Once upon a time, if you wanted to advocate for social justice and peace with justice around the world, you could easily find dozens of Western Jewish intellectuals who would be on your side. This is no more.
A great number of Western Jewish intellectuals — including many in Canada – have taken a sharp turn to the right, even to the far right. Meanwhile, Western Muslims — including many in Canada, especially among the young — are moving, slowly but surely, from the political centre to the left.
One of my favorite American Jewish intellectuals who spoke for social justice was the social historian and novelist Waldo Frank (1889 – 1967). In his book, South American Journey (published in 1943) he wrote: "In the United States, there is the will toward social justice. [But it] remains shallow, fundamentally feeble …"
Here in Canada, social justice once had staunch friends among Canadian Jews. One I admired was David Lewis (1909 – 1981) of the NDP, a Polish-born Jew who used to champion every cause of social justice in Canada.
Today, however, you will find a greater proportion of Canadian Muslims on the front lines of civil liberties advocacy in this country. And it’s little wonder; so many Muslims have been victimized since 9/11.
They understand how quickly and easily one can lose a job because of being put on a no-fly list, even if it is by mistake. On June 18, 2007 a new made-in-Canada no-fly list will kick in. In only a few days from now, a Canadian Muslim will be twice as vulnerable to unfair or wholly wrong listing — once on the American list and again on the Canadian one as well.
Many Canadian Muslims used to run scared when it came to expressing their political views against issues such as Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. Others dealt with their insecurities by dying to fit in. They went out of their way to smear Islam, blame Islam, and bash their fellow Muslims; and some are still making a career of it as I write.
Until very recently, when Islam was mentioned as someone’s religion, it was nearly always because that person was a criminal, or suspected of criminality. But many Muslims are now turning to the left to find friends among peace activists of all faiths both here in Canada and around the world. And many more are now standing tall at the ballot box to freely express dissenting voices against the status quo.
Only half a century ago, Muslims (along with many other faith groups) were firmly convinced that the left — from the socialism to communism — represented the antithesis of religion, any religion. Muslims not only stayed far away from the political left; they actively resisted its ideologies.
But now, in Canada and around the world, Muslims are turning left in droves. And the left now realizes that it has new political friends among Muslims, even conservative practicing Muslims.
This movement is being felt as keenly in Canada as in many traditionally Muslim countries like Egypt. Every spring during the Cairo Conference, Egypt’s political left not only stands in solidarity with leftists from around the world — including those who come from Canada — but also supports their political friends from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
And who is standing in solidarity by Canadian natives today? None other than the Canadian left — and Canadian Muslims. The oppression of our aboriginal and indigenous peoples is a shameful but necessary history lesson for all Canadians to learn. The Canadian far right has gone to great lengths to blame native peoples for their own misfortunes. This is a totally unacceptable principle. The fight against marginalization of
Canadian natives is a vivid parallel lesson for Canadian Muslims; if you are not willing to be physically, morally and intellectually present in the public square, the rich and powerful will trample on you and ignore your rights, big time.
Sadly, Canadian Muslims are still at the front of the line when it comes to negative stereotyping of minorities by the media in this country; today they are even ahead of Canadian natives. Islamophobia is not only acceptable, but is encouraged and propagated in middle- and far-right newspapers and magazines. This pattern of systemic denigration has got to change.
Canadian Muslims are among those who are most proactive in trying to protect universal health care; in narrowing the gap between rich and poor; and in advocating for those who are too old, too young, or to sick to make a decent living. And more and more are voting NDP rather than giving their votes (as they traditionally have) to the Liberals.
At the same time, many Canadian Jewish intellectuals are assaulting Canada’s policies regarding multiculturalism, immigration, and what they consider federal "giving in" to natives’ land claims. They are no longer speaking out against the deterioration of civil liberties in this country. Some are even attacking the
political left for defending the rights of Palestinians, calling them anti-Semites.
Their political agenda has moved closer and closer to that of the far right, including Christian biblical literalists and fundamentalists, who await the second coming of Christ in the erroneous belief that all faiths will be automatically converted to their brand of Christianity. Such people loudly support the American-led wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the all-but- inevitable one planned for Iran. They support the increase of military spending and the growing militancy of our government’s foreign policy.
Today, I miss Waldo Frank and David Lewis more than ever.