Mosque shooting a challenge to Canada pluralism

03.02.2017

The Quebec City mosque shooting was a brutal blow to Canada's multicultural, open and tolerant society, revealing cracks in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says is the nation's biggest strength.

Police are still piecing together motives for the attack, that resulted in the deaths of six worshippers.

But according to Andre Gagne, a theologian at Concordia University in Montreal and expert on radicalisation, the likely hate required to spur such violence did not sprout in isolation.

The shooting occurred one day after Trudeau, a fervent advocate of multiculturalism, said Canada would welcome all refugees regardless of their faith.

Those comments followed President Donald Trump's 90-day ban on entry into the United States to nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The attack has cast a shadow over Canada's image as a safe and inclusive society. Last year it welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees. Trudeau himself met the first arrivals with a smile and a gift of a parka.

Muslims are a minority in Canada, totalling 1.1 million out of a total population of 36 million.

Gagne told journalists: "There is increasing intolerance around the world, which is feeding both Islamist extremists and far right groups."

He said the attack by a far right sympathiser raises questions about religion's place in society, "which nobody now wants to talk about."

 "Many commentators have said the attack was a total surprise. But we must open our eyes. We knew well before that there were problems," commented Martin Papillon, a political science professor at the University of Montreal.

"It is indicative of a wider problem than the simple question of social integration," he said, adding that there were before the rampage "plenty of signs of intolerance towards the Muslim community" in this country.

Paradoxically, "the members of this mosque were well integrated into Canadian society," Gagne said, noting that they all spoke French, some had lived here more than 30 years and one was even a respected professor at Laval University.

"The societal fractures have always been there and are growing wider in Quebec and in Canada, as elsewhere in the world," said Papillon.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has rejected suggestions the attack is proof that Muslims and others cannot live together in a liberal democracy – a bedrock of Canada's multicultural mosaic.

"Every society must live with demons" such as "Islamophobia, racism and exclusion" and "if our society is not perfect it is because no society is perfect."

Like the rest of Canada, Quebec welcomes migrants of different ethnicities from around the world, but arguably Canada's policy of pluralism is contested here, according to Papillon.

The descendants of French colonists are still the majority in Quebec, but they constitute a minority within Canada. And some view multiculturalism as diluting their own francophone identity, which they fought to preserve over the past 400 years.

The French tradition tends more to discourage, in the public arena at least, religious or other symbols that accentuate people belonging to a minority as opposed to being part of a larger nation.

Trudeau proclaims the post-modern character of Canada as one that celebrates individual freedoms and universal values that unite its citizens.

"Diversity is our strength and, as Canadians, religious tolerance is a value that is dear to us," the prime minister said Monday after the mosque shooting.

The shooting highlights a disconnect between this non-Quebec Canada, where symbols of religion and ethnic identity are worn proudly in parliament and Quebec, which broke with its Catholic past last century and embraced secularism akin to that which emerged in France.

Over the past three years, for example, a debate has raged in Quebec over whether to legislate a ban on wearing ostentatious religious symbols in the public service, pitting nationalists against pluralists.

"We must take off our rose-colored glasses and admit that we are still grappling with these difficult questions" and will continue to do so "as long as we fail to try to understand one another," Gagne concluded.    (AFP)

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