Sociology 211

November 22, 2004


Today – discrimination and social distance

Wednesday – theories of prejudice – Isajiw, pp. 152-167.

Friday – racism.  Isajiw, pp. 149-154; Fleras and Kunz, chapter 2. 

Next week -- multiculturalism and other policies. 


Discrimination against Muslims


Muslims are not an ethnic group – they are members of the Islamic religion, a religion that cuts across many ethnic and national groups – in the U.S., about one-quarter of Muslims are South Asian, one-quarter are Arab, many are from Africa, and there are Iranians, Turks, Balkans, etc. as well as many African-American members.  In Canada, Helly points out that a majority of Muslims are of Pakistani origin and live in Toronto, while Arab Muslims are concentrated in Montreal (about 120,000).  The Islamic religion recognizes Mohammed as a prophet, worships Allah (God), has Mecca as a holy city, has the Qur’an (Koran) as a holy text, and the mosque is the place of worship.  While there have been Muslims in Canada for many years, from 1991 to 2001 the number of Muslims in Canada grew from 250,000 to 580,000.   


Since 2001, Muslims, especially Muslims from the Middle East, have been singled out for special attention by police and security agencies, and have experienced a variety of forms of discrimination. This special attention emerged after the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 11, 2001.   This is in addition to any earlier prejudice or discrimination experienced by Muslims.  The forms of discrimination that Muslims appear to have encountered are not so much related to jobs and economic opportunities, as to other forms of exclusion or negative treatment.


Some of the forms identified by Helly are as follows.  The results are incomplete and difficult to compare with other periods, since the negative treatment was often not documented earlier or not associated with Muslims.  The Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), as well as various human rights agencies and police services provide much of the information organized by Helly.


a.  Hate crimes.  In the year after 9/11, there as a 1,600 per cent increase in hate crimes recorded – attacks on Muslim places of worship or schools, arson, several murders, death threats, hate messages, threatening telephone calls, verbal aggressions, assault and battery, vandalism, threats in public venues (street, work place, public transit).  According to the Canadian chpater of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, there were twelve attacks on Muslim places of worship between September 11 and November 15, 2001.  Helly reports that most hate crimes decreased a lot in 2002 and after, although there were continued attacks on Muslim places of worship. 


In response to an incident where a Muslim youth was physically assaulted in Ottawa in September 2001, “municipal bodies and community organizations worked together to condemn the attack, rally public support, and stop any possible replication.”  (Helly, p. 28).  A Sikh temple in Hamilton was mistaken for a mosque and burned – a hat crimes unit of the police was established following this.  These show the importance of responses by the community, politicians, community leaders, the police, and other institutions.  In the case of the Japanese internship and relocation in the 1940s, politicians and leaders of organizations often led the charge against the Japanese, so that any latent or overt prejudice that non-Japanese had were given credence and support.  Even trade unions, politicians who were progressive on other matters, and churches acquiesced or supported the internment policies of the government.  In the case of the attacks on Muslims in Canada, there has been a reaction against these by members of the Muslim community, by some police forces, by many community leaders, and by some politicians.  These leadership roles for leaders of organizations and institutions appear to be an important way of reducing the levels of discrimination against Muslims.


b. Economic aspects.  Helly writes from Quebec, and it is in Quebec where there are more Arab Muslims.  She reports that some employers have admitted they refuse to hire Arabs and that there has been an increase of requests by Muslims to change their names.  She also reports that “people named Osama had their bank accounts unjustly frozen.” (p. 30).  Helly alsor refers to a recruiting practice she refers to as “cloning,” whereby jobs are not advertised by filled through existing networks.   For those not part of such networks, as Muslims and members of other minorities often are not, job opportunities are limited and constrained.  She also refers to discrimination on the job, such as negative comments about clothing, political opinions, or unfounded allegations.   However, there is little specific information about job discrimination against Muslims.


NOTE:  Look for the documentary film “BEING OSAMA” to be aired in February, 2005 on the CBC program “The Passionate Eye.”


c.  Schools and education.  Helly cites instances where parents’ committees (of non-Muslims) opposed teaching Arabic in some schools – with several negative comments about Arabic stereotypes – see p. 30.  In this case, the school administration proceeded with the class in Arabic.  Another request by parents was to teach Muslim morality in the schools;  this proposal was rejected.  Controversies over the wearing of the hijab also emerged in Quebec, with Islam regarded by some as expressing religious fundamentalism and possibly terrorism.  The Quebec Commission des droits et libertés de la personne (Commission for personal rights and liberties) ruled that the hijab was permitted, so that it did not infringe on the rights of the girls (p. 30). 


A study of Quebec textbooks in the 1980s showed positive images of many political leaders such as Fidel Castro, Mao Tse Tung, or Malcolm X, but Arab stuggles were often termed as “radicalism,” “anti-Westernism,” or “fanaticism.”  (p. 38).  Some of the stereotypes in the media, the “TV Arab,” included the dangerous terrorist, the rich sheik, and the uneducated peasant.  One study of Quebec college students found them using stereotypes such as dishonest, sly, cruel, and complaining.


In terms of dealing with these problems, some of the textbooks were rewritten in recent years.  In the case of classes in the schools, it would seem that multiculturalism as a policy should allow support for Muslim or Arabic children learning their own language.  Where Muslim religious teaching should be supported in the schools is a somewhat different issue, and one complicated by the fact that Catholic and some other Protestant denominational schools are supported in Canada.  There would seem to be no reason why Muslim teachings would necessarily be fundamentalist, but could be like Christian ethics or morality, taught in some schools.  But whether any such teaching should form part of a school curriculum is questionable. 


d.  Places of worship.  Helly cites several cases where neighbourhoods and authorities denied space or permits for Muslims to establish mosques and cultural centres in Quebec.  One controversy in 2002 related to a zoning change that would have imposed taxes on a piece of land, where previously there was a tax exemption.  Arguments given by non-Muslim residents were that the commercial value of the property was too great to allow a religious building on the land, others said the land should be a public park, or that the mosque was not the appropriate building for the site.  The Muslims involved ultimately abandoned the project.  In another area, traffic problems were cited.  Helly argues that in the Montreal region, there is considerable opposition to allowing Muslim places of worship to be built.  Such opposition appears to have increased in recent years, but does not seem common in other parts of the country. 


e.  Ethnic profiling.  In late 2001, an anti-terrorism law was passed in Canada, Bill C-36, which led to modifying access to information and offenses concerning facilitating terrorist acts, affiliation with organizations involved in terrorist acts, or financial support to such organizations.   The changes give police greater discretion in conducting secret searches or obtaining access to private communication.  While these laws do not specifically mention Muslims or Arabs, there are some who argue that people of Muslim or Arab heritage are profiled by police, security forces, and immigration officers.  CSIS and the RCMP appear to have been active in collecting intelligence from people active in the Muslim community or from Muslim immigrants. 


f.  Usual discrimination.  Attitudes and stereotypes about Muslims have often been found in surveys – the CRIC and Jedwab studies demonstrate this.  Helly reports that on 2002, one-third of Canadian respondents in a poll said they heard racist comments about Muslims and Arabs.  To the statement “The September 11 attacks make me more distrustful of Arabs or Muslims coming from the Middle East,” 45% of Quebeckers and 37% of Albertans agreed. 


Helly also details aspects of media coverage, which often portrays “an insurmountable gap  between Islam and other monotheist religions, in addition to ignoring the evolution of Western and Islamic cultures and countries.”  (p. 35).  She notes how the terms “Muslim extremists” or “Islamic militants” are often used, whereas militants in Northern Ireland are rarely referred to as Catholic terrorists.  Similarly in Bosnia and Kosovo, there is never reference to Christian or Orthodox terrorists, but there has been with respect to “Muslim Bosnian terrorists.” (p. 36).  One group of Canadian Muslims reported that the CBC, Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail were the most objective, while The National Post and Global Television were more hostile to Islam.  Thus there is some variety in treatment in the media, with some more hostile and others more neutral on these topics.  One example she cites from The National Post stated “Attacking infidels.  Terrorists target the West for only one reason: its religious values.”  She also reports that the Francophone media generally seemed more balanced than the Anglophone in coverage of these issues. 


g.  Sources of stereotypes.  Helly lists various possible sources of negative views and actions toward Muslims.  Given that many of the negative views translate directly into action against Muslims, these are more than just prejudice and stereotype, but involve discrimination, exclusion, or denial of opportunities.


i. View of Islam.  A common view is that Islam is an intolerant religion that oppresses women, is fundamentalist (committed to a set of strict religious principles that are not open for discussion and to which all should adhere), oppresses women, and is closely related to terrorism.  The media, academics, politicians, and some Islamic groups themselves do much to promote such stereotypes.  In practice, Islam is a diverse religion, as is Christianity.  It comes in many different variants and adherents are as diverse as other groups.  Note that not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs.


ii. Recent entry to Canada.  The expansion of the number of Muslims in Canada may be one reason why there is concern in the media and the general public about Islamic issues and practices.  Such immigrants may be insular and indifferent to Canadian society primarily because large number of these immigrants have come recently and have not yet established themselves in the country. 


iii.  Concentration.  More than one-quarter of the Muslim population resides near Montreal. There is a militant, secular, anti-religious movement in Quebec, referred to as laïcité, which opposes any religious practices in public venues.  This principle of laïcité was cited as the reason for refusal to grant a prayer room for students at a college in Montreal.  In Quebec, nationalist and feminist movements may be hostile to Islam, since Islam is viewed by some as a diversion from Quebecois nationalism and to women’s rights.   While there appears to be strong support for a Palestinian state among Quebecois, the debate on the Middle East undoubtedly creates stereotypes of both Israeli and Palestinian supporters as overly militant.


iv.  Proximity to the United States.  There has been pressure for Canada to bring its security provisions, immigration procedures, and international position into line with the U.S.  While this has always been a pressure on Canada, following 2001, and with the Bush administration, this pressure has increased, making it difficult for Canada to adopt an independent position on security and borders. 


h.  Reducing discrimination.  Helly points toward several factors that may assist in reducing or eliminating discriminatory treatment.  Some of these are as follows.

·        LawsCharter, prohibition of discrimination, laws on hate crimes.

·        Police – hate crime units.  Crisis management units and representatives from different groups and organizaitons. (p. 28). 

·        Leaders – Response of community leaders, community organizations, politicians.  (p. 28).  School administrators, social workers, teachers.  On September 21, 2001, the Prime Minister visited a mosque to indicate that “Islam has nothing to do with the massacre prepared and executed by the terrorists” (p. 41). 

·        Media.  The different treatment in different media sources indicate that stereotypes can be reduced.  See Fleras and Kunz.

·        Public debate.  Negative measures were often denounced by various individuals and groups.  Media publicized some of the negative comments.  Political parties intervened to take up individual cases or denounce stereotypes. 

·        Community itself.  Must be organized, report incidents to police, use organizations such as Canadian Islamic congress, CAIR-CAN.  Consolidate and strengthen community. (p. 27).

·        Accommodations in workplace.  Solution is to be reasonable, so that there is “no undue hardship should be imposed on the employer, such as exaggerated financial cost, reduction of safety requirements, denial of other employees’ rights or of collective agreements” (p. 33).  The legal obligation is that no cultural arrangement is to jeopardize a person’s rights and freedoms, that is, individual rights must exist.  At the same time, this means that no collective cultural right is to be granted to a community to enable them to deny an individual basic rights and freedoms.  Examples include those at Montreal Children’s Hospital, where parents of minority patients can bring meals to their children; a manually operated door allows Hasidic Jews to visit patients on the Sabbath; flexible dates for Easter for Orthodox, Coptic, and Catholice children; examinations not on holy days in some schools and colleges.  For Muslims, a separate space in two cemeteries was established; different gym uniforms for Muslim girls; extra time in school to observe prayers; separate swimming times for young Muslims.  Some accommodations were not granted – Muslim space in other cemeteries. 


Prejudice and discrimination.  Isajiw, pp. 152-153.  As noted earlier, prejudice is in the realm of thought while discrimination is in the realm of action.  But Isajiw notes several ways these are connected.  Discrimination, especially personal discrimination, is usually associated with prejudice.  Isajiw reviews a article by Merton where he contrasts four types of people – the unprejudiced non-discriminator, the unprejudiced discriminator, the prejudiced non-discriminator, and the prejudiced discriminator. 


5.  Social distance and social standing.  Isajiw, pp. 135-137 and 147-149.


Another way to examine prejudice and discrimination is to examine social distance and social standing.  Isajiw defines social distance as “the degree to which members of one ethnic group are willing to accept members of another ethnic group into a close relationship” (p. 135).  These are also “attitudes of likes and dislikes” referring to “shared predispositions of liking some types of people and disliking other types.”  (p. 147).  Isajiw refers to this as the affective aspect of prejudice, while stereotypes are the cognitive aspect of prejudice. 


That is, stereotypes are the images associated with others and social distance refers more to the emotions and feelings associated with those of other groups.  In sociological discourse, affective refers to ways that emotions are involved in social action and interaction – family, partner, parent/child relationships are strongly affective while relations with co-workers at jobs or with fellow students are more affective neutral.  Affectivity and affective neutrality constitute one of the pattern variables of Talcott Parsons.  Bogardus also refers to this as the degree of sympathy or sympathetic understanding between people or groups (Driedger, 2003, p. 243). 


Kallen refers to social distance as “the quality of social interaction among individuals and groups.”  Social distance “can be measured in terms of the number and variety of social relationships, as well as the degree of intimacy and personal individuality which characterize the social relationships between insiders and outsiders.” (Kallen, 1982, p. 32).


From the viewpoint of those at the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination, the negative attitudes and actions they encounter lead to resentment and exclusion from opportunities.  For those who are prejudiced or discriminate, one way to obtain some idea of the extent and possible source of the prejudice is to measure social distance. 


One way to determine social distance is to construct a scale such as that suggested by Bogardus – see Isajiw, p. 135.  This is to present subjects with a list of ethnic groups and ask them whether they would allow the members of the ethnic group to do the following:


Close kinship by marriage

Be members of club as personal chums

Be on your street as neighbours

Be employed in your occupation

Become citizens of country

Be visitors only to the country

Exclude the group from the country


Alternatively, subjects can be asked to indicate the extent of agreement or disagreement with each of these, rather than a simple yes or no.  Presented with four groups by Bogardus in the United States in the 1920s, the ratings of social distance were English, Swedes, Poles, and Koreans.  Richmond, using a similar approach in Toronto in 1970 found the social distance (from closest to furthest) were American, French, Canadian, Polish, German, Italian, Canadian Indian, Jewish, Japanese, Hindu, and Negro (Isajiw, p. 135).  Driedger and Mezoff, in a 1981 study of Winnipeg high school students, found racial distinctions of some importance in marriage preferences, with whites preferred to non-whites.  Responses about Jews were more like non-Europeans or visible minority.  About 11 per cent of the sample said that Jews should be barred from the country.  (Driedger, 2003, p. 243). 


Another approach is to measure degree of comfort associated with various groups.  The Angus Reid cross-Canada survey of 1991 found the list from feeling most comfortable to least comfortable was, in order, British, Italians, French, Ukrainians, Germans, Portugese, Chinese, Jews, West Indian blacks, Arabs, Mulims, Indo-Pakistanis, and Sikhs (Driedger, p. 242).


Isajiw also refers to social standing, a hierarchical scale measuring the prestige or status of each ethnic group.  The question asked people to rank groups on the basis of the way the subject actually treats the groups.  Again, this is a highly subjective measure but yields a similar ranking, often with Europeans at the top and visible minorities at the bottom.   See p. 136.


One problem with all these measures is that they are attitudes or opinions only, are rather abstract, and can be highly contextual.  That is, it may be that groups other than one’s own are socially distant in much of life but closer in other situations. There are many different motivations and factors behind any rating of social distance, so it is not always clear what this measures.  One other problem is who is being asked to do the rating.  The majority of Canadians are of European background, so it may not be unexpected that they rate other Europeans more highly than non-Europeans.  If Africans were asked similar questions, they might rate other Africans not so socially distant and Europeans more distant. 


Questions from “A New Canada?” CRIC study.  See questions on levels of comfort and factors in choosing a spouse.


In summary though, it does appear there are groups more socially distant and others less so.  Kallen argues that social distance is great when there is little contact between groups, while social distance can be reduced by more regular contact, so “people become aware of the similarities, rather than the differences, between insiders and outsiders” (Kallen, pp. 32-33).  While this may be true in some situations, there are many different contexts for close contact, so it is overly simplistic to rely entirely on contact.  While social distance is very likely to remain great when there is little contact between groups, the nature of the contact and interaction is likely to be crucial in terms of reducing social distance.  Isajiw notes that for social distance to be reduced, it is necessary to have greater “mutual understanding of what members of each group actually want” (p. 148), or just greater mutual understanding of different people and groups.  This is presumably one of the aspects of multiculturalism. 


Intermarriage.  One other way to examine the issue of social distance is to measure the extent of intermarriage among ethnic groups.  While marriage most commonly occurs within the same cultural group, in contemporary Canada this may not always be the same ethnic group.  In addition, some marriages cross ethnic lines.  Since intermarriage appears as indicative of reduced or minimal social distance, measuring this gives some idea of the manner that ethnic lines may be reduced or eliminated.  Two studies provide some idea of the extent of intermarriage in Canada.


Madeline Kalbach uses data from the Census of Canada, from 1871 to 1996.  She examines several single-origin ethnic categories, primarily those of European origin, but also including some visible minorities.  She finds the general trend to be increased ethnic intermarriage over time.  While there were fluctuations, she finds that ethnic groups that have been established in the country longer are more likely to have ethnic intermarriage.  Husbands were more likely to marry outside the group than were wives.  Irish, Scottish, Ukrainian (63%), and German (60%) individuals were more likely to marry outside their own ethnic group. French were much less likely to marry outside their group (only 13%) and the same was true of Italians (34%) although less so.  Foreign born were much less likely to marry outside their own group, and visible minorities who were born in Canada were more likely than their foreign born counterparts to intermarry.  Regina and Saskatoon had the largest rate of marriage outside the ethnic group for large urban areas in the country.  For Regina, this was over 50 per cent.  This is consistent with the finding concerning multiple ethnic origins of the students at the University of Regina.  (See Kalbach, 2002). 


A Statistics Canada study of what it terms “mixed unions” examines mixed couples or unions (including common law), where the union is between a member of a visible minority and a non-visible minority, or between two visible minorities (Milan and Hamm, 2004).  This study, from the 2001 Census of Canada, finds that 3% of couples were in mixed unions in 2001, up 35% from 1991.  Most of these were visible minority with non-visible minority.  The groups of visible minorities most commonly represented were those of Japanese (70% of all unions), Latin American (45%), or Black (43%) ancestry.  Korean, Chinese, and South Asians were the least likely visible minorities to be involved in such mixed unions.  Younger couples were more likely to be involved in these mixed unions and they were more common in Vancouver than in other urban areas.  The authors argue that “a more pluralistic society may decrease social distance between persons of different origins and produce more mixed unions” (p. 3). 


The CRIC “New Canada” study indicates that ethnicity is not an important factor when choosing a spouse, especially for younger respondents.  Only 28% of all respondents said it was important, and only 17% of respondents aged 18-30 years stated it as important.  Religion was more important (44% of all and 34% of 18-30 year-olds).  It was factors such as attitudes towards family and children, moral values, and sense of humour that were much more important.  Some of these, though, may be intertwined with ethnicity and culture. 


These studies of marriage patterns indicate that marriage among different ethnic groups has become more common, and may continue to be so.  In the case of the Prairies, it appears that such interethnic marriages have almost become the norm, perhaps obliterating European ethnic distinctions among the younger population on the Prairies.  Whether the same will occur across other ethnic lines is unclear – it took many decades to produce this result among those of different European backgrounds.


Next day: Prejudice – theories, effects, eliminating.



Choy, Wayson.  2004.  All That Matters, Doubleday Canada.

Driedger, Leo.  2003.  Race and Ethnicity: Finding Identities and Equalities, second edition, Oxford University Press, Don Mills, Ontario.

Fleras, Augie and Jean Leonard Elliott.  1999.  Unequal Relations: An Introduction to Race, Ethnic and Aboriginal Dynamics in Canada, third edition.  Scarborough, Ontario, Rentice Hall Allyn Bacon Canada.

Helly, Denise. 2004.  “Are Muslims Discriminated Against in Canada Since September 2001?” Canadian Ethnic Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2004.  FC104 C36.

Kalbach, Madeline A..  2002.  “Ethnic Intermarriage in Canada,” Canadian Ethnic Studies, XXXIV, No. 2, 2002, pp. 25-39. 

Kellen, Evelyn. 1982.  Ethnicity and Human Rights in Canada, Toronto, Gage Publishing Limited.

Milan, Anne, and Brian Hamm.  2004.  “Mixed Unions,” Canadian Social Trends, Summer 2004, pp. 2-6.  Statistics Canada, Catalogue Number 11-008.  Available at website. and



Last edited November 22, 2004