The subject of reasonable accommodation between Canadians and immigrants has been in the news in Canada for the past month or so, with the stories of two separate communities. The small working-class town of Herouxville, Quebec, population 1,338, made international headlines when it came up with a controversial and provocative code of standards for immigrants.
The code stipulated the following: That women should be able to show their faces in public and should also be permitted to drive and write cheques. That it is “completely outside norms to [...] kill women by stoning them in public, burning them alive, burning them with acid, circumcising them etc.” The resolution had no legal weight but nonetheless, roused passionate debate.
The code seemed to indicate a conviction that any immigrant who chose Herouxville as home would necessarily be backward at best, a terrorist or a thug at worst, determined to take advantage of Canada’s reputation for a tolerance that can border on the foolish. Needless to say, Herouxville – ironically, a more or less immigrant-free zone – found itself criticized, reprimanded and even mocked by the rest of Canada and the French leftist media. As a result, earlier this month, Herouxville’s town council changed some of the wording in its code of conduct, including the removal of the phrase “stoning of women.”
The problem is, these issues do need to be discussed, if in a less heavy-handed, and more sane and relevant way. And in Canada, these discussions are tough to tackle, without accusations of racism flying. What boggled about Herouxville was that it seemed to be anticipating something apocalyptic – with no foundation for that fear. It isn’t as though a swarm of Islamists had announced their intentions to move there. But another community is facing a real concern, with suitable bases for anxiety – one that, outside or even inside Canada, is not getting near the attention that Herouxville’s paranoia has garnered.
Construction of a proposed mosque in the town of Newmarket – a suburb of Toronto – has sparked heated debate. The mosque itself is not the source of worry for the community. Most people who live in and around Toronto – Canada’s largest city – are accustomed to living and worshipping side by side with people of different cultures. What worries people in Newmarket is the mosque’s connections to Zafar Bangash. Bangash will not be the imam at the proposed mosque, but he is the president of the Islamic Society of York Region, of which the new mosque forms part, and he advocated on behalf of the mosque, initially.
Bangash is not exactly a charmer. Among other things, he has said that there “will be no room for a Jewish Israel. Zionist thugs will have to vacate every inch of Palestine if there is to be justice, and therefore peace, in that tortured land.” He has said, “For the state of Israel, peace would mean when all the Palestinians have been put into the graveyard.” Bangash has also called for violent revolution, praised Iran’s theocrats, and praised Hezbollah. As well, Bangash was editor, for 20 years, of a newspaper called Crescent International, in which he called Canada, his adopted country, a member of the “Anglo-Saxon mafia,” and in which he claimed Canada was in part behind most of the world’s mass murders and genocides. And so on and so on.
Since the controversy erupted, members of Newmarket’s Muslim community have tried to dissociate themselves from Bangash, saying the mosque is not aligned in any direct way with him. But he retains his position as president of the Islamic Society of York region. And, when Newmarket residents requested a public meeting regarding their concerns about Bangash, it was denied, as the town council said it would have been “inconsistent with how the town processes similar applications.” And therein lies the problem. These kinds of issues are new for Canada, new for the West. Or rather, “new,” in the sense that for many of us, we have only become aware of certain dangers, possibilities and concerns since 9-11. Only last year, 17 homegrown terror suspects were arrested in Toronto, and several of them had attended a mosque in which violence against the West was preached. In general, churches and synagogues in Canada have not been aligned with vocal advocates of violence and genocide. Admitting that perhaps the old methods aren’t fit to deal with the new reality seems the logical step. But so far, it is not a step which has been taken.