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From the archives

The Trust Spiral

Restoring faith in the media

Dear Prudence

A life of exuberance and eccentricity

Who’s Afraid of Alice Munro?

A long-awaited biography gives the facts, but not the mystery, behind this writer’s genius

Dystopic Utopia?

An optimistic book lends itself to a pessimistic analysis

Tarek Fatah

Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism

Michael Adams


180 pages, hardcover

ISBN: 9780670063680

Pollster Michael Adams is known for his 1997 bestseller, Sex in the Snow: The Surprising Revolution in Canadian Social Sciences, in which he studied Canadian population groups defined by their values and resulting lifestyle choices, where the differences between men and women within a tribe were found to be less significant than the differences between different tribes.

In Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism, Michael Adams travels a similar route, analyzing the complex relationship between immigrant groups, specifically Muslims, and “Canadians,” with a section devoted to real sex in the snow—intermarriage between Canadians of different ethnic backgrounds.

In 1997, Adams suggested that the values of men and women were increasingly converging. He suggested that women were less motivated by the traditional values of guilt and duty than they were a generation ago. He wrote, “the values propelling our culture—autonomy, hedonism and a quest for meaning—have influenced women as much as men.” Ten years later, Adams uses the results of an Environics survey—the firm he founded—to make the case that despite misgivings, the values of immigrants are coming together with the rest of Canadians who came here many generations ago.

Midway through Unlikely Utopia, Adams alerts us: “This is not a book about Muslims.” The sudden nudge is surprising, almost as if he is trying to steer our perspective away from the subject matter of the book. It is a direction few will accept. Anyone reading the book will find it extremely difficult to agree with the author that the book is not about hijab, sharia and the issue of jihadi terrorism that is on the minds of most Canadians. Notwithstanding his attempt to position the book as one about Canadian pluralism, there is no doubt the book is a vigorous and well-intentioned defence of Canada’s beleaguered Muslim communities and Canada’s multiculturalism policies. Adams takes on a difficult challenge in good faith and the result should win him accolades among the 800,000 Canadians who turn to Mecca five times a day in prayer.

Although the book—showing a welcome mat on the cover—addresses the ties and tensions between Canada’s growing population of African, Asian and Latin American immigrants and the country’s dominant English or French citizens, it is essentially structured around a landmark survey done by Environics to study Muslim Canadians. Between November 30, 2006, and January 5, 2007, Environics surveyed 500 adult Muslim Canadians. The results of this survey made headline news across the country, and CBC’s The National dedicated an entire show to the survey findings with commentaries by academics and reaction from the street. Unlikely Utopia is Environics interpretation of this survey with a comforting assurance to both Muslim and non-Muslim Canadians that not all is as bad as it is seems.

The reason Adams would choose to deflect the reader’s attention away from the “Muslimness” of his book can be found when he suggests that if attention were turned away from them, Muslim Canadians would integrate with the rest of Canada just as other immigrants do. At the end of the chapter titled “Muslim in Canada,” Adams quotes Globe and Mail writer Doug Saunders to validate his argument. Saunders says that much of the talk about Muslims in the West is ill founded: “Once we get past the hysteria and look at the facts, something becomes apparent about the Muslims: They’re just like any group of immigrants, except for the stories we tell about them.”

Unlikely Utopia, in the words of Adams, is essentially a “backlash against a backlash.” For a book about facts and figures, it is a smooth read, one that appeals to our better angels, struts Canada as a success story in a world deeply mired in mutual suspicion and conflict, yet reveals troubling unresolved fissures; some Adams glosses over, while others he chooses to ignore.

In the chapter titled “Facts on the Ground,” Adams demonstrates why Canadians should be proud of how well new and old Canadians have managed to live together without the tensions we see elsewhere. As evidence of this success, Adams very rightly points to integration where it counts: in the political process. He writes:

“Canada has the highest proportion of foreign-born legislators in the world. This is true in two ways. First, we have the world’s largest proportion of seats in … [the House of Commons] occupied by people who weren’t born here. Second, our proportion of foreign-born legislators comes the closest in the world to matching the proportion of foreign-born people in the country’s population overall … Moreover, the more than three dozen foreign-born MPs … represent every major political party in this country, from the Conservatives to the Bloc Québécois.”

His thesis is that there is little for Canadians to fear from newcomers to this country or vice versa, and he provides an array of statistics to support that claim. Canadians, he writes, “consistently express the most positive attitudes in the world toward immigration.” He quotes from an international Ipsos MORI study done in 2006, which found that 75 percent of Canadians believe that overall immigrants have a positive influence on the country. The 75 percent figure becomes even more significant when compared to other immigrant-receiving nations. Adams writes:

“The country with the second most positive attitudes [towards immigrants], Australia, was slightly over half (54 percent), with the United States not far behind (52 percent). In Western Europe, Germans (47 percent) were the most positive about immigrants’ influence on their country.”

Adams provides figures from Statistics Canada to demonstrate that newcomers are succeeding as never before. He writes:

“Another hopeful sign is the employment outcomes of second-generation Canadians: children of immigrants. Looking at the average incomes of three groups—those whose families have been in Canada for three generations or more, immigrants, and the children of immigrants—it is the last group, the second generation, that has the highest earnings. According to Statistics Canada, second-generation Canadian men earn an average annual income of $49,000, as compared with about $42,000 for those whose families have been here three or more generations.”

Adams goes to great lengths to show that the existence of “ethnic enclaves” in our major cities is not to be equated with the ghettoes of Paris or Amsterdam. Canadian ethnic enclaves, he demonstrates, are not a result of racism, but of convenience. He writes:

“The increased concentration of particular visible minority groups in Canadian neighbourhoods is not, then, a case of the growing segregation of long-time Canadians. It’s a case of having more visible minority newcomers than ever before, and of those newcomers doing what newcomers of all races have always done: gone to the most familiar-feeling neighbourhoods in a new and unfamiliar land.”

Adams’s passion for Canada is evident from page one where he states, “Canada is special.” But he is careful not to discard some of the real fear that consumes this country that has centred on the feelings of many well-meaning Canadians who believe that newcomers arrive with a sense of entitlement and with little incentive to integrate. This fear has resonated most vividly in Quebec, and Adams dedicates an entire chapter to that province and to the debate about reasonable accommodation. Adams admits that this fear is real. He writes that “our own data suggest that Canadians are indeed starting to worry that this country may have bitten off more than it can chew when it comes to the integration of newcomers of vastly different religious, cultural and ideological backgrounds.”

Although acknowledging that this fear is based on data, Adams goes on to say that the problem is not the fear itself but “the more exaggerated version of it which claims that Canada is a powder keg of ethnic strife waiting to explode.” He does not, however, identify the source or the data that confirms this exaggeration of fear.

Adams expresses deep admiration for Canada’s successes, and the blemishes that we Canadians notice he blames on our negativity, a product, he believes, of our media. “We have only to flick on the television or open the newspaper to be fairly certain that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and taking us with it,” he writes.

However, he does not stop there. He claims that if we feel there is something wrong around us, it is because we are prone to see things in bad light. “Canadians seem to expect, if not downright savour, bad news … Canada is populated by people who are highly attentive to the (bad) news in our country and the bad news from everywhere else,” says Adams, without sharing with us the data that would allow him to make such a claim.

“I am by no means a Pollyanna. I am a pollster,” declares Adams as he prepares the reader for the Environics poll that confirmed the fears of many Canadians and alarmed even Muslims, but not him. If we are to believe Adams’s Chamberlainian analysis, his Environics survey found no evidence of the likelihood that Canada may one day face a situation that Britain, France, Spain, Indonesia, Pakistan, India or the United States have faced at the hands of jihadi terrorists or Islamic extremists. I wish he was right, but the survey results suggest otherwise.

The Environics survey had questions about the arrest of 18 Muslim men and boys charged with plotting terrorist acts in Canada. It asked Muslim Canadians whether those terrorist attacks would have been justified. An astonishing 12 percent of the respondents said if the 18 men had actually carried out the terrorist attacks on Canada, they would have been “at least somewhat justified.” Five percent said they would have been “completely justified.”

By any account, this was a scary number. Adams in his book estimates that there are today more than 800,000 Muslims living in Canada. The survey results indicate that at least 96,000 Muslim Canadians believe that if, hypothetically, their co-religionists carried out a terrorist attack on Canada, there would be some justification. Of them 40,000 Muslims believe that the terrorists would be “completely justified” in attacking their own country.

Ordinary Muslims in Canada were shocked to hear this finding on the CBC nightly news, but as soon as the story emerged, it disappeared from the rest of the media. Peter Mansbridge of The National asked Professor Haideh Moghissi of York University to throw light on this high figure, but she seemed unable to fathom the huge number of Muslims willing to justify a terrorist attack on their homeland. In answer to another question, the book reveals that “nine percent told us they had some sympathy with the young men who were allegedly plotting attacks.” Close to 80,000 Muslims have sympathy for the alleged terrorists.

Those of us who have been on the frontlines of fighting Islamic extremism and have been yelling into deaf ears about the increasing penetration of radical jihadi literature and preachers in Canada’s mosques were also very alarmed at the finding, but not Michael Adams. He dismissed the survey result, saying “these numbers may sound larger than we might like.”

Adams discounts this overt [Muslim] support for terrorist attacks on Canada by stating that “the link between opinion and action isn’t so straightforward.” He then dedicates an entire page to comparing the 12 percent figure with other findings and at one stage draws this incredible analogy: “Ten percent [of Canadians] believe that people who contracted HIV/AIDS through sex or drug use ‘got what they deserve.’ Consider how profoundly marginal these positions are in Canadian society.”

He then goes on to trivialize the fact that nearly 80,000 Canadians feel there is justification for attacking Canada. He writes: “Moreover, to say one has sympathy for someone doesn’t necessarily mean one would encourage their behaviour. I have sympathy for young people who commit crimes.”

Michael Adams clearly comes out in this book as a friend of Muslims, as someone who cares for and is willing to go to bat for them. However, sometimes a true friend is one who has the courage to say “You have a problem.” Adams fails in that test of true friendship. Not only does he try to cover up a major problem facing the Muslim communities—the influence of jihadi literature and theology on their sons and daughters—but the survey itself was tainted in the questions it failed to ask and the way it was conducted. Environics admits that it hired extra Muslim staff to ask the questions. There was no need for augmenting the questioners with Muslim staff. As a statistician, I know that a survey needs to be done with absolutely no chance of respondents being coached. There is no evidence that this happened in this case, but there is also no explanation why additional Muslims were hired to ask questions.

In the survey, there was no question asked about whether the respondent believed in the doctrine of armed jihad as pronounced by leading Islamists ranging from the late Syed Qutb to Osama bin Laden, which states that all Muslims living in non-Muslim countries should join the armed jihad if any part of the Muslim world is under attack. This is the only question that sets the Muslim apart from the Islamist. It was not raised.

In another question, the respondents were asked: “Some countries have decided to ban the wearing of head scarves by Muslim women in public places, including schools. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea?”

The answer was obvious. However, as it had no relevance to Canada, it seems the question was unnecessary. Had the following question also been asked, the answers could have shown whether the respondent believes in universal rights or merely their own rights. The question I feel went unasked was: Some countries have decided to punish women who do not wear head scarves in public, including schools. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea?

Two months after Unlikely Utopia was launched with much fanfare in Toronto, with Adams a sought-after speaker at Islamic events, an incident in Mississauga would prove that even if less than 1 percent of a community believed in violence in the name of religion, it would be 1 percent too many. A young teenager, Aqsa Pervez, was killed in her own home, allegedly by her father for not wearing the hijab.

In the words of Haideh Moghissi and Shahrzad Mojab, the death of Pervez was a wakeup call to those who feel all is well. In January of this year, writing in the online magazine ZNet (after the Toronto Star declined their submission), they warned that Canada was “facing a very serious and growing problem of the rise of religious zealotry.” ((Haideh Moghissi and Shahrzad Mojab (2008). “Of ‘Cultural’ Crimes and Denials: Aqsa Pervez.” (January 2008). ))

The two Iranian-born academics wrote that Islam itself has had different readings from almost the very beginning with a strict and rigid literalist reading on the one hand and a rationalist interpretive reading on the other. For centuries, they say, the vast majority of Muslims rejected “the rigid totalitarian ultra-conservative Islam.”

Moghissi and Mojab write:

“Taking this voice [of rigid totalitarian ultra-conservative Islam] as the voice of Muslims is a fatal mistake with dire consequences. Worse, wittingly or unwittingly, bowing to [its] demands in the name of respecting their cultural heritage is to give up on principles of citizens’ equality before the law and the hard-won norms of women’s rights. Still worse, tip-toeing around harmful cultural practices as some left and feminists are doing is tolerating for Others what is intolerable to ‘us.’”

Perhaps in the second edition of this book Michael Adams will not dismiss the growing threat of Islamic extremism in Canada, which his own survey demonstrates is having an effect on the opinions of Muslims.

Tarek Fatah is founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress and has written for The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post. Born in Pakistan, he is author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, in which he challenges the premise of Islamists that an Islamic state is a prerequisite to a state of Islam (John Wiley and Sons, 2008).

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