In the 1950s, when Israel was a fledgling state, my friends and I used to (half) playfully challenge each other with the hypothetical: “If Canada and Israel went to war, who would you fight for?” In my youthful ignorance, I didn’t realize how absurd the question actually was. Democracies don’t fight each other, so happily that quandary is highly unlikely to materialize for Canadian Jews.
In their respective global multitudes, however, Christians and Muslims are less fortunate. Christians have often gone to battle against one another, and as for who is fighting whom in the world today, more often than not it is Muslim against Muslim.
The Department of National Defence wants to sign up 15,000 new members by next spring. They are targeting cultural minorities to meet their diversity goals, especially Canada’s fastest-growing minority, Muslims. The Canadian Forces (CF) is not an easy sell to those who came here partly to escape sectarian violence at home. Canada’s peaceful pluralism is exactly what attracted many Muslims. Yet, for the foreseeable future, Canada’s theatres of operations will be Muslim-dominated countries where the Forces will be fighting Islamofascism.
Muslims at present make up 2.3% of Canada’s population, but represent less than 0.5% of the Canadian Forces. The DND is making a concerted effort to narrow that gap. But will they succeed in attracting Muslims to the regular forces? There are indications that those Muslim youths who do consider a military career find more appeal in the Reserves, where cadets can choose their missions—or choose not to be deployed at all.
After a recruitment outreach program by the DND at the Ottawa Mosque on Aug. 25, for example, one Muslim cadet told a reporter, “To go to Afghanistan or Iraq …. I know many people who don’t find that good, or right” (my translation from French). A second opined that the CF would have more success among Muslims “if they could choose not to participate in certain missions.” A third from Valcartier military base said he would join only the Reserves because it allowed him “to choose his missions according to his personal and religious convictions.”
Baker Siddiqi, president of the Ottawa Muslim Association, explains that fighting people of one’s own religion and culture is a “delicate” matter, a problem for Christians as well as Muslims. That’s not actually true, though. Our soldiers, mostly Christian or of Christian-heritage, are now fighting both for and against Muslims in Afghanistan, but fought no less bravely for and against Christians in the First and Second World Wars.
But what puzzles me is why the top brass is recruiting at a mosque in the first place. This innovation, using houses of worship as a recruitment strategy, transgresses the military’s own diversity mandate. The DND’s “Diversity in Recruiting” mission statement specifically encourages “increasing awareness of CF employment opportunities for women, visible minorities and Aboriginal people.” Religions were deliberately excluded from the list.
Yet two visits to the same mosque have been led by top-ranking officers: Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier on June 14, and Rear-Admiral Tyrone Pile, chief of military personnel, at the Aug. 25 session mentioned above, who made his recruitment pitch at a Friday prayer service.
While it is true that Muslims are under-represented in the CF, so are members of other religions, such as Jews, Sikhs and Hindus, and their synagogues and temples have not been used for this purpose. Accepting an invitation to a mosque introduces a new—and I think inappropriate—identity category. It smacks of special treatment, and surely crosses church-state lines.
Rear-Admiral Pile laments, “The Canadian Armed Forces do not reflect the cultural diversity in this country and that’s a pity …. The CF is really dominated in large part by Canadian white males.” Well, Stratford Festival audiences are dominated by white Canadian females, but tickets are available to everyone, and its board of directors isn’t visiting mosques to attract a more diverse audience. In a free country, with widely publicized options, people choose to do what appeals to them.
We really have to get over our obsession with diversity and proportionate representation in the military. The mission today is to defeat the Taliban, who don’t make such fine distinctions. Put out the call for recruitment to all Canadians on culturally neutral territory. If “Canadian white males” are the ones who step up to the plate, we salute them, whatever God they do, or do not, worship.