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Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa

Thank you Khalil, As Salam Alaikum and good afternoon everyone. I would like to thank the Global Centre for Pluralism for inviting me to speak at this important event with the Global Shapers Community, as part of this year’s SHAPE North America Summit.

The increase in trans-national violence and the rise of populist and nationalistic ideology are indeed a threat to pluralism globally. In this regard, I am encouraged and inspired to see so many exceptional young leaders here today eager to participate in conversations about the advancement of inclusive citizenship and generate actions to take home and initiate in their local communities.

I am a Muslim, an immigrant and female parliamentarian. I came to this country from Pakistan as a young bride to join my husband who had moved here as a student. In moving to Canada, I joined a population of Canadian Muslims that have existed since the country’s formation. The plight of women, children and minorities both in Canada and globally are issues that I am particularly passionate about. I am a fervent advocate of diversity and inclusion and have spoken out often against issues and policies that embolden the marginalization of women and minority populations.

Since the late 20th century, global migration has increased substantially and continues to increase at historically unprecedented levels. The United Nations Populations Fund reported in 2015, that 244 million people, or 3.3 percent of the world’s population had migrated from their country of origin. Given the ongoing conflicts around the world this number is certain to have increased since then.

In this global political climate, Islamophobia has become a pressing concern. Accounts of hate crimes against Muslims have increased in many Western countries.

This year, in a targeted act of terror and hatred at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, six innocent people lost their lives and nineteen innocent people were wounded in their place of worship. The victims were shot as they prayed. In the wake of this event, many citizens of our country and leaders of our political parties, stood together in solidarity as fellow human beings to condemn this horrific act of cowardly violence and hatred. We witnessed an outpouring of compassion and the unity of many across our country who sent a very strong message: When you harm one community, you harm all communities.

As a country, we are not about hate and division. On the contrary, we strive to be about love and inclusion. However, the tragedy in Quebec, as well as a string of other recent attacks against Muslims in Canada, have been somber reminders that there are those who seek to divide us, and that although we proudly claim to be an inclusive society that values diversity, we are not immune to acts of hatred, divisiveness and terror. The number of police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims in Canada more than tripled between 2012 and 2015, despite the overall number of such crimes decreasing over the same period, according to Statistics Canada. And, so far in 2017, there have been 47 anti-Muslim incidents reported.

As citizens and community leaders, we must be vigilant with our words and actions. Recently, I have noticed a change in dialogue. Things that were once unacceptable to say, even 3 years ago, have seemingly become common place. This is why we must speak out in the strongest of terms against words that seek to pit one against the other, for example the use of terms such as “Islamic terrorism.” Moreover, as leaders in your communities, I encourage you to be ardent and vocal champions of inclusive citizenship practices and advocates for the advancement of intercultural exchange.

As part of my work with the Senate, I serve as Deputy-Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. Since November 2015, Canada has welcomed over 25,000 Syrian refugees. In the spring of 2016, I proposed that the Human Rights Committee conduct a study on steps being taken to facilitate the resettlement and integration of newly arrived Syrian refugees in Canada and to address any challenges they faced.

In its report, Finding Refuge in Canada: A Syrian Resettlement Story, the Committee concluded that while the Syrian refugee resettlement initiative had been remarkably successful, it emphasized that the Government of Canada had an obligation to ensure that those who have found safe haven in our country were provided with the tools and supports necessary to integrate successfully into Canadian society and that it gear its policies and resources to benefit refugees in both the short and long term. The Committee made 12 strong recommendations to the Government in relation to programs, policies and investments in the context of the resettlement of all refugees in Canada. This is critical, because how a government acts in terms of its policies and investments are factors which motivate either inclusion or exclusion in multicultural societies. In this regard, I ask that when contemplating pluralism, you consider whether government initiatives in your own communities serve to promote or suppress inclusion and diversity.

Another part of my work in the Senate, is serving as Vice-President of the Canadian Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which in its universal declaration states that “institutions and processes of democracy must accommodate the participation of all people in homogeneous, as well as heterogeneous societies in order to safeguard diversity, pluralism and the right to be different in a climate of tolerance.”

In 2016, the IPU produced a report entitled “Sexism, Harassment, and Violence against Women Parliamentarians” which examined how sexism, harassment and violence against female parliamentarians impedes gender equality and undermines the foundations of democracy.

Violence is a tool which is used with the goal of discouraging women, in particular, from being or becoming active in politics. In its report, the IPU put forth a number of strategies that governments should implement in response to harassment and violence against female parliamentarians including:

  • Recognizing the problem, talking about it openly and making it visible;
  • Establishing harassment policies and complaint settlement procedures and strengthening codes of conduct;
  • Having strong and strictly enforced laws on gender equality and violence against women;
  • Responding to and countering online threats and other forms of cyber-violence; and
  • Changing the political culture, by addressing gender stereotypes, making parliaments more gender-sensitive and enlisting male parliamentarians as allies.

These are tangible responses and solutions that all governments can implement to combat violence against female parliamentarians. I would add, that strategies similar to these would also be effective in the context of promoting diversity, building and sustaining inclusive societies. I would therefore encourage you to reflect upon these types of approaches when generating actions to take back to your communities.

In closing, I would like to say that the idea of pluralism is not a new concept. Tolerance, acceptance and peaceful co-existence with neighbours and people of different backgrounds has been part of the human experience for centuries. Al-Andalus, also known as Muslim Spain or Islamic Iberia, was a medieval Muslim territory and cultural domain which occupied, what today are Spain and Portugal, is a prime example. Some of the greatest achievements of Al-Andalus resulted from Muslims, Christians and Jews working together.

In her book The Ornament of the World: How the Muslims, Jews and Christians created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, Maria Menocal writes:

“The very heart of culture as a series of contraries lay in Al-Andalus, which requires us to reconfigure the map of Europe and put the Mediterranean at the center and begin telling at least this part of our own story from an Andalusian perspective. It was there that profoundly Arabized Jews rediscovered and reinvented Hebrew; there that Christians embraced nearly every aspect of Arabic style— from the intellectual style of philosophy to the architectural styles of mosques—not only while living in Islamic dominions but especially after wrestling political control from them…We are likely to be taken aback by the many of lasting testimonies of this Andalusian culture. Ferdinand III is the king remembered as the Castilian conqueror of the last of all the Islamic territories and yet his tomb is rather matter-of-factly inscribed in Arabic and Hebrew as well as in Latin and Castilian.”

As humans, we have a history of seeking out commonalities and the exchange of knowledge, culture and ideas from one another. In the current global climate of division, organizations such as the Global Centre for Pluralism help remind us that we have always been more similar than different and that we should be striving for more connections with one another by building meaningful and sustainable bridges, rather than divisive and damaging walls.

Thank you. I wish you a fun and productive rest of the afternoon and much success in your work when you get home.