Racism and religious intolerance are rampant throughout the world, yet when I lived in Canada, I saw just about every race and religion on earth living in harmony side by side.
I saw a lot of ethnic pride. Folklore and traditional customs were encouraged. In Toronto, where I lived the longest, immigrants from various parts of the world tended to settle near their friends, creating “Little Italy,” “Chinatown” and so on.
It was a cultural mosaic, rather than a melting pot.
(I seem to recall that in Toronto’s Chinatown, the street signs were in both English and Chinese. And I remember Italian signs in shop windows along Eglinton Avenue… But it was so long ago, and I am getting old. My memory is not what it used to be.)
Canadians are encouraged to be proud of their heritage but they are forbidden to deride their neighbor’s. Expressions of racist venom are outlawed, for example.
During the two decades I spent in that country, I saw Canada evolve into a model of ethnic tolerance. And with this ethnic tolerance came a willingness to accept religious diversity, even to the extent of accommodating Islamic prayer rooms at schools in Ontario.
Against such a background, yesterday’s assassination of a Canadian soldier and the subsequent assault on Parliament – apparently by a Muslim radical – leaves me bewildered.
It was the first such attack in Canadian history, and it raises some troubling questions.
Why on earth would a Canadian turn on his government like that? What “oppression” could he possibly cite as a motive?
What does this say about the Muslim religion? Is it possible to include it among other faiths without fearing violence from its followers? Can it be part of a tolerant ethnic and religious mosaic?
It is a question peaceful Muslims must ponder, and a troubling challenge for inclusive cultures like the benign one in Canada.