Celebration of being neighbours
Who were the group singled out for prejudice just for being ‘others’ a century ago? That would be the Irish. They spoke English with a different and distinctive accent, had a religion (Roman Catholicism) that the ‘mainstream’ of the time didn’t know or trust, and looked distinctive (freckles, red hair, fair skin). Factories hung signs at the door reading No Irish need apply.
Half a century ago, these ‘others’ were Italians, and others from central Europe. A quarter of a century ago, these ‘others’ were Sikhs. In each case, after two or three generations in Canada, these ‘others’ are now part of a vibrant and prosperous mainstream called ‘Canadian.’
Our Muslim neighbours came here for the same reasons as the Irish, Italians, central Europeans, Chinese and Sikhs: to build lives and careers, to raise a family, and contribute to a stronger Canada.
In the wake of the deplorable attacks against Canadian Muslims:
- The City of Mississauga discussed and passed a resolution against racism and intolerance;
- The Province of Ontario Legislature unanimously passed a motion against racism and intolerance;
- The Government of Canada debated and passed a motion by Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Iqra Khalid, whose family is Muslim.
The first two Muslims in Ontario’s Cabinet are my own close friends Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi (born in Karachi, Pakistan), who is an Ottawa lawyer; and Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation Dr. Reza Moridi (born in Teheran, Iran), who has a PhD in physics. As well, Dr. Shafiq Qaadri (born in Chicago, Illinois), is a practicing physician, is also Muslim, and sits in the Ontario Legislature representing Etobicoke North. All three of these are outstanding elected representatives, whose experience and merits would bring them into the Legislature regardless of their ethnic origin.
Our western Mississauga neighbourhoods
Western Mississauga is home to a fast-growing Muslim community. They are a gift of immense value to Ontario. Our Muslim neighbours are the people we buy from and sell to; the ones we ride beside to and from work on transit; the people we hire, and who hire others; the ones the kids on the street play with and attend school beside; and the families who live on our streets.
These are our neighbours. Their homes and mosques are open and welcoming to us all. As your MPP, I am a regular, indeed frequent, visitor in all our western Mississauga mosques. My consistent message is that the Muslim community has nothing to fear or distrust from the community around them, and that the western Mississauga community blessed with our Muslim neighbours has nothing to fear or distrust from Muslims.
A movement to Canada in large numbers from any specific region has three stages:
- The generation from the old country, regardless of which old country, and regardless of the era in which they moved, has its culture, values and traditions rooted in the old country. Their agenda after coming to Canada is to re-start their lives and careers, get a home, and raise a family;
- The generation born (or largely raised) in Canada, of parents from the old country is the generation that needs to figure out and reconcile the old country’s values and traditions with the new Canadian ones, and which seves to teach the generation of its parents about being Canadian. Most will visit, often re-visit, the old country while growing up, or once they are young adults. A very few will go back to the land of their parents. The very vast majority will conclude that they are firmly and permanently Canadian, and passionately so;
- The generation born in Canada, of Canadian parents, and immigrant grandparents are Canadian through and through. The language, culture and traditions of the old country is largely lost, to the chagrin of the generation of the grandparents, and to the often indifferent shrug of the generation of their parents. This generation is in every way part of the Canadian mainstream experience.
It was so for the Scots and Irish of the 19th and early 20th centuries; for the Germans, Italians and central Europeans between the two world wars; for those who sought opportunity or fled oppression and poverty after World War Two. It remains so today.
Those of us born in Canada of Canadian parents are descendants of families who fled famine, impending war, hopelessness, poverty, communism, regressive regimes, or who simply sought opportunity in the new world. And those born in Canada are not that far removed from the generation that came to Canada for a fresh start.
Our education system, especially in Ontario, blends together kids who enter school speaking neither official language. Secondary school graduates are un-hyphenated Canadians, proud of their community, committed to building on the foundation of the past and able to deliver a bright future to their home, family, community, province and country. To teach in Ontario, as I did before my first election, is to see firsthand in what fine hands Ontario leaves our communities, our province and country, our institutions and businesses.
Think before sending an e-mail
As possibly a backlash from the regressive reactions of Britain and the United States, elected representatives at all levels have received some intolerant and abusive letters and e-mails blaming immigrants for just being ‘others.’ They are from people who ought to know better, people whose ancestors were themselves immigrants and ‘others’ once, people who think that intolerance is now somehow permissible. Before you use ‘Muslim,’ substitute ‘Irishman,’ ‘Scot,’ ‘Italian,’ ‘Chinese,’ ‘German,’ or whatever slang people once used for folks who came from where your family once came from. You likely won’t want to send the letter or e-mail. Good.
We’re neighbours in the same community. We’re going to keep building the same community. Together. Everybody take a deep breath, and smile at the other families on the street. They are no different than you are.