Haroon Siddiqui says 
hysteria shows lack of faith in Canada

with gratitude & permission from Haroon Siddiqui
and  The Toronto Star

More than stopping sharia, we need to stop the hysteria surrounding it. So misleading and dishonest has the debate been that it reveals more about our political and media prejudices than the minority in question.

A request by a small Ontario Muslim group to start faith-based family mediation or arbitration between two consenting adults - a practice long used by Christians (Mennonites and Catholics in particular), Jews (especially the Orthodox) and one sect of Muslims, the Ismailis - has been blown up into the spectre of Taliban-like justice coming to Canada.

No sharia is coming. No sharia can come. If anyone implemented any unlawful practice, he or she will go to jail.

Those saying otherwise are either ignorant or malevolent.

They are also showing little or no faith in Canada, believing, as they must, that our system of justice and law enforcement will only be a silent spectator to the hijacking of our rule of law.

The latest to jump on the bandwagon is the Quebec National Assembly, unanimously passing a resolution against the phantom enemy.

Quebec city has not been asked to authorize any Islamic justice, only the right to grant religious divorce to Muslim women believers who want it, just like Jewish women asking for the get, the religious divorce, or Catholics seeking annulment.

But that stirred the Jean Charest government and the opposition Parti Quebecois into mounting their soapboxes. Leading the chorus was Liberal backbencher Fatima Houda-Pepin, the lone Muslim MNA.

She is entitled to her views, of course. But her Muslim background is not irrelevant. She has used it to play the ethnic broker, and is found useful precisely because of it. But she's reportedly not a practising Muslim, which is her right. Also, she does not represent Muslims. In fact, she is reviled by many of them.

She also uses scare tactics, invoking Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. What do those backwaters have to do with Canada? We live here, not there.

She peddles a conspiracy theory as well, namely, that Islamists have a plot to control Canadian Muslims and use the Charter of Rights to sabotage it. In reality, what they have done is to advocate their point of view, something she is intolerant of.

She likes those Muslims who agree with her, such as the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and Muslim Canadian Congress. They, too, are entitled to their views. But the former has a reported membership of 1,000 and the latter fewer, out of 650,000 Canadian Muslims.

Yet the media, too, keep quoting them, out of laziness or because they like what they hear.

The irony is that only a tiny minority of Muslims may make use of faith-based mediation or arbitration. But the majority are fully tuned to the larger issue Are Muslims going to be denied rights available to others?

There is no proof that Canadian Muslim women are any more subject to denial of their rights because of immigrant status, social pressures or lack of English or French than other women seeking faith-based arbitration.

Houda-Pepin's role is akin to having a secular dissident Catholic or Orthodox Jew ordering others how to practise their faith. And being rewarded for it by being asked to lead a provincial assembly in denying them fundamental rights.

Such is the anti-Muslim tenor of the post-9/11 times, especially in Quebec.

The Quebec human rights commission remains silent on whether or not Muslim girls can wear a hijab in private schools.

McGill University has just locked out Muslim students from the room they've been using for their five daily prayers. The eviction is being justified in the name of secularism, even as 20 universities across Canada continue to accommodate Muslims, often in multi-faith spaces.

The issue of sharia, among others, is not about Muslims alone. It is a test case of whether the Dalton McGuinty government, and others, will pander to prejudices or stand up for the basic principles of our democracy.