Islamophobia is not a Muslim problem– it’s a Canadian problem
On a cold evening on January 29, 2017, dozens of people traveled to the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City to attend nightly prayers. They had no idea that on that fateful night, they would tragically become part of one of the worst terrorist attacks on Canadian soil. Nor did they know that they would become victims of the explosive convergence of years of hate speech, harmful stereotypes, and widespread scapegoating. This anniversary comes as the memory of the murder of four members of the Afzaal family of London, Ontario remains fresh in the minds of Canadians. Both events are a reminder that we are at a critical juncture in how we see ourselves as a country. Five years after the Quebec Mosque attack and six months after the attack on the Afzaal family, we must own that Islamophobia is not just a Muslim problem– it is wholly a Canadian issue.
Muslims are among the many groups in Canada that have had to bear the brunt of hate speech and discriminatory legislation for many years. The September 11 attacks began a sustained wave of Islamophobic rhetoric and hate crimes targeting Muslims and those assumed to be Muslim across North America. Extremist populist movements that have sprung up over the last decade have paved the way for a toxic mix of ultra-nationalism, white supremacy, and Islamophobia.
Women have often suffered the most when it comes to attacks against Muslims. Attacks often inflict cross-cutting trauma from a racial, cultural, gender, and religious perspective. These combined events often culminate into dangerous real-life consequences for Muslims simply trying to live peacefully. In Edmonton, between January and March of last year, three out of every seven police-reported hate crimes involved Black Muslim women.
Last year CRRF launched a campaign where we featured a young Muslim woman named Noor Fadel, who was viciously attacked on a train ride in Vancouver because she wore a hijab. Noor bravely shared her harrowing experience on social media to bring awareness to the issue of Islamophobia, only to be met with even more hateful attacks on her race and religion.
To combat Islamophobia, we must acknowledge the role the media, both social and traditional, and discriminatory legislation and political discourse play in fanning the flames of hate. Over the past 25 years, many Muslim advocacy groups have called out Canadian media outlets for their lack of positive coverage of Muslim Canadians. Political rhetoric has also played a role in exacerbating flagrant Islamophobia. Several politicians have been confronted for peddling Islamophobic speech and fearmongering at the expense of the Muslim community during provincial and federal campaigns during the last decade.
Most recently, Quebec’s Bill 21 has laid bare the impact of how laws can actively damage specific segments of the Canadian population. A law that caused a qualified teacher to be removed from her classroom simply for wearing a hijab while teaching third graders. This shocking event not only traumatized the teacher in question and Muslims across the country, but it also traumatized her students and angered many non-Muslim Canadians.
While the events that we’ve seen in recent times are cause for much alarm, they can also be cause for positive opportunities. Opportunities such as increasing efforts around legislative reforms and paying greater attention to cultural, racial, and religious diversity in the arts and media are desperately needed. Events such as the National Summit on Islamophobia are critical examples of an improved way to fight this type of hatred.
During the National Summit on Islamophobia and throughout the year, CRRF listened keenly to the recommendations of the community for greater Muslim representation. In response to those calls from the community, CRRF will partner with Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board for an event on February 3 that will explore how harmful narratives can feed into Islamophobia and what we can do to combat them. CRRF will also continue its work to fight for better legislation on online hate speech, which we know were clear precursors to the fatal violence that was exacted upon the victims of the Quebec Mosque attack and the Afzaal family.
We are coming dangerous to a breaking point in Canada, but there is light at the end of this tunnel. All Canadians are responsible for treating Islamophobia as an urgent crisis as you would any other type of emergency. Addressing Islamophobia immediately will spare millions from the psychological trauma of hate and save many lives. It will give an opportunity for a life of peace and security– an opportunity that was not afforded to Ibrahima and Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, and Azzedine Soufiane who entered that Quebec Mosque on that cold January evening five years ago.