Commentary by Susan Delacourt in Montreal

The conversation that Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch has been trying to open — about immigrants, integration and “anti-Canadian values” — was well underway in Montreal on Thursday at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

While potential Leitch supporters weren’t thick on the ground at the Canada 2020 Global Progress gathering, the discussions at this event showed that integration of immigrants is a big issue on the progressive left in Canada — and the world — as well as on the political right.

They’re not the same conversations, though, so someone is eventually going to have to bring them together.

Immigration and integration was a running theme when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and London Mayor Sadiq Khan sat down for a chat on stage in the Ritz ballroom on Thursday morning.

Of course it would be — Khan is the first Muslim mayor of London, who has already tussled publicly with Donald Trump over the presidential candidate’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Khan, who only came to the job this spring, is on his way to the United States this week, so we can expect the lively back-and-forth to continue.

Khan warned that whenever critics say that Muslim values are inconsistent with Western values, they’re singing from the same songbook as the so-called Islamic State, which also believes that walls between cultures are better than bridges.

“There are people in Daesh and so-called ISIS who say it’s incompatible to be a Muslim and hold Western liberal values,” he said. “Daesh and so-called ISIS hate someone like me,” Khan said, because he proves that Muslim and Western values can co-exist in one person, as well as within the larger community.

On stage at the Ritz-Carlton, Khan lavished praise on Canada in general and Trudeau in particular, calling this country an international “beacon” for the way Trudeau had welcomed refugees and newcomers to this country. He called last year’s election an “inspiration.”

Trudeau, for his part, was saying all the right (or should we say left?) things about the importance of making newcomers feel welcome in Canada.

But it wasn’t a total love-in. Prodded by moderator Jennifer Ditchburn to reconcile gender diversity with the male-and-female segregation at a mosque he attended earlier this week, Trudeau said there was still “work to do” on integrating diverse values.

When Ditchburn asked Khan and Trudeau how their embrace of diversity and integration could go beyond words, the Prime Minister responded with — well, some more words, about the need to “demonstrate” to people why newcomers to Canada are an asset, not something to be feared.

The better answer to the beyond-words question was found upstairs in a smaller meeting room after the Khan-Trudeau session.

There, around a large meeting table in a breakout session at the Global Progress meeting, an incredibly eloquent Labour MP from Britain, Chuka Umunna, tackled head-on the need to have the conversation about immigration with more than lofty or sentimental words. It’s simply not good enough, he said, to write off fears about immigration as mere racism — even if that’s what it is.

Umunna is the son of an English-Irish mother and a Nigerian-born father, who has been occasionally described (over his protests) as Britain’s Barack Obama. So he’s had a lifelong immersion in where cultural integration is working in the United Kingdom, and where it’s not. Forget about all those idyllic images of cultural diversity that London put on display during the 2012 Olympic ceremonies, Umunna said — “we are not integrated.”

Umunna’s own constituency of Streatham was part of the borough with the highest votes in favour of remaining in the European Union during the Brexit referendum last June.

But he’s been keeping a close eye on what is feeding the anti-immigrant sentiment that gave so much fuel to the forces campaigning successfully to get Britain to leave the EU. The only way to examine the sentiment, he says, is right there on the ground.

He went to take a look for himself at the areas where people voted in high numbers for Brexit and found huge increases in immigration during recent years, resulting in major dislocation in the local labour markets and a lack of social services to handle the needs of newcomers. As a result, the long-time residents and newcomers live in isolated pockets, rarely interacting with each other.

It’s not enough to simply tell people to integrate, or even to teach about it. “We cannot wait for our schools to do the job of integration for us,” Umunna said.

Talking about integration isn’t the same as living with integration, in other words, and that’s an intensely local job, that has to reach right down to the streets, homes and businesses where people conduct their day-to-day lives.

What Umunna was saying, in effect, was that this roiling debate over immigration and integration is not going to be resolved through abstractions or distance on either side. As Khan was saying as well, the extremist view is one in which cultures can’t co-exist or be reconciled.

The people who ticked off the box in favour of screening for Canadian values on Leitch’s survey — the survey that tipped some of this debate into the open in Canada — may well be living in worlds similar to the ones Umunna described: communities where immigrants and non-immigrants live in isolated pockets.

Similarly, the people preaching about tolerance and acceptance of newcomers may not be having many conversations with the kind of people who are expressing fears and apprehension about open borders in Canada.

If immigration and integration can’t work with this kind of polarized isolation, neither can the debate. The conservative right is talking about these issues. So is the progressive left, as the Global Progress summit vividly illustrated. It may be time to put these two solitudes in one room to talk it out.

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Published in Policy

by Jonathan Manthorpe in Vancouver, British Columbia

It would give me great pleasure to write with confidence that the ‘Lizard of Oz’ has lost his touch — that the politics of fear, hatred and division is dead.

Certainly, the once highly successful campaign tactics of Australian conservative strategist Sir Lynton Crosby have taken a drubbing in recent contests.

The May 5 victory of Muslim politician Sadiq Khan in the election for mayor of London is being touted widely as a conclusive defeat for the Crosby doctrine. Crosby’s campaign strategy company worked for the failed Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith, and is being credited with trying to sink Khan by linking him with Muslim extremists.

Crosby also was accused of leading Stephen Harper’s Conservatives into the politics of fear by pushing such wedge issues as the niqab to the fore in the 2015 election. Harper and the Tories, of course, came a cropper and were conclusively defeated by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

These outcomes raise questions about Donald Trump’s candidacy for the presidency in the United States, and the rise of right wing political movements in Europe in response to the influx of refugees from the Middle East. Is there a cliff edge in western democracies — all of which are essentially social democrat at the core — beyond which right wing hardliners and merchants of fear fall off into oblivion?

Crosby is a tempting piece of litmus paper to use to test this proposition, since the stoking of anti-Muslim sentiments and other wedge issues has been a hallmark of his campaign style. His company, the Crosby-Textor Group, is an international operation that has run conservative election campaigns in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada and Sri Lanka.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Harper had brought up the niqab, and the ‘issue’ of whether Muslim women should be allowed to cover their faces for citizenship ceremonies, well before Crosby is alleged by Tory campaign planners to have arrived on the scene.[/quote]

Crosby undoubtedly has finely-honed skills as an analyst of public opinion polls and conductor of focus groups. He has a record of identifying key segments of the electorate and herding them in whichever direction he chooses by playing up wedge issues — “dog-whistle” politics.

What stands out in Crosby’s record, however, is less his mastery of the dark electoral arts and more his skill in picking clients who are probably going to win an election with or without him.

Crosby’s reputation was built on managing successful campaigns for Australia’s Liberal Party (actually a conservative party) and Prime Minister John Howard in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004. As a result, Crosby was wooed to Britain to manage the Conservatives’ campaign against the Labour government of Tony Blair in 2005. The result was disastrous for the Tories — even though Crosby tried playing the race card and exploiting unwarranted public fears about crime, tactics that had worked so well for him in Australia. One of his slogans was: “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration.”

Since that debacle, Crosby has been far more careful about the jobs he takes on. He ran Boris Johnson’s campaign for mayor of London in 2008 and his successful re-election bid in 2012. But Johnson is a well-known public figure who draws enormous public affection (despite his spectacular character defects), so Crosby was on to a sure thing.

Crosby’s wariness of associating himself with the unelectable can be seen clearly in his dealings with the Harper Conservatives’ campaign last year.

With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said now that Canadian voters were never going to re-elect Harper and the Conservatives. Indeed, it was probably an accident that voters gave Harper a majority in 2011. After the departure of Jean Chrétien, many voters were only waiting for the Liberal party to get its act together. Crosby’s company fiercely denied it had any association with the Harper campaign, and was especially vehement in denying that Crosby spent any time in Canada during the campaign.

Something similar went on with Sadiq Khan’s election earlier this month as mayor of London. Zac Goldsmith, the dilettante millionaire son of a billionaire (alleged) corporate raider, Sir James Goldsmith, was well down the list of people the Tories wanted to run against the Labour Party’s Khan. London is a Labour stronghold and it takes a special kind of Tory, such as Boris Johnson, to get Londoners to abandon the voting habits of generations.

Khan was born in south London in 1970, the son of a bus driver immigrant from Pakistan and his seamstress wife. Khan grew up on a public housing estate, but went to law school and joined a practice specializing in human rights cases. He was elected a municipal councillor on the Labour ticket in 1994 and was elected the Member of Parliament for the same district in 2005. He was a minister in the ill-fated Labour government of Gordon Brown and, after the Tory-Liberal-Democrat alliance victory in 2010, a senior member of the opposition shadow cabinet.

He is a tried, tested and well-known professional politician. That Khan is also a Muslim is of far less significance than the rest of the bullet points on his CV.

Goldsmith has the distinction of having been expelled for drug use from Eton College, the top private school where Prime Minister David Cameron and several of his ministers were also educated. After scrambling to finish his schooling, Goldsmith, who showed a youthfully romantic interest in the environment, was given the magazine The Ecologist to run by his uncle. Goldsmith ran it into the ground and ended up selling the publication for the equivalent of $1.50. In 2010 he ran successfully for Parliament, but was given no cabinet post.

Both before and throughout the campaign for mayor, Goldsmith showed no lust for the job or enthusiasm for the process of trying to get it. More than that, he had almost nothing to say on the bread-and-butter issues that rile Londoners, especially the sky-high cost of housing. (Given his financial status, Goldsmith’s silence on that point may have been wise.)

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Khan] is a tried, tested and well-known professional politician. That Khan is also a Muslim is of far less significance than the rest of the bullet points on his CV.[/quote]

Khan, in contrast, produced an in-depth housing policy. It would require developers to include 50 per cent “affordable” housing in all new developments and would allow foreign buyers to buy only new houses or apartments. No gobbling up of tear-downs for Russian oligarchs, Gulf oil sheikhs or Chinese Communist Party princes.

Crosby clearly saw this train wreck coming and refused to get involved in Goldsmith’s campaign. But he was cajoled into doing so. Perhaps he was driven by loyalty to the Conservative government at Westminster, which he helped back to power in last year’s general election and which recommended him for a knighthood this year “for political service.”

Even so, Crosby did not manage Goldsmith’s campaign himself. He assigned that task to one of his deputies, Mark Fullbrook. It was Fullbrook who reportedly took the Goldsmith campaign on its highly controversial turn by accusing Khan of associating with radical Muslims, and questioning whether London would be safe from terrorism with Khan at the helm. The slurs didn’t stick because they lacked substance.

The contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is not as clear-cut as either the Canadian or London elections. Clinton has the advantage on governmental experience, but is hampered by what many see as an unattractive and untrustworthy personality. Trump seems to have tapped into a rich seam of antipathy towards Muslim and Hispanic minorities. Probably more important, he is appealing to a deep well of anger harboured by low-income white people against the professional political class and all its works.

It’s highly unlikely that Crosby would ever be offered a role in the U.S. presidential campaign. If he was, he’d probably sit this one out.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” published by Palgrave-Macmillan. He has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. He was European bureau chief for the Toronto Star and then Southam News in the late 1970s and the 1980s. In 1989 he was appointed Africa correspondent by Southam News and in 1993 was posted to Hong Kong to cover Asia. For the last few years he has been based in Vancouver, writing international affairs columns for what is now the Postmedia Group. He left the group last year and now writes for a range of newspapers and websites.

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Published in Commentary

Commentary by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto

Followers of Islamic State (IS) or Al Qaeda may never admit it, but the election victory of Sadiq Khan as mayor of a city as great  and in their eyes Islamophobic  as London was a slap in the face.

Like the time Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Germany would welcome one million Syrian refugees, and when the Pope called on Europe’s Catholics to open their homes to refugees, Islamists are at risk of losing all credibility.

The success of these extremists, after all, thrives on disproportionate military reprisals, sectarian discord, and deeply engrained Islamophobia in Western societies. So the mere thought of a Muslim winning (Khan was born to parents who immigrated to London from Pakistan) over the most hearts and minds of a non-Muslim population, or of Christian ‘infidels’ opening up their homes to Muslims, challenges their narrative.

It’s worth recalling that a big part of ISIS’s recruitment strategy is posting lectures and videos online with  ideologues dictating that killing the enemies of Islam— meaning the United States and its allies — is a religious duty for every Muslim. Often, they cite U.S. military action in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel as evidence of America’s strategic ‘war’ with Islam. They also play on the insecurities of young recruits by telling them that Muslims in the West would never be accepted into mainstream society.

And given the rise of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump – and increase of far-right parties coming to power across Europe — it’s not impossible to see how vulnerable, disaffected youth could fall into that sort of warped mindset.

2005 London bombings

But while Trump anti-Muslim rhetoric has never been louder, so too have the voices of ordinary Muslims, though not necessarily in the way one might expect.

Many Canadians will remember the anger, confusion and backlash that Muslims, South Asians — literally anyone who even remotely resembled a Muslim or Arab -- faced from their own friends, neighbours or colleagues after the September 11, 2001 attacks in America. A deep climate of mistrust against the community ensued, which for some only gets worse with every new terror attack on Western soil.

I recall that it was amid this climate that Sadiq Khan first entered the political scene in Britain as an elected MP for Tooting in east London. 

As a graduate student in London in 2005, the year four British-born Muslims bombed the London Underground, I heard pundits all wanting to know the same thing: Where are all the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims? Why aren’t all the so-called peace-loving Muslims living in London condemning these barbaric attacks?

I also heard voices like Sadiq Khan and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (then the Vice Chair of the Conservative Party) fiercely condemn the attacks and disassociate them with the actual tenets of the faith, to no avail.  As much as people demanded answers from the Muslim community— and Muslims responded in the same unequivocal voice of condemnation every time – it made no difference. The terrorists still seemed to be louder. 

11 years on

What’s changed, 11 years on? Some would argue nothing.

Terrorists continue to slaughter innocents and billionaire conservative politicians continue to incriminate an entire global community for the abhorrent actions of a few. What has changed in the most profound sense is that Muslims are no longer seen (or at least solely) as a fifth column.

The voice of the ordinary, ‘moderate’ Muslim is heard more than ever — not as spokespeople who can denounce the ways terrorists justify their acts through the Quran — but as engaged citizens and leaders paving the way forward in a world that we all want to become more inclusive and tolerant. 

Last year, we saw Canadian Muslims unite strategically for the first time in a non-partisan, grassroots organization to achieve a single goal: Increasing the participation of Canadian Muslims within the democratic process.

This, along with the opposition’s crude anti-Muslim strategy not unlike Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan’s competitor from the UK Conservative Party, played a key role in bringing Justin Trudeau’s pro-immigration party to power.

Drop ‘Muslim’ descriptor

We’ve also seen Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada an as Afghan refugee, sworn in as Minister of Democratic Institutions in Trudeau’s cabinet, and Ginella Massa, a hijab-clad journalist, become an on-camera reporter for Toronto news network CityTV. 

Britons, too, have seen a rise in British Muslims taking centre stage, from national baking contests to professional sports.  

None of these people ever condemned the abhorrent actions of the so-called Islamic State during their moments in the spotlight, simply because it wasn’t their place. They are all skilled professionals or athletes in their own right, recognized as Muslims, but celebrated for their extraordinary skills that contribute to all of society. 

That’s the way it should be.

Muslims are no different from anyone else, and for that reason, their successes should be commended no more, nor less than anyone else’s. Perhaps, the next step in fostering genuine equity in society is for news outlets to drop the ‘Muslim’ reference altogether.

Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at Humber College. She holds an MA Middle Eastern Studies and has previously worked at BBC News in London, Al Jazeera English and CBC News. 

Published in Commentary

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