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Islamophobia in Canada is Real, and Must be Named

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The surge in attention being paid to anti-Semitic incidents is not just leaving Jewish-American communities in despair. Canadians, too, have felt a ripple effect.

A week after hundreds of headstones were toppled at a Philadelphia cemetery and dozens of Jewish centers received bomb threats, two Toronto Jewish community centers — including one that housed a daycare — had to evacuate after receiving threatening calls. On March 5, another center in Vancouver was evacuated for the second time in less than a week after receiving an email stating there was a bomb in the building.

Children were “forced to flee” as a result of these threats, said Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Toronto. “No community should be treated this way.”

Benlolo’s right. No community should be subjected to the fear and insecurity Jews across North America are currently experiencing. This is why dozens of Muslims decided to visit one of the threatened Jewish centers — the Miles Nadel Community Centre in Toronto’s downtown core — that same evening, armed with flowers and cards. Their message? “We stand in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Hate will never divide us,” read one card’s inscribed comments.

But Benlolo’s comments should also give pause for thought on why M-103, a parliamentary motion that condemns Islamophobia and calls for a more concentrated government approach to combat it, was passed unanimously in the Ontario provincial legislature in late February.

It’s a correlation that some conservatives prefer to ignore, and gestures and expressions of shared pain and solidarity by Muslims don’t seem to make any difference.

A card Muslims brought to a threatened Jewish community center

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is putting Muslim feelings above free speech,” declared Canadian radio broadcaster Andrew Lawton in a column in The Washington Post the day the Jewish centers in Toronto were threatened.

“Without defining Islamophobia – a term often applied to legitimate criticisms of radical Islam – these motions tell Canadians that their government deems some types of speech off-limits.”

Not quite. What the Canadian government is actually doing is putting facts above feelings – something millions of Americans have made obvious they would appreciate seeing from their government.

So, let’s consider the facts. The number of hate crimes against Muslims in Canada doubled between 2012 and 2014, while hate crimes overall have declined, according to government agency Statistics Canada. Recent polls indicate more Canadians hold biased views of Muslims than any other group in society, and that Muslims, along with Indigenous people, face the most discrimination in the country.

The tipping point came January 29, when six Muslims were shot dead in a Quebec mosque by a White nationalist.

To claim, then, that Trudeau’s decision to recognize anti-Muslim bigotry as pandering to Muslims’ “hurt feelings” is missing the wider point: There is a systemic tide of hate directed toward Muslims in Canada.

Yet according to Lawton, the Quebec shooting was actually “exploited” by Canada’s largest civil liberties organization for Muslims, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), to “lobby for mandatory anti-Islamophobia education in Canadian public schools.”

I wonder what sharia law, terrorism and an Egyptian political organization have to do with the day-to-day attacks Muslims in North America face on their way to work or school

This is complete spin. The NCCM has been delivering educational workshops and presentations to Canadian schools and service providers for the past three years that clarify misconceptions about Islam. None of these are considered “mandatory,” nor is the NCCM pushing for them to become so.

Besides, haven’t critics always maintained that ordinary Muslims need to “speak out” more often to denounce the detested terrorists that plague their faith? Do NCCM’s actions not speak to this?

Let’s also be clear: Freedom of speech has nothing to do with anti-Muslim prejudice. Lawton echoes the rhetoric of many conservative provocateurs across America (Breitbart, for example, which publishes articles claiming that Islam poses a threat to the American way of life) when he expresses concern that people want to feel free to legitimately criticize aspects of “radical Islam” – namely terrorism, the Muslim Brotherhood and sharia law.

Without going into the problematic denotations of the way the term “sharia law” is often understood, this criticism sounds reasonable enough to me. I’m a Muslim, and my opinion is not an anomaly as you’d be hard-pressed to find a Muslim in North America today who doesn’t call out the draconian laws in most Muslim-ruled states.

But I wonder what sharia law, terrorism and an Egyptian political organization have to do with the day-to-day attacks Muslims in North America face on their way to work or school, like the Toronto woman who was punched in the stomach and face, called a “terrorist,” and told to “go back home” while on her way to pick up her children from school? A masked man in a YouTube video brandishing what appears to be a handgun and promising to “fire a bullet in the head of one Arab per week” after the Paris attacks in 2015? And why do people who claim in all sincerity not to be racist have an issue with giving a name to discrimination and assault against Muslims?

In his column, Lawton asks, where are the motions to condemn anti-Semitism in Canada? In 2015, a federal parliamentary motion was easily passed condemning anti-Semitism and calling on the federal government to “advance the combating of anti-Semitism as a domestic and international priority.” Surely Lawton is aware of this.

What’s the difference now?

*Image: An anti-Trump protest in downtown Toronto. Flickr/Stacie Da Ponte.

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  • About the autor
    Shenaz Kermalli

    Shenaz Kermalli is a Canadian freelance journalist with an interest in geopolitics and human rights. She currently teaches journalism at Humber College in Toronto. Shenaz is a former producer and writer with Al Jazeera English, BBC News, and CBC Television. Her writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The Ottawa Citizen, Foreign Policy, Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Muftah. She can be found on Twitter @mskermalli.
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    Comments
    • Jokuvaan

      Is it not obivious? Fear.
      Fear of muslims becoming more religious and uniting under the black banner and all the atrocities committed in its name.
      Besides its not racism, ones religion is not defined by DNA.