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Haroon Siddiqui criticizes Harper’s speech to JNF Negev dinner

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(Some letters to the editor of the Toronto Star might be in order here …can be sent to [email protected]..Ed.) 

Foreign issues are local in globalized

Toronto: Siddiqui

In Toronto, both sides of virtually every conflict in the world are present.

By:  Columnist, Published on Wed Dec 04 2013

Toronto’s diversity manifests itself in nearly 200 languages, a global cuisine, a vibrant art world and music scene, and — this is less understood — in the local echoes of international developments. Natural disasters in far-off lands prompt instant relief efforts, as by Filipino Canadians for Typhoon Haiyan. Both sides of virtually every conflict in the world are present here. Given all that, hardly a week goes by without an event with some international connection. Consider three recent ones I followed — you no doubt would know of others.

  • On Sunday, Stephen Harper was honoured by the Canadian chapter of the Jewish National Fund, which raised $5.7 million for a bird sanctuary in Israel named after him.

He told the friendly crowd that Israel “shares common values with us” and represents “a light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness.” During his next month’s visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, he would, besides visiting said birds, promote “essential Canadian values, such as tolerance and human rights.”

He said nothing about the well-documented violations of the human rights of Palestinians under the 46-year Israeli occupation and the constant encroachment on their land for Jewish settlements. Nor about the second-class status of Arabs living in Israel proper. Or about the protests in Israel a day earlier by the Negev Desert Bedouins against plans to displace them.

Do Canadians really share the values represented by these policies, even as we support Israel?

Harper was also mum on the Arab Spring, the yearning of millions for freedom and democracy, crushed by authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere, regimes he prefers for the “stability” they promise.

Outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, about 30 groups, led by Independent Jewish Voices, protested. Their spokesman said that Canadian taxpayers may be subsidizing the Harper Park on land once owned by Palestinians, given that the Jewish National Fund has charitable status in Canada.

  • If Harper has wooed the Canadian Jewish community (329,000), he has cold-shouldered Canadian Arabs (780,000). His government cut off funding to the Canadian Arab Federation as well as Palestine House that criticized Israeli policies.

A new group, the Canadian Arab Institute, hopes to engage Ottawa and anyone who listens. Its president, Raja Khouri, told its inaugural gala at the Royal Ontario Museum: “The traditional conversation about us has been largely without us.”

A rapprochement, of sorts, was arranged by Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth, who persuaded Immigration Minister Chris Alexander to attend. Still, the Harper government remains aloof, creating a chance for Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau to demonstrate that they can rise above divisive ethnic politics and listen to all Canadian stakeholders in formulating foreign policy.

Bill Graham, former Liberal foreign minister, said the Arab Institute is badly needed amid growing anti-Arab/Muslim sentiment in Canada, especially Quebec, and also to connect Canada to the Arab world of 220 million.

“It will benefit not just Arab Canadians but all Canadians.”

  • Just as the above two events showed the diversity of political views, a third illustrated our religious pluralism, indeed diversity within diversity, among Canadian Muslims (over one million).

Last week, the Aga Khan was conferred an honourary Doctorate of Sacred Letters by Trinity College, established as an Anglican University in 1852 and which retains its university status within the U of T federation.

Adrienne Clarkson, former governor-general, Trinity alumna, said in her citation that the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims is “perhaps the only person in the world to whom everyone listens.”

Ismailis belong to a branch of Shiite Islam. A minority within a minority, they number about 14 million, including about 90,000 in Canada (40,000 in Toronto, 15,000 each in Vancouver and Calgary, 10,000 in Quebec and 5,000 in Edmonton). The first batch of 10,000 came to Canada in 1972 from Uganda when Idi Amin started expelling Asians.

“We did not realize then,” said Clarkson, “how important this injection of Ismailis to our national and civic life would be. Christians and Jews in this country share in the Abrahamic tradition of Islam and we have much to learn from Qur’anic teachings.”

The Aga Khan, 76, not only interprets the faith but cares for the worldly well-being of his followers — and the places where they live. He runs a worldwide non-profit, non-denominational development network that employs 80,000 people and runs schools, universities, hospitals and businesses.

An admirer of Canada, he set up a Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa to distill our multicultural wisdom for export to the world. In Toronto, he is developing an 18-acre site at Wynford Dr., visible west of the Don Valley Parkway, for a museum, an Ismaili Centre and a park in the Islamic tradition but using Canadian indigenous plants and trees. “This will be a great centre of civic pride for all Canadians,” said Clarkson.

In tune with the tenor of the Trinity convocation, the Juno-winning classical ensemble Gryphon Trio performed from its Creeds from Constantinople, a multimedia theatrical work that celebrates spirituality and diversity, especially Christianity and Islam. The soaring voices of Patricia O’Callaghan and Maryem Hassan Tollar were heavenly.


Haroon Siddiqui’s column appears on Thursday and Sunday. [email protected]

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