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Irshad Manji says: "Canada's Muslims must drop old prejudices"

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  • tarekfatah
    Canada s Muslims must drop old prejudices By Irshad Manji National Post http://www.nationalpost.com/ When it comes to Muslim leadership in Canada, I have good
    Message 1 of 1 , May 8, 2002
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      Canada's Muslims must drop old prejudices

      By Irshad Manji
      National Post

      When it comes to Muslim leadership in Canada, I have good news and
      bad news.

      First, the bad news. Many Muslims in this country are still missing
      the chance to recapture Islam's tolerant tradition. That became
      apparent to me following the National Post's recent exposé on
      Crescent International, an Ontario-based publication that seeks an
      Islamic revolution, à la Iran, in countries with Muslim majorities.

      Sheepish sympathy is what I've heard from more than a few Canadian
      Muslims. After all, they tell me, the Iranian revolution was meant to
      replace a corrupt, American ass-kissing monarch with a government
      driven by Islamic notions of social justice. But justice hardly
      happened, I remind them. Iranian "revolutionaries" revealed their
      colours by inflicting gross human rights violations from the get-go,
      a wild departure from the democracy and pluralism pioneered by early

      My conversations tended to conclude like this: "Irshad, publicly
      denouncing the Crescent International amounts to blaming the victims -
      - Muslims -- and handing moral ammunition to the colonizers --
      America and Israel." Bravo! What a flawlessly delivered bit of script
      from us-v.-them theatre.

      However, we're now in Canada. We don't have to choose between the
      mullahs and the Mossad. In this land, we enjoy the right and freedom
      to bust out of rigid dichotomies dictated by received wisdom.
      Canadian Muslims who ossify options forfeit the power that
      accompanies our coveted citizenship: the power to be seen as multi-

      To appreciate that gift of citizenship, we need to spring ourselves
      from the enfeebling habits of victimhood. It won't be easy.

      Let me illustrate through another group of privileged "victims":
      middle-class African-Americans. Last summer, my friend and I visited
      Atlanta, home to some of the U.S.'s most celebrated integrationists.
      We started a Saturday by visiting the Jimmy Carter Presidential
      Center, named for a leader who made civil rights the cornerstone of
      his domestic agenda.

      Except for me and a couple of workers, everyone there was white. Not
      one black visitor showed during our three-hour stay.

      Our next stop was the gravesite of Martin Luther King Jr., a landmark
      that teemed with African-Americans and a handful of whites. I
      whispered to my friend, "I wonder how many of the people here are
      going to the Carter Center, too." When she took off for the bathroom,
      I asked around.

      Nobody expressed an interest in knowing about the Carter Center.
      Instead, one couple blurted, "Why would we waste our time at the
      shrine of a white man?" Uh, because he did more for the cause of
      racial equality than any president since Lincoln? Because by paying
      tribute to Reverend King, you're supposedly saluting the virtue of de-
      segregation? And because it's not the colour of a man's skin but the
      content of his character that was valued by the icon of justice at
      whose tomb you now snap your photos and sport your swag?

      To be sure, African-American cynicism about the very prospect of
      justice is well-founded. Indignities continue to mount against the
      poor. But most of those at the Martin Luther King memorial that day
      weren't materially malnourished. They flaunted their Nike Air
      Hyperflights, their state-of-the-art digicams, their SUVs. Even so,
      the folks I spoke with seemed wilfully blind to their achievement of
      middle-class citizenship -- and to the president who helped them get

      They, like a large number of Canadian Muslims, choose to be stuck in
      patterns of self-pity. Small wonder that Dr. King's message is
      reduced in Atlanta to a billboard promoting "Free-At-Last Bail
      Bonds." A shame the promoters of this product didn't happen upon
      another statue at King's grave -- that of Mahatma Gandhi, who
      reminded the oppressed that "we must be the change we wish to see."
      His words echo the widely cited Koranic verse, "God changes not what
      is in a people until they change what is in themselves."

      Who among Canada's Muslim leaders wish to see change? I doubt it's
      the Canadian Islamic Congress, a supposedly mainstream lobby that
      feted the founder of the Crescent International magazine with a media
      excellence award last year.

      Which brings me to my promised good news: the birth of the reform-
      minded Muslim Canadian Congress. Here's a group that interprets Islam
      as a "progressive, liberal, pluralistic and democratic religion"; so
      much so that it openly opposes "gender apartheid," encouraging men
      and women to "work together, shoulder-to-shoulder, in its efforts to
      rejuvenate the Muslim community."

      Their test will be to translate those stated intentions into results.
      The reformers can start by actively engaging Muslim Canadian youth,
      whose fluid identities let them transcend the stale, stark choices to
      which their parents often succumb. If the teens and twentysomethings
      disclosing their religious struggles to me are at all representative,
      these kids could enter Canada's mosques as honest, curious and
      intellectually innovative imams. A good way to describe them as
      citizens, too.

      It bodes well for citizenship that the Muslim Canadian Congress
      pledges to uphold the Charter of Rights of Freedoms alongside the
      Koran. What a gloriously modern combination. To hammer home the
      point, the group's mission statement embraces "modernity" and -- get
      this -- "joy." Apparently, it's allowed.

      This young Muslim is smiling already.

      Irshad Manji is host of TVOntario's Big Ideas series.
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