For years, the Muslim community has remained silent about many political issues. In 2003, for example, when Maher Arar, a Muslim-Canadian, revealed his story of rendition and torture in Syria, Canadians were outraged. They watched his press conference by the millions, the media wrote about his case almost daily, and the government eventually awarded him $10 million in compensation for his suffering. But the Muslim community’s response throughout his ordeal was mostly muted.
The explanations for this lack of civic involvement are varied. In 2001, 72 percent of Canada’s 580,000 Muslims were immigrants, many coming from repressive countries where speaking out can be a ticket to jail or even a death sentence.
Regardless of the country of origin, newcomers are often most concerned with the challenges of immigrating to a new country, fitting in, and giving their children a better life. Muslim organizations that might get involved in these types of issues are still young and sometimes lack institutional capacity.
“I have found that it is the fear of exposing ‘dirty laundry’ in a context of a potentially Islamophobic and certainly Orientalist-inflected media environment that inhibits Muslims from speaking out publicly for social justice issues. They talk about it privately,” adds Kathy Bullock, a political science lecturer at the University of Toronto and a convert to Islam.