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Douglas Todd: Canadian Muslims wielding their political muscle

Analysis: With Muslims now making up five per cent of Canadians, politicians are responding to their leaders’ activism over the Israel-Hamas conflict.

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Many Muslim leaders in the West have been flexing their electoral clout since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas’ war.

U.S. President Joe Biden, British Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have been warned by thousands of Islamic representatives that their support for Israel, however much they mix it with concern for Palestinians, will cost them access to mosques and their votes.

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The threat against so-called progressive politicians has hit hard in B.C., where NDP Premier David Eby asked Selina Robinson, who is Jewish, to resign from her cabinet position because of her comment, for which she apologized, that Israel was founded on a “crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”

Robinson’s dismissal occurred after representatives from 14 B.C. mosques and Islamic groups pressured Eby to remove the post-secondary education minister. They said no NDP MLA or candidate for the next election would be welcome in their mosques until action was taken against Robinson, who has since left the NDP entirely.

The treatment of Robinson has become an international story, but less attention has been paid to how more than 300 Islamic organizations have told federal MPs that, during the month of Ramadan, they will not be invited into mosques unless they meet five demands, including condemning “Israeli war crimes” in Gaza, calling for an immediate ceasefire and opposing the flow of arms to Israel.

In a controversial vote this week, NDP and most Liberal MPs agreed to a motion to do the latter, to stop future military exports to Israel.

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Muslim organizations aren’t the first religious or ethnic group in Canada to try to impact political decision-making in Canada and other Western countries. Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Sikh, Jewish and ethnic Chinese leaders have been doing so for decades.

Maybe Canadians are used to taking ethno-religious political machinations in stride. After all, Catholic clergy long ago shaped Canadian political decisions, especially in Quebec. Former Conservative leader Stephen Harper wooed evangelicals and Jagmeet Singh relied heavily on Sikh support to gain the leadership of the NDP.

Nevertheless, since Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 Jews in October and Israel retaliated in Gaza, many Muslim leaders have become activists like never before.

Politicians constantly try to court the vote of Canadian religious groups. Muslims now make up five per cent of the population and the country’s second largest religion after Christianity. Generally socially conservative on gender and sexual issues, the 2021 census shows four-in-10 Muslims have roots in the Middle East, while three-in-10 have origins in South Asia.

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A February Angus Reid Institute poll found 83 per cent of Canadian Muslims sympathize mostly with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, 70 per cent of Canadian Jews, who now comprise less than one per cent of Canadians, sympathize mostly with Israelis. Another 27 per cent were concerned about both sides.

Muslims account for 10.2 per cent of the population of Greater Toronto, as well as 16 to 26 per cent of voters in a dozen of that megalopolis’s ridings, which most pundits believe are crucial to the Liberals’ chances. The Muslim population also makes up the same significant proportion of voters in six ridings in Montreal, two in Calgary and one in Ottawa. Muslims are somewhat more decentralized throughout Metro Vancouver, where they comprise 4.2 per cent of all residents.

Politicians across the world are trying to respond to Muslim leaders’ activism over the Israel-Hamas’ conflict.

U.S. Democrats went all out to hold on to Muslim voters during a recent presidential primary in Michigan, a swing state, where leaders of a large population of Muslim Americans in Detroit warned they would stop supporting Joe Biden because he was supplying Israel with arms and not calling for a permanent ceasefire. Nationally, however, Muslims make up only 1.1 per cent of all Americans.

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In Britain, meanwhile, the Labour Party is worried about signs that it’s losing traditional support among Muslims, who make up six per cent of residents. Many Muslim leaders claim the Labour leader, who is poised to win the next election, should do much more to back Palestinians.

In Canada, prominent author Sheema Khan says this will be a sombre month of Ramadan for Canada’s 1.8 million Muslims, many of whom she says are outraged by Israel’s actions.

Khan reiterated the 300 Muslim organizations’ call to boycott politicians who don’t meet their five political demands, which include “upholding the right of Canadians to express solidarity with Palestinians without fear of reprisal.”

How tolerant are Canadians of such ultimatums and of frequent anti-Israel protests, which have often led to arrests while bridges have been blockaded, Jewish businesses targeted and politicians, including Trudeau, intimidated into cancelling unrelated events?

The B.C. Muslim Association, which represents most Sunni Muslims in the province, couldn’t be reached for comment.

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Sheema
Prominent author and journalist Sheema Khan says this will be a sombre month of Ramadan for Canada’s 1.8 million Muslims, many of whom she says are outraged by Israel’s actions. She emphasizes Muslim leaders five political demands. sun

Could there be a backlash, considering polls consistently show Islam is viewed less favourably in Canada than other religions? An Angus Reid Institute survey from the spring of last year found 64 per cent of Canadians had a “favourable view” of Buddhism, with such impressions dropping to 59 per cent for Christianity, 58 per cent for Judaism, 45 per cent for Sikhism and 35 per cent for Islam.

It’s always been difficult for Canadians to figure out the right balance on how far religions can venture into politics.

In Canada, religious groups are treated as charities, which means they have to be careful, at least on paper, about political manoeuvrings to keep that status. For a long time religious and other philanthropic organizations in Canada were allowed, under the Income Tax Act, to devote only 10 per cent of their funds to political activity, such as lobbying and campaigning.

The Liberals changed that in 2018, allowing religious groups to engage in as much “public policy dialogue” and other activities connected to their stated purposes as they want — as long as they don’t back one party over another.

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Hundreds of Islamic organizations in Canada might now be walking a tightrope on those tax rules, particularly by barring elected officials who don’t support their demands on the Israeli-Hamas’ conflict.

We await to see the repercussions.

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