Ottawa is holding separate summits on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Should it have tackled them together?

Yes, they should have given some of the commonalities and the need for all Canadians, whatever their origins, religions or other characteristic have to work on reducing bias, discrimination and prejudice together.

Otherwise, more for show and signalling than the longer-term work required:

As two anti-hate summits grappling with a rising tide of hatred against Canada’s Jewish and Muslim communities get underway, could both groups forge a stronger path forward if they were to convene as one?

That’s a question being posed by Bernie Farber, the chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who will be attending both events.

“These are two groups, two faith communities, that have travelled parallel roads but have rarely intersected. And they are two communities that face the same form of hateful, violent targeting,” Farber told the Star.

“Wouldn’t it have made maybe a little bit more sense, in my view, to have had a summit … that would focus on both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia instead of having two separate ones, which has a tendency to not bring us together but to keep us apart?”

On Wednesday, the federal government will host a virtual summit on anti-Semitism, bringing together municipal and provincial political leaders to hear how the Jewish community would like to see hate, discrimination and harassment stamped out on a national scale. Former justice minister Irwin Cotler, now Canada’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating anti-Semitism, will take part in the event.

Just one day later, the same task will befall members of Canada’s Muslim community, many of whom are still reeling from a targeted attack in June that killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., as they were out for an evening walk. MPs unanimously voted in favour of a motion to hold a national summit on Islamophobia in the aftermath of the violent incident. 

But as political tensions over the conflict in the Middle East began to boil over earlier this year — leading to clashes and police intervention at several rallies between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators across the country — so did hateful acts targeting Jews and Muslims.

“Once you’ve targeted people here in Canada for something that may have happened in the Middle East … it is either Islamophobia or anti-Semitism,” Farber said.

The tensions also trickled down to two leading Jewish and Muslim groups in Canada.

In May, the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) sent an email to members of the federal government laying out the groundwork for an emergency summit to combat “a shocking wave of anti-Semitism” in Canada.

In one paragraph of the email, which was viewed by the Star, the organization called on Ottawa to “engage directly — and privately” with the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), to “challenge them to recalibrate their rhetoric and activities in a way that ensures the safety of the public square for all.”

NCCM, which released its list of priority policy recommendations on Monday ahead of Thursday’s summit, would not comment on the email.

The remarks referred to NCCM’s call to the federal government to “denounce in no uncertain terms Israel’s deliberate attack on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” a compound in Jerusalem’s Old City that is part of a site revered in both Islam and Judaism. 

In a statement to the Star, CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogler said such language has been used to “foment anger” and violence against Jews in the past.

“We have communicated these concerns — in particular, the need for all civil society groups to engage with the issues in a constructive and respectful manner — directly to the NCCM as well as our government,” the statement read.

Farber, who has worked closely with Jewish and Muslim groups in Canada, told the Star he has worked “for years” to bring the groups together to jointly tackle hate.

“We can’t battle hatred from different outposts. There is strength in numbers. And I would say eventually, wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually bring all these targeted groups together under one umbrella, to share ideas, to share strategies?”

Mustafa Farooq, CEO of NCCM, said he would be happy to “work towards a broader summit” in Canada for all groups facing an upswing in hate.

“The reality is, we are facing a unique time where it’s all on the rise,” he said. 

But first, Farooq is focused on harms plaguing his own community.

“We are committed to working with all communities to solve Islamophobia and all forms of hate, but we do need to address the specific problems facing the Muslim community,” he said.

In an interview with the Star last Friday, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Bardish Chagger said it’s still clear there is “a lot more work to do” to eradicate hate in this country.

Chagger acknowledged that there is a “sense of urgency” in addressing these issues at the upcoming summits, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic exposed even more inequities in Canadian society.

“It is important that the government listen and hear the ideas and suggestions and try to put them into actionable items,” she said. 

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/2021/07/19/ottawa-is-holding-separate-summits-on-anti-semitism-and-islamophobia-should-it-have-tackled-them-together.html

‘Words are no longer enough’: Muslim group releases 60 calls to action ahead of National Summit on Islamophobia

Of note. Summits are often short-term political events to respond to community and raise broader awareness, providing platforms for organizations and political leaders. More substantive approaches involve more time and preparation than a one-day summit on the eve of an election, which runs the risk of being more virtue signalling than substantive.

And the risk of separate summits for Islamophobia and antisemitism is that the focus on the particular communities distracts from the fundamental commonalities of all groups that experience prejudice, bias and discrimination:

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) has released a list of policy recommendations for federal, provincial and municipal governments in Canada to tackle violent and systemic forms of Islamophobia. 

Among the 60 policy recommendations are calls for the federal government to create an anti-Islamophobia strategy by the end of the year, for provincial Ministries of Education to develop localized strategies to address anti-Muslim sentiment, and for municipalities to invest in alternative forms of policing to combat increasing harassment and violence against Muslims.

The NCCM is also calling on governments to expand legislation to dismantle white supremacist groups in Canada, to challenge Bill 21 in Quebec, and to provide resources to empower Muslim Canadians to tell their own stories.

The 60 calls to action will be presented at the National Summit on Islamophobia, which will be hosted by the federal government on July 22. A National Summit on anti-Semitism will be held on July 21.

“These summits will bring together a diverse group of community and political leaders, academics, activists, and members with intersectional identities within these communities,” according to a statement by Bardish Chagger, minister of diversity, inclusion and youth of Canada. 

On its website, the NCCM says it is an independent and non-partisan organization “that protects Canadian human rights and civil liberties, challenges discrimination and Islamophobia, builds mutual understanding, and advocates for the public concerns of Canadian Muslims.”

For Mustafa Farooq, the CEO of NCCM, the only way to measure the success for the upcoming summit will be whether action is taken or commitments are made in regards to the 60 calls to action and recommendations from other groups. Farooq says the NCCM will release an updated document following the summit to record any commitments made by governments and track any agreed-upon timelines. 

“This is not about getting together to talk about best practices,” he told the Star. “This is about committing to action.”

Thursday’s summit comes in the wake of the deadly June attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario, along with a steep rise in targeted hate crimes against Muslims across the country. According to the NCCM, more Muslims have been killed in targeted hate attacks in Canada than any other G-7 country in the past five years because of Islamophobia. In Alberta alone, at least nine attacks have been reported against Muslim women, most of them Black and wearing a hijab, since December.

On June 11, following calls from the Muslim community and a petition from the NCCM, the House of Commons gave unanimous consent to an NDP motion to convene an emergency summit on Islamophobia. The motion also called on leaders from all levels of government to “urgently change policy to prevent another attack targeting Canadian Muslims.”

Following the motion, the NCCM launched consultations with Canadian Muslims from coast to coast, in search of tangible policy solutions.

“Canada doesn’t have the appropriate infrastructure to challenge Islamophobia,” Farooq told the Star. “There isn’t a single body of governance in this country that is dedicated to fighting Islamophobia. This despite the fact that the impacts of Islamophobia have resulted in the worst attack on a religious institution in modern Canadian history.”

Thus, an overarching theme of the NCCM’s calls to action is the need to institutionalize the fight against anti-Muslim sentiment. This includes the creation of an Office of the Special Envoy on Islamophobia. 

“This position needs to work with various ministries to inform policy, programming and financing of efforts that impact Canadian Muslims,” the document reads. “The envoy should have the powers of a commissioner to investigate different issues relating to Islamophobia in Canada, and to conduct third-party reviews across all sectors of the federal government relating to concerns of Islamophobia.”

Another theme found in the NCCM’s recommendations is the need to address the way that education in Canada deals with Islamophobia. Specifically, the organization recommends that provincial education ministries develop anti-Islamophobia strategies that are responsive to local contexts. This includes changes to curricula that relate to Islam, improving religious accommodations for Muslim students and staff, anti-Islamophobia training.

“The reality is that (Quebec City mosque attacker) Alexandre Bissonette and (alleged London attacker) Nathaniel Veltman were young men,” Farooq told the Star. “We need to see a different approach to education, and the way that young people are learning about Canadian Muslims. A large percentage of Canadians have suspicions towards their Canadian Muslim brothers and sisters, and we think education and anti-Islamophobia awareness is a key component.”

NCCM’s document is broader than the 30 calls to action to combat systemic racism and hate that was published by a federal Heritage committee in 2017. However, Farooq believes that now is the time to take bold action.

“Words are no longer enough,” he told the Star. “The reality is that at this point, every single federal political party, the vast majority of the provinces, dozens of municipalities have all expressed their concerns about Islamophobia and Islamophobic violence. Faith communities are united about this, civil society folks are united — Canadians are united about the fact that things need to change. We just need to translate this into real political will to move things forward.”


Here are some of the recommendations from the NCCM’s 60 calls to action.

  • The NCCM is calling for the release of a federal anti-Islamophobia strategy by year’s end. The NCCM recommends the strategy include a clear definition of Islamophobia to be adopted across government, plus funding and resources for research, programs and education campaigns to address Islamophobia.
  • The NCCM wants the federal government to take action against Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans public servants from wearing religious symbols. Specifically, it wants the attorney general to commit to being an official intervener in court battles on the legislation. The document calls Bill 21 “a fundamentally discriminatory law” that perpetuates the idea “that Islam, Muslims, and open religious expression in general, have no place in Quebec.” The NCCM is also calling for the creation of a fund to financially assist those affected by the legislation.
  • Citing the rising tide of online hate and Islamophobia on social media, the NCCM is calling on the federal government to complete a legislative review of the Canadian Human Rights Act, in order to ensure that Canada is equipped to deal with modern forms of Islamophobia and hate. 
  • The NCCM is calling on the federal government to invest in a national support fund for survivors of hate-motivated incidents or attacks. The NCCM is also recommending changes to the country’s Security Infrastructure Program, to provide funding for security upgrades to mosques and community organizations under threat.
  • There are several calls to action dedicated to reforming national security and dismantling white supremacist groups. These include creating legislation “to implement provisions that place any entity that finances, facilitates, or participates in violent white supremacist and/or neo-Nazi activities on a list of violent white supremacist groups, which is separate and distinct from the terror-listing provisions.” The NCCM also calls on provincial governments to introduce legislation that bans white supremacist groups from incorporating.
  • The NCCM wants the Criminal Code changed to better deal with what is often called a “hate crime.” Specifically, the group is calling for amendments that “reinvigorate how we approach hate crimes, and that strengthens a prosecutorial approach that lacks consistency, clarity and resourcing across the country,” according to Farooq. 
  • The document includes several policy changes to tackle systemic Islamophobia at a federal level, including changes to the Canadian Border Services, the Canadian Revenue Agency and Canada’s approach to security and counterterrorism. For example, the NCCM is calling for the establishment of an oversight body specifically for the Canadian Border Services Agency, citing allegations that the agency engages in racial profiling that disproportionately targets Muslims.
  • The NCCM is recommending changes to policing at the municipal and provincial levels. This includes investing in alternative forms of policing for municipalities and introducing street harassment bylaws that protect Canadians against hateful verbal assaults. The NCCM also recommends that all provinces adopt the recommendations of Ontario’s 2017 Tulloch report, which calls for a sweeping overhaul in police oversight.
  • The document also includes several calls for governments to invest in and collaborate with storytellers, artists and filmmakers to help Muslim Canadians tell their stories and challenge narratives that contribute to all forms of Islamophobia. This includes funding local initiatives to celebrate the long history and contributions of Muslim Canadians.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/2021/07/19/words-are-no-longer-enough-how-one-muslim-group-wants-canada-to-deal-with-islamophobia.html

‘Another political extravaganza?’ Muslim academics, community members skeptical about what might be achieved at Islamophobia summit

Some merit to this reaction as summits tend to be one-time events, often more symbolic recognition of affected groups with limited ongoing impact and change. This does not make the motives for holding them insincere, just that their impact is limited.

The many meetings and conferences regarding antisemitism have not reduced the number of antisemitic incidents, for example:

A National Summit on Islamophobia will be held this month, in the wake of a deadly truck attack in London, Ont. that left multiple members of the same family dead and as violent incidents of street harassment against Muslim women have been reported in Alberta.

But with scarce details available about the virtual event, including its date, and with the history of inaction on Islamophobia at federal and provincial levels, Muslim academics and community members are skeptical about what might be achieved.

They told the Star they fear governments may be providing the same empty words and promises that emerged in years past, including after the Quebec City mosque shooting.

Discussions where governments consulted with community members about how to tackle Islamophobia and hate have happened before — and the moment for talking has passed, they say. It’s now time to dismantle policies that limit the rights of Muslim people in Canada, said Fatimah Jackson-Best, a public health researcher and lecturer at York University.

“We don’t need a summit to know [about Islamophobia], we see this happening in our news. We need action,” she said. “There are some pressing issues around safety and freedom of religion and expression that we need policy on expeditiously,” she said.

Jackson-Best cites Bill 21 in Quebec, which bans the wearing of religious symbols for public servants, as discriminatory as it disproportionately impacts Muslim women who are not able to dress the way they want and wear the hijab in jobs in the province, including as lawyers or teachers.

Along with an honest discussion about standing up against Bill 21, the summit would also need to feature a multitude of voices to reflect the vast diversity of Canada’s Muslim community. Black Muslims, refugees and those of lower income need to be spotlighted, she explained.

She’s not interested in empty discussions on topics of which the community and politicians are already aware.

“Is [the summit] going to be another political extravaganza?” she asked. “There was nearly an entire family killed in London due to Islamophobia. This is getting very dire, so I’m just anxious to hear what kind of summit it will be.”

Calls for a summit grew after the June 6 attack in London that saw Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, Yumna Afzaal, 15, Fayez Afzaal, 9, and Talat Afzaal, 74, targeted for their faith while they were out for an evening walk. Fayez was treated in hospital and was the sole survivor.

In the weeks since the murders there have been violent incidents targeting Muslim women in Edmonton, including an attack where a woman wearing a hijab was pushed to the ground and knocked unconscious, while another woman had a knife held to her throat.

The office of Canada’s Diversity and Inclusion Minister Bardish Chagger told the Star Wednesday evening that on June 11 the government committed to hosting the summit and that she “would like to assure all Canadians that work began that very day. This is an important step as we recognize that systemic action is necessary and needed.”

Chagger said the federal government has been committed to tackling Islamophobia since it took office, by passing M-103, which was a motion to condemn Islamophobia, and by developing Canada’s anti-racism strategy, creating the anti-racism secretariat along with adding white supremacist groups to Canada’s terror list.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims has put out a call for policy submissionsfor the summit that it will include in the final report it presents there.

Combating street harassment, specifically where hijab-wearing Muslim women are targeted, along with putting another 250 white supremacist groups on Canada’s list of terrorist organizations are just some of the issues the NCCM plans to raise, said spokesperson Fatema Abdalla.

A petition by the NCCM in June asking for Ottawa to convene a summit amassed more than 40,000 signatures.

Calls for a summit to address Islamophobia are not new and have been discussed since incidents of hate increased after 9/11, nearly 20 years ago, said Faisal Kutty, a lawyer and adjunct law professor at York University.

Anti-terror measures implemented at the time that have seen many innocent Muslim Canadians placed on no-fly lists, impeding their ability to work and travel, continue to be a major issue, he said.

Provincial and federal governments have portrayed the Muslim community as a threat and they have a track record of making hate towards Muslims worse, not better, Kutty explained.

“The government has played a significant role in breeding Islamophobia. The onus is on them to take the initiative to rectify the situation,” he said.

Kutty says he’s doubtful real policy that will help communities, like launching a national database on all hate crimes, will emerge from the summit.

He points to the failure by the government to pass real policy changes following the January 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City that left six dead and five others seriously injured.

In 2017 following the attack, the House of Commons passed M-103 with a vote of 201-91, which was a non-binding motion that condemned Islamophobia. The majority of Conservative MPs voted against it.

As a result of that motion, a Heritage committee report with 30 recommendations on hate, systemic racism and Islamophobia was published and included creating a national action plan and improved data collection on hate crimes.

Other than declaring Jan. 29 a day of remembrance for the Quebec Mosque attack, not much was implemented from the report, said Kutty.

“That’s why I’m saying the track record has not been good,” he said. “The fact that people are acknowledging it and saying they want to do something about it is an improvement, but until we see action … I can’t really say we’re going to see too many improvements.”

After the June attack in London, a motion presented at Queen’s Park by Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter called on the legislature to condemn all forms of Islamophobia and commit to a six-month plan to tackle anti-Muslim hate in the province, including dismantling hundreds of white supremacist groups. It also called for support of the national summit.

But the province ended up tabling its own version of the motion that, while including condemning Islamophobia, did not include the six-month plan commitment, Hunter told the Star.

In a statement, the Ministry of the Solicitor General told the Star the province condemns all forms of hatred including Islamophobia and cited its anti-racism strategic plan that includes working with the Muslim community to tackle hate.

On Tuesday, Ontario also pledged $300,000 to Muslim organizations to address Islamophobia in schools.

The anti-racism directorate within the anti-racism strategic plan doesn’t have the resources it needs and is another instance where current government policies aren’t working, said Amira Elghawaby, a founding member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which monitors, exposes and counters hate groups.

She said she hopes at the very least the summit will symbolize that governments are finally agreeing on the urgency of the issue.

“We finally got past the point of people still denying the reality of Islamophobia. And now we are starting to move toward addressing it, but it won’t happen overnight,” said Elghawaby.

Jasmine Zine, a sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, was the co-chair of the Islamophobia subcommittee under Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government. But it was dismantled when Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government was elected in 2018 and there is now a lack of proactive approach to Islamophobia — with statements and funding only emerging when there is an attack, said Zine.

“There’s been a lot of lost opportunities,” she said, referring to M-103, echoing Kutty’s comments about the 30 recommendations not being implemented.

She said she is unsure whether the summit will end up being politicians posturing, especially ahead of a possible fall federal election.

“It’s hard to feel that there’s a lot of sincerity when after the last terror attack there were opportunities to do something and they were not taken,” she said.

“So here we are again. It’s like déjà vu for a lot of us.”

Source: ‘Another political extravaganza?’ Muslim academics, community members skeptical about what might be achieved at Islamophobia summit