The recent terror attacks in Montreal and Ottawa and the subsequent strong response from Canadians across the country must be a wake-up call for us to rethink what it is that we share as a democratic nation. What is the one underlying principle that our soldiers fought for, our leaders hoped for and what immigration and diversity were intended for?
It should not take long for most of us to figure out that one of the fundamental ideas that defines us as Canadians and the core of our identity is a pluralistic, inclusive and tolerant democracy.
The murderers of our soldiers had completely misunderstood these freedoms and had joined a subculture that promotes violence in the name of religion and permits acts including murder for ideological purposes with the intention of intimidating the public by the use of violence. These two terrorists had a distorted understanding of the freedoms offered by democracy.
Canada's fundamental freedoms today face challenges that have not been seen before. The question is now being asked if multiculturalism has been used to create different groups in Canada that contest our tolerant democracy.
What started as a policy to accommodate bilingualism while acknowledging other ethnic groups' contribution to the makeup of Canada is now tested to deal with global or foreign organizations that are using the multiculturalism framework to advance their own agendas. What was intended to make Canadians culturally richer and bring us closer together while integrating people of different cultural backgrounds as proud Canadians has now been transformed in large measure into segregated communities.
The lack of debate around what multiculturalism is or was intended for has seen activists promote group traditions as having more importance than individual freedoms. The absence of discussion about our diversity has also by extension created a concern about religion and its relationship with the state. Among many, a quiet intolerance has replaced acceptance. Lack of debate on multiculturalism, freedoms of a pluralistic society, and freedoms of a democratic state is turning into a serious issue that could challenge and undermine our national identity.
Canadian society acknowledges ethnicity as part of our Canadian identity. This uniquely Canadian idea has now become distorted for many newcomers; what was intended as a way to celebrate our differences as part of being Canadian has been muddied by permitting others, including religious orders in distant lands, to dictate how one must act, dress, eat and vote. Celebration of our diversity has turned into a policy allowing for divisions. Forced and arranged marriages, honour killings and teaching of hate towards other religions or toward homosexuals, or death warrants against apostates, are the result of the lack of discussion and understanding of the intent of a pluralistic society.
Violence by any group misusing the policies designed to bring Canadians of different ethnicities closer together is unacceptable. While now there seems to be a lot of focus on muslims, they are not the only group producing violent extremists and they do not have a monopoly on terrorism. Blame should, therefore, not be placed exclusively on extremists in any single ethnic or religious group.
It is the lack of discussion, understanding and education on the concept of unity in our diversity that has led to the problems we now face. It is time now to clarify the concept of a free, democratic, tolerant state and the responsibility of the citizen.
To avoid the wall of intolerance that we may be headed towards, to not make the mistakes that Europe has made and to avoid becoming the intolerant dictatorships that we criticize, we must demand that our religious schools, all of them, teach the necessities of democratic citizenship, equality of the sexes, freedom of religion, freedom of choice and human rights. It is obvious to most that some wish to shield their children from these liberal teachings, from gay rights, gender equality and diversity, however we must use public funding as an incentive to ensure that these core principles that are the foundations of our great country are followed.
All Canadians must understand these principles and must work to integrate; Canadians, old and new, must understand that multiculturalism is a celebration of ethnic heritage, about equal citizenship and the right to participate as democratic citizens in our collective life and not about segregation and division.
What we are seeing now, more and more, is a polarization and mistrust among significant segments of our population. What is needed, then, is a more unified vision of Canadian society, one that emphasizes interdependence and cooperation among diverse groups, and this begins at arrival and continues at schools and throughout our communities.
Failure to do so will see some within our communities who don't understand, accept, or follow the fundamental concept of pluralism use violence, including acts of terror and fear to import distant conflicts onto our shores. There will be attempts at imposing their beliefs on the rest of society and they will use, support, or facilitate violence as a method to effect societal change to achieve their goals.
Farid Rohani is a board member at the Laurier Institution.