A partial victory in Canada against Islamophobia

A partial victory in Canada against Islamophobia

Mohammed Azhar

By Mohammed Azhar

The Canadian House of Commons has passed a motion, proposed by Liberal Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid, that condemns Islamophobia, systematic racism and religious discrimination. It also asks that a Commons committee study ways to reduce such hate.
A similar vote passed unanimously in the Ontario legislature two months ago. Member of Provincial Parliament Nathalie Des Raiser’s motion condemned a “growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments.”

 
The actions followed the unprovoked shooting in a Montreal mosque that killed six Muslims and wounded several. Alexandre Bissonnette, whose friends say he felt immigrants were marginalizing whites, has been charged with murder. Such gestures reassure Muslims. Indeed love and sympathy swamped Muslims throughout Canada following the killing of innocent Muslims by a loner in Montreal.

 
However, Canadian Muslims should not think that these resolutions will end Islamophobia and that they do not have to act to combat it. While the motion has angered racists and bigots it has also triggered fear that the resolution could stifle their freedom of expression by barring them from criticizing Islam, as they do other faiths or ideologies.

 
Hate crimes against Muslims have doubled in two years, with mosques defaced and Muslims attacked or taunted to leave Canada. In Ontario’s Peel county 80 protesters disrupted a school board meeting over religious accommodation, made anti-Muslim remarks and ripped the Holy Qur’an. Schools in Canada and the United States have provided facilities to students for prayers for decades. In my days at the University of Michigan, we used to offer Friday prayers in the department of political science.

 
A 2011 survey showed that Muslims numbered just over a million out of Canada’s 35 million, or about three percent of the population, the second largest after Christianity. Canadians have no problem with this.

 
Canada makes no distinction on the basis of religion, ethnicity, race or national origin. Canadians become alarmed, however, when they witness what they view as defiance of Canadian values of tolerance. This is just a perception but it is still a problem. For example, many believe that Muslim women are marginalized.

 
The Canadian Women’s Foundation states that between 1980 and 2012, 1,181 Aboriginal women were killed or went missing according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but the number is closer to 4,000 according to the Minister on the Status of Women. Of the 83 domestic homicides reported to the police in 2014, 64 victims were women. Every night 3,491 women and 2,724 children sleep in shelters for safety and another 300 are turned away because the shelters are full. But the perception of oppression of Muslim women remains.

 
Some Muslims who have attacked people in Europe for insulting Islam or the Prophet (peace be upon him) also make some Canadians wonder whether Muslims will harm Canadians who criticize Islam.

 
Islamophobes have seized the occasion for hate-mongering. Rise Canada’s website asserts that Canadian values often conflict with Islamic thinking. Ron Banerjee, an adviser to the group and director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy, urges Canadians to fight “shariah creep.” Rise Canada staged a protest against a mosque in Toronto but fled when neighbors flocked to support the worshippers.

 
Other white supremacist groups include Fédération des Québécois de Souche, Pegida, Soldiers of Odin, Freedom Report and Canadian Coalition for Concerned Citizens among others

 

A poll for the Trudeau Foundation during September to December 2016 revealed that 75 percent of Canadians say Muslims contribute to Canada and 57 percent of even those with a negative view of Muslims agree. Forty-nine percent say they view Islam positively. Sixty-six percent of those with contacts with Muslims see Islam positively but 53 percent of Canadians have little or no contact with Muslims.

 
Those viewing Islam negatively say it is because of the treatment of women (21 percent), violence (19 percent), association with terrorism (17 percent), intolerance (17 percent) and extremism (11 percent). Twenty-nine percent say, however, that the media rarely portray Muslims fairly. Seventy-eight percent of Canadians assert that US foreign policy provokes Muslim terrorism. The Conservative Party fanned anti-Muslim bigotry under former prime minister Stephen Harper. Some leadership candidates, like Kellie Leitch and Maxime Bernier, are doing the same. The Commons motion against Islamophobia showed divisions, with 201 Members of Parliament voting for and 91 against.

 

A poll shows that 42 percent of Canadians oppose the motion (M-103) while only 29 percent favor it and 29 percent are undecided. There is no evidence Muslim organizations are taking these challenges seriously.

 
Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, chairman of Think for Actions, which seeks to engage with youth, surveyed 600 Muslims in Calgary. He found the approval rating of Muslim religious leaders at 35 percent, showing that the leadership is disconnected even with the Muslim community let alone other Canadians.

 
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi identifies isolation as the root cause of social ills, including violence, gangs, drugs and radicalization.

 
Muslim leaders are building and maintaining mosques and arranging religious lectures. They have a few programs to help the needy and some meet priests, rabbis and other faith leaders. Muslim organizations are also divided on sectarian grounds and do not work together. The situation would only improve if capable young Muslims took over from elderly and stale leaders, worked with other Muslim organizations, tried to help the youth and others in the community who are largely neglected and worked with Canadians of other faiths to promote human rights, justice and dignity for all Canadians. If Muslim organizations continue on the old path, Islamophobia will grow and so will confusion and divisions among the Muslims of Canada.

 

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.