Sunday, April 30, 2017

Peel school secularism protests may have hidden religious element

In the district of Peel, just northwest of Toronto, the spectre of religious, even racial, factionalism appears to be rearing its ugly head, although perhaps not in its usual guise.
A series of small demonstrations in support of secularism in the Peel education system, a cause that I am all in favour of myself, is bringing with it an odour of religious intolerance. The protesters are, quite rightly, complaining about the Peel school board's recent decision to allow Muslims to perform their Friday prayers (or jummah) in schools, arguing that such excessive religious accommodation is misplaced, and that schools should be kept as wholly secular institutions.
That is all well and good, but some of the protests have become more overtly anti-Muslim (as opposed to pro-secular), resulting in some anti-Muslim remarks and even, at one point, the tearing up and stomping on of a copy of the Koran and a YouTube offer of a cash reward for evidence of Muslim students using hate speech in their Friday prayers.
More than half of the population of Peel is South Asian, and the region hosts the fastest-growing Muslim population in Canada (an estimated 12% of Canada's total Muslim population lives there). And, interestingly, now that the minority population has become a majority, it is beginning to splinter and divide, and identity politics are beginning to take hold - even here in multicultural Canada, where such prejudices are largely absent.
For example, it is apparent that the school board protesters are overwhelmingly Indian and Hindu. They represent small and earnest-sounding protest organizations like Concerned Parents of Canada (CPC), Religion Out Of Public Schools (ROOPS), and Keep Religion Out Of Our Public Schools (KROOOPS). But there is also an element of Hindu demagoguery in some of these groups, and more particularly in the Rise Canada organization, which is also involved, and many of the participants are unashamed supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist revival. Such movements have apparently established themselves in the United States and in Britain, although this is the first I have heard of them here in Canada.
Despite the ostensibly reasonable, democratic and secularist concerns of these protest groups, and their stress on Canadian values and freedoms, there is at times a distinct anti-Islam undertone to them, which is both disturbing and unwelcome.

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