Faisal Saeed Al Mutar founded the Global Secular Humanist Movement and Ideas Beyond Borders. He is an Iraqi refugee, satirist, and human rights activist. He is also a columnist for Free Inquiry. Here, we start a series together about Canadian culture.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, when you look at the landscape of Canadian culture, you can notice certain trends, especially if you’re someone who travels in the speaking engagement circuit, as you do, as an Iraqi refugee, and as a non-religious person speaking on irreligious issues. What do you notice as some big takeaways from all of that speaking and traveling and seeing Canadian culture?
Faisal Saeed Al Mutar: My experience has been pretty great. At the same time, I don’t see much difference between Canadian and American culture. I know Toronto and Vancouver. They are very close to the coastal United States in this regard.
From what I observed, there are some forms of frustrations in Toronto that I’m hearing from at least the ex-Muslim community who are seeing a rise of conservative Islam in Toronto. They are seeing more and more women wearing Niqab and covered from head to toe.
An Iranian friend of mine mentioned that she is getting a lot of catcalls from a lot of people that came to Toronto from the Middle East, recently. She feels that she has to censor herself in front of some of these folks.
I saw this mostly in Toronto. I didn’t see it in Vancouver. I think Vancouver has a lot of immigration from Hong Kong or East Asia, and less from the Middle East, but in Toronto, you have Mississauga with a significant Pakistani and Indian population.
Then Toronto has Syrian refugees that came in, recently. Obviously, these are questions that are very complication. I am supportive as a refugee. What makes Canada and America and others great is that we stand for universal human rights by supporting some of these refugees, there is a paradox there.
Some refugees may stand against universal human values and freedom of thought. I am noticing some of that in Toronto more than in most American cities, except two. One is Dearborn, Michigan, which is East of Michigan. It is close to Detroit and Detroit is close to Canada.
The other one is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can see a significant Somali community. Some of them have joined Al Shabab. These are some of the negative things I have witnessed in Canada. As for the positive things, I think it is a great country and I am always happy to be back.
Jacobsen: What do you notice about the younger population, especially in religious affiliation?
Al Mutar: I think it is the same as many other Western countries. I think with the older generations in Canada. They tend to be less conversant than the United States. They are weaker in Canada. The Christian Right in Canada is less active than the Christian Right in America. So, there is less of theocratic movement.
There is less of a theocratic movement. The Conservative Party and others tend to be different than the Republican Party in the United States to some extent. I think many of the younger people tend to be more secular and secular in the sense that they support separation of church and state and live for the most part a non-religious life.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faisal.