The terrorism arrests this past weekend and the anxiety coming out of the Muslim community have got me thinking about immigration, belonging in community, and just what it means to be a Canadian living in ethnically diverse regions in Canada.
I was not at all surprised to hear the media report that the Muslim communities were worried about backlash. I read local politicians saying things like “we have never had a problem with them”. Them.
In Canada we live among an amazingly diverse ethnic population. Often we see these communities living together in small areas. The idea of ethnic enclaves makes some people uncomfortable. It feels like self-imposed segregation. It seems wrong, in a multicultural community like Canada that we need to create China Towns, Little Italy’s, or the Portuguese neighbourhoods.
This idea of ethnic enclaves is not contrary to our ideal of multiculturalism. I like to think of this as a way of people staying connected to their roots, while still participating in a larger urban environment. Neighbourhoods that are ethnically concentrated are a way to be alike and different at the same time.
When we have a small sub-group of an ethnic group act on radical fundamentalist views, we often see the leaders of the ethnic group responding. (I would want to do something too if I had the windows bashed in on my place of worship.) This is where our beautiful multicultural society breaks. Muslim groups feel they have to respond because a sub-group has gone and done something that reflects badly on them as a community and they fear the response of other communities. This pro-active self-defence moves the emphasis off the events and focuses them on the reaction of the communities.
In the US they have taken to heart the “us and them” attitude. Bush decided to polarize people instead of letting people look at issues from their unique perspective. I like to think that Canadians can avoid “us and them” thinking by shifting the focus off ethnicity and moving it to the issues at hand, namely murder and destruction.
In Canada we have a unique opportunity to move the emphasis away from ethnic politics, and focus on preventing harm to our citizens. We cannot change the minds of the people that want to hurt us, (they have there own ideals for what is a perfect world) but we can come together to condemn violence and to say that we will not tolerate it. This can be done in mosques, in Parliament, in cafés and blogs.
I’m nervous that after our first brush with serious terrorist threat that we will take that US approach to dealing with terrorism. We can respond differently. We can look at the mechanics of things instead of the ideological root causes. Getting into this intellectual debate takes the focus off real problem.
The media love to report on the inner workings of terrorist cells, and the methods, ideologies and plots. This makes for interesting news. People want to see Tom Clancy novels played out in their own neighbourhoods. We are starved for the juicy detail of what the suicide bomber’s last meal was, or what he said to his family before leaving to become a martyr. But this creates the romantic view that an ideology is being played out. It conjures up images of soldiers going off to war to protect what they believe in. This leads us down the intellectual path that asks us to evaluate the beliefs of others, not their methods.
Terrorism is not a holy war. It is not glorious and it is not glamorous. It destabilizes communities that have worked so hard to create healthy environments to raise their families, make a living, and live with people in harmony. Terrorism is cold-blooded murder that moves us further away from these community ideals. We need to deal with terrorism with the same attitude and motivations that we use when we are combating gang violence or domestic abuse.
I hope that Canadians will be responsible enough to call a spade a spade and avoid the temptation to get into ideological arguments over who’s view of the world is right. We have live together for well over a hundred years, focused on making things better. That seems like a really great place to start.