Proud to be Canadian!
By: Ismael Mukhtar
Many of us make crucial choices in our life which we, in retrospect, regret or feel proud of. Personally, I have made many choices; among the choices that I feel proud of is migrating to Canada years ago. Canada offered me opportunities, rights and privileges that were denied to me elsewhere. Canada is certainly a beautiful and comfortable country to live. It has been ranked consistently year after year among the top 10 best nations in the world. It has a landscape that is spacious, full of variety, magnificence, and beauty. From its ice and floating icebergs covered north, to the rocky areas in the south, to the high mountains and thick forests in B.C, to the many swamps, rivers, and lakes across the east and west, to the flat plain farmlands in the prairie, to the rugged coastline in the far east, Canada is a land full of natural splendor and wonders. It is a country endowed with abundance of water, rich natural resources, and pristine land. Canadians enjoy a variety of social, financial and health benefits that are only available for the rich and the elite in many nations across the globe. All of this and more makes Canada, despite its harsh winter, a highly sought country by immigrants from other less fortunate nations.
In my view, all the aforementioned are certainly vital sources of strength for Canada; however, what makes Canada a great nation is much bigger than its natural resources and its standards of living. Many nations, to a certain extent, have resources and natural wealth that is similar to Canada, yet they are not as attractive, stable, and prosperous as Canada. Canada is a great nation, first and foremost, because of its universal core values and its deeply ingrained civic norms. Canada isn’t a perfect country; it has many undesirable societal anomalies, but relatively speaking Canada is a bastion of human rights, tolerance, rule of law, freedom of expression, peaceful co-existence, and clean government. In Canada, speaking your mind, being critical of government isn’t an act of treason, as is the case in many countries, but rather a civic duty protected by the charter of rights. In Canada, practicing your faith and your culture is a right that is guaranteed to all regardless of who they are or what their background is. Being Canadian doesn’t require a person to suppress his individuality nor shun her heritage nor fit into a pre-packaged narrow social setting. John Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th Prime Minister, eloquently summed up the essence of Canada when he said: “I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind”. As a Muslim Canadian, I can attest to this statement. I have enjoyed freedoms to practice my faith in ways that I might not have enjoyed in many other Muslim dominated regions. Canada guaranteed me respect and taught me to respect others as well.
Canada will remain great as long as it remains true to its founding core values. The challenge that Canada faces today is how to maintain its core values in this increasingly volatile and violent world. The September 11 tragic event was a challenging test for Canada. This event was a senseless destruction committed by a fringe of extremists. However, what followed this tragedy shook Canadian Muslim deeply. Not only was their faith wrongly associated with this act of brutality, but their confidence in Canada as a land of liberty and due process was deeply shaken. Measures such as the security certificate, rendition, profiling, etc. cut deeply into the core values of Canada and brought back the painful memories of the Japanese interment. Many innocent Canadian Muslims were subjected to various restrictions without following due process; some were deported for torture with complicity from Canadian officials. The case of Maher Arrar is probably the one that is most remembered. Further to this Canada’s foreign policy took a gradual shift to the right and its image as a broker of peace, promoter of justice started to take a beating. The legacy of Prime Minister , Lester B. Pearson, who won the Peace Noble of peace; Canada’s support for the black South Africans during the apartheid era, its global peace missions, and its colonialism free history, appeared to be fading and seriously tarnished. All of this was source for worry and concern that Canada might be on a downward spiral that will compromise its cherished values and founding principles.
Nine years later after September 11, Canada has learned a lot and appears to have regained its core values and over come the temporary set back. The courts, human rights organizations, civic societies decried all the un-Canadian measures taken in an environment of fear and suspicion; the security certificates were quashed, justice was done to Maher Ararr, .....
The world surrounding us will remain full of dangers and volatilities. Canada’s challenge is to address them without compromising its core values and norms. Canada will continue to be one of the best nations only if it remains the land of equal opportunities, a land where people will not be judged by their appearance or ethnicity or faith but in the words of Martin Luther King by the “content of their character”. Canada will remain prosper as long as it is driven by its values not by fear, racism, double standard or a one sided narrow agenda. Many nations celebrate their national days. But, despite much fan fare, many of these nations feel deep a sense of loss and disappointment over their national legacy. Canada certainly has a lot to celebrate and to be proud of. Going forward, our past achievements as Canadians should inspire us to address the many anomalies we still have. The struggles of the aboriginal communities, the overt or covert discrimination some immigrants are facing, the stereotyping of some groups, the voices of hate within our societies; all of these are challenges we need to tackle so that Canada can be much brighter, shinier and a model to be emulated and adorned globally. Canada has unique opportunity to be a leader on the environment, global peace and justice and human rights. Canada can have a positive and moderating influence on its powerful neighbor in the South and make our world more humane, peaceful, and just. I am optimistic Canada will rise to the challenge.
(Reproduced from Winnipeg Free Press, June 26, 2010)
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