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5th Institute Policy Conference: An Evening with Irshad Manji

Opening Event of the Institute's Centre for Democratic Development


10 December 2003

Remarks by Beryl Wajsman

St. James Club


10 December 2003

Introduction of Irshad Manji

What you will hear tonight is more than a talk. More than a dialogue. There will be background music to the words. That music will sound like the tinkling and cracking of shattering crystal. What it is in reality is the falling and crashing of false pieties and calcified myths. What you will hear tonight is at the core of all social progress. It is called enlightenment.

It begins when someone like Irshad Manji stands up and says that she will not be co-opted any more. That no duke nor dictator nor doctrine owns her. That her thoughts are free. That she is a nation of one, accountable first and foremost to her own conscience. That no amount of political correctness or moral relativism will prevent her from speaking truth to power.

When we all came to political maturity this was the level of candour and courage we expected in public discourse. Sadly, the past few decades have reduced much of public debate to litmus tests of purity that have resulted in a national polity characterized by a smug, pallid orthodoxy. Irshad Manji is an exception. She is a living testimony to Emerson’s injunction that “…one person, speaking truth, rallies a majority…”

Tonight is not about the bashing of Islam nor the lionization of its perceived opponents. It is about understanding the confrontation the West is engaged in with a radically violent part of that culture that continues to wring violence abroad and impose tyranny at home. Tonight is about learning what we need to know to help those suffocated by stifling dogmas and imprisoned by the policies of interposition and nullification. Tonight is about understanding that the fight for social justice extends beyond our national borders and encompasses  people the world over who cherish the transcendent yearning for redemptive change.

There are many fighters in the army battling for freedom in today’s world. Some are in the military engaging in the physical liberation of enslaved societies. But just as important are the freedom fighters of the mind who seek to liberate our thoughts and let our spirits soar. Our guest tonight is one such fighter. But whereas a soldier’s life returns to normal when the tour of duty ends, those who engage in the battlefield of ideas have every aspect of their lives changed forever. There are no rules of engagement for them.

They struggle because just as Abraham broke the idols of his father Terah, they need to break the modern day idolatry of conformity and complacency to hypocrisy in order to breathe free. To understand their courage we need to remember the words of André Malraux who wrote “…each break in the established order is never the result of chance, but is the result of one person’s determination to bring life to account…’ Ladies and gentlemen please welcome someone who is calling a large part of the world to account…Irshad Manji.

The Need for a Centre for Democratic Development

Despite substantial efforts to promote democracy around the world, authoritarian governments continue to thrive in many countries.  The latest Human Security Index published by the United Nations  underlines the fact that G8 countries do not devote enough resources democratic development or countries in transition.


We in Canada have gone through a great deal of frustration in the past several years due to our government’s refusal to engage in a concerted and forthright manner in support of our democratic allies and the structuring of democratic institutions. We are starting the Centre for Democratic Development to pursue three objectives. Lobbying our government to move Canada’s foreign policy away from the “soft power” of its bankrupt multilateral morally-relativist approach and toward greater commitment to the survival and success of democratic governments and movements the world over. Sending Canadian specialists to foreign lands that are in the process of instituting democratic reforms. And consulting to corporations and organizations having an involvement abroad and facilitating their relations with government, labour, academia and NGO’s.


The last quarter century has illustrated that democracies will rarely, if ever, go to war with each other.  Hence, effective democratic development greatly reduces the likelihood of armed conflict. America has a number of non‑governmental organizations (NGOs) supporting democratic development. These groups are funded primarily by political parties, foundations, or corporations.


Germany has also been active in this field, through foundations that are supported by various German political parties.  Sweden has created the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an NGO which is financed by several Nordic countries.


In Canada, there are several specialized institutions dealing with the electoral process, training of parliamentarians  in human rights, and national governance, but none whose purpose is a vigorous proactive approach to turn our national purpose to new account. We seek to chart that course.


We have chosen the issue of Islamic intolerance for the Centre’s first event because the Middle East remains the  most volatile region in the world.  Stability will be attained through a serious and continuous effort to create societies where the rule of law, human rights, democratic practices and good governance are embraced by  the majority of citizens. We need to examine in a clear and honest fashion what is at the heart of the problems of the Middle Rim where from the borders of India to the Atlantic Ocean there is only one democracy.




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