Home Religion Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces
Religious Groups in the Ranks
Recent statistics on religion show that religious minority groups in Canada are growing rapidly, while the numbers of people in traditional Canadian denominations are growing slowly, remaining stable, or dropping. While the implications of these changes are already being felt throughout Canada in legal battles over rights to religious freedom and religious discrimination, the CF has only begun to feel those effects (Seljak et al. 2007). As immigrants look for opportunities to pursue viable and rewarding careers in Canada, religious diversity will begin to affect the CF more seriously. Military policy-makers must anticipate and provide for the various needs of religious minorities, but they must also consider the impact that differences of culture and belief might have on military society.
As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, the CF remains an institution composed mainly of white, Christian (at least by culture) men. Those I interviewed noted the absence of many minority personnel within the CF. A naval officer who managed personnel files for approximately 250 people on board ship remarked, 'I don't think we have any
Jews or Muslims on board right now - we recently had one Jew and one Muslim but they're deployed right now so I don't think we have any.' Another person, who, during the past three years of service, had lived on three different bases near multicultural urban centres and served on three tours of duty, said, 'I know maybe one Black guy that I can think of and two or three Muslims.' One woman studying at Royal Military College in Kingston said, 'The male to female ratio is about ten to one. In my first year class, there were about 125 students to start. There were no Natives, one [Hindu], zero Muslims, and at most, two Black students.' Another person on a large base reported, 'In my squadron [there are] about 60 to 70 people. There are no Hindus, Natives or Sikhs. There's one Asian, one Black, and two [white] women. I mean, if you walk around in this area there are very few non-white people.' An African-Canadian member said, 'There are really very few minorities in the CF. If you look around the largest bases, there are only about two guys that are not white!' He gave a big guffaw and added, 'If I want to see another Black guy, I have to stand in front of a mirror! They're just not there!'
Despite the current homogeneity of the Canadian military, however, statistics strongly suggest that this is about to change. Although the majority of Canadians continued to identify themselves as Catholic or Protestant Christians (72%), in the 2001 census there were increasing numbers claiming to have 'no religion' (16%), and other groups such as Muslims (2%) showed significant increases in their membership. Recent statistics point to the impact of immigration on traditional religion in Canada between the years 1991 and 2001 with the largest increases occurring among Muslims, Christian sects, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists (Statistics Canada 2004a). See table 4.1. Further, Statistics Canada projects that, owing to immigration and high birth rates, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh religions in Canada will have the highest rate of growth of all non-Christian religions between now and 2017 and could eventually account for as much as 10% of the population (Belanger, Martel, and Caron-Malenfant 2005, 19).15 Jack Jedwab suggests that these groups will continue to be concentrated in urban areas. He writes: 'In the greater Toronto area, approximately one out of six residents will be either Muslim or Hindu and the two groups combined will pass the one million mark. In the nation's capital, much like in Montreal[,] the Muslim population will be greater than all other [non-Christian] religious groups combined, as it will near the 100,000 mark. Calgary will see growth in all non-Christian groups while in
Table 4.1 Major Religious Denominations, Canada, 1991 and 200114
Vancouver, the Sikh population will remain the largest non-Christian group' (Jedwab 2005).
What little diversity currently exists in the CF is most evident in the reserves, particularly in units from large urban centres. Presently, as in the regular forces, there is virtually no research, nor are there statistics on religion in the reserves. One recruiter with a large reserve unit in Ontario commented, 'In this one unit of about 150 men, we had six faith groups represented. There was a Zoroastrian, Roman Catholics, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Sikhs ... There is a lot more diversity in the reserves.' Another chaplain working with a multicultural and religiously diverse reserve regiment near Montreal told me her unit hosts Asian, African, South American, and Eastern European Canadians including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, and those who claim no religious affiliation.
Reserve forces exist in hundreds of communities across Canada (Jedwab 2004). They involve approximately 25,000 personnel and have represented up to 40% of the membership of past peacekeeping operations (DND 2010d). Along with being able to refuse deployments, reservists have the advantage of being free to pursue whatever civilian interests, housing options, and jobs they like. Most reservists have full-time employment outside of the military forces and participate for non-economic reasons (Pinch 1999, 160). Students make up over a quarter of the personnel and participate for only a short time while in university or college (DND 2003a). This freedom from total immersion in military life and the opportunity to serve for a limited time (e.g., during university) and in situations of interest to them makes reserve military service a flexible and career-enhancing option for many people (Pinch 1999, 161). The 'deployment of primarily regular-force personnel, with limited numbers of similarly trained reserve augmentees, is considered the most efficient and effective response to crises around the world' (160-1). This means that reservists are likely to continue to be deployed and, as a result, increase the religious diversity of troops during a tour of duty. Military analysts note the tension between needing to employ reserve personnel and the difficulty of managing such an unrestricted workforce (160). Consequently, policy-makers at National Defence Headquarters are more likely to overlook the religious diversity that comes with using reserve forces in their efforts to provide for the essential needs of regular forces personnel.
As we saw earlier, the lack of statistics on religious identity in the CF makes it difficult to know what religious groups are present. In keeping with the civilian population, however, following a Christian majority (that may or may not be active in their faith), Muslims are thought to be the next largest faith group. While the Chaplain General's Office suggests there are approximately 200 Muslims in the military (Canadian Press 2003), Commander Denise LaViolette, a CF spokesperson, suggests the numbers in the regular forces are approximately 648 (CBC News 2006b).16 In either case, it is clear that the percentage of Muslims is well below the Canadian Census general population tally of 2%, which would put the number of Muslims in the CF closer to 2000 based on a total force population of 100,000. Despite their minority status, Muslims are present at a number of bases and in reserve units across Canada, as well as at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. In 2006 there were only three Muslim women in the CF (CBC News 2006b). However, since 2006 the CF has been making efforts to recruit more Muslims (Adeba 2006; CBC News 2006b).
As with Muslims in the CF, there is conflicting data on the actual numbers of Aboriginal members. While one 2005 report states there are 'more than 2500 Aboriginal members' (Barnes 2005), a July 2006 Canadian Forces Health Services Group bulletin says, 'According to CF Self-ID census data, there are around 1400 Aboriginals in the CF'
(Van Acker 2006). These numbers do not include the Canadian Rangers reserve regiments employed to patrol Canada's remote northern and coastal communities, which number approximately 4000 (DND 2005b). Another Department of National Defence document suggests that Aboriginals number about 1438 (2.3%) in the regular force population and about 2125 (3.4%) based on a total force population at the time of 62,500 (White 2000). A 2009 release places numbers between 1500 and 1700 (Noppe 2009). Whatever their actual numbers, the vast majority of Aboriginals in Canada belong to Christian denominations. Statistics Canada indicates that 85% of Aboriginal peoples belong to either the Roman Catholic Church or a Protestant denomination, 13% cite 'no religion,' and only 2% cite Native Spirituality (Statistics Canada 2001b). One Aboriginal elder working with Native Peoples at a large base said Aboriginals represent about 3.1% of the personnel in the CF, but most of them are Christians. He said, 'Aboriginal Christians don't just practise Christianity in an Aboriginal way - they're either Christian or they follow Aboriginal spirituality.'
While I had anticipated the presence of Muslims and Aboriginals, I was surprised to hear numerous accounts of CF Wiccans and Pagans from both chaplains and personnel.17 While there are only about 21,000 Pagans in Canada, Statistics Canada cites Pagans (including Wiccans) as having seen the greatest increase in membership in proportional terms between 1991 and 2001 of any religious group in Canada (Statistics Canada 2003b). Two different Pagans, hearing about my study, contacted me directly to ask for assistance in locating 'sympathetic chaplains' to assist them with personal matters. One of these people had a Pagan friend suffering from operational stress who was looking for spiritual guidance. The other person was convening a local conference on Pagans in Chaplaincy and requested a military contact. One air force member commented that while she had not noticed much religious diversity at other locations where she had been posted, at her most recent posting out west she noticed that 'there are a lot of Wiccans and [New Agers] here.' There are at least two Canadian web communities dedicated to Pagans in the military.18 An officer speculated on the presence of Pagans in the military: 'It's my impression that a lot of lesbian women are affiliated with Paganism and Wicca as feminist or non-patriarchal religions. The CF, compared to civilian society, is a very safe place for lesbians and gays. It's my impression that many of them join because of the protections built into the system.' Given some comments I had heard from gay and lesbian personnel, I was surprised by this statement and asked if he really believed the protections were effective. He answered, 'The protections are working and homosexuals have a much easier time of it here because if there's a problem there are ways to deal with it and it's not allowed [to continue].' He explained that a gay member of his family 'has had a really difficult time in civilian life. Civilian corporations don't have the same protections built in, they don't care as much if someone's being harassed. It's really changed in the CF over the last few years. They used to throw you out if they heard you were gay. Now, nobody even blinks. One woman came in to the office of a big, burly sergeant I know asking for an IR [imposed restriction - an approved delay in moving 'dependents, furniture and effects'] request. The guy said, "Ok, husband's name?" and she said, "Sue" and he writes down S-U-E without batting an eyelash and goes through the rest of the form!' There are indeed considerable resources on the involvement of the gay community in New Age religious groups.19 If it is true that military regulations governing the rights of gays are effective and more homosexuals are participating in the CF as a result, then it is possible that the number of New Age practitioners is higher in the CF than in Canadian society.
Although minority religious groups are more evident in reserve units from large urban regions of Canada, they continue to represent a very small segment of the total force population. They are most evident to other personnel, to officers, and to chaplains through their differences from the mainstream. Even while the CF is taking steps to accommodate the growing diversity within the ranks, those who actively practise formal religious traditions other than mainline Christianity have learned to be flexible and accommodate their religious requirements to their military environment. CF members who are active in a formal religious tradition include members of Christian denominations, Sikhs, Muslims, and Pagans, as well as other groups. Their adherence to a formal tradition makes them a minority among the largely secular rank and file. Moreover, their commitment to religious practice and values frequently sets them apart from their non-religious peers. Sometimes this puts them at odds with military objectives and sometimes it helps them to be more diligent in their duties.
A number of new CF policies accommodate the needs of those who are actively religious but do not fit into the Christian heritage of military society. For example, Aboriginal members are now permitted to wear their hair longer than standard regulations permit, Sikhs may wear turbans or other head coverings as long as they comply with safety regulations for helmet use, Orthodox Christians (or Jews, Muslims, and
Sikhs) can wear beards as long as they comply with safety regulations for properly fitted gas masks, and Muslim women can wear a specially designed, loose-fitting uniform that conforms to Islamic requirements for modesty. Despite these accommodations, however, practising believers continue to face some difficulties by being religiously different in the conformist environment of the military.
Religious personnel who want to practise their faith have learned to adapt their needs to their conditions. The willingness of believers to modify their beliefs in order to meet military obligations points to the individualized and subjectivated nature of religious identities in late modernity. With issues related to dietary requirements and dress, some members have learned to make compromises with their normal routines while others simply accept the possibility that they will be set apart from their peers because of their beliefs. A Sikh soldier writes, 'Helmets are tough issue to deal with... I tie a dastar [a Sikh headdress]20 (a touch smaller than I normally would), and place the helmet over top. The other Sikhs I've come across in the CF wear helmets over their turbans or patkas [another form of head covering worn by Sikhs].21 No helmet [means] no CF service' (Bains 2006). Although not all Sikhs are vegetarians, some do follow a restricted diet and, like Jews, Muslims, and Hindus, who follow religious dietary laws, they require religious accommodation to meet these needs. One Sikh writes, 'Being a vegetarian in the army has been a very small inconvenience as the army is quite accommodating.' But another person counters, 'Getting a Veggie meal is not guaranteed.' He adds that in order to make sure his needs are met, he often supplies himself with 'additional food, (granola bars, powdered soup, nuts, and seeds) to supplement my rations in the field' (Bains 2006). A Muslim man described his efforts to fulfil his religious requirements while conducting his military duties this way: 'When I first went to basic training I didn't tell anyone that I needed to pray. Here I had been praying my whole life and then I went for two days without praying and I just couldn't take it! It was like going without food, so I told them. At first they thought I was joking and trying to get out of some training but when they realized I was serious they accommodated me. Back in those days there were only a very few Muslims joining - I think it's better now that there are more Muslims joining.' He said that finding time to pray 'was pretty hard because we'd go out on marches or runs at 5:00 in the morning - right when I needed to be praying. I'd be praying so fast! Then I learned to get up a little bit earlier.' He grinned sheepishly.
Like their non-Christian counterparts, some members of minority Christian groups find that CF policies might oppose their beliefs. A fundamentalist Christian remarked that, in general, it was not particularly difficult for him to practise his religious beliefs, but 'you have to be careful about certain policies. I have this stereotype of being a redneck, antiwoman, anti-gay guy but it's not true. There is some persecution. Like with the harassment policies. If I express my opinion about same-sex marriage issues people will think I'm intolerant. That has happened to me when we were in the mess and I called homosexuality an abomination and one guy's sister was a lesbian so he complained. I got a warning. Christians are going to be persecuted because of the harassment policies. We're going to run afoul of them simply by stating what we believe.' He suggested that the rule against proselytization creates tension for Christians who are not allowed to tell others about their faith. He remarked, 'They would have to rationalize their beliefs and decide if they were willing to compromise on some levels for the sake of the greater good.' Like other religious personnel in the CF, this soldier has found ways to accommodate his religious needs despite an environment that does not always allow him to practise his faith according to his beliefs. He explained, 'When I was working in officer training I had the guys go to a church service in the field - church is not mandatory but I told them, "You guys are going be officers and you need to know what padres do. So pick a service, Protestant or Roman Catholic, and go to it." I wanted two services because I don't believe Roman Catholics preach a saving gospel but they sent out this liberal Anglican. Here's about 25 guys and probably none of them are Christian and here's a perfect opportunity to preach the gospel and what does he do? He gives them some High Church liturgy thing that took about 15 minutes!' He shook his head in disgust and continued, 'So I asked if I could give my testimony and he said yes and I preached the gospel! Then I gave them all New Testaments which they took mostly as something to read.' He chuckled and continued, 'But I was really encouraged because after that about four or five of them came up and thanked me and asked more about it. I'm a soldier of Christ!'
Christians from more mainstream groups sometimes have difficulties too. For example, one navy chaplain explained how accommodating Christians from different denominations could be problematic on a ship. With respect to ministering to Roman Catholics he said, 'That depends on the Roman Catholic. If religion doesn't get in the way then it is no problem and they will take communion from me and see me as a substitute Catholic. But if religion gets in the way, and it does for some people, I find out where the churches are in our next port and I have that information available for them when we arrive.' A Francophone pastoral associate described similar difficulties trying to help both Christians and non-Christians. He said, 'I pray with people. I don't do sacraments at all because I am not a priest. I just pray and be with them from a Christian perspective, unless they are Muslim, because they wouldn't appreciate that!' He laughed and added, 'I have had to pray with Muslim people so then I just pray in a neutral way!' I asked how they responded to his efforts and he said, 'Not so bad, they were very good. Because when you have a need, you have a need. And with the Jews, we can get by with our Judeo-Christian roots.'
Spaces for religious practice also require adaptation and flexibility. One chaplain explained that during a tour of duty in Kosovo, a group of Muslims requested a private space for prayer. The chaplain gave them access to the tent he used for an office. On the same tour, he described how a group of Wiccans had 'taken over' the chapel for their religious purposes without first approaching him for help. He was able to work out a compromise with them that both met their requirements more effectively than the chapel space and made a contribution to the mission. They agreed to build an open-air, circular bunker that was otherwise required by the base, to use for their solstice celebrations. This chaplain explained to me, 'The only concession I had them make was they couldn't have their celebrations "sky-clad" [naked].'22 He smiled, adding, 'For safety reasons, you know!' More recently, Canadian Major Malcolm Berry serving on Task Force Afghanistan in Kandahar made a similar accommodation for Wiccans requesting to conduct a spring ceremony: '"We had no difficulty with that [accommodating a Pagan religious ceremony]. We just didn't want them to do it 'sky-clad' (naked) in this environment because it would be too dangerous." The six Wiccans - a Canadian and five Americans - were invited to hold their service outside the Christian fellowship centre. They were given water, candles and food that they were welcomed to eat inside the centre after the ceremony. The Wiccans were treated with the same respect as any Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist' (Canadian Press 2007).
During a humanitarian aid mission, CF Muslims worked together with the unit chaplain to establish a Muslim prayer room. The chaplain told me that together they 'made sure it was in good shape and maintained and we made sure that everyone treated it with respect. We didn't let people walk on the tarp [covering the bare floor]. There was a Muslim woman, a medic, on that trip, and she was very shy and didn't really ask for anything, but she wanted to be able to hear the prayers and teachings. So we set up a separate area for her as she had asked. It was just this tiny little space on a balcony with a tarp on the floor and a table. It was so small and rustic and I kept saying to her, "Are you sure this is all right?" and she would say, "Oh, yes, yes, this is perfect!" She was just so happy to have the space. All of the Muslims were so grateful to have a space and I was invited to come and sit in on sessions of Qu'ranic teachings. I really felt privileged in that. Clearly the space was really important to them and we were glad we could help.'
Ironically, Muslims in Canada do not always have the same resources. A Muslim man on a base in Canada said, 'When we're on manoeuvres there is no place to go for Friday prayers and I just pray out in the open. Here [on base], I go into a little room at the back and pray, but in the field, there's nowhere to go so I just do it outside.' Another Muslim commented, 'I say prayers throughout the day - even in barracks or on field manoeuvres. At first I felt pretty self-conscious about it, and sometimes I still wonder what people are thinking about me when they see me praying, but I'm used to it now.'
Similarly, an Aboriginal woman described how a lack of spiritual resources for Aboriginals in the CF is a source of frustration that can result in departure from the military. Retention of Aboriginals is a long-standing problem in the CF. Accommodation of religious and cultural traditions such as wearing long hair is an example of one way in which the CF has attempted to increase recognition of Aboriginal needs (White 2000; Bergeron 2006; MacFarlane and Moses 2005; McCue 2000). She said, 'Sometimes in this journey [of life] there are greater difficulties and we turn towards the elders and ancients and medicine people. Padres try to help but there's no one for us in the system in uniform. If the padre can't help me in my journey I have to leave the CF and go back to my home, go back to my reservation and my people, where people understand me and can help me on my journey.'
Beyond food and practices, a number of religious personnel identified religious community as an important element of their beliefs. Community is established in a number of ways, including groups that meet on bases across Canada, in civilian organizations such as churches and mosques outside of military bases, through virtual communities and websites, and through personal relationships maintained by email and telephone. Aboriginals at CFB Shilo and Esquimalt use on-base facilities but employ civilian elders to direct group activities and ceremonies. Similarly, Muslims at CFB Petawawa and Royal Military College gather to socialize, pray, and discuss aspects of their beliefs. As we saw in chapter 4, CF Christians participate in base chapels across the country that typically provide Sunday services, youth nights, family days, and community service opportunities. Canadian Sikh, Pagan, Wiccan, and Christian military personnel have established internet sites dedicated to their experiences as religious people serving in the Canadian Forces. One Wiccan website states, 'I decided to start this group because I know how hard it is to find other pagans/wiccans when you are either in the military or a dependent of someone that is. Especially with all of the moving! This group is for helping you to meet and keep in contact with others that are in the same situation you are in. Also to have someone to talk to about anything related to the military, paganism and/or wicca. Please use this group to your advantage and make new friends. (Beylia 2006).
Another website dedicated to Sikhs in the Canadian Forces states that the goals for the forum are to:
1 connect current and former Sikh members working within the
Canadian Armed Forces
2 provide information, guidance, and support to past, current, and
future members of the CF (Sikh and non-Sikh). (Bains 2006)
Both Christians and Muslims described being highly involved in civilian religious groups. One Christian soldier described the importance of his civilian church as a source of support for him and his family while he is on tour. Another evangelical Christian, who was deployed to the remote Canadian Forces Station Alert, where there is no chaplain and no regular opportunity for religious experience or community, told me that even though there was no chapel and no chaplain, 'a group of guys would get together on Sunday morning or during the week. We'd have a couple of guitars and do some Bible study and stuff like that. It was pretty informal.' A young Muslim man posted in a region where there were few other Muslims said, 'It makes it really difficult not having that community because the army takes up so much of my time. I know I've fallen away from some of the Islamic ways that I carried out easily when I had that community. I would really like to know about other CF Muslims - maybe a web-based community or resources that are available for us. I'd like to know what others in the CF are going through.'
Active members of religious traditions in the CF sometimes face special challenges in pursuing their religious practices that go beyond the uneven nature of religious resources available to them and the need for adaptability in their practices. They sometimes face suspicion about the veracity of their needs as well as discrimination and intolerance from senior personnel and chaplains who do not have sufficient knowledge about the requirements of their religious tradition. For example, one base chaplain told me, 'One young guy asked if he could identify himself as a Jedi' on his dog tags. Jedi (a term for the Galactic Knights of the popular Star Wars series (Lucas 1977)) is not currently one of the options for religious self-identification in the CF, although I heard numerous references from chaplains describing personnel who wanted to identify their religious perspective in that way. A different chaplain told me this story: 'I married a couple - both military - a while ago. The woman was Christian but the guy was very uncomfortable with expressing his spirituality that way. So, I asked him how he would express his spirituality and he said the closest thing he could relate to was being a Jedi. So, for the purposes of making him comfortable with the whole wedding ceremony, we identified him as a Jedi Knight and he was very happy with that!'
Another chaplain gave the following more mainstream example: 'One guy in my battalion wanted to grow a beard during Ramadan but the regulations on this are strict [because of health and safety requirements for gas mask use]. The guy never had a beard before and a lot of Muslims don't grow their beard during Ramadan so senior command wanted to know why this guy suddenly wanted to grow a beard. It turned out that he belonged to a particular Muslim sect where the men always grow a beard during Ramadan. When we found out that was the case, senior command was ok with it - as long as it was in keeping with the safety regulations - and everyone was happy. I had to get outside help with that because I didn't know enough about Islam and what was required.'
A Muslim soldier explained, 'I had a Sergeant Major ask if I really needed to pray when I said I did because someone had told him that Muslim prayers could be modified for military services. This is partly true - in times of war and things like that, you can make up prayers later or say them at a different time - but I didn't feel my situation warranted that accommodation. You have to be really tactful in these situations though because he wasn't flat out saying I couldn't pray, but my impression was that he thought I should be doing it on my own time. After some discussion and explanation it ended ok.'
A padre described a scenario where a Sikh soldier approached him for help resolving a need for special accommodation for his religious diet. The chaplain explained that the soldier was not receiving vegetarian rations as he had requested because his religious need 'wasn't being taken seriously' by his commanding officer.
While the Canadian Forces are required by law to make religious accommodation for personnel, Canadian military society presents a different challenge to those who do not quite fit in with the majority of the rank and file because of their religious beliefs. North American military analysts argue that establishing military culture is foundational for producing an effective fighting force (Ulmer, Graves, and Collins 2000) because, among other things, it can generate cohesion within a homogeneous group (English 2004; Snider 1999). At the same time, some analysts argue that military forces establish doctrine to combat negative elements within the ranks that do not conform to military expectations. Paul Johnston warns that military doctrine that encourages certain qualities is an indication of what is lacking in that environment rather than being an indication of the core values already in place (2000, 30). Racism is an example of one such behaviour. Donna Winslow argues that efforts by the military to establish group cohesion can actually reinforce behaviours that conflict with official military policy because personnel learn to 'cover up' for one another in order to protect the group when infractions against military policy occur (1998). As a result, one unfortunate effect of the homogenizing nature of the Canadian military is that it can be both abusive towards and exclusive of the very people the CF are seeking to incorporate, such as women, Aboriginals, and visible minorities.
While most Christians belonging to mainline denominations have no real difficulty fitting in with the Judeo-Christian values that form the basis of the Canadian military, other groups might. For example, Sikhs have a long tradition of participation in the military that makes them more likely to pursue a military career. However, many Sikhs abstain from alcohol, a central component of fellowship and camaraderie in every regimental group. In a civilian setting, a Sikh's decision against drinking alcohol might have little effect on the camaraderie and fellowship between peers, but in the CF drinking is a significant component of military tradition. As a result, a religious restriction (coupled with the visible differences of skin colour or dress code) quickly identifies non-drinkers as outsiders in an environment where conformity and inclusion are paramount for success. When religious values conflict with military traditions, religious personnel face an internal struggle between their religious ideals and their military obligations. Ironically, the values that set minority religious groups apart from their secular peers can also help members to be more effective in their role. Religious personnel in the CF described to me scenarios in which their religious values have been both a help and a hindrance to their ability to conform to the group and establish their right to membership within the group.
Aboriginals, Christians, and Muslims are among those who find their religion helps them in the military duties. Canadian Aboriginals have a long history of military service and come from a culture that highly values the concept of self-sacrifice for the greater good. Many of these members believe that much of their religious tradition supports their role and duties as members of the CF. An Aboriginal woman explained, 'I am a warrior. We are all warriors. All Aboriginals raised in Aboriginal spirituality are warriors. To be a warrior is to be someone who picks you up when you fall down, who lends a shoulder for you to cry on, who brings people up when they're down. You don't have to be a soldier to be a warrior - you are a warrior in everyday life.' Similarly, a Christian soldier remarked that being raised in a religious home had taught him to 'follow the rules, put others first, don't cheat, don't screw people over, don't lie, believe in fair play. All of that carries over into my duties.' He continued, 'That whole southern evangelical schtick about being a prayer warrior and fighting the good fight - it all applies here too. Christianity and the military ethos are very similar and the military shares those inherited Christian values. The military and faith are both sort of like big blankets that wrap you up and make you feel safe because everything is under control. They tell you how to act and think and behave - they tell you who you are. I don't know if that makes me seem weak but they're both very straightforward and I find that comforting. The struggle comes when the military wants you to do something that your religion says is wrong.'
Like the Aboriginal and Christian members, a young Muslim soldier argued that his beliefs help him to conform to the expectations set by the military. He said that without his religious values, 'I would do foolish things that would make my life harder. Belief in Islam helps me to carry myself in a good way and to behave in a way I can be proud of. It governs my behaviour and the way I speak to people. It helps me to deal with different people and behave modestly and appropriately. It forces me to have integrity and accountability and respect that I might not have otherwise.' Another Muslim agreed with this sentiment, arguing that 'Islam really helps me in my duties because the disciplines of the religion carry over into the work ethic in the CF. Islam has taught me to do well under pressure and stress, it's helped me appreciate fellowship and community and all of those are also present in the CF. It helps with everything - it gives a sense of purpose and direction to everything I do. I'm working and challenging myself as a Muslim as much as I'm working and challenging myself as a soldier. Some people are just here for the money, some are here for the experience and the community - all of this is also part of my experience too, but I also have a reason and foundation for my work that comes from my religious beliefs.'
A Wiccan soldier explained that being able to practise her religious beliefs while on tour helped her in her duties. She said, 'You are challenged when you come over here just to deal with the situation, and by somebody supporting your faith it makes it less challenging' (Canadian Press 2007).
At the same time that religion can help people in their military duties, religious personnel identified scenarios where their beliefs and practices set them apart from their peers and ostracized them from military traditions and typical behaviours. As the young Muslim quoted above noted, 'It's not the job that makes it hard being a Muslim - it's more that there are aspects of the informal culture that are opposed to Islamic values.' Members of other religious groups concur that military culture in itself sometimes represents a significant obstacle for full participation for religious minorities in the CF. For example, an Aboriginal writing on the differences between CF and Aboriginal culture notes that these can cause frustrating barriers for career advancement and can be the source of misunderstanding between unit members. She gives the example that 'in Inuit culture, a woman must not look an older man in the eye, as this is being disrespectful. In the military, if you don't look your supervisor in the eye, they think you have something to hide' (Bergeron 2006). One Canadian Forces study notes that military culture differs from Aboriginal culture by being more assertive, leadership- driven, and hierarchical (McCue 2000).
I asked a Muslim soldier what it was like to be a religious person in the CF and he replied, 'It's hard! Often it is very hard because of the
CF culture - you know it's kind of rough and rugged and there's lots of drinking and womanizing - not that I'm saying everyone is like that but that element is certainly there. I've had to adapt some things. Like there's this tradition that you buy everyone a round [of beer] whenever you get promoted and that put a lot of pressure on me because it's not something I believe in. So when I got promoted, I bought pizza for everyone instead. Just things like that that make you different. Some of the boisterous, crude attitudes prevalent in the CF are totally opposite to the teachings of Islam and I find I have to fight that. And you can fight it, but you have to always work at it.'
Another Muslim stated that being a religious person in such an environment 'can be very hard.' He continued, 'It would be so easy to do things here that I would never do with my own group of peers - drink, swear, be promiscuous. It's pretty hard to behave one way when everyone around you is expecting [to do so], but when nobody cares and they're even encouraging you to do things you normally don't - like, "come out for a drink with us"-it can be hard. It would be even easier to do things on a training session when you're with a whole other group of people you don't even know because then there's no accountability at all. The most challenging thing is trying to uphold your principles when you're not with other Muslims - which most people here are not. I still find it hard to excuse myself to pray because I wonder if they see me the way the media portrays us and I wonder what they're thinking of me. Drinking is an issue because everybody drinks around here. Profanity is an issue because they don't hold back with swearing. It presents real challenges for me because it would be easy to fall into those ways.'
Practising Christians also struggle to fit their religious values into the context of their military duties. One person argued that his conversion to Christianity 'changed his priorities.' He explained that, because of his newfound religious identity, he had been 'delivered from smoking and drinking. I've dedicated myself to spreading the gospel and to raising my kids in a Christian home.' One side-effect of this change is that 'I self-destructed my own career by deciding to put my family first. I chose not to take assignments that would have got me promotions because I felt I ought to be available to my family. How can you offer your kids a good Christian influence when you live three thousand kilometres away? So I continue on with low assignments to fulfil my duties as a Christian father.' Another person noted that the Christian commandment to 'spread the gospel' often puts him at odds with other personnel. He said that because their practices and beliefs oppose his own religious beliefs it is particularly difficult for him to work with homosexuals and practitioners of non-Christian traditions. A young infantryman explained that he spent much of his spiritual energy trying to rationalize his personal values in the face of military activities and that he is not always successful at balancing the two perspectives. He told me, 'The infantry attitude is to drink, fight, and fuck. So I definitely drink more and swear more than I used to. Does Jesus like it when I do those things?' He shrugged. 'Probably not. But I don't have a moral conflict between my faith and these behaviours. You can't ascribe a moral value to guns or alcohol or drugs or any of that. These things are not necessarily bad in themselves - it's what you do with them that makes them a problem. Some people become abusive and immoral when they drink, but I don't. Does drinking put me at greater risk to make mistakes I might regret? Sometimes, yes ... sometimes, no . . . there is definitely a conflict between this environment and my religious beliefs. But Christianity is supposed to free us, not bind us. You follow the rules because you love people, you don't love people because you follow the rules!'
Military life is hard for everyone, but it is harder for the minority who are actively religious. Moreover, religious personnel who do not belong to a mainline Christian tradition face a number of additional hurdles to pursuing their religious beliefs. Among these are frustrations due to special dietary and dress requirements, a lack of religious leaders equipped to help them, limited space for worship and prayer, difficulties integrating duties and religious obligations, self-consciousness that comes from being different, and finally, suspicion and intolerance from peers and commanders. Religious beliefs and values can be beneficial for establishing and maintaining qualities and behaviours that make a person moral, conscientious, and considerate of others. Conversely, they have the potential for creating internal difficulties for personnel who find their loyalties divided between religious values and military objectives. Those in the CF who practise their religious beliefs have learned to accommodate their religious practices to military traditions, social conditions, and duties even while they use these practices to help them be more effective in their roles or resist corruptive elements of this society. Even though these people participate in formal religious traditions, these modifications that suit the beliefs to the environment demonstrate, once again, the subjective and individualized nature of religion in modernity.
154 Religion in the Ranks Religious Ignorance and Discrimination
While the pursuit of religious interests can set personnel apart from their peers, sometimes it is the lack of religious knowledge among their peers that is most responsible for creating situations of misunderstanding within the ranks. Studies show that Canadian attempts to minimize Christian privilege in Canada have ensured that the majority of Canadian young people know very little about world religions (Seljak 2005; Seljak et al. 2007; Sweet 1997). Moreover, ignorance about religion can be a serious problem when Canadian military members are deployed to work with personnel from international forces and also with civilian populations that do not share Canadian 'Christian' values.
Some CF members who practise a formal religion believe their peers lack basic knowledge about their religious identity that can sometimes result in inadvertent discrimination. A Muslim told me, 'Very few people ask about my religion. I think most of them are embarrassed to ask "stupid questions" because when people do ask me things they always frame it that way... "Is this a stupid question? I don't mean to be stupid but . . . " I think they're interested, they just don't know how to ask. I think it's good when they ask, it shows that they're trying to understand.' An Aboriginal describing discrimination from co-workers explained that, although she was hurt by comments made about her, 'I believe what was said was out of ignorance and lack of education.' Similarly, two Sikh reservists from the Toronto region indicate that others have little knowledge about their religion. One notes that 'I have not come across any blatant discrimination or harassment. In fact what I have come across is positive curiosity, understanding, and acceptance' (Bains 2006). Another Sikh from the same region indicates that curiosity about his religious identity is common among those with whom he works. He states that most of the people he has met 'have shown an earnest interest in the turban and Sikhism' (Bains 2006).
These examples suggest that ignorance about religion is a reality in the CF even when personnel do not experience discrimination as a result. Lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to ask questions that could lead to greater understanding have the potential to create misunderstandings between personnel. A Muslim gave this example of religious ignorance from a unit member during a training session. He said, 'One time we were waiting to hand in weapons and it was time to pray so I started to pray and another soldier thought I was having a breakdown and he came over to me and said, "Hey, are you all right?" and tried to help me.' He gave a surprised laugh and continued, 'Of course I couldn't answer him because I was praying! So I finished my prayers and then I explained what I had been doing.' While the Muslim soldier had no problem explaining his practices to his deeply embarrassed colleague, examples of religious illiteracy have the potential to create anger and resentment both within a regiment and with religious civilians with whom Canadians are expected to work. For example, a Roman Catholic soldier who served on a mission in the Golan Heights described a scenario that created tension between the secular members and a non-practising Muslim in his unit. He told me the Muslim soldier was 'angry because we were using prayer mats as carpets. We had them beside our beds to keep our feet warm. They had pictures of Mecca on them and he was annoyed because we were standing on them.' Clearly the lack of religious knowledge evident in this example has the capacity to create conflict within a unit. On a larger scale, however, such as when troops are required to work in a region where religion is central to the culture, such ignorance has the potential to put both military and civilian lives in danger as well as undermine the goals of the mission.
The lack of religious knowledge among the mainstream of military personnel, along with requiring extra effort from religious minorities to get their basic needs met, can also sometimes appear to create groups of 'outsiders.' A convert to Islam said that discrimination can occur when people know someone is different and has different needs but do not understand why. He explained that people in his regiment know he is a Muslim 'mainly because of the "no pork" issue and stuff like that. In the army when you're working so closely with people all the time, they know about any special requirements you have. They see me when I pray and they know if I'm eating something different from them. It's really important to have discussions in the army because that kind of stuff comes up sooner or later. I think it's harder for the "old guard" to deal with it when they see me praying but the young people are ok with it and now there's so much more emphasis on harassment and discrimination that everyone's terrified of stepping on someone else's toes.'
Another Muslim soldier commented, 'I think there's also a strong sense of "us" and "them" mentality. For example, the army is a very Canadian institution and then you've got all these Western military forces engaged in the so-called "War on Terror" that in many ways translates to "War on Islam." Some of our most recent engagements have been in Muslim nations - Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan - there's a real sense of uneasiness in this regard. A lot of Muslims are uncomfortable with Canada's roles in those theatres and also there's a sense of betraying other Muslims. So there's this sense of being on the outside. This is one of the biggest drawbacks.' He explained that as a Muslim he is willing and ready to engage in combat in Afghanistan or other Muslim nations in order to uphold Canadian values. He explained, 'I'd prefer to go in on a humanitarian mission but if they asked me to go as a rifle man, would I go? Yeah, I'd go. It's not my first choice but there's such a strong humanitarian and nation-building aspect to that operation [Afghanistan] that I'd go. The Taliban is not an Islam I know, so I don't consider [opposing] it a conflict with my beliefs. In fact, my religious beliefs are more of a motivation to go and be part of a project that helps people out of that kind of situation.' Despite his willingness to fulfil his duties as a soldier, this person's religious identity establishes him as different from his peers.
Ironically, religious minorities, as well as being a target for discrimination against others and persecution, can also be a source of discrimination if they attempt to impose their beliefs and values on other members or make assumptions about other groups such as women, homosexuals, and religious minorities, because of their religious beliefs. A fundamentalist Christian soldier provided a poignant example of both religious illiteracy and religious intolerance when he remarked that Islam 'is a revelation given by demons.' Further, his clear lack of religious tolerance for other faith perspectives makes it impossible for him to relate to others who do not share his beliefs. He told me, 'People tease me and say I'm intolerant and a hard-core [evangelical] and all that but I'm intolerant in the way that Jesus was intolerant. We believe all other religions are false, therefore other religions see us as intolerant. The interfaith aspects of the CF are offensive to me because if you're not giving credit to God, it doesn't count. I don't count Allah as God, or Buddha. If I'm told to give equal time to all faiths, I don't want any part of that. Praying is absolutely useless unless you're praying to the one true God.' It is clear from these statements that this member is not aware that Allah is understood by Muslims to be the 'God of Abraham,' known to Jews as YHWH and to Christians as the Father of Jesus. Furthermore, his reference to the Buddha as God is not consistent with most Buddhists' understanding of the Buddha as a philosopher (although practically speaking some may worship him). He continued explaining that his religious beliefs also influence his relations with women and his understanding of the role they should play in the CF. He said, 'I don't think women should be in combat arms. That should be closed to women.
They should not be on fighting ships, fighter pilots or attack helicopters or Military Police or in the infantry. They could be nurses because they're more compassionate than men. I'm not saying women should be barefoot and pregnant and all that, but I do think that women's first domain should be the home and family. I think the Leave-It-To-Beaver model is a good one.'
Similarly, his religious beliefs precluded him from accepting the rights of gays and lesbians. He stated, 'I wouldn't want them to think I condone what they do or anything, like in the same way that if someone was stealing I'd point it out. If I'm working with a guy and he's in my face about it and looking for my approval then I'd tell him what I thought.' One lesbian told me that this attitude is not particularly unusual from Christians. She said, 'We've still got the rednecks in here who just want to shoot guns and say things like "Fags should be blown off the face of the earth" - I've heard that said. But mostly I've found that those people are the "good Christians" who hide behind their Bibles, which say that homosexuality is wrong.' Religious intolerance in these examples is inverse to that demonstrated earlier. In cases where a person has strong beliefs that oppose other groups, their religion is the source of discrimination and intolerance rather than the object of it.
While evangelical personnel have a faith imperative to 'share the gospel,' the CF does not allow them to proselytize. One chaplain remarked, 'You don't have to lie about your beliefs as long as you're not trying to convert people. I think a lot of the evangelicals have a hard time because part of their theology is to evangelize and so they're always trying to convert people. People avoid them because they don't like being preached to.' There are other Christian personnel who see their calling to share the Christian story differently. One young Christian soldier earnestly remarked, 'If you want to bring people to know God and to love other people the first step towards that is inclusion not exclusion! Instead we have to try to help people where they are without imposing our beliefs. Beating people over the head with our Bibles and all that - that's not being a good Christian - that's being an asshole. It's more important to just meet people where they are. I've met Muslims and others who don't believe anything, and we all bring something different to the table. I can learn from all of them. I am always eager to hear where people are coming from.'
Values that are not shared and differences that are not understood have the potential to result, either intentionally or unintentionally, in discrimination against members of religious minorities in the CF.
Religious identity often intersects with ethnicity and race and, as a result, religious discrimination is often tied to racial discrimination (Bramadat 2005, 1-3). Visible minority personnel and senior officers I spoke to suggested that it is those at the bottom of the rank system who do not know their rights who are at the greatest risk of suffering abuses and discrimination that could result in their abandoning the military profession. Numerous studies on the retention of minority groups such as Aboriginals and women indicate ongoing failure in this area (CBC News 2006a, 2006b; MacFarlane and Moses 2005; NATO 2006; White 2000). While there are no parallel statistics on religious minority groups, addressing religious illiteracy and discrimination is one way to improve the experiences and potentially the retention rates of certain groups. One visible minority captain stated, 'The [minority] soldiers at the bottom of the rank system are at the greatest risk for abuses because they don't know their rights, they don't know the policies, and they don't know who to go to if they face problems. We have to protect these people. It's really not easy for them, because if you speak up, you could end your career right there.'
Personnel from religious minorities echoed this statement during my interviews with them. One Muslim soldier argued, 'There's been a lot of good work done about the harassment and discrimination issues in recent years but there's still a culture in the CF that is unfriendly to Muslims. There should be more attention paid to that culture and what drives it and what it means if the CF wants to recruit more Muslims. It needs to be made into less of a white male club - not just for the sake of Muslims - so that others feel like they are a part of the community. [Muslims] have to be made aware that there is a lot of room to negotiate for improved treatment. I've always had good treatment but I'm a white guy. Others I know have had a lot of problems ... [The CF needs to] make their programs and resources more widely known to people - especially incoming cadets. I know how to handle any problems I might have - I know what my options are and where to go and who to talk to, but a private coming in doesn't know any of that and they might think they just have to take bad treatment but they don't. There's also still a long way to go towards creating a multicultural dynamic in the CF. They could be doing a lot more to encourage minorities in the CF. For example, if you want more Muslims, you need to have a Muslim recruiter, get them in, promote them through the ranks and show that they're valued. This makes the role more credible and viable to other
Muslims. Plus, when more minorities are in the ranks, the culture will naturally change in response to that diversity.'
Indeed, while the regulations are in place to discourage discrimination, and the stated aims of the military include incorporating greater numbers of minority groups, many personnel lack basic knowledge about other religious groups and that creates circumstances in which misunderstanding and discrimination are inevitable. Ignorance about religion also causes some personnel to feel like 'outsiders' and is the source of conflict within units. On a larger scale, lack of knowledge about religion and religious values has the potential to cause serious problems during operations that occur in regions where religion is central to the culture and when Canadian Forces must work with UN troops from other parts of the world. Finally, statistics on immigration and religion in Canada suggest there is a strong likelihood that diversity in the CF will continue to increase in the coming decades. Because ethnicity is often tied to religious identity, there is a need to protect the rights of practising religious personnel along with ensuring better education about religious identity for all members.
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