587 concerned Canadian academics have signed an open letter warning of the danger they perceive in a shift they see in the current Canadian Federal election to focus attention on a particular religious practice.

Regardless of anyone’s political allegiance, the 600 word letter is worth reading in its entirety, here: http://induecourse.ca/open-letter-regarding-conservative-party-campaign-tactics/

Here are a few pertinent excerpts:

In democratic electoral politics there is an ethical line that distinguishes spirited partisan strategy from cynical tactics that betray the values of mutual respect and toleration that lie at the heart of civil democratic discourse….

….by injecting the inflammatory rhetoric of ‘barbaric cultural practices’ into the current campaign, the Conservative Party has flagrantly crossed the line.

…the vast majority of citizens, irrespective of their religious commitments or cultural backgrounds, embrace the basic rights and liberties upon which our democracy is based. By conjuring up a phantom menace to the country and implying that some immigrants and religious minorities are enemies, the Conservatives hope to pit Canadians against one another. Like many sophisticated forms of vicious propaganda, the invocation of barbarism is meant to create fear and anxiety rather than to identify a real problem….

We do not deny that there is room to discuss and debate how contemporary democracies should respond to religious, cultural and linguistic pluralism. Indeed, Canadian legal and political theory is at the forefront of exploring such matters. But a common point of departure for these debates and discussions is a commitment to civility, decency and toleration. Toleration does not require that one like or endorse the cultural or religious practices of others, but it does require that we refrain from insulting the dignity of those with whom we disagree.

This is not about politics. It is not about what is the best or most responsible way to manage the economy, create jobs, or insure the safety and well-being of the citizens of our country.

The issue that has become a focal point in the current Federal election goes to the heart of what kind of country we want to be.

Are we content to be a country in which the government legislates individual religious choices that harm no one? Or do we want to be a country which values diversity and respects all peoples’ right to live freely according to the dictates of their conscience and the practices of their culture within the parameters of our well-established legal system?

Do we want to be a country where men are allowed to wear kilts, sikhs are free to wear turbans and carry the ceremonial kirpan, a Jewish male can wear a yarmulke and grow long ringlets, and a brethren woman can don traditional head covering? Or, do we want to insist that, in order to qualify for citizenship in our country, all people must homogenize and abide by a prescribed dress code?

Surely there is a degree of hypocrisy in a country which claims to want to protect a woman by legislating that she should not be free to wear the clothing she believes her faith tells her to wear, but cannot prevent one woman every six days from being killed by her intimate partner. http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence

There are no small decisions when it comes to setting the cultural direction of a society. Each collective choice shapes the trajectory for the future of our society.

In 1823 German poet and essayist Heinrich Heine warned that

Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.

One hundred and ten years later on the 10 May 1933, German students from universities once regarded as among the finest in the world, gathered in Berlin to burn books that were deemed to contain “unGerman” ideas. In 1942 the slaughter we have come to know as the “Holocaust” moved into high gear creating one of the most monstrous cultures of death in history.

11 million Jews, Poles, Roma Gypsies, clergy, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, people with disabilities, and political undesirables and resisters were slaughtered because they did not align with what Nazis had determined was to be the dominant paradigm for their culture. Those who forget the atrocities of history are condemned to repeat them.

We cannot today afford the luxury of implementing legislative principles that look even remotely like cultural discrimination. We must be vigilant against any forces of oppression and injustice that might tend to set the course of our society towards violence and oppression in whatever form it begins to insinuate itself into our social fabric.

The Open Letter of 587 Canadian legal academics indicates that we have a strong and just legal tradition in our country determined to ensure justice for all people. We need to be sensible. But there is no evidence that we need to fear the imposition of foreign legal practices upon future generations of this nation. The present danger from dictating women’s clothing options is much more real than any imagined threat from Sharia Law in the future.

 

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