The right wing hysteria surrounding the introduction of a motion to condemn Islamophobia made by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid has reached fever pitch. The dust had barely settled on the graves of the six Muslim men shot in cold blood by a white man unloading his hatred each time he pulled the gun’s trigger, when the bigoted Islamophobic tirade launched by right wing media, the growing ranks of white supremacist groups, and by many of the Conservative party leadership candidates further attacked grieving Muslims. All while Canadians across the country, in a demonstration of solidarity and remembrance mourn this heinous act of terror. What should have been a noble way to commemorate the worst mass killing in a house of worship in Canada and to name and condemn the hate that claimed innocent lives, has now devolved into a vulgar spectacle of the same venomous hate that precipitated this violence.
It’s painfully ironic that in the aftermath of an Islamophobic massacre those affected by this violence are being revictimized by Islamophobic rhetoric and hate speech that denies and delegitimates Islamophobia adding insult to injury. In parliament, Iqra Khalid read a litany of hate messages she received in over 50,000 emails that contained vile racist, sexist, and Islamophobic comments calling her a “camel-humping terrorist incubator” and threatening to “get rid of the nasty blank Muzzie stench in Ottawa.” And yet Conservative leaders would like you to believe that Islamophobia should not be specifically named or recognized in this parliamentary motion since doing so singles out Muslims for “special treatment.” This is the same argument used to counter “Black Lives Matter” by saying “All Lives Matter.” By eliminating “Islamophobia” the Opposition’s counter motion relegates marginalized groups into a generic category that places all forms of discrimination into a melting pot of oppression. This move denies the distinct histories and manifestations of violence that racialized groups face and homogenizes their pain and suffering, while ignoring the growing trend of Islamophobia across Canada and south of the border.
It’s important to understand the terms this debate calls into question. What is Islamophobia and why can’t the bigotry against Muslims be simply collapsed into broader forms of racism? Islamophobia is a fear and hatred of Islam and Muslim that translates into individual actions and systemic forms of oppression. Simply put, individual actions like vandalism and name calling are supported by widespread ideas like “Muslims are terrorists” and find expression in systemic practices such as profiling or the denial of jobs. A term often suggested to describe this type of prejudice is “anti-Muslim racism” however, the term is a limited one. Anti-Muslim racism is a manifestation of Islamophobia which is evident through the violence, hatred, and discrimination that is enacted against Muslim bodies, but since these acts rely upon the demonization of Islam- one does not exist without the other.
Lost in the current right wing frenzy against this motion (that ironically creates the very oppression they refuse to recognize), is the fact that an earlier motion made by NDP leader Thomas Mulcair condemning Islamophobia was passed last October and unanimously supported by all parties. Yet this barely made a ripple in the news. So why did Conservatives end up supporting the very terminology they are now contesting? Without a Conservative leadership race the need to foment fear and moral panic in order to create national paranoia and garner votes, conjuring up the Islamic bogeyman and creeping sharia fest wasn’t necessary. But make no mistake this new motion is far from redundant. It adds teeth to the earlier largely symbolic motion by insisting on the need for evidence based research to document and combat Islamophobia and other forms of systemic racism. This is necessary, timely and long overdue as the night of Jan 29 will continue to remind us.