Much good news and some worrying results in new study of Muslim public opinion in Canada
November 1, 2011, Ottawa, ON – At a time when Muslims constitute one of Canada’s fastest growing immigrant communities and Islam the fastest-growing religion, Canadians will find much to reassure them, but also much to ponder, in a new study of Muslim public opinion in Canada published today by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI). Entitled What Do Muslim Canadians Want?, the study examines the values and opinions of a sample of Canadian Muslims in order to understand their varied and extremely diverse attitudes on Canada and its institutions, terrorism, foreign policy, and Sharia law.
According to the authors, Christian Leuprecht (Associate Professor, Royal Military College of Canada) and Conrad Winn (President of COMPAS Research and Professor of Political Science, Carleton University), the most encouraging finding is the general tendency to see Canada as welcoming and pluralistic, not racist. The Canadian Muslims surveyed admire immensely Canada’s freedoms and lawfulness despite belief that social acceptance, the media’s treatment of Muslims, and hiring practices are not always everything that they could be. The respondents also do not find Canada racist or inhospitable by world standards, including the standards of Islamic countries. They also do not find Canada to be Islamophobic and they are strongly of the view that Canadian institutions, including democracy and the rule of law, provide a sense of freedom and security that is rather unique in the world. However, jobs and employment opportunities are the biggest concerns of this Canadian minority.
The positive views of Canadian society and political system among Canadian Muslims surveyed are good news. So too is the large majority opposition to Al Qaeda among respondents. Almost two-thirds (65%) “repudiate absolutely” this Islamist terrorist organisation. On the other hand, a significant minority of respondents do not. As Winn and Leuprecht note, “From a security perspective, it is difficult to know if a 65% rate of repudiation [of Al Qaeda] is re-assuring or a 35% failure to repudiate troubling.”
Also troubling is the news that only a small minority of Muslim newcomers surveyed unequivocally reject Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Iranian regime. Support for the Muslim Brotherhood was stronger than expected, and not limited to Muslims who emigrated from the Middle East. In findings that will reverberate in both immigration and security policy, support for extremism was found to be just as high among Muslims born in Canada or other industrialized countries as among those coming from oppressive dictatorships, and “the most radical political views tended to be expressed by relatively secular people, often equipped with higher education in the social sciences, while devout Muslims were sometimes the most articulate advocates for Canada and democracy.”
Among other conclusions in the study one finds:
- On the introduction of Sharia law, responses were varied. The Canadian Muslims surveyed were not strongly opposed to a Caliphate or even moderately opposed to at least some role for Sharia law.
- Canadian Muslim respondents had differing opinions about Israel and the United States. They reject the foreign policies of both countries while strongly embracing the United States as a relatively non-racist society.
- Opposition to all forms of extremism seems to be highest among immigrants from Iran, a leader among extremist regimes, while lower among those arriving from the Middle East.
- Support for extremism seems stronger than average among those who participate in meetings of small religious study groups. The apparent socialization effect of study groups and the effects of national origin warrant further research because the patterns are not entirely clear-cut.
Leuprecht and Winn conclude, “The sheer complexity of Muslim opinion, including its apparent variation by national origin, cries out for more and better research on its character, causes and extent. That a thoughtful minority of Muslim newcomers come to Canada to escape extremism and embrace pluralism is a cause for much celebration. So too is the fact that many Muslim newcomers to Ottawa and Canada are so admiring of Canada’s freedoms and lawfulness. That only a small minority of Muslim newcomers unequivocally reject terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah or the Iranian regime gives pause for thought.”
In an effort to shed further light on these complex and diverse findings, MLI commissioned commentaries on the study’s results by three well-known analysts with recognized expertise in the field of Muslim public opinion, integration with Western society, terrorism and other themes raised in the main study:
- Salim Mansur, Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Ontario and author of Delectable Lie: A liberal repudiation of multiculturalism;
- Alex Wilner, Senior Fellow in Terrorism and Security at MLI and Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology; and
- Daniel Pipes, President of the Middle East Forum in Washington, DC and Taube Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.
These commentaries are included with the main paper.
In his piece, Alex Wilner focuses chiefly on the issues of terrorism and counter-terrorism: “In the coming years Canada will have to decide how best to tackle homegrown Islamist radicalization. Empirical studies, like this MLI report, will have to lead the way in both identifying patterns of radicalization more broadly while simultaneously distinguishing the markers and characteristics of violent radicalization in particular. Canadians are also going to have to openly debate the goals and priorities of their counter-radicalization strategy.”
Salim Mansur underlines what Leuprecht and Winn have to tell us, but also the work that remains to be done: “If the purpose of such surveys is to assess the opinion of Canada’s Muslim population, then the findings are mostly reassuring and confirm…that ‘Canadian Muslims appear to be the most contented, moderate and, well, Canadian in the developed world.’ But in the post-9/11 world and in the context of the “war on terror”…we need studies whose purpose is to identify that segment of the Canadian Muslim population where the most likely source of Islamist threat to security is embedded.”
In what might be a fitting conclusion to the entire publication, in his commentary Daniel Pipes cautiously strikes a positive note about how Canada and its Muslim minority’s moderate mainstream can offer a model to the world: “The Leuprecht-Winn study reveals a number of problematic attitudes, from desire for Sharia to support for Al-Qaeda, but it also establishes that Canada has the most moderate, diverse, and open Muslim population in the West. Not only is this an advantage to build on but it suggests a potential role for moderate Canadian Muslims to take their message and perhaps their institutions to other Western countries.”
The paper, What Do Muslim Canadians Want?, is MLI’s latest True North publication.
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