upstate New York. Yet again “that sort of thing never happens here” has been proven false: in our present world, anything can happen anywhere. American democracy is under threat as never before: the attempted assassination of a writer is just one more symptom.

Without doubt, this attack was directed at him because his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, a satiric fantasy that he himself believed was dealing with the disorientation felt by immigrants from (for instance) India to Britain, got used as a tool in a political power struggle in a distant country.

When your regime is under pressure, a little book-burning creates a popular distraction. Writers don’t have an army. They don’t have billions of dollars. They don’t have a captive voting block. They thus make cheap scapegoats. They’re so easy to blame: their medium is words, which are by nature ambiguous and subject to misinterpretation, and they themselves are often mouthy, if not downright curmudgeonly. Worse, they frequently speak truth to power. Even apart from that, their books will annoy some people. As writers themselves have frequently said, if what you’ve written is universally liked, you must be doing something wrong. But when you offend a ruler, things can get lethal, as many writers have discovered.

In Rushdie’s case, the power that used him as a pawn was the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. In 1989, he issued a fatwa – a rough equivalent to the bulls of excommunication used by medieval and renaissance Catholic popes as weapons against both secular rulers and theological challengers such as Martin Luther. Khomeini also offered a large reward to anyone who would murder Rushdie. There were numerous killings and attempted assassinations, including the stabbing of the Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi in 1991. Rushdie himself spent many years in enforced hiding, but gradually he came out of his cocoon – the Toronto PEN event being the most significant first step – and, in the past two decades, he’d been leading a relatively normal life.

However, he never missed an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the principles he’d been embodying all his writing life. Freedom of expression was foremost among these. Once a yawn-making liberal platitude, this concept has now become a hot-button issue, since the extreme right has attempted to kidnap it in the service of libel, lies and hatred, and the extreme left has tried to toss it out the window in the service of its version of earthly perfection. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to foresee many panel discussions on the subject, should we reach a moment in which rational debate is possible. But whatever it is, the right to freedom of expression does not include the right to defame, to lie maliciously and damagingly about provable facts, to issue death threats, or to advocate murder. These should be punished by law.

As for those who are still saying, “yes, but …” about Rushdie – some version of “he should have known better”, as in “yes, too bad about the rape, but why was she wearing that revealing skirt” – I can only remark that there are no perfect victims. In fact, there are no perfect artists, nor is there any perfect art. Anti-censorship folks often find themselves having to defend work they would otherwise review scathingly, but such defending is necessary, unless we are all to have our vocal cords removed.

Long ago, a Canadian member of parliament described a ballet as “a bunch of fruits jumping around in long underwear”. Let them jump, say I! Living in a pluralistic democracy means being surrounded by a multiplicity of voices, some of which will be saying things you don’t like. Unless you’re prepared to uphold their right to speak, as Salman Rushdie has done so often, you’ll end up living in a tyranny.

Rushdie didn’t plan to become a free-speech hero, but he is one now. Writers everywhere – those who are not state hacks or brainwashed robots – owe him a huge vote of thanks.

Source: If we don’t defend free speech, we live in tyranny: Salman Rushdie shows us that

How a Quebec student’s hijab became the target of a political and cultural storm

Groundhog Day…

The photograph on the Montreal business school’s website was intended to demonstrate a young woman’s possibility and her academic success.

“A rewarding international presence,” reads the blurb beside the photo, written in a black font to match the black cloth hijab wrapped around the head and neck of the woman’s smiling face.

There is not much more that would stand out as unusual in the promotional image of the Algerian exchange student at the HEC Montréal — an image the school uses to tout its international programs, a deep and important revenue stream for the institution, as it is for most other Canadian universities.

But when Jean-François Lisée, a prominent Quebec academic, writer and former politician, viewed the image last weekend, he saw it not as a ploy by a public institution in search of private funds.

Instead, the former leader of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois flared at what he took to be a breach of the secular codes that Quebec governments have been trying to establish over the past two decades to separate religion and the state.

Those efforts culminated in 2019 with the passage into law of Bill 21, which enshrines state secularism, mainly by banning public-sector workers from wearing items of religious clothing or decoration, including crucifixes, turbans and hijabs, while at work.

“University students can display their convictions, religious or not,” Lisée wrote on Twitter. “But for a public institution that is by definition secular, pro-science and pro-gender equality to normalize a misogynistic religious sign in an ad is unacceptable.”

The rebuke from a man who has straddled Quebec’s media and political realms for more than 40 years cast the province back into a fraught debate that it cannot seem to resolve.

Increasingly present in the form of turbans, hijabs and kippahs, at least in part due to immigration patterns in the province, many of Quebec’s white, francophone majority would apparently prefer that religion be neither seen nor heard from in the public sphere.

But each instance of religion rearing its head, reigniting the debate over the place of religious expression in a secular society, is like a freshly formed scab over a cut that is pulled away, exposing the wound to the sting of fresh air.

Kimberley Manning calls them “moments of punctuation” that revive the frequently noxious debate that, in her opinion, risks revictimizing religious minorities in Quebec.

“They contribute to and exacerbate an ever-present experience of not being fully Quebeckers,” says the associate professor of political science at Montreal’s Concordia University. “This is what seems to be coming through in the polling and the research.”

Manning has done her own work, notably a March study of students that found feelings of discrimination that respondents linked to the province’s secularism law.

A more extensive study of Bill 21’s impacts in Quebec, released this week, contends that the law has created a frightening, oppressive and grim environment for religious minorities.

In surveys, Jews, Sikhs and Muslims reported a deterioration in their likelihood to participate in social and political life in the province, in their sense of personal safety, and in their confidence for future prospects.

“(The law) promises all kinds of very noble values, and when we measured those up against the results in the study, we see that it doesn’t achieve those values of neutrality, equality and social harmony,” says Miriam Taylor, director of publications and partnerships with the Association of Canadian Studies.

What the law — most any law — does do is normalize and concretize the biases which underpin it, Taylor says.

Survey respondents said they had experienced a rise in verbal abuse, threats and physical confrontations since the law was adopted.

This jibes with anecdotal evidence and a general sense of uncertainty and anxiety in Quebec’s Muslim communities, says Lina El Bakir, Quebec Advocacy Officer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“When you set out a law that is discriminatory, you allow that to permeate society and people’s views,” she says.

“It affects mental health, it affects security, it affects the ability to just be, you know?”

Lisée, who declined an interview request, said in his criticisms that his beef was not with the Algerian exchange student in the hijab, but with the business school.

The website content in question does not breach any aspects of the provincial law, but he said it sends a message to young Algerians standing up to the pressure of imams and fundamentalists that the school “is not your ally.”

An HEC Montréal spokesperson says the only goal of the image was to show off the diversity of its student body, which includes 3,746 international students from 142 countries. The image will come down from the site next week — not because of Lisée’s indignation but because that’s when its previously scheduled two-week publication run ends.

That may come as a relief to the student, who came to Montreal to obtain a business degree and now finds herself in a debate that is part polisci, part sociology — one that has been going on so long that at least part of it belongs to the annals of history.

Speaking to La Presse columnist Rima Elkouri, the 22-year-old, who declined the Star’s interview request, explained she was initially nervous about coming to study in Canada. She had heard about the killing of four members of the Afzaal family of London, Ont., who were run down by the driver of a pickup truck on June 6, 2021, in what police allege was a hate-motivated attack.

But, Nouha, who was identified only by her first name, said she quickly warmed to her new home in Montreal.

“I have never suffered from discrimination or a lack of respect,” she told the Montreal newspaper.

She said that wearing the hijab was a personal decision, not one forced upon her by her family, though she acknowledged the women who have no choice in the matter.

“I’m against that,” she said, adding that she considers herself a feminist.

“I’ve never found (the hijab) to be a symbol that diminishes the value of a woman. Personally, I consider myself to be a very strong woman. In a few years, I’ll be managing a team of workers. I can’t afford to see myself as a weak person.”

She also said she acknowledges and understands the principles of secularism in Quebec.

“I understand that the school must be truly neutral. But from my point of view, it’s also important to display people from minority groups because those minorities look for a place where they feel at peace.”

The issues on display are not going away.

Before the end of the month, Quebec will be into a provincial election campaign and parties have often fallen back on identity issues to stir up the passions of their voters.

Taylor said she worried about the negative consequences of a campaign in which religion and secularism, majority views and minority rights were “instrumentalized for political gain.”

Before the end of the year, Quebec’s court of appeal is expected to hear a legal challenge to Bill 21. And in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has already promised to challenge the provincial secularism law at the Supreme Court.

Taylor’s study found that support for the law among Quebeckers would drop considerably if the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the Constitution.

This bolsters El Bakir’s contention that Quebeckers, like other Canadians, value human rights, despise discrimination and strive for equality.

But she reverts to her native French, and invokes the most Quebecois of expressions, to explain that an older segment of the Quebec population support secularism because they remember when the Catholic Church exerted strict control over all aspects of the province —from schools to hospitals to politics to family life.

“It doesn’t take the head of Papineau!” she says, in reference to Louis-Joseph Papineau, a leader of the rebel Patriote movement in 19th century Lower Canada who was reputed for his intelligence.

“I do understand where older generations are coming from, however societies evolve and we need to understand that realities do change, and one narrative doesn’t always apply.”

Source: How a Quebec student’s hijab became the target of a political and cultural storm

Attack on Salman Rushdie prompts Canadians to highlight author’s relentless fight for free speech

As someone posted to Iran when the fatwa was issued, and as a fan of his writing, this attack strikes close to home along with the importance of free speech. We will see if some in Canada defend or excuse the indefensible:

Canadian writers, publishers and literary figures doubled down on the right to freedom of thought and expression on Saturday, one day after an attack in the U.S. on award-winning author Salman Rushdie that has left him on a ventilator in hospital.

Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses drew death threats from Iran’s leaders in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen Friday by a man who rushed the stage as the author was about to give a lecture in western New York.

Louise Dennys, executive vice-president and publisher of Penguin Random House Canada, has published and edited Rushdie’s writings for over 30 years. She condemned the attack on her longtime friend and colleague as “cowardly” and “reprehensible in every way.”

“He is without doubt one of the greatest proponents of freedom of thought and speech, and debate and discussion in the world today,” Dennys said in a telephone interview. “I have hopes of his recovery. He’s a great warrior and fighter, and I hope he is fighting back.”

Rushdie, 75, a native of India who has lived in Britain and the U.S., is known for his surreal and satirical prose style

The Satanic Verses drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with many Muslims regarding as blasphemy a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.

A 24-year-old man is in custody, facing charges in Friday’s attack. The accused was born a decade after the publication of The Satanic Verses. Police said the motive was unclear. Investigators were working to determine whether anyone else could be linked to the incident.

After the publication of The Satanic Verses, often-violent protests erupted across the Muslim world against Rushdie. At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

The death threats prompted Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, though he cautiously resumed public appearances after nine years of seclusion, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

‘He couldn’t be silenced by fear’

“We all depend on the storytelling, power and imagination of writers,” Dennys said. Rushdie “came out of hiding because he realized he wanted to play a role in the world we live in, defending those rights, she said.

“He couldn’t be silenced by fear, and I think that point is something he will continue to make if, as we all hope, he survives.”

Dennys said the attack is already having the opposite effect of its suspected intentions given the outpouring of support from the international literary community, as well as activists and government officials, who cited Rushdie’s courage for his longtime free speech advocacy despite risks to his own safety.

“It’s brought everyone together to realize how precious and fragile our freedoms are and how important it is to speak up for them,” Dennys said.

The president of PEN Canada, an organization that defends authors’ freedom of expression, condemned the “savage attack” on their “friend and colleague,” Rushdie, who is a member.

Canadian writer John Ralston Saul, who has known Rushdie since the 1990s, said the author was always aware that someone might attack him, but he chose to live publicly in order to speak out against those trying to silence free expression and debate.

“[Rushdie’s] work and whole life are a reminder of what the life of the public writer is in reality,” he said. “This would be the worst possible time to give in or show any sense that we must be more careful with our words. We’re not really writers if we give in to that kind of threat.”

The accused, Hadi Matar, was arrested after the attack at the Chautauqua Institution, a non-profit education and retreat centre. Matar’s lawyer entered a not guilty plea in a New York court on Saturday to charges of attempted murder and assault.

After the attack, some longtime visitors to the centre questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head offering more than $3 million to anyone who killed him.

Saul, who spoke at the Chautauqua Institution years before Rushdie’s attack, said it has an “open tradition” of debate, free expression and anti-violence going back over 100 years.

“It’s one of the freest places to take advantage of our belief in freedom,” he said.

Witnesses to the attack on Salman Rushdie Friday in western New York recount how a man approached the stage at the Chautauqua Institution where the author was about to give a lecture, attacked him and was later pinned down by people from the audience.

Roland Gulliver, director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors, tweeted Saturday that literary festivals and book events are “spaces of expression, to tell your stories in friendship, safety and respect.”

“To see this so violently broken is incredibly shocking,” he wrote.

Expressions of sympathy came from the political realm as well, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemning the attack as a “cowardly … strike against freedom of expression.”

“No one should be threatened or harmed on the basis of what they have written,” read a statement posted to Trudeau’s official Twitter account. “I’m wishing him a speedy recovery.”

Rushdie suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in his arm, and is likely to lose an eye as a result of the attack, the author’s agent, Andrew Wylie, said Friday evening.

A physician who witnessed the attack and was among those who rushed to help described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”

Source: Attack on Salman Rushdie prompts Canadians to highlight author’s relentless fight for free speech

New research shows Bill 21 having ‘devastating’ impact on religious minorities in Quebec [particularly Muslim women]

Would be interesting to see the breakdown between Montreal and the rest of Quebec, where immigration is low as is the number of visible and religious minorities:

New research shows that three years after Quebec’s secularism law — commonly known as Bill 21 — was adopted, religious minorities in the province are feeling increasingly alienated and hopeless.  

“Religious minority communities are encountering — at levels that are disturbing — a reflection of disdain, hate, mistrust and aggression,” Miriam Taylor, lead researcher and the director of publications and partnerships at the Association for Canadian Studies, told CBC in an interview.

“We even saw threats and physical violence,” Taylor said.

Bill 21, which passed in 2019, bars public school teachers, police officers, judges and government lawyers, among other civil servants in positions of authority, from wearing religious symbols — such as hijabs, crucifixes or turbans — while at work.

Taylor and her colleagues at the association worked with polling firm Leger to gather a unique portrait of attitudes toward Bill 21 in Quebec.

The association surveyed members of certain religious minority communities including 632 Muslims, 165 Jews and 56 Sikhs.

Those results were folded into a Leger survey of the Quebec population as whole, and then weighted to ensure the sample was representative of the entire population.

That allowed Taylor to compare and contrast the attitudes toward Bill 21 of Quebecers who are religious minorities with the attitudes of Quebecers as a whole.

In total 1,828 people were questioned in the online survey.

Taylor shared an advance copy of her final report, which is being released today, with CBC.

Muslim women most affected

Although all three religious minority groups surveyed said they’ve experienced negative impacts due to Bill 21, the effects are being most acutely felt by Muslims and, in particular, Muslim women.

“We saw severe social stigmatisation of Muslim women, marginalization of Muslim women and very disturbing declines in their sense of well-being, their ability to fulfil their aspirations, sense of safety, but also hope for the future,”  Taylor said.

Of the Muslim women surveyed, 78 per cent said their feeling of being accepted as a full-fledged member of Quebec society had worsened over the last three years.

Fifty-three per cent said they’d heard prejudicial remarks about Muslims from family, friends or colleagues.

People surveyed were given the opportunity to share examples of comments they’d heard or behaviours they’d experienced.

One reported hearing: ”These Muslim women with rags on their heads, if they are not able to integrate, let them return to their country.”

Forty-seven per cent of Muslim women said they’d been treated unfairly by a person in a position of authority. 

One person reported being called a “dirty immigrant” by a police officer in Quebec City.  Another reported that a teacher told disparaging anecdotes about Islam in class.

Two thirds of Muslim women said they’d been a victim of and/or a witness to a hate crime. Seventy-three per cent said their feeling of being safe in public had worsened.

Taylor found that nearly three quarters of Muslim women surveyed felt their comfort about safety in public had worsened in the three years since Bill 21 was adopted. (Association for Canadian Studies)

People surveyed offered examples ranging from racist remarks to death threats, having hijabs ripped off and being spat on. One person reported that a man deliberately tried to run over them and their three-year-old daughter with a pickup truck.

A majority of Muslims also reported feeling less hopeful, less free to express themselves in public and less likely to participate in social and political life.

“For a law that’s supposed to be very moderate and only touch a very small number of people, we were shocked at the responses,” Taylor said.

She said the response she found most upsetting was that 83 per cent of Muslim women surveyed said their confidence in their children’s future had worsened since Bill 21 passed.

Taylor said the figure that most upset her was the lack of hope Quebec Muslims have for their children’s future. (Association for Canadian Studies)

“It’s one thing to say: ‘you know what, I’m experiencing a lot of unfair treatment because I’m not understood,'” Taylor said. “It’s another thing to project forward and have no hope for your children.”

Law reinforces existing prejudices

Taylor believes Bill 21 alone isn’t responsible for the feelings of alienation and insecurity Quebec Muslims and other religious minorities feel.

She said prejudicial attitudes have been gestating in Quebec for nearly 20 years, when the debate over so-called “reasonable accommodations” for religious minorities first took hold.

“Malaise, fear and anxieties get provoked over time,” Taylor said.

She said often those anxieties are based on ignorance.

“By their own admission, Quebecers in general have very little contact with members of religious minorities,” Taylor said. “All of these negative opinions are based on lack of knowledge.”

Taylor said Bill 21 has enabled those prejudices — rooted in ignorance — to become the norm.

“We end up with a situation where the malaise of the observer trumps the deep convictions of the person actually wearing the religious symbols,” Taylor said.

“We’re validating and reinforcing those opinions, and then we’re politicizing the symbols. Those symbols are lightning rods,” she said.

“And so we end up dehumanizing the people wearing the symbols,” Taylor said.

Women generally less supportive of Bill 21

Taylor said that Bill 21 has consistently maintained the support of about two thirds of Quebecers since it was adopted, with a dip last January after the high-profile case of a hijab-wearing teacher in Chelsea who was removed from the classroom and reassigned.

But she said that support is nuanced and full of contradictions.

Women in Quebec, for example, are generally less supportive of Bill 21 than men. Sixty-eight per cent of men support the law compared to 58 per cent of women.

Taylor said the research showed that women, and in particular young women, are less supportive of Bill 21 than men. (Association for Canadian Studies)

And the younger women are, the less likely they are to support the law.  Just 31 per cent of women aged 18-24 support Bill 21.

Taylor said that raised questions for her.

“It’s touted as a feminist law by the people who support it. So why is it that particularly the younger women of Quebec are so much less in favour of it when one would expect the reverse proportion?” she said.

Support for the law but not for enforcement

Another statistic that surprised Taylor: even Quebecers who support the law don’t necessarily want to see it enforced.

Only 40 per cent of people surveyed believe a public servant who does not comply with the law should lose their job. 

“The law is supported and liked by Quebecers. But they seem much less keen to see it actually applied,” Taylor said.

“I think that we’re a human society and we care about people. We all need income to survive and I think people are aware of what a heavy price that would be to pay,” she said.

Quebecers care about what courts say about Bill 21

Taylor was also surprised that the survey showed that Quebecers care deeply about what courts have to say about Bill 21.

When drafting the law, the Quebec government, recognizing that it would likely violate both the Canadian and the Quebec charters of rights, pre-emptively invoked the constitutional notwithstanding clause, and altered the Quebec charter to try to shut down court challenges.

But those challenges came anyway, and now both the government and groups that oppose the bill are challenging a 2021 Quebec Superior Court ruling that upheld most of the law before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

It’s widely expected the law will eventually be challenged in the Supreme Court of Canada.

The bill’s architect, Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, has argued that it’s up to elected politicians in the National Assembly — and not the courts — to decide how they want to organize relations between the state and religion.

But Quebecers seem to feel differently.

Sixty-four per cent, roughly the same percentage that support the bill, also feel it’s important for the Supreme Court to issue an opinion on whether Bill 21 is discriminatory.

And if the courts were to confirm the law is discriminatory, support for the bill would plummet.

Only 46 per cent of people surveyed — less than half — said they would continue to support the law if the courts confirmed it violates the Charter of Rights.

Debate not over

Jolin-Barrette has portrayed Quebecers as united in support of the bill, and has accused detractors of trying to divide Quebecers.

But Taylor’s survey shows that a majority of Quebecers — 56 per cent — believe the law itself is divisive.

When Bill 21 was adopted, Jolin-Barrette said it would “permit a harmonious transition toward secularism” for Quebec.

Taylor said that clearly hasn’t been the case.

“The debate is very far from closed,” she said. “Bill 21 is having devastating impacts on citizens in our province. It’s tearing apart our social fabric and I think it’s undermining our democracy.”

“If national unity is achieved at the expense of labelling minorities as in some way harmful or a threat, these are signs of the degeneration of democracy,” she said. 

Taylor said as a Quebecer, she finds this distressing.

“We live in a very distinct province. We’re different. It’s an experiment that on some level should never have succeeded: a thriving French society on an English continent,” she said.

“In all my years, I associate that distinct nature with a humanity, with understanding how important identity is,” Taylor said.

She said Bill 21 threatens that.

“I feel like we’re doing major harm to those values that we hold dear and that make us special,” Taylor said.

Source: New research shows Bill 21 having ‘devastating’ impact on religious minorities in Quebec

ICYMI – Khan: Every community has a responsibility to address intimate partner violence

Good column and reminnder:

Forty years ago, NDP MP Margaret Mitchell rose in Parliament to address the issue of domestic violence during question period, based on her experience hearing from battered women as a member of the Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs. But her opening remarks, in which she recounted that one in 10 husbands regularly beat their wives, were met with derisive laughter and heckling from a number of fellow MPs. “I don’t think this is very much of a laughing matter,” she was forced to respond.

Around the same time, in the early 1980s, budding journalist Anna Maria Tremonti was experiencing the very trauma recounted in the committee hearings. Like so many women, she carefully hid all signs of intimate partner violence (IPV) from the outside world, and she went on to become a high-profile reporter, hosting The Current on CBC for many years. However, the emotional scars never really healed. Now – in a tremendous act of public service – she has courageously shared details of the pain and shame that she has carried privately for decades, in the podcast Welcome to Paradise.

Canada has come a long way in recognizing the issue of IPV, but it remains damaging on many levels. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every six days, and children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes. Domestic violence also threatens a woman’s path to economic independence: roughly 40 per cent of victims found it difficult to return to work, while about 8.5 per cent said that they lost their jobs because of it.

As Nova Scotia’s inquiry into the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history examines the role of intimate partner violence, a recent U.S. studyfound that more than two-thirds of mass shootings from 2014 to 2019 stemmed from violence toward partners or family members, or are perpetrated by shooters with a history of domestic violence toward their intimates.

While Canada may not have the prevalence of mass shootings as the United States, we are certainly not immune to the type of incidents described in that study. In 2015, Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were murdered by a mutual ex-partner in Ontario. After hearing testimony into the triple femicide last month, an inquest jury made 86 recommendations in response to the murders, including a recognition of femicide as a distinct crime and manner of death. It also called on Ontario to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.

Indeed, researchers have described the potential rise of IPV incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic as a “shadow pandemic”. Lockdowns increased the risk factors for IPV, owing to enhanced financial stressors, lack of space for women to leave the home, isolation from support systems and lack of privacy to call for help.

IPV occurs across faiths, cultures, and income groups. However, immigrant women may be more vulnerable to domestic violence owing to economic dependence on male partners, language barriers and a lack of knowledge about resources.

Within Muslim communities, there are a number of issues that exacerbate the potential for domestic violence. In some circles, there is tacit religious approval of beating one’s wife as a means of control and discipline. I still remember wandering into a bookshop on Toronto’s Gerrard Street while shopping for a wedding dress some 25 years ago, and reading a tract by an imam who counselled men to beat their wife on the wedding night. There needs to be unequivocal, repeated condemnation of all forms of domestic violence by imams when addressing their congregants.

Another issue is the concept of “sitr,” or concealment. Muslims are advised not to publicize the faults and mistakes of others. However, when the fault results in harm to another individual, there is a duty to report such behaviour to stop the harm. Unfortunately, some take “sitr” to an extreme, deeming spousal abuse as a “private matter,” without any consideration given to the harm inflicted. The limits of “sitr,” seen through the lens of harm prevention, need to be reconsidered.

In recent years, however, denial has given way to acknowledgement and efforts to remedy the problem. Sakeenah Homes, founded in 2018, has provided culturally appropriate services to women, children and families facing homelessness, violence and poverty. And since 2015, Nisa Homes has opened nine shelters across Canada, providing refuge and care to more than 1,000 women and children. These spaces can empower and give hope to the vulnerable, allowing the broken to be rebuilt.

The scourge of IPV will not disappear anytime soon. We must address it with resolve to protect the most vulnerable – and never lose sight of the inherent dignity, resilience and strength of each and every woman forced to traverse this most difficult path.

Source: Every community has a responsibility to address intimate partner violence

StatsCan Study: The religiosity of Canadians and the COVID-19 pandemic

Of interest, both the overall trend and the differences between different religious groups. Can’t wait for the October release and opportunities for deeper analysis:

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on many aspects of Canadian life, including religion. In particular, the risks associated with the virus, as well as physical distancing measures, have limited access to places of worship. Many religious organizations have offered the option to attend religious services online. Although the pandemic has made group worship difficult, some surveys conducted by private firms have suggested that it has led to an increase in prayer or a strengthening of faith.

Using data from several cycles of the General Social Survey, a new study released today examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the religiosity of Canadians. Specifically, it analyzes changes in rates of religious affiliation, frequency of participation in religious activities on a group or individual basis, and involvement with religious organizations from 2015 to 2020.

The study found a decrease in group religious participation from 2019 (pre-pandemic) to 2020 (start of the pandemic). In the general population, the percentage of people who participated in a religious group activity in the previous year fell from 47% in 2019 to 40% in 2020.

The study also found that the impact of the pandemic on participation in religious group activities was greater for some religious groups. For example, the proportion of people who had participated in a religious group activity in the previous year fell more sharply than average among Buddhists (from 74% in 2019 to 50% in 2020) and Muslims (from 71% to 57%). This proportion fell from 60% to 53% among Christian-affiliated groups, from 75% to 67% among Jewish people, and from 78% to 70% among Hindus.

Finally, the data revealed that, overall, the pandemic had no measurable effect on the frequency of individual religious or spiritual activities (e.g., prayer, meditation, etc.). Similarly, it did not appear to have affected self-reported religious affiliation.

On October 26, new data from the 2021 Census will provide a more detailed picture of the diversity of religious affiliation groups in Canada and of the people that form them.

Source: Study: The religiosity of Canadians and the COVID-19 pandemic