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Canadian Muslims' new political muscle - GLobe and Mail, Canada

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  • Zafar Khan
    Canadian Muslims new political muscle By MOHAMED ELMASRY Thursday, April 15, 2004 - Page A19
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 15, 2004
      Canadian Muslims' new political muscle
      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
      Tony Blair.

      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
      of candidates.

      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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