American and British Islam are dominated by extremists, but Canadian Islam is "different, in a promising and heartening way." So argues Stephen Schwartz of the Center for Islamic Pluralism in "Canada is Different, Even in Its Muslims." That's because "Canadian Muslims are engaged in a debate about their future, which offers an immense contrast" with the situations in the United States and United Kingdom.
The diversity and pluralism one finds in Canada's English-speaking provinces results from two main factors, he writes: "immigration by heterodox Shia Muslims from east Africa, including groups known as Khojas and Bohras, who despise extremism and adjust easily to Canadian life"; and Canada's energy independence, which means it has "no incentive to truckle to Saudi Arabia."
In French-speaking Québec, another factor predominates. Muslims there must contend with
the reality of the Québécois independence movement. The Québécois feel their culture is threatened by their historic rulers, the Anglo-Canadians. For the Québécois, "accommodation" to other minorities – the term the Québécois prefer to "multiculturalism" – has an ambiguous legitimacy; they insistently define their society as Catholic and French-speaking, first and foremost.
Schwartz sees here a lesson that other small cultures and countries (he mentions the Netherlands and Denmark by name) can learn from. In Québéc,
Anglo-Canadians and Québécois, Catholics and Jews, Canadian Muslims and non-Muslims, Sunnis and Shias, are now compelled to argue the meaning of reasonable accommodation of minorities. But at least the condition of Islam is being argued, and silence cannot be imposed as in the U.S. and England. This is a necessary step toward the triumph of Islamic pluralism, and one which no moderate Muslim should fear. Canada is indeed different, and may offer hope for other non-Muslim societies contending with the challenge of immigrant and radical Islam.
Comment: I agree that Canadian Islam is healthier than its counterparts elsewhere in the West. Toronto is the city with the per-capita highest number of free-thinking Muslims, the country has a sizeable number of pro-Israel Muslims, Muslims led the successful effort to combat application of the Shari‘a in Ontario, an Islamist informed on the Toronto 17, and the Hérouxville code of conduct breaks new ground. It is good to have this first cut at an explanation why that is so. (February 14, 2007)
May 29, 2007 update: Add this to the list: Muslims shouted down a visiting emissary from the Islamic Republic of Iran at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario. at a public meeting, "Two Peoples, Two Faiths in Dialogue," part of a on-going nine-year-long "peace-building" project between the Mennonite Central Committee and the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom. The details, as reported by the local paper, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record:
Dozens of irate protesters yelling "shame," "murderers" and "terrorists" shouted down a Waterloo meeting last night. … The protesters, Iranians and Afghans from the Greater Toronto Area, stayed mostly silent during the opening prayers. They shuffled around and held aloft a gruesome photo gallery of torture victims, hangings and firing squad executions they say were taken in Iran. But less than a minute into a talk by a Shiite Muslim cleric from the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom, Iran, the barrage of shouts erupted. One by one at first, then hitting a crescendo of chanting "Down with the Islamic Republic of Iran!"
Rev. Brice Balmer, moderator of the meeting tried to calm the loud crowd. "This is a religious conference," he pleaded. But it was to no avail. The verbal salvos kept flying from around the room while more than 100 people in the audience calmly waited for the meeting to continue. After about 10 minutes, and some failed attempts to negotiate for the protesters to have their say, organizers called off the meeting. Members of the panel rose from their table on the stage and headed for a side door—the cat-calls turned into cheers. "We made our point" said Rahmen Nejati, one of the more vocal protesters. "They are not welcome in Canada." …
Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, head of the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Qom.
The conference has drawn criticism from groups and individuals who vehemently oppose contacts with the [Imam Khomeini Education and Research] institute because it's director, Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, is considered to be an anti-democratic, ultra-conservative cleric who promotes human rights violations in Iran. Yazdi is reputed to be the lead spiritual adviser to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has outraged many people by calling the Holocaust a myth and declaring that Israel must be wiped off the map. … Nejati, one of the protesters said the Iranian clerics don't deserve to have free speech because their ideology supports terrorism.