On June 12, Ontario MPPs unanimously voted to condemn “all acts of violence and terrorism against people of the Muslim faith” as well as “all forms of Islamophobia.”
The motion, which followed one that failed to pass just two days prior, was moved in the context of journalists, social media users and others digging up the names of Conservative MPs who voted against a similar non-binding motion in March 2017, two months after the mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec.
Meanwhile, at the House of Commons, MPs unanimously passed a motion calling on the government to convene an emergency summit on Islamophobia before the end of July, following a petition by the National Council of Canadian Muslims. It remains to be seen if the summit will take place, and what it will propose.
Ultimately, however, these sort of motions are mere parts of the gestural apology-conciliation politics that have failed to produce any systematic change.
Real change is what’s needed, not platitudes. Here are four initial proposals to help combat anti-Muslim hate.
Stop Supporting War On Muslims Abroad
Canada sells weapons to the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and many other countries. The weapons are used against Muslims these governments deem to be “terrorists,” whether by Israel against Palestinians, Turkey against the Kurds, Saudi Arabia against the Houthis, or many other examples.
As long as the government, arms suppliers and media support wars on Muslims abroad, defining them as enemies, the implicit message to white supremacists is that Muslims within Canada are fair game.
Canada can, and should, immediately suspend all arms sales, starting with Israel, Saudi Arabia and NATO countries. This suspension must be accompanied by a reversal of the “War on Terror” ideology dominant since September 2001.
End The Anti-Extremism Policing Strategy
Earlier today, media reported that the man accused of killing four Muslims in London, Ont., last week is now facing terrorism charges. While many of us have found ourselves calling anti-Muslim attacks “terrorism,” it’s crucial to understand that doing so is dangerous.
In February, reflecting these concerns, more than 170 individuals and prominent civil liberty groups signed a public statement calling for an end to the expansion of anti-terror laws in the name of anti-racism.
Scholar and writer Azeezah Kanji recently noted in a social media post: “I understand why people are calling for ‘terrorism’ charges against the London attacker, but I think this is a dangerous move. Anti-terrorism law is certainly applied in grossly racially-disparate ways: Muslims have been responsible for less than 10 per cent of deaths from public political violence in Canada since 9/11, yet are subject to 98 per cent of terrorism prosecutions. However, charging the attacker with ‘terrorism’ in this case – for an act of violence already committed – won’t fix the disparity.
Muslims are overwhelmingly targeted pre-emptively, not on the basis of violent actions but on the basis of risk: whether by no-fly lists, terrorism peace bonds, security certificates, counter-radicalization, mass surveillance, or criminal prosecutions (only two of the Muslims charged with terrorism were for actually committing any act of violence). ‘Terrorism’ charges for the London murders won’t fix any of this; it will only serve to put a racially-neutral façade on a deeply racialized and rights-abusive regime, one that we should be seeking to dismantle rather than entrench.”
The police have also proven to be incapable of stopping white supremacists and mass murderers. The Quebec mosque shooter was unknown to police, even though anti-hate activists in Quebec City already had him on their radars. The Minneapolis FedEx mass shooter, who killed eight people in April, including four Sikh workers, had been reported to police by his mother more than a year prior, but wasn’t stopped.
Providing greater funding to police to combat extremism will only further criminalize Muslims, effectively encouraging more anti-Muslim hatred. Instead, we must call for a disarming of the police, and an end to the surveillance and criminalization of Muslims.
Stop Anti-Migrant Policies
In 2018, in the lead-up to his re-election bid, Toronto Mayor John Tory insisted that refugees were overrunning the city’s shelter system.
Moreover, when faced with criticisms about their handling of COVID-19, provincial politicians turned to xenophobia. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been running ads calling for border closures. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs have called for reductions on the number of migrant workers in Canada. Last week, Quebec Premier François Legault tweeted that his party believes the province has “already reached its capacity to integrate” immigrants.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government deported more people in 2020, during a pandemic, than in any of the previous five years at least.
Every level of government in Canada creates anti-migrant policies whenever it serves its interests. These policies portray migrants in general, including Muslims, as criminals, disease-carriers and social services exploiters in the collective imagination, and create the environment in which racism flourishes, and people are killed.
As a first step toward justice, permanent resident status should be given to all of those within Canada who do not have it. All that come to Canada in the future must also be allowed to enter with permanent resident status on arrival. This will immediately and effectively send the crucial message that each person in Canada is entitled to the same human dignity, respect and rights.
Strengthen Labour Law Protections
Muslims have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country. Muslim women, Muslims in Quebec and Black Muslim refugees in particular report consistently lower wages and labour market participation, meaning they’re also more likely to work in less-respected professions or places of employment.
This impoverishment allows white supremacists, police, service providers and media to see and posit Muslims as less-desirable and less-worthy, which encourages anti-Muslim hatred.
The solution to this is simple: increase the minimum wage in all provinces, create strong anti-reprisal protections to ensure workers can speak up against abuse and mistreatment without fear, and extend labour laws to protect all workers, particularly those in temp, part-time and gig-work, etc.
These changes must also be accompanied by rolling back anti-Muslim laws across the country, particularly the gendered Islamophobia of Bill 62 in Quebec, and the so-called “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.”
This list is just a starting point for debate and discussion, and more specific policy proposals must be outlined and then supported. Each of us has a role to play to ensure that our concerns aren’t brushed away in platitudes, police expansion and the compartmentalizing of Islamophobia.
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