Comedy writer Zarqa Nawaz had a somber message about the threat to Canada’s multicultural society while speaking at the diversity event CommUnity Power of One on Saturday.
“Even though we live in relative safety, and we’re safe, and everything is fine, those are very tenuous threads that can be unravelled very, very quickly and cause nations to come undone. We are starting to see those effects now with the rise of right-wing extremism, and the rise of racism,” said Zarqa Nawaz, the writer behind the international hit Little Mosque on the Prairie.
“If you let those voices and messages get too loud, you will implode, and you will become a divided nation.”
She warned the audience of about 100 attendees at the Red Deer conference that Canadians must be active and fight against the threats.
“What’s at stake is our country, the peace and sovereignty of our nation. We cannot take it for granted. You’d be really surprised how quickly it can devolve. Talk to people from Rwanda, Yugoslavia, they’ll tell you that people who have been living together in peace for generations — it can disappear like this,” she said with the snap of her fingers.
“And when it does, it’s hard to get back. What we have is really valuable and worth preserving, and it’s really, really important to remember that.”
Nawaz said when European media contacted her about her show about a small Muslim community in Saskatchewan town, she learned just how difficult life has been for immigrants in their countries, compared to her family who came to Canada from Pakistan.
“There was such a different history of Muslim migration to Europe than there was in North America. I had no idea until this show was making it out into the world and they were seeing Muslims as regular persons in society.”
She said citizenship was not available to immigrants in Europe and university was off-limits. The result was high levels of poverty and crime. Even today, young girls in France are not allowed to wear hijabs in school so they can’t access education.
“That’s when it occurred to me (Little Mosque on the Prairie) wasn’t just a comedy. It was actually a vehicle of what it means to live in a multi-cultural, diverse society which has laws of reasonable accommodation so that people can keep their identity, and their faith, and their beliefs, and belong,” Nawaz said.
Jan Underwood, public awareness coordinator with Central Alberta Refugee Effort, agreed racism and COVID convoys have caused division. Russia’s war against Ukraine has also stirred up anti-refugee sentiment.
“Some people are saying they are sad about it, but they don’t necessarily want a massive amount of refugees coming here. So there is definitely division on many levels,” Underwood said.
“One of the things we wanted people to take away from the event is that just one person can make a difference,” Underwood said at the conference held at Red Deer Polytechnic.
Mayor Ken Johnston said the city has a lot of work to do when it comes to inclusiveness, and he encouraged those gathered at the conference to work with him as the city focuses on closing the gap, and addressing racism and hatred.
“I’m committed to the work we need to do,” Johnston said.
CommUnity Power of One was funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.