Celebrate Canada, the best country in the world. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Thankful for Canada, warts and all

  • July 1, 2014

As we celebrate Canada Day we may not have a team in the exciting World Cup soccer tournament this month, but events surrounding it remind us that we’re so fortunate to live here. One news story really drove this point home: people in soccer-mad Africa are being killed by Islamist extremists for watching the games on television. 

As incredible as that is, the extremist group Boko Haram (those who kidnapped young Nigerian girls earlier this year) killed 21 people in Nigeria watching World Cup soccer in a public viewing area. Another 48 people were killed in Kenya when gunmen opened fire on a crowd watching a World Cup broadcast there.

These acts are not only reprehensible, but also so difficult to comprehend. 

Here in Canada, we might get stuck in a traffic jam as Italian, Croatian or Portuguese fans take to the streets to celebrate in various neighbourhoods around the Greater Toronto Area after soccer victories. But it’s all good fun and sadly that’s not the case in other parts of the world. 

As Catholics, we have a leader, Pope Francis, who is crazy about the so-called “beautiful game” and it may tick off Italians that he’ll be cheering for his beloved Argentina. But I doubt highly whether Catholics of any stripe really care who the Pope cheers on or whether the game has any impact on our faith. 

But there are Islamic clerics who call the game “satanic” and call for fatwas against soccer for being “morally corrupt” and a distraction from religious studies. 

It’s all bunkum, of course, but people are dying because of it. Especially people in Africa where millions of people don’t have televisions, or even electricity, in their homes. So, they go to public places to congregate and watch World Cup soccer. There are five African countries in this year’s World Cup: Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. Citizens in each country are rightfully proud of their soccer teams. 

And when these soccer-crazed fans congregate in public places to watch the World Cup, unfortunately, they are easy targets for terrorists. This year isn’t even the first time for these bloody and despicable acts. Terrorist group Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for bombs that killed 79 people in Uganda during the 2010 World Cup. 

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a U.S. terrorism analyst, told the Globe and Mail that these extremists have two main ideological reasons for opposing soccer. “First, they see it as encouraging ‘idle time’ — a frivolous distraction from religious studies. Second, they condemn soccer for encouraging ‘un-Islamic’ clothing: shorts that expose skin above the knee, for example.” 

So, as Canada Day dawns, let’s look around. Sure we see sleaze and taxpayer abuse in our own country. We see tired governments buying our votes with silly promises and we see wannabes like Justin Trudeau saying you cannot be a Liberal MP unless you support easy access to abortions, regardless of your personal convictions. Yes, Canada has its warts. 

But, the fact remains, we have the best darn country in the world with its diversity and expanse, its people and our struggles over the years, and our history. Anyone who says Canadian history is boring is either narrow-minded or not well versed. 

We don’t have extremists’ wantonly killing people simply because they love soccer. In fact, the Muslims I know in Canada would all come out and condemn such acts. Such is life in Canada: we are fortunate for what we have and most everyone knows how lucky we are, even if we take it for granted far too often. 

Wherever you are on Canada Day, enjoy it. And if the news makes you think about any of the bad things going on here, remember that despite all of our country’s shortcomings, its benefits outweigh them. Just try to imagine living in a country where simply watching a soccer match could cost you your life. It’s so difficult to imagine, but it happens, as we’ve seen again during this World Cup. 

To paraphrase the great Winston Churchill, Canada is the worst country in the world — except for all the rest. Happy Canada Day. 

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at bob@ abc2.ca.) 

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