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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

America takes notice

Canada is the least xenophobic country in the Western world. Here's why.

While American politics is currently embroiled in a controversy over a major party's blatantly racist remarks, Canadian politics has been moving in a somewhat … different direction. Take, for example, this video released by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday afternoon, which shows him breaking the first Ramadan fast with Muslim parliamentarians from his Liberal Party:

This is just normal politics for Trudeau. A little over 1 million Muslims live in Canada, about 3.2 percent of the population. It's both good politics and a matter of basic respect to celebrate a major holiday for your country's largest religious minority. (Though the Muslim population is smaller in the US, percentage-wise, American presidents also generally issue official statements on Ramadan.)
On the other hand, the kind of inclusiveness Trudeau's video represents increasingly feels anomalous — and not just because of Donald Trump. In countries around Europe, anti-Muslim prejudice has swelled since the 2015 refugee crisis. There, far-right parties, united mostly by their strong appeal to anti-Muslim sentiment, have surged in popularity.
What this points to, then, is something that some scholars have termed "Canadian exceptionalism": The country is just a lot more welcoming to immigrants and minorities than virtually every country in the Western world.

In Canada, welcoming immigrants is good politics

The final stages of the Canadian election in October 2015 were suffused with a sort anti-Islam rhetoric. Incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper, of the Conservative Party, spent months decrying the wearing of the niqab, a face-covering garment for Muslim women, particularly by immigrants during citizenship ceremonies. The niqab is "rooted in a culture that is anti-women," Harper said. Wearing it when "committing to joining the Canadian family," according to the prime minister, "is not the way we do things."
The comments were widely understood to be a dog whistle for anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment: Harper was appealing to Canadians who thought Muslim immigration threatened their culture and values.
And indeed, Harper went up in the polls after these remarks. However, he mostly took votes from the NDP, Canada's left-wing party, meaning that Harper's Muslim baiting ironically may well have helped Trudeau's center-left Liberal Party defeat him. So Harper's Islamophobic tack — which, incidentally, was far milder than what you see in the US and Europe nowadays — ended up failing.
And since Trudeau's victory, Harper's politics of division has faded away. While Harper's office had stymied the resettlement of Syrian refugees, Trudeau has already exceeded his campaign promise to admit 25,000 of them into the country. According to a March immigration proposal, Trudeau aims to bring in at least 12,000 more Syrians by the end of the year.

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