Were I of the Muslim faith, I suspect I would have a deep and abiding contempt for Stephen Harper and his cabal. After all, he is the prime minister who has made Islamophobia a centrepiece of his re-election hopes and, unlike other groups that he has vilified for political gain, has persistently portrayed the religion as a hotbed of terrorism, so much so that repressive measures that threaten the very foundations of Canadian democracy are now ensconced in the legislation known as Bill C-51.
What is a self-respecting Muslim to do?
One answer, it seems, is to encourage one's coreligionists to vote.
Groups like Canadian Muslim Vote (CMV) and the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) have launched major campaigns to try and pull the Muslim vote.It would seem that the key lies in younger generations of Muslims, those born here who see themselves as part of the Canadian fabric and are deeply disturbed by the Harper demagoguery that labels them as 'the other' and potential terrorists. Yet the venue for discussing and addressing their frustrations is not likely to be found in the mosques for a number of reasons.
These groups are trying to circumvent the potential for political sectarianism by staying away from addressing specific issues and by maintaining a strict standard of non-partisanship.
In other words, they simply want the Muslims, who don't have the best voter turnout, to vote—regardless of their political taste.
Much of this is due to the political climate in Harper's Canada, which is characterized at least in part by the chilling of political speech within an atmosphere of fear.Fortunately, alternative venues are developing:
Mosques often have charitable status, which can often be stripped away if Muslim leaders decide to take up certain political causes in ways the administration finds distasteful.
The Harper government's appetite for auditing and disrupting organizations that it differs with ideologically is well-known.
Groups like the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) have broken through the mainstream in an effort to improve the portrayal and treatment of Muslims in the public sphere.Whether the Muslim vote will turn out to be a formidable influence in the upcoming election remains to be seen. But like other Canadians busy building coalitions to prompt greater voter engagement, any increase in participation can only contribute to an ultimately stronger and healthier democracy in Canada.
Their nationwide campaigns have attracted Muslim youth to build similar structures of civic and political engagement.
Dawanet, an influential Muslim organization based out of Mississauga, Ont., just launched an initiative called Project Civic Engagement earlier this summer, aimed primarily at addressing Muslim political engagement and the influence of Islamophobia on Canadian politics.
Winnipeg's own Islamic Social Services Association (ISSA) has also launched public awareness campaigns in an effort to dispel myths surrounding Muslims in the Harper era.