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The Muslim tide, immigration and David Bowie at the Writers Festival

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Jian Ghomeshi (second from right) and his first band, Tall New Buildings. Photo courtesy Avard Woolaver on Flickr.Jian Ghomeshi (second from right) and his first band, Tall New Buildings. Photo courtesy Avard Woolaver on Flickr.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, a surprisingly large group of writers have argued that Muslim immigrants pose a threat to the West.

These voices claim that Muslims are hostile to western values, and that their higher birthrates will turn them into a majority in Europe in the coming decades, leading to the decline and demise of western culture.

In a fascinating talk at the fall 2012 edition of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, journalist Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail made clear why these arguments are untrue.

In his recent book The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?, Sounders debunks numerous falsehoods about Muslim immigrants. Among the false claims is the prediction that Muslims will become a majority in Europe in coming decades, as well as the incorrect view that Islamic terrorism is an inevitable consequence of religion.

“Muslims with the strongest religious beliefs almost never become extremists,” Saunders told a packed audience at the Knox Presbyterian Church at 120 Lisgar on Saturday, October 27.

Drawing from his experience reporting from such countries as Iran, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, and Afghanistan, Saunders explained that Islamic radicals usually come from middle class-backgrounds with weak religious beliefs.

“These terrorists use the language of religion,” he said, “but it’s not religion that (inspires them), it’s this idea of the territorial land of Islam.”

For Saunders, Islamic terrorism is a real problem that needs to be addressed. That is why he writes in his book that the war on terror was not ill-founded or misconceived. The fight against Muslim extremists, however, must be understood as a specific political battle, and not some clash of civilizations based on false assumptions.

“The Muslim Brotherhood would be unthinkable in a religious world,” said Saunders. “It is in a way a sign of the decline of religion, because it is a political project that needs to be voted on and imposed on people.”

To back his argument, Saunders noted that many of the shrill claims made against Muslim immigrants today are similar to what was said of Catholics in the mid-20th century.

In regards to the claim that Muslims are more loyal to Islam than their adopted land, meanwhile, Saunders points to studies that show that followers of the Prophet Muhammad have the same level of religiosity as others in their adopted land. As such, Muslims living in France tend to be less religious than their counterparts in the United States.

This illuminating discussion was followed by another wonderful talk, this time by renowned CBC radio personality Jian Ghomeshi, the host of the popular daily talk program Q.

In his autobiographical novel 1982, Ghomeshi recounts what it was like to live in Toronto as an Iranian immigrant who desperately wanted to fit in – while dreaming of being a rock star.

“It’s about being 14 and wanting to be (David) Bowie,” Ghomeshi told a jam-packed crowd. “And being in love with an older woman Wendy, who’s 16, who reminds me of Bowie.”

On the surface, this novel has little in common with Saunders work. Dig a little deeper, however, and you realize that 1982 is a real-life example of how immigrants relate to Canada.

Recalling the tense political period in the early-1980s, only a few years after the Iranian revolution, Ghomeshi recalled how many Iranian immigrants tried to hide their identity.

“People in the (Iranian) diaspora would say that they were Persian, with the hope that people wouldn’t know what that was, or that they had said ‘Parisian,’” he told the audience with his trademark humour.

This feeling of being an outsider led a teenage Ghomeshi to find solace in pop culture, and especially with David Bowie, who was the ultimate outsider. This search would lead him to find his identity.

“There is something very Canadian about being an immigrant,” he said. “Canada’s the place that makes us most comfortable.”

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