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Canada grapples with Islamophobia in parliament

By March 14, 2017

Canada (MNN) — Canada is known to be one of the most tolerant nations on the globe. But now, it is in uproar over a motion that appears to resemble “anti-blasphemy” sentiment. In December of last year, MP Iqra Khalid presented a motion to the House of Commons that the government condemn Islamophobia and systematic religious and racial discrimination.

We spoke with Open Doors Canada’s Greg Musselman to get his insight on the discussion. He explains that while Canada is dedicated to equality, they are not immune to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment that is heavily apparent in the United States and Europe. Earlier this year, six Muslim men were murdered in a mosque in Quebec and several others injured in a religiously motivated attack.

(Photo courtesy of Roger Nelson via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/Pxuqr)

Musselman says, “They’re facing discrimination, which is terribly unfortunate and just because, I think, even the rhetoric that is coming out of the U.S. and other places and Canadians are watching the news from Europe, especially Germany and Sweden.”

While some Canadians do indeed possess fear and mistrust towards Muslims, Musselman says the majority do not. However, this latest motion, M-103, has caused quite a stir.

Khalid is a Liberal MP in Ontario. She was born in Pakistan, but moved to the West at a young age. Many have critiqued the motion in that it only mentions Islamophobia — a term that, without clear definition, could encompass a large variety of attitudes, words, and actions towards this specific religion.

“As a result of that, many Canadians now have their backs up and it’s just causing a lot of concern and debate across Canada,” Musselman says.

The motion will be voted upon on March 21. While a passed motion may not be followed by further action, it could also become the foundation for future bills to be voted into law.

Anti-Blasphemy?

If this is indeed a step towards establishing an anti-blasphemy law in Canada, it is reason for concern. As Musselman explains, anti-blasphemy laws don’t really work how they are intended to.

“The problem is, is if you have a bill like this one, and this is a real concern, that it does curb free speech. Now unfortunately, we know […] that people use free speech in hateful ways, and that’s unfortunate. But to have a bill that specifically targets or protects a certain religious community from anybody being able to say anything — I think that’s a concern.”

One of the biggest issues with this type of sentiment is it can be abused and misused. It makes it harder to root out real problems within communities where criticism — whether constructive or not — isn’t allowed.

In essence, anti-blasphemy sentiment, especially that without clear boundaries, puts a social minefield around its focus. In this case, the concern is Islamic Extremism. How can a nation adequately discuss and fight a real issue, when saying something critical that’s connected to Islam could be taken the wrong way?

The other question is this: does Canada really need a law that protects any certain religion or people group? Musselman says no.

“The thing is, in Canada we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Criminal Code. Really it is to protect people from racism and crimes, so that’s already in there.”

While the motion is expected to pass, Musselman is optimistic when it comes to legal enforcement.

“I think, at the end of the day, a blasphemy law will not get in there because you see what’s happened in countries like Pakistan where it was meant to protect all religious groups, but of course that never happened, and now it’s being used against anybody that is not Muslim.”

But what will happen to religious freedom if the law does come to pass?

Perhaps it would not take the same sinister shape that it does in Pakistan, at least not initially. But, Musselman explains, it would make things more complicated for Christians that believe Jesus is the only way to heaven because this belief implies that every other religion is false — a belief that is already challenged as things stand.

“There is the cultural pressure that’s often put on groups like Evangelical Christians of actually sharing your faith,” Musselman says.

Another area that could be effected is the study of religions and the sharing of faith.

“The proclaiming of the Gospel, I don’t see that as something that’s going to change anytime soon. But if you’re, you know, doing comparative religious studies between Islam and Christianity and any other religion, but Islam being particularly protected if we have a law like this, that definitely would impact being able to share the Gospel to that group of people, Muslim people.”

So, what can be done? Canadians, Musselmans says, must be vocal. He urges you to speak to your MPs about your concern. Second, all over the world, Christians must stand up for Muslims who are victims of hate crimes and speech.

“We as Christians need to stand up for them. When there was the massacre at the mosque in Quebec City, many Christians stood up and said, ‘This is wrong. We are standing with our Muslim friends in Canada through this atrocity.’”

He says even for those who consider Muslims “enemies”, a belief he doesn’t hold, the Bible is clear on how enemies are to be treated.

And most important, we must pray: “We need to pray, of course, that a law like this doesn’t get through. [We can do] the practical things, as I say, talking to our members of parliament — and, then, beyond that, just being Christians, loving our neighbors.”

A note on changing times and a call for Kingdom perspective

Musselman says not only is it interesting that this conversation is now taking place in the West, but there’s a notable difference in how Christians respond.

In other parts of the world, believers are used to living under discrimination, and they are sustained by God’s grace through prayer, fellowship, and worship. But Christians in the West might limit themselves to social tools as a response. While it is important for Christians to participate in democracy, we have much more to do than petition through politics.

“We have to remember that this is a spiritual battle, and that we don’t fight against flesh and blood. Our enemies are not the Muslims or any other group that’s trying to push their agendas. Our battle is against the one that is pushing that, the spiritual forces behind it, ultimately Satan. We need to remember that and that God has allowed these wonderful people to come to our country and have an opportunity to hear the Gospel.”

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