Charles Taylor on Muslims in Canada

Philosopher Charles Taylor in media scrum
Philosopher Charles Taylor in media scrum

The celebrated Canadian political philosopher Charles Taylor made headlines recently when he said that the prime minister’s critical comments about Muslim women wearing the niqab (a partial face covering) were both “dumb” and a boon for terrorist recruiters such as the Islamic State. Taylor’s point was that the prime minister is fuelling anti-Muslim sentiment and that in turn makes alienated Muslims in Canada more likely targets for terrorist recruiters. Taylor called the comments “a ridiculously disproportionate reaction” to the tiny number of women who wear the niqab in Canada. He speculated that some politicians are cynically trolling for votes by trying to sew division.

The news stories quoting Taylor arose largely from a scrum that he had with reporters following a keynote speech that he made to a gathering organized by the left-leaning Broadbent Institute, a think tank named after the former NDP leader.

A public intellectual

Taylor, a professor emeritus of political philosophy at McGill University, is perhaps Canada’s most prominent public intellectual. He was, for example, one of the main speakers early in March at an international conference in Rome convened by the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Culture. Taylor was also co-chair of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission in Quebec, which arose from a controversy stoked by some in Quebec against Muslims and other minority groups. The commission’s report Building the Future was released in 2008 after months of testimony at public hearings.

Taylor’s speech to the Broadbent Institute did target recent comments by some federal politicians, but at an earlier time he was also a blunt critic of plans by the Parti Quebecois to introduce a charter of values that would have forbade people working in public institutions from wearing clothing or accessories of a religious nature.

Historical sweep

Taylor’s speech was rich in its historical sweep, providing examples of how social exclusion has been practiced but also how it has been overcome. “We are in a race,” he said, “between measures that create solidarity and those that create division. We must create bonds of solidarity and avoid stigmatization.”

Taylor said that all societies at one time or another attempt to exclude certain people and groups. There was once a strong opposition to Irish immigration into the United States, but Taylor said that the Americans overcame it. The symbolic end to that discrimination occurred when John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the country’s president in 1960. “But today in the U.S. Hispanics are unwanted by a lot of Anglo-Saxon types,” Taylor said, but he predicted that Americans will get beyond that exclusion as well.

He used France as an example of a country that once had a positive attitude toward accepting immigrants, but that changed after World War II and especially after the war in the former French colony of Algeria. “There is now a deep alienation among immigrants in France and the country is aggravating it with anti-Muslim measures.”

Bonds of solidarity

Taylor asked his audience to think about how certain countries succeed in confronting the obstacles to welcoming newcomers while other nations do not. “If we allow people to get to know each other and if we create enough connections, we can get beyond this just as the Americans did with the Irish and the Polish,” Taylor said. “We have to build connections of solidarity and to include those who are excluded.”

All political leaders, Taylor said, have a responsibility to refrain from stigmatization. “It is really dangerous for the prime minister to say that Islam is anti-feminine because some women choose to wear the niqab. This creates confrontation and stigmatizes all Muslims and ultimately the bonds of solidarity may not be able to keep up with the amount of division. You can be desperate to win an election and think you can do that by creating tension, but if you succeed you may actually lose the country you want. We have to think in the long term.”

Despite the controversies, Taylor said that he remains optimistic about the likelihood of having solidarity triumph over division in Canada. “We can meet this challenge. We have done so in the past in Canada and in Quebec and we can do so again.”         




5 thoughts on “Charles Taylor on Muslims in Canada

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  1. Charles Taylor is quite correct. Unfortunately, our Prime Minister is cynical enough to use anti-Muslim bigotry for his own twisted political ends. We ought not to forget that Prime Minister Harper was all in favour of joining the criminal conspiracy that led to the illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq, and his foreign policy consists largely of attempting to whip up public support for military adventuring overseas. Muslims are simply the ‘target de jour’ for those who like to play the politics of hate. Lately the Prime Minister has been promoting his vision of Canada as a police state a la Bill C-51 and, not unexpectedly, Bill C-51 has proven attractive for the hard of thinking, bigots who like to wrap themselves in the flag to try to hide their bigotry, and the usual war mongers who revel in the imagined glories of human carnage while deluding themselves that one can achieve virtuous ends using wicked means.

    A bitter irony that will be missed by most this Easter is that Jews, Christians and Muslims all proclaim the faith of Abraham. Those who self-identify as Christians while attempting to vilify Muslims have taken on the role of Judas Iscariot in betraying their brothers and sisters who also profess the faith of Abraham. Jews, Christians and Muslims all have charlatans and frauds in their ranks who promote distrust and hatred among the world’s great monotheistic faith communities for political ends.

    Under Harper’s leadership, Canada has beaten its plough shares and pruning hooks into swords, abandoning its traditional role of peace keeper to take up the role of war maker. And, as is usually the case with those who promote war, our federal government has chosen the scapegoats it will blame for everything, namely the Muslims.

    Charles Taylor is indeed correct in his criticisms of our Prime Minister actions. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the leopard to change its spots. Indeed, you can bet your boots that Conservatives will be wrapping themselves in flag – albeit a rather bloodied flag – during the next federal election. And the Conservative party may yet again succeed playing the cynical politics of division, but it has long since lost its soul by encouraging the hate mongers among us.


    1. Charles Taylor and Dallas McQuarrie are like a breath of fresh Spring air – my simple yet humble thoughts are that, if we believe as Christians in The Credo that God is Creator of heaven and earth, and from that belief, we are all God’s children and we are all loved by God equally…now, if only we humans would do the same.


  2. It is refreshing to read accounts of Charles Taylor’s vision of a path to peace in the Middle East. We only hear the opposite from the federal government here.

    As far as I am concerned, Harper’s goals are clear. In his book The Longer I’m Prime Minister, the longer I am Prime Minister by Paul Wells of McLeans, sets those goals clearly. The PM wants to change Canada to reflect his ideas as completely as possible and he wants to make it so that it will be most difficult to reverse the atmosphere he is setting up. Examples: Complete central control, military interventions in Iraq and Syria (the only country besides the US to bomb Syria), attempts to have Canada become as militaristic as possible. Add to the list and pick your poison. But evidence that he has a tendency bordering on megalomania it the fact that he muzzles government scientist and ignores others.

    But I think that his attacks on Muslim Canadians shows that he is desperately paranoid over the possibility of losing the next election and he will do almost anything to win that vote. After all, what may come out in the trials of Duffy et al? And the ignorant and very dangerous comments about the niqab shows an attitude that says damn the consequences. Force and fear will cure everything.

    But an important question we can ask people who advocate war on Muslim nations was asked by MIchael Enright on the CBC’s Sunday Morning, April 5: “How will bombing ISSL in Iraq and Syria prevent attacks on the likes of the West Edmonton Mall?”

    Another question should be: “What would happen to ISSL’s ability to recruit fighters if we gave massive humanitarian aid to the mostly Muslim refugees in the region instead of bombing targets in Iraq and Syria?”


  3. I was appalled by “my Prime Minister’s” comments on the niqab. Not so much for his making a big deal about nothing – after all, a simple solution is for a Muslim woman so inclined is to unveil her face in front of a female government official before taking the oath. No, it’s for the attitude that reveals is he is no better than many another bigot who wishes to stir up animosity towards Muslims and garner votes among his diminishing core of hardline Tory supporters. This is is no less than disgusting in a Canadian society that has proven to be the most welcoming to diverse cultures in the history of the modern world. We have so much to be proud of – and so much contempt for a Prime Minister who wishes to turn back the clock to harsher times and baser values.


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