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A Mosque for the Simple-Minded
From January 2007 to April 2012, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) aired a television comedy series entitled “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” Its underlying message seemed to be that Muslims who immigrate to Canada are “just plain folks” and that any Canadian who believes otherwise is a benighted redneck. In contrast, in June 2009, in Kingston, Ontario, Mohammad Shafia murdered his wife and three of his daughters in an act referred to, sometimes with deliberate irony, as an “honor killing” .
These two events certainly present different images of the Muslim presence in Canada. Which is real? What can be said about the considerable Muslim migration (about 500,000 in the past 10 years ) to this country? Are there any issues that need to be discussed about this immigration?
“Little Mosque on the Prairie” is advertised on the CBC Web site as “funny and heart-warming.” Except for the title, the story has nothing to do with the American book and TV series “Little House on the Prairie.” Perhaps of some relevance to “the prairie” is the real-life 2008 construction in Calgary of Baitunnur Mosque, the largest in North America, its unveiling attended by Prime Minister Harper, but that is only a guess.
The main characters in the sit-com included a handsome new imam named Amaar, a construction contractor named Yasir, his blonde Muslim-convert wife Sarah, their outspoken daughter Rayyan, the hopelessly old-fashioned Baber, a “right-wing radio host” named Fred (with blue-checked shirt, greasy hair, and aging-biker goatee), and a pudgy Christian minister named Duncan Magee who cannot resist brownies. Almost without exception, the Muslims are portrayed as good guys, the non-Muslims as bad guys, although Reverend Magee scrapes by as merely a dud. The physically attractive characters are all Muslim. The series is so primitive and simple-minded that it almost defies description. Every minute is a paroxysm of bad acting : head-nodding and arm-waving accompany each line.
Nothing bears any resemblance to reality. Yasir and his wife cannot seem to stop kissing in public, although no Muslim would do such a thing in real life. The tired old plot line of “stupid-men-clever-women” never lets up, also in a decidedly non-Muslim manner. Yasir is always nagged and ridiculed by his convert wife. In the second episode of the first season, when she doesn’t get what she wants, she shuts him out of the bedroom. There is a debate on whether the community’s mosque should have a physical barrier separating the women (in the back) from the men (in the front). In the course of the discussion, Yasir’s daughter Rayyan ironically remarks, “I have a right to speak. Islam is a democracy.” Further in the debate, suffering from sexual deprivation, Yasir gives in to the women’s demands and concludes: “Harmony between the sexes is better for everyone.”
The third episode begins with the Muslims holding an open house for non-Muslims. Daughter Rayyan says, “I don’t want people leaving the open house thinking Muslims treat women as second-class citizens.” When Amaar, the handsome imam, refuses to acquiesce to the women’s ideas about the mosque, Reverend Magee advises him to go back and apologize to them. When Amaar does so, Rayyan says, “Stop grovelling, it’s really unattractive.”
How much further from real Muslim life can anything get? And what is one to make of it all? As Canadians, we are expected to be infantile, and our greatest emotional displays are supposed to be reserved for hockey. We should thank CBC’s “Little Mosque” for dumbing us down and for keeping us in our place.
Meanwhile, the world’s Muslim community is on the move. According to the “Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,” the global Muslim population is expected to rise from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030, twice the rate of the non-Muslim population, although at a slower pace than in previous decades. The Muslim population in Canada will rise from about 940,000 in 2010 to nearly 2.7 million in 2030.
While I was living in the small country of Oman, south of Saudi Arabia, from 2008 to 2011, training Omanis to become English teachers, I discovered that it is a serious mistake to portray Muslim culture as “funny and heart-warming.” It may be good, it may be bad, but it is not “funny and heart-warming.” That is because there is no such thing as “moderate Islam” versus “radical Islam.” Christianity comes in various designs, but after working with Muslims from half a dozen countries I learned that Islam comes in only one form — the one that was invented in the seventh century and has remained unchanged since then.
According to Robert Fisk, over 20,000 women worldwide die at the hands of their own families every year, and the majority of these women are Muslim. The term “honor killing” is horrendously inaccurate. Most people in the modern world do not regard it as “honorable” for a man to torture and murder a female member of his family on the basis of some slight act of disobedience, often imaginary. Such “disobedience” even includes being raped : a raped woman is a shame to her family, and the way to remove the shame is to remove the woman.
A mentality of this sort is characteristic of patriarchal societies, where women are the property of their fathers, brothers, or husbands. Ancient Rome, Greece, and the Near East were patriarchal, and the same can be said nowadays of large parts of southern Europe and Latin America. Of the world’s major religions, however, it is only Islam in which such brutality occurs with little more than token denunciation by the religious authorities or recognition by the western press. There are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, but almost nobody is willing to protest against these terrible killings. It is nonsense to say that such behavior is “un-Islamic.” Statistically, it is very much “Islamic.”
My own three years of exposure to Muslim culture in Oman led me to conclude other things. For a start, Oman is a country heading for disaster. The population is six times larger than in 1950. Over 95 percent of the country is hyper-arid. And out of 160 countries analyzed by the FAO in terms of potential for future agricultural growth, Oman is the absolute last in rank.
What other things will cause the disaster? Most of my students came from families of at least five or six children, often ten or twelve children, and they refused to believe that they would ever have to change their way of thinking. As with so much of Muslim doctrine, it is hard to say whether birth control is ever permitted, but it is certainly true that the opposite is strongly encouraged. It is equally difficult to determine the extent of polygamy, but I was told by an Egyptian Christian woman in Oman that most Omani men have more than one wife, and her estimate matches my own equally inexact one.
A number of my teaching colleagues were single non-Muslim women. I had mixed feelings about what to tell any new colleague arrivals about Muslims, neither wanting to frighten them nor to give them false assurances. But I suppose such women are likely to be tougher on average than most of their compatriots, if not simply more desperate to earn money. So my non-Muslim female colleagues regarded it as par for the course when they were groped by Muslim taxi drivers.
Less easy to ignore was the fact that I was once phoned to come and talk to a young Dutch woman who had just been taken out into the desert and raped by three Omani men. That was my final year in the country, and by then I was prepared for the outcome. The police would not get involved, because she had committed three errors: she was not Muslim, she was not accompanied by a male relative, and she was not dressed appropriately, i.e. her head was not covered.
The misunderstanding of the vast difference in perspective between Muslims and non-Muslims might be due to the fact that the debate is assumed merely to involve the respective merits of two religions, Islam and Christianity. Yet this assumption is wrong on two counts. In the first place, Muslims regard it as self-evident that Allah spoke first to the Jews, next to the Christians, and finally and most clearly to the Muslims.
The second and more important reason why it may not be entirely logical to compare Islam and Christianity is that Islam is, in some ways, more like a political movement than a religion. Every major religion has at times done some proselytizing “at the point of a sword,” but that has always been more true of Islam. Quite clearly, Muslims think they are the “chosen people,” even if the CBC does its best to convince us otherwise.
In spite of such potentially irreconcilable and explosive mixtures of cultural values, there is no oversight to immigration in Canada other than the basic principle that “money talks.” As Canada’s Science Council declared in 1976, Canada simply does not have the resources for high rates of immigration. Canada has a low population density for its 10 million square kilometers of land, but most of that is uninhabitable bare rock. And among the larger industrialized nations, Canada already has the highest per-capita immigration intake.
Every country in the world already has a high-enough population, and bringing people from one land to another such as Canada, that cannot support high densities, is especially foolish. Related facts also tend to be left unsaid by family-planning organizations : for example, that the highest population growth rates are in “developing countries.” The term is misleading : the day is long past when a poor country could become rich by developing its resources or its industries. We live in a world in which most natural resources are heading into decline, and most of today’s poor countries are therefore destined only to become poorer.
The result in these “developing countries” is the continuation of low levels of education and high levels of archaic pro-fertility religious doctrine. As the historian W. H. McNeill points out, large parts of the world simply stopped evolving centuries ago. One can argue about the causes and effects, but not about the fact itself.
All of this behaviour, of course, is very similar to that displayed by Mohammed Shafia in murdering his wife and three daughters. Yet, it is the opposite of what “Little Mosque on the Prairie” showed Canadians in its six years on CBC Television.
Peter Goodchild is author of Survival Skills of the North American Indians which was published by Chicago Review Press.