Which Party is Best for Muslims?
That Canadian Muslims are a divided and pluralistic community is no secret to anyone by now. There are a multitude of different ethnicities, sects, and nationalities that also break down along political lines, depending on what the issue is. The tendency to talk about the “Muslim vote” often groups the community into a singular bloc with the same set of social and political interests, thus failing to account for the serious differences between Muslims of all sorts.
Yet the biggest culprit when it comes to falsely homogenizing the Muslim community has, quite frankly, been the incumbent administration itself. It’s become common political practice for advocates of sweeping security and immigration laws within the current government to paint Muslims with a singular brush, and the resulting picture has never been pretty. How much of a role this reality will play in this month’s general election remains to be seen, but the prolonged, homogenizing rhetoric coming from Canada’s leadership regarding the Muslims’ characteristics and ability to coexist with their neighbors has perhaps given the community a common rallying point.
It’s difficult to say which party is “best” for Muslims if one is meticulous enough to consider every single variable in play for a community comprised of very different people. Not everyone’s conception of Islam and how it should be approached is the same. There are major differences in terms of how people interpret scripture, and these differences manifest themselves in the real world via a myriad of processes. Likewise, depending on one’s point of view, one party may be better than another depending on the issue at hand. So in an objective sense, there probably isn’t a “best” party for “the Muslims” considering all the variables that characterize lived Islam in Canada (or anywhere else for that matter).
Nevertheless, the Conservative Party’s relationship with the Muslims is directly connected to the passage of several security and immigration bills that have changed the Canadian political landscape. The way that the Tories have sold and presented these sweeping laws involve the characterization of certain threats that, according to them, seek to destroy Canadians if not repelled by their legislation. It just so happens that in the post-9/11 era, Muslims have become the face of this “threat.” By not differentiating in any meaningful way the differences within the Muslim community, and by using the regrettable acts of a few to characterize the disposition, beliefs, and comportment of an entire community, the Canadian political leadership has jeopardized the potential to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with the Muslims. Again, whether this figures into the voting calculus of the average Muslim on election day remains to be seen, but such a reality presents (at least from one, though important, angle) a stark contrast between the Conservatives’ rhetoric toward the Muslim community and that of the Liberals and the New Democrats.
Muslims will have to decide whether the repudiation of this negative collective portrayal (guilt via association, really) should take precedence over other issues, whether it’s economy or otherwise. The maligning of the Muslim image, or that of Islam’s, suggests that those who don’t know better may turn away or hate the religion based on what he or she sees on TV or reads in the papers—or, for that matter, absorbs from Canada’s Conservative leadership. Where Canadian Muslims decide to go with this decision may very well determine how the community will be politically organized in the years to come. There are a lot of narratives driving Muslim social and political participation, and the kind of issues that underpin these narratives range all over the political spectrum. Which frame of reference takes hold after the election remains to be seen.
Suffice it to say though that whether Canadian Muslims decide to take the issue of their own collective misrepresentation as a top political priority will decide which party is “best.” If it is indeed a galvanizing issue, then the Tories, like last time, will certainly lose the “Muslim vote,” given their track record. However, if other narratives come to the fore and begin to motivate people to organize in a different direction, then the parties left of Stephen Harper are going to take a hit (provided that Muslims actually show up at voting booths in significant numbers).
This will be a historic election for Canadian Muslims because the outcome will be a sign of exactly where the Muslim community is at politically, and how differences may dictate political direction. Whatever the results, a fully engaged Muslim community would be a sight to behold.
Do you plan on voting this October 19th? Why or why not? Comment below!