Sunday, February 24, 2013

Siddiqui: Harper courts religious minorities for political purposes

Stephen Harper’s real agenda on religious freedom: Siddiqui

The government is courting specific minorities to help the Conservative party electorally.

By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, February 24, 2013 But the government has given critics ample ammunition. Its election promise was aimed at garnering support from the Coptic community in the riding of Mississauga-Erindale. At its October 2011 consultative process in Ottawa, four of the six speakers chosen were Christians. Panellists included high-profile right-wingers.

The session was closed to the media and the public. The media dug out that of the 100 participants none was from a major human rights group. Of the 40 who made comments, three-quarters were from Christian groups.
Foreign Minister John Baird later consulted with the Vatican and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey. He also met the spiritual leaders of Ismailis and Ahmadis, while snubbing representatives of the far more numerous Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities whose adherents also face persecution in some countries.
The government is catering to more than its Christian constituency. It is courting specific minorities to help the Conservative party electorally. In particular, it’s wooing Coptic Christians from Egypt, Christians and Ahmadis from Pakistan, Baha’is from Iran and Ismaili Muslims. These groups were among those at the Ottawa consultative meeting.
Just as Harper unveiled his election promise at a Mississauga Coptic Church, he announced the new ambassador at the Ahmadiyya mosque in Vaughan.
The government is free to court any group it wants — the more the better. It is also right to incorporate into our foreign policy the concerns of groups worried about their kith and kin abroad.
But it is doing so by exploiting “old country” fault lines among immigrant communities, in the name of religious rights. This becomes clearer when you consider that it shuttered Rights and Democracy, the federally funded agency that advocated for a range of human rights abroad.
The government protests that its sympathies are not selective. It throws in references to other beleaguered minorities — the Falun Gong, Tibetans and Uighurs in China, the Shiites being massacred in Pakistan, etc. But its word won’t be taken seriously unless it tells us what it thinks of the following:
The Rohinga Muslim minority in Myanmar, suffering a systematic pogrom about which even Nobel Laureaute Aung San Suu Kyi has been shamefully silent; the Muslim minority of 175 million in India, whose plight is being addressed by the government of India itself; Kurdish and other minorities persecuted in Iran; the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia, whose rights are routinely put down by force; and Hindu and Sikh minorities in Malaysia and Indonesia, who are barely tolerated;
The Shiites of Lebanon, who constitute a plurality but are systematically denied proportionate electoral and other representation; the Shiite majority in Bahrain, persecuted for decades by a Sunni monarch who has brutally crushed their pro-democracy demands; and Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority discriminated against by the ruling minority Alawite sect of the dictator Bashar Assad.
A third of the world’s population suffers government or social restrictions because of faith, says the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion. Restrictions on religious freedom have been rising in the Middle East, China, Russia, Africa, Asia and even Europe.
As Harper acknowledged on Tuesday, “around the world, violations of religious freedom are widespread and they are increasing.”
Which of these would he champion and on what basis?


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