Has there ever been a prime minister or president or political leader anywhere, in any era, who used his socks to send out political messages? I can’t think of anyone. When Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau went to NATO headquarters, he wore NATO-themed hose. (Hose, a seldom-used word today meaning stockings or socks.) When he attended the LGBT rainbow flag-raising ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa recently, he wore rainbow-striped socks. When the prime minister gave a speech at a Muslim welfare centre, he wore Muslim-themed socks.
For a political leader who likes to demonstrate his support by what he puts on his feet (weird, no?), the fact that the Toronto Gay Pride Parade and the Muslim festival of Eid Mubarak fell on the same day–as they did this year–must have posed something of a dilemma for Canada’s PM. What socks could he wear that would affirm both groups? He decided on a pair of striped socks inscribed with the words Eid Mubarak. It didn’t really matter that the stripes in the Eid Mubarak socks were not the same six stripes of colour that make up the rainbow flag.
How a pair of socks celebrating an Islamic festival came to be in the PM’s sock drawer is interesting: The Muslim owners of a Toronto-based company that sells Islam-themed socks had enlisted a Muslim member of the Liberal government to present the socks as a gift to the prime minister. On June 25, Canada’s prime minister wore his gift of Eid Mubarak socks, first as he attended a ‘Faith and Pride’ outdoor church service, then as he marched at the head of the Toronto Gay Pride parade.
Given Islam’s view of homosexuality, I wonder how the Muslim sock-manufacturers reacted when they saw their Eid socks at a Gay Pride parade. And what about the feelings of the Muslim-community at large. The PM’s actions could only have been an affront to devout Muslims. In the hadith (the sayings and actions of Muhammad), Islam’s prophet called for those who perform homosexual acts, not to be celebrated, but to be executed (Sunan Abu Dawud 4462). In 40 out of 57 Muslim-majority countries and territories homosexuality is a criminal offense and gays can be fined, flogged, and jailed. In ten Muslim-majority countries, homosexual activity can lead to execution. And in two countries, it does. Iran hangs gays in public; the Islamic State (or ISIS) hurls gay men to their deaths from roof tops.
Eid Mubarak socks at a Gay Pride parade? What was the prime minister thinking? The answer lies in what the PM said before the parade. Sporting a rainbow-striped maple leaf painted on his cheek, he commented: “It’s all about how we celebrate the multiple layers of identities that make Canada extraordinary and strong.” The prime minister’s socks were meant to show his support for two of those layers: the LGBT and Muslim communities. The PM’s socks were a sign of his commitment to inclusiveness: the highest ideal to which a just society should now aspire.
What is becoming clear, though, is that, even as Western political leaders tout the virtues of inclusiveness–some of them like Trudeau through their socks–some layers of society are being deliberately excluded. The Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter prevented the Toronto police float and uniformed police officers from marching in the Gay Pride parade. South of the border, in Chicago, marchers carrying rainbow flags with an Israeli flag imposed on top were excluded from a parade of dykes because the Israeli flag was deemed to be ‘triggering’.
The idea of what an inclusive society looks like seems to be changing. When you hear political leaders speak of an inclusive society, don’t assume they include you. I won’t.