Will Canada entice us to embrace liberal secularism?

Canada photo

Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau  personally welcome Syrian  refugees

via his Twitter’s account

This weekend, Canada has dominated my timelines on both Facebook and Twitter. The images of the Canadian PM warmly welcoming Syrian refugees arriving in his country are rightly shared and praised by many in the Arab world. Amidst conflicts, terrorism, and bigotry, Canada is standing as shining example of morality, human rights, and empathy, demonstrating that a secular, non-Muslim nation can welcome Muslims with a confidence unshaken by the politics of fear. Many in the Arab world urge and hope other Western nations will follow the Canadian example. But questions remain: Can the Canadian model be inspiring to those who praised it and celebrate it in the Muslim world? Will Canada entice us to embrace liberal secularism?

For decades, secularism has been considered a dirty word in the Arab world. Many view any separation of political, legal institutions, and religion as a dangerous threat to our nations. “Secular” has become an insult that can ruin political careers, as it has become synonymous with “anti-religion” autocracies. Examples like Ataturk in Turkey or Ben-Ali in Tunisia have repeatedly been framed as examples of how bad and oppressive secularism is.

Advocates for such claims blur the difference among oppressive, autocratic, and liberal secularism. Yet Canada has offered us a shining example of enlightened example that applies secularism’s basic tenets of equality and diversity, and reject the growing politics of fear in its neighbor America. Canadian secularism has protected, not suppressed, faith. One Quebec study found that even in this golden age of secularism, the vast majority of Canadians count themselves as members of a religion.

In contrast, throughout the 20th century, the Muslim world has failed to reconcile Islam with secular modernity. As a result, we have failed to produce any successful Muslim version of pluralism that allows all ethnic and religious sects to live together in harmony in our society. Many had high hopes that the Arab spring would heal the rifts between various Islamists and non-Islamist Muslims, but the current unfolding tragedies in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Egypt have dashed those hopes altogether.

Some, mainly within the Islamist camp, describe Canada’s open-door policy towards refugees as a humanitarian perspective that is irrelevant to the country’s secular system. However, this perception is inaccurate. Canada has gone a step further. Canadians’ “welcome to Canada” package for Muslims did not simply offer an indifferent shelter to a group of strangers; Canada is ultimately seeking to make the Muslims feel at home. In this video, Canadian children sang an Islamic song, “Talaa el Badr Alayna,” which was sung when the Prophet Mohamed arrived in Medinah. Can the Islamist camp reciprocate and let their children to sing a Christian song to welcome Christian (not to mention Hindu or atheist) refugees in their societies? Assuming, of course, that a religiously ruled country would welcome non-Muslim refugees to settle and practice their religions in the land of Islam.

Canadians who sang this song core to the Islamic religion did not do so out of a desire to convert to Islam or abandon Christianity; they did it as a welcoming gesture and with the immense confidence in themselves and their own faith that would not be shaken by singing a song from another faith. Liberal secularism, which respects all faiths without allowing any of them to dominate, is what ____ in my opinion_____ gave the families of those children the confidence to share and welcome others.

I hope my fellow Arabs who praised Canada’s Justin Trudeau for welcoming Syrian refugees stand up and advocate for secularism in their native countries. We cannot praise Trudeau when it suits us but reject his beliefs and policies of equality and diversity when it is not convenient; seek refuge in the secular West while advocating selectivity and inequality in our homeland; or reject the growing politics of fear in some Western countries, but embrace it in our societies. If we are truly impressed by Canada, then we should try to reflect and learn something from this graceful nation.



About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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