Saturday’s post on the protest in Mississauga over the PDSB’s accommodation of student-led Friday prayer generated a lot of comments and has since been reported in more detail in the media. The reader comments included information, misinformation and some lack of civility.
The Toronto Star has done some reporting on Saturday’s protest, giving us the confirmation that “Canada First” put the protest together. CTV has also reported on it. However, the majority of the protesters were associated with the Canadian Hindu Advocacy group led by Ron Banerjee, who was also in attendance. The Star described his group as “militantly anti-Muslim” back in 2012 when they were criticized for screening The Innocence of Muslims. Rise Canada (led by the Quran-waving Sandra Solomon at the PDSB board meeting reported here previously) also supported it; they’ve posted a video of the protest featuring Kevin Johnson and Ron Banerjee:
Mr. Johnson (head of an earlier “Stop the Mosque” campaign in Mississauga) says he intends to run for Mayor in 2018. Good luck with that. And, according to Rise Canada‘s reference, it seems that “Canada First” may just be a re-branding of Canadian Hindu Advocacy and not associated with the racist “Canada First Immigration Reform Committee.”
Still, in all the commentary I have yet to hear any good argument for how the 20 minutes of kids getting together to pray among themselves is causing any measurable hardship or problem. These groups protesting have already explicitly proven that they are only anti-Muslim but pretend here to be reasoned secularists. The school principals have all said that it is not a disturbance, the students are respectful and that it hasn’t caused any trouble whatsoever (as it stands in Peel Region.)
It is absolutely possible to be non-bigoted and allow people their freedoms under the Charter, and at the same time criticize ideas and aspects (e.g. forced gender segregation, religious handouts at public school, the Catholic school system) if they are found to be happening. You don’t have to hassle a bunch of kids doing something non-violent on their own for a few minutes when it has no bearing on your own children’s academics. Those of us on the Left have to work harder to express our criticism of religion as distinct from Right-wing bigots who borrow the same arguments for non-Humanistic ends.
Eiynah’s (@NiceMangos) recent podcast episode was some timely inspiration for this post. Listen to The Complexity of Critiquing Islam Under Trump: Distinguishing between liberals & illiberals from Polite Conversations. It’s only a dozen minutes but really captures what she has said many times. I don’t listen to the specific people she calls out, but the rest is gold and has confirmed for me that it’s worth making the effort to try and be clear and to distinguish one’s position as being against bigotry towards Muslims but open to rational criticism of religion or particular cultural practices.
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It’s just mind-boggling when you hear reformist Muslims and Ex-Muslims who are fiercely advocating against bigotry accused of being both Islamophobic and secret Islamists at the same time, by opposite sides. This is entirely different from Ex-Muslims such as Sandra Solomon who come to the discussion shouting at any and all Muslims in Canada as though they are all identical to those in Saudi Arabia.