Canadian Muslims' new political muscle - GLobe and Mail, Canada
- Canadian Muslims' new political muscle
By MOHAMED ELMASRY
Thursday, April 15, 2004 - Page A19
Last September, British Muslims made political
In the riding of Brent, part of North West London,
Muslims, outraged by the Labour government's support
for the U.S.-led war on Iraq, mobilized the 6,000
Muslim voters to transfer their traditionally Labour
votes to the anti-war Liberal Democrats.
The result: This traditional Labour stronghold was not
only lost -- the party's first by-election loss in 15
years -- but was taken by 29-year-old Liberal Democrat
novice, Sarah Teather, who became Britain's youngest
member of Parliament. British newspapers described the
result as an electoral disaster. The Guardian called
the implications "catastrophic" for Prime Minister
By contrast, French Muslims -- who make up 10 per cent
of that country's population, compared with about 4
per cent in Britain -- are not politically integrated
in their home country. They usually know more about
the politics, political parties and politicians in
their North African countries of origin than about
those in France. It's no wonder the French political
parties paid them zero attention when the government
passed a law banning the wearing of Muslim women's
headscarves (hijabs) in public institutions, including
The ghetto mentality, be it geographical, social, or
political, was never part of early Muslim history.
Traditionally, Muslims integrated well into almost
every country where they settled. They married into
local populations, befriended citizens and indigenous
peoples and collectively proved themselves an asset.
The evidence is there, throughout the societies of
Spain, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Egypt, India and in
northern and sub-Saharan Africa.
Today, democracy is not just about numbers; it is
about commitment. Canadian Muslims number more than
700,000 coast to coast. That makes us the largest
non-Christian religious group in the country. More
than half of us were born here, the rest are
immigrants from more than 50 countries and five
continents -- Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.
No other religious minority can claim such wide
cultural and ethnic diversity as Canadian Muslims.
Yet Muslims have not been fully involved in political
life here, and so contribute to what has been called
Canada's "democratic deficit." That must change, for
the good of all Canadians and for the good of the
During the 1950s, the number of eligible voters who
cast their ballots was consistently in the 80-per-cent
range. The ratio had dropped to about 61 per cent in
the last federal election; and the percentage of
eligible Canadian Muslims who voted came in even
lower, at 49 per cent.
I believe strongly that Canadians, before the coming
federal election, must do their homework on key
election issues, party policies and the track records
In that way, they will be better prepared to vote for
whomever they think will serve in the best interests
of all citizens. Canadian Muslims must set the
example, by adopting the practice of multi-issue,
informed, committed voting.
It does our country no good if Canadians are moved to
vote only by single issues, whatever they might be:
the recent sponsorship scandal, abortion, gay
marriage, Israel, immigration, etc. Canadian Muslims'
top national issues include expected ones, such as
immigration, the economy and civil liberties. But a
recently researched list by the Canadian Islamic
Congress also included non-traditional issues, such as
the environment, defence and the rights of first
nations and aboriginal peoples. On international
issues, the CIC's top-10 list included: the future of
the United Nations, the U.S. war on terrorism and the
Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. The CIC's
research found that most Canadian Muslims hold
left-of-centre views on the majority of leading
national and global issues the organization identified
in its latest study.
That is why many Canadian Muslims are concerned about
the Liberal Party's shift to the right, and very
concerned that the Conservative Party is becoming a
neo-con organization whose values are too far to the
right for most Canadians. As well, we are very
concerned that the Liberal Party has allowed a group
of MPs (including some ministers) to form an official
lobby group for a foreign country (Liberal
Parliamentarians for Israel) as a recognized caucus
For Canadian Muslims, informed voting is a religious
as well as civic duty; it is like giving your
testimony. According to the Koran (2:140 and 2:283),
giving testimony when asked is a religious obligation.
Canadian Muslims today hold a potential swing vote
ranging from 1.8 per cent to 13.5 per cent in more
than 100 ridings. Of these ridings, 55 are in Ontario,
21 in Quebec, 13 in B.C., 10 in Alberta, one in Nova
Scotia and one in Manitoba. The top 31 ridings where
Muslims have a significant swing vote are: 20 in the
Greater Toronto Area, six in Montreal, three in
Ottawa, one each in Calgary and Windsor.
Since the last federal election, Canadian Muslims have
made important strides to increase their political
profile; for the coming election, two candidates are
running for each of the Liberal, NDP and Conservative
Can Canadian Muslims reduce this country's democratic
deficit in the coming federal election by becoming
multi-issue, informed voters? I hope and pray, for the
sake of all Canadians, that this will be so.
Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of computer engineering
at the University of Waterloo, is national president
of the Canadian Islamic Congress.
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