So who says Muslims can’t be both devout and patriotic?


By: Amira Elghawaby | iPolitics
April 28, 2016

Social media was buzzing this week over a new Environics poll of Canadian Muslims. It should have served to dismiss a lot of poisonous misperceptions out there about matters of loyalty and belonging in Muslim communities. Instead, the initial media coverage ended up angering many.

CBC’s original headline acknowledged some of the good news — but somehow still managed to frame the results in a negative light: “Muslim Canadians love Canada, but faith more important to their identity: survey”.

That “but” seemed to suggest that one couldn’t both love Canada and strongly identify as Muslim — that somehow, for Muslims, patriotism and faith are mutually exclusive. To its credit, the CBC quickly reacted to the feedback and changed the headline — but the damage had been done. The majority of reader comments reacting to the initial story were negative, harping on stereotypes portraying Muslims as people who are unable or unwilling to integrate — people who want to ‘change’ Canada to suit themselves.

“Faith overrides their ‘love’ of Canada … what does that tell you folks. Tells me importing people more loyal to religious dogma then (sic) laws, culture and peoples of this country is a bad idea,” wrote one commenter.

The Toronto Sun’s coverage was simply obtuse. One Sun columnist offered this observation: “It’s a stretch to say this survey shows Muslims are in fact becoming more Canadian. It paints more of a complicated picture. But based on the increases in the Muslim population and their religious observance, Canada’s certainly becoming more Muslim.” At least one anti-immigrant blogger wallowed in this interpretation of the poll, using it to support his dire warnings of a Muslim takeover.

Given the slant on some of the coverage, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that two-thirds of the Canadian Muslims polled cited “media representation” among their top concerns — followed closely by anti-Muslim discrimination. That slant helps explain why there is such unease about the media among Muslims — and why close to half of non-Muslim Canadians surveyed still hold negative views of Islam and Muslims.

Granted, nuance can be difficult to communicate in a 24/7 news cycle. But media outlets still have a responsibility to strike the right tone, to avoid driving social wedges that the facts cannot support.

After listening to a radio story about the poll, one woman went on social media to quote her own 11-year old son asking her why a person couldn’t be both Canadian and Muslim at the same time.

Smart kid.

The poll does point out that more young Muslim Canadians are identifying strongly with their faith. What that suggests to me is that communities are, by and large, fostering a sense of inclusion — despite the stereotyping that always seems to follow certain terrorist acts. Indeed, a growing number of Canadian Muslims — over 52 per cent — identify violent extremism as an area of grave concern, and close to 90 per cent of them cite the value of community engagement with government agencies in combatting such extremism.

Why isn’t that figure being more widely reported? Why isn’t it being used to counter the ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative that leads a sizeable minority of Canadians (42 per cent) to consider Muslim Canadians to be part of the problem? Such opinions have political ramifications — they’re used to justify racial profiling and bad laws, for example.

And while this figure is slightly perplexing to those of us monitoring the growing number of reported anti-Muslim hate crimes nationwide, it’s also cause for hope: The poll found the percentage of Canadian Muslims who believe the wider society views them positively has risen 14 points since 2006. While their rosy perceptions aren’t always mirrored in the general population, it certainly bodes well that 58 per cent of Canadian Muslims said their attachment to Canada has become stronger in the past five years.

Maybe those last two numbers shouldn’t surprise us. Canadians overwhelmingly rejected the politics of division and fear in both the Quebec provincial election in 2013 and last year’s federal election. Also encouraging is the fact that around half of Canadians believe that religious freedoms — including the right to wear the controversial face veil and pray in schools — should be protected.

The Environics poll does point to areas where Canada still has work to do. For example, one in five Canadian Muslims — particularly those between the ages of 18 and 34 — said they feel inhibited speaking freely about social or political issues. And almost half are afraid the new anti-terror law infringes on civil liberties.

But the takeaway from this poll is good news: Canadian Muslims are fully at home in Canada, with a history stretching back to the late 1800s. The negative spin only distracts us from that accomplishment.

Amira Elghawaby is the communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).