Globe editorial: This is a story about race in Canadian politics. And it’s hopeful

Agree. Recent federal election largely confirms:

This is not a story about race.

But to understand how it isn’t, we have to talk about how, in another, less successful country, it could be.

In 2016, the census found that 31 per cent the residents of the City of Calgary were immigrants. Thirty-six per cent of the population were members of a visible minority, including 9.5 per cent who were South Asian. The picture is almost exactly the same in Edmonton: 30 per cent of residents are immigrants and 37 per cent are visible minorities, including 9.5 per cent who identify as South Asian.

Two weeks ago, the people of Edmonton and Calgary went to the polls and elected new mayors. Both were born outside of Canada. Jyoti Gondek, Calgary’s top magistrate, was born in England to parents of Punjabi descent and came to this country as a child; Edmonton’s Amarjeet Sohi was born in India and immigrated in his teens. On the census, both would be counted among the roughly one in 10 city residents of South Asian descent.

We bring up race not because it was an issue in the elections of Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi, but because it was not. And let us give thanks for that.

In many other countries – less happy, less peaceful countries – the story would have been very different. There, race, religion or ethnicity are the basis for politics. Sectarian divides slice through the possibility of shared citizenship, with lives and politics organized along those lines.

That’s how much of the world is. (Ask an immigrant.) In the worst cases, it results in the failed state of Lebanon, or the violently extinguished state of Yugoslavia, or the Rwanda genocide.

But here’s what we believe can safely be said about the mayoral elections in Calgary and Edmonton: The race of the candidates, their religion (or lack thereof), and their status as first-generation Canadians appear to have been irrelevant to most voters. Maybe not all voters, whether pro or con, but surely most.

Consider: Nine out of 10 voters in Calgary and Edmonton are not of South Asian heritage. Yet Ms. Gondek and Mr. Sohi each won 45 per cent of the vote. That means that most of those who voted for them were from “another” community.

And we put the word “another” in quotation marks because, this being Canada in 2021, most voters don’t see it that way. They weren’t marking their ballots through a prism of race. They didn’t see the winning candidates as coming from some other community, but rather as part of their shared community – Calgarian, Edmontonian, Albertan, Canadian – that transcends where you or your parents came from, where you pray or do not pray, and what colour your skin is.

Canadians are not saints, and Canada is not some magic land where racism never existed. It is not some place where no lines have ever been drawn labelling some people as “us” and others as “them.” Canada has a long history of evolving varieties of sectarian divisions.

But Canada also has a long and accelerating history of expanding the definition of “us,” and extending membership in the shared community to people who, in another place or another time, might have been excluded. For example, until 1954, the mayor of Toronto had always been a Protestant from the Orange Order. But that year, the citizens of Toronto ended all that, electing Nathan Phillips. Phillips was Jewish; nearly all of the city’s residents were not. Most were Protestants. It didn’t matter.

It was a similar story half a century later, in the three mayoral elections won by Naheed Nenshi in Calgary. The vast majority of the people of Calgary are not Ismaili Muslims; it didn’t matter. Overwhelming majorities chose Mr. Nenshi as their representative. And though three-quarters of the residents of Brampton, Ont., are visible minorities, in 2018 they elected Patrick Brown as mayor.

This ability to see beyond differences and biology and faith is something that Canada will need ever more of in its future. Canada is on the road to becoming a majority-minority nation, where no ethnic or racial group is the majority. That’s already the situation in Metro Vancouver and Greater Toronto, and the other big cities are not far behind.

The voting in Calgary and Edmonton is a reminder that this future is hopeful, not ominous. If a Canadian is defined by all that we hold in common, in spite of differences, then everybody’s part of the majority.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/editorials/article-this-is-a-story-about-race-in-canadian-politics-and-its-hopeful/

Australia: ‘Be less of a white boys’ club’: How to address Parliament’s lack of diversity

Of note (Canadian Parliament and Senate are much more diverse than Australia):

“Stale, pale and male” has become a shorthand for the lack of diversity of all kinds across society’s institutions. Parliament has not escaped its accusations and even federal politicians have levelled the tag at it.

Labor frequently pats itself on the back for achieving near-gender parity in its caucus room but this week it has been beset by criticism it has not done enough to address other types of diversity.

The decision to parachute senator Kristina Keneally into the safe lower house seat of Fowler, in Sydney’s west, at the expense of local, young, Vietnamese lawyer Tu Le has led to calls for diversity quotas and divisions over “token” multiculturalism.

But it’s not only Labor’s politicians who are overwhelmingly white.

Out of the 226 men and women who make up Federal Parliament, 23 were born overseas but only five in non-European countries to parents who weren’t Australian. Another 52 have parents who were born overseas, overwhelmingly in the UK.

Contrast this with the general population. Just under half of all Australians were either born overseas or their parents were. Nearly three times more people in the wider Australian community were born overseas than their parliamentary representatives.

However, Parliament this week hit a milestone of proportionate representation of Indigenous people. There are now seven Indigenous members after the Greens’ newest senator Dorinda Cox, a Yamatji-Noongar woman, replaced Rachel Siewert.

Tim Soutphommasane, a professor at the University of Sydney and a former race discrimination commissioner, says Parliament “fails dismally” on cultural diversity.

“It doesn’t look remotely like today’s multicultural Australia. It might make some uncomfortable, but our political class looks like it’s stuck in the White Australia era,” he says.

“If you don’t have cultural diversity in our politics, you don’t have a politics that’s representative. That’s a pretty basic problem.”

Dr Blair Williams from the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at ANU says while an exact representation of the community isn’t possible, “it just needs to be a bit more focused on being less of a white boys’ club from a certain background”.

There has been a strong focus for some time now on increasing the number of women elected, but Williams says there also should have been thought put into improving cultural diversity. She’d also like to see more young people, people with disabilities and those from different class backgrounds.

The problem is self-perpetuating, says Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan. If people don’t see anyone like them in Parliament, they’re less likely to get involved in the political process.

“The lack of diverse and inclusive parliaments means certain groups are poorly represented and their interests are not well spoken for,” he says.

“Even aside from the importance of involving diverse voices in the legislative process, Parliament provides a tremendous platform for engaging in public debate. We have often seen that when politicians from diverse backgrounds enter Parliament, they achieve great outcomes by focusing attention on issues that might otherwise be overlooked.”

Soutphommasane points to the agitation in some quarters for abolishing section 18C of the Race Discrimination Act, which protects against hate speech, saying the lack of diversity can contribute to a distorted political debate.

“A monochrome political class will have some blind spots,” he says.

The question of how to fix the problem is not easy, nor will it happen quickly. Those who advocate a quota arrangement point to Labor’s gains in gender diversity.

It has taken the party more than 30 years from its first quota to reach equal representation. Former cabinet minister and deputy leader Jenny Macklin says quotas are still contested and there continues to be male resistance.

Emily’s List, an organisation that backs progressive women running for Parliament, published a paper in 2019 that recommended Labor introduce “tandem quotas” for women and cultural diversity with different targets for safe seats, marginal seats and the party executive.

Williams says these types of tandem quotas benefit culturally diverse women but are less good for “majority men and majority women”. An alternative could be a kind of reverse quota.

“So you only have a certain amount of white men in Parliament and when you hit that number, then you have to diversify,” Williams says.

“If you do look at other styles of quotas, like the tandem quotas … you do run the risk of having, say, 30 per cent of people preselected who are women and culturally diverse, that still means that the other 70 per cent can be white men.”

Labor MP Peter Khalil, whose parents migrated from Egypt to Australia in the 1970s, said this week MPs with diverse backgrounds “should not be token or just be making up the numbers”. Rather, parties had to show a real commitment.

His colleague Anne Aly, who was herself born in Egypt, also called on her party to do more than just pay lip service to multiculturalism.

Other MPs also called for action, with Ed Husic saying Labor had to do a stocktake of its membership and have a serious conversation about how to reflect the community, and senator Jenny McAllister saying it was time for “bold actions”.

But not everyone thinks quotas are the answer.

Osmond Chiu, an ALP member and research fellow at the Per Capita think tank, says the party needs to work out the extent of its problem with diversity before it can address it.

Any talk of quotas to improve cultural diversity or candidates “is putting the cart before the horse” when change throughout the whole party organisation is needed.

“A lot of the focus has been on Fowler because it’s symptomatic, it symbolises this wider systemic problem that exists, that Australia has become a much more diverse country … but our institutions, such as Parliament, haven’t really kept up,” he says.

Liberal MP Dave Sharma says there’s no doubt all parties including his own have to more actively recruit people with different backgrounds instead of continuing the “pretty laissez-faire attitude” they have now.

Since his election – replacing Labor’s Lisa Singh as the only person of Indian heritage in Parliament – he has often heard from people in the Indian Australian community asking how they can become involved in politics.

He doesn’t believe in quotas but points to the work of the Conservatives in the UK to transform from a “very stuffy, traditional party” to the more diverse outfit after the party machinery actively sought “people from outside the usual breeding grounds of politics”.

It is as much as smart politics as the right thing to do.

“People are much more inclined to vote and support for, empathise with or have a connection with people that have a similar life experience,” Sharma says.

“That doesn’t just mean ethnically, it can be religiously, it can be professionally, it can be if you’ve got a disability, all those sorts of things … help your political brand strength.”

Tan says this is why parties must look beyond candidate preselection and make sure there are people from diverse backgrounds welcomed and involved at grassroots and administrative levels too.

“Parties stand to gain from this by broadening their base, widening their gaze, and attracting the additional talents that exist within diverse communities,” he says.

“I think this would in turn lead to more diverse candidates being preselected.”

Changing the face of Parliament will require hard calls from political leaders, Soutphommasane says.

“You can’t conjure up more diversity in your parliamentary ranks simply by saying you like multiculturalism. Or by saying that it’ll come next election.”

Source: ‘Be less of a white boys’ club’: How to address Parliament’s lack of diversity

Public Service Disaggregated Data for Visible Minorities and Indigenous peoples, Citizenship status

Over the past few months, I have been analyzing the various datasets breaking down public service employment and employee survey data by the individual visible minority and Indigenous groups.

The three articles, What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service diversity (Policy Options, October 2020), What the Public Service Employee Survey breakdowns of visible minority and other groups tell us about diversity and inclusion (The Hill Times, November 2020) and Diversity and Inclusion: Public Service Hirings, Promotions and Separations (The Hill Times, March 2021) allow for a more comprehensive view of visible minority and Indigenous groups in the federal public service. Moreover, recent Public Service Commission studies analyzing recruitment of employment equity groups add an important element to discussions on public service staffing and recruitment practices.

Much of the debate and discussions have understandably focussed on Blacks in the public service. Yet public service data indicates that their situation is not unique in terms of representation, hirings and promotions and the employee satisfaction, with many commonalities with the other groups. A more granular analysis within each occupational group (i.e., comparing representation at each level by occupational group, as some departments are conducting, may very well provide such evidence).

Key findings are:

  • Overall EE analysis shows considerable variation among the different visible minority and Indigenous groups
  • Visible minorities
    • Correlation between lower educational attainment and representation for most groups save Chinese
    • Overall under-representation common to most groups
    • Blacks, West Asian/Arab small over-representation
    • EX: All groups under-represented save Japanese with Filipino, Latin American and Blacks having the largest gaps
    • Hirings: Hirings of visible minorities have increased for all groups in most occupational groups save for technical and administrative support. Hirings at the EX level have increase for Black, Chinese, South Asian/East Indian and West Asian/Arab, with other groups showing no increase.
    • Promotions: While promotions have increased marginally for virtually all groups at the agregate level, promotions by occupational category provide a mixed picture, with most groups and most occupational categories experiencing a marginal decline in promotions.
  • Indigenous peoples
    • First Nations under-represented, Métis and Inuit over-represented
    • Hirings: While hirings at the EX level have increased slightly, this is less the case for the other occupational categories. Hirings of Métis have increased the most in the operational category, hirings of First Nations the most in the technical category, while hirings of Inuit the most at the EX level.
    • Promotions: A marginal decline across all Indigenous groups and occupational
  • Harassment/Discrimination experiences vary
    • Harassment: Japanese report the most as do First Nations and Métis, Chinese and Filipino least satisfied with resolution as is the case with Métis
    • Discrimination; Blacks report the most, but all groups encounter discrimination on the basis of race, ethnic origin or colour. Black, Japanese and Latin American least satisfied with resolution. All Indigenous groups report having been discriminated against, mainly based on race or ethnic origin, with Métis also least satisfied with resolution

The recent PSC Audit of Employment Equity Representation in Recruitment provides some interesting data and analysis of the staffing process and how the different employment equity groups, and visible minority largest sub-groups, fare at each of the five stages in the staffing process: job application, automated screening, organizational screening, assessment and appointment (FY 2016-17 data).

The most significant stages were organizational screening and assessment where most filtering took place as shown in the table below:

The next table breaks down visible minorities by the largest groups:

As noted in the audit, Blacks have the largest decrease in representation at all stages save for appointment, with a non-negligible being screened out by automatic screening. Chinese are screened out more by organizational screening whereas West Asian and South Asian are more likely to be screened in as the assessment stage.

The audit provides the following explanation for visible minority groups. Overall, visible minority women have higher success rates than visible minority men at the organizational screening and assessment stages. Visible minorities screened out at the organizational screening stage due to citizenship status (Canadian citizens are given preference over non-citizens) and experience qualifications. Those with public service work experience were more likely to be screened in at this stage but overall “experienced less success than their counterparts regardless of whether or not they had federal public service experience.”

At the assessment stage, visible minorities were less successful when written tests were used, particularly the case for Black candidates.

A separate PSC report addresses the Citizenship of applicants and external appointments. While Canadian citizens have a hiring preference, the share of non-citizen applicants has risen from 9.4 percent in 2015-16 to 14.5 percent in 2018-19, with the share of hires has increased to 2.5 percent from 1.5 percent over the same period

Non-citizen visible minority applicants account for 22.9 percent of all visible minority applicants, for non-visible minorities, the share is only 12.1 percent.

The table below contrasts applicants and appointments by citizenship status for the past four years. For Canadian citizens, the percentage of applicants and appointments are comparable, for Permanent Residents and others, appointments are significantly greater than applicants suggesting that citizenship may be less of a barrier than commonly believed.

Visible minority Canadian citizens represented 17.2 percent of all applicants and 19.5 percent of all hires (2018-19).

Muslims have visualized Prophet Muhammad in words and calligraphic art for centuries

Of note;

The republication of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in September 2020 led to protests in several Muslim-majority countries. It also resulted in disturbing acts of violence: In the weeks that followed, two people were stabbed near the former headquarters of the magazine and a teacher was beheaded after he showed the cartoons during a classroom lesson.

Visual depiction of Muhammad is a sensitive issue for a number of reasons: Islam’s early stance against idolatry led to a general disapproval for images of living beings throughout Islamic history. Muslims seldom produced or circulated images of Muhammad or other notable early Muslims. The recent caricatures have offended many Muslims around the world.

This focus on the reactions to the images of Muhammad drowns out an important question: How did Muslims imagine him for centuries in the near total absence of icons and images?

Picturing Muhammad without images

In my courses on early Islam and the life of Muhammad, I teach to the amazement of my students that there are few pre-modern historical figures that we know more about than we do about Muhammad.

The respect and devotion that the first generations of Muslims accorded to him led to an abundance of textual materials that provided rich details about every aspect of his life.

The prophet’s earliest surviving biography, written a century after his death, runs into hundreds of pages in English. His final 10 years are so well-documented that some episodes of his life during this period can be tracked day by day.

Even more detailed are books from the early Islamic period dedicated specifically to the description of Muhammad’s body, character and manners. From a very popular ninth-century book on the subject titled “Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya” or The Sublime Qualities of Muhammad, Muslims learned everything from Muhammad’s height and body hair to his sleep habits, clothing preferences and favorite food.

No single piece of information was seen too mundane or irrelevant when it concerned the prophet. The way he walked and sat is recorded in this book alongside the approximate amount of white hair on his temples in old age.

These meticulous textual descriptions have functioned for Muslims throughout centuries as an alternative for visual representations.

Most Muslims pictured Muhammad as described by his cousin and son-in-law Ali in a famous passage contained in the Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya: a broad-shouldered man of medium height, with black, wavy hair and a rosy complexion, walking with a slight downward lean. The second half of the description focused on his character: a humble man that inspired awe and respect in everyone that met him.

Textual portraits of Muhammad

An early image showing Prophet Mohammed appointing his cousin and son-in-law Ali as his successor in an an Islamic miniature from A.D. 1307. The work is attributed to Rashid al-din Fadlallah. Photo by Archiv Gerstenberg/ullstein bild via Getty Images

That said, figurative portrayals of Muhammad were not entirely unheard of in the Islamic world. In fact, manuscripts from the 13th century onward did contain scenes from the prophet’s life, showing him in full figure initially and with a veiled face later on.

The majority of Muslims, however, would not have access to the manuscripts that contained these images of the prophet. For those who wanted to visualize Muhammad, there were nonpictorial, textual alternatives.

There was an artistic tradition that was particularly popular among Turkish- and Persian-speaking Muslims.

Ornamented and gilded edgings on a single page were filled with a masterfully calligraphed text of Muhammad’s description by Ali in the Shama’il. The center of the page featured a famous verse from the Quran: “We only sent you (Muhammad) as a mercy to the worlds.”

The Hilye-i Serif, by Hafiz Osman, 17th century. A calligraphic verbal description of Mohammed. Topkapi Palace Library, Istanbul. Hafiz Osman (1642–1698), via Wikimedia Commons

These textual portraits, called “hilya” in Arabic, were the closest that one would get to an “image” of Muhammad in most of the Muslim world. Some hilyas were strictly without any figural representation, while others contained a drawing of the Kaaba, the holy shrine in Mecca, or a rose that symbolized the beauty of the prophet.

Framed hilyas graced mosques and private houses well into the 20th century. Smaller specimens were carried in bottles or the pockets of those who believed in the spiritual power of the prophet’s description for good health and against evil. Hilyas kept the memory of Muhammad fresh for those who wanted to imagine him from mere words.

Different interpretations

The Islamic legal basis for banning images, including Muhammad’s, is less than straightforward and there are variations across denominations and legal schools.

It appears, for instance, that Shiite communities have been more accepting of visual representations for devotional purposes than Sunni ones. Pictures of Muhammad, Ali and other family members of the prophet have some circulation in the popular religious culture of Shiite-majority countries, such as Iran. Sunni Islam, on the other hand, has largely shunned religious iconography.

Outside the Islamic world, Muhammad was regularly fictionalized in literature and was depicted in images in medieval and early modern Christendom. But this was often in less than sympathetic forms. Dante’s “Inferno,” most famously, had the prophet and Ali suffering in hell, and the scene inspired many drawings.

These depictions, however, hardly ever received any attention from the Muslim world, as they were produced for and consumed within the Christian world.

Offensive caricatures and colonial past

Providing historical precedents for the visual depictions of Muhammad adds much-needed nuance to a complex and potentially incendiary issue, but it helps explain only part of the picture.

Equally important for understanding the reactions to the images of Muhammad are developments from more recent history. Europe now has a large Muslim minority, and fictionalized depictions of Muhammad, visual or otherwise, do not go unnoticed.

With advances in mass communication and social media, the spread of the images is swift, and so is the mobilization for reactions to them.

Most importantly, many Muslims find the caricatures offensive for its Islamophobic content. Some of the caricatures draw a coarse equation of Islam with violence or debauchery through Muhammad’s image, a pervasive theme in the colonial European scholarship on Muhammad.

Anthropologist Saba Mahmood has argued that such depictions can cause “moral injury” for Muslims, an emotional pain due to the special relation that they have with the prophet. Political scientist Andrew March sees the caricatures as “a political act” that could cause harm to the efforts of creating a “public space where Muslims feel safe, valued, and equal.”

Even without images, Muslims have cultivated a vivid mental picture of Muhammad, not just of his appearance but of his entire persona. The crudeness of some of the caricatures of Muhammad is worth a moment of thought.

Source: Muslims have visualized Prophet Muhammad in words and calligraphic art for centuries

Correctional investigator calls on prison system to keep up with diversity

While the Minister is correct that Corrections Canada has implemented a number of initiatives to improve diversity and awareness, the gap in representation between prisoners and Corrections staff is striking, after so many years. Corrections Canada has even developed a hijab for use of one of the guards that addressed safety concerns.

On the other hand, the government suspended a chaplains program that ensured representation of other religions among the chaplains.

Correctional investigator calls on prison system to keep up with diversity | iPolitics.