Toronto's motto is "Diversity Our Strength." According to the city's official website, it is where "more than 150 languages are spoken daily and where 50 percent of [its 2.7 million] residents are born outside of Canada."
When multiculturalism was declared official national policy in 1971, some citizens bristled, but others merely envisioned — to employ one Canadian blogger's cynical expression — "more pavilions at Folkfest." Already the destination of choice for many immigrants, Toronto duly appointed itself the country's capital of multiculturalism.
Decades later, though, a large influx of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Somalia, and elsewhere is putting "tolerant" Toronto to the test.
Like newcomers before them, Muslims are eagerly courted by politicians, who are accustomed to treating Canada's urban "ethnics" as colorful yet mostly harmless voting blocks. And, in turn, Muslims are requesting accommodation for various religious and cultural practices, just like every group before them — except that sometimes these demands are at odds with Canada's Judeo-Christian heritage and "liberal" self-image.
All the while, the number of Muslims in the city is growing rapidly. Unlike a comparable city such as New York, which is about 9% Jewish and 3.5% Muslim, the same demographic ratio in Toronto is reversed: 6.7% Muslim to 4.2% Jewish. This is a fairly recent development and the trend seems destined to continue. According to the latest Statistics Canada report, "Toronto's population of Arabs and West Asians could more than triple between 2006 and 2031. ... People with a non-Christian religion could represent nearly 31% of the census metropolitan area's population by 2031, up from 21% in 2006."
The advent of this "inverse ratio" coincides with the growing influence of Toronto's organized Islamists. After all, Toronto is where Israeli Apartheid Week got its start, at the city's two major universities back in 2005. York University in particular has become a hotbed of anti-Israel activism — and worse. Last year, Jewish students were forced to barricade themselves in the Hillel office after being set upon by an angry pro-Palestinian mob shouting racist slurs.
Such an occurrence would have been unthinkable ten years ago. Today, it takes its place in a litany of distressing post-9/11 developments. From the arrest of the "Toronto 18," charged with plotting to behead the prime minister, to revelations about rampant polygamy and "welfare harems," the picture painted of the city's Muslim community is not always flattering or reassuring.
For instance: throughout January 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, thousands of area Muslims gathered each Saturday outside the Israeli consulate at one of the city's busiest intersections. American and Israeli flags were burned, Jewish counter-protesters were verbally threatened, and Hezbollah standards were raised — even though Hezbollah is deemed an illegal terrorist group by the Canadian government.
Protesters faced off again on April 2 of this year. The Jewish Defence League of Canada organized a rally outside the Palestine House Educational and Cultural Centre in suburban Toronto, which was hosting an event featuring Abdul Bari Atwan. The editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi has declared publicly that "if the Iranian missiles strike Israel, by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight."
When not providing a forum for such guests, Palestine House, according to its website, "offers counseling on immigration, family problems, citizenship, legal matters, and housing, in addition to referrals to specialized professionals and institutions" — for which it receives millions of taxpayer dollars a year.
According to one report, approximately two dozen men assembled in the Palestine House parking lot to confront the Jewish Defence League. These men were captured on video calling Jews "monkeys" and shouting: "You guys need another Holocaust" and "We love jihad. We love killing you."
Videotape of this incident was disseminated on the web, leading to calls for the federal government to revisit its funding of Palestine House. Of course, Palestine House presumably could stay afloat with injections of Saudi cash, as a number of other Canadian Muslim institutions already do.
However, given the dependence of every political party in Canada upon balkanized ethnic voting blocks, Palestine House could not be defunded without the kind of ugly public battle that politicians are learning simply to avoid.
Ontario politicians are understandably wary about taking up causes that combine religion and the public purse. A poorly received promise to fund all "religious schools," including madrassas, made in the run-up to the 2009 provincial election cost the candidate who supported the idea — before he was against it — the race. A few years earlier, Toronto found itself the focus of international scorn when a proposal to set up Islamic Shari'a tribunals, alongside Ontario's longstanding Catholic, aboriginal, and Jewish arbitration panels, proved equally unpopular with taxpayers. Local Muslim women led the successful fight to stop the tribunals; the other faith-based panels were subsequently abolished as well, in the interest of "fairness."
That 2005 battle introduced Toronto residents to Muslim voices against creeping Shari'a and jihadism. Despite their differences on some other issues, generally pro-Western writers Tarek Fatah and Tahir Aslam Gora — a translator for former Torontonian Irshad Manji — as well as the pseudonymous ex-Muslim Ali Sina of Former Muslims United, contributed to the success of the anti-Shari'a campaign.
So did Canadian immigrant, author (Islam's Predicament: Perspectives of a Dissident Muslim), academic, and longtime critic of official multiculturalism Salim Mansur, who also scolded pandering non-Muslim politicians who would sacrifice Western Enlightenment values just to get themselves elected. But as the outcomes of the school funding and Shari'a tribunal fights prove, says Mansur, the nation's politicians and powerbrokers have it exactly backwards.
He explained in an exclusive interview: "I support the moves made by the Quebec assembly to begin demanding that immigrants settling in Quebec need to adjust to the culture of Quebec and not the other way around. In my view, a political party in English Canada that took an assertive stand would then harvest votes. But for this to happen, political leaders or aspirants must first come to grab hold of the false doctrine of multiculturalism and refuse to be browbeaten by the elite in the media, government, and universities."
Mansur notes that Islamist activists are simply imitating the "identity politics" strategy that has worked so well for other groups of immigrants to Canada, while the nation's establishment — which constructed the system for its own purposes — has only itself to blame. Meanwhile, ordinary Canadians are left feeling helpless and resentful.
He explains: "The elite in this country has abandoned its own history out of any number of reasons — too tired to procreate, too despondent about the future, too concerned about the immediate present, too many guilty feelings about the past, too little pride in the achievements of those who built this country — and decided that the better way of securing 'peace, order, and good government' [Canada's official motto] is to appease the demands of immigrants rather than demand of them an acceptance of the country's history which they have chosen to make their home."
However, political correctness is deeply entrenched within the nation's institutions and the country's human rights commissions make the questioning of received wisdom an actionable offense, with costly consequences.
If Mansur's wish comes true and a political movement springs up that is dedicated to bringing down multiculturalism once and for all, it will face its fiercest fights in "Toronto the Good."
Only time will tell if diversity really turns out to be the city's strength — or its downfall.