20 October 2010

More Commentary on the Recent Calgary Mayoral Election

Valerie Fortney of, "The Calgary Herald," in discussing the election of Naheed Nenshi as mayor of Calgary, quoted our recent post which also dealt with the election of Canada's first Muslim mayor:

Election remakes Calgary's image

By Valerie Fortney, Calgary Herald
October 20, 2010

For his Tuesday morning interview on CBC Radio's The Current, Tarek Fatah was prepared to once again insist that "Islamophobia" in Canada simply doesn't exist. 

But when host Anna Maria Tremonti posed it to him on this particular day of all days, the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress answered with a whole new twist. 

"I said, 'If there is indeed Islamophobia, then we wouldn't have elected Naheed Nenshi as the mayor of Calgary -- a first in North America.'" 

For Fatah, currently on tour for his new book, The Jew Is Not My Enemy, Nenshi's historic moment has only further confirmed his long held but often challenged belief that "those who make the claim of Islamophobia being rampant in Canada should hang their heads in shame." 


The 38-year-old intellectual's win was more than a happy coincidence. It was, Fatah says with sheer jubilation in his voice, "A great moment for Calgary, and a great one for the entire country. . . . 

Nenshi's choice as mayor has at once removed two decades of nonsense." 

The Toronto-based author wasn't the only person outside of our city's electoral boundaries talking about Nenshi mere hours after his surprising come-from-behind win. 

Throughout Tuesday, the news was winding its way through cyberspace across North America and into the far reaches of the planet, including Reuters' Africa newswire service. 

Many Alberta-centric pundits on the radio and in print -- like my friend and colleague Don Martin, the Herald's Ottawa columnist -- were touting this as the final nail in the coffin of the antiquated stereotype of Calgary as the last bastion of redneck intolerance. And our fellow Canadians were giving us our due, but not without a nostalgic nod, of course, to those very stereotypes. 

"Hey, remember when the Aryan Guard was encouraging people to move to Calgary . . . because the city was more open to their views?" asked the website of the organization Anti-Racist Canada, noting that while Calgary just elected a Muslim as mayor, Edmonton had re-elected Stephen Mandel, who is Jewish. "Good times, dear readers, good times." 

Duane Bratt isn't the least surprised that so many were having a hard time facing such a refutation of our redneck image. 

"I talked to a Toronto reporter the other day about Nenshi, and she just couldn't get her head wrapped around the idea that we just had an election where gender wasn't an issue, religion wasn't an issue and the colour of the candidates' skin wasn't an issue," says Bratt, associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University. 

"They don't understand what Calgary looks like demographically, and think we're just a bunch of cowboys. Even though I try to tell them, 'Hey, Myron Thompson never even lived in Calgary.' " 

For Bratt, Nenshi's true history-making accomplishment was in the deft melding of social media with traditional campaigning, not the colour of his skin, his faith or "the fact he's our first mayor who still lives with his parents." 

But still, the milestone makes him proud to be a Calgarian. 
"I don't even see this happening in Toronto, and they call us the rednecks," says Bratt. 

But does he think this is going to change our national image? 

While Nenshi may have pulled off an amazing feat at the polls, says Bratt, he doesn't expect an overnight shift of such ingrained views to follow his course of miracles. 

"I'm sure I'll be hearing from Toronto media today," he says, "and that they'll be stunned." 

For some members of Calgary's Muslim community, though, Nenshi's win is a victory for Calgarians of all faiths. 

"This is a sign of the maturing of the Calgary electorate," says Mansoor Ladha, a retired newspaperman who came to Canada from Tanzania in 1973. "Nenshi is a source of great pride for the Muslim community, but I'm even more proud that Calgarians chose for their mayor the person they thought best to lead, irrespective of skin colour or religion." 

"I think for Muslim youth specifically, it's going to remove some of the barriers in people's minds, some negative views," says Mahdi Qasqas, who runs Muslim Youth Services in Calgary. "I believe Nenshi is going to build a lot of bridges between the city's various communities." 

Not all members of Calgary's Muslim community are excited to talk about Nenshi's faith, however.
"We're proud of Nenshi, not because he's Muslim but because he's a great part of this city," says Nagah Hage, chairman of the Muslim Council of Calgary. "Calgarians wanted a change, and they chose him because of his qualifications, his charisma." 

Still, Hage is willing to concede that such a historic moment is a wonderful thing.
"Canada is the best place in the world to live," he says, "because where else can this happen, except in Canada?" 

Just don't expect any big sea change from other parts of the country, where, when it comes to outmoded views of our ethnically diverse, cosmopolitan city, even a major first doesn't mean we've heard the last of the redneck jokes. Or, as one national news blogger noted in a story about Nenshi's win, "We don't really know a damn thing about Calgary, sadly, so we have nothing snarky to add." 

vfortney@calgaryherald.com


We do have to take issue with the first part of the article in which Mr. Tarek Fatah insists that Islamophobia doesn't exist, at least to any significant degree, in Canada:

For his Tuesday morning interview on CBC Radio's The Current, Tarek Fatah was prepared to once again insist that "Islamophobia" in Canada simply doesn't exist. 

But when host Anna Maria Tremonti posed it to him on this particular day of all days, the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress answered with a whole new twist. 

"I said, 'If there is indeed Islamophobia, then we wouldn't have elected Naheed Nenshi as the mayor of Calgary -- a first in North America.'" 

For Fatah, currently on tour for his new book, The Jew Is Not My Enemy, Nenshi's historic moment has only further confirmed his long held but often challenged belief that "those who make the claim of Islamophobia being rampant in Canada should hang their heads in shame."
 
To claim that the election of Mr. Nenshi as mayor in Calgary means that their is no such thing as Islamophobia would be like claiming the re-election of Mr. Mandel in Edmonton means Antisemitism in Canada no longer exists or that the election of Obama in 2008 means that racism has ceased to exist in the United States. These claims are sadly wishful thinking.

We point to a few examples of such Islamophobia now.

First, we find it in the expected places. A few of the comments that have been posted to Stormfront, including one of our favorites, John Marleau (bon89):

So in their minds, Mr. Nenshi is a, "foreigner" (though he was born and raised in Canada and had lived in Calgary longer than his two main opponents) who got in simply because of his religion and because minorities voted for him. Considering that visible minorities in Calgary comprised less than a quarter of Calgary's population as of the 2006 census, it seems pretty obvious that even is every person of color who voted in the election voted for Nenshi, that wouldn't be even close to putting him over the top (it also assumes all minorities will vote for a person just because of the color of his skin or the faith he professes; if we were to bet we would guess that conservative Muslims would have felt more comfortable voting for Mr. McIver than Mr. Nenshi).

Of course an added benefit for Calgary is that open invitation to other boneheads by the Aryan Guard to move to Calgary might be dead in the water now:


We're sure that the presence of, "AngryWhitGuy" will not be missed by most of the good people of Calgary.

But this is all low hanging fruit. Of course people posting on the largest, most infamous, hate website are going to be upset that a Brown-skinned Muslim with a non-Anglo name was elected to the highest office in Calgary civic politics. These people are, to put it mildly, on the fringes of political discourse, and if this was all that we would have to work with, then Mr. Fatah would be right to criticize us for claiming the posters of Stormfront represent the rest of Canada at large. However, we would point to other examples.

Currently there is a very interesting discussion on the Free Dominion boards regarding the election of Mr. Nenshi. While there are those who are more concerned about his political ideology than his religious background, there are more than a few who seem to believe that the election of a left 0f center academic is the harbinger of a future Alberta caliphate. We would post screenshots, however Blogger is acting funny right now so instead we'll direct our readers to the Free Dominion thread where the discussion is taking place.

Posters on Free Dominion run the gambit of political thinking, from moderate right wing to far right wing, however the site includes individuals who would be considered mainstream in their political thinking.

What seems clear, at least to us, is that in the minds of some Islamophobes, there is nothing any individual Muslim can do to dissuade people who irrationally believe that every Muslim is a secret extremist. By all accounts, Mr. Nenshi is a moderate, even liberal, Muslim who has fully integrated himself into the country in which he was born and who has loudly and frequently voiced his opposition to extremist views within his faith. In short, he is everything that critics of Islam claim they expect of Muslims and perhaps more.

And it still isn't enough.

The election of Mr. Nenshi (who, by the way, wasn't even our favored candidate) is absolutely a big step and shows that Calgary can not be stereotyped as a wholly intolerant community. However, there are still individuals in this country who continue to view Mr. Nenshi as suspect and not fully Canadian because of his religious background, so there's still work to be done.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You want evidence that isn't limited to hate or conspiracy websites? Go look at Facebook, Twitter, or the comments section of every major online story from local news outlets.

Granted that many SF and FD posters are probably the ones filling up The Sun's comments sections with vitriol, but I have seen numerous postings on facebook by otherwise 'normal' (i.e., not associated with white supremacist websites) whining about Sharia law and whatnot.

Wishful thinking on the part of Mr. Fatah.

Anonymous said...

Who was your favourite candidate? Did it happen to be Bonnie Devine? ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm a liberal myself and I'm very opposed to racism and intolerance. Maybe this seems a bit hypocritical but in my honest opinion I think that it's a bit odd having foreign mayors, governors, etc. But I'm not opposed to it, I just find it odd is all.

Keep up the good work ARC.

Davegeek said...

Well I think that some of the commentators over at FreeDominion prove that Islamophobia is in fact alive and well. I always find it odd that all too often the people who make the most outrageous claims are the ones who demand that those who disagree with them provide college paper levels of citations backing up their views. Yet when they have proof of their assertions demanded they just start insulting and citing their view as common knowledge that needs no support. Almost like they have no real intellectual basis for what they claim. Hmmmmm.

Davegeek said...

@Anonymous 3: I wouldn't say your being hypocritical in finding it odd to have "foreign" mayors, governors (your American I assume, in Canada we have premiers) etc, I would just say you're silly. Canada's first two PMs were "foreigners" after all. And with regards to the story you have commented on the guy who won the Calgary mayoral election isn't "foreign" at all, he was born in Toronto but that's still part of Canada.

And at any rate to hold office in Canada you generally have to be a Canadian citizen if I'm not mistaken. Thus Canadian office holders are by their very nature not "foreign", they're Canadians. So the point of your concern is moot.