When encouraging news emerges from the too-frequent darkness of current events, we should shine a light on it and take some solace. A couple of encouraging events happened this week.
The first is tentative, but positive. French voters on Sunday advanced then-National Front leader Marine Le Pen to the second round of the French presidential elections. This is not good news in itself – Le Pen is a far-right extremist who just days ago refuted French complicity in one of the most notorious roundups of Jews during the Nazi era. What is encouraging is the response of her political opponents and much of French society in the wake of her success.
Le Pen will face Emmanuel Macron, a political neophyte who is described as a centrist and around whom many French seem determined to coalesce in order to reject Le Pen’s divisive and xenophobic rhetoric and policies. The defeated candidate of the Socialist party immediately urged his supporters to back Macron, saying he recognizes the differences between a political opponent and “an enemy of the republic.”
Another bright spot in the results was that, despite polls that tightened the race into a four-way contest in recent days, there is, in Macron, a voice for moderate, pro-European, liberal policies. A nightmare scenario – avoided by only a couple of percentage points in the popular vote – would have seen Le Pen face off against far-left extremist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. As it is, all polls and pundits (for what any of those are worth) predict Le Pen will suffer a landslide trouncing on par with that her father experienced when he reached the runoff in 2002, as moderate French of all stripes lined up behind Le Pen’s opponent.
This positive milestone follows the unexpectedly poor showing of the far-right party in the recent Dutch elections.
Closer to home, another bright spot was an exclusive interview in Monday’s National Post with Ibrahim Hindy, the imam at a Mississauga, Ont., mosque.
Hindy has become a voice of reason against extremism in the Canadian Muslim community and he comes with unique experience. As a younger man, he was invited into a web that could have led to radicalization. However, his own understandings of Islam as a merciful worldview contradicted what he was hearing from the people he had fallen in with in Pakistan. Later, meeting Jews and people of African descent at university, Hindy realized that, contrary to what he had been told by some of his would-be mentors, Muslims were not the only minority facing challenges in the world. His tolerant, empathetic approach has earned the 33-year-old clergyman a respected role among Canadian anti-extremist activists, as well as police, and, more importantly, among young people in his own community.
At the same time, Hindy has seen very close up the level of extremism in Canada aimed at Muslims. As controversy swirled around an Ontario school district’s accommodation of Friday Muslim prayers on school premises, Hindy and his mosque were on the receiving end of grotesque and threatening messages. His Islamic centre was described in one message as “one of many Satan safe houses that need to be burned to the ground.”
Incidents of hatred and violence are not to be tolerated – and they have not been. In addition to law enforcement agencies taking action, Canadian Jews, Muslims and others have been brought closer together and intercultural connections have been strengthened. Interfaith events in Vancouver, including one at a mosque, one at a synagogue and another at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, are just a few occasions that have confounded those who are determined to sow distrust, hatred and division.
At the same time, we do hear the view expressed that moderate Muslims must speak up and condemn extremism among their co-religionists. So those voices that call for just this sort of expression and activism should waste no time in commending it when we hear it, as we have from Hindy.
Likewise, all Canadians should look into our own hearts and at views expressed in our own communities and consider whether we are judging groups of people based on the actions of a few. Discrimination and extremism exist in different forms and we should be vigilant not only when it is directed at us, but also when it is directed at others.