Pegida Canada: When Harper’s Islamophobia birthed a movement
Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West is the definition behind the German acronym, Pegida.
But such Islamophobia isn’t based solely on the distant shores of Europe.
There is an infinitesimal current of anti-Islamic sentiment running through British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada.
The question is raised, how has such Islamophobia crept into the borders of democratic nations?
What is Pegida?
The anti-Islamic organization, Pegida, was founded in Dresden, Germany in October 2014.
The organization emerged amid the increasing numbers of refugees that have since entered the country.
On Oct. 5, Pegida held a rally at the Technical University of Dresden.
German media, The Local, reported that an estimated 8,000 civilians showed up bearing banners with messages the likes of: “Merkel is guilty, commits ethnocide against the German people.”
Co-founder of the organization, Lutz Bachmann, 42, at one point stood up and said, “It won’t stop with 1.5 or two million arrivals. They will have their wives come, and one, two, three children. It is an impossible task to integrate these people.”
Stoking nationalistic sentiments
When civil unrest unfolded in Syria in 2011, no one could predict the millions that were to be displaced by the ensuing war.
Al Jazeera reported that as of March, 10.9 million Syrians have been displaced. Close to four million of those have since become refugees.
In August, as millions pored into Europe trying escape the violence at home, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country would waive United Nations rules and grant migrants to apply for asylum no matter how they arrived there.
In September alone, the country received 200,000 arrivals.
The influx of refugees is what has stoked anti-Islamic sentiment in Germany and has helped grow the ranks of Pegida.
But for Germany, Europe’s leading economy, it isn’t a matter of resources but logistical and organizational structure.
Merkel has plead unity, as reported by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Oct. 7.
“We must not fall prey to nationalist sentiments in these moments,” said Merkel. “It is precisely now that we need more Europe, not less.”
The Chancellor went on to say, “We need to see them as people, not as an anonymous mass, irrespective of whether they have a right to stay or not.”
The Conservatives announced Canada plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees by 2016.
Pegida Canada was established January 2015 via the European network as according to the organization’s main site.
There exists three chapters in the Canadian branch of the organization: Ontario, Quebec and more recently, British Columbia.
If Facebook page-likes are any gauge of a topic’s or issue’s popularity then it stands to reason there is a rising tide of anti-islamic sentiment domestically.
The Quebec chapter has since accumulated just over 5,700 page likes, while B.C., a younger chapter, 714. A page for Ontario could not be found.
Where does such islamophobia stem from? How does an organization with values such as this exist in Canada, a country whose classrooms taught of a mosaic nation, accepting of all.
It’s a kerfuffle of ideas and positions that make this organization appear ludicrous, bordering on satirical in nature.
Pegida espouses as one of a number of tenets on its “Official Status Paper” that it stands for “the integration of refugees into our land and culture,” all the while stating it is against the allowing of parallel societies in our midst, such as Sharia law, Sharia police, etc.”
The organization plays on a misappropriated fear of islamization, as if thousands of migrants could wash away a century or more of traditions, customs and domestic culture.
But it isn’t the existence of Pegida which strikes as disconcerting, though it is, it’s the lack of political leadership on the general issue that is most disturbing.
Politics runs highest in an election year so the Prime Minister’s proposed niqab ban in the civil service could be read as such, a political maneuver. But delving past that, analyzing the underbelly of the decision is what makes this all the much more appalling.
The niqab is a veil worn by Muslim women when in public. It is designed to cover the face, apart from the eyes and is typically an expression of one’s Muslim identity, it is not a piece of clothing that is so widespread it warrants attention as to a specific policy-initiative.
Yet Harper’s stance is so strong that it would make it appear the niqab is some sort of epidemic warranting immediate action, which is furthest from the truth.
Pundits have stated there is no civil servant to date who has worn one and just two have declined to proceed with their Canadian citizenship ceremony since Harper’s 2011 ban on face coverings for the taking of the citizenship oath.
2011’s National Household Survey uncovered that just 3.2 per cent of Canada’s population were of the Muslim faith. Cut that number in half based on a generalized gender estimate and that’s just below two per cent of the population who could potentially wear the niqab — after all, not all Muslim women even choose to do so.
Politics are at play. Divisive, wedge politics, which are the bread and butter of Harper’s political strategist, Lynton Crosby, so the strategem isn’t surprising. It certainly rallies a specific base of the electorate.
But it comes at the expense of a visible, gender-based minority and that’s what’s most unsettling.
In Quebec, a pregnant woman’s niqab was ripped from her head by a couple of teenagers. Another woman, in Ontario, was elbowed by a man while shopping at a Toronto mall. All of which happened in front of her two daughters ages nine and four.
Harper’s willingness to follow a program at the expense of faith-based women is unsettling.
The decision to target Muslim women places them in a more vulnerable position in society to those that don’t understand the meaning of tolerance.
The Canada of today
Organizations like Pegida can exist in Canada because that’s the core of democracy.
But it is atypical that a Government of Canada would propose policy as to ostensibly justify a negative stance to any religion or faith-based decision.
It strikes as perplexing and something foreign to Canadian political culture since the late-20th century.
Andrew Griffith, a former senior public servant stated, as reported by The Ottawa Citizen, “Frankly, I don’t think the issue has ever come up and it’s unlikely it would have happened without consultations at the high levels.”
The niqab ban plays to an undercurrent and is familiar ground for Harper’s political strategist.
John Murray Gibbon’s Canada is evidently not the Canada of Stephen Harper’s brand of Conservatism.
The wonder is whether Harper, the man, not the politician, truly believes in these policy-initiatives.
It is nevertheless a telling sign of the politician he is.
And what part he and his party are to play at the federal level of Canadian politics will certainly be telling of our country’s taste for cultural tolerance — and maybe Canada in the 21st century is not the Canada Gibbon once painted, but one more closely resembling the shadowy depths cast by residential schools and internment camps.