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June 17, 2011

Canada's Muslims: The misguided 12 percent

Aurangzeb Qureshi

More by this author...

Muslim support for Stephen Harper's Conservatives in the last federal election demonstrates greater need for political awareness in Canada's Muslim community.

"...history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tell us all too well if we listen to it, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us.”- Stephen Harper, Canadian Prime Minister

The major shock of the 2011 federal election was the New Democrats routing Quebec to become the Official Opposition for the first time in Canadian history while the Liberals only garnered a paltry 34 seats. It represented the most momentous political shift in Canadian history.

By contrast, the Conservative victory was not surprising. They had held four previous minority governments and benefited from three left wing parties dividing the vote.

What was surprising, however, was the amount of Conservative support coming from Muslim Canadians in the run-up to the election.

A May 9, 2011 Vancouver Sun article cited an Ipsos Reid poll that found the Conservatives received 12 per cent of the country's Muslim vote . That may not seem very high, but when one considers that the majority of Canadian Muslims are politically immobile, inept or apathetic, 12 per cent becomes quite a significant number. What was more telling, however, was the outright endorsements Conservative candidates received from major Muslim communities.

The Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park Muslim Association (FATMA) endorsed Conservative MP John Carmichael in the Don Valley West riding of Toronto, the second-largest Muslim populated riding in Canada. The Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities endorsed MP Mike Lake for the Millwoods-Beaumont riding in Edmonton, one of the highest populated Muslim ridings in Alberta. Organizations like the Pakistan Canada Association of Edmonton and the Pakistan Canada Association, Calgary did their part to pander to the Conservatives. The former made Conservative MP Tim Uppal a “guest of honour” at a recent dinner and the latter supported MP Devinder Shory in the 2011 federal election.

There is a school of thought that suggests that people should vote based on the representative put forward in their local riding. However, once a government is formed, the Prime Minister dictates official government policy. Supporting a local candidate, even a well intentioned “ethnic” candidate, is naive. Granted their economic policies or conservative view on family values may appeal to some, but how does one vote on these issues alone when the Conservative track record shows a largely dismissive attitude towards Muslim interests?

Did Muslim groups forget about Harper's consistent, unconditional and one-sided support for Israel as evidenced in his speech at the recent G8 summit refusing to accept Israel to return to the 1967 borders as a pre-condition to negotiations?

Did we forget when Harper refused to accept a draft calling for an Israeli “restraint” during its attack on Lebanon in 2006?

Did we forget when Harper's Conservatives denied funding and revoked licenses of charities such as KAIROS and IRFAN that raise money for Palestinian victims?

Did we forget, along with the entire world, the name of Omar Khadr, the child soldier sentenced to a life of torture? Time and time again Harper's Conservatives have fought the return of the child soldier and refused him justice under Canadian law. He was interned when he was 15 years old and is now 24.

Did we forget when the Harper regime tried to silence dissent by barring former British MP George Galloway from crossing into Canada from the U.S to continue his speaking tour? Galloway, known for being sympathetic towards Muslim causes and opinions, was later allowed entry into Canada after filing a court case. The judge agreed that Galloway was being denied entry simply because the government disagreed with his political views.

Did we forget that the Conservatives tarnished Canada's peace-keeping reputation and turned Canada's involvement in Afghanistan into combat mission? Did we also forget that this was also the same party that supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq?

Did we forget when the Conservatives tried to woo the 'ethnic' vote by presenting the party as a harbinger for immigration reform while at the same time increasing visa processing times? An interesting report in the Toronto Star reported that immigration lawyers were telling immigrants to stay away from the Conservatives.

Amidst the photo opportunities, handshaking, elbow-rubbing and dire need for self-recognition, we somehow forgot that we were endorsing a political party that slaved to American foreign policy in Afghanistan, supports the torture of Canadians, suppresses free speech and has ambiguous policies on immigration.

With such hard-line positions against Canadian Muslims there is no reason why a Muslim group should be officially endorsing this Conservative government. So why are Muslims supporting a government that could care less about Muslim issues? It boils down to a combination of political apathy, ignorance and a desperate need to be on the winning side.

Backing a winner is not exclusive to the Muslim community. People who lack knowledge of the issues, but still feel they should be involved politically will often pander to an established party. More politically savvy operators adopt the old maxim – if you can't beat'em join'em – naively thinking they can change established party politics from the inside.

Canada's Muslims are a significant group who have attained decent economic success in Canada. It is our duty as Muslims and as Canadian citizens to protect the multicultural fabric of this country – the same multicultural fabric that brought us here in the first place. A state's foreign policy is important, and it would be naïve to assume it does not manifest itself domestically.

The truth is that without a real, motivated and organized voting bloc, Muslims will be unable to make a difference. Muslims have to stop taking shortcuts and stand up for Muslim interests first and foremost – before inability quickly degenerates into unwillingness to stand up for necessary change. It is this misguided 12 per cent that presents an obstacle towards a united front.

The Liberals are now back to the drawing board and paying the price for abandoning their traditional liberal views under Michael Ignatieff. Perhaps it would not hurt these Muslims to tear a page out of the Liberal re-branding handbook and do a little soul-searching themselves.

Aurangzeb Qureshi is a freelance journalist, having written for publications such as the Edmonton Journal, The Calgary Beacon, SEE Magazine and

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