The above Toronto Star headline and article is probably the most dangerous thing to the political order today.
I already talked about this at some length in my last post on this blog, talking about the Brexit referendum and how liberal politicians basically ended up screwing themselves because they don't take the people with concerns about immigration seriously. The basic point for those not interested in rereading is thus: listen to people who speak up about the impact of immigration they feel, and maybe we won't end up in the mess the UK is in right now. Also, try not to call them racists for simply saying something.
Then the Toronto Star decided to put out this absolutely ludicrous headline saying that Ontario faces an "epidemic" of Islamophobia, with a subhead focusing on the fact that 70%+ of people do accept immigration, but they feel the government should take care of people already in the country - I would add a "too" to the end of the sentence, because I doubt most respondents felt it's a pure either/or proposition, but the article of course doesn't say that.
The article then goes on to summarize a 52-page report in under 700 words. The very first lines of the article are thus:
While Canada rides a wave of global praise for welcoming Syrian refugees, a new poll suggests we’re also facing a wave of something sinister — Islamophobia.
This scaremongering opener is actually ridiculous when you go through the article itself, because while there are certainly some concerning figures within the article, they don't actually point towards Islamophobia - they point towards the great immigration debate of the UK, US and Europe that is coming to English Canada, and it may hit us like a tonne of bricks if we aren't prepared.
And who is propagating this rising concern, you ask? The bloody media currently writing clickbait headlines about it.
Let me just lay out the articles actually presented in the article for you before I go any further.
- ~33% of Ontarians have a positive impression of Islam, and +50% feel Islam, even mainstream denominations, are violent.
- 72% feel immigration is valuable to society, and 71% say it is a part of their cultural identity
- ~75% feel that we need to take care of people in Canada, "instead of spending resources on refugees."
- 46% say we admit too many immigrants, while 45% say we admit the right amount
- ~60% say the federal government's decision to accept Syrian refugees was right, and ~20% said they participated in welcoming refugees to the country.
- ~75% said Muslim immigrants have "fundamentally different values, largely due to perceived gender inequality."
- Non-specified number of those with unfavourable impressions of Islam have higher opposition to Syrian refugees, and are more likely to say Canadians need help at home.
- 53% said we should only allow immigrants with similar values, and 74% said we need to be more strict about who we accept.
This may or may not be unpopular to say, but each of those data points above have a reasonable motivation behind them that doesn't equal to outright racism or Islamophobia, though all of them can certainly lead to acts motivated by it. All of those people behind the above numbers are driven by a multitude of complex reasons, certainly some of it stemming from discriminatory views, but much more of it by disintegrating political discourse, by rapid change in their communities, by sensational media that inflames their anger or guilts them into submission, and by the feelings of alienation, dispossession and lack of control felt by larger-than-you-think swaths of the province and the country.
But that does not equal out to wide swaths of the province becoming virulent Islamophobes. It points to a growing trend of people feeling ignored by governments that seem more eager to tout how many refugees they're accepting than what they're doing to lower the cost of electricity or help with the cost of living.
In Ontario, and I'm sorry to say this, we have a government and leaders that are tremendously unpopular who make even more unpopular decisions, and they aren't disliked without justification. As much as I love Kathleen Wynne's commitment to combat climate change and bettering transportation and so on, my own family currently pays more out of pocket to keep our home powered than we can actually afford. It would be so easy for someone in my position to see a newly arrived family seemingly getting a better deal than I get to become a little jaded. It isn't hard to see someone with mental disabilities on the street without support, and wonder why the government is scrambling to bring in refugees from overseas but then turns around and says we can't afford to spend more on healthcare. And none of those things has to be true, remember that, because perceptions are what count in modern politics, not the truth.
Add onto it other concerns that this survey probably didn't even touch, such as how people's communities are changing faster than they can cope with. If you lived in an area your entire life, where you're used to certain people and certain surroundings, rapid changes in the demographics of those communities are going to shock you. It will create anomie between the resident and the community they've become attached to, alienating them from their surroundings in ways they never expected, such as seeing new customs like women wearing hijabs or hearing a new language dominate in the local grocery aisle. When they see the school system struggle to try to integrate newcomers who speak vastly different languages, or see in the media articles about new immigrants putting stress on the healthcare system, or hear a politician yell about how everything used to be better before we let "them" in - can you actually blame anyone for falling into negative opinions about immigration, something driven by a government often seen as uncaring and far away from the reality in which they live?
I can't find a fault in the logic, honestly. And it really hurts to say that, because I'd love to follow the Star in saying these people are racist, they're old WASPs soon to die off, but I know it isn't true. Furthermore I know how dangerous it will be to let it fester, we all do now.
The vast majority of people in the survey who responded with varying degrees of skepticism about immigration, Muslims, and the government's actions on this front aren't drooling Islamophobes - they're frustrated, and they have every right and reason to be. Society is changing and they're feeling left behind by any number of institutions and policies, and immigration and immigrants, especially those from foreign cultures (Muslims are the concern now, but before them it was Slavs and before them, the Irish, and of course throughout Canadian history, the French) make convenient boogeyman because they're so pervasive, especially in Ontario.
We tell them they all benefit from immigration and multiculturalism, which in the broad sense is absolutely true, but when was the last time someone demonstrated that to them in a substantive way? How do you do that? And in lieu of being able to do so, how do you cope with their concerns?
I'll tell you one way you don't - by calling them racists and brushing them off as such. Which is why that Toronto Star article is so damaging. Here are the final two paragraphs of that article:
Of course it isn't. You cannot have massive changes in communities and societies without people on the other side of those changes saying "slow down." But as I've tried to stress throughout this post, it isn't just because the immigrants are Muslim - we've seen the same complaints about Poles and Romanians, even Germans and Spaniards, in the UK. People want to have some semblance of control over what is going on, and unfortunately a lot of them don't feel they have it. They're going to lash out at those that seem to be getting the better treatment - again, even if it isn't true, because truth is often a casualty in these kinds of arguments, the ones subject to passions rather than reason.Despite a generally positive view of immigrants, 53 per cent of Ontarians said we should only allow immigrants from countries that have similar values to our own while 74 per cent said we need to be more strict about what kinds of immigrants we accept.“There are imbalances in the worth of immigrants relative to ‘the people here.’ They are seen as valuable to society but less deserving of our resources,” the poll found. “This shows that acceptance of immigrants is not without its limits.”
But the Toronto Star seemingly doesn't get that. Instead it is just going to piss off a swath of people who feel their concerns are justified but are just being called Islamophobes instead. This will not help anything, and the Star should be ashamed of that.
So what are the solutions to all of this? Because there is obviously a growing problem, and if we aren't careful, anti-immigrant sentiment will become a political tool for candidates and parties. We know when that happens, when politicians and media stoke the flames of frustration, we will actually get a wave of Islamophobia, one with tragic and earth-shattering consequences on things maybe not even related directly to such concerns, like Brexit. Some say we're already in that position, though I think we aren't even close to a true movement yet.
The top goal should be figuring out a way to demonstrate how immigration benefits people specifically, because we know it does. If we show them how immigrants enrich their lives, personally, economically and culturally, then we're taking the right steps to stop people from blaming those who, in all honesty, are just like them in many ways, with the same amount of control over their new surroundiungs as those already here. We must do this if we want to avoid the backlash seen in the United States, UK and Europe, especially among the struggling in this country.
But I am nothing if not a realist, and what I'm about to say will probably make some people mad, because unfortunately if we want to keep the province and country on a progressive track, we're going to have to make some compromises. It starts by listening.
These are your families, friends, neighbours, and ultimately they're citizens and voters, and we need to listen to the concerns they have and bring it back to the legislatures of the country and actually act upon them. The solutions will range from providing more economic access and support for those in poverty, which we all want anyway - or, to be blunt, it may even lead to discussions about limiting immigration or reexamining how newcomers are integrated into Canadian society. We will have to actually have discussions on these issues, no matter how uncomfortable they end up being, and it may lead us to things that twist progressive hearts. But at least we'll be ensuring these people have their voices heard, and we can find a way forward that doesn't lead to hate.
The alternative is that we act like toffs and condemn everyone who says immigration is having a negative impact on their lives as a racist, Islamophobe, whatever, and act like we can ignore them. We can put up all the posters we want about how that Muslim immigrant is just like you, but if we're not addressing the deeper insecurities people feel, then they will eventually find an outlet that will. The people who will ride waves of anti-immigrant populism to power are the ones we truly need to stop, and we can only do that by getting to the source before they do.