Why we need a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia: Farber and Sucharov

Very good column by Bernie Farber and Mira Sucharov:

There are times when one community within the Canadian mosaic experiences particular trauma such that succor is in order. Today, that community is Canadian Muslims. MP Iqra Khalid knew this when she proposed M-103, a private member’s motion designed to fight Islamophobia. Now, the parliamentary hearings flowing from M-103’s recommendations provide all Canadians with an opportunity to stand up to Islamophobia.

No one understands this situation better than Canadian Jews. There was a time in this country where Jews were unwelcome, seen as swarthy crooks and objects of suspicion. Attitudes softened somewhat after it became clear that such bigotry — through shameful episodes like the banning of the M.S. St. Louis — had led Canada to be complicit in the Nazi genocide of six million Jewish men, women and children.

But discrimination against Jews in Canada continued. Until the Canadian Jewish Congress challenged it in court in the early 1950s, Jews were often barred from purchasing land. Employers discriminated against applicants with Jewish-sounding names. Some resorts and country clubs kept their doors closed to Jews, and Jewish doctors were banned from practicing in some hospitals. And into the 1960s, there were strict quotas placed on the number of Jews allowed into universities.

While anti-semitism remains a scourge worldwide, in Canada it now hovers along the edges of society. Not so Islamophobia which is, unfortunately, front and centre.

With the horrific mosque attack in Quebec City last January, Canadian Muslims now have the tragic distinction of being the only people in the country’s history to have been gunned down in their house of worship. Incredibly, in the weeks following, anti-Islam protests took place across downtown Toronto. And two months after the massacre, a protestor ripped up and stomped on a Koran at a Peel District school board meeting.

And then there are the quiet prejudicial attitudes. A 2017 poll revealed that only 4 per cent of Canadians would find it “unacceptable” for their son or daughter to marry a Christian. That number jumps to 32 per cent when the hypothetical betrothed is Muslim.

M-103 follows in the tradition of supporting particular targeted groups as needed. But that support has sometimes come decades too late. In fact, it wasn’t until 2015 that a parliamentary motion was passed unanimously decrying anti-semitism. What’s more, unlike the anti-semitism motion, the text of M-103 is fully inclusive. Not only does it condemn Islamophobia, it points to the need to oppose “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

Yet critics of the motion continue to air doubts that opposing Islamophobia is worthy of Canada’s attention. In a briefing note to the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the motion’s recommendations, retired Canadian Forces major Russ Cooper has expressed concern that the motion will trample free speech.

Similarly, Jay Cameron of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms warns that if “M-103 is legislatively codified, the unconstitutional infringement of freedom of thought, belief, expression and religion is inevitable.”

And Father Raymond De Sousa told the hearing that “to focus on one religion alone, as M-103 suggests, would be unwise.”

All these arguments are red herrings. M-103 does nothing to change the Criminal Code. Canada’s strong speech protections remain in place. And neither does M-103 restrict anti-bigotry to one religion. Its language, as we’ve stressed above, is fully inclusive.

As Canadian Jews we understand the need for memory. With the legacy of Jewish suffering, it has become an article of faith to commemorate persecution. What we’re seeing here, sadly, is that when it comes to oppression of Canadian Muslims, there are too many attempts by too many Canadians to forget. M-103 is an attempt to resist this collective amnesia.

When it comes to Islamophobia, we fear that too many of the testimonies at the hearings to date, coupled with the many Canadians who said they would have voted against the motion, reveal the scope of the very problem the critics are claiming does not exist.

Source: Why we need a parliamentary motion to fight Islamophobia | Toronto Star

Sheema Khan’s on the limitations of the Runnymede Trust definition and the strengths of its framework:

For the past few weeks, the House of Commons Heritage Committee has been holding public consultations regarding Motion M-103.

Appearing before the Committee at the outset, M-103 sponsor Liberal MP Iqra Khalid emphasized the need for a comprehensive study of Canadians affected by racism and religious discrimination. She spoke eloquently about the painful experiences of individuals affected by prejudice and hatred, and the need for a systematic analysis of data (as required by M-103) to combat forces that are corroding our social fabric.

These are laudable goals that should be supported by all Canadians.

However, an uproar ensued when M-103 was initially tabled, because of the inclusion of the term “Islamophobia” in the motion. There were concerns about the imposition of Sharia Law, a chill on free speech, and special protection granted to Islam. Ms. Khalid received a torrent of hate mail, including death threats. Some argued that the reaction itself was proof of widespread Islamophobia.

And yet, as the Committee has heard, no one really has a handle on the term. Many definitions exist, with widely differing breadths and scopes. Ms. Khalid’s definition: “the irrational fear of Islam and/or Muslims that leads to discrimination” is the most succinct. However, this needs to be balanced by the right to criticize and question.

The term gained currency following the 1997 report on British Muslims, entitled “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All” issued by the Runnymede Trust, a respected British think-tank. In it, Islamophobia was defined as “unfounded hostility towards Islam, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.”

The report, however, went further, by equating Islamophobia with “closed views” on Islam in eight different categories. These include Islam seen as monolithic; the “other” with no commonality with Western culture; inferior (i.e. barbaric, irrational and sexist); an enemy; and a deceitful ideology bent on political/military domination. Such closed views reject any criticism of the West by Islam, defend discrimination of Muslims, and see Islamophobia as natural. For good measure, “open views” include seeing Islam as diverse with internal debates; having shared values with other faiths; a faith worthy of respect; and a partner in the solution of shared problems.

Such a binary categorization of opinions of Islam is problematic, and was recently recognized as such by the editor of the report. However, since the term is here to stay, the Heritage Committee should devise a precise definition.

Questions and criticism about Islam are not Islamophobia. In fact, Muslims themselves engage in robust debates about modernity and Islamic practice. The cruel irony is that such debates are banned in countries that need it most.

The Heritage Committee must be careful to define Islamophobia, lest it chill the free exchange of opinions. For example, a recent online survey found that 88 per cent of Canadians believe Muslims should be treated no differently than their fellow Canadians, while 72 per cent are worried that hatred and fear of Canadian Muslims is on the rise.

Yet 56 per cent believe that “Islam suppresses women’s rights.” Are they Islamophobic? Of course not. They are entitled to their opinion. Such a critical view is understandable, given discriminatory gender practices in some Muslim cultures. Furthermore, subordination of women is often justified by theology. We need to be able to have frank discussions without the fear of being branded an “Islamophobe.”

A balance must be found between protection of free speech and protection from bigotry and hatred.

In spite of its clumsy definition of Islamophobia, The Runnymede report provides an excellent framework for identifying its deleterious effects in four areas: exclusion (from politics, employment, management); violence; discrimination (in employment and provision of services); and prejudice (in media and conversation).

In fact, this framework can be applied to comprehensive data collection and analysis for all types of racism and discrimination – which just happens to be the stated goal of the Committee.

Source: We must define Islamophobia by what it truly is – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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