In Canada, Homegrown Islamophobia Gets a Boost from Modi’s Supporters in India

The traditional concern regarding Indo-Canadians has focused more of Sikh extremism than the Hindu extremism covered in this commentary. Liberal Brampton Centre MP Ramesh Sangha had made the following accusation: Brampton Liberal MP says his party ‘pandering’ to Sikh separatists.

Canadian “mainstream” media coverage has been limited, safe for the call to prayer (azan) controversy during Ramadan.

The PM’s disastrous 2018 India trip may also contribute to Canada’s relative reluctance to comment on Indian government abuses:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has long been criticized for discriminating against India’s estimated 200 million Muslims. Tensions between this large minority and the Hindu nationalists who support Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been mounting in recent years, resulting in worrying laws, dangerous harassment, and deadly mob violence in India. Now, the hostility has moved outside of India’s borders. Thanks to social media and a dedicated diaspora, antagonism toward Muslims by supporters of India’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist government has gone global. And the international spread of domestic prejudices is causing diplomatic ripple effects for India’s allies.

This has been particularly apparent in the Persian Gulf region, home to millions of Indian expatriates. Modi’s carefully cultivated ties to the Gulf regimes are now threatened by instances of ultra-nationalist Indian expats spewing Islamophobic rhetoric online. While much of the vitriol has been aimed at the Muslim population back home in India, it has also taken the form of social media posts that denigrated Islam more generally, as well as the Prophet Mohammed. The situation has led to rare criticism of Modi by Gulf elites. In April, the government of Kuwait, along with a member of the Sharjah royal family in the United Arab Emirates, criticized widespread Islamophobic social media posts in India accusing the country’s Muslims of deliberately spreading the coronavirus and engaging in a “corona jihad.” Modi eventually responded by tweeting that the virus “does not see race [or] religion,” although his government’s rhetoric says otherwise. A month later, the UAE Federal Public Prosecution issued a public warning against discrimination after scores of Indian expats were fired from their jobs for anti-Muslim social media posts. This and similar incidents led the Dubai-based Gulf News to run an editorial in May calling for India to stop “exporting hate” to the Gulf.

In the West, the BJP’s brand of Islamophobia has found an eager partner among the far-right, as recent developments in famously multicultural Canada demonstrate.

In April, city councils across Canada voted to allow the Islamic call to prayer, the azan, to be broadcasted for a few minutes a day during the holy month of Ramadan. The government hoped to foster a sense of inclusion as mosques and other places of worship were closed for the COVID-19 lockdown. The decision elicited a major backlash, including mass petitions and online hate, with the far-right suggesting “Islamism” had infiltrated Canadian society and politics.

Some members of Canada’s Indian diaspora echoed such sentiments, tweeting comments about how the prayer call broadcasts are part of an Islamist “strategical campaign through out the world” or that “blaring loudspeakers” can never be “peaceful.” Several of the tweeters have quietly lost their jobs since then, amid pressure from anti-hate groups.

But few cases have garnered much attention. The exception is that of Ravi Hooda, who sat on a regional school board in the Toronto area and tweeted that allowing the prayer calls to be broadcast opens the door for “Separate lanes for camel & goat riders” or laws “requiring all women to cover themselves from head to toe in tents.” When Hooda’s tweet was called out by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a Twitter war ensued. Dozens of pro-Indian accounts, often with usernames containing an eight-digit string of numbers—a common indicator of a bot account—came to Hooda’s defense. A local controversy instantly took on an international character.

Hooda, for his part, is a volunteer for the local branch of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, which represents the overseas interests of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the right-wing Hindu nationalist organization that promotes the Hindutva (literally, “Hindu-ness”) ideology that India is a purely Hindu nation at its core. Modi himself is a lifelong RSS member, and a majority of his ministers have a background in the organization. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh opened its first chapter in 1947, in Kenya, and today has more than 500 branches in 39 countries. The group’s chapters are called shakhas(branches) and, in addition to offering community services, help organize the diaspora through lectures, camps, and other organizational sessions that are aligned with the RSS’s ideological outlook.

The spread of right-wing Hindu nationalism in Canada has allegedly dovetailed with efforts by Indian intelligence agencies to “covertly influence” Canadian politicians to support Indian government positions through disinformation and money, according to documents obtained by Global News. There’s no proof of how successful this lobbying has been, but it’s clear that New Delhi is stretching its global reach at the same time that the BJP’s rhetoric and actions have politicized a new generation of Indian expats.

A glimpse of this global reach was provided by the EU DisinfoLab last fall in a report detailing a network of over 260 pro-India “fake local media outlets” spanning 65 countries, including throughout the West. The media organizations bear the names of local towns and cities, but none of them has any real connection with the localities they purport to represent, and all feature pro-India and anti-Pakistan content. Every news site was registered by the Srivastava Group, an Indian corporation that last year took right-wing European politicians on a trip to Kashmir, where they met with Modi.

Such reach can also be seen in the efforts of Indian expats and Indian Americans in the United States who organized last fall’s “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston attended by 50,000 people, including U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republican and Democratic politicians. Indian American volunteers did the heavy lifting and funded the event, which turned a meeting between heads of state into a public spectacle. The event was meant to cement Trump-Modi relations as well as to rally the U.S.-based diaspora around the BJP, thus bolstering the prime minister’s popularity back home.

An organized, RSS-minded, pro-BJP diaspora in the West and beyond would obviously be a great asset for Modi’s government.

 Elected officials would think twice before criticizing India, already a rising and influential power, for fear of angering their constituents. There are already hints that such calculations are being made by leaders. After an anti-Muslim pogrom broke out in Delhi in February, resulting in more than 50 deaths—the worst sectarian violence India has seen in years—Canada kept almost silent. While speaking to his Indian counterpart after the riots, the Canadian foreign minister offered a note of vague concern, roundly criticized in Canadian media. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made no statement, and the four Indian Canadian members of Trudeau’s Liberal caucus showed a similar reluctance to comment, drawing criticism from community organizations.

Similarly, foreign governments remained largely silent last summer when Modi stripped Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and placed it under a brutal military lockdown. This had observers wondering whether “Hindutva-inspired lobbies in the West,” as the researcher Fareeha Shamim labeled them, succeeded in their goals of building global influence from the ground up. Liberal politicians now hold an uncomfortable position, reluctant to criticize Modi lest they be attacked by his supporters in the diaspora.

Source: In Canada, Homegrown Islamophobia Gets a Boost from Modi’s Supporters in India

Opinion: Tunisia has a problem with internalised Islamophobia

More the tension between more conservative strains of Islam and more secular Muslims than Islamophobia:

On March 13, the Tunisian government announced emergency measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The measures included closing its sea borders, suspending international flights, shutting cafes from 4pm and completely closing mosques.

It was this last decision that sparked controversy on social media and among religious scholars and reminded many Tunisians of something they have long suspected; a deep-seated Islamophobia that has framed internal Tunisian policies and politics since the country’s independence from French colonial rule in 1956.

While the importance of prevention measures and controlling the spread of the virus is not debatable, the choice to completely close down mosques while only partially closing cafes was met with dismay.

Hicham Grissa, president of Zitouna University in Montfleury, criticised the decision as being “unresponsive” to people’s need for religious and spiritual practices in these times.

Grissa said while the spread of the virus will determine future actions, right now “you should not be talking about prohibiting prayer in mosques, unless the same measures are being taken for cafes and clubs.”

One mosque-goer in Nabeul, where I am from, told me: “I went to pray at dawn and the mosque was closed.

“We are usually only a dozen people at the Fajr prayer in the neighbourhood mosque, and we’re only there for 10 or 15 minutes. I just don’t see how that poses a higher risk than cafes downtown that host hundreds of people throughout the day.”

As schools and universities were closed from March 12, Tunisian youth took to cafes, sitting in confined spaces, drinking coffee and playing card games.

The decision to suspend prayer in mosques was, therefore, perceived by many social media users as the continuation of a state tradition of what they see as internalised Islamophobia, and “problematising” Islam and Islamic practices as the first step in dealing with crises.

This is all reminiscent of another problematic decision illustrating the internalised Islamophobia of the Tunisian state – the niqab ban imposed in July 2019.

After a double suicide bombing in June, Tunisia’s prime minister, Youssef Chahed, issued an order banning the wearing of the Islamic face veil in all state buildings and institutions for “security reasons”. This, despite the fact that the Ministry of Interior denied that the culprit had been wearing a niqab to disguise himself.

Several civil society organisations and politicians considered this to be a repetition of the hijab ban which has been imposed several times in Tunisia’s modern history. Over time, such bans have taken their toll on women’s rights and on freedom of religion, with resulting arrests, imprisonment, suspension from work and even police violence.

In 2019, activists argued that, if security is a concern, the state can take several measures to ensure security without infringing on freedom of religion and banning clothing. For example, female police officers or employees could carry out identity checks or searches at the entrance to public buildings in case of security concerns.

However, consecutive Tunisian governments from 1956, while more lenient today than in the past, have continued to exhibit an internalised Islamophobia that has propagated throughout Tunisia.

In the 1960s, Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first post-independence president, sought to weaken Islamic culture and establish a secular national identity. He closed the historical Islamic Zitouna University and discouraged fasting, personally appearing on TV drinking orange juice during Ramadan and advising Tunisians to do the same.

The Bourguiba administration abolished the system of religious endowments and religious courts, banned groups and political parties with an Islamic focus and officially banned the hijab in 1981, a policy that remained in place until the Tunisian revolution in 2011.

This state-sanctioned anti-hijab sentiment can be traced back to French colonial rule when women were encouraged to remove their veils as a statement of modernity and civilisation. This began in Algeria, but it was this Western notion of “modernity” that Bourguiba later sought to enforce in Tunisia.

This imposition of secular national identity resulted not only in the persecution of large groups of people but also in a growing societal mistrust of certain Islamic practices.

Restrictions on Islamic practices intensified during the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali administration from 1987 to 2011, when the state leveraged the fear of the threat of terrorism to crack down even more on religious freedoms and further entice fear of Islam among its population.

The Ben Ali administration enacted the 2003 anti-terrorism law, for example, which served to further alienate and persecute political opposition and ordinary religious people.

According to reports by organisations such as Amnesty International, between 2,000 and 3,000 people were prosecuted under this law. The law was vague and activities that were deemed to warrant police investigation included praying in mosques and owning Islamic items.

Just like the Bourguiba government before it, the Ben Ali administration established an increasingly authoritarian rule, under the cover of “modernity” and “fighting terrorism”, amid silence from Western allies such as the United States and France.

People who wore the hijab, who went to the mosque regularly or who engaged in Quran studies or recitation were perceived as “too religious”, and as a threat to Tunisian homogeneity and state security.

Documents found by protesters in police stations during the 2010 to 2011 protests showed how informants would keep logs of the numbers of people who went to a specific mosque, who was in the front row, how many women wore the headscarf and even how many women wore the headscarf but with more conservative, loose-fitting dresses.

A classified internal document from the Ministry of the Interior dated 2009, which started circulating on social media a few weeks ago, reads: “I am honoured to let you know that on 18/03/2009, a girl wearing a headscarf was detained [….] after investigation it became clear that she practises her religious duties regularly. She was warned about the necessity to remove the sectarian dress and she showed willingness to do so.” “Sectarian clothing” was the term used by the government to describe the headscarf at that time.

The government’s use of both police and neighbours/colleagues to watch out for each other’s “level of religiousness”, has resulted in these policies being adopted at a societal and individual level.

Despite the political changes brought by the revolution in 2011, these policies seeped into certain domains and became part of the culture.

Women wearing the hijab are still discriminated against. They are prohibited from certain swimming pools for “hygiene reasons” while men with long beards are still perceived as a threat.

After the striking incident of the suspension of a hijab-wearing flight attendant from Tunisair in 2015, the then-Minister of Transport declared that the hijab reduces hearingby 30 percent, putting the lives of passengers in danger.

While the justifications switch from safety, national security and hygiene to health concerns, the Tunisian state continues a decades-long tradition of internalised Islamophobia and remains quick to pursue policies that target Islamic practices first and foremost.

Source: Tunisia has a problem with internalised Islamophobia

Why Is Europe So Islamophobic? The attacks don’t come from nowhere.

Of note, but article is too dismissive of the impact of Islamist-inspired extremism and terrorism on public opinion and political reactions:

We live in a time of Islamophobia.

In February, two violent attacks on Muslims in Europe, one in Hanau in Germany, the other in London, took place within 24 hours of each other. Though the circumstances were different — the attacker in Hanau left a “manifesto” full of far-right conspiracy theories, while the motivations of the London attacker were less certain — the target was the same: Muslims.

The two events add to a growing list of violent attacks on Muslims across Europe. In 2018 alone, France saw an increase of 52 percent of Islamophobic incidents; in Austria there was a rise of approximately 74 percent, with 540 cases. The culmination of a decade of steadily increasing attacks on Muslims, such figures express a widespread antipathy to Islam. Forty-four percent of Germans, for example, see “a fundamental contradiction between Islam and German culture and values.” The figure for the same in Finland is a remarkable 62 percent; in Italy, it’s 53 percent. To be a Muslim in Europe is to be mistrusted, visible and vulnerable.

Across the Continent, Islamophobic organizations and individuals have been able to advance their agenda. Islamophobic street movements and political parties have become more popular. And their ideas have been incorporated into — and in some instances fed by — the machinery of the modern state, which surveils and supervises Muslims, casting them as threats to the life of the nation.

From the street to the state, Islamophobia is baked into European political life.

This has been nearly 20 years in the making. The “war on terror” — which singled out Muslims and Islam as a civilizational threat to “the West” — created the conditions for widespread Islamophobia. Internationally, it caused instability and increased violence, with the rise of the Islamic State in part a consequence. Domestically, in both Europe and the United States, new counterterrorism policies overwhelmingly targeted Muslims.

In Britain, for example, you are 150 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act — a draconian piece of legislation that allows people to be stopped at ports without “reasonable suspicion” — if you are of Pakistani heritage than if you are white. And then there are policies that in the name of “countering violent extremism” focus on the supposed threats of radicalization and extremism. In place across Europe, including in the European Union, such policies expand policing and counterterrorism to target the expression of political ideologies and religious identities. In practice, Muslims are treated as legitimate objects of suspicion.

In this setting of suspicion, a network of organizations and individuals preaching about the “threat” of Islam has flourished. Known as the “counter-jihad movement,” it exists as a spectrum across Europe and America of “street-fighting forces at one end and cultural conservatives and neoconservative writers at the other,” according to Liz Fekete, the director of the Institute of Race Relations. In Europe, groups like Stop Islamization of Denmark and the English Defense League have been central to fostering violence against Muslims.

In America, the relative absence of grass-roots, street-based groups is more than made up for by the institutional heft of the movement — its five key organizations include Middle East Forum and the Center for Security Policy — and its proximity to power and influence. The movement is funded by what the Center for American Progress calls the “Islamophobia network,” with links to senior figures in the American political establishment. The movement has successfully popularized the association of Muslims with an external “terrorist threat,” of which President Trump’s so-called Muslim ban is a prime expression.

What’s more, far-right parties built around Islamophobia and the politics of counter-jihad have become electorally successful. Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Sweden Democrats and the Alternative for Germany have in the past few years become major parties with substantial support. And their ideas have bled into the rhetoric and policies of center-right parties across Europe.

Successive center-right political leaders have repeatedly warned against “Islamist terrorism” (Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany) and the incompatibility with European values of “Islamist separatism” (President Emmanuel Macron of France). The banning of forms of Muslim veiling in various public spaces — from the hijab ban in French schools and restrictions for teachers in some parts of Germany to an outright ban of the face-covering niqab in public spaces in Denmark, Belgium and France — shows how anti-Muslim sentiment has moved comprehensively from society’s fringes to the heart of government.

Britain has led the way. In 2011, it expanded the scope of its counterextremism policy, known as Prevent, to include “nonviolent” as well as “violent” manifestations. The change can be traced to the neoconservative elements of the counter-jihad movement: It was successful lobbying by Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion (now part of the Henry Jackson Society), both widely regarded as neoconservative think tanks, that secured it. The expansion of the scope of these policies effectively turns schoolteachers, doctors and nurses into police operatives — and any Muslim into a potential security threat.

In Britain, we can see a vicious circle of Islamophobia, replicated in some form across Europe. The state introduces legislation effectively targeting Muslims, which in turn encourages and emboldens the counter-jihad movement — whose policy papers, polemics and protests propel the state to extend legislation, all but criminalizing aspects of Muslims’ identity. The result is to fan Islamophobic sentiment in the public at large.

The way such an atmosphere gives rise to violence is complicated. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011, described his massacre as an effort to ward off “Eurabia” — the theory, popularized by Bat Ye’or and fervently taken up by the counter-jihad movement, that Europe will be colonized by the “Arab world.” Likewise, the attacker in Hanau fixated on crime committed by nonwhite immigrants and possessed what the German authorities have called “a deeply racist mind-set.” Both drew from the groundswell of Islamophobic rhetoric that has accompanied policies that single out Muslims for special scrutiny. But both operated alone, and neither maintained links to any organization or party. Their actions were their own.

The line from policy to act, rhetoric to violence, is very hard to draw. And the process by which Islamophobia spreads across European society is complex, multicausal, endlessly ramifying.

But that doesn’t mean it comes from nowhere.

Narzanin Massoumi (@Narzanin) is a lecturer at the University of Exeter in Britain and a co-editor of “What Is Islamophobia? Racism, Social Movements and the State.”

Source: Why Is Europe So Islamophobic?

Raymond de Souza: Canada’s anti-racism strategy needs to redefine Islamophobia

While I don’t read the anti-racism strategy in the same way as de Souza, all religions face similar challenges with respect to the extremists within their ranks and considering what forms of criticism may cross the line between criticizing particular practices and their impact on people, and more general anti-Christian, anti-Islam, anti-Sikhism or anti-Judaism attitudes:

Some time back I was booking a flight and had an option to fly EgyptAir, with a connection in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The times were convenient and the price right. I declined and found another option.

Why? Because I would not want, even as a mere stopover, to be in Saudi Arabia without prior guarantees from the government that I would not be subject to imprisonment or worse because I am a Christian.

If I were made of sterner stuff, I suppose I might welcome the chance to minister as a fellow prisoner to those Filipino and Indian “guest” workers caught praying and thrown into an extra-judicial jail, perhaps never to be heard of again. But I am not, and so opted to give Jeddah a pass.

I opted to give Jeddah a pass

Now is that Islamophobic? I suppose yes, in that I would be afraid for life and liberty because in Saudi Arabia a certain form of Islam is practiced and given sanction by the state. To put it another way, I would be happy to connect in Johannesburg but not Jeddah, and the reason is related to the latter being in an Islamic country.

Yet, I would also be happy to connect in Jakarta, in the world’s most populous Muslim country, so maybe I am not Islamophobic after all. And I would be happy to visit India, where there are more Muslims than in Saudi Arabia.

Is it Islamophobic for a Catholic priest not to stop over in Saudi Arabia? What if there were mechanical problems and we were required to leave the airport to stay overnight in a hotel? In a country where carrying a bible or a rosary can get you thrown into religious jail? Where Catholic priests have to minister incognito, like the worst days of Elizabethan England? Whoops, did I just reveal a latent Anglicanophobia? I might be a simmering cauldron of bigotry.

Of course it’s not Islamophobic. Christians are quite right to be circumspect of Wahhabi Islam as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia and exported to the world in various murderous guises.

All of which is brought to mind by the federal government’s new “anti-racism” strategy. The program grew out of a controversy some years ago over M-103, an anti-Islamophobia motion in Parliament. So the strategy includes an Islam component, perhaps not pro-Islam but at least anti-anti-Islam. It’s aimed at protecting Canadian Muslims from harassment and discrimination.

It’s tiresome to point out that Islam is not a race, despite the government’s determination to treat it like one. It would be possible to harbour prejudice against Arabs and be fiercely pro-Muslim, as the majority of Muslims live east of the Persian Gulf and in parts of Africa, outside the Arab world. But leave the confusion of race and religion for another day.

Islam is a many-differentiated thing. Saudi Wahhabis and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Toronto are not the same

It’s a mistake to treat Islam itself as if it were a monolithic thing, an undifferentiated block approaching two billion people. Islam is a many-differentiated thing. Saudi Wahhabis and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Toronto are not the same.

That’s the problem with the definition of Islamophobia adopted by the anti-racism strategy. It includes “racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.”

Is it anti-Muslim prejudice to say that all Muslims constitute a security threat? Yes. Is it discrimination to direct acts of hostility toward followers of Islam in general? Yes.

The government’s strategy takes a dim view of any critical look at Islam

But the house of Islam has many rooms, and not all of them are filled with sun-dappled butterflies. The same would be true of Christianity. But it is not bigotry to consider that. For example, while Toronto is proud to host the Aga Khan Museum, it would be rather a different matter to build the Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab Museum in Canada.

All religions need critical engagement. In this moment of history, that need is pressing in the world of Islam. Muslims, after all, pay the most lethal price for jihadist violence. Yet the government’s strategy takes a dim view of any critical look at Islam, which would actually put a great number of important Muslim voices offside.

I have profited over the years from many fruitful encounters with Muslims, both in Canada and overseas. Given the type of Muslims who are typically willing to engage in Christian-Muslim encounters, it is quite common to hear complaints about Islamist extremism from them, long before any non-Muslim raises the matter.

It is quite likely that, like many federal strategies, nothing much will be accomplished by this anti-racism strategy. But if it is effective, it should not prevent a critical engagement, theological and otherwise, with the world of Islam, both lights and shadows.

Source: Raymond de Souza: Canada’s anti-racism strategy needs to redefine Islamophobia

Laws that limit religious rights emboldens racists, particularly Islamophobia

Not surprising, but useful confirmation from this latest study on the impact of the ongoing toxic religious symbols debates:

Last week, parliamentary hearings began on Quebec’s Bill 21, which would ban public employees in “positions of authority” from wearing religious symbols. In his testimony, the philosopher Charles Taylor stated that he and Gérard Bouchard were wrong to propose restrictions on religious symbols in their 2008 report on reasonable accommodation.

Taylor affirmed he had been “very naïve” for not foreseeing that such proposals would stigmatize religious minorities and feed intolerance. “The very fact that we were talking about this kind of a plan started to stimulate hate incidents, not just in Quebec but all over,” Taylor said. He added: “I really changed my mind when I saw the consequences of such policies.”

Taylor’s remarks summarize rather well the findings of a research project we recently conducted at McGill University. Our research shows that laws like Bill 21 can have much graver consequences for religious minorities than the specific provisions they entail. Such laws also embolden those who harbour deep-seated xenophobia — specifically Islamophobia — and they therefore intensify minorities’ encounters of hostility and mistreatment.

For our research, we conducted dozens of biographical interviews with Muslim Montrealers to learn about their views and experiences. We asked them how their religion matters in everyday life, and how they evaluate their opportunities in Quebec. Muslims are a diverse group, so we included those who are secular and pious, young and old, professional and working-class.

But despite this diversity, our findings were stunningly cohesive. Virtually all of our interviewees emphasized political campaigns seeking to restrict religious rights — the aftermath of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, the Charter of Values debate in 2013-14, and Bill 62 in 2017 — as major turning points in their lives.

For example, young Muslims born and raised in Quebec report growing up without any strong sense of exclusion — until they experienced the controversy over the Charter of Values as adolescents or young adults. As one young woman put it, “The true colours come out. I think people felt like they were entitled to do things that they wouldn’t normally do because the government was supporting it.”

During her work at a bank, she said, “People were openly telling me to go home, to go back to my country, refusing that I help them at the bank, because I was wearing a hijab.”

Many of the people we spoke with reported similar incidents, which left them shocked, confused, and ultimately alienated. Suddenly, these men and women had to re-evaluate their relationships, consider what an angry look on the subway might mean, and what that passing pedestrian might have muttered under his breath. The young woman tersely summed it up: “It kind of left a bitter feeling.”

Such experiences fundamentally change people. We spoke to a woman who stopped wearing the hijab in public after an irate woman told her, “You just know how to bring kids into the world, but you are like cows” as she was out for a walk with her baby daughter.

We spoke to a man who converted to Islam, but who keeps his religion a secret so that it does not endanger his professional career.

Others responded in the opposite fashion — proudly proclaiming their religious identities even in the face of adversity. But their lives, too, were negatively affected insofar as they now felt they had to be ready, at a moment’s notice, to defend their religion.

Just like prior laws that aimed to limit religious rights, Bill 21 emboldens those who hate or fear Muslims. There may not be many such people, but it seems that there are enough to make life miserable for Muslims and sometimes even endanger them.

According to Statistics Canada, this is not an issue confined to Quebec. Latest figures suggest that police-reported hate crimes reached an all-time high across the country in 2017, with those against Muslims demonstrating the greatest increase compared to the previous year.

In this social context, politicians have to recognize that their campaigns and policies, even beyond the letter of the law, have broad and immediate consequences for how religious minorities are viewed and treated. Political campaigns can indeed “create a really frightful climate,” as Taylor cautioned in his parliamentary address.

Source: Laws that limit religious rights emboldens racists, particularly Islamophobia

Le débat sur l’islamophobie au Québec fait des flammèches

Walking back his earlier remarks which nevertheless revealed his lack of understanding and awareness:

Y a-t-il ou non des manifestations d’islamophobie au Québec ? Oui, a concédé le premier ministre Legault vendredi, au lendemain d’une déclaration controversée qui lui a valu de vives critiques — mais aussi le soutien inattendu d’une élue municipale. Mais de là à reconnaître qu’il y a un « courant islamophobe » dans la province, il y a un pas que François Legault refuse de faire.

Jeudi, le chef caquiste était catégorique : « Il n’y a pas d’islamophobie au Québec. »

Il mettait ainsi un terme à la discussion autour de la création possible d’une Journée contre l’islamophobie.

Vendredi, le cabinet du premier ministre a précisé que « M. Legault voulait dire qu’il n’y a pas de courant islamophobe au Québec. Il existe de l’islamophobie, de la xénophobie, du racisme, de la haine, mais pas de courant islamophobe. Le Québec n’est pas islamophobe ou raciste. »

Cette décision de ne pas faire du 29 janvier (date anniversaire de la tuerie de la mosquée de Québec) une journée dédiée à la lutte contre l’islamophobie a été saluée vendredi par la mairesse suppléante de Gatineau, Nathalie Lemieux.

Dans une entrevue au quotidien Le Droit, l’élue a soutenu que « ce mot n’existe même pas. Justin Trudeau pense que l’islamophobie existe, mais c’est lui qui invente ce problème. Il tente de provoquer des problèmes où il n’y en a pas. Les Québécois ne sont pas aussi racistes que certains voudraient le faire croire. Quand un peuple veut s’intégrer, il s’intègre. [Mais] ce peuple ne s’intègre pas. »

Mme Lemieux a aussi ajouté que « ces gens-là font beaucoup de choses mal, avec leurs camions et toutes ces choses-là, et c’est normal d’en avoir peur ».

Ses propos ont été immédiatement dénoncés par le maire de la ville, Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin. « Je me dissocie complètement et je dénonce les propos tenus par la conseillère Nathalie Lemieux à l’égard de la communauté musulmane. Je lui ai immédiatement demandé de se rétracter et de s’excuser », a indiqué M. Pedneaud-Jobin sur Twitter. Le député libéral André Fortin, élu dans la région, a pour sa part écrit que la mairesse suppléante « représente bien mal notre Gatineau, notre Outaouais, notre Québec ».

Des propos peçus comme une «trahison»

Même avec la précision de vendredi, les propos de François Legault ont été perçus comme une « trahison » par Boufeldja Benabdallah, le président du Centre culturel islamique de Québec. Un « coup de massue », même.

Dans une lettre envoyée aux médias, il a écrit vendredi que la sortie du premier ministre a représenté une « insulte à notre intelligence, nous qui luttons sans cesse pour abolir l’attitude de certains contre les citoyens musulmans afin que notre société soit la meilleure et la plus juste qui soit ».

« Avec tout le respect que j’ai pour vous, indique M. Benabdallah à l’intention du premier ministre, je me permets de vous dire que vous n’avez pas mesuré la gravité de cette phrase, 48 heures à peine après la deuxième édition de la Commémoration de la tuerie de la Grande Mosquée. »

En entretien avec Le Devoir, M. Benabdallah a « salué le fait que M. Legault se soit rectifié ». Mais sur le fond, ses critiques demeurent.

« Je me suis senti trahi parce que le 29 janvier, M. Legault a eu la grande amabilité de venir aux commémorations, il était compatissant et a eu des mots extraordinaires. Mais quand il dit qu’il n’y a pas de courant islamophobe tout en reconnaissant qu’il y a des gestes graves d’islamophobie, je lui demande : d’où viennent ces gestes ? Ils viennent de l’islamophobie. »

M. Benabdallah fait valoir que reconnaître l’existence de l’islamophobie au Québec ne revient pas à dire que le Québec est islamophobe. Il dit craindre que les propos de M. Legault « ne redonnent vie à l’amalgame que les islamophobes adorent, à l’effet que nous traitons toutes les Québécois d’islamophobes ».

Le « courant est soutenu par une minorité », estime le président du centre islamique. « Mais il existe et il faut en prendre conscience, ne pas cacher une évidence. Il y a eu six morts et des blessés ici. Il y a eu plusieurs gestes haineux [pamphlets, croix gammées sur les murs de la mosquée, tête de porc tranchée, etc.]. Doit-on nier tout cela pour dire qu’il n’y a pas d’islamophobie au Québec ? »

M. Benabdallah précise autrement qu’il n’a pas « d’objection au refus de la proposition d’une Journée contre l’islamophobie. Je ne me sens ni frustré ni trop malheureux, quoique déçu. »

Barrette nuance

Plus tôt dans la journée, le député libéral Gaétan Barrette avait lui aussi fait valoir que « l’islamophobie existe [au Québec] comme partout ailleurs. Je ne dis pas que c’est systémique, je ne dis pas que la société est islamophobe. Je dis qu’il y a des gens, sans aucun doute, qui le sont. De faire une affirmation aussi catégorique que celle de François Legault, ça m’apparaît être une assez courte vue d’esprit », a-t-il indiqué.

Son chef, Pierre Arcand, a bien accueilli la précision faite par M. Legault vendredi. « Il reconnaît qu’il s’est trompé […], c’est pas mal une excuse, il a corrigé le tir et moi je suis satisfait. »

Le Conseil national des musulmans canadiens (CNMC) avait quant à lui dénoncé des commentaires jugés offensants et inexacts.

Selon Statistique Canada, le nombre de crimes motivés par la haine déclarés à la police a fortement augmenté en 2017 au pays. Les incidents ciblant les Noirs, les juifs et les musulmans ont été à l’origine de la majeure partie de cette hausse.

Source: Le débat sur l’islamophobie au Québec fait des flammèches

In the Globe:

Quebec Premier François Legault has clarified his controversial comments about Islamophobia, now saying such discrimination exists but that it is not widespread.

In a statement Friday, the premier’s office said Legault meant to say that there isn’t an “undercurrent” of Islamophobia in Quebec.

“Quebecers are open and tolerant and will continue to be,” the statement said.

“Unfortunately, too many racist acts still occur today in our society, and everything must be done to denounce and combat hatred and intolerance. We will continue to honour the memory of the six victims of the tragedy of the Quebec mosque on Jan. 29.”

Friday’s statement comes after the premier told reporters Thursday that there’s no need for a day devoted to action against Islamophobia because it’s not a problem in the province. Legault was responding to calls for the anniversary of the Quebec mosque shooting to be established as an anti-Islamaphobia day.

“I don’t think there is Islamophobia in Quebec, so I don’t see why there would be a day dedicated to Islamophobia,” he said Thursday.

Those comments prompted an outpouring of criticism from Muslim groups. They want the province to take a stronger stance against anti-Muslim actions and rhetoric.

‘Out of touch’

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said Legault’s initial comments were “clearly out of touch with the realities of Islamophobia on the ground in Quebec.”

​Karim Elabed, an imam at a mosque in Lévis, a small city across the river from Quebec City, said the premier’s comments were irresponsible.

“The general opinion is that there is no problem in Quebec. But the problem is real,” he said.

The province should be striving toward educating the future generations and teaching youth to accept cultural differences, said Elabed.

Liberal MP Gaétan Barrette also said Legault’s comments were out of touch with reality, though he too cautioned the problem isn’t “systemic” in Quebec.

“I’m not saying that society is Islamophobic. I say there are people, no doubt, who are,” he said.

At the federal level, the Commons heritage committee recommended last year that Jan. 29 be declared a “national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced this week that the city was proclaiming Jan. 29 a day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia.

Like the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec, Quebec’s previous Liberal government also rejected the idea of setting aside a day against Islamophobia.

Former premier Philippe Couillard said last year he preferred to make a commitment against racism and discrimination, rather than single out a particular group or religion.

The latest controversy comes amid a renewed focus on the province’s longstanding debate over the accommodation of religious minorities.

Legault has promised legislation early this year blocking public servants in positions of authority, including police officers, judges, prosecutors, prison guards and teachers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

Source: As controversy swirls, François Legault concedes Islamophobia exists in Quebec

Il n’y a pas d’islamophobie au Québec, affirme François Legault

One thing not to support a commemorative day, another to deny that there is no Islamophobia or anti-Muslim attitudes in Quebec (especially when planned legislation is targeted at Muslims):

Après deux jours de réflexion, Québec ferme finalement catégoriquement la porte à ce que le 29 janvier – journée de commémoration de la tuerie à la mosquée de Québec, en 2017 – soit déclaré journée nationale contre l’islamophobie.

«Je ne pense pas qu’il y ait de l’islamophobie au Québec, je ne vois donc pas pourquoi il y aura une journée [qui y soit] consacrée», a tranché d’un ton sans appel le premier ministre François Legault, jeudi.

«Geneviève [Guilbault] a été prudente en disant qu’on allait regarder ça. On l’a regardé, y’en aura pas. C’est clair», a-t-il aussi affirmé.

Mardi, lors d’une réunion du conseil des ministres à Gatineau, la ministre de la Sécurité publique et vice-première ministre du Québec, Geneviève Guilbault, avait pourtant ouvert la porte à l’instauration d’une telle journée.

«C’est une discussion qu’on peut avoir», avait-elle brièvement dit, avant d’ajouter qu’elle était récemment présente à «un événement organisé par Louis Garneau pour avoir une journée nationale contre les textos au volant. Je trouve que c’est dans le même esprit d’essayer d’instituer cette pensée-là, cette mémoire-là.»

Le maire de Toronto a pour sa part déclaré cette semaine que le 29 janvier sera désormais désigné dans sa ville comme un «Jour de mémoire et d’action contre l’islamophobie» pour souligner la tuerie qui a frappé la mosquée de Québec en 2017.

Source: Il n’y a pas d’islamophobie au Québec, affirme François Legault

A Toronto conference on racism will feature both anti-Islam speakers and Jewish groups

Strange bedfellows:

An upcoming Toronto conference is going to feature anti-Islam speakers, anti-hate advocates and some of the most recognizable Jewish organizations in Canada.

The “national teach-in” on hate and racism is organized by a group called Canadians for the Rule of Law, which argues on its website that “‘political correctness’ is distorting valid criticism” and “‘Libel chill’ is preventing the sharing of ugly facts.” The teach-in seeks to expose those who perpetuate these problems to the detriment of Canadian democracy.

To that effect, the March 17 conference will scrutinize “(A) the radical left; (B) radical Islamists; and (C) the radical right,” in that order of priority. The teach-in was supposed to take place at an important synagogue in Toronto until it pulled out last week over security concerns.

B’nai Brith Canada, one of the country’s most prominent Jewish advocacy groups, has agreed to their CEO Michael Mostyn moderating one of the panel sessions, while Robert Walker, the head of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, a pro-Israel group that works primarily on campuses, is also speaking at the event next March.

Though the conference features a number of well-known, mainstream anti-hate advocates such as Donald Carr, who sits on the board of CFTRL, David Matas and Anita Bromberg, a significant number of organizers and featured speakers are active in Canada’s anti-Muslim or alt-right circles.

Perhaps most notable among these are Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, and Christine Douglass-Williams, who was fired from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation board for being an active writer to Jihad Watch, a leading Islamophobic platform. McVety had a national TV show pulled off the air in 2010 for his remarks against the LGBTQ community. His college hosted a Rebel Media event in Feb 2017, emceed by prominent far-right propagandist Faith Goldy. He also hosted the popular anti-Islam activist and then Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders in 2011. At the time, McVety described the spread of Islam in Canada as a “demographic jihad.” “Islam is not just a religion, it’s a political and cultural system as well and we know that Christians, Jews and Hindus don’t have the same mandate for a hostile takeover,” he said in 2011.

“No reason whatsoever not to engage in a public discussion.”

John Carpay, who heads up Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, will also be at the conference. He spoke at a Rebel Media event in Calgary last month about the threat of totalitarianism in Canada partly by comparing the Nazi swastika to the “rainbow flag,” a comment he later said was “unintentionally” made. Rebel also fundraised on behalf of Carpay’s centre and some of its initiatives.

B’nai Brith Canada’s media liaison Marty York qualified his organization’s overall involvement when asked whether the decision to send its CEO to participate was made with the consideration that it features such a prominent anti-Muslim presence.

“Mr. Mostyn is moderating one single session on hate speech, which is something he does regularly,” York told VICE News. “He found out who the panelists are going to be and he was comfortable with their identities. Whoever else is involved during the day in other sessions, I’m not even sure if he even knows.”

He said Mr. Mostyn saw “no reason whatsoever not to engage in a public discussion” on hate speech in his one session.

“So there seems to be a smear by association campaign going on, and if that’s the case it’s very unfortunate.”

He added that B’nai Brith Canada “supports the rule of law” in Canada and thus “has no qualms at all about” Mostyn’s participation, regardless of who else is involved throughout the day-long conference.

David Matas, a noted human rights specialist and Senior Honorary Counsel for B’nai Brith, says he’s troubled by the anti-Muslim presence in the planned conference, but didn’t know until friends and colleagues emailed him their concerns.

“This all sort of just popped up and I have to go through all of it and make a decision collectively with my colleagues,” he says. “I admit that from what I’ve seen, there are obviously concerns that we need to discuss and I may end up not participating, but we have to look at all the information first.”

Robert Walker, executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, cited addressing “anti-Semitism” and “anti-Zionism” as the main reasons for his involvement in the conference, preferring to offer no comment on the anti-Muslim participants.

“There are obviously concerns that we need to discuss.”

Hasbara is an initiative run out of Aish Hatorah, a major international network of Jewish educational centres and synagogues.

“Contemporary anti-Semitism often masquerades behind different masks, such as anti-Zionism, which is denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their historic homeland,” he told VICE News. “I do not and cannot speak for other panelists or speakers.”

Among the conference’s main topics is “Actions Against BDS,” or the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the state of Israel.

The conference was originally supposed to take place at the prominent Beth Tikvah synagogue in North York. But in an email to VICE News, Rabbi Jarrod Grover of the synagogue noted that it has pulled out of the arrangement, leaving CFTRL without a host.

Grover stated that the decision to pull out was based primarily on security concerns for participants and to avoid a “media circus” — not over any ideological concerns.

“I defend the right of CFTRL and their speakers to say what they want to say within the limits of Canadian law.”

“We like dialogue and free speech, but we are a religious, not a political organization,” he wrote. “I defend the right of CFTRL and their speakers to say what they want to say within the limits of Canadian law, despite the fact that I obviously have different beliefs than many speakers at this conference.”

According to the Canadian Jewish News, the decision to pull out came after Karen Mock, president of the progressive Jewish group JSpace Canada, reached out to Rabbi Grover to discuss “potential damage control” over media interest in the event due to “the Islamophobia and bigotry associated with some of these groups and individuals.”

A response for a media request to CFTRL’s general inbox was replied by board member David Nitkin, who rejected the request on the basis that VICE News is an “alt-left” publication. Carr did not respond to requests for comment. He told the Canadian Jewish News that the event will go on, and “we reject any attempt by those who wish to stifle free speech.”

Nitkin is also a leading organizer and board member of the anti-Islam group, Canadian Citizens for Charter Rights and Freedoms (C3RF), which indicates in its mission statement that “Islamophobia” is a concept invented by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies to infiltrate Canada and implement Shariah law. It is listed as a “community supporter” of the conference, along with ACT! Canada, which is a prominent anti-Islam group.

Source: A Toronto conference on racism will feature both anti-Islam speakers and Jewish groups

Douglas Todd: Would Saudi Arabia’s jailed blogger be accused of ‘Islamophobia’ in Canada?

Less contradictory than the article argues. Virtually all of the recommendations that came out of the committee examining M-103 applied to all forms of racism and discrimination (dissenting Conservative recommendations focused more on definitional questions of Islamophobia).

The additional funding for the multiculturalism program was general in application save for programming directed against racism and discrimination encountered by Black Canadians).

Just as one can criticize the policies and practices of the Israeli government without being antisemitic, one can criticize the policies and practices of the Saudi government without being anti-Muslim. In the case of the former, the IHRA definition of antisemitism provides some (imperfect) guidance that could form the basis of discussion for a comparable approach to criticizing the policies of Muslim countries, beyond basic human rights.

So while some Muslims may argue that any criticism of Saudi Arabia is anti-Muslim or Islamophobic, some Jews also argue that any criticism of Israel is antisemitic. It depends on the nature and form of the criticism:

Would jailed Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi end up being accused of Islamophobia if he were released from his Riyadh prison cell and allowed to come to Canada?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is taking contradictory symbolic stands.

In August, it provoked a diplomatic dispute with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by tweeting support for Badawi, who was arrested in 2012 and flogged for criticizing the country’s hardline religious leadership. Canada has even offered citizenship to the free-speech advocate, his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and their children.

But how does that jibe with the federal Liberals also pushing through Motion 103, which urges all-out war against “Islamophobia?” The Liberal politicians behind M-103 refused to respond to requests to define Islamophobia. And their deceptive gamesmanship would end up jeopardizing Badawi’s right to free expression if he were to ever to come to Canada.

Among other things Badawi has equated a host of Saudi Arabian Muslims with terrorists, which many Canadians think is an offensive and Islamophobic accusation to make.

Can Trudeau’s government have it both ways? How can it champion Badawi’s right to freely criticize Saudi Arabia’s form of Islam at the same time that Liberal MPs make a virtue of condemning anyone who disparages Islam, including the deadly rules in many theocratic Muslim countries, which legislate that people should have their heads cut off for leaving the 1.5-billion-member faith?

Ali Rizvi, Canadian-based author of The Atheist Muslim, was one of the first to point out the lack of logic from Canada’s liberal-minded politicians, which include NDP and Green MPs. “People like my good friend Raif Badawi is in jail and he has been flogged 50 times simply for blogging,” Rizvi, who has lived in Saudi Arabia, told CBC’s The Tapestry.

“It’s interesting to me that if he finally made it to Canada and joined his wife and kids here, a lot of his ideas would be considered ‘Islamophobic’ by Liberals over here because of the criticisms he makes.”

An Angus Reid poll suggests many Canadians agree with Rizvi that the Liberal government has muddied the waters of free speech when it comes to criticizing religions and religious people, something which has been going full bore in the West since the Christian Reformation 500 years ago.

Half of Canadians said it’s not necessary for federal politicians to formally condemn “Islamophobia.” And 55 per cent say the problem of anti-Muslim sentiments in this country has been overblown by politicians and the media. Presumably most Canadians feel the country’s existing anti-hate speech laws already cover extreme hostile attacks on ethnic or religious groups.

The federal Liberals have managed through all this to get themselves into a pickle over free speech.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s August tweet calling for the release of Badawi and his sister led to Saudi Arabia retaliating. It cancelled trade deals with Canada and cut short the educations of nearly 15,000 Saudi students in Canada, even while confusion reigns about the fate of the more than 1,000 Saudi physicians in training in the country.

The trans-national furore is taking place as Badawi’s circumstances grow more dire. Even though an initial charge of apostasy, which is punished by death, was withdrawn, his health deteriorates in his small, stinking, shared cell. He has four years left in his sentence, which was to include 1,000 public lashes with a whip (he’s had 50 so far). He’s not alone in his degradation. In other Muslim-majority countries, online critics of the religion have been hacked to death, including a Bangledesh blogger who was also a friend of the Canadian author of The Atheist Muslim.

What has Badawi actually said to suffer such egregious punishment?

He has censured Muslims’ for their intolerance and argued against unequal religious attitudes towards women. He has promoted “live and let-live” secularism to replace Islamic theocracy and attacked Muslim schools that he says are filled with terrorists. And he has criticized Muslims in Arabic countries for failing to follow the lead of Europe, which has a separation of religion and state.

“States which are built on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear,” he writes in 1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think (published by Vancouver’s Greystone Books).

“We should not hide the fact that Muslims in Saudi Arabia not only disrespect the beliefs of others, but (they) charge them with infidelity, to the extent that they consider anyone who is not Muslim an infidel,” he has said.

Badawi was outraged when Muslims in New York City called for a mosque to be built near the site of the destroyed World Trade Center, where 3,000 people were murdered in the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaida terrorists, whom Badawi directly linked to Saudi Arabia.

“What increases my pain is this (Islamist) chauvinist arrogance, which claims that innocent blood, shed by barbarian, brutal minds under the slogan ‘Allahu Akbar,’ means nothing compared to the act of building an Islamic mosque whose mission will be to … spawn new terrorists.”

Badawi’s costly bid for freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia, for the right to openly denounce Islamic practices, puts him in a similar boat as the staff at France’s satiric Charlie Hebdo magazine, the Danish newspaper editors who published cartoons of Mohammed, and British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie, whom have all suffered for finding fault with Islam.

In 1000 Lashes, Badawi defiantly chooses to follow the dictum of the late French existentialist Albert Camus, who said, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

Badawi’s courageous existence is a clear revolt against Saudi Arabia’s bullying Islamic authorities. It should also cause some censorial Canadians to squirm.

Source: Douglas Todd: Would Saudi Arabia’s jailed blogger be accused of ‘Islamophobia’ in Canada?

The Latest Attack on Islam: It’s Not a Religion

Please. (Wilful) ignorance knows no bounds:

Religious liberty has become a particularly politicized topic in recent years, and recent months were no different. In a long-awaited June decision, the Supreme Court decided in favor of a Christian baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple. In July, Attorney General Jeff Sessions introduced a “religious liberty task force” that critics saw as a mere cover for anti-gay discrimination. And Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s record has been scoured for evidence of what his appointment to the Supreme Court would mean for future decisions in which Christian beliefs clash with law and policy.

But when it comes to religious liberty for Americans, there’s a disturbing trend that has drawn much less attention. In recent years, state lawmakers, lawyers and influential social commentators have been making the case that Muslims are not protected by the First Amendment.

Why? Because, they argue, Islam is not a religion.

This once seemed like an absurd fringe argument. But it has gained momentum. John Bennett, a Republican state legislator in Oklahoma, said in 2014, “Islam is not even a religion; it is a political system that uses a deity to advance its agenda of global conquest.” In 2015, a former assistant United States attorney, Andrew C. McCarthy, wrote in National Review that Islam “should be understood as conveying a belief system that is not merely, or even primarily, religious.” In 2016, Michael Flynn, who the next year was briefly President Trump’s national security adviser, told an ACT for America conference in Dallas that “Islam is a political ideology” that “hides behind the notion of it being a religion.” In a January 2018 news release, Neal Tapio of South Dakota, a Republican state senator who was planning to run for the United States House of Representatives, questioned whether the First Amendment applies to Muslims.

The idea that Islam, which has over 1.6 billion adherents worldwide, is not a religion was even deployed in a 2010 legal challenge of county approval of building plans for a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The plaintiffs argued that Islam is not a religion but rather a geopolitical system bent on instituting jihadist and Shariah law in America. Because Islam is not a religion, the argument went, the mosque construction plans should not benefit from the county or federal laws that protect religious organizations. The local court ruled against the mosque, but the Tennessee appellate court overturned the ruling and the mosque prevailed.

This argument about land use is particularly distressing because not too long ago, a bipartisan coalition in Congress helped enact the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act to prevent discriminatory or burdensome regulations from restricting religious exercise. In 2000, it passed both the House and the Senate by unanimous consent, as lawmakers expressed concern that minority faiths disproportionately faced zoning conflicts, and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It’s jarring that some would now argue that these protections do not apply to Muslims.

At the root of the push to deny that Islam is a religion is a misguided belief that Muslims are anti-American. An industry of anti-Muslim fearmongering has helped stoke and perpetuate moral panic about Islam taking over America and subverting American values.

A 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center found that almost half of all American adults believed that “at least some” American Muslims are anti-American; this number included 11 percent who think “most” or “almost all” American Muslims are anti-American. Fourteen percent thought that about half of all American Muslims are against America. A 2017 poll found that half of United States adults believed that Islam does not have a place in “mainstream American society,” and almost half (44 percent) thought there was a “natural conflict between Islam and democracy.” The fear is so real that in 2010, when the mosque opponents in Murfreesboro argued against the religious validity of Islam, the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief explaining that “under the United States Constitution and other federal laws, it is uncontroverted that Islam is a religion, and a mosque is a place of religious assembly.”

The fear is not limited to mosque cases. There have been legislative efforts in 43 states to ban the practice of Islamic religious law, or Shariah law; 24 bills were introduced in 2017 alone, according to the Haas Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. This year, Idaho introduced an anti-Shariah bill, bringing the number of measures introduced since 2010 to at least 217. Of those, 20 have been enacted.

The laws’ backers seem to see them as necessary stopgaps to protect against their imagined Muslim takeover of America. When an Idaho state representative, Eric Redman, a Republican, introduced his anti-Shariah bill in January, he said it was needed so that “foreign law” would not “defile our constitutional laws” and to “protect our state and our country.” That’s a similar sentiment to the one expressed by the conservative political activist Pamela Geller, who argued in a 2016 commentary published by Breitbart that Muslim women seeking accommodations to wear a head scarf in the workplace are part of a “Muslim effort to impose Islam on the secular marketplace.”

It’s not hard to imagine what the reaction from these corners would be if Muslims sought other exemptions, including ones routinely sought by Christians — from performing certain medical procedures, providing certain medications or, say, from baking a wedding cake for a gay couple. A June poll by Morning Consult showed that white evangelicals are more likely to support religious business owners refusing services to L.G.B.T. individuals if the business owner is a Christian, Jew or Mormon — but less so if the business owner is a Muslim.

If Islamophobes are successful in their efforts to strip American Muslims of the same protections that Christians enjoy, it’s they — not the Muslims they irrationally fear — who will be responsible for curtailing religious liberty.