Feb. 1, 2017
How does the first hate killings since
Donald Trump’s election occur in a place touted for its multiculturalism and
Well, Islamophobia is for real. Trump’s
executive order banning Muslims from select countries and the terrorist attack
on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec in Quebec City killing six and
wounding eight innocent worshippers should lay to rest any doubts.
Right wing nationalists were quick to
re-victimize the victims by falsely propagating that one of the alleged
perpetrators was a Moroccan and that he had yelled “Allahu Akbar.” The fact
that even some supposedly respectable media outlets reported such alternative
“facts” is telling. Police have now said the sole accused is Alexandre
Bissonnette, a white French Canadian who by some accounts appears to be a rabid
white nationalist. Very few are asking, how did he get radicalized?
As someone spending equal time on both
sides of the border, I hear Canadians always smugly speaking of how we are so
different. Apparently not so much.
The number of police-reported hate crimes
against Muslim more than doubled over a three-year period (2012 to 2014),
according to figures released by Statistics Canada last year. Meanwhile in the
U.S., various groups, including the FBI, have documented an eightfold increase
in hate crime since 2000. As alarming as these figures are, they don’t tell the
full story (and may be less accurate in Canada) because they are based on
reports from local police, which in turn rely on victim reports.
In fact, discrimination and crimes driven
by hate are not being properly captured. Many go unreported because too many
believe that nothing will come of it. Indeed, there is growing anecdotal
evidence that reports are underplayed by some authorities or are classified as
other than hate, such as “flight safety issues” or simply free expression.
In the wake of the killings, mosque
attendee Zebida Bendjeddou told Reuters: “In June, they’d put a pig’s head in
front of the mosque. But we thought: ‘Oh, they’re isolated events.’ ”
Such isolated incidents are part of a
pattern that is being ignored. Usually nobody is physically hurt, but the
pattern reveals the underlying bigotry and provides evidence of how too many
have been emboldened by rhetoric that has mainstreamed anti-Muslim hate.
Demonization of Muslims has a long history
in Western politics and popular culture but now we have reached the watershed
moment. Initially fuelled by a well-funded network of professional merchants of
hate on the fringe, it infected a small segment of the Republican party in the
U.S. and Harperites in Canada, but has now reached heights never before
imagined by most analysts.
Trump’s travel ban and anticipated Muslim
registry did not rise out of thin air. They are rooted in the culture of fear
and targeting of Muslims nurtured by too many in positions of power on both
sides of the border since the early 1990s, but most aggressively since 9/11 and
The War on Terror. Indeed, this legacy of “othering” and dehumanization prepped
the populace enough for Trump to tap into.
Canadian politicians and media are not
blameless. The cabal of Islamophobes transcend the border and consult the same
playbook. The War on Terror fear mongering reached its peak under Prime
Minister Stephen Harper when the anti-Niqab rhetoric, banning of Syrian
refugees and calls to ban barbaric cultural practices (code for Muslim
practices) were central election issues. Now playing into similar fears is
Conservative-leadership contender Kellie Leitch’s dog whistle problematic
Quebec also has a long history. More
recently, the Parti Quebecois created anxiety in 2013 by proposing a “Charter
of Values” aimed primarily at Muslims. Not to let an opportunity slip,
Conservative Quebec politician François Legault fed the hate by resurrecting
Muslim dress issue last fall.
In 2013, an Angus Reid poll revealed that
69 per cent of Quebecois held an unfavourable opinion of Muslims. In the rest
of Canada, this view rose from 46 per cent unfavourable in 2009 to 54 per cent
unfavourable in 2013. A 2016 study by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation
found only 24 per cent French-Canadians and 49 per cent of English-Canadians
had a positive view of Muslims.
Even Americans have a better view,
according to a Washington Post article with four polls showing an increase from
53 per cent favourable view in November 2015 to 70 per cent in October 2016. An
Ipsos poll in 2016 found that both Canadians and Americans thought Muslims made
up 17 per cent of their populations. The reality is far lower, at 3 per cent
and 1 per cent respectively.
When Islamophobia becomes a socially
acceptable form of bigotry as it has in some circles, we should not be
surprised when it manifests in discrimination and even violence. While the
shooting may be shrugged off by some as an isolated incident, hate impacts the
lived realities of far too many Muslims.
In fact, the situation is getting so
serious that even psychologists have started to weigh in on the damaging impact
of such an environment, especially on children.
It’s time to address Islamophobia with all
the seriousness it deserves.
Kutty is counsel to KSM Law, an associate professor at Valparaiso University
Law School in Indiana and an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.