This Globe article makes for some thought-provoking reading: it details how Prince George, BC is building a mosque and Islamic cultural and educational centre in the hopes of luring in the high-skilled workers it desperately needs.
Interestingly, this comes at a time when some citizens of the western world – in a decade likely to be defined by 9/11 and the sudden economic downturn near its close – are being taken in by the dark side of xenophobia and anti-immigrant finger-pointing (see this week’s European Parliament election results).
While it was undoubtedly in the works for some time, Prince George’s announcement dovetails nicely with Barack Obama’s recent overtures to the Muslim world. His message of peace – eloquently quoted from the Koran last week – was no doubt expressed also in the hopes of achieving not just social objectives, but economic objectives: in this case, economic stability, improved trade and access to markets, and an end to the costly and controversial military conflicts that continue to rage through many Islamic regions of Africa and Asia.
The likely role that Prince George’s mosque will play in its future might also bear some comparison with the role the Winnipeg Central Mosque (or WCM) plays in the West End neighbourhood’s development. Open in 2004, the mosque is a resource and prayer centre for the local Muslim community, which must be quite large if the crowds that can be seen coming to and leaving the centre are any indication. The WCM, along with the Halal food shops I also see opening up in the neighbourhood, likely represent both a sign of and a draw for local and immigrating Muslims.
While Winnipeg continues to face its own significant skilled labour shortages, there is also hope that the WCM, along with other West End developments, represents a new wave of community pride in the neighbourhood, which many suburban Winnipeggers may have long written off as lost to prostitution and crime. Along with neighbours such as the Ellice Café & Theatre, the Black Sheep Diner, and the new West End Cultural Centre, the WCM is one of a number of growing spaces of vibrancy in an area long characterized by its pockets of vibrancy.
If Prince George’s strategy works to its benefit – and I think it will to some degree – this will only fuel the debate over what religious, cultural or artistic investments a city or region can make to successfully lure and then settle new migrants to ultimately benefit its own economy (take note, Richard Florida).
Governments of course have a long-running preference for investing in large "bricks and mortar" type projects that have more finite, predictable, and mathematically-derivable estimates of economic impact than something more indirectly beneficial like a mosque. Of course, those same "bricks and mortar" projects usually bring in office drones who extend the morning Tim Horton's lineups even further down the street but who, like clockwork, quickly desert the neighbourhood to the shadows a moment after 5 pm.
Maybe building mosques and other types of community centres is a better strategy for developing thriving neighbourhoods and healthy economies.
Photo: Istanbul's Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, was built between 1609 and 1616. It is renowned for its more than 20,000 handmade blue ceramic tiles and six minarets.