Harper's Tories mobilize Canada's Muslims to vote – but not for him

​Almost a decade of Stephen Harper rule has affected some communities more acutely than others in Canada.

Toronto's Steven Zhou weighs in on the push to get more Muslims to the polls

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks in Parliament in March about the right to wear a niqab while making a citizenship oath. (Adiran Wyld/Canadian Press)

Almost a decade of Stephen Harper rule has affected some communities more acutely than others in Canada.

The Muslim community is a good case in point, having been portrayed for years as a potential hotbed for homegrown terrorism and radicalization.

This pressure has, predictably (if a bit ironically), prompted many within the Muslim community to address their lack of political leverage and clout.

Though the Conservative Party has often evoked a monolithic caricature of the Muslims in order to justify its security agenda (among other things), it's the generational, social and political fissures/tensions between the Muslims which will determine the future of their political mobilization.

Groups like Canadian Muslim Vote (CMV) and the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) have launched major campaigns to try and pull the Muslim vote.

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.

This is a nascent "movement" on the part of Canadian Muslims in post-9/11 Canada, and it shows (if indirectly) that the Muslims are shifting from an immigrant-based community to a first-generation one.

Younger Muslims who are born in Canada simply have a different conception of what it means to be Muslim and Canadian in 21st century Canada than their parents.

Their connection to Canada as a country (and as an idea) is more visceral.

When Prime Minister Harper's rhetoric and positions question the authenticity and integrity of such connections, many younger Muslims react with passion.

They see their government's rhetoric as an attempt to deny their rightful place at the Canadian table. As the Muslims further integrate into the mainstream, this generational difference should continue to show itself in even more obvious ways.

Young Muslims throughout the country will want to seek out and create spaces where they can address sociopolitical topics and issues related to their own experiences of being Muslim Canadians. They often cannot speak openly and candidly about such matter in the mosque network, which has, in many ways, yet to address issues like gender bias, ethnic tensions and youth engagement.

It has, by and large, not been an adequate apparatus when it comes to influencing post-9/11 attitudes on Islam and Muslims in post-9/11 Canada.

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.

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.

Still, younger Muslim professionals are finding alternative ways to break out of this status quo of fear. 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.

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.

It even launched an anti-radicalization handbook last year with RCMP consultation — though the Mounties eventually withdrew their support, citing the handbook's "adversarial tone." 

Despite this official excuse, many involved with NCCM and other Muslim organizations allege the PMO had a hand in the RCMP's withdrawal, which does seem like an odd decision since even Manitoba's justice minister lauded the project

Indeed, the Harper era has united many Muslims in ways that the Conservative Party perhaps did not foresee.

The question now is whether Muslim Canadians will continue to build on this momentum of organizing if the Conservatives lose the October election. And if so, then will the absence of Harper derail the narrative that has united many different Muslims on a single set of issues.

Ontario Muslims, after all, have been on the forefront when it comes to campaigning this year against Premier Katherine Wynne's newly updated sex-ed programs.

This is a rightward shift in tone that's every bit as potent (if not more so) as the anti-Harper narratives that have originally animated the Muslims, slowly but surely.

These tensions highlight the immense diversity of the Muslims in Canada, who have long been treated monolithically as a group of potential deviants.

This level of heterogeneity will determine the nature and future of Muslim political organizing in the decades to come. 


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