Father Raymond J. de Souza's Testimony to the Heritage Committee
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This is a transcript of the testimony of Father de Souza, Editor-in-Chief of Convivium, chaplain at Newman House (the Roman Catholic centre at Queen's University), a parish priest, and a Cardus senior fellow, to the Heritage Committee Meeting on September 27th, 2017. In addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register, his columns can be found at www.convivium.ca.
Thank you for the invitation to address this committee regarding M-103. There are several issues addressed by the motion, and the language is sufficiently bureaucratic to make it difficult for an ordinary person to understand what exactly is being contemplated. It is difficult therefore to respond with any specificity. Permit me, then, to make four points.
1. Racism and religious discrimination are different things, though this motion appears to treat them alike. Race regards characteristics inherited at birth. Religion is a matter of faith and practise, which can change. For example, a Pakistani who decides to become Christian does not change his race or nationality, but his religion. I am honoured to be in the presence of Peter Bhatti, brother of the martyr Shahbaz Bhatti.
Shahbaz was killed out of hatred for his Catholic faith by people who shared the same race, but were of the Islamic faith. Religions, of course, include many different races. For example, my Church, the Catholic Church, is by far the most multiracial institution on earth today. Every day Catholics endure persecution, even martyrdom, and it is not because of race. Anti-racism efforts do not address the problem of religious discrimination.
2. The motion condemns all forms of religious discrimination, and calls upon the government to advance initiatives to “better reflect” the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I note that “freedom of religion and conscience” is the first fundamental freedom enumerated in our Charter of Rights. I welcome a robust embrace of religious freedom, but point out it is often the government, through legislation and regulation, that impinges upon religious freedom.
That is true for Jews and Christians as well as for Muslims. Therefore to focus on one religion alone, as M-103 suggests, would be unwise. A renewed culture of religious freedom is to be welcomed, especially in a political culture where often all religious belief and practice is accorded second-class status. Christians, Muslims, Jews and other religious believers do encounter a sort of secular fundamentalism that is incompatible with Canada’s heritage of religious freedom, pluralism and tolerance. If M-103 leads to a renewed culture of religious freedom, that would be a praiseworthy outcome.
3. Islamophobia is a term that, I suppose, is meant to capture hatred of Muslims, which it is rather straightforward to deplore. The question is whether “Islamophobia” includes any critical evaluation of Islamic doctrine and practice. For example, Christians and Muslims have quite different understandings of God. One sees this made clear, for example, in the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which quote passages of the Koran that deny the doctrine of the Trinity, the foundational doctrine of Christianity. Such doctrinal and moral disagreements can be engaged as we live together with our differences. I don’t imagine the government of Canada wishes to engage in theological matters, which are outside its competence, but neither should it seek to discourage theological exchange, even critical theological exchange.
4. Honest and respectful theological exchange is all the more important in the face of religiously inspired violence. I quote, for example, former President William Clinton, on the question of radical Islamist violence: “How should we respond? We can try to kill and capture them, but we can’t get them all. We can try to persuade them to abandon violence, but if our arguments have no basis in their own experience, we can’t fully succeed. Our best chance is to work cooperatively with those in the Muslim world who are trying to reach the same minds as the radicals by preaching a more complete Islam, not a distorted, jagged shard.” It is extraordinary to hear a statesman speak about the need for a better “preaching” – which is the task of theologians and clergy, in the first place, not government. Yet President Clinton acknowledges what we all know, namely that this better preaching is an urgent task. Canada is perhaps well-situated for this necessary dialogue and exchange to take place. We have here an Islamic community that is able to speak freely, and carry out respectful dialogue with other religions. That is not the case everywhere in the Islamic world. Such theological work will be challenging and perhaps even provocative. Concerns about Islamophobia ought not to prevent that necessary work from being done, work that Canadians are well situated to do.
Thank you for granting me the opportunity to address you, and I pray God’s blessings upon your work.