This week, I found an "old" copy of the MacLean's magazine, from May 4th. The Cover article got my attention. In this diverse culture and multifaith/multicultural Canada, you would think that the statistics would be more favored. I think that a lot of people would be influenced by experience, (good or bad) and or by media image. We believe what we have been told/taught, and it is easy to characterize someone as "them" vs. humanizing the others. Often dialogue does not happen, or it is one sided, and hence there can be a view of intolerance. I am posting the article in full as sometimes the links will disappear over time.
Apr 28, 2009 by John Geddes
Canadians like to think of their country as a model for the world of how all sorts of people can get along together. But when it comes to the major faiths other than Christianity, a new poll conducted for Maclean’s finds that many Canadians harbour deeply troubling biases. Multiculturalism? Although by now it might seem an ingrained national creed, fewer than one in three Canadians can find it in their hearts to view Islam or Sikhism in a favourable light. Diversity? Canadians may embrace it in theory, but only a minority say they would find it acceptable if one of their kids came home engaged to a Muslim, Hindu or Sikh. Understanding? There’s not enough to prevent media images of war and terrorism from convincing almost half of Canadians that mainstream Islam encourages violence.
The poll, by Angus Reid Strategies, surveyed 1,002 randomly selected Canadians on religion at a moment when issues of identity are a hot topic in
Those findings leave little doubt that Canadians with a Christian background travel through life benefiting from a broad tendency of their fellow citizens to view their religion more favourably than any other. Across
Bernie Farber, chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said he was shocked that so many Canadians responding to a poll were willing to be so open about their negative feelings toward minority religions. “It tells me,” Farber said, “that our journey from intolerance to tolerance, to where we can actually celebrate each other’s cultures, is elusive.”
From the perspective of Sikhs and, especially, Muslims, that’s putting it mildly. When asked if they thought “the mainstream beliefs” of the major religions “encourage violence or are mostly peaceful,” only 10 per cent said they thought Christianity teaches violence. But fully 45 per cent said they believe Islam does, and a sizable 26 per cent saw Sikhism as encouraging violence. By comparison, just 13 per cent perceived violence in Hindu teachings and 14 per cent in Jewish religion. A tiny four per cent said they think of Buddhism as encouraging violence.
Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations Canada, said “reductive reasoning” in media coverage of armed conflict in largely Islamic countries is a big part of the problem. Violence in countries with Muslim populations is portrayed as rooted in their religions in what Gardee calls a “clash of civilizations” world view. “They’re not looking at the social and economic context in which these things are happening,” Gardee said. “It can’t be reduced to Islam, per se.”
Clearly, Islam and Sikhism face the highest hurdles when it comes to persuading many Canadians they are not inherently violent faiths. The problem varies across regions. By far the highest percentage who viewed Islam as encouraging violence was found in
Palbinder Shergill, a
Patient work trying to overcome the widespread view of Sikhs as dangerous seemed to be paying off, she said—until recently. Shergill said Sikhs have lately faced a “huge resurgence” of the sorts of challenges to their distinctive practices that they thought were put to rest 15 years or so ago. In
But Ouellet said the boy didn’t use his kirpan, the small symbolic dagger many Sikh men carry. The judge gave him an unconditional discharge, leaving him with a clean record, and said the case would never have reached his bench if the incident hadn’t had a religious dimension. “Too much importance has been given this case,” he said. “This matter should end here.”
Shergill suspects that many more Canadians read about the initial charge being laid than the remarks of the obviously frustrated judge. And the fact that this episode unfolded in
A mere 17 per cent of Quebecers said they have a favourable opinion of Islam, and just 15 per cent view Sikhism favourably. Only 36 per cent of Quebecers said they hold a favourable opinion of Judaism, far below the national average, and in sharp contrast to neighbouring
Farber said his group, a 90-year-old advocacy organization for Canadian Jews, recently rebranded its
A heated debate over how far to go in “reasonable accommodation” of minorities gripped
Angus Reid took that debate national, asking how far governments should go to accommodate minorities. A strong majority of 62 per cent agree with the statement, “Laws and norms should not be modified to accommodate minorities.” A minority, 29 per cent, agreed with the alternative statement, “On some occasions, it makes sense to modify specific laws and norms to accommodate minorities.” Another nine per cent weren’t sure. In
Recent campaign trail experience in
Leaders of religious groups contacted by Maclean’s commonly said their impression is that urban attitudes are more open, especially in
Still, many advocates for Islamic and Sikh groups optimistically tout fostering personal contact—the sort of bonds that grow into friendships—as the key to creating acceptance of that religion. “The more that people have interactions with Muslims,” said Gardee from the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada, “the more favourable an opinion they have of Muslims.”
To try to assess the extent and impact of friendships between Canadians of different faiths, Angus Reid asked, “Do you personally have any friends who are followers of any of these religions or not?” Not surprisingly, given that seven out of 10 Canadians identify themselves as Catholic or Protestant, the vast majority, 89 per cent, said they have Christian friends. Less predictably, given that only two per cent of the population follows Islam, fully 32 per cent of respondents claimed they have a Muslim friend. Only 16 per cent nationally reported having Sikh friends, but 36 per cent of British Columbians do. Across
Digging into that data, Angus Reid checked to see if those who claimed to have friends of a particular religion tended to view that faith more positively. There is a correlation. Among those who said they don’t have any Muslim friends, a mere 18 per cent reported that their opinion of Islam is generally favourable. But among those who said they do have Muslim friends, 44 per cent had a favourable opinion of Islam.
For all other religions, well over half of the pool of people who have friends of a certain faith view that faith favourably: for example, 63 per cent of those with Sikh friends view Sikhism favourably, compared with just 23 per cent of those without Sikh friends. And 76 per cent of Canadians with Jewish friends are favourably disposed toward Judaism, while only 34 per cent of people with no Jewish friends have a favourable opinion of Judaism.
Beyond personal contact with adherents of different religions, there’s the question of whether Canadians really know much about what the various faiths profess. Asked about their level of knowledge, 86 per cent said they have a “good basic understanding” of Christianity, compared to just 32 per cent who make the same claim regarding Islam, 18 per cent for Hinduism, 12 per cent for Sikhism, 32 per cent for Buddhism and 40 per cent for Judaism. In fact, it’s a stretch to imagine that a third of Canadians really have a solid grounding in Islam. Or, to express that skepticism another way, is it likely that Canadians are much more likely to have a grasp of the basic tenets of Islam and Buddhism than of Sikhism and Hinduism?
More likely, the higher reported levels of “good basic understanding” actually represents superficial impressions gleaned from news reports, combined with images—both negative and positive—picked up from popular entertainment. Grenville pointed out that with common Old Testament roots, Christians, Muslims and Jews have a natural starting point for mutual understanding. As for Buddhism, he suggested the sixties cultural touchstones established good press. “Meditation, the Beatles, all these things that feel Buddhist, even if they’re not really Buddhist, feel friendly,” he said. “There haven’t been a lot of Buddhist wars.”
Muslims and Sikhs might well envy that vibe. But Buddhism is more than an odd case—it shows that even a fast-growing religion can avoid rubbing Canadians the wrong way. The Buddhist population increased 84 per cent between 1991 and the 2001 national census. Still, that left the total Buddhist population at only about 300,000, or around one per cent of the population—far too small for most Canadians to have anything beyond fleeting direct contact with the religion. Even so, Buddhism’s favourability rating of 57 per cent is four points higher than Judaism, a religion with much deeper roots in
Even among those who profess a broad acceptance of other religions, the prospect of one of your children marrying someone from an unfamiliar background can be a test of tolerance. On this delicate question, though, the poll suggests a paradox. Although only 28 per cent said they have a generally favourable opinion of Islam, fully 39 per cent declared that they would find it acceptable for one of their children to marry a Muslim. The pattern follows for the other minority faiths: Canadians surveyed were more likely to say they would approve of one of their kids marrying a follower of a given religion than tended to view that religion favourably. So while only 30 per cent view Sikhs favourably, 39 per cent wouldn’t object to a child marrying one. Similarly, 41 per cent have a favourable opinion of Hinduism, but 46 per cent would find their child’s marriage to a Hindu acceptable.
That pattern might signal an intriguing instinct to respect personal choice in marriage over misguided generalizations about religions. Still, the numbers hardly suggest open-armed tolerance: with respect to all three of Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism, less than half of those surveyed said they would find it acceptable for one of their children to marry a follower of those religions. For the marriage question, the results again suggest the usual stratification: Christianity is by far most widely accepted, followed by Judaism and Buddhism, with Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism facing the most negative feelings. A resounding 83 per cent would accept a child marrying a Christian, 53 per cent a Buddhist, and 56 per cent a Jew.
Overall, the findings suggest minority religions aren’t getting a fair shake from the majority. But there remain legitimate questions, even misgivings, about the relationship between mainstream believers and fringe extremists. Outsiders, including journalists, sometimes have trouble gauging how many Sikhs support groups that have sometimes resorted to terrorism in their quest to carve a separate state out of
Muslim groups also face a minefield of image challenges, which often flow from international affairs rather than domestic life. Gardee admits, for example, his organization’s campaign urging the federal government to bring home Omar Kahdr might convey the wrong impressions to some Canadians. After all, Khadr, the Canadian being held by the
The problem of how to project a moderate face of Islam to a wider Canadian public is a pressing challenge. Within disparate Muslim communities—and the religion is anything but monolithic—the nature of mosque leadership is a subject of sometimes fierce debate. In fact, that argument is currently raging at
Karim Karim, a communications professor at
Perhaps a new generation of Muslim leaders more attuned to Canadian sensibilities can help bridge the obvious gaps in understanding. Karim points to negative connotations that have built up around a handful of loaded terms. According to him, sharia is a “very malleable, very diverse” set of ethics and values about leading a Muslim life—not a rigid legal code. He describes a fatwa as an “informed opinion by a learned scholar”—not a death edict. And Karim says most Muslims think of jihad as “a daily struggle to be a good Muslim.” But he adds, “It would be disingenuous on my part to say that, no, the other side does not exist. It does exist—the taking up of arms for a cause of justice.”
His willingness to try to explain details, convey nuances, even underline contradictions—it all suggests that Karim craves dialogue on a level the Angus Reid poll suggests too few Canadians are ready for. Even Grenville, who has long experience tracking all sorts of opinions, finds the landscape of attitude toward unfamiliar faiths bleak. “This runs counter to all we espouse,” he said. “We need to face up to the reality of it.” No doubt leaders of the fast-growing, little-understood religious minorities need to consider the image they project. But the rest of Canadians might try a little soul-searching, too. For a country that often boasts of modern identity based on acceptance of diversity, this poll suggests that’s still a goal to strive toward rather than an achieved reality.
Angus Reid’s online poll was conducted from April 14 to April 15, 2009. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The results were statistically weighted for education, age, gender and region to ensure a sample representative of the adult population of
One comment posted on the MacLean's site is
@ Sunday, Apr. 26, 2009 – 16:44:07
Maclean’s John Geddes has provided a balanced and interesting delineation of the Angus Reid online poll. Islam, in particular, has been getting much negative attention since 911, much of it justified, if one look at the rabid, extremist Muslim factions. Sikhs also have been involved in extremist acts; the Air India affair being the worst example. Tamils, though practically “inventing” suicide attacks, have had less impact on Canadian society.
It is unfortunate that new Canadians bring their origin countries conflicts with them here, especially when it leads to violence in their adoptive country. It does seem that the current crop of immigrants, especially those with strong ethnic and religious connections, have more difficulty accepting and adjusting to the values of their host county, than did earlier arrivals. The extremist behaviour displayed by some groups, reflected in some youth and a few families such as the Khadr clan, is causing damage to the Muslim image everywhere, and one can fault, to a degree, the moderate Muslim community for not taking a more vocal and firm stance against the few recalcitrant extremists among them.
However, one need not be a historian to know that these problems have always been with us, in one form or another. For example, Irish Fenians caused much conflict and consternation both in Canada and the United States, including physical attacks and the assassination of a member of the Canadian parliament and former sympathiser, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, in 1868. The Irish have maintained a strong Irish cultural identity over the years, but no one would suggest today that they have failed to adapt to Canadian society.
It is unfortunate that extreme tribalism, both of the political/social and the religious mode, is allowed to prevail in our society, but it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. The same churches, temples, synagogues and mosques that serve as a support system for new arrivals, can also act as an incubator for extremism. We must always be vigilant in ferreting out the lunatic fringes, but also be mindful that given time, the greater good for our society will persevere. It did in the past, and it will do so in the future. Our ship of state is built for stormy weather, and behind the clouds the sun is still shining.