Douglas Todd: Who decides the land is ‘sacred’?

Todd on the Ktunaxa/Jumbo Glacier case:

Ktunaxa elder Chris Luke Sr. lives in B.C.’s Purcell Mountains, about 1,000 kilometres east of Vancouver. He doesn’t speak English and he knows how to keep his silence.

Still, Luke is a powerful man.

For eight years, the elder’s religious vision has seized the attention of Canada’s top courts, demanding the focus of hundreds of lawyers, judges, civil servants and politicians.

Their work became necessary because Luke said he had an epiphany in 2004 — which he did not reveal to his people until 2009 ­— that the grizzly bears that inhabit a large chunk of public land in the Purcells are sacred, divine protectors.

As a result, Luke’s small tribal group entered into years of hard political negotiations with the B.C. government, which turned into a precedent-setting court case against developers of a ski resort called Jumbo Glacier.

The case, which Luke and his people lost this month in the Supreme Court of Canada, not only raised profound questions about Canada’s commitment to protect religious freedom, it opened a bigger cans of worms. It highlighted philosophical, ethical, anthropological and religious issues.

Four of the broad questions from Luke’s case are: Who decides what is “sacred?” Are religious beliefs static? Is Indigenous spirituality monolithic? Do aboriginals consistently respect the land?

In the case, known as “Ktunaxa Nation versus British Columbia,” the elder was put forward as the sole source of religious truth.

“The record is clear that the Ktunaxa (believe) only certain members of the community, knowledge-keepers, possess information about spiritual values, and that only Mr. Luke could speak to these matters,” wrote the judges.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed the Ktunaxa were “sincere” in following Luke’s vision of the “Grizzly Bear Spirit.” But the judges noted the Ktunaxa had believed for less than a decade that the grizzly territory they call Qat’muk was of utmost spiritual significance.

The judges concluded timing didn’t matter, though. “Whether this belief is ancient or recent plays no part in our analysis. The Charter protects all sincere religious beliefs and practices, old or new.”

In other words, Canadian courts are obliged to take seriously almost anybody who convinces their followers that land in B.C., or anywhere, is absolutely sacred.

Theoretically, Luke could have been a New Age guru from, say, Los Angeles, who persuaded a group to “sincerely” believe parts of Saskatchewan, or Mississauga, were untouchable. The potential is high for arbitrariness.

Even though the Ktunaxa lost their case, two of nine Supreme Court judges (and many aboriginals and their supporters) believe the majority made a mistake in one of the reasons they refused to stop the ski development for religious reasons.

In general, I tend not to champion giant ski resorts, nor shopping malls nor casinos, whether on public, private or Aboriginal land. Like many Canadians, I also strongly support reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous populations, along with the treaty process.

The Supreme Court of Canada agreed the Ktunaxa were ‘sincere’ in following their elder’s vision of the ‘Grizzly Bear Spirit.’ But the judges noted the Ktunaxa had believed for less than a decade that the grizzly territory in the Purcell Mountains was of utmost spiritual significance. Determining ‘sacredness’ is subjective, and the courts justifiably don’t want to take a stand on it.

But, with the Ktunaxa case, it’s hard not to think the majority of judges were more reality-based than the dissenters.

One of the flaws in the Ktunaxa lawyers’ arguments was in the definition of sacred. Who decides what is sacred? And what rights does that give those who claim it?

The court concluded understandings of “sacred” are subjective. In a pluralistic society, one person’s sacred is another person’s profane.

So, instead of legally protecting a physical place or object that some claim sacred, the only thing Canada’s courts rightly felt justified in guarding is religious expression (which includes giving Sikhs the right to carry kirpans, or ceremonial knives).

Beyond the legal angles, which are many, the Ktunaxa case also brings up many broad religious issues, including about whether faiths are static.

Though many think religions such as Christianity or Islam are set in stone when they’re founded, many other believe they change over time. The Ktunaxa case inadvertently confirmed how a group’s theology can dramatically evolve, since the court found no evidence they believed in the “Grizzly Bear Spirit” before contact with Europeans.

The case also touches on the question: Are Canadian Indigenous beliefs monolithic?

The two dissenting judges seemed to assume so, with Judge Michael Moldaver saying things such as, “There is an inextricable link between spirituality and land in Indigenous religious traditions.”

But no judge mentioned the wide religious diversity among Canada’s 1.7 million Indigenous people, including that two of three are Christian. That includes many Ktunaxa.

Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality, by Philip Jenkins, is one of many books describing how eclectic and syncretistic Indigenous spirituality has been, including in the way such things as smudging rituals have been loosely borrowed and adapted.

We cannot assume religious uniformity among Indigenous people or anyone else, even though the dissenting judge appeared to do so — somewhat naively, romantically.

Canadian scholar Rod Preece’s Animals and Nature has detailed hundreds of ways North American Indigenous people have through the centuries mistreated the land and animals.

That includes the way Prairie natives killed thousands of buffalo at a time, wasting their meat, sometimes just taking their tongues. It also entails recent events, such as the Inuit hunter on his snowmobile who chased 162 wolves to their deaths and B.C. aboriginals joining non-Aboriginals in overfishing.

North American aboriginals often ambivalent approach to nature also suggests itself when tribal groups erect unsightly billboards and casinos on what is supposedly “sacred” land, along with huge commercial developments, such as the new Tsawwassen mall.

Such troublesome realities, however, didn’t stop Judge Moldaver from playing the role of a religion expert when he insisted Aboriginals are unique in their firm belief physical things are sacred.

That’s unlike those who follow “Judeo-Christian faiths,” Moldaver claimed, “where the divine is considered to be supernatural.”

Thousands of religion scholars would disagree with the judge’s generalization. They might cite the Christian theology of “incarnation,” which teaches God is embedded in every natural thing, not to mention the commitment of Jews and Muslims to their holy lands.

Moldaver’s awkward attempts at theology serve as a reminder of why Canadian courts have decided never to rule on what is religiously “orthodox.”

To be fair, the dissenting judge was trying in his way to further the valuable process of reconciliation with Canada’s aboriginals.

But the majority of judges went ahead and actually did so: By clarifying that ostensibly political claims about who controls public land cannot be made on religious grounds.

via Douglas Todd: Who decides the land is ‘sacred’? | Vancouver Sun

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A quarter of Canadians think religious diversity is a bad thing

Not much new here:

Canadians are divided over whether religious diversity is healthy for the country, but they consider Islam in particular to be a negative force, a new poll has found.

In the survey, conducted the same week Quebec adopted a law prohibiting niqab-wearing women from receiving government services, 26 per cent of respondents said increasing religious diversity is a good thing while 23 per cent said it is bad. Nearly half — 44 per cent — said diversity brings a mix of good and bad; the remaining seven per cent were unsure.

When the pollsters sought respondents’ views on particular religious groups, anti-Islam sentiment stood out. Forty-six per cent of the people polled said Islam is damaging Canada compared with 13 per cent who said it is beneficial. The others either did not know (20 per cent) or said it has no real impact (21 per cent.)

The Angus Reid Institute, which conducted the poll in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, said the results are in keeping with “a well documented pattern” in recent years. “Namely, if Islam is involved, a significant segment of Canadians will react negatively,” the institute said in its analysis of the numbers.

The only other religion with an overall negative score was Sikhism, with 22 per cent calling it damaging and 13 per cent beneficial. Catholicism, Protestantism, evangelical Christianity and Judaism all had overall positive ratings.

Angus Reid, the founder and president of the institute, said he found it disheartening that Canadians are not more committed to the freedom of religion enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A slight majority — 55 per cent — of respondents said freedom of religion makes Canada a better country, while 14 per cent said the freedom makes Canada worse and 21 per cent it has no impact.

“I think the low number of Canadians who celebrate the fact that we have religious freedom is very troubling and really speaks to the forces of secularization that are at work in Canadian society,” Reid said in an interview.

He sees in the results a “potential for intolerance” toward the faithful, especially adherents of minority religions. Asked whether various groups’ influence was growing or shrinking in Canada, respondents identified Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism as growing. Canada’s more established religious groups were all seen to have a shrinking influence.

The poll is part of Faith in Canada 150, a multi-faith initiative of the think tank Cardus to highlight the role religion has played historically and continues to play in Canada.

I don’t think the people answering this poll are answering from the consequence of day-to-day experience. I think what we’re talking about is a public narrative

Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of Cardus, noted that roughly three per cent of Canadians are Muslim and less than two per cent are Sikh, so the chances of a poll respondent having a Muslim or Sikh neighbor are slim.

“I don’t think the people answering this poll are answering from the consequence of day-to-day experience. I think what we’re talking about is a public narrative,” he said.

He said it is telling that the two groups seen negatively are also those with visible religious symbols such as the hijab and turban. “Is it a discomfort with the particulars of their faith? Or is it a discomfort with the fact that they’re different than us?”

The poll asked about cases where religious practice intersects with the public sphere. There was solid opposition to the niqab — a garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire face except the eyes. Forty-nine per cent of respondents said a woman in a niqab should be prohibited from visiting a government office and 29 per cent said she should be discouraged but tolerated. Twenty-two per cent said the woman should be welcomed.

There was greater tolerance for the idea of opening a council meeting with a non-denominational prayer to God — just 25 per cent said the practice should be prohibited. Opinion was divided on whether organized religions should continue to receive special tax consideration, with 55 per cent saying yes and 45 per cent saying no.

The same split — 55 per cent yes and 45 per cent no — emerged on the question of whether a religiously affiliated nursing home should be able to refuse the practice of physician-assisted death.

via A quarter of Canadians think religious diversity is a bad thing | National Post

Sexual Assault Charges Against Islamic Scholar Divide Europe’s Muslim Communities

Reaction to the accusations against Tariq Ramadan:

Sexual assault charges targeting a prominent Islamic scholar have left many European Muslims stunned, and triggered sharply disparate reactions within the multi-faceted community, even as many fear a broader backlash.

Swiss-born theologian Tariq Ramadan took a leave of absence from teaching at Oxford University last week, following complaints of rape and assault filed by two French women and reports of similar charges in Switzerland. A statement by the university said the decision was mutual. Ramadan denies the accusations.

While some analysts say Ramadan’s star has been waning in recent years, the impact of the accusations has been immense. Especially in French-speaking countries, 55-year-old Ramadan inspired a generation of young Muslims to believe Islam and citizenship were compatible in a distinctly secular Europe. Unlike many religious clerics here, he spoke in French rather than Arabic during meetings and symposiums that were usually packed.

“I think this affair is going to lead to big changes,” said Alexandre Piettre, a specialist in Islam at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, in Paris. “He had a discourse of integration, and without it, it leaves space for political radicalism that was contained by it; those who reject public participation in the West and call for a return to Muslim countries — the Hijra — or even armed jihad.”

Double discourse?

The grandson of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan el-Banna, Ramadan has long been a polarizing figure. Critics claim he wielded a “double discourse,” hiding political Islam behind unifying rhetoric. He was temporarily banned from the U.S. under the Bush administration, a measure lifted under the Obama one.

Much of the debate surrounding him has taken place in France, where an estimated five million Muslims make up Western Europe’s biggest Islamic community.

In April, French authorities expelled Ramadan’s older brother, controversial Swiss preacher Hani Ramadan, on grounds he was a threat to public order.

The preacher also sparked outrage in 2002, by publishing an article in France’s Le Monde newspaper that supported stoning adulterers — a position condemned by his brother Tariq.

“Tariq Ramadan: double discourse or double personality?” France’s conservative Le Figaro newspaper asked last week, wondering if the “charming predator” was a sexual one as well.

Multiple accusations

The assault charges come amid a broader global outcry against sexual harassment, triggered by the Harvey Weinstein scandal that began in the United States. As the charges mounted last month, French activist and former Salafist Henda Ayari filed a police complaint accusing Ramadan of brutally raping her in a hotel room in 2012. Since then, another French woman has come forward with a similar story, according to media reports. French prosecutors are probing the accusations.

In neighboring Switzerland, a Geneva newspaper reported four young women said they had sexual relations with Ramadan as minors when he was teaching at their school — at least three of the incidents were said to be non-consensual. Media reported another rape claim in Belgium.

Meanwhile, Oxford University graduate Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi posted a blog that gave voice to an American Muslim friend, who recounted an unwanted sexual advance by Ramadan in 2013. The account echoed a pattern described by the two French women: an initial interaction with Ramadan on social media to discuss religious matters, then an eventual meeting in a hotel room because Ramadan said he did not wish to be seen in public.

“For me it’s not about his political views,” said al-Tamimi, who works for a think tank opposed to Ramadan, but says he is not part of that debate.

via Sexual Assault Charges Against Islamic Scholar Divide Europe’s Muslim Communities

Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer: Science and religion can – and should – co-exist: Peter McKnight

The most balanced commentary I have seen on the GG controversy by McKnight, a former Templeton-Cambridge fellow in science and religion at the University of Cambridge:

My horoscope warned me that I’m likely to offend everyone today, so here goes: Governor-General Julie Payette is wrong. And so are her critics.

In a speech attacking anti-scientific sentiments in society, Ms. Payette riffed on astrology and climate change skeptics and, in the interest of complete self-immolation, tackled religious belief by saying: “We are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

As many critics have charged, Ms. Payette’s language was impolitic to say the least. Her incredulous “oh my goodness” suggests she’s shocked – shocked, I tell you – that anyone might think God had something to do with life. But I’ll leave it to others to discuss the proper decorum for a governor-general.

I’d rather discuss science and religion. And on the former subject, I’m not even sure of what science Ms. Payette was referring to. That “random process” business sounds like evolution by natural selection, which, as any biologist can tell you, is as well confirmed as any scientific theory.

Or perhaps she was referencing the origin of life, which is the province of abiogenesis, not natural selection. And as any biologist can also tell you, abiogenesis is not nearly a settled matter.

But here’s the rub: As scientists work on abiogenesis or any other scientific theory, they won’t appeal to divine intervention – because they can’t. Science, as the study of the natural world, permits consideration only of natural causes – causes involving matter, energy and their interaction. Scientists must therefore resist any appeal to supernatural causes, be they God, karma or voodoo.

This approach, known as methodological naturalism, has proven tremendously successful, allowing us to predict and control much of the natural world. But it doesn’t mean that supernatural causes don’t exist; it only means that science must, by its own choosing, remain silent about the supernatural.

And indeed, many scientists who are faithful to the methodological naturalist approach are also faithful to God, because they recognize that the supernatural lies beyond science, that when science tries to squeeze God out of the equation, it is overstepping its bounds. This, it seems, is Ms. Payette’s faux pas: She may know a lot about science, but she evidently doesn’t know where science ends.

That’s only half the story. Ms. Payette’s critics make the same mistake, from the other side. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, for example, spoke of “faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion” and opined that “respect for diversity includes respect for the diversity of religious beliefs.”

Now where to begin with that? How about here: Mr. Scheer is effectively equating respect for people with respect for opinions. That’s more than a little ironic coming from a conservative: Remember when the left was rightly ridiculed for promoting exactly this sentiment – “viewpoint discrimination” – which means we must accept all opinions as equal?

But more to the point, if religion is going to use its theories to explain the natural world – to overstep its bounds and compete with science on its own turf – then it ought to be criticized, for criticism is essential to science. Unfortunately, though, if the United States is any example, the prohibition on viewpoint discrimination has taken hold. So we see “religious freedom” laws that demand equal time for evolution and creationism in science classes. After all, these are two opinions about the nature of life, and all opinions are equal, right?

Religious freedom laws are, of course, disastrous for science. But the attempt to compete with science on its own turf, the failure to recognize where religion ends, is also detrimental to religion: It presents an impoverished view of God, one where the divine becomes part of nature rather than something transcendent, something beyond the natural world. And worse, it draws religion away from the big questions that lie beyond science, the moral and metaphysical questions that have preoccupied the religious for millennia.

Rather than engaging in turf wars, as Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer seem destined to do, perhaps we should consider how science and religion can co-exist and, indeed, complement each other. Science, after all, teaches us about the nature of life, about what we are and how we came to be, while religion teaches us about the nature of living, about who we are and how we ought to behave. And we need both. In their rightful places.

via Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer: Science and religion can – and should – co-exist – The Globe and Mail

How Newfoundlanders are taking a remarkable stand against Islamophobia

Interesting vignette:

Islamophobia haunts the nation, slinking into hearts and minds and laws, and some say if we could just learn from the ethnic diversity of Newfoundland—Newfoundland?—we could become more tolerant, too.

“We wanted to present Newfoundland as a role model,” says Mahmoud Haddara, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, who feels he lives on an anomalous island of peace. “This is what we wanted to tell, the story of Newfoundland.”

Haddara flew to Ottawa in October to testify before the standing committee on systemic racism and religious discrimination, part of the federal government’s attempt to stem bigotry. While Quebec’s Bill 62 proposes to ban people wearing face coverings from using public services, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have instead stood in solidarity with Muslims who live in villages as remote as Nain. They have become so curious about Islam that the one-mosque province must move its overflowing holiday prayers into a hockey arena. Hate crimes still happen, but when other provinces wonder how to promote interfaith understanding, the answer may be blowing in the brisk, Atlantic wind.

“We don’t want this bubble to be contaminated,” says Ayse Akinturk, a colleague of Haddara. “Our only worry is how long are we going to be able to preserve this beautiful experience, whether [or not] it will be spoiled by the outsider negative experience.”

The 3,000 Muslims in the province say they are the only congregation in North America to include both Sunnis and Shias, the two largest sects of Islam. In 1990, St. John’s simply didn’t have the Muslim population to support two mosques, so they created a uniquely diverse hub on Logy Bay Road, where neighbours include a carpet factory and a liquor store.

“I was reared up by my grandparents pretty good,” Ashley Smith of Norman’s Cove told CBC when the local station did an entire series on Islam in the province. Smith has converted to Islam and wears a hijab; and though she still cooks a traditional Jiggs’ dinner, and fish and brewis, she said after her conversion, “I finally feel at peace.”

Muslim immigrants are some of the best-educated citizens in the province. They serve as much-needed doctors in rural areas, engineers for oil rigs, and teachers. Although some Muslims arrived in the 1960s, immigration increased when Newfoundland ended its denominational school system in 1998, the last province to do so. There are now Muslims in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador City, Nain—“they are everywhere,” says Haddara. The RCMP in St. John’s has requested Islam 101 sessions from the Muslim association, which also considers itself a friend of the clergy.

On 9/11, Newfoundland refreshed its code of hospitality as the town of Gander hosted about 6,200 airline passengers from around the world. And when six worshippers were shot and killed in Quebec last year, Newfoundlanders created a human shield around their own mosque in solidarity. “We were praying inside, and all these 1,500 Newfoundlanders were surrounding the mosque and waiting until our prayer was over,” recalls Haddara. “We live in complete confidence and harmony with each other.”

However, the mosque recently received $46,000 from the government for requested security equipment, including surveillance cameras, and research by Jennifer Selby*, an associate professor of religious studies at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, has documented hate crimes including graffiti of racist slurs. Islamophobia does exist.

“We see many narratives of positive navigation and negotiation related to religious difference,” says Selby. “At the same time, micro-aggressions are pervasive and we must become more attuned to the institutional and structural Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racisms within daily life” in Newfoundland and Labrador. There is also discrimination in employment in St. John’s, she notes.

The province is still 97 per cent white and 90 per cent Christian. Among the Muslims Selby talked to, one student from Kuwait was referred to as  “Osama,” and said a professor assumed he would be a devout Muslim and arranged a prayer room for him. Another person arrived for dinner at a local’s house and was served bacon bits.

Locals have also complained that Muslim refugees are draining resources, although one refugee, 14-year-old Mohammad Maarouf, reports an unwavering welcome. He spends time with his friend Connor and by the sea: “We catch herring and catfish and sometimes we catch something called sturgeon,” he says.

Muslims in Newfoundland are not excluded from the tradition of getting screeched in. Instead of drinking rum, Haddara explains, they kiss the obligatory fish, paired with a glass of apple or orange juice.

via Macleans

More than half of Canada’s Jews are missing: Robert Brym

My understanding of the Census methodology is that the examples chosen for ethnic origin reflect the top 20 single responses in the previous census with the exception of  specific groups being used instead of “North American Indian.” Moreover, new groups are added that represent representing recent immigrants (e.g., Iranian). So Jewish dropped off the examples, explaining the drop in responses (in general, people respond to a specific prompt more than an open-ended one).

Arguably, the religious affiliation question, rather than being asked ever 10 years at present, should become part of regular Census given the increased importance of religious diversity in Canada:

Many Canadians recall what happened when the former Harper government cancelled the compulsory 2011 census and replaced it with the voluntary 2011 National Household Survey (NHS). The head of Statistics Canada resigned in protest. Ethnic, business, health, social service, academic and other organizations protested. As feared, low-income and Indigenous Canadians were underrepresented in the NHS. Data from some census districts in Saskatchewan were never reported because the response rate was so low it rendered the data unreliable.

All was supposed to return to normal when the Trudeau government came to power. Just one day after taking office, it announced that the 2016 census would revert to its traditional, compulsory form, once again providing Canadians with reliable data about their economic, demographic, housing and ethnic status. But at least one category of the population – Canada’s Jews – may be miffed to learn that more than half their number went missing between 2011 and 2016. Statistics Canada reported this “fact” in a recent 2016 census release.

The 2011 NHS reported 309,650 Canadian Jews by ethnic ancestry, which is believable because it is in line with 2006 census data. In contrast, the 2016 census reports just 143,665 Jews by ethnic ancestry – a decline of nearly 54 per cent in five years. That number defies reason.

The problem is that Statistics Canada mucked around with the wording of its ethnic question in a way that renders at least one of its findings highly suspect. In 2011 and 2016, respondents were asked about the “ethnic or cultural origins” of their ancestors. On both occasions they were asked to “specify as many origins as applicable.” On both occasions they were presented with 28 examples of ethnic or cultural origins. But only in 2011 was one of the examples “Jewish.”

In the 2016 census, all of the suggested responses are national or Indigenous groups. But Jews are neither. They are a cultural group, members of which come from many nations. Accordingly, it seems that the responses suggested by Statistics Canada in 2016 led many Canadian Jews to indicate their ethnic or cultural origin as Canadian or Polish or Tunisian or French, not Jewish. And so more than half the Jewish population was not counted.

Of course, no survey is perfect. The purveyors of the Canadian census may be excused for reporting that in 1971 the language most often spoken at home by 25 members of the “Indian and Eskimo” group was Yiddish. (Another 25 reported Chinese and fully 125 reported Gaelic and Welsh.) But it is unacceptable when more than half of a sizable cultural group suddenly disappears because of poorly thought-through question-wording.

No one could reasonably suggest that more than half of Canada’s Jews were removed from the census intentionally. However, the Jewish community has every right to be upset that its educational and social-service planning will be imperilled by the vagaries of Statistics Canada’s work and that the community is less likely to be recognized for its contribution to Canadian society now that its numbers have dropped so precipitously in the official population count.

Source: More than half of Canada’s Jews are missing – The Globe and Mail

Can Canadians learn from world’s largest Muslim country? Douglas Todd

Todd reflects on his recent visit to Indonesia and possible implications for Canada (one could argue that there may be similar risks with regard to more fundamentalist Christians, whether immigrants or not):

When Canadians think about the Islamic world, they tend to focus on quasi-dictatorships in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran.

But the world’s most populous Muslim nation is actually Indonesia.

This equatorial Southeast Asian country is home to 260 million people, 87 per cent of whom are Sunni Muslims.

It’s been a democracy for two decades, a rarity among Muslim-majority countries.

Canada is a much different country, obviously. Our nation is predominantly Christian, increasingly non-religious, and has been a democracy for at least 150 years.

Indonesia, nevertheless, has surprising similarities to Canada, particularly in the way its moderate Muslim community leaders express commitment to values such as pluralism.

Surprisingly, the Muslim-majority country’s centuries-old motto is: “Unity in diversity,” which sounds a lot like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s go-to slogan: “Diversity is our strength.”

I recently attended a conference of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) in Jakarta, the world’s second-largest metropolitan region.

I was struck by how many times journalists, professors, top Muslim leaders and politicians used words like tolerance, diversity, multiculturalism and interfaith dialogue.

They do so for a reason: Indonesia is at a crossroads.

Its young democracy is increasingly fragile, threatened by rising intolerance and Muslim extremists, particularly those from the authoritarian Middle East.

I lost count of how many times speakers at the conference referred, in an almost casual way, to Indonesian “riots,” largely organized by Muslim radicals, some of which led to killings.

Indonesian journalists who write about religion repeatedly talked about being harassed, threatened, ostracized and having to deal with Muslim-led boycotts.

Journalists from other Muslim-majority countries, like Pakistan and Malaysia, also described backlashes when they tried to write stories about their countries’ laws, which forbid criticizing Islam and treat sodomy as a crime.

The most recent case of mushrooming extremism in Indonesia centres on the once-popular former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian.

Purnama is now in jail after his political opponents’ trumped-up a charge that he blasphemed Islam, merely by saying the Qur’an allows people to vote for non-Muslims.

With moderate politicians living in trepidation of such illiberal Islamists, the latter are taking advantage of democratic freedoms to magnify their power.

Islamists have successfully brought in sharia law in regions of Indonesia, influenced in part by ultra-conservative Muslims from the Middle East.

Scores of drug dealers are being shot on sight. Hardliners in some regions have totally prohibited alcohol, restricted women’s dress, and are punishing homosexuals, adulterers and those who date outside marriage, with whippings.

As these grim examples illustrate, compared to Canada, the stakes are much higher for moderates in countries like Indonesia when they profess a commitment to such things as diversity and pluralism.

Canadians could learn from the courageous Indonesians willing to defend such values, including democracy and cultural sovereignty, from outside religious forces.

Most Canadians take democratic freedoms for granted — in contrast to moderates in Indonesia, like Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi.

She told the IARJ conference: “For a diverse country like Indonesia, harmony is a must, otherwise it cannot survive.”

The increasing power of extremists, external and internal, has also led the leader of the moderate Muslim socio-religious group, Muhammadiyah, which has 30 million members, to call on Indonesians to wake up.

“Moderate Muslims are too quiet. We have to become radical moderates,” Abdul Mu’ti, Muhammadiyah’s secretary-general, told conference delegates. “Moderate Muslims have been sleeping. We have kept silent. We have become lazy tolerant.”

Likewise, a founder of The Wahid Institute for democracy, Yenny Wahid (daughter of Indonesia’s former president), urged Muslims to stop ignoring religious extremists, since acquiescence has given them a bigger platform.

“You have to fight back. You have to defend your own boundaries,” Wahid said.

The immense political power held by religious organizations in Indonesia is largely unfamiliar to Canadians.

English-speaking Canada’s once-predominant mainline Protestants have given up a lot of their influence, particularly in the past 50 years.

Noted religion historian Mark Noll says when Canada’s Protestants, and to some extent Catholics, welcomed multiculturalism and pluralism in the 1970s, they eroded their own influence. These denominations are now minor players on the national scene.

And even though Canadian evangelicals tried, mostly through stealth, to shape federal policy during the heyday of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, they largely didn’t succeed.

Minority religions in Canada — Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus — are now growing faster than Christian denominations.

But they are still relatively small. Muslims make up eight per cent, for instance, of Toronto residents, while Sikhs comprise a roughly equal portion of Metro Vancouver’s population.

As SFU political scientist Sanjay Jeram makes clear, Canadian politicians constantly woo such urban religious groups. But, because they are not majorities, they don’t have the same broad power to sway politics as Muslim groups do in Indonesia.

There is a frank discussion to be had some day over whether hard-line religious organizations, strengthened by their separate schools, may ever really pose a risk to Canada’s democratic values.

There is little doubt many immigrants arrive with more patriarchal practices than domestic Canadians. Polls show religious immigrants generally have a higher aversion to intermarriage and are more critical of abortion and homosexuality.

But the more immediate threat to Canadian democracy, and Canadian values such as equality and fairness, currently has less to do with religion and much more to do with economics.

Witness the housing affordability crises in Metro Vancouver and Toronto. As a result of the globalization of capital and labour, and the anything-goes attitudes of Canadian politicians, locals in these major cities have been priced out of their own housing markets.

Are Canadians prepared to defend their democratic values, including the principle of economic justice? Are Canadians willing to take a stand to protect citizens from trans-national capital and property speculators, domestic and foreign?

Or, as Abdul Mu’ti warns Indonesians, are Canadians instead going to be passive in the face of such threats, the ultimate practitioners of “lazy tolerance”?

Source: Can Canadians learn from world’s largest Muslim country? | Vancouver Sun

Catholic school sex education plan won’t be taught if it arrives as advertised: Notley

After Ontario, now Alberta has the sex education battles:

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says an alternative sex education curriculum being crafted by Catholic school officials will never be taught if it arrives as previously advertised.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Notley says the health and well-being of students comes first.

“Nowhere do the rights of religious freedom extend to that person’s right to somehow attack or hurt others – and that’s what’s happening here,” Notley said Tuesday. “We will not use public dollars to have sexual health programs that deny science, that deny evidence, and that deny human rights.

“They can continue to work on (the proposal) all they want, but we ultimately approve the curriculum that goes into schools – and this kind of curriculum will not happen.”

Karl Germann, president of the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta, could not be reached for comment.

The Alberta government is currently rewriting teaching plans across the board for kindergarten to Grade 12.

Catholic school superintendents are crafting an alternative sex education curriculum that they want the province to approve for their schools.

They say the government’s teaching plan clashes with faith-based instruction by including, among other topics, homosexual relationships and gender identity different from one’s biological sex.

In documents filed with the province, the superintendents also take issue with sexual consent by a partner in marriage. They say it is only one of many factors to be considered along with morality, family and wellness.

Notley said consent is paramount and there is no debate.

“Consent is the law in Alberta and under no circumstances will any child in Alberta be taught that they have to somehow accept illegal behaviour in a sexual relationship. The end.”

Notley said her government respects the role of parental choice in education.

“Parents have the right – and they have had the right for a very, very long time – to pull their kids from curriculum and education around sexual health. And they will continue to have that right,” she said.

“But under no circumstances will we enforce or condone a sexual health curriculum that normalizes an absence of consent, refuses to talk about contraception and other things that protect the health of sexually active young people, or in any way marginalizes sexual minorities. That’s not on.”

Education Minister David Eggen echoed Notley’s remarks, particularly around consent.

“There’s no (room for) negotiation for that, I can tell you,” Eggen said in Calgary Tuesday. “Teaching consent is a basic health and safety issue for students in regards to sexuality, and it needs to be strengthened if anything.”

Notley’s government plans to introduce legislation in the fall legislature sitting to strengthen protections for minority students.

It would compel all schools that receive public money to establish anti-discrimination codes of conduct, adopt policies to protect LGBTQ students, and to affirm students’ legal right to set up gay-straight alliances.

Eggen has said many schools have been working with the province on such rules, but 20 of them, mostly private institutions, have been resisting.

Private schools get 70 per cent of their funding from the government.

Eggen has said the bill is also aimed at blunting a proposal from United Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney that school officials tell parents when their children join a gay-straight alliance, so long as it doesn’t bring harm to the youngster.

Advocates say there is no way to be sure that a child wouldn’t be ostracized or face harm. Eggen said the legislation will make it clear the decision remains with the student.

Source: Catholic school sex education plan won’t be taught if it arrives as advertised: Notley – The Globe and Mail

I will return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam, says crown prince | World news | The Guardian

An ambitious cultural transformation. Long needed but hard to underestimate the likely resistance to change among some. And unclear whether it will extend to their promotion of Salafism/Wahabism abroad.

The reference to a return to “moderate Islam” is somewhat questionable; when I lived there, about 30 years ago, it was anything but moderate and the mutawa (religious police) had a pretty free hand:

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has vowed to return the country to “moderate Islam” and asked for global support to transform the hardline kingdom into an open society that empowers citizens and lures investors.

In an interview with the Guardian, the powerful heir to the Saudi throne said the ultra-conservative state had been “not normal” for the past 30 years, blaming rigid doctrines that have governed society in a reaction to the Iranian revolution, which successive leaders “didn’t know how to deal with”.

Expanding on comments he made at an investment conference at which he announced the launch of an ambitious $500bn (£381bn) independent economic zone straddling Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, Prince Mohammed said: “We are a G20 country. One of the biggest world economies. We’re in the middle of three continents. Changing Saudi Arabia for the better means helping the region and changing the world. So this is what we are trying to do here. And we hope we get support from everyone.

“What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.”

Earlier Prince Mohammed had said: “We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. 70% of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately.”

The crown prince’s comments are the most emphatic he has made during a six-month reform programme that has tabled cultural reforms and economic incentives unimaginable during recent decades, during which the kingdom has been accused of promoting a brand of Islam that underwrote extremism.

The comments were made as the heir of the incumbent monarch moves to consolidate his authority, sidelining clerics whom he believes have failed to support him and demanding unquestioning loyalty from senior officials whom he has entrusted to drive a 15-year reform programme that aims to overhaul most aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.

Central to the reforms has been the breaking of an alliance between hardline clerics who have long defined the national character and the House of Saud, which has run affairs of state. The changes have tackled head-on societal taboos such as the recently rescinded ban on women driving, as well as scaling back guardianship laws that restrict women’s roles and establishing an Islamic centre tasked with certifying the sayings of the prophet Muhammed.

The scale and scope of the reforms has been unprecedented in the country’s modern history and concerns remain that a deeply conservative base will oppose what is effectively a cultural revolution – and that the kingdom lacks the capacity to follow through on its economic ambitions.

The new economic zone is to be established on 470km of the Red Sea coast, in a tourist area that has already been earmarked as a liberal hub akin to Dubai, where male and female bathers are free to mingle.

It has been unveiled as the centrepiece of efforts to turn the kingdom away from a near total dependence on oil and into a diverse open economy. Obstacles remain: an entrenched poor work ethic, a crippling regulatory environment and a general reluctance to change.

“Economic transformation is important but equally essential is social transformation,” said one of the country’s leading businessmen. “You cannot achieve one without the other. The speed of social transformation is key. It has to be manageable.”

Alcohol, cinemas and theatres are still banned in the kingdom and mingling between unrelated men and women remains frowned upon. However Saudi Arabia – an absolute monarchy – has clipped the wings of the once-feared religious police, who no longer have powers to arrest and are seen to be falling in line with the new regime.

Economically Saudi Arabia will need huge resources if it is to succeed in putting its economy on a new footing and its leadership believes it will fail to generate strategic investments if it does not also table broad social reforms.

Prince Mohammed had repeatedly insisted that without establishing a new social contract between citizen and state, economic rehabilitation would fail. “This is about giving kids a social life,” said a senior Saudi royal figure. “Entertainment needs to be an option for them. They are bored and resentful. A woman needs to be able to drive herself to work. Without that we are all doomed. Everyone knows that – except the people in small towns. But they will learn.”

In the next 10 years, at least five million Saudis are likely to enter the country’s workforce, posing a huge problem for officials who currently do not have jobs to offer them or tangible plans to generate employment.

The economic zone is due to be completed by 2025 – five years before the current cap on the reform programme – and is to be powered by wind and solar energy, according to its founders.

The country’s enormous sovereign wealth fund is intended to be a key backer of the independent zone. It currently has $230bn under management. The sale of 5% of the world’s largest company, Aramco, is expected to raise several hundred billion dollars more.

Source: I will return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam, says crown prince | World news | The Guardian

A third of Switzerland’s population mistrusts Islam, according to survey

Some interesting data:

The survey, which questioned 3,000 people across Switzerland, was designed to take the pulse of multicultural coexistence in Switzerland, a nation which is home to people of more than 190 nationalities and more than 10 religious groups. The survey covered permanent residents in Switzerland and wasn’t confined to Swiss nationals.

Overall, 36% said they could be bothered by the presence of people of a different nationality, religion, skin colour, language, or lifestyle.

At the same time, 66% recognized racism as an important social problem.

On a daily basis, foreign languages bothered those surveyed more than race, nationality or religion. Differences in nationality or skin colour bothered 6% of those surveyed, compared to 10% for religion and 12% for language. These annoyances were felt most in professional life.

Beyond annoyance, 14% claimed to be fearful of foreigners. Fear wasn’t reserved exclusively for foreigners. 4% were afraid of Swiss.

When questioned regarding religion, Muslims were viewed most negatively. 14% voiced hostility towards Muslims, compared to 8% towards Jews.

The survey made an important distinction between Islam and its followers. The percentage mistrusting Islam, as opposed to followers of the religion, was 33%, a figure far higher than the 14% voicing hostility towards Muslims.

The survey also questioned those on the receiving end of discrimination. In 2016, 27% of the population said they had experienced discrimination over the last five years. Among this group, 54% said the discrimination was based on nationality, particularly when job hunting.

Source: A third of Switzerland’s population mistrusts Islam, according to survey