This is a pretty heavy subject to tackle in a blog that deals primarily with sports and media items, but since I have this space and I’m very passionate about this subject, I’ve decided to use this forum to discuss the dangerous slope we are sliding down regarding religion in Quebec. The subject of religion and multiculturalism has been on my mind for quite some time, and it’s been a hot button issue with me since the Hérouxville incident of 2007 and the hearings on “reasonable accommodations” that followed.

What is the place of religion, and more specifically, religions that are not Christianity in Quebec, Canada, North America, and the Western World? It seems lately that that place is becoming smaller and smaller, and a new form of government-backed xenophobia is growing in our society.

This probably all started with September 11 and the ensuing fear of Muslims that really took off after that, and was spurned on by what’s going on with the Taliban and all of the crazy relgious wars that are going on all over the planet. But make no mistake, this is not just about Muslims – they are on the front lines, but this is about way more than one religion getting in the way.

This morning I received an email from a very good friend of mine that appears to be making the rounds, the text of which – prefaced by the lyrics to “O Canada” – was a rant against immigrants who come to Canada but don’t want to bend to Canadian customs. It discusses Canada as a “melting pot”, elaborates on how the immigrants of the past assimilated themselves easily into Canadian society, and basically said to Muslims to give up their culture upon arrival or get the hell out of here.

Here’s my reply to that letter, which pretty much says it all:

This letter couldn’t be any farther off the mark. Yes, the immigrants of that time “adopted” their new country, but by no means did they give up their traditions and cultures. My grandparents learned to speak English and French, yes, but they stood by their heritage and still spoke primarily Yiddish in the home until the day they died. It was to the point that my grandmother still had a Yiddish accent in English – even after being a PROUD Canadian for something like 80 or 90 years. This experience was similar in every other culture that came to Canada (hello “Little Italy,” “Chinatown,” etc), which hung on dearly to their identities – but also found a place in their new country.

Holding on to your traditions and beliefs does not negate your from participating in Canadian society. Canada is not and never has been a melting pot; rather, we are a cultural mosaic that incorporates everyone under one flag. This letter comes from a place of hatred and fear of Muslims, and make no mistake, is anti-Muslim before anything else. The reality is that people are scared of Muslims coming to their country and imposing their beliefs.

In truth, I understand where this fear comes from – but the solution is not to trample on the rights of the people who scare us; rather, it’s to educate all parties on each other and each other’s beliefs. Things change over time, but the most important thing that cannot change is the right to absolute and total personal and religious freedom. We do, however, have a very intelligent clause built into our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada, which states that people have a right to those freedoms, but only as far as those exercising those freedoms do not cause harm to others.

As far as I’m concerned, Muslims should be welcomed into our country with the only condition being that the live under the same Charter that the rest of us do. If they want to cover their faces, then so be it – as long as they understand that they can’t impose that upon others. Legislating against Muslims covering their faces is not progressive, it’s racist, and I am unequivocally opposed to it.

As France is in the midst of banning religious garb in the public sphere and Quebec is looking towards doing the same, I think it’s more important than ever that we learn from the lessons of the past and speak out against government legislated racism. I will be doing so in this blog and I hope to start a conversation here about it.

I will continue to write about this subject moving forward – my goal here isn’t to change anyone’s opinions, but to discuss the issue. I invite you to comment here or email me at noahsidel@gmail.com.

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