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Words alone will not end anti-Muslim terrorism in Canada

June 24, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Mourners and supporters gather for a public funeral for members of the Afzaal family at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario on 12 June 2021 in London, Canada. [Ian Willms/Getty Images]

The killing of a Muslim family in Ontario, Canada, on 6 June presented another opportunity for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to brand himself as a voice of reason and communal harmony. However, Trudeau’s amiable and reassuring language was designed to veil a sinister reality which has, for many years, hidden the true face of Canadian politics.

“This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities,” Trudeau told parliament, two days after Nathaniel Veltman deliberately drove his vehicle into a Canadian Muslim family at an intersection in London, Ontario. Only a young boy survived the attack which killed his parents, sister and grandmother. The nine-year-old remains in critical condition in hospital.

Trudeau, whose friendly and progressive liberal facade is often juxtaposed with the rise of conservative, populist politics in much of the Western hemisphere, went on speaking as if he is an activist advocating human rights and equality for all. “If anyone thinks racism and hatred don’t exist in this country, I want to say this: How do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye and say ‘Islamophobia isn’t real’?”

Ironically, it took years of pressure and concerted lobbying from many civil society organisations, progressives and Muslim groups to finally convince Trudeau to designate 29 January every year as the “National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia”. This specific date was chosen to commemorate the terrorist attack by a Canadian citizen on a Quebec City mosque in 2017. Six Canadian Muslims were killed and 19 others were injured in that particular hate crime.

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That was also an opportunity for Trudeau to rail against terrorism and hate. Ultimately, it was all empty rhetoric, as the Canadian government has done little to curb the dangerous phenomenon. This lack of meaningful action makes the government complicit in rising Islamophobia and hate crimes in Canada.

By way of explaining his reluctance to recognise 29 January as the day of “action on Islamophobia”, Trudeau told Radio Canada that, while it is “important to underline intolerance directed at people of faith,” he wished to “avoid that type of backlash that we’ve seen when we take these kinds of actions,” since the perpetrators of hate crimes are “still a small intolerant minority”. Jingoism aside, Trudeau was essentially arguing that recognition and action against Islamophobia were unnecessary as they may give too much attention to a “small” and hateful “minority”.

Two men sit besides a sign reading "Unapologetically Muslim" at the London Muslim Mosque during the multi-faith march to end hatred, after a man driving a pickup truck struck and killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario, Canada on June 11, 2021. [NICOLE OSBORNE/AFP via Getty Images]

Two men sit besides a sign reading “Unapologetically Muslim” at the London Muslim Mosque during the multi-faith march to end hatred, after a man driving a pickup truck struck and killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario, Canada on June 11, 2021. [NICOLE OSBORNE/AFP via Getty Images]

Trudeau is utterly wrong. A report submitted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in November last year showed that a majority of Canadians — 52 per cent of those polled — believe that Muslims cannot be trusted, while 42 per cent feel that discrimination against Muslims — for which read, racism — is mainly the fault of Muslims themselves.

The UN findings are part of a long trajectory of violence and racism targeting Canadian Muslims. A Gallup Poll published in 2011 debunked the “small minority” of racists claim. Almost half of all Canadian Muslims — 48 per cent — feel disrespected within society, as do 52 per cent of American Muslims. This “disrespect” manifests itself in numerous ways, much of it unreported, although it occasionally makes news when it translates into outright violence.

There is plenty of that. Official Canadian police reports demonstrate that hate crimes against Canada’s Muslims are on the rise, with 166 such incidents reported in 2018 and 181 in 2019. Violent crimes are becoming more intense and bloodier over time.

Sadly, anti-Muslim terrorism in Canada is likely to increase in the future, not only because hate crime statistics show an upward trajectory, but also because anti-Muslim sentiments often take centre stage in government and the media.

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Negative depictions of Islam and Muslims in Canadian media must not be grouped under the designation of “mainstream Western media bias”, because media scaremongering is penetrating the psyche of large sections of Canadian society. Many Canadian politicians, even in Trudeau’s own party, often exploit this alarming phenomenon to feed their political ambitions.

Various Canadian provinces have either passed or drafted laws that specifically target Canada’s Muslim minorities. Quebec’s Bill 62, for example, restricts the wearing of the niqab in public buildings. Outrageously, the Bill, which was passed by Quebec’s Liberal government in October 2017, followed the bloody attack on the Grand Mosque in Quebec City. Instead of fighting Islamophobia, Quebec’s officials provided it with legal and moral justification.

While feeding Islamophobia at home, Trudeau persistently rages against human rights violators in China, the Middle East and around the world. As Chinese columnist Mu Lu rightly argued in the Global Times, Canada uses “human rights as a stick to beat others.” While the same claim can also be made regarding the misuse of human rights as a foreign policy tool by other Western leaders, Trudeau is often successful in presenting his human rights concerns as genuine.

If he is indeed genuine in his desire to root out anti-Muslim terrorism from Canada, the prime minister should start by cleansing his own party of hate speech, end all attempts at criminalising Islam and Muslims and ban hate speech against Muslims in the media.

Terrorism will not end as a result of pompous pronouncements, but through real action. Justin Trudeau seems to be responsible for a lot of the former and none of the latter.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.