Beware the Politicians Crying, “Hijab! Hijab!”

le_Wonde-Le-Pen-newspaper
Le Wonde satiric journal featuring Marine le Pen

This past week Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed to lengthen the pathway to citizenship in his country while also setting higher requirements for profession of what he called “Australian values.”

Meanwhile in France, Marine Le Pen called for religious head coverings to be made illegal in public.

These moves have been interpreted as desperate gambits by politicians trying to hold onto, or gain, power, and since they lack the imagination to deal with substantive issues and actually make things better, they will take a page from the playbook of the academic left and focus on symbols instead.

Back home here in Canada, various Conservative leadership candidates have joined in the value-signaling, presumably taking their cues instead from He-Who-Is-Named-Far-Too-Often. And the Liberal premier of Ontario and the “Liberal” premier of British Columbia likewise are casting about for issues that will draw voters’ attention away from what appear to be corrupt and decrepit regimes.

The modest rise of Muslim populations in these several countries has appeared as a gift to those willing to exploit it. The old stand-by, anti-Semitism, is still not quite ready to be wheeled out again onto the main political stage, since too many people are still outraged by what fading memories and ignored history books say happened to the Jews long, long ago (that is, in the middle of the last century). But now we have new Strangers to fear.

I say “modest rise,” because while in relative terms the numbers of Muslims in the U.K., U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and France have increased significantly, as proportions of the total populations of these countries they aren’t close to comprising critical masses of political power.

Symbolically, though, they have become so very useful. Just enough of them to have mosques showing up particularly in cities = media centres. Just enough of them, that is, to be plausible as sources of terrorist violence and eventual cultural subversion.

Those ignored history books, however, can remind us of other salient facts.

Here’s one. The greatest killers in the previous century were homegrown leaders who exterminated millions of their own people: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and a rogues’ gallery of African postcolonial dictators.

Here’s another. The worst terrorist crisis in our history was entirely domestic: The October Crisis of 1970.

And one more. The greatest violent loss of life in U.S. history was, you guessed it, due to Americans killing each other in vast numbers during the Civil War.

There is nothing in what I’m saying to suggest that Islamism, ISIL, al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest somehow don’t matter. They do. They are murderous fiends who must be identified and stopped wherever they work their wickedness. And we big-hearted Canadians who enjoy other people telling us how kind we are must not be sentimental about immigration. We can afford to invite into our country only people who will strengthen it, not injure it.

For now, however, the burden of proof is on those who believe our immigration policies somehow have exposed us to danger.

The burden of proof is on those who loudly declaim that among the most crucial problems to be fixed today are too many people wearing strange things on their heads or praying in ways we find unfamiliar.

The burden of proof is on those who would, in fact, pick on the most vulnerable among us—immigrants whose facility in the official languages may be weak, whose political and economic clout is small, and whose access to media to make their case is slight.

Fear is a fine motivator when we are actually in danger.

But it is a nice tool of manipulation by unscrupulous leaders when we really are not.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 700 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book is scheduled for release later this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).