The recent amendment of noise by-laws in some Canadian cities has caused a cacophonic response due to Islamaphobia. The counter response is equally aggressive and patronizing. The casualty in this melee is the voice of reason.
It is a pity that this conversation is about Islam. It never should have been.
There must be a distinct differentiation between a person who fears a racialized community, and a person who does not want to hear the daily call to prayer. To paint everyone’s motives with the same brush is unfair to say the least.
Every time a voice of dissent is dismissed, a bigot is lending a sympathetic ear.
A LOOK AT RECENT HISTORY
Many secular countries leaning left of centre, have unexpectedly voted extreme right-wing governments into power due to perceived appeasement of racialized communities. This has destroyed the social fabric in these countries and increased intolerance.
This will not happen in Canada many might say. Some years ago, many also said Donald Trump could not become President.
FIVE MINUTES VS EVERY DAY
Let’s take the specific example of daily call to prayer. Some might think it is “only” five minutes, some others might think that every day is “too much”; either way people should be allowed to express their opinions respectfully and without the fear of ridicule.
The subject of noise by-laws and how it has repeatedly played second-fiddle to various religions, is in all fairness, a valid debate.
Brampton amended the noise by-laws in 1984 to exempt the ringing of church bells every week. This year, the evening azaan has been exempted every day during Ramadan due to Covid-19. In a tweet, mayor Patrick Brown clarifies that the amendment exempts ALL religions.
While these are great gestures for followers of all these religions, four questions need answers.
Amid a pandemic, and a completely botched up response in long-term care and senior residential homes, why put aside time and effort to amend noise by-laws? After all, there was no threat to human rights or freedom of religion.
The beauty of a democracy is the freedom to ask questions like why were laws changed so swiftly, in a coordinated manner across the country, when most Muslims never asked for it? It’s okay to want to know the answers as long as there is no malice.
LAW VS RELIGION
Last year, the federal government forced religious institutions to accept that gender is fluid (something many religions do not believe) in return for government grants. This year, many local governments have allowed those very institutions to be above the law as far as noise is concerned.
Should the right way forward be for all religions to work within the boundaries of the law and not ask for exemptions? This includes church bells every week.
Many ask if this is political appeasement for votes from visible minorities. Here, the correct answer does not matter. What matters is the perception. A 2018 public report on the terrorism threat to Canada, clearly mentions people “who harbour right-wing extremist views” to be a continued “concern”. Many of them are anti-Semitic or believe Muslims are here to implement Sharia laws.
Social media enables this fringe to brainwash many by perpetuating these falsehoods. Our country already has a province that banned the niqab. It is good to ask whether a decision helps to build equity or accentuates divide and bigotry.
Because at the end, it may benefit just one group of people – politicians. Politicians looking for minority votes. Politicians looking for anti-minority votes. And religious politicians looking to cement their leadership positions.
A genuine effort to do the right thing, can in fact enable the opposite. Let us assume these daily noise exemptions are welcomed by four or five different religions; will Canadians live away from places of worship that they do not identify with? More importantly, does it defeat years of work invested towards social integration and co-existence?
Canada as a country is changing and it is less of a monolithic culture than it was in the past. While it is not entirely possible, it is good to discourage communities from segregating into pockets within Canada.
There are global multicultural cities where visible minorities are discouraged from renting or buying houses in certain areas. Violence due to the inability to understand one another is common. Most newcomers to Canada have come here to avoid this. They have come in search of a society where every person is free to follow their way of life without imposing it on others.
A person, who is comfortable wearing a niqab, should not be forced to wear something she does not want to. Similarly, a person who does not want to hear the daily call to prayer, should not have to. Both are right in their own way.